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  1. #76

    Chapter Twenty-four: Gwigon’s Lair – 27 Blotmath, 1417 SR

    Rulf drew the company near and, in a hushed voice, spoke. ‘Come, we must delve further, if we dare.’

    Theodoras glanced uneasily at the distant and darkened passage on the far side of the wide chamber. He was altogether feeling quite wretched and cold as he glanced towards the archway that showed blackness in the heavy gloom of the unfriendly place. He now wished to be anywhere but there in that gloomy, spider-infested barrow and was wholly cursing himself for his rather rash decision back in Bree.

    And yet, as much as he wished nothing more than to turn round and flee out as fast as his furry feet could carry him, Theodoras quickly pushed it away. He very much wanted to seem brave and competent in the eyes of the dwarves, and the feeling grew as he looked at the silent faces of his companions in the dim light. With a sigh, he straightened his pack and swallowed hard.

    Under the low archway went Rulf, his torch one held aloft in one hand, followed shortly by Hemni and the hobbit, and behind came Hergof. The darkness of the far passage seemed to flow around them like a chilled mist and the still air fell all about at once. But the heavy dark veil receded from the flickering torch held in the dwarf’s hand which shone in a globe of space enclosed with utter blackness.

    The wall of the passage sprang out before them, and was swiftly engulfed in the inky blackness ahead. Without a word, Rulf strode forward, followed swiftly by Hemni. Theodoras peered ahead then stumbled after them; he could see little but for the dim flickering flame of the torch and the shadowed hoods of the dwarves some paces in front.

    They had not gone far when, before them and within the radius of the torch-light, were two openings; here, the company halted for the right turned quickly away, while the one forward went straight on only a little narrower than the tunnel behind.

    Rulf stood uncertain at the crossroads for a moment; he peered first forward and to the right shaking his head. ‘Confound it!’

    Theodoras shuddered as he passed his hand over his brow. Hemni took a step forward to stand beside Rulf and whispered in a low, guarded voice. ‘Do you hear anything?’

    Rulf turned slightly to his kinsman, his eyes glittering in the flickering light, but said nothing, and shook his head slowly. He motioned for his companions and stepped carefully into the side passage. Hemni looked down to smile at the hobbit before hastening forward. Theodoras took in a deep breath and hurried after them. Behind, Hergof stepped to the intersection, and paused to listen, his head tilted to one side; then he hastened to follow as well.

    After a few moments, Theodoras felt a sudden void on one side as the wall of the passage fell away from his reach and into emptiness. Here was another opening in the passage, a bit wider but just as dark. He was about to pause and call for the dwarves, but he watched as Rulf strode past the archway and onwards ahead, followed closely by Hemni. For a moment, the hobbit froze with hesitation, glancing down the side passage with nervousness. Then he felt a heavy hand upon his shoulder. ‘Do not worry little one,’ said Hergof in a gentle tone. ‘Rulf will not lead us blindly.’

    Theodoras nodded slightly and skipped to catch up with the other dwarves, who were already vanishing in the deep gloom ahead. Presently, the company came to what could only have been yet another fork in the tunnel; at least in the deep darkness that is what could be seen.

    Here, Theodoras froze once more, as a sense of evil so strong came upon him that he felt faint. He reached out grasp Hemni by the arm. ‘There’s something in there,’ he whispered ominously, not liking the look of the right-hand tunnel one bit. Here too came a strange odour, a repellent taint in the air and there could be heard faint stirring in the darkness.

    ‘Let us leave this foul place,’ whispered the hobbit as he turned to step back from the tunnel. Then, not far down that tunnel, he saw a gleam. He stopped to watch as it advanced from the darkness very slowly. Suddenly he cried out as the realization set in that they were eyes; two great clusters of eyes. Whether they shone of their own light or whether the radiance of the flickering torchlight was reflected in their thousand facets, Theodoras could not guess. And the first set were not alone, for much to the hobbit’s rising horror he could clearly see a number of other awful spiders issuing out of the crevices and darkness of the tunnel, all hurrying forward like a sickening tide.



    ‘More spiders!’ cried the hobbit with horror even as the dwarves let forth a rousing cry. At once the spiders swarmed all about the dwarves and hobbit and in the dim flickering light of the torch there came the gleam of slashing axes and the stab of short blades.

    Turning round to form a tight circle of steel and iron, the dwarves hewed at the sickly legs or stabbed at the fat bodies of the spiders if they drew too near. This was too much for the spiders and for a moment they fell away towards the darkness of the far tunnel, only to returning more fiercely than ever.

    ‘So many spiders!’ cried Rulf as he cleaved the head of one from its sickening and bloated body. Hergof, who stood beside him, said nothing, his eyes gleaming a fiery brightness. He brought back his axe and in a wide sweep shorn the legs of a fat disgusting spider from its corpulent body as it sprang up the wall.

    Theodoras too did the best he could, although he was felling quite out of place at the moment. His one hope was that he would not be mistaken for one of those horrible spiders in the darkness to be cleaved by an axe. Once or twice he stabbed past a dwarf with his short knife when a spider drew too near.

    To the poor hobbit, it seems a terrible unending business that had no end; but the venom and nimbleness of the spiders was no match for the dwarf blades and iron axes, and soon the darkened tunnel fell silent.

    ‘Such a sinister and foul place!’ groaned Hergof as he leaned wearily upon his axe. Rulf nodded silently as he reached down to brush off spider webs from his heavy leather boots. The dwarf then fitted an arrow to his crossbow and began creeping down the gloomy tunnel, motioning the others to follow.

    They had not gone far when before them appeared a widening of the tunnel filled with a greyness, heavy and dull, which the light of the torch seemed not to penetrate. Casting their heads about, the dwarves stepped carefully into the chamber; all across the walls of the room were thick grey webs, orderly as the webs of house spiders, but far greater, each thread as thick as the hobbit’s finger.



    ‘A dead end it seems,’ laughed Hergof grimly. Hemni poked at the spider’s body lying on the stone floor, its legs curled above, and then gave it a swift kick. ‘But thankfully no more of the foul creatures,’ he said with a chuckle.
    Rulf circled the chamber slowly before turning to his companions. ‘Come, there are no pillars here.’

    Again with Rulf in the front, the company turned back down the tunnel until they reached the round angle of the intersection. First looking down into the gloom to the left, Rulf stepped into the other passage quietly. He had gone no more than a dozen steps when the passage suddenly entered a narrow archway in the rock. Up and away climbed stairs into darkness; some were well-worn and smooth, while others were cracked and broken.

    After a short climb, they reached the top and found themselves in a deep dark passage once more. To the left another stairs fled down into darkness and to the right a tunnel, equally dark, went away along an even floor.

    Again Rulf paused, first glancing at the steps and then down the darkened passage to the other side. ‘Down is no good,’ he said quietly with a whisper. Carefully the dwarf began to creep down into the darkness.

    At once the tunnel ahead opened out and sprang high before them. Above their heads loomed a roof and wide pillars of stone rose from the floor of the wide chamber, and all about lay the thick grey shadows of deep webs.

    Theodoras blanched as he raised a hand to his nose; out of the chamber that lay before them came a most unwholesome reek so foul that the hobbit nearly reeled. For a moment, the company stood in silence, mouths gaping wide as they peered fearfully into the chamber.

    Then, from out of the darkness to the other side, there came the monstrous and loathsome form that any had ever witnessed. Spider-like it was in shape and form, but huge as any wild beast, and more terrible because of the malice and evil purpose that glinted in its eyes. These eyes were many, clustered atop its head, and each held a baleful light. Upon great legs it walked, the hairs stuck out like steel spines. Its round swollen body behind its narrow neck was bright blotched with pale livid marks and its bloated body was orange-pale and faintly luminous as its eyes. It stank to be sure, and moved with a sudden and horrible speed running on its long legs.
    This was Gwigon, though the dwarves or hobbit could not name it, a great creature in spider form such as once lived in the Land of the Elves in the West of Beleriand that is now under the Sea. All light of this beast snared and wove into impenetrable and darkened webs. Pale-fleshed, many-eyed, venomous it was, older and more horrible that the black creatures of Mirkwood. And it was wholly wicked and no one, not even the Wise, knew its true intentions or nature.

    Theodoras shrank back in mortal fear, even as the dwarves surged forward with a cry, but the great spider made off, springing nimbly backwards and out of reach. Theodoras let out a cry of triumph, but it quickly died in his throat as the horrible forms of smaller, more numerous of Gwigon’s brood issued from out of the webs that clung to the walls.



    At once, the dwarves found themselves in a sharp fight, as the children of the great spider swarmed about them. The dwarves lay about in all directions with their axes and blades, scattering the smaller spiders with a sudden fury. But it was then that Gwigon choose to strike. Gathering it’s massively- repellant body, it sprang forward with a great leap, green venom dripping to hiss and sputter onto the stone, to fall among the surprised dwarves.

    With a pale leg the width of a small tree, Gwigon lashed out, sending Rulf sprawling onto the floor, his axe clattering away and out of reach. Spinning round with amazing speed, the great spider struck at Hemni with its long fangs. Hemni kicked at the horrible head with a heavy boot before he was borne backwards by the immense weight of the spider. Turning to face Rulf once more, Gwigon raised its blubbery body high up into the air even as the dwarf rose to one knee, glancing frantically about for his axe.

    At that moment, Hergof leapt forward, hewing at the flabby underside of the spider with his axe. But Gwigon was not as dragons are; no softer spot it had save for only its eyes. Its age-old hide was knotted and pitted with corruption but ever thickening with layer upon layer within. The axe sprang back with a resounding ring in the air, and Hergof faltered nearly off-balance.

    With a rush, the spider came at him with a flurry of legs and fangs. Hergof cried out as he brought up his axe and hewed at the great cluster of glittering eyes. Gwigon stopped its rush to shudder wildly as if in great and awful pain before springing back and out of reach once more.

    Rulf leapt to his feet, his axe now held tightly in both hands to stand beside Hergof; and he was swiftly joined by Hemni. The dwarves turned to gaze at the great spider with keen eyes as it stalked the far side of the wide chamber, the foul blood of its dimmed eyes mingling with the venomous dripping of its great fangs onto the stone beneath it.

    In all of this, Theodoras cowered nearer the tunnel, too afraid to move or utter a sound. He watched in horror as the great spider shook its ruined head and from it came forth an almost overpowering sense of malice and hate. Hergof raised his axe above his head and cried aloud. ‘Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!’

    As one, the dwarves rushed the great spider, turning aside leg and fang to hew at its great head and cluster of eyes. Again and again the axe and blade of the dwarves rose and fell. Suddenly all went silent and the dwarves slowly lowered their weapons.

    Gwigon seemed to crumble like a vast bag, its legs sagged and slowly, painfully it backed from the dwarves. With a monstrous shuddering, the great spider crumbled to the floor, the baleful light of its shattered eyes growing dim and then went out altogether.

    Hergof staggered backwards to clutch at a wound upon his arm; it was enflamed and foul venom welled from it. He waved away the worried look of the hobbit as he began to wrap it with a fresh strip of linen. Meanwhile, Rulf and Hemni had begun to walk about the walls of the chamber until Hemni called out in a low voice.

    ‘Over here! Another pillar or I am an Elf!’

    The others rushed forward to look on as Hemni deftly cut away at a dark alcove where a great and ancient-looking pillar of web-wrapped stone stood.

    ‘Is this what we need?’ squeaked the hobbit. Rulf knelt beside the pillar and traced his fingers over faded script chiseled into the stone and then nodded silently.

    ‘Good heavens for that then!’ gasped the hobbit. ‘Quickly, get a rubbing and let us leave this place!’

    The grey, mist-blanketed sky outside was still dark when the company emerged at last from the barrow. The air felt at once felt heavy and oppressive but they fell onto the wide stones that led up to the barrow with relief. There they lay for some time, puffing and panting and no one spoke for some time. It was Rulf that finally broke the silence.

    He let out a cheerful laugh as he climbed to his feet and clasped his hand upon his companions’ shoulders. ‘Well…that was a trial to be sure!’

    ‘We made it!’ added Hemni with a grin. ‘What monstrous evil to be found dwelling in there!’

    Rulf lifted up his bulging purse; it jingled full of many gold and silver trinkets.

    ‘Evil indeed, but profitable!’ laughed Rulf.

    ‘I have never seen such creatures in the Blue Mountains,’ said Hemni in a low voice.

    ‘You have not yet seen enough, my good minstrel,’ answered Rulf. ‘There are creatures such as these in the ancient elf-ruins east of Gondamon.’

    ‘Ahh, the rewards are great, master Rulf,’ added Hergof. ‘Though I had expected much more riches than this, I must say.’

    Rulf nodded knowingly. ‘This is only the first of many barrows to be found here. We shall see what we make out of it…not to mention the payment to the rubbings themselves.’

    Theodoras, who had said nothing until now and still lay on the ground, looked up at the dwarf with blinking eyes.
    ‘Wait..what was that, Rulf? What do you mean more barrows!’
    Last edited by Brucha; Jul 02 2012 at 10:01 PM.

  2. #77
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    The last two posts have some of your best writing Brucha. You created a vivid atmosphere that was most enjoyable to experience… from the safety of my armchair.
    The way to a woman's heart is through her stomach

  3. #78

    Chapter Twenty-five: A Ring Wandered Away – 28 Blotmath, 1417 SR

    ‘The sky is beginning to clear at last,’ murmured Hemni as he turned his gaze towards the sky. The night indeed was quite old and the East sky was grey with the coming sunrise. But thick blanket of mist still hung low over the downs and the spider-haunted barrow had already disappeared into the greyness behind the company.

    ‘Indeed, dawn is close,’ whispered Rulf as he peered into the flowing mists ahead.

    ‘That is a good sign then!’ laughed Hemni. ‘Perhaps this place will seem less evil in the daylight.’

    Theodoras frowned. The thought of the coming dawn did little to cheer the young hobbit’s heart; the mist felt damp and chilled on his face and, for a moment, he imagined that he could feel the very hill-roots going down and down into the deep earth. He followed Hemni’s gaze forward but the land seemed shapeless and formless in the gathering mists.

    Rulf whistled softly and motioned for the others to gather round as he reached inside his pack and knelt to spread out a well-worn map onto the cool, dew-moistened grass.

    ‘There is still one more barrow to find,’ said Rulf as he passed his hand over the wrinkled map. The dwarf glanced up and pointed off to the south. ‘That is where we must go.’

    Theodoras looked out into the mists then cast his eyes downwards with disappointment. He had the hope that once they had exited the foul barrow, the company would leave that terrible place. And yet, the barrow treasure they had uncovered at once rekindled in their dwarvish hearts the lust for gold. They now stared eagerly at the map, needing no more urging to go onwards.

    Hitching their packs about their shoulders, the company set off, winding up into the impenetrable mist. The ground was steadily climbing. Theodoras looked off to the far West where he could see the faint glimpses of the roof of a wide forest, lying like a huge dense shadow spread under the sky. The mists were thinning now as the sun rose over the distant ridges to the East, but the sun was cool and dim and little warmth did it shed.

    As the mists moved and parted in great drifts and smoky wisps, there came suddenly into view a tall darkened hill before them; around its wide base ran a circle of worn and crumbling stones which vanished on the far side. At the top of the vast hill could be dimly glimpsed a tall standing stone of great height.

    Rulf stood for a moment, balking at the sight that lay before them. Then he beckoned to his companions as he hurried forward. Following him warily, a new sense of unseen dread fell upon the others, even as they passed between two of the ancient circling stones. At once, the gloom about the hill seemed to thicken, blackened and drew together nearer the top.

    After a short climb, they came upon a hollow at the top, and there rose into the air the single mighty stone like an unwholesome finger, cold and ominous. Theodoras turned back to look out over the lip of the hollow, but he could see nothing but a muted grey land that quickly vanished into shadow and mist.



    For long moments, the company stood silent, as if struck dumb in the deepening shadow of the somber standing stone. Theodoras tried to speak, but the dwarves turned to glare at him with dark eyes and his voice fell dead and away. Then, Theodoras caught the glimpse of a faint, distant shadow over the lip of the hill to the east.

    At first it was shapeless, and seemed to writhe and swell and shrink. The hobbit fancied that he could make out an endless whisper, a murmur of words. As it drew nearer, the shadow became a mass of pale light that glimmered slightly, and the mists about the hill seemed to sunder and part as the pale spindle of light grew.

    Within that dim light there now could seen the form of a tall Man; his face was worn and sorrowful and full of sadness. A pair of clouded staring and unseeing eyes looked out from that grey and dim face. Mail it wore and atop its head was a helm of silver; in its haggard hand was a sword that shone with a pale light.



    Hergof stepped forward and reached for his axe, but his hands fell and he let out a cry of dismay. The other dwarves shrank back before the advancing shade and covered their faces. Theodoras turned away, quaking as if he was bitter cold, and a great terror seized him.

    Suddenly, the shade broke the deafening silence; a cold murmur rose from it, a dreary moan of cold words could now be heard:

    'All was silence;
    now the sound of steel
    rings from battles past
    long beyond the laying of bones;
    stirred by evil's passage
    my brother walks again,
    so too our foes.

    'Duty-bound we stand as one,
    lost as he may be.
    A lord he rose and, solemn,
    buried me.

    'My shield calls to my arm,
    my ring calls to my hand,
    my sight departed as my life,
    our oaths bind us still;
    protect and serve this land.'

    'Long did I rest,
    now awake, as vengeance claims trinkets
    to call a curse upon our bones.
    'As it was in life,

    so too in death.
    His curse on us still
    as we yearn for sleep.

    'My ring, forgotten,
    may still be found.
    Speed along, living,
    to a tomb of ground'


    Like the lifting of some heavy weight, the dread and terror that had gripped the young hobbit now vanished; he dared a look from the deep folds of his hood and blinked. He felt a deep sense of misery and sadness as he gazed at the shade.

    ‘What is it?’ he squeaked softly. There was a pause of deep silence; Theodoras could feel his heart beating wildly.

    Hemni began to stir, and he looked at the shade with amazement. ‘A lost soul,’ he said in a low mournful voice. ‘He speaks in prose…lost he says…but what do his words mean, I wonder?’

    ‘It looks horrible,’ whispered Theodoras with hesitation. ‘But I feel a great sadness about it.’

    ‘He is lost,’ said Rulf, turning to gaze at the now silent shade. ‘Perhaps we need to find his resting place, his barrow?’

    ‘It certainly isn’t attacking us,’ added Hergof. ‘It must be needing something.’

    Just then, there came a sound out of the fog, from over the lip of the hollow. Before Theodoras could call out, a shadowed figure loomed out of the mists. At once, the hobbit could see that it was a young dwarf, his short beard dark and damp with dew and a wooden shield strapped to one arm.

    Out of breath and huffing great gasps of air, as if he just ran a great race, the dwarf collapsed to the ground. The dwarves rushed to gather round the newcomer as Rulf cried out. ‘Master Vun!’

    Vun coughed and climbed slowly and wearily to his feet, taking a few flustered breaths before speaking. ‘Forgive my late arrive. I seemed to have arrived in Bree too late. When I got to the Prancing Pony, I discovered that you all had already departed! Thankfully that fat innkeeper, Butterbur, gave me your note detailing your plan and destination. So, I set out at once, running as fast as my legs could carry me.’

    The dwarf took another deep breath and sighed. ‘Thankfully, you march like a wild herd of mountain boars. It was simple enough to follow your trail here.’

    No worries, Master Vun,’ laughed Rulf as he clasped his friend on the shoulder. ‘It is important that you arrived!’

    Theodoras watched as the dwarves fell into talk in their deep secretive tongue for some time. He stood off near the lip of the hill, gazing warily down into the thickening mists. Finally, he called out in a low voice.

    ‘What a company we make!’ he said. ‘Here we sit on the edge of rank and ruin, and you all sit about as if hosting a tea party! What about this shade fellow? And what of the riddle?’

    For a moment, the dwarves turned their heads towards the hobbit in blinking silence. ‘Quite right, master Theo,’ answered Rulf finally. ‘I have heard that hobbits are overly fond of riddles. Have you any clue to what the shade meant, or what he lost?’

    ‘I have given it some thought,’ said Theodoras as he scratched his head. ‘What I can make of it that shade fellow wants us to find his brother, or perhaps his brother’s resting place, and of its missing ring. But that could mean venturing back into one of those horrible barrows once more!’

    ‘Well, the riddle does speak of his burial…’ pondered Hemni thoughtfully.

    ‘Let us examine each barrow in turn, there is one not far from here,’ declared Rulf. ‘Perhaps we can find a clue?’

    Gathering their packs and axes and swords, the dwarves set out in silence. Theodoras walked beside Hergof nervously as they passed from the tall hill and into the gathering mists below. At once, the fog began to close in on all sides and thickened over the landscape, graying the light of the rising pale sun and blurring the world till Theodoras could scarcely see his hand stretched out before him.

    Through the sifting mists there now loomed a deep shadow that seemed to creep out from a dark place under the world. And out of this darkness there stood the black outline of a barrow, steep and grim. The wind hissed around the standing stones that led up to the barrow and the mists seemed to draw and gather about the low mound.



    Theodoras shuddered with a chill; he stamped his feet in hopes of bringing some warmth back into his cold limbs and his teeth chattered uncontrollably. His breath caught in his throat and a sickness came over him for a moment.

    With hesitation, Rulf crept forward, scanning the ground before the barrow with a keen eye. Vun took a step forward. ‘Should we…knock?’ he said with uncertainty.

    ‘The earth here has been disturbed,’ whispered Rulf as he knelt to the ground then glanced back to his companions. ‘The heavy stone door into the barrow has been opened recently.’

    ‘Perhaps we should enter,’ hissed Hemni with uneasiness.

    For a moment, they stood silent in the deadly chilled shadow of the great barrow; just then Theodoras imagined that he could a voice, as if echoing a whispering through the ground about the barrow, a dry trembling, as if the earth itself had spoken.

    There now appeared in the air before the door a shapeless patch of darkness, like a clot of black shadow. It wavered then coalesced until it bore the likeness of a Man; a very ancient thing, an old and horrible spirit and its eyes blazed with a terrible brightness.

    ‘Fool of a shade!’ railed the ancient spirit. ‘My master the Bone Man has made a thrall of your shield-brother!’ Then the barrow-wight turned its piercing gaze to the company. ‘And you... a living fool soon to be dead... I will send you into the shadow world too! So come to me now, fools... Come and die!’

    And the barrow-wight cackled horribly as it leapt forward, quick and hideous. Rulf gave a short, horrified and hoarse scream as he staggered back under the assault. The barrow-wight, cleaved and clung to the dwarf, tearing at breast and limb with terrible claws.

    A rage of horror and despair overtook Hergof and he sprang forward to bring his axe down whistling onto the helm of the wight. But it passed through the figure as if there was nothing in its form but smoke and mist and yet the spirit writhed and shook as if in great pain.

    Theodoras sobbed in horror and he was bound still, unable to move from a terrible fear. Rulf collapsed to the ground, his face blackened with blood and there were great dark stains upon his breast and limbs. Hergof struck out again with his heavy, smoking axe, forcing the ancient spirit back, but it came again.

    At once, Vun leapt forward to stand beside his kinsman, and hewed at the wight with his axe that blazed and smouldering burning in his hands. The wight shook in awful convulsions and a terrible cry rent the air. Then the intolerable brightness of the wight’s blazing eyes faded and slowly it drew back and shrank and blackened, as if drawn back into the void from whence it came.

    As if a veil was drawn back, the pale flittering sunlight began to shine again, and the terrible fear fled from the hobbit. Hergof lowered his axe to the earth and leaned heavily upon it with a bowed head. The others knelt beside Rulf who climbed unsteadily to his feet, a deep fire burning in his bright eyes.

  4. #79
    Quote Originally Posted by story21 View Post
    The last two posts have some of your best writing Brucha. You created a vivid atmosphere that was most enjoyable to experience… from the safety of my armchair.
    Thank you!

  5. #80
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    Brilliant piece of literature.....I'm looking forward to the next part

  6. #81

    Chapter Twenty-six: Shield-brother – 29 Blotmath, 1417 SR

    The company lit a small fire at the lowest point of the hollow and sat round it miserable and glum, their cloaks and hoods pulled tightly against the chill wind. The darkness closed in about the tall hill as the last dim light of the setting sun disappeared; off to the north a pale light went up over the rise of tall ridges and a wan moon climbed slowly above the standing stone that overshadowed them. The stars grew pale against the blackened canopy of night.



    Theodoras sat altogether wretched in the dark, his hood pulled up over his head. The hobbit wished he could fall asleep, but he kept turning his head round to gaze towards the lip of the hollow with apprehension. He glanced up from under the folds of his hood to watch Hergof’s face in the flickering light of the fire. The dwarf sat close to the fire, his knees draw up to his chest and his hands cupping the soft glow of his pipe in his gloved hands.

    ‘That was one nasty business back there,’ whispered Vun in a low voice, as he rubbed his hands together in the warmth of the fire.

    ‘Indeed,’ answered Rulf, his face almost invisible in the shadow of his hood. ‘But what about this ring we found?’

    ‘Do you think it is the ring the shade spoke of?’ questioned Hergof through a puff of dim smoke.

    Rulf did not answer, stirring the fire with a stick.

    ‘We should return it to the shade, perhaps it will put him to rest…’ pondered Hemni quietly.

    ‘Aye,’ nodded Vun in agreement.

    Rulf pulled back his hood and looked at the hobbit. ‘What do you say, Master Took?

    Theodoras did not look up, and sat still for moment before shrugging slightly. There was a long pause of silence. Hergof dropped his head and hood and puffed on his pipe for some time. Theodoras gazed intently at the red embers of the fire and then reached into his pocket and drew out a small item.

    It was a gold ring, ancient in appearance, and embossed with a white tree and seven crowning stars. They had found in discarded in the dirt at the barrow, but to its origin he could only guess. He turned it over in his hands, marveling at the craftsmanship of the ring. Finally, mercifully, his head began to nod and he soon drifted off into an uneasy sleep, the ring clasped tightly in one hand.

    It was Hemni who roused the hobbit from sleep. Theodoras groaned and shook the dew from his dampened hood and glanced about. The hill was still darkened before the dawn, which was many hours still to come. The fire had died to a pile of glowing coals and he found the dwarves on their feet, their packs slung onto their backs.

    ‘Come Master Theodoras,’ Hemni said softly as the hobbit climbed to his feet wearily.

    ‘Whatever is the matter?’ asked the hobbit with curiosity. ‘But more importantly, no breakfast?’

    ‘We should seek for the wandering shade,’ answered Rulf. ‘We cannot wait for the first light.’

    At once, the company set out, over the darkened lip of the wide hollow. They walked in single file down from the hill and into the darkness beyond. Nearly blind in the dark, Theodoras stumbled once or twice, reaching out to steady himself on Vun’s arm. The dwarf turned slightly to smile at the hobbit, his bright eyes glittering in the dark but said nothing.

    They had not gone far when Rulf, at the lead, halted and lifted up one hand. He peered into the gloom ahead and gestured everyone forward. For a moment, Theodoras thought he could make out a whispering from the darkness ahead. Then there was utter and dreadful silence. A chill wind blew up and through the gloom there could now been seen a pale glimmer in the shreds of graying mists moving slowly across the darkened ground.

    The darkness seemed to part as the gaunt and ghostly form of the shade appeared before them. Hemni shivered and Vun fell back under the pale gaze of the shade as it approached. For a moment, Theodoras began to tremble and a desire seized him to turn and flee back into the darkness. But, plucking up his courage, he took a hesitant step forward and spoke.

    ‘Ahem,’ he said nervously as he drew out the small gold ring and held in out in an open hand. ‘Excuse me, but we found this ring and…well…perhaps this is what you have sought?’



    The shade gazed down at the shaking hobbit with sightless eyes in silence for a moment. Then it spoke in a low sorrowful voice.

    ‘Help my hand, now to his arm, lost too, lost too.’

    With a pale hand, the shade reached down to take the gold ring from the hobbit’s outstretched hand. Then it began to speak once more in a mournful tone.

    'Sundered and shattered,
    metal and bone,
    life bled onto the ground.

    'In shade of stone,
    a south facing wall
    wherein the earth
    slept once the dead.

    'On cold hallowed ground
    where dead lay asleep
    woke they to greet
    our treasure claimed.

    'There, by our honoured,
    sleeping, and gone,
    my brother bid me farewell.

    'Now, the dead rise,
    stirring the earth
    now cursed from where
    I fell.

    'Our curse recalled;
    we shall walk
    until the dead
    are quelled.'

    ‘Another riddle?’ said Rulf, gazing at the shade as it retreated back into the darkness once more.

    ‘Alost arm? Whatever does that mean?’ asked Hemni.

    ‘Sundered metal and shattered bone?’ muddled Rulf, tugging at his beard thoughtfully. ‘Do you think, perhaps a shield?’

    There was a heavy silence. Theodoras made no answer. The others frowned. Then, Theodoras cried out with a laugh and a snap of his fingers.

    ‘I have it!’ he said finally with a smile. ‘Rather simple enough once you put your thinking cap on, as my dear father used to say!’

    Vun looked up hopefully at the hobbit; Hemni fidgeted then looked uncomfortably into the darkness. Still chuckling to himself, Theodoras continued.

    ‘Not a shield, and not an arm, but a shield-arm…a brother!’

    The dwarves pondered this for a moment and there was silence once more. At last, Rulf spoke. ‘Ah, perhaps you are right, a shield-brother…’

    ‘But where do we look for this lost brother, I wonder?’ asked the hobbit hesitantly.

    Rulf looked up as he answered. ‘Did the shade not speak of a south-facing wall?’

    ‘Why, yes he did, Master Rulf, if my memory serves me.’ laughed the hobbit. "In shade of stone, a south facing wall wherein the earth slept once the dead…" recited the hobbit in a clear voice.

    ‘Then we must head north,’ answered Rulf grimly. ‘There is a large cliff face as we passed into the downs; that faces south…’

    ‘Well, you are riddle-master, young Took!’ laughed Hergof with a smile. Theodoras blushed somewhat and turned his head downwards. He then gazed at Rulf with bright eyes.

    ‘You have led us safely thus far, Rulf, lead on,’ exclaimed Theodoras.

    The company turned away from the tall hill and struck a path north. The thickening mist gathered about them at once; above them a few stars glimmered faintly through the graying veil but on all sides rose walls of impenetrable darkness and fog.

    Just then, Rulf, who had taken the lead a few paces ahead of the rest, paused and turned his gaze to the west. Theodoras followed the dwarf’s gaze and let out a sharp gasp. They forest that had seemed distant yesterday now loomed out of the darkness not far to their left.

    A worn and faded path led down from the downs towards the grey and menacing wood that lay wrapped in darkness as if a deep shadow or mist was about them. For a moment, the young hobbit fancied he could hear the creaking and groaning of the boughs and far cries of strange animals in the distance.

    ‘The Old Forest,’ said Rulf grimly with a whisper.

    ‘I do not forests and trees!’ exclaimed Hergof with a shudder. ‘I am a dwarf, stone and mountains are for me.’

    ‘I have been to that place,’ answered the hobbit quietly. ‘And I never wish to return again! Let us hurry past!’

    Glancing once or twice towards the darkened wood, the company hurried along until at last the wood passed from view and they now found that they had come to the top of a wide hollow that led down to the base of tall cliffs to the north and west.

    It became very cold once more; the thinning mists blew in ragged tatters from a chill wind that sprang up from the East. At once the tops of tall cliffs came into view, climbing high into the darkened air. At the base of the cliffs rose tall stones of several ominous barrows, each casting deep shadows in the hollow.

    Moss and ageless lichen crawled over the broken stone, surrounded by waving grey grass. The archways of the barrows stood mute and shrouded in shadow and darkness. Without a word, the dwarves descended down into the hollow, drawing the reluctant hobbit after them.

    Theodoras shivered as the barrows and standing stones drew nearer. In the tense black shadows he could now made clearer the outlines of the narrow doorways and felt a sense of waiting, as if for untold centuries. No sound disturbed the stillness.

    Then, there came a tremor among the shadows, and a paralysis of fear gripped Theodoras. There was movement, a slow twitching, a flexing and writhing of shadowy limbs. Then, something moved; it as if a black shadow detached itself from the gulf of shadows below, a vague, shapeless form in the darkness.

    At once, there came into view a tall form of a Man, a fearful and unnatural semblance of unlife; dull eyes shimmered with cold darts of icy light and an unnatural radiance shone from the mailed form, a terrible beauty paling against the moonlight. In its hand it clutched a naked sword gleaming with an unwholesome light.

    The fell spirit moved forward drunkenly, ageless dust falling from its mouldering and hideously ancient garb. From its mouth came a series of shapeless words and death was in its cold voice. With a rousing cry, the dwarves threw themselves at the barrow-wight, their axes tearing at the rotten cloth. The fell spirit reeled from the axe-strokes, then righted itself and came on with frightful speed.



    The pale blade rose and then struck, and Vun let out a fearful cry as it pierced his side; an icy fear clutched him and froze his bones. Choking back cries, the dwarves watched in horror as Vun slip to the ground; then they came at the wight once more in a swarm, tearing at the ancient cloth and mail with each stroke.

    Something cracked like a withered branch and the terrible wight rose up silent and still, its fell voice falling away. For a moment all went silent and the axes of the dwarves dipped towards the ground. The cold features of the spirit slowly began to fade like a disappearing mask and the armour fell away from its body to crumble to dust and mist as it fell.

    There was a long pause of silent and no one spoke. Finally, it was Hergof that roused the others. ‘We must go now,’ he said grimly. ‘It is not safe to remain here.’ Prodding the others before him, the dwarf began to climb wearily back out the wide hollow and into the swirling mists and darkness beyond.

    Perhaps a half-an-hour has passed when they saw rising from the deepening smoky greyness and vapour, the vast spire of stone at op the hill. As it climbed from the tall hill it caught the light of the pale moon with a shimmering glow.

    The company slowly scrambled up the hill until they were standing once more in the hollow at the summit. Their fire was now darkened in the long shadows of the standing stone. At once, Theodoras threw himself to the hard chilled ground beside the quiet fire and remembered no more.

  7. #82
    Quote Originally Posted by Longbeard12 View Post
    Brilliant piece of literature.....I'm looking forward to the next part
    That is so very kind of you to say, Longbeard12! And of course entirely not true, but I am very glad you are enjoying the tale!

  8. #83

    Chapter Twenty-seven: Home at Last – 29 Blotmath to 1 Foreyule, 1417 SR

    ‘Three cheers for Master Theodoras!’ rose the cries of the dwarves as they lifted their mugs to toast the flustered and quite humbled young hobbit. And they patted him (and each other) on the back with heavy hands, in celebration of their great victory and safe return.

    There was a tremendous excitement back at the Prancing Pony upon their return. The Bree-folk drew in a concentric crowd to look on with wonder as the dwarves told and re-told the tale of their fated journey into the dreaded Barrow-downs. Their table was thronged with people eager to hear the tale anew and never did the dwarves grow weary of telling it. Even old Butterbur came round the bar, wiping his hands on his apron, looking as bustled as ever, to hear the tale for the second time.

    Only Theodoras remained silent during the lengthy tales and boasts of their dark journey and return. Once or twice, the dwarves turned to the little hobbit in their retelling, but he only blushed and stammered out a few words each time.

    Poor Theodoras felt rather proud for the hand he had lent to the victory, though small it was in his mind; and yet he was beginning to feel quite weary of his little adventure and was sorely missing the Shire altogether. The fierce fire of his Tookish side was slowly diminishing and his older, sensible self was fast returning.

    And his reflections on their ordeal in the downs seemed far more a dark memory than to the dwarves it seemed. Even now, in the safety of the warm hearth light, poor Theodoras shuddered as the tale reached its horrible and frightening conclusion.

    Thrice the shade riddled a tale to the company and three times they set out to unravel each mystery. One last riddle was given to them as they stood in the deep shadows of that dreadful hill and tall silent stone.

    'A Man of Bone, from 'neath Cardolan stone. Seek him now to lift this curse, e're we Brothers wander ever more.'
    With darkened hearts, they made their way carefully and with much dread until they at last stood on the edge of the decayed ruins of Ost Gorthad, which once stood proudly as the last bastion of the Dúnedain of Cardolan against the ravages of Angmar.

    There, in the darkness of that forbidding place, they found the Bone Man, a terrible and fell spirit; and upon a low and darkened hill they gave battle and the fell spirit was laid low for all time.

    And so the dwarves sang with much merriment and drank to Theodoras’ health; their deep-throated singing filled the room as they sang on until darkness crept into the inn and the firelight of the hearth flickered up to cast deep shadows all about the room.

    But at last the dwarves voices fell silent, and the folk wandered away to bed and the inn grew quiet. It was then that Hemni stood up from the table, lifting his mug high over his head. ‘I shall be departing soon,’ he said in a somber clear voice. ‘Have a cheer and a pint of ale in my name, my friends!’

    The others raised their mugs in cheer, but Theodoras’ face turned away, his hand passing over his eyes. ‘So soon, Master Hemni?’ he said in a choking voice. Though he was rather eager to begin the journey home, the thought of the departure of his friends now brought sadness to his kind hobbit heart.

    ‘I must,’ answered Hemni regretfully. ‘I still have a shipment of ore to waiting for the merchants of Bree.’

    ‘True,’ added Rulf. ‘On the morrow we too will also depart for the long journey home to Ered Luin.’ Theodoras wiped away a tear from his downcast face and said nothing. ‘But fear not, young Theodoras. We shall go with you as a far as Budgeford; there our paths must turn aside as all paths must eventually do.’

    A fair morning dawned, shimmering bright above gleaming mists, as the company gathered downstairs of the inn. The dwarves were clad once more in their faded and travel-stained hoods and cloaks, and packs strapped round their shoulders.

    Hemni stepped out the door into the clear morning light, where a stout pony stood waiting, laden with sacks and bags. ‘Goodbye, my dear friends!’ he said merrily.

    Goodbye Master Hemni!’ stammered the hobbit. 'And fare well on your journeys! If you should ever pass through the Shire, look in on me in Budgeford!’

    Without another word, Hemni turned to lead his laden pony down the narrow lane until at last he disappeared from view. Theodoras stood silent, watching his friend depart, letting out s slight sniffle. ‘Goodbye my dear friend,’ he said softly.

    ‘Are we ready?’ said Rulf finally as Hergof came round with a cart drawn by a pair of ponies and little Clover close behind. ‘The carts packed and loaded for the journey home?’

    ‘Indeed,’ answered Hergof. With that, they turned their faces homewards towards the West Gate of Bree. Soon, they came to the crossroads of the Great Road and the Greenway, and crossed over the low stone bridge into the Bree-fields beyond. They rode now slowly without hurry, and went along in leisure.

    The morning passed and afternoon waned when the dwindling company came in sight of the great hedge of Buckland. ‘Ah, Buckland,’ sighed the hobbit as he glanced towards the nearby darkened shadows of the Old Forest. ‘It seems like only yesterday when I found myself wandering that horrible wood in search of a pair of wayward hobbit! I wonder what ever came of Dyre?’

    When they had passed over the Buckland Bridge, they rode down through Stock until at last they reached the ford of Budgeford. Very gladdening was the sight of his beloved home but now Theodoras was again sad at heart as he stood there looking out across the Water at the familiar and much-missed smials of his home.

    The dwarves slid down from their cart, each bowing low in turn to the hobbit. Theodoras did not bow in return, but hopped down from Clover to shake their hands one by one, laughing amidst his tears.

    ‘Well, I certainly have a great deal to tell the folk back home! I wonder what they will think?’

    The dwarves said their goodbyes and turned their cart back to the road. Theo stood a while, caressing Clover’s muzzle against his shoulder, and watched the dwarves dwindle in the distance. Finally, he turned down the narrow lane, crossed the shallow ford and passed the mill and ovens on the far side.

    Theodoras hailed Bingo Bolger as he climbed the hill and away from the Water; the farmer looked up from his garden with wide eyes to stare at the hobbit. Bungo said nothing but watched in surprise as Theodoras rode past.

    At last Theodoras stood in front of the small round green door of his aunt’s smial. A smile broke across his face as he led Clover round to the small stable in back, minding to make sure is was properly latched and secured. With one last look at the pony, he strode to the front once more, pushing open the round door and stepped inside. A familiar scent of pastries hit his nose and breathed in deeply.

    He leaned his walking stick beside the door and unclasped his cloak then hung it on a peg. For a moment, his hand strayed on the worn and faded cloak; then he called out in a clear voice:

    ‘Aunt Petunia…it’s me, Theodoras. I’m home!’

  9. #84
    I was forced to come up with a clever way to tell the rest of the Barrow Downs tale when I discovered yesterday that I had deleted the file containing the adventure pics and chat logs for that particular session. I must figure out a better filing system...

    And so, Theo returns home after sad farewells to his companions...27 entire chapters it has taken to reach this point!

  10. #85
    Too bad about the file loss. Barrow Downs was an adventure in itself! I'm looking forward to the rest of his tale. Thank you

  11. #86
    Several readers have asked me if the last chapter of the story was the end to Theo’s tale. It is not, and I am afraid I did not make that clear. Young Theo has returned home, yes, and has brought Clover back home safely. But that is not the end to his adventures, though Theo might believe otherwise.

    I am continuing with Theo's tale, though unfortunately intermittently, over the next month or two due to real-life obligations with Theo’s dwarves companions and the difficulty of grouping so many players on the same date and times. However, we are determined to continue with thes tory to its conclusion, no matter what, so please be patient

    In the meanwhile, I have decided to begin my newest Total Immersion story - I had intended to begin this story once Theo's tale was told in full, but since I now find that I will have more free time away from Theo and his adventures, I have opted not to wait.

    The new story can be found here.

    Cheers, Crickhollow,
    Brucha

  12. #87
    Somehow or another, I forgot to add the last of the three pdf books of Theo's story. This I have done here. That makes three pdf's available to download for easier reading that covers all twenty-seven chapters of Theo's first story.

    I always wished to return to Theo but other obligations prevented me in doing so. Yet, with the release date of The Hobbit movies, I feel now is a good time to take another look at young Theodoras Took. Though I am still in the midst of my Ranger story invovling Ingion, Theo is going to strike out one last time on a little adventure.

    To make it easier for readers that are unfamiliar with Theo's earlier story, I will use this thread to continue the adventures. I hope to be able to complete the new chapter very soon!

    Cheers!

  13. #88

    Chapter Twenty-eight: Old Friends - 4 Solmath, 1418 SR

    When Theodoras, son of Isengar of the family of Tooks had announced that he was moving to the Southfarthing there was, for a day or two at the very least, no small talk in Budgefold as to this sudden and rather surprising news. As a matter of fact, he had already found and purchased a nice little smial in Troutbottom at 2 Harrow Road, south of the Three Farthing Stone.





    Exactly why young Theodoras was saying goodbye to his beloved aunt and the village of Budgeford that had been his home for so long was a matter of debate and great speculation. A few of his more sensible neighbours suggested that Theo wished to be closer to his relatives up in Tookland. This was not an unreasonable reason for what was most generally considered a rather rash decision on the young Took’s part, and yet many of the Budgeford folk found this very hard to believe. Many of the tiny village now began to speak of the tales that Theodoras had brought back with him, and much was now the talk that Theodoras was planning to run away with a party of dwarves once more. Perhaps to live among the snowy mountain peaks of the Blue Mountains, was put forth now by the many suspicious folk of Budgeford.

    It should not have as quite such a shock to his neighbours in Budgeford. Indeed, young Theodoras had once had a bit of fleeting fame and notoriety among the folk there - he had, after all, announced that he was going away up to Michel Delving the join the Bounders as the month of Winterfilth neared its end. And it was not long after that when he went off and disappeared to follow after Clover, his aunt’s most prized pony that had went missing that very next month.

    He had disappeared one fine morning of the 17th of Blotmath and just as surprising had not reappeared until supper-time on 1 Foreyule in the following month. It was a very odd proceeding for which Theodoras had never given any good account of, other than the nonsensical talk he gave out concerning wights and wargs, dwarves and bandits. Many of Budgeford thought that poor young Theodoras had gone mad, and he told all who would listen, of course, of his little adventure: but even those who listened never took the tales seriously. It is no good talking to hobbits about wargs and wights, whatever they may be; they would either disbelieve such fanciful talk or tend to avoid you afterwards. Or both.

    Upon his return, Theodoras went back to his somewhat normal ways (more or less), but shaken confidence of the village was never restored to him. In time, the hobbits of Budgeford slowly began to pardon the past and his most rash and unbelievable tales and Theodoras crept back into calling-terms again with many of the tiny village, for the sake of politeness more than anything else.

    And yet Theodoras did not fully return to the simple unadventurous life he had known before that fateful fall. He continued to live alone with his aunt, and was often away from home. He went about with several of the more energetic and spirited young members of the Tooks in Tuckburough (his father’s people, mainly nephews and cousins), and was fond of some of the Oddfoots in Frogmorton.

    In fact, his disappearance that fall was most definitely brought back into focus when Theodoras made the proclamation of a grand announcement after the new year. There right under the eaves of his aunt’s smial, Theodoras had gathered a small throng of neighbours one morning in Afteryule; all were naturally very eager to hear this great announcement that he had and certainly their tongues had been wagging since they first were informed of it.

    ‘Here, here!’ cried Theodoras as he came from out of his aunt’s smial to quiet the murmuring of the small crowd outside. ‘I must thank you all for coming today,’ he began again as all eyes turned to watch him with growing interest. ‘I have lived here among such excellent hobbits such as you since the rather sudden passing of my father and mother in Tuckburough. I was only in my tweens when I came here to live with my aunt and I shall never forget that for, though I am a Took, on my father’s side of course, I am a Bolger too!’

    At this the others began shaking their heads to one another. Whatever could be leading to, they all thought with wonder. Theodoras raised a hand to quiet the renewed murmuring among the crowd and then spoke again very loud.

    ‘But I regret to announce that I am going away, to live the Southfarthing. I have already found a nice little smail and garden in Troutbottom that should suit me quite comfortably.’

    And with that, Theodoras turned and strode back into his aunt’s smial, closing the beautifully round green door with a steady hand. The silence that ensued was flabbergastation. It was only broken by Mr. Cam Puddifoot who at once began to choke on the much forgotten but still-smoking pipe clenched tightly in his mouth.

    As a matter of fact, Theodoras’ departure from Budgeford went very quiet and unnoticed. When a wagon arrived at his home early one morning before the sun has risen, there was only his tearful aunt present to say goodbye. Once it was loaded, the wagon rolled away, filled with an assortment of crates and boxes, barrels and bags; and Theodoras seated holding the reins with a slight smile spread across his bright face.



    The light of the setting sun had long since faded and the sky was clear and stars were growing ever brighter overhead when there came the sounds of heavy footsteps coming up the road in the direction of the Delving Fields. It was not long when two figures came into view along the road, each leading a stout pony laden with packs and bags. Both had dark hoods cast over their heads and, in the deepening darkness, their faces were wholly shrouded from view.

    In silence, the two vaguely ominous figures strolled down the road, past several quiet smails that overlooked the bubbling brook to one side, until they reached a front fence and lane leading back from the road to small, comfortable-looking smail.

    It was indeed a fine little smial, with a perfectly round door, painted brown and a comfortable rug placed in front of it. A pleasant garden sat to one side, obviously tended by loving hands, and springing from the yard was a tall and beautiful yellow-leafed elm tree. A small chimney on the turfed roof spouted a tiny plume of smoke and dim lights shown from the curtained round windows.

    The two figured turned from the road and made their way up the lane until they were standing before the tiny porch of the smail. One of them handed the other the reins of the pony to the other, and then stepped forward to knock sharply upon the door with a gloved hand.

    The shadowy figure paused for a moment, and then let out a grumble in a deep voice. ‘Come on!’ he said. ‘It is your old friend, Rulf, master Theo.’ It was a dwarf, of course, and in the dim light of the windows, his brown braided beard could now be seen flowing down from his deep hood. At once, the dwarf knocked again, twice this time and with more force.

    Rulf turned back to smile weakly at his companion. ‘I am sure he is setting us a place at his dinner table,’ he said, not sounding very convincing.

    ‘I hope so,’ growled the second; he was a dwarf too, a grey beard falling from under his bright blue hood. ‘Are you sure you have the right place, master Rulf?’ asked the second dwarf as he lifted a hand to stroke his beard.

    Rulf turned back and leaned forward to squint at the small mailbox atop a wooden post beside the round door. ‘Yes,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘This is his house.’ The dwarf then pounded on the door once more with such force to shake the fine brass hinges.

    ‘He does not know how to greet guests then…’ grumbled the second dwarf softly. ‘Perhaps he moved?’

    Rulf gazed back at his companion and was about to speak when his ears perked at the sound of footsteps behind the door in front of him. The footsteps drew closer as a voice could be heard from within.

    ‘Confound it!’ said the voice as the bolt could be heard being turned. ‘Whoever could this be at such a late hour?’

    Rulf smiled as he turned to wink a bright eye at his companion, who stood beside the ponies, his arms crossed over his wide chest. ‘I have not known the Shire-folk to be so rude,’ said the second dwarf gruffly.

    At once the round door was pulled open with a jerk to reveal a hobbit standing there. Brown eyes shone from under shaggy hair atop his head and a comfortable evening robe was cast round his shoulders and tied about his waist. The robe fell down to his knees to expose a pair or large and quite furry bare feet. The hobbit blinked once and then twice as a rush of cool night air streamed through the open door and across his face. He gazed first at Rulf and then at the second dwarf, and cried out as recognition filled his eyes.

    ‘Why if it isn’t Mr. Rulf! Of all people to be standing at my doorstep! What a pleasant surprise. Come in!’

    Rulf smiled wide as he stepped inside, careful to wipe his heavy boots upon the rug. The other dwarf grumbled as he tied the ponies to the mailbox and then followed shortly after him.

    ‘Come along,’ said Theo as he pointed towards the dining room with a hastened breath. ‘I was about to take some late tea, you and your companion can join me!’ He reached a low wooden table covered with a scattering of books and dripping candle at the center of the front room, then turned back to the dwarves. ‘Or perhaps some beer would suit you better,’ he said. ‘I brewed it only last week!’

    The second dwarf grumbled softly as he bent low under the round doorway. Once inside, the dwarf pulled back his bright blue hood and glanced about the cozy hobbit smial. Rulf too looked about the front room and grinned at the hobbit with humour. ‘My, my,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘You have come a long way from scraping together a few silver for a meager meal at the Pony!’

    ‘Oh this?’ replied Theo as he pulled out a chair from the table and motioned for his friend to sit. ‘A modest improvement, master Rulf, but it is home for me now!’

    ‘Modest?’ asked the second dwarf as he strode up to the table with a laugh. ‘This little master has a dwarf’s love of fine things indeed!’

    Theo blushed slightly as Rulf cleared his throat with a laugh. ‘Told you he would welcome his old friend,’ he said to the other dwarf with a smile. ‘Master Theo, this is Khazgrim, of Erebor. He is an old compatriot.’

    Theo stammered something and then bowed deeply to the aged dwarf, who in turn bowed his head low before the hobbit. ‘Khazgrim Lamentbearer, at your service,’ he said.

    'And to yours and your family's!' replied the hobbit.

    Khazgrim smiled warmly as he sat atop a chair and slid his heavy pack to his booted feet. ‘And he knows his manners. Like master Baggins…so polite.’

    At once, Theo raised his hands up and laughed aloud. ‘Where are my manners! Drinks first, then talk, as my father would say! The perhaps a bit of food? There is plenty of time for chatting, but only after a proper supper. When you are both content, I shall fill your pipes and then we can sit back and talk for a spell. I quite imagine there is much to tell since we last spoke, master Rulf!’



    With that, Theo turned to scuttle off to the pantry. ‘I could go for a bit of seed-cake…or pie,’ called Khazgrim through the pantry door. ‘Aye,’ Rulf called after him. ‘And apple pie too, thank you.’

    Theo returned shortly, balancing a tray laden with honeybrew beer, a fine flagon of red wine, some seed-cakes and a fresh round apple pie he had backed only that very morning. He set the down the tray and passed the food and drink to his quests before finally taking a seat.

    It was not long until the plates were empty and cleared, fresh logs were set into the hearth and the dwarves were picking at the last bits of pie. ‘Ah, very good then!’ exclaimed the hobbit and he produced a small tobacco-jar.’ And now for some pipeweed. From my very own garden of course!’

    Khazgrim leaned back in his chair, with his legs stretched under the table, and began to blow smoke-rings into the air. He looked towards the flickering hearth with steady eyes and began to sing softly in a deep voice. Rulf groaned contently and puffed at his pipe, then closed his eyes. They smoked in silence for a while and the only sound that could be heard was the crackling wood in the fire and the gentle breeze from outside.

    At last Theo sat up and cleared his throat. ‘Now, a question begs to be asked, my dear dwarves. Whatever has brought you here this evening?’

    Rulf opened his eyes and coughed slightly. ‘We are on our way to the Blue Mountains,’ he said. ‘Returning from Bree after some trade. I thought we should take a detour and visit you, old friend. Khazgrim here is partial to the Shire as well.’

    Khazgrim nodded at this. ‘I took an interest in the Shire-folk many years ago; I had the pleasure of spending some time with master Baggins.’

    ‘Do tell!’ answered the hobbit with glee. ‘Simply wonderful! I am very glad to see you are no worse for wear following our rather hasty business back in Bree, Rulf. But Uncle Biblo, you say? You dwarves never cease to amaze me!’

    ‘Aye,’ said Khazgrim. ‘How is the lad? Well I should call him such as that was years ago and little is he a lad nowadays.’

    Theo frowned as he looked at the old dwarf with an uncertain glace. ‘Uncle Bilbo? I do not know. He went and disappeared almost twenty years ago now. He has never been seen since.’

    Khazgrim smiled as if remembering something a long time ago. ‘That sounds like master Baggins,’ he said thoughtfully.

    Theo turned to look at Rulf. ‘But I am curious who you came to find me here and not Budgeford.’

    Rulf stamped his pipe on his knee and laid it atop the table. ‘I inquired about you there; they said you had left your aunt’s house to relocate here. It was a surprise that is for sure.’

    ‘Oh yes,’ answered the hobbit. ‘My aunt, bless her, means well, but she could not stop fussing over me upon my return. I could scarcely breathe with her constant hovering over me! And there was the matter of my disappearance and sudden and unexpected return. I could not get any peace!’

    ‘So you left to go on another adventure then?’ asked Rulf. ‘To return to the Bounders?’

    ‘Heavens no,’ replied the hobbit waving a hand at the dwarf. ‘I am more relaxed than ever before! I must say that my neighbours in Budgeford did not look at me the same after that. Oh, they were polite enough, as Shire-folk go, but it was not long when the talk began. Peculiar was a word often heard whispered about me, though never directly to me, mind you. Quite mad seemed a popular description for me too. I am afraid that I lost a good deal of their respect after that.’

    Rulf chuckled as the hobbit shook his head and finished. ‘I would take that as a compliment, master Theo. Though I suppose it makes it difficult to live around them.’

    ‘Indeed!’ answered the hobbit with a nod and a grin. ‘Some of the folk in Budgeford were willing to forgive me for my transgressions, so to speak. I still manage to be on visiting terms with my relatives but little more. Old Milo Bolger, my uncle on my mother’s side, still speaks highly of me. He has not forgotten my aid in dealing with those horrible wolves at his farm. Yet I do not mind. I returned home safely with Clover and I had my little adventure! I do miss my aunt dearly and of course Budgeford; but it is rather pleasant being my own master here. My garden has come along quite nicely and I am very fond of it.’

    ‘Good, good,’ said Rulf with a grin as he leaned forward to refill his pipe from the jar. ‘I am glad to see you are doing well for yourself, my friend.’ The dwarf then fell silent and sat very still, lost deep in thought. Theo shivered as if a dark shadow had been brought with the ominous change that came over his friend. Finally, Rulf broke the silence.

    ‘I and Khazgrim here…,’ he began slowly. ‘Have been quite busy of late…’

    Khazgrim sat up at once in his chair and turned to glare at Rulf. ‘That business is best left unsaid, Rulf,’ he growled. ‘No offence, little master,’ he added turned to the hobbit with a nod. ‘But that is dwarven business, I am afraid.’

    ‘That is why I did not say,’ answered Rulf grimly.

    A heavy silence fell in the room. Theo shivered again and everything seemed still. But as swiftly as it had come, the darkness seemed to retreat and the flickering fire of the hearth came back into the room. Theo frowned, took a healthy draught from his beer, and peered at the dwarves with a smile.

    ‘Dwarves are a peculiar breed!’ he said. ‘Well, the hour has grown very late, and I daresay you will be wanting to leave early on the morrow. I shall ready beds in the spare room for you both, and will have a nice breakfast waiting for you when you awaken.’

    At that Khazgrim let out a chuckle. ‘A warm bed and a Hobbit-sized breakfast? How could I say no?’

    The hobbit jumped up from the chair. ‘Come then gentlemen, let me see you off to bed; I imagine the journey from Bree was long and tiring. I shall wake you in the morning and see you off onto the road after breakfast!’ He then turned to scuttle off towards the spare room, but Rulf cleared his throat rather loudly. The dwarves had not left their chairs and were even now glancing at one another in a rather curious way. Theo turned back to gaze at the dwarves, shifting uncomfortably where he stood nearer the hallway. Finally, Rulf spoke, looking at the young hobbit with glinting eyes.

    ‘Mt old friend,’ said the dwarf slowly with a knowing smile. ‘Since you are not busy, why not travel with us? We could certainly use the company and merriment along the way.’

    ‘Yes,’ added Khazgrim also smiling. ‘And I could use some songs for once…something not so…dark.’

    Theo’s mouth gaped open as he looked at the dwarves incredulously. He then laughed out heartily with a snicker. ‘To the Blue Mountains? Dear me, I could not fathom such a journey such as that! I have greens in the garden ready for harvest and some barley for market up in Michel Delving.’

    He shook his head with amusement and sighed. ‘But wait,’ he said holding up a hand to the dwarves’ coming protests. ‘I cannot refuse you, my old friend. I offer a compromise. I have neglected to make my way to Overhill. It seems that good old Polo Proudfoot up in the Tookland has developed quite a problem with bees as it were. He has asked me to help him move the wild bee-hives plaguing his farm. But for that I need some salve to protect me from their rather nasty stings. Old Gammer Boffin has such balms that could help. If you accompany me to Overhill, I will journey as far as Needlehole on your trip back home!’

    ‘Good, good’ answered Rulf as he stroked his long beard. ‘That would certainly work. We will have a fine time of it.’

    ‘Then it is settled!’ said the hobbit. He turned and went off to the spare bedroom to prepare the beds for his guests. When everything was finally in place, he made his way to the master bedroom. Hanging his evening robe on a peg beside the door, he yawned loudly and snuffed out the candle on the nightstand. As Theo lay in bed, he could hear the dwarves still chatting in the front room.

    ‘Well,’ could be hear Khazgrim announcing with a small yawn. ‘The hour is indeed late, and I am not as young and spry as you are, beardling.’

    ‘True,’ answered Rulf. ‘I can hear your bones creaking from over here!’

    ‘I doubt you will look as good as me when you are my age, beardling,’ replied Khazgrim.

    ‘I should be so lucky, ‘said Rulf with a chuckle.

    The dwarves’ voices fell to grumbling as Theo closed his eyes and sunk his shaggy head deeper into his pillow. He did not wish to admit it, but a growing desire to go off with the dwarves flamed up in his heart. He at once wished for nothing more than to leave behind his cherished garden and go to see the Blue Mountains of Ered Luin. Walking with dwarves in the late evening is nothing to be missing.

    As sleep slowly creep over him, Theo began to recall the first meeting with the dwarves in Bree, a time that now seemed like ages ago. There was master Rulf and master Hemni, master Hergof and Vun seated about the smoky, darkened common room of the Prancing Pony. Great was the merriment of the dwarves then, and great was their confidence it seemed in Theo joining their company. The sounds of their deep somber voices back there floated into his mind as he drifted off into sleep, mingling with that of the two dwarves out in the front room.

    ‘Let us get some rest and we will depart early,’ said Rulf with a deep yawn. Shuffling boot steps could he heard stumbling around the front room. Rulf at once grumbled as he stubbed his foot on the table leg, ‘Now where is that candle?’
    Last edited by Brucha; Dec 28 2012 at 12:01 PM.

  14. #89
    And so Theo's new adventure is underway! Much of the delay for this new story was developing one that I liked, as I did come up with two others, but they did not seem good enough. That was until I finally came onto the idea that began with this new tale.

    Naturally, the tale had to be very hobbit-like, as well as dwarven-like, since I wished to include some of his companions from the first story. But how to convince Theo into going off on another adventure? Well, for that you will have to wait and see!

    Of course, Theo will set off on his newest adventure with nothing more than he had the first time. The idea right away was to play him as a typical hobbit, and that I will remain doing. When I was able to get Theo out of the intro area, I forgot to delete and removed much of his gear at 6th level, and did not do so until around chapters 3 or 4.

    He began his adventure with only a rough cloth cloak, padded shirt, quilted legging and a old rusted dagger. Anything else gear-wise would both have to be something sensible (hence no shirts of mail or such or iron-shod helms) and weapons would be very hobbit-like (like a sword of dagger). Under no condition would he equip shoes or boots or gloves or shoulder pads.

    Unfortunately, during his travels, Theo mamaged to find little gears that was appropriate. he did gain a fine dagger of bronze from Eoleof, gained a bounder's cap, and of course found a ring in the barrow-downs, but nothing else.

    And so he sets off on a rather inconspicuous journey to the very western borders of the Shire to see his dear friend home...




  15. #90

    Chapter Twenty-nine: An Unexpected Hobbit - 5 Solmath, 1418 SR

    Theo woke suddenly, a bit shaken and bewildered, to the sounds of a ruckus coming from the front room of the smial. He yawned loudly as the sounds fell away, slid his legs over the side of the bed, and stood up.

    The hobbit threw on his bed robes, rubbed his eyes once or twice, and swung open the door. At once, a deep grumbling voice could be heard nearer the kitchen. It was the dwarves, of course, and, from the sounds down the hall, it seemed they had already begun plundering his pantry for some sort of breakfast.

    Theo marched briskly down the hall and into the front parlour. There sat Rulf beside the fire, smoking on his long wooden pipe. The dwarf turned to the hobbit, grinned slightly, and then pointed in the direction of the kitchen where at once there came a clash of plates and utensils.

    Theo soon found Khazgrim standing near the cupboards of the pantry, a half-eaten piece of cold sausage held tightly in his mouth, and his hands busy rummaging for more along the shelves. The hobbit laughed as the dwarf turned to cast a frown, who then mumbled an apology before taking the rest of the sausage in a single bite. Theo whisked his guest back to the front parlour and then returned to the kitchen to put a kettle on to boil and began to prepare breakfast.

    Soon the table was set and, before long, they were enjoying a fine breakfast. Outside, the first rays of the full dawn was just beginning to lighten the sky and a warm morning breeze was blowing in through the open round windows. Finally, after some time, Theo pushed his chair back from the table with a polite groan. ‘An excellent meal!’ he declared. The table was strewn with a collection of half-finished plates; there was eggs and onions, Shire pudding, a blueberry pie, a generous helping of spiced potatoes, a plate of sausage and mash, and a single strawberry tarts still left undisturbed on the table.

    ‘Well, a fine meal indeed, little master,’ said Khazgrim with a happy sigh as he reached with greasy fingers for the last bite of sausage.

    ‘Agreed,’ added Rulf very contently. The dwarf had all but finished his plate and now turned his attention to a foaming mug of spiced ale.

    ‘Thank you!’ answered the hobbit happily. ‘Well now, let me tidy up gentlemen,’ he said sharply as he slid down from his chair with a thump. ‘And you finish your drinks and then begin preparing for our departure!’

    With a wink Theo began collecting the many plates, cups, bowls, spoons, knives and forks from the table and whisked them off to the kitchen. Before long, there was stacked beside the sink an array of drying dishes. With a sigh, he made his way to the master bedroom and hung his robe on a peg near the bed. He took off his bed clothes and laid them out atop the bed (but only after rolling up the sheets and blanket). Humming softly to himself, Theo turned to the dresser and opened the bottom drawer to remove a bundle of clothing wrapped in old cloth. He then quickly dressed.

    Theo found the dwarves not in the front room when he returned, but outside. Rulf was seated on the steps of the porch, looking up at the clear sky and sniffing the cool morning air as he fidgeted a broad-bladed axe into his belt. Khazgrim was standing with the ponies, whistling softly; he was wrapping a beautiful harp with soft leathers and then slid it into his pack atop one of the ponies. The ponies themselves seemed rather frisky and well-rested, and swished their tails back and forth as if with impatience to return to the road once more.

    Theo cleared his throat and laughed aloud. ‘It would seem that the two of you are preparing for battle and not a leisurely stroll through the Shire!’

    The dwarves looked up to see the hobbit hovering under the arch of the open doorway. Round his waist was fastened a worn leather belt, one size too large for him to be sure, and hung upon it was a battered-looking knife scabbard. Sticking from the scabbard was the beautiful hilt of a dagger in the shape of a pair of entwined horses. Thrown around his shoulders was a patched and much weather-stained old blue cloak, and a well-used pack that had certainly seen finer days.

    ‘Is everything ready?’ he asked as the Rulf clambered to his feet and slung his pack over his shoulders. ‘Well, then let us off!’ said the hobbit as he stepped out the front door. On the porch, Theo paused to take in a deep breath, enjoying the fragrance of fresh flowers heavy in the warm air. ‘A fine morning for a walk, wouldn’t you agree?’ He produced a small ring of keys from his front pocket and turned to lock the round door to the smial.

    ‘There, and we are off!’ Theo exclaimed joyously and began trotting down the path towards the road ahead. ‘Oh what fun it is to be on the road once more with a party of dwarves!’

    ‘I am glad you are much more enthusiastic than last time!’ called out Rulf as he hastened to catch up with the hobbit, taking the reins of one pony in hand. Khazgrim groaned slightly and shook his head before shambling after the two with the other pony behind him.

    Despite the older dwarf’s grumbling, the trio was, of course, in fine spirits and they soon became very cheerful as they strode along down the lane to the road. The early morning sun was shining through the fluttering leaves along the roadside, which were still green despite the lateness of the year.

    ‘We shall make for the Water and cross into Hobbiton,’ said Theo as he turned to glance back at the dwarves. ‘Form there we can take the road all the way to Overhill and be there before dusk, with a stop at the Ivy Bush in Hobbiton, of course. They have the most splendid food and drink for a parched throat!’

    For a good while, they followed the road along the banks of the creek that flowed in front of Theo’s smial, and then turned left over a small stone bridge spanning the water. From there they walked in single file up along the road leading away from the creek and along hedgerows of the many smails in Troutbottom. Soon the last smials and houses disappeared behind them and they now found themselves on a winding ribbon of brown lined with leaning rowan trees.

    For a long while no one spoke; Khazgrim hummed a soft tune with a deep whisper as he strode nearer the back of the party, the sounds of his heavy boots mingling with his tune and the clippity-clop of the ponies. They met no one along the lane; the morning slowly faded towards noon-time as the sun rose higher overhead. It was not until the Southfarthing Gate loomed into view on the road ahead that someone spoke.

    It was Khazgrim, who had begun to lag considerably behind his companions. He was silent now, his humming now replaced with belaboured breaths. At last he stopped, leaned heavily on the neck of his pony and let out a great sigh.

    ‘Pardon me,’ he said somewhat winded to his companions. ‘I forget all are not as old as I am…’

    ‘Old you say?’ said Theo turning to the dwarf with a smile. ‘Well, perhaps, but dwarves look young to most hobbits, master Khazgrim!’

    Rulf glowered down at the hobbit standing next to him; Theo raised a hand in apology almost at once. ‘No offence, mind you,’ said the hobbit hastily. I have become rather fond of dwarves!’

    Khazgrim did not seem to take much offence to that and indeed laughed aloud at the hobbit. ‘Well little master,’ he said chuckling. ‘I will be reaching my two-hundredth year very soon.’

    ‘Two hundred? Bless me!’ answered Theo. ‘Old Bilbo was only past his eleventh-first birthday when he went off on again!’

    ‘Old as the hills he is,’ said Rulf glancing at the other dwarf with a loving smile.

    Khazgrim grumbled softly and tugged at his grey beard. ‘I still have years within me yet; more so for my brother.’

    At that Theo looked at the old dwarf with curiosity. ‘Last evening you spoke of your brother,’ he said slowly. ‘Who is he, master Khazgrim. You speak as if…’ The hobbit’s voice fell away and he lowered his eyes for a moment, fearing that he had said or asked too much.

    But instead of a look of sadness or silence coming from the old dwarf, there came a hearty laugh. ‘No, he has not gone to the halls yet, master Theodoras. I doubt there is much that could take him there before his time; and that would be an army of stone-trolls!’

    ‘An army of troll?’ exclaimed Theo with a bit of fright and laughter. ‘Let us hope not, Khazgrim! That would not be a pleasant sight to behold!’

    Khazgrim smiled and hoisted his pack higher upon his back then began trudging down the road once more, but said nothing else. The air seemed to have grown warmer during their brief rest and it was thick with the scent of rowan and grass, very strong and sweet. It was not long when they came at length to the edges of Tuckborough; here the trees began to fall away and a peculiar sight sprang into view ahead.

    It was an odd collection of wagons and camps, carts and cooking fires, gardens and open-air tables, situated to either side of the road. It certainly did not look like a village, and seemed very unhobbit-like in appearance.

    This of course, was Waymeet, a travelers’ hub of sorts along the Great East Road that wound through the Shire. Here at the junction where road came up from the Southfarthing gate, the Great East Road turned northwards to the Rushock Bog and beyond to the Blue Mountains to the west. Another road led up away to the west and south towards Michel Delving.

    At the crossroads, Theo halted; he peered curiously towards several wagons set back from the road. A small camp fire was blazing beside them and there sat a small group of dour-looking dwarves. ‘Over there,’ said Theo. ‘Do you see them? Some of your kinsmen, if I am not mistaken. I had the privilege of speaking with them before leaving for Bree. Very fine chaps, I must say! Craftsmen delivering ore to Bree, should my memory serve me.’

    Khazgrim hailed the dwarves with a deep voice and raised hand, then looked down at Theo. ‘They come from the Blue Mountains, the only place west of the Shire to find them. But it is good to see more of my kinsmen abroad.’

    ‘Indeed, master Khazgrim! But we should be off then!’ The hobbit turned to the party of dwarves camped round the fire and waved a hand at them. ‘Goodbye!’ he called out and then began trotting down the road to the east and north. Rulf glanced at Khazgrim with a smile and then began to follow the hobbit with brisk steps. Khazgrim grumbled softly and then wearily went after the two.

    They turned onto the Great East Road and began following it eastwards where it went rolling up a gentle hill. At the top they came upon another crossroads; to the right a narrow lane led further up the growing hill towards Tuckborough. To the left another lane fell down a steep slope leading towards Hobbiton in a wide gentle valley along the Water below. The Great Road continued its slow march eastwards from there.

    ‘Ah, there is the Water and Hobbiton!’ said Theo looking down the road to the north. ‘We have made good progress, it is not yet late morning.’

    ‘I do remember master Baggins mentioning a tavern where he met Thorin and his company that morning long ago…’ answered Khazgrim thoughtfully.

    ‘Indeed! The Ivy Bush,’ said the hobbit with a laugh. ‘Shall we take a break from our weary travel, break from our packs, and step in for refreshments?’

    With quickened steps they soon made their way down the hill and into the village below. Nearing the Water further on, they came to a fine-looking, low one-storied building. It had a shingled roof, and up wide half-circular steps there stood a beautiful round door. A lamp swung above the door and a wooden sign, displaying a flowering green bush, hung from a post at the foot of the steps.

    At once, the hobbit strode up to the door and stepped inside while the dwarves tied up the ponies. Light streamed out in a very friendly fashion and all three slipped quickly in. They hung their packs on pegs just inside the door and made their way into the common room. Walking up to the long bar, Theo rapped upon it with his hand.

    Out from the kitchen came the innkeeper, wiping his hands on his apron looking very bustled, though there seemed few folk about and not much talk round the common room. He glanced at Theo and then at the dwarves with a look on uncertainly.

    ‘Three of your finest ciders, my good fellow!’ said Theo as he placed a few copper coins onto the bar. Rulf sat down heavily on a short stool and stretched out his legs with a yawn. Theo thanked the innkeeper and turned to hand the dwarves each a mug. ‘To your good health, gentlemen!’ he said as he raised his mug to toast.

    ‘And to your, little master,’ answered Khazgrim, his long beard wet with foam from his mug. ‘What was it that Thorin said, “may the hair on your toes never fall out.” ’

    ‘Let us hope not, master Khazgrim!’ said Theo with a laugh.

    They sat back and relaxed, enjoying their drinks, and it was some time before any of them made the slightest gesture of moving or returning to the road. Khazgrim was already draining his second mug of ale when Theo set down his, and jumped from the stool.

    ‘The drink here is fine and good,’ he said loudly. ‘But let us depart before we find the sun has set and our bellies too full for the march!’

    Despite Khazgrim’s grumbling, they went out, collected the ponies and made their way across the Bywater Bridge. On the far side they trudged up the Hill, past the Grange, the Party Tree and finally Bagshot Row. As the tops of the Party Tree faded from view behind them, the road continued to climb steadily away from the Water and wound towards the Bindbole Woods. Soon the trees along both sides of the road became very thick and they seemed a bit less tame and wilder. The road reached the top then began to fall steadily away to the north, past many deep brakes of hazel and rowan.

    At last they came out of the trees at a wide space of cleared forest. The wood bordered it on all sides, and a steep slope went steeply away upwards to the west, on the far side of a wide wood yard. Nearer at hand was a peaceful collection of houses and smials: the village of Overhill.

    Theo paused to grin at the dwarves. ‘We have made it, and in good time, I must say.’ He led his companions down into the tiny woodland village and then stopped again. ‘Give me a moment to speak with old Gammer Boffin over there about the salves I will be wanting and we can continue.’

    Rulf nodded as he slid his heavy pack to his feet then produced his pipe with vigor and began to smoke. Khazgrim sat wearily down in silence, letting go of his pony’s reins; it was not long until he began to nod with sleep.

    Just nearby, the dwarves could hear the cheerful voice of their hobbit companion. He was standing at the porch of a modest smial, speaking happily with an elderly-looking hobbit woman.

    ‘Ah Mrs. Boffin, I am Theodoras Took, of the Southfarthings,’ came the hobbit’s voice. ‘I have come seeking some salves for some rather unpleasant bees away in Tuckborough. Could you help me with such a request?’

    Theo nodded as he listened to the elderly grocer and then spoke aloud. ‘My word! Toad stones!’ he exclaimed.’ Very well, it that is what is required. I am making my way even now to Needelhole with those fine dwarves other there.’ Theo turned to point at his companions along the road a ways off then back to the grocer. ‘We must pass through the bogs, so I can collect them along the away and bring them to you upon my return.’

    Khazgrim raised his hooded head to look at the hobbit and grumbled softly as Theo trotted back to his companions. Theo was smiling as he strode up and laughed at Khazgrim. He was about to speak when a voice rang out from the road leading further into the tiny village.

    All eyes turned to see a furry-headed and much wide-eyed young hobbit trotting up towards them, his wooly feet flapping noisily along the road-stones. ‘Theodoras!’ the younger hobbit cried out with glee with a brisk wave of his hand. ‘Oh Theo!’

    Theo turned to the rather unexpected arrival, a look of great surprise and shock spread across his bewildered face. ‘Why Hallson, my lad, whatever are you doing here?’ he said as the hobbit came to a stop breathlessly in front of them. The dwarves exchanged glances at one another then looked at the two hobbits with amusement.

    ‘I wrote you a letter a couple of days ago!’ said the younger hobbit with a wheezing breath.

    Theo looked Hallson up and down then clasped him by one arm to pull him closer and spoke in a stern voice. ‘What letter?’ he said. ‘And why are you here?’ For a moment the younger hobbit did not answer, but bent to place his hands upon his knees and took in a couple of deep breaths.

    ‘Khazgrim and Rulf, this is my cousin, Hallson, from my mother’s side,’ said Theo, cocking an eye towards the dwarves without turning his head. ‘He is from Budgeford.’

    ‘I am Rulf, son of Runek, at your service, ‘said Rulf swiftly, trying to hide his growing smile and bowed low before the younger hobbit with a sweep of his arm. Khazgrim gazed at the two hobbits then at Rulf, his eyebrow raised slightly but said nothing.

    ‘Speak up, Hallson,’ said Theo harshly as he turned back to his cousin. ‘And tell me what the blazes are you doing here?’

    Hallson looked at Theo then at the dwarves and began speaking excitedly. ‘Well, you see…’ he began as a sheepish grin spread across his bright face. ‘I heard of your departure while I was away up in Michel Delving.’

    ‘But why did you follow?’ asked Theo with a shake of his head. ‘Whatever is going on?’

    ‘I was getting bored in Budgeford, you see. Just sitting around each day smoking pipeweed and watching the neighbours cooks, so I went off to Michel Delving to find something to do, and guess what? I joined the Bounders!’ The young hobbit pointed down to a short bladed sword stuck into his belt round his waist. ‘Look! I even got my very own blade!’ he said proudly.

    ‘The Bounders?’ answered Theo throwing his arms in into the air. ‘Whatever would make you choose such a rash thing as that, Hallson?’

    At this Rulf coughed loudly, trying to squelch a bout of rising laugh. ‘Theo,’ he said with a slight snicker. ‘Did you not tell us you had joined the Bounders not so long ago?’

    Theo threw his old friend a scowl and then turned back to his cousin. ‘My goodness Hallson, a sword? What would your dear mother think?’

    ‘I have heard of your fabled adventures outside the Shire,’ stammered the younger hobbit as he glanced down at his feet looking somewhat uncomfortable. ‘And I wanted to follow in your footsteps!’

    Theo blushed at once. ‘Er, well…fabled may be a bit of a stretch, Hallson,’ he said. ‘And following in my footsteps? No a wise choice! But you are here now and your mother would never forgive me if I allowed something to happen to you.’

    Hallson blinked and looked at his cousin then at the dwarves. ‘Oh no!’ he implored with a worried look in his bright eyes. ‘Please don’t. I don’t want to go back to that boring smial again!’

    Khazgrim grumbled as if impatient and gazed up at the noon-sky that was passing swiftly overhead. He then leaned over to whisper something in Rulf’s ear. Theo did not notice the dwarves as they now spoke softly to one another. He instead looked long and hard at Hallson, and then threw up his hands in defeat.

    ‘You had better come with us,’ he declared with resignation. ‘We are headed for Needlehole, and I am returning home. You will come with us so that I can escort you back to Budgeford.’

    ‘I want to do what you did!’ cried Hallson clapping his hands together with joy. ‘I want to be a hero like you!’

    ‘A hero?’ exclaimed Theo shaking his head vigorously at his cousin. ‘Bless me! Do not speak of such things Hallson! I merely was lucky enough to get out a few rather unfortunate situations.’

    Rulf laughed at this and both hobbits turned to look at him. ‘Not a hero, eh?’ he said chuckling. ‘I do remember you battling those nasty barrow spiders. You have some heroics in you, master Theo.’

    Hallson’s eyes grew wide at the mere mention of spiders. ‘Theodoras battled spiders?’ he said with astonishment.

    ‘Not to master Baggins’ standards,’ laughed Khazgrim finally breaking his silence. ‘But spiders are a start.’
    Last edited by Brucha; Jan 08 2013 at 02:38 PM.

  16. #91

    Chapter Thirty: The Rushock Bog - 5 Solmath, 1418 SR

    It was dark outside when the companions had gone very quietly from the village of Overhill; first over the wood yards and past many stumps of felled trees that stuck out of the soft earth, then slowly up a rolling hill-slope to the west. Beyond the yard, the trees began to thicken as they approached the edges of the Bindbole Wood.

    Their cloaks were very dark about them, and they passed like shadows in the faint evening light. Little noise could be heard round the wide patches of fir-wood, except for the sturdy march of dwarven boots and the soft pitter-pat of hobbit feet. At last Overhill was far behind them and the lights in the windows of the last smail or house in the village disappeared in the growing expanse of trees.



    At the top of the long sloping hill, they struck a path through the woods that rolled away pale grey into the distance ahead. The stars swung overhead and twinkled through the swaying boughs of trees above their heads. For a long while no one spoke.

    Theo walked out in front of the group, occasionally humming softly to himself. Not far behind him marched Khazgrim, his blue hood pulled up over his head; beside the dwarf was Hallson, who stumped along quite merrily, trying to appear stern and important as he went. Last came Rulf, who cast his bright eyes about as he marched with determined vigilance, one hand never straying far from the crossbow hung on his belt.

    The stars were growing thicker and the night drew on when Theo yawned very loudly, then began to slow his pace. The hobbit yawned once more as the old dwarf came abreast with his slowing march.

    ‘It has been quite some time since I have been on the road!’ said Theo shaking his head at Khazgrim. ‘I am far too out of form as I once was. Too many fine meals and sitting beside the hearth at home!’

    ‘We will get you to work off some of that plumpness,’ said Rulf with a smile as he too came to halt with the others in the darkness. ‘But we have a bit more of a walk ahead of us.’ All eyes turned to glance through the trees ahead but little could be seen in the deepening shadows of the tall trees.

    ‘So, we walk to Needlehole?’ asked Hallson in excitement as he glanced about the woods with anticipation. ‘Then our adventure has started!’ he added as if half-expecting such an adventure to come popping right out of the trees any moment.

    ‘Adventure…?’ said Khazgrim with much amusement. He looked down at the excited hobbit with a smile. ‘My lad, walking from one side of the Shire to the other is hardly an adventure.’

    ‘Aye,’ said Hallson with a wink. ‘But this is the first time I do so with two dwarves!’

    Theo stretched his arms wide as he gazed up at the night sky then turned towards Khazgrim. ‘True, master Khazgrim,’ he said. ‘There is little adventuring in the Shire and that is how we Shire-folk like it! And yet…’ his voice trailed off as a queer look spread across his rosy face.

    The dwarves exchanged a quick glance then looked down at the hobbit. Theo did not speak straight away, but instead gazed off into the woods ahead of them for some time. Finally he shrugged and turned to his companions.

    ‘I heard a strange tale from a Bounder back in Overhill. He spoke of tales of a troll, a troll mind you, in the Rushock Bog.’ The hobbit shook his shaggy head once then twice in disbelief. ‘But folk hereabouts talk far too much and imagine more so than that to be believed.’

    Hallson’s eyes grew as large as saucers at the mere mention of a troll. ‘Trolls? In the bogs?’ he gasped. ‘I cannot believe it!’

    Theo looked at his cousin, shook his nose and waved one hand at his cousin. ‘No trolls thank you very much! The gnats of the bog are good enough for me. Bothersome little critters they are.’

    Hallson looked sidelong at Theo and then shivered slightly, drawing his cloak tighter about himself. ‘A bit chilly though, I would have loved to sleep a bit longer and have eaten a proper meal before setting out.’ The hobbit sighed then tried to appear undaunted. ‘But if this is what a hero must do, then I am up for it!’

    ‘Hero?’ said Khazgrim with a smirk. ‘And what would the little master here know about heroes?’

    ‘Well,’ answered Hallson scratching his head. ‘I know my cousin here is one! And from your tales then you must be as well!’

    The dwarf laughed aloud heartily at the young hobbit. ‘I am over two hundred years old, little master, I have plenty of stories to tell.’

    ‘I would love to hear them all, Khazgrim!’ said Hallson clapping his hands.

    ‘That all depends,’ answered the dwarf smiling at the frown that now spread across the hobbit’s young face. ‘If you have some red wine, a fine meal and a warm hearth, the perhaps I would be glad to tell you some.’

    Rulf, who had fallen uncommonly silent, now spoke up in a low voice. ‘We can eat when the sun is up, he said slowly, never taking his watchful eyes from the trees. ‘Let us get some more miles behind us first.’

    At once the others glanced at the grim dwarf. Theo hoisted his pack higher onto his back and yawned once more before returning to the walk ahead. Hallson quickly followed, a peculiar gleam in his eyes. Still chuckling softly, Khazgrim marched swiftly after the two hobbits. Rulf stood silently for a moment, looking about the woods with a grim stare then trotted to catch up with his companions.

    They had not gone far when the fairly level ground began to fall gently down to the west. The night was still clear and cool and starry, but smoky wisps of mist were now creeping up the slope. After only a short distance, the slope began to plunge deeply past the few remaining trees that rustled their dry leaves in the darkness.

    Further down the steep slopes there now came into view a wide expanse of stagnant pools and marches, interrupted here or there by narrow bands of dryer land. Each of these islands were covered with reeds and grasses, or crowned by mossy and sickly-looking trees.



    The companions scrambled down the last length of slope to the bottom. There Theo halted, a wide pool barring their way further on. ‘Ugg!’ exclaimed Theo with distaste as he stepped back hastily from the bank. ‘What a horrible place!’ Rulf took a stand beside the hobbit and looked out across the bogs beyond in the dim starlight.

    ‘Well, look at this!’ declared Theo as he gazed out over the water; the mire did not flow but in the dim light he could just make out the rising bank on the far side. Too far, thought Theo with distrust. ‘Do you think we can cross?’ asked Theo out loud, to no one in particular.

    The hobbits did not know it, but they were in fact only just now entering the eastern-most border of the bog and the main expanse stretched far out to the west and south. Far to the north and west lay Needlehole, the last Shire village on the very edge of the western edges of the marsh.

    ‘Are we crossing here?’ squeaked Hallson from behind Theo. ‘Is there no road or bridge?’

    ‘I do not know cousin,’ answered Theo.

    Khazgrim, who had not yet approached the bank, gazed out over the still water. ‘My cloak is going to get soaked,’ he groaned.

    Rulf knelt on the bank and peered down the edge of the water to the right. ‘We can try going along aside that way,’ he muttered, trying to sound encouraging.

    ‘Longer but safer? I like that!’ said Hallson gratefully. ‘What do you say, Theo?’ he added, looking at his cousin.

    Theo fell silent, gazing out over the pool with displeasure. At last he spoke. ‘Agreed, dyer and safer.’

    Without a word, and with Rulf in the lead, the companions began picking their way carefully along the bank of the mire. For a time it led north along the foot of the sloping hill but soon it began to turn to the west and came to a narrow spit of land no more a dozen or so paces wide. After a few steps it came to an end surrounded by water on three sides.

    ‘This seems a bit shallower to cross,’ announced Theo as he peered over the pool. This did seem true, as the far bank could be seen no more than ten yards or so. But the water seemed deceptive to say the least and it was evident that they would not be able to cross without getting wet.

    ‘I shall go first,’ said Rulf after a moment. Theo looked anxiously at his old friend then at the still water, but said nothing. The dwarf handed Theo the reins of his pony, lifted his axe and crossbow from his belt with both hands and held them high. Rulf took a hesitant step into the cold water, then another few steps and soon the water rose to his wide waist. He turned to glance back at his companions and was about to speak. But he sighed and began to stumble through the murky water until it began to grow shallower nearer the far side.

    Finally, the dwarf strode onto the bank, shaking the water out of his leather boots and legging. His slid his axe and crossbow back into his belt and turned to wave the other over.

    Next went Theo. Holding the hem of his worn cloak near his chin with both hands, the hobbit splashed into the water, sputtering loudly with every step. For a moment, he began to flounder as he reached the middle and the water rose dangerously to his chest. But soon the hobbit was standing beside Rulf, looking very bedraggled and very uncomfortable.

    Hallson watched his cousin with dread as he waded through the water, but now it was his turn to cross. He stuck a single toe into the water at the edge and swiftly withdrew it. He looked at Khazgrim who was standing beside him, then placed his entire foot into the water; at once sank into squishy mud on the bottom. Forgetting his cloak altogether, the young hobbit began to cross, using his arms like paddles as if he was both walking and swimming. The younger hobbit scrambled onto the bank, smiled meekly at the others there and then let out a loud sneeze.

    Now it was only Khazgrim standing alone on the narrow spit of dry land with the two ponies. He tugged at the packs atop each pony to test their straps, and then began prodding them into the water. The ponies of course wanted nothing to do with this and brayed loudly as the dwarf pushed them further in. The dwarf grumbled and herded them deeper until they were kicking and snorting as they waded across. Soon the ponies were standing with the others, shaking the dripping water from their manes and tails.

    Khazgrim watched in silence as the ponies crossed, glanced over the water with a deep sigh, and began to unclasp his long cloak. The dwarf gently folded the cloak and, holding it with both hands, began to wade through the still water.

    ‘Bogs!’ muttered the dwarf as he slowly made his way across with careful steps. ‘Never liked them on my way down, or here.’ The old dwarf was drenched from beard to boots when he finally reached the far side, but seemed no worse for wear.

    After a very short rest, while they shook and wrung what water they could from their dripping clothing, they set out once again. The pools grew larger and more ominous as they made their way deeper into the bogs on a westerly path. With Rulf in the lead, they picked their way carefully along, in a zigzag pattern, trying to keep to the higher patches of drier ground. And yet, more than once they had to cross through sticky patches of mired water, though not nearly so deep and wide as the first one.

    The light cool breeze of the woods had changed, growing to a cold wind. With it was bourne a bitter and reeking tang that made the hobbits wriggle their noses more than once. Overhead, the night sky became torn and tattered with rolling mists that all but hid the twinkling stars behind a flowing blanket of grey.

    They had been going along for more than an hour when they reached a wide patch of dry land that rose suddenly from the narrow islands and surrounding pools of stagnant water. Near the top they could see a muddy and deeply-rutted road sweeping round from the south towards a mossy and old-looking wooden bridge. The bridge crossed a narrow expanse of water to another patch of dry land on the far side.

    ‘I believe I see a road over there!’ said Theo as he pointed ahead with renewed hope.

    ‘How are you both holding up?’ asked Rulf to the hobbits as he looked towards the road.

    ‘Dirty and muddy as expected, master Rulf,’ grumbled Theo, trying once again to shake the caked mud from his furry toes. ‘I’m all soaked and freezing!’ added Hallson miserably.

    Rulf looked down at the shivering younger hobbit with a smile. ‘Just think how good your next meal will taste after working up such an appetite.’ He motioned for the others towards the bridge. ‘Come. We will make it across these bogs before the end of the night.’

    ‘At least no sign of that terrible troll!’ said Theo with a smirk and a wink to the other hobbit as he trotted after the dwarf. ‘But thankfully we reached a road!’

    ‘Hmm,’ pondered Hallson as they made their way across the narrow bridge and onto the road on the far side. ‘This road has to lead somewhere. We could have taken it.’

    ‘This road, cousin, leads all the way to Ered Luin of course!’ answered Theo, his spirits now much improved now that they were free of the mire and deep pools.

    ‘Are we going there with the dwarves?’ asked Hallson with some hope.

    ‘Oh heavens no!’ said Theo. ‘My garden needs tending to and the road to Ered Luin is long. We shall say our goodbyes in Needlehole and you and I shall turn back home.’

    The road on the far side of the bridge bore left towards the north and west, along the banks of a wide and deep-looking mire and a steep cliff-side on the other. There the ground was fairly level and open, passing a few stunted growths of trees. They trudged along fast, the hobbits glancing from side to side, sometimes looking behind them as they went. The eastern sky was beginning to glow a faint red through the wavering mists; the wind had fallen, veering round to the south and soon the sun was rising pale and watery out of the rolling mists.



    It was not long when the road came to another small bridge and shallow stream flowing down from the steep cliffs and into the nearby bog to the left. On the far side stood a low hedge and low gate and beyond they could just see the tops of a collection of roofs and chimneys. For a moment, Theo paused to look ahead and listened; everything seemed quiet and peaceful.



    ‘Ah, see?’ said Theo thankfully. ‘Needlehole is just up ahead, or I am a Bucklander!’

    ‘We are halfway home,’ said Rulf softly as he tugged at his beard. Quickly the companions made their way through the hedge-gate, and past a Hobbit Bounder who stood sleepy under the arch. Beyond the gate, the village led further on towards a low hill and past a few smials and houses.

    Theo sat down at once along the side of the lane under the flickering glow of two lamps on high posts. ‘Not even an inn!’ he muttered softly. Hallson plopped his pack down beside him and stretched out over the top of it, seeming prepared to fall asleep at once right there.

    Theo gazed at Rulf, who was standing with his pony watching a hobbit just up the lane. More curiously, the hobbit was watching them with interest, wringing his hands together and stamping his feet nervously.

    Theo was about to speak when the dwarf slipped the reins of the pony to the ground and approached the strange hobbit. Theo strained his ears to hear the hobbit begin to speak as the dwarf reached him. Little could be made out but, as Theo watched with growing interest, the hobbit began to speak in a hurried fashion, wringing his hands and glancing about as he spoke. The dwarf answered quietly and listened to the hobbit in between.

    Theo turned to speak to Khazgrim, who had sat down himself and was beginning to nod off when at that moment Rulf reappeared, a scowl darkening his face.

    ‘Why the frown, Mr. Rulf?’ said Theo, looking at his friend anxiously. The dwarf opened his mouth, and shut it again, turning to glance back at the hobbit further up the lane. Finally, the dwarf looked down at Khazgrim and spoke , his voice grim.

    ‘Khazgrim…,’ he began slowly. ‘This hobbit over there is accusing a dwarf of stealing his cow.’

    Khazgrim opened his eyes and raised an eyebrow. ‘A dwarf? Steal a cow?’ he said with disbelief. ‘Has the hobbit gone mad? What possible use would a Longbeard want with a cow?’

    ‘Does he think it is one of you two?’ asked Hallson faintly as he sat up abruptly.

    Rulf shook his head. ‘He named a dwarf called Olwir, whom he suspects stole his cow…what dwarf would do that? It makes no sense.’

    ‘None of our folk would do something so pointless,’ said Khazgrim firmly as he rose slowly to his feet.

    Theo fell very silent, gazing at the dwarves. ‘There must be some misunderstanding,’ he said finally. ‘Perhaps we should have a talk with this hobbit?’

    Rulf wriggled his long nose slightly. ‘The hobbit asked for us to go looking in the bog…at a place called Troll’s Knoll of all things. I do not know a dwarf named Olwir, but if he is a Longbeard, I doubt he is also a thief. Should we look into this?’

    ‘Aye we should,’ murmured Khazgrim as he stroked his long grey beard.

    ‘Then we will seek this missing cow,’ answered Rulf. ‘And you shall come with us,’ he added looking at the two young hobbits.

    Hallson’s eyes grew bright and wide and looked at his cousin imploringly. Theo did not speak right away, but shook his head once or twice. Finally he laughed aloud. ‘Of course, master Rulf. We cannot allow such things to go unanswered. We are far too dear of friends after all!’ He turned to Hallson and smiled. ‘Well young Bolger, you asked for an adventure and now you shall have it!’
    Last edited by Brucha; Jan 17 2013 at 02:16 PM.

  17. #92
    Join Date
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    When I see Hallson’s eagerness the phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind. Let’s see if he likes his adventure. Good to see Theodoros is out and about again. Looking forward to more.
    The way to a woman's heart is through her stomach

  18. #93

    Chapter Thirty-one: Friends and Enemies - 6 Solmath, 1418 SR

    The mists had begun to gather more thick even with the spreading dawn when the companions made their way quietly from Needlehole and back to the muddy road through the hedge-gate. The bogs that now slowly came into view once more were still dark with endless curling wisps of grey.

    For a moment, Theo paused along the road and said nothing. He was looking out with discomfort over the still and mist-shrouded bog to the south. He now turned to his companions. ‘About this troll knoll?’ he said with a long sigh, shaking the rain from his sodden head. ‘Any clue as to where we may find it?’

    Indeed, it had begun to rain only a short while before they had departed. The wind had suddenly come up with great gusts and spots of rain began to trickle down from the darkened skies even as they had hoisted their packs to their shoulders and made their way through the hedge-gate. Now the rain was falling steadily, making everything and everyone very miserable and very wet. Everything seemed gloomy.

    ‘It would be high up…’ muttered Khazgrim, as he shook his blue hood free of the falling rain. ‘Trolls tend to like somewhere high, and somewhere there is a cave nearby.’

    ‘So back to the marsh, I suppose,’ said Theo with a sniffle. Hallson stood beside his cousin but said nothing, looking quite bedraggled in the falling rain.

    ‘Aye, little master,’ answered Khazgrim, who now gave up all hope of shaking the water out of his soaked hood.
    Rulf glanced up at the dreary and dismal sky, and then turned to the others. ‘We should move out,’ he said quietly.

    With Rulf leading the way, they scrambled from the road, down a steep embankment and into a thicket of mossy trees below. They picked their way through the trees and soon came to a wide and deep-looking stretch of open water. There they halted.

    Khazgrim grew very quiet for a moment, and then spoke. ‘Beardling, if this is a troll,’ he said grimly. ‘Then we must be ready for battle.’

    ‘I know,’ answered the younger dwarf. ‘My axe and bow are ready.’ Rulf now peered across the still water and pointed. ‘Should we cross here to the other side?’

    ‘Cross here?’ said Theo with a start as his eyes followed the outstretched arm of the dwarf. On the far side of the water could be dimly seen a raised embankment of mud, overhung with sickly trees and mossy brambles. The hobbit shook his head at the sight, for he at once knew that they could not jump across, nor did he wish wade through it, believing that the water would most certainly rise far above his and Hallson’s head in the deepest center.

    ‘I do not wish to cross here,’ said Theo sternly.

    Khazgrim gazed out over the water with a keen eye and finally spoke. ‘Aye, let us try a bit east first.’

    The companions now took to a new line, turning aside to the left and followed the edges of the bog, seeking a better and easier spot to cross. In silence, they trudged along the muddy bank, while all about them the rain pattered and trickled down.

    By the time they had gone a mile or more, the sun gleaned pale and watery out of swirling clouds low on the horizon to the east. They now saw that their path along the banks was now turning them a bit southwards. All was quiet but for the splatter of hobbit feet and dwarf boot over the wet and muddy embankment.

    Finally, they halted beneath the spreading bough of a tall mossy rowan tree. Theo sat down beneath the tree and looked away south into the following haze of mist. ‘Oh confront it and be bothered with missing cows!’ he said at last.

    ‘I hope this cow just wandered off and wasn’t really taken by a troll!’ said Hallson, who was looking as miserable as his cousin in the cold, wet rain.

    ‘Your cousin has the luck of having to find missing livestock, master Hallson,’ said Rulf with a chuckle, seeming to be not the least bothered by the sour weather.

    Theo glanced at his old friend with distain, then sighed deeply and slowly climbed to his feet. ‘I am sure we will find this Daffodil sleeping peacefully on some hillock before long,’ he said, trying to sound reassuring.

    The companions looked out onto the water and listened for a time; then they trussed their packs up again and set out. Their path continued on to the east and south in a tired zigzagging sort of way; it was not long when they began to climb towards the top of a steep bank. At the top, the higher ground began at once to sink towards the edges of the water on the other side. Here they paused once again.

    ‘This is plenty shallow,’ said Khazgrim confidently as he strode to the bank and looked out.

    ‘Agreed, we should try here,’ replied Rulf as he sank the haft of his axe into the unmoving but muddy water. Without another word, the dwarf began to wade through the water with slow, steady steps. Khazgrim swiftly followed him. Much to the hobbits’ surprise, the water rose no higher than the tops of the dwarfs’ leathers boots and, within moments, they both were standing on the other bank. Rulf turned back to the hobbits and waved them to follow.

    Theo turned a very distrusting eye towards water and shivered, then took Hallson’s arm in his and plunged briskly into the still water. It was cold, icy cold, even colder than their first crossing on their way from Overhill. The hobbits spluttered as they began to cross, clutching to one another as if the slightest step could spell their doom. As they reached the center, the water rose up to their knees but went no further; they waded unsteadily across and hurried up onto the muddy bank on the far side.

    There the companions stood for a moment, the hobbits shivering in the cold wind that had now sprung up. Theo cupped his hand to his mouth to breathe out heavily, and then looked up curiously. Rulf had stepped a few paces away from the bank and was gazing further to the south. The dwarf pointed and all eyes turned to spy a mossy-grey slope leading up like a sagging bridge onto the north side of a high but flat-topped hill.



    They decided to make for the top at once; after a slow prodding climb the companions reached the crown of the hill. On the top they found it treeless for the most part, and covered with tall mossy grasses. To all sides of the hill there appeared a wide view of the bogs, empty, deserted and featureless in the deep swirling mists.

    Theo took a step forward then froze, looking curiously at something on the far side of the summit. It seemed to be some sort of stone rising from the tall grasses; but as the mists parted he leapt back with alarm and great fright.

    ‘Oh my, look! A troll!’ he shouted, then hurriedly covered his mouth with both hands. Hallson followed his cousin’s gaze until he too saw the troll; towering over both hobbit and dwarf, the troll’s huge arms were stretched wide and its large bulbous head was cocked to one side and turned away as if to shield its gaze from something. It was clad in simple leathers over dark skin of grey-greenish scales and great toeless feet were planted beneath it.



    ‘Don’t worry,’ said Khazgrim softly with a slight chuckle. ‘It is daylight…’

    ‘Daylight?’ answered Theo at once, not daring to take his eyes from the monstrous troll. ‘Whatever does that have to do with anything?’

    Suddenly, Rulf strode up towards the troll; the hobbits shrieked and Theo lunged to pull his companion back. The dwarf stopped under the towering form and gazed up at its great heavy face. Then, much to the surprise of the frightened hobbits, Rulf laughed aloud and tapped the troll on the knee with the haft of his axe.

    ‘Looks like he got caught short of dusk,’ said the dwarf with some laughter and looked back at the others.

    Theo rubbed his eyes, as if he were sleeping and had suddenly awoken. ‘My, my, whatever is going on here?’

    Khazgrim looked down at the hobbits with a broad smile. ‘Stone trolls cannot go out in the daylight,’ he said. ‘Or they turn to stone.’

    ‘He’s turned to stone?’ said Hallson meekly, not taking his wide eyes from the troll, whom he expected to leap straight towards them at any moment, sunlight or no sunlight.

    ‘Yes,’ answered the dwarf. ‘They have never been too bright, slow and stupid as always.’

    Theo laughed his fear and worry swiftly disappearing. ‘Truly? See Hallson, you learn something new every day! But a stone troll, here in the Shire?’

    ‘So at night does it prowl the bog alive?’ asked Hallson not entirely ready to believe neither his own eyes nor the reassuring words of the dwarves.

    ‘No lad,’ said Khazgrim and placed a steady hand on the young hobbit’s head. ‘The story for this troll is quite over.’

    ‘A troll!’ said Theo shaking his head with wonder. ‘Never did I think I would live long enough to see one. Even one turned to stone!’

    Just then, Rulf turned away from the troll and glanced down into the tall grass. Kneeling down, he parted the grass and whistled aloud, waving the others over. ‘No need to worry about this troll, but look here,’ he said. There, lying in the grass was a cow, and worse still it seemed to have been partially eaten by some sort of large wild beast. Around its neck was hung a bronze bell.

    ‘Ugg!’ said Hallson with disgust as he looked down at the poor cow. He pinched his nose and turned away.

    Rulf reached down and carefully removed the bell from round the cow’s neck. ‘It could not have been this troll,’ he muttered as he stood up. ’This one has been turned to stone for a long time, otherwise why else would this hill have the name, Troll’s Knoll?’

    Khazgrim furrowed his brow and then glanced back at the standing troll. ‘Where there is one troll…’ he began then fell silent. ‘What do you mean, Khazgrim?’ said Theo with alarm.

    ‘There are probably more,’ answered Rulf grimly, glancing at the other dwarf.

    ‘Yes,’ relied Khazgrim. ‘Trolls do not usually wander alone, at least not stone trolls.’

    ‘More trolls?’ exclaimed Hallson and he began looking about very worried. ‘Cousin, we must warn the Bounders about this!’

    ‘Do not worry Hallson,’ answered Rulf. ‘They only come out at night. But let us return to this Mister Bolger; it certainly was no dwarf that did this!’

    It was a damp, weary journey back to Needlehole and they seldom spoke. The dwarves had fallen very grim and there was no laughter or song as they plodded back out of the bog. Even cheerful Hallson remained very quiet as they picked out the slow pathless trek back to the road. A general uneasiness had befallen the companions as they reached the northern-most edges of the bogs and they now began to feel that some hidden danger was not far away, or that they were marching straight on towards it.

    Once back within the safety of the hedge of Needlehole, Theo threw his pack down beneath the eaves of a smial along the side of the road and sat down. Hallson sat beside him, looking very miserable and fell swiftly into an uneasy sleep. The two dwarves fell into quiet whispering in their strange, secretive tongue, then wandered off and disappeared.

    For a long while, Theo sat gloomily under the eaves, gazing our over the road as rain splattered and sputtered in the mud. The sky looked dark and dreary, though it was already well past noon-time, and only the slightest patch of sunlight shone now or then from behind the thick clouds.

    Theo was just beginning to doze off, his head resting on Hallson’s shoulder, when there came the sounds of heavy boot steps sloshing through the rain and mud towards him. He yawned and opened his eyes to watch as Rulf suddenly returned.

    ‘Now he wants us to speak with a Bounder…’ The dwarf looked both troubled and grim as he said this.

    ‘A Bounder?’ asked Theo as he climbed to his feet and stretched his arms high. ‘Whatever for?’

    ‘This Bolger fellow is still insisting the dwarf Olwir has something to do with his cow’s disappearance, said the dwarf, tugging at his beard.

    ‘Who is this Olwir fellow anyways?’ asked the hobbit disquietedly.

    Suddenly, there came a voice from behind the dwarf. ‘’We told him troll, and all he says is dwarf,’ said Khazgrim becoming visible in the rain. ‘As far as the dwarf, we do not know.’ He was silent for a moment. ‘Well beardling?’ he said quietly, gazing at the other dwarf.

    Rulf scowled. ‘I spoke with this Bounder; he told me that they have seen increased traffic of dwarves of late, and not all are considered respectable.’ Khazgrim scoffed at this and spat into the mud with displeasure.




    ‘The Bounder suspects this Olwir is a trouble-maker,’ he went on. ‘But that does not mean much coming from a hobbit, no offense. Hobbits tend to think most strangers are up to no good. He has asked us to speak with a dwarf named Ulfar, says he is a respectable lot and may have some information about this Olwir.’

    ‘Then we must assume the worst,’ answered Khazgrim quietly. ‘We must go and find this Olwir, maybe he will give a proper account of himself to a fellow dwarf.’

  19. #94
    Quote Originally Posted by story21 View Post
    When I see Hallson’s eagerness the phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind. Let’s see if he likes his adventure. Good to see Theodoros is out and about again. Looking forward to more.
    I am very happy that the second half of the story is entertaining, story21, and that people have returned to follow Theo's new adventure! The first part of this new tale has been slow going, of course, since the intrepid adventurers are still in the relative safety of the Shire. But not for long! This new tale will have some very intereting twists and turns and the journey involved will be a long one.

  20. #95

    Chapter Thirty-two: The Dwarves of Needlehole - 7 Solmath, 1418 SR

    ‘A dwarf and a troll, together? Unheard of!’ said Theo after the others had fallen silent. ‘Well, what should we do? Perhaps we should look for this Ulfar fellow and get to the bottom of all of this nonsense.’

    Hallson stood beside his cousin, his bright face furrowed with worry and confusion. The dwarves did not speak straight away, but gazed at one another in a strange manner. Finally, Rulf spoke aloud.

    ‘We will speak with Ulfar,’ said the dwarf slowly but with a stern voice. ’He is a dwarf from the Blue Mountains; he may be able to help us.’

    ‘Yes,’ added Khazgrim firmly. ‘Stay here. Dwarf business is ours and ours alone.’

    With that, the old dwarf turned and strode down the lane with Rulf soon following his heavy strides. The hobbits watched as the dwarves made their way along the road and up a slope; Theo did not look at his cousin, or speak a word for some time, worry now creased across his face.

    ‘Hmm, shady dwarf business might I add,’ said Hallson finally as the dwarves disappeared from view down the road.

    Theo gazed down at his cousin and sighed aloud. ‘Dwarves are proud folk, and honourable to a fault at times.’ he said. ‘But this business about stealing cows?’

    The sun rose hidden behind the thick clouds and the sleepy village of Needlehole seemed sad and gloomy. Theo lifted his pack from his shoulders and placed in gently down, and then sat onto top of it. Hallson seemed rather bored with the whole nonsense and began kicking a small stone like a ball around in the muddy lane for youthful amusement.

    Theo was beginning to nod slowly off to sleep when he sat up and looked up the road from where the dwarves had gone. He could hear voices, deep and resonant, up the road where it climbed a low hill on the far side of the village. One voice was certainly Rulf’s, the other was indistinct and little could Theo make out. Then the voices fell away and nothing else could be heard.

    Presently, heavy footfalls came from up the road and within moments, the dwarves came into view, trudging down from the slope. Theo clambered to his feet and watched his companions with growing interest; the dwarves were talking in low voices as they approached, and the hobbit could just hear the last of their conversation as they approached.

    ‘I have my suspicions and I hope I am not right,’ said Rulf gravely. ‘I believe it may be….must be….no Longbeard would such a thing.’

    ‘So what did this dwarf have to say?’ asked Theo with expectant curiosity as the dwarves halted before him.

    Rulf at once closed his mouth and eyed the hobbits. He glanced about for listening ears and then spoke in a hushed manner. ‘It seems this mystery is not over. Ulfar has asked us to look for some dwarves that may know of this Olwir. We are told to seek them in the bogs, towards the east.’

    ‘Dwarves, in the marshes, is he mad?’ exclaimed Theo with disbelief. ‘Are you sure that is what this Ulfar fellow said?’

    The dwarves exchanged curious glances and then Khazgrim spoke. ‘Yes, that is what he said.’

    ‘So what exactly is this dwarf asking of us?’ said Theo, looking at the dwarves with bewilderment.

    ‘Do not worry yourself, little master,’ answered Khazgrim gravely.’ You make yourselves comfortable here. We will return with the information.’ He then turned to Rulf. ‘Let us get this over with,’ said the old dwarf wearily.

    The dwarves shouldered their packs and turned to walk towards the hedge-gate, leaving Theo and Hallson very discerned, unable to speak. Neither dwarf spoke until they passed through the gate and had begun to make their way down the road beyond. There Khazgrim turned to gaze back hastily at the hedge-gate
    .
    ‘Accursed Dourhands…’ he muttered softly when they were out of earshot of the hobbits. ‘They have their stink in everything!’

    Rulf nodded but said nothing at first. He was thinking back to their conversation with Ulfar. Much to the dwarves’ surprise, Ulfar did not seem altogether astonished by the questions they posed to him. On the contrary, the old dwarf had much to say about this Olwir and of the riddle concerning Daffodil’s gruesome and untimely demise.

    'Aye, it doesn't surprise me that Olwir is involved in this,’ confided the old dwarf at once. ‘A number of dwarves passing through lately are of low character, and he's the worst! I wish I could tell you where he was, but I've not seen him about for a few days. Those other dwarves might've seen him. In fact, just the other day, I saw a bunch of them crowding around a parchment of some sort. I didn't catch what they were talking about, but I did hear Olwir's name mentioned. That parchment could have been their orders. If you could go out to Rushock Bog and acquire a few of those letters from the dwarf-hunters out there, we might learn what Olwir is up to.'

    As the old dwarf’s words echoed in his mind, Rulf finally broke his silence. 'Yes...’ he said slowly. ‘And even some dwarves cannot spot the difference, let alone hobbits or elves.'

    ‘Then let us deal with this as swiftly as possible,’ growled Khazgrim.

    ‘Of course,’ exclaimed Rulf with a snort. ‘Yet, it is unfortunate your brother is not here. He would be having a high old time in all of this!’ This he added with a hint of sarcasm.

    ‘I am sure he would,’ grumbled the older dwarf, seeming to not enjoy the humour of his companion. ‘I have no love for these traitors against the line of Durin.’

    They followed the road as they had done that morning; but this time they did not turn towards the marsh, but instead they marched along the road until the old bridge slowly came into view. There the dwarves left the road and took to the muddy slopes that rose up from the open waters of the bogs to the south. For some time they followed this direction, turning ever east and northwards as they went. There the ground was much firmer than along the banks of the bogs, and far less muddy. They passed under an occasional mossy tree or through thorny scrub brush as they picked their way along the higher ground.

    They soon came to a tall hill before them, bordered by leaning rowan trees. Quietly, the dwarves scrambled up the steep slope and through ferns and brambles. At the brow of the hill they paused and looked out; to the north and east they could see flickering lights in the distance – campfires if their eyes did not deceive them.

    At once, there came the sound of stealthy footfalls ahead in the gloom; it was swiftly followed by a glimpse of wary movement beneath the boughs of a snarled and mossy tree. The figure, clad in a decrepit and filthy tunic of leather, stooped under the hanging tree branches and lifted its head to glare about with bloodshot eyes. Held tightly in one hand was small round shield of wood and in the other it grasped a savage axe of iron.

    Rulf crouched low in the tall ferns and signaled for his companion to do also. Then, with a slow nod, the dwarf unslung his crossbow and drew back the heavy strong, setting an arrow onto the grove of the stock. There was a heavy twang followed by a groan; the dwarves looked out to watch the figure slip quietly to the ground.

    Without a word, the dwarves made their way stealthily down from the hill, staying very low to the ground. When they were no more than six or so paces from the fallen figure, there suddenly appeared another figure further on. With a hoarse shout, the swarthy figure crashed through the brambles, its bearded face twisted with a savage sneer.

    The new arrival did not halt its charge, but came straight at the dwarves with abandon, hefting its cruel-looking broad-bladed axe over its head. At once, Rulf cursed and reached for another arrow, but Khazgrim now sprang forward, past his friend.

    ‘Traitorous filth!’ the dwarf cried out as he met the dourhand’s headlong charge. The dourhand swept his axe out in a wide arc, but Khazgrim slipped aside, twisted round and drove forward with his mace. The dourhand gurgled and staggered back a step, clutching feebly at Khazgrim’s arm before slipping closed-eyed to the earth.

    ‘Damnable dourhands,’ grumbled the dwarf as he gazes down at the unmoving foe.

    ‘A good blow, master Khazgrim,’ said Rulf softly. He glanced out to survey the trees further on and then bent over the fallen dourhand at Khazgrim’s feet. ‘Don’t they ever bathe?’ he said with distaste. He gently lifted a pouch from the dourhand’s belt and stood up. Inside he found a crumbled piece of parchment which he began to unroll and held it up in the dim light.

    ‘Skorgrím! Again!’ he said as his quick eyes passed over the fine script written with a large bold hand. At last he looked up. ‘Listen to this,’ he said swiftly.

    To the dwarf Olwir, son of the Dourhands and loyal to our cause:

    Word of your promise has reached my ears, and you will be great in my eyes if you can deliver on it. If a stone-troll might be captured in this land called Shire, I will reward you with riches beyond any you or your fathers have seen. Do not fail in this, for punishment will come as swiftly as reward.

    Skorgrím Dourhand, Mightiest


    Rulf paused and handed his companion the crumbled paper with rage. Khazgrim took the note and passed his eyes hastily over the writing. ‘Traitorous wretches!’ he muttered handing the letter back and gripped the haft of his mace with both hands. ‘Let us return to Ulfar,’ he said with a snarl. ‘He will want to hear about this.’

    Rulf raised his head and looked about. ‘Yes, let’s not tarry here.’
    Last edited by Brucha; Jan 24 2013 at 12:42 PM.

  21. #96

    Chapter Thirty-three: A Gift for the North – 7 Solmath, 1418 SR

    The day was passing slowly and wearily in Needlehole. Hallson, who had grown tired of the dwarves’ return, was now curled up and fast asleep, his cloak pulled tightly about him. Theo had not done so, but sat worried under the eaves along the road, one eye kept focused on the hedge-gate. He was thinking back to the words of the dwarves before they departed back into the forbidding bog, and Theo was growing afraid with concern. The dwarves had seemed even more grim after their talk with the Ulfar fellow and Theo now began to wonder if something terrible had happened out in the trackless bogs.

    The day was growing pale and dark when he heard the sounds of approaching boots through the gate. Theo roused his cousin with a gentle nudge and stood up to watch with eagerness as the dwarves strode through the hedge-gate, their heavy boots caked with mud.

    ‘I wondered what had taken you so long to return,’ said Theo with relief as the dwarves stopped before him. ‘I thought perhaps something terrible had happened!’

    ‘We are fine,’ said Khazgrim with a smile, setting down his heavy pack with a groan. ‘Yet we have more business to discuss.’

    ‘I thought of heading out after you, but the very thought of venturing into those marshes was not a pleasant notion!’ answered Theo, but he now gazed up at the old dwarf and frowned. ‘What is this about business? I do not like the sounds of it.’

    ‘Is it something to do with that troll in the bog?’ asked Hallson, as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up.
    Khazgrim looked down at the sleepy hobbit and nodded slowly. ‘It may.’

    ‘Well let’s have it then,’ said Theo, who did not like this hint of new-found secrecy.

    ‘I think they should be told,’ said Rulf slowly, glancing at his kinsman.

    ‘We should not involve them in this nasty business,’ replied Khagrim grimly.

    ‘I know, but this is their home,’ countered Rulf with a forlorn look.

    Khazgrim did not answer but growled softly and sat wearily down atop his pack. Rulf cleared his throat and turned to the hobbits, a strange somber look upon his face.

    ‘Theo, you were at our side in the Barrow,’ he began slowly. ‘You have a stout heart, but this is ill news we bring. It seems that there is a bad dwarf hereabouts. He wants to bring trouble to the Shire. The Dourhands are trying to bring a stone-troll into these lands.’

    ‘Good gracious, a stone-troll, here?’ said Theo with much alarm. ‘And whatever are Dourhands?’

    There came only silence from the grim dwarves; Khazgrim sat still and silent upon the ground, deep in thought. Theo shivered slightly and looked out over the road; for a moment he felt a deep sense of darkness and doom creeping into his heart. Rulf stirred and gazed at him, a look of sadness in the dwarf’s lined face. It was Hallson who finally broke the silence.

    ‘So you will take care of it, right?’ said the young hobbit, not knowing exactly what a stone-troll was, only that it sounded very foul and terrible.

    ‘Yes, we will,’ said Khazgrim breaking his silence and gazed up at the wide-eyes hobbit. ‘But stay silent, we know how hobbits love to gossip.’ Hallson took a step back, shut his mouth quickly, and turned his eyes down to his hairy feet.

    Theo ruffled his hair and then sighed deeply. ‘Dear me, the very thought of a troll shivers me something terribly,’ he said suddenly. ‘I am no warrior, yet I simply cannot remain unmoved by such a calamity coming here. I am a Bounder after all, though certainly nothing like Bullroarer Took! You called this a dwarf affair, but this is Shire business and we hobbits look to our own. What should I do?’

    Rulf raised a shaggy brow at his friend and smiled warmly. ‘Bounder indeed, my old friend. That is the hobbit I came to know in the dreaded Barrow Downs.’ Hallson looked up, beaming a fresh smile of his own at his cousin.

    Theo muttered something and his face blushed bright, waving the dwarf away with one hand. Suddenly, Khazgrim, who did not seem to find much amusement in the exchange, stood up and walked between the old friends. He gazed at both of them with grim dark silent eyes and finally spoke.

    ‘I will not be held responsible for you fate, Mr. Took,’ he said then glanced swiftly at the other dwarf. ‘Nor will Rulf,’ he added sternly. ‘Do you understand? If this ends badly for you, will hold to your previous contract, little master. As far as funeral expenses and rights to treasures go.’

    ‘Theo knows,’ said Rulf swiftly as he winked at Theo and tried to hide a grin. ‘We had this discussion before.’

    Theo’s eyes drew wide and he glanced first at one dwarf then the other in disbelief and horror. ‘What contract?’ he blurted with a shriek. ‘And funeral expenses?’

    ‘Just standard stuff really,’ said Rulf, who was fighting to stave off his growing laughter. ‘But no worries my old friend, I doubt it will come to all that.’

    Khazgrim turned to look at the other dwarf with a deep frown. ‘I thought you had written him up a contract before, during the journey into the Barrow Downs?’

    ‘It was a while back,’ answered Rulf with a slight shrug. ‘We may have glossed over that part.’

    Theo was now speechless, turning from one dwarf to the other as they spoke, too stunned for any sort of words. Hallson too fell silent, clutching at his cousin’s arm, not really understanding the entire talk but none of it sounded pleasant.

    ‘Glossed over?’ snorted Khazgrim.

    Rulf laughed aloud. ‘He was fine then, no need scaring the lad needlessly.’

    Theo finally found his voice once more, though he was still shaking like an autumn leaf. ‘I can assure you, master Khazgrim, nothing of the sort was ever discussed or arraigned with me! Contract indeed!’

    But then a memory of the night in the Prancing Pony sprang into mind as Theo gazed at the dwarves. He recalled the dour dwarves that fateful evening as they spoke of the dreaded Barrow Downs and of the task that that presented to the young hobbit. He remembered not entirely understanding the whole business, and was greatly fearful of its outcome. And yet he also recalled the great desire that welled up inside his heart to show the dwarves what stuff he was really made of.

    The hobbit let out a long sigh and a little colour slowly crept back into his cheeks. ‘Am I to understand you have a plan, Rulf? To deal with this loathsome troll?’ he said slowly and cautiously. ‘Hopefully a better one than tramping off into a forsaken barrow in search for gold?’

    ‘Yes,’ said Rulf still chuckling quietly. ‘Master Khazgrim has a good plan, I assure you.’

    ‘Well I for one would like to know more about this master’s plan then!’

    ‘Indeed,’ said Khazgrim grimly. ‘We will speak with Ulfar about this matter.’

    It was not long when they had made their way up the hill from the hedge-gate and found the old dwarf Khazgrim spoke of. Rulf strode up to the dwarf and, with a low bow, he began speaking quietly to Ulfar. Theo strode next to his cousin, fidgeting somewhat, straining to hear the words of his old friend. Presently, Ulfar nodded and then looked up at Rulf.

    'Who would have thought the theft of a cow would uncover a plot such as this?’ he murmured. ‘We must foil Olwir's plans, and if he has captured a troll, we must slay it! Fortunately, I have learned where Olwir and his dwarves are camping. They can be found in the north of Rushock Bog. However, getting into the camp and slaying this Stone-troll, if they have one, will not be easy. We will need help. Gather a party of warriors -- if there are any to be found in this land -- then return here. Make sure to gather sturdy warriors, for the battle ahead will not be easy.'

    ‘We have,’ said Rulf as he pointed back to the hobbits. Ulfar gazed at the hobbits, and then snorted aloud, clearly seeing not stoutly warriors but a pair of Shire grocers. Hallson beamed a wide smile at the old dwarf and tried to look fierce; Theo only looked away uncomfortable under the heavy gaze of the dwarf. Rulf spoke in the old dwarf’s ears once again, who continued to shake his head. Finally, Ulfar spoke again.

    ‘Very well,’ he said grimly. ‘We've got to get into this camp and slay the Stone-troll they may have captured. Also, when we get into the camp, be on the watch for that Olwir. He won't be too pleased to see us trying to slay his "gift".'

    Night had fallen all about the bogs when the companions, with Ulfar in the lead, passed from Needlehole. They went along the road towards the old bridge and then turned to the north and east. Skirting the wide bogs to their right, it was not long when they could all see high ridges towering grim and dark ahead. A narrow valley wound up from the edges of the bogs that marched right up to a wooden wall and gate at the point most narrow of the rising hills to either side. The gate stood closed and all was deathly silent.

    ‘Be careful now and stay back,’ said Rulf softly to the hobbits as he slid his crossbow from his back. Ulfar strode forward gazed at the gate and walls silence for some time.

    ‘The gate is closed up tight,’ he said finally with a low growl. ‘Open up! You in there! Open up!’ he shouted, his voice booming high into the still night air.

    For a moment there was a deafening silence; instead of silence there could now be heard harsh voices and hoarse shouting on the other side of the wall and gate. The sound of a lifted bar was heard and then the gate was thrown open. Several dark and short figures crept from the open gate warily; to the hobbits they seemed like dwarves in appearance, but were ragged-looking and very dirty. The Dourhands glared at the dwarves and hobbits with cruel eyes as one stepped forward.

    ‘Who goes there?’ he bellowed, raising his axe far over his head. Then the Dourhand spied Ulfar and spoke with surprise.

    ‘Ulfar?’ he spat. ‘What are you doing here?’

    ‘I know of Olwir’s gift, and I’m here to slay it!’ declared Ulfar.

    The Dourhands fell to quiet murmuring at that until they were silenced by their companion. ‘Ulfar, this matter is none of your concern,’ said the Dourhand dangerously. ‘Leave now, if you value your life.’

    ‘I will not leave,’ answered the old dwarf grimly, and shook his head with defiance.

    ‘You were warned…’ spat the Dourhand as he hefted his axe and let it fly. ‘Take them!’ he shouted to the others.

    At once there came a strangled cry from Ulfar as the axe bit into his chest. He clutched at the terrible wound and slid to his knees with a thump even as the Dourhands sprang forward. But the dwarves were swifter and they leapt past Ulfar to meet the foes. Theo grasped Hallson who seemed in awe of the fight and very unaware of any danger.



    At once, the Dourhands swarmed round the dwarves, who stood undaunted, their backs to one another. The Dourhands hewed and hacked at their foes but seemed no match for the dwarves who lay at all with mighty blows. Theo clutched his cousin’s arm tightly and watched the battle unfold. Hallson put his hands to his ears and did not turn his gaze at the sight; it was not until the last cry of the Dourhands disappeared and all fell silent did he look up.

    At the dwarves’ feet lay the unmoving forms of the Dourhands; Rulf wasbent to the ground cleaning his axe. Khazgrim strode over the wounded old dwarf, Ulfar. He placed a hand upon the dwarf’s shoulder, a worried light creeping into his eyes.

    ‘Good job…’ said Ulfar in a weak voice as his eyes fluttered open. ‘Let’s continue on…’ he added and struggled to stand only to collapse onto the ground, his eyes closed. ‘Guess the wound was more serious…than I thought…’ he said finally with a weary groan.

    The others gathered round the old dwarf, looks of concern and sadness in their drawn faces. Khazgrim turned to Rulf, and then knelt beside the wounded dwarf, his grey head bowed with grief.

    'Aye, I guess I've been away from battle for too long,’ said Ulfar with slow painful words as he struggled to speak. ‘The wound is painful, but not mortal. It will keep me from being much help, though. You must continue without me and slay the Stone-troll, if they've captured one. And don't forget to be on the watch for Olwir, he will do his best to stop you! I'll stay behind and make sure none of this lot escape.'

    Khazgrim stood wearily to his feet and drew his companions to one side. ‘He is hurt,’ murmured the dwarf, and he glanced back at Ulfar who had now fallen silent once more. ‘We must go on.’

    Theo looked up at the dwarf with surprise. ‘Wait, these are dwarves!’ he exclaimed. ‘Dwarves battling dwarves? Whatever is going on here?’

    ‘They are hardly dwarves,’ said Rulf grimly.

    ‘Oh my,’ gasped Hallson, who now came from behind Theo to stare at the silent fallen forms of the Dourhands. ‘Will we have to fight our way through this?’

    Khazgrim did not answer but strode to tend to the grievous dwarf. The hobbits turned to gaze at Rulf with nervous expectancy, not entirely sure what was next. Rulf sighed as he watched the old dwarf lying silent on the ground and then spoke aloud.

    ‘Khazgrim is correct, we must go on,’ he said. With that, he roused the hobbits and began leading them towards the gate further up the slope, and Khazgrim soon followed. The palisade loomed suddenly above them as they passed through the gate and halted on the sloping sward on the inside. The path led onwards and upwards in a zigzag wandering, first turning to the right, then left and then right again, and flanked by the tall wooden ramparts on both sides.

    They had not gone far beyond the gate, when fierce and hoarse battle-cries broke out in the darkness ahead. Flaming brands appeared where a group of Dourhands were clustered nearer another gate. At once, the Dourhands swirled down from the winding slope and came rushing at them.

    Shielding the hobbits behind them, the dwarves met the oncoming foes with fierce determination. A few of the braver Dourhands fell upon the dwarves but they swiftly were felled and the others drew back in dismay and fled back up the pathway.



    The dwarves did not pause, but swiftly gave chase, and the hobbits stumbled wildly behind them. They reached the gate only to find that the Dourhands had rallied and there stood more of the foul creatures. With deafening cries and shouts, the Dourhands came on with great hatred and fury.

    It was a dreadful battle, and one Theo did not easily forget. The air was thick with the deafening hoarse cries of Dourhands, mingled with the battle shouts of Baruk Khazâd from the dwarves. Brazen trumpets sounded as arrows and hefted axes thick as rain filled the darkened air.



    On and on they went, and at every turn the enemy surged forward to assail them. But before the grim dwarves they would waver and fall back under the dwarves’ might; the dwarves’ hatred for their foes was cold and bitter and neither side gave quarter or mercy. The weapons of the dwarves shone with a dim and terrible light when they reached the summit of the long path. With stout cries they swept upwards slaying all who dared oppose them.

    Then, for a moment, there was only a hushed silence. Theo looked up to gaze at a few twinkling stars that began to shine among the torn and drifting clouds overhead. Perhaps the battle was finally over, he thought with dim fleeting hope. He gazed at the dwarves who had now fallen into whispered words a few steps away. It was then that Theo noticed Hallson had begun to crept slowly further up the slope towards the last gate at the very top.

    Cursing softly at his headstrong cousin, Theo began trotting to catch up with Hallson. Just as he reached out a hand to pull back the reckless young hobbit, there was a hoarse shout as a lone Dourhand sprang from the shadows.

    ‘Hallson!’ shouted Theo as he pulled the young hobbit backwards with a jerk, just as the Dourhand’s axe swept forward where Hallson had been standing. Pushing his cousin backwards, Theo whirled and drew his dagger to face the Dourhand. The Dourhand bellowed a sudden roar and leapt forward, sweeping his cruel-looking axe in a wide arc. Axe and dagger clashed with a resounding ring and Theo fell back, his arm numb with pain from the heavy blow.

    The Dourhand grinned a toothless smile and came again. Through teary eyes, Theo cried out and stabbed upwards instinctively and watched surprised as the Rohirric blade pierced through the Dourhand’s filthy tunic of leather. The Dourhand halted suddenly, a look of confusion spreading across his face and then glanced down where a swelling of dark blood began to seep from the terrible wound.

    The Dourhand shrieked aloud, raised his axe with shaken hands, and stepped towards the hobbit. A crushing sense of fear and doom swept over Theo as the Dourhand took another step towards him, powerless to stop the brute. But then there came another shout; the Dourhand’s axe swept out then sprang back with a loud clang as Khazgrim rushed the foe with his mace and turned the axe-stroke aside. The Dourhand turned with surprise just as Khazgrim’s struck out with his mace; the Dourhand toppled forward and came crashing down, his skull crushed beneath the heavy blow.



    Theo looked down at the Dourhand then at the dwarf through blinking misted eyes, not yet comprehending that he was unscathed. Then he noticed he was still clutching his dagger tightly in his hand. With shaking unsteady hands, he fumbled to slide the blade into his belt.

    ‘I told you to stay back!’ growled Khazgrim with a harsh whisper as he glared at the hobbits.
    Last edited by Brucha; Jan 31 2013 at 01:42 PM.

  22. #97
    Ah, the simple enjoyments of playing Total Immersion....

    Theo's cousin, Hallson, was created with the same rules to be applied as Theo's; meaning he was no warrior and certainly a headstrong, willful and quite inexperienced young hobbit. And he was rped exactly that way. Hallson did indeed, begin striding up towards the last gate and Theo gave chase, only to have a single Dourhand spring from out of nowhere and attack the two of us.

    Hallson was only 7th level so certainly no match for the Dourhand alone; though Theo outmatched the Dourhand by 15+ levels, it was not easy considering that he has no armour to speak of and carrying a dagger of very low level. Even a simple fight against a greyed mob can give Theo a run for his money and these fights are never straightforward victories.

    It is the little things like this that makes me simply enjoy this style of play!

  23. #98
    You must spread some Reputation around before giving it to Brucha again.

    I really enjoy his adventures, your hobbit is endearing, especially with those troublesome dwarves

  24. #99

    Chapter Thirty-four: A Gift for the North, Part Two – 7 Solmath, 1418 SR

    ‘Are you alright?’ asked Kazgrim to the shaking hobbits, his voice now less stern, but sounding very much annoyed at their headstrong foolishness.

    ‘I…I am ok, I think,’ stuttered Hallson as his cousin reached out a hand to help the young hobbit to his feet.

    ‘My wits are shaken, but nothing else,’ added Theo as he shook his head and looked gloomily at Hallson. He then let out a long sigh, very glad that his breath had returned. ‘Dreadful business all this, simply dreadful!’ he said quietly.

    Khazgrim muttered and shook his beard with a glaring stare at the hobbits before turning to inspect the fallen Dourhand. Fearing to anger the old dwarf further, Theo remained silent, and clasped hand over Hallson’s mouth just as the young hobbit was about to speak with a firm shake of his head.

    Theo gazed up the path and found that Rulf had begun to creep silently towards the final gate at the top. The hobbit turned to watch the dwarf with growing interest, the faintheartedness of his battle with the Dourhand, or the witlessness of his rash cousin, now pushed from his mind. Once at the gate, the dwarf slipped up quietly and turned his head hesitantly round to peer through.

    At once, Rulf pulled back, swiftly turned to hail the others in a whispered voice and a wave of his arm. Theo nudged his cousin, pointed towards the gate, and then scampered up the path, pulling Hallson behind him. Khazgrim looked up with mild disinterest then snorted softly before following.

    Reaching the gate, the hobbits looked up at the dwarf and Theo opened his mouth to speak. Rulf only wagged his long beard and put a finger to his lips for silence. Then, with a knowing nod, the dwarf motioned them silently towards the open gate.



    Beyond the gate stood the top of the long winding path overlooking the bogs far below. It was a sheltered camp, surrounded by rising cliffs, and was lit by a great crackling fire in the middle. Around the fire stood several filthy low tents and barrel; and the camp was not deserted. A group of five Dourhands were seated round the fire, eating a bog-slug toasted on a long spit of wood or drinking out of crude wooden mugs filled from the nearby barrels. More interesting was a large cage of stout bars that stood to one side of the camp. Then, suddenly, there came movement from within the cage.

    At first glance, Theo thought the inhabitant of the cage was some overly-large person, seeming very dejected and bored, seated inside. Bones and other unnamable stuff littered the cage floor and a nasty smell wafted down from it. Then the great heavy face turned lazily round, and Theo stepped back with alarm and rising cry.



    ‘A person?’ he thought silently. ‘This is no person, but a troll!’

    Just then, one of the Dourhands, a filthy looking fellow in mangy and threadbare leathers, stood up and muttered something to his companions in a low voice. The Dourhand bent to pick up a pair of long-handled axes in his hands and began a laggard stroll down towards the gate.

    Swiftly, Khazgrim turned sidelong at Rulf with a nod; the younger dwarf did not speak, but carefully set an arrow to his crossbow. Rulf slowly raised the crossbow with steady deliberate aim and then let out soft breath. There came a loud snap and the Dourhand pitched forward onto the hard earth.

    The sudden collapse of their kinsman did not pass unnoticed by the other Dourhands. They turned and looked up at once towards the sound, a bit startled by the sight of the silent form of their brethren on the ground. One of them, a particularly nasty-looking and foul Dourhand, leapt to his feet and cried out.

    ‘Impossible! Dwarves will not fall to the likes of you!’ he shouted with a snarling grimace. ‘You dare interfere? Here you meet your deaths!’

    The other Dourhands clambered to their feet as well and leapt forward with howls and shrieks and curses. ‘Stop them!’, ‘Intruders’ they shouted with rough stone voice as they came at the companions in a fury.

    The dwarves did not hesitate, but sprang through the gate, their mace and axe flashing in the darkened air. With a fierce cry that echoed in the cliffs above, Khazgrim hurled himself upon the Dourhands. ‘Baruk Khazâd!’ he shouted as he swept through foes, and Rulf was beside him.



    The battle was savage but brief. Dismayed at the dwarves’ fury, the Dourhands fell back at once only to be hewed down as they turned to flee. Rulf’s axe swept forward and a pitiful Dourhand fell headless to the earth, then another. Khazgrim roared as he hewed a stroke and laid the last Dourhand to the ground at his feet.

    For a moment, all was silent. The Dourhand, Olwir, stood blinking and motionless at his fallen kinsmen in disbelief. He shuddered and growled with gathering rage and then sprinted to the large cage.

    ‘Enough of this!’ he cried as he tore the lock from the door. ‘This gift for my masters shall destroy you!’

    Olwir then whirled round and raised his great axe high above his head as the gate door swung open with a loud clang. Reckless and glad to be free of his prison, the troll sprang from the cage with a deafening bellow. But to Theo’s amazement, the troll roared aloud, not at him of his companions, but at the Dourhand. The troll roared and then struck the Dourhand with a heavy fist. Olwir was at once stunned and slid dying to the ground. ‘Nooo…’ he groaned with his last breath.

    The stone-troll then turned its red blazing eyes towards the companions and puffed like a monstrous striking adder and howled. ‘I'll squash you into jelly! I'll pick my teeth with yer bones!’

    Theo clasped his hands to his ears as the stone-troll came at Khazgrim, bent upon crushing the dwarf where he stood. But the dwarf leapt forward before the troll could overwhelm him and hewed at the beast’s legs that were thick as young tree-trunks.

    The troll howled aloud in roaring pain then began to beat upon Khazgrim with heavy fists, smiting helm and shield. Khazgrim faltered then fell back onto the ground, his shield and mace scattered from his hands. The troll let forth a triumphant roar and bent to grasp the hapless dwarf with its massive paws.

    But then there came another cry; the troll halted, and turned to look up dimwitted and slowly. There stood Rulf, his crossbow held at the beast. There was a twang and an arrow arced through the air, glittering in the light of the campfire. The troll reared back and then it toppled over backwards with a great crash as the arrow passed through its eye.

    Khazgrim struggled slowly to his feet even as the hobbits rushed to his side. ‘I am getting too old for this…’ he muttered with a sigh.

    ‘Oh my, that was…the craziest thing I have ever seen in my whole life!’ said Hallson with wide eyes. ‘Is this what your adventures are always like?’ he added, looking at his cousin.

    ‘This is strange business and little of it do I understand,’ said Theo, not answering Hallson. ‘A troll in the Shire of all place, and these odd dwarves…I suspect there is far more than you are telling, master Khazgrim.’

    ‘The less you understand, the better little master,’ answered Khazgrim as he retrieved his shield and mace from the ground wearily. ‘The less you understand the better little master. Ignorance is bliss, at least in the Shire. But now we must return to tell Ulfar the news.’

    When the companions made their way down the path to the first gate, they came to Ulfar, seated on the ground, looking very pained but none the worse. He listened intently as Rulf told of the battle and of the felling of the stone-troll. When Rulf was finished, Ulfar clapped his hands with delight.

    'Well done! I got impatient waiting, so I had to see how you were doing, but it seems you did fine without me. That Stone-troll is slain, and it seems Olwir is as well. He paid a high price for his crime, stealing that cow from Filibert, didn't he? With him gone, these dwarves shouldn't trouble Rushock Bog much longer. As for Filibert, do not worry about him, I'll make sure he is given money to purchase a new cow.’

    The dwarves aided Ulfar to his feet as he spoke again. You have done well today, my friend. You have my thanks.'

    A faint glow was growing in the sky and the moon sank low to the west as the companions made their way back through the bogs to Needlehole in solemn silence. There, the dwarves bade Ulfar goodbye and then turned to the hobbits.

    ‘Come little masters,’ said Khazgrim quietly. ‘Let us go.’

    The companions found a lone spot further up the road and sat down into the short grass under the eaves of a tall tree. Khazgrim lifted his blue hood over his head until only the tip of his long nose was visible.

    ‘Well, that is one less troll in the world,’ said Rulf with a wide smile. ‘And another stunning shot for myself! I hit him right in the eye!’ he added with a grin and stuck his thumbs into his wide belt.

    ‘Not so impressive when it was mere steps from the beast, beardling,’ said Khazgrim from under his hood. ‘Even my brother could have made that shot.’

    ‘Don’t be angry that you did not get to lay into the troll as much as you would have liked!’ replied Rulf with a chuckle.

    Theo did not join in the merriment of the dwarves. He was seated silently, holding his bright face in his hands. As Rulf’s chuckling faded away, he looked up.

    ‘Why do I suspect that there is much more to all of this than it seems? The question begs to be asked: how did this troll get here?’

    ‘He was brought here, Theo,’ answered Rulf quietly.

    ‘But whatever is a Dourhand?’ asked Theo. ‘A dwarf yet not a dwarf?’

    Rulf gazed at Khazgrim for a moment. ‘This one is yours,’ he said grimly.

    Khazgrim pulled back his hood and rubbed his forehead, gazing at the hobbit for some time before speaking. ‘Think of them... as one of your different hobbit families.’ he began slowly. ‘They are still dwarves... technically... but not the same...'

    Hallson raised an eyebrow. ‘But we would never battle any Shire folk, say the Proudfoots for example.’

    ‘I don’t think you understand,’ said Rulf with a long sigh. ‘Yet it is fine. I hope hobbits would never have a reason to do such harm.’

    ‘Hmm, but what about this troll business,’ said Theo thoughtfully. ‘Why was it brought here and, more importantly, are there others?’

    ‘There are many more but not here by the looks of it,’ answered Rulf grimly. ‘This one came from somewhere else.’

    ‘But from where, master Rulf?’ said Theo not giving ground on the matter.

    ‘Why the Trollshaws, I suppose,’ answered the dwarf matter-of-factly. ‘Though that land is far off.’

    ‘Dear me, the Trollshaws?’ exclaimed Theo at once. ‘Not a very pleasant sounding place I must say. Wherever is it?’

    ‘Far to the east…near the base of the Misty Mountains,’ said Khazgrim, his worn face glowing as his lit his long wooden pipe.

    ‘And I suppose it is called the Trollshaws because it has trolls in it!’ said Hallson with excitement. ‘It sounds like a mighty long trip.’

    ‘It is a wild and dangerous place, little masters,’ said Rulf quietly.

    ‘Well, we must find how this troll got here and stop anymore following the first and destroying the Shire!’ said Hallson eagerly.

    ‘I agree cousin,’ said Theo cautiously and glumly.

    Khazgrim turned his eyes darkly at the others and frowned. ‘Indeed, something must be done, yet sadly I cannot go on further…I have business in the Blue Mountains.’

    ‘What?’ exclaimed Theo with dispair. ‘You are going with us? We surely cannot venture there just the three of us!’ answered Theo. ‘Master Rulf is a fine dwarf and a capable warrior, but I suspect even he would meet his match on such a long journey.’

    Khazgrim fell silent for a moment and then spoke once more. ‘I know of someone willing to travel all roads, and especially this perilous one. He may prove difficult but you could ask for no one better than he. Do you remember when I spoke of my brother?’

    ‘Your brother?’ said Theo with surprise. ‘Oh, yes of course I recall.’

    Khazgrim gazed brightly at the hobbit and then sighed. ‘Mind you…it would take a bit to earn his favour, and he can be stubborn and grumpy. Yet he can be good company and none better in war. He does have a soft spot in his heart for the Shire folk.’

    ‘We will need protection, cousin, better to get as many as we can to go along with us,’ said Hallson, who was beginning to get a bit excited at the prospect of travelling with dwarves.

    ‘This is far more than I had anticipated,’ started Theo slowly. ‘A stroll with my dear old friend to the border of the Shire has turned into nasty business concerning wayward trolls. I have no desire to face another troll but this mystery begs to be solved.’

    ‘Then you intend to solve this troll mystery, cousin?’ asked Hallson hopefully.

    ‘Of course he will!’ said Rulf with a smile before Theo could even speak. ‘You do love riddles, Master Theo, don’t you?’ he added gazing down at his friend.

    ‘I certainly do not!’ answered Theo frowning. ‘But it seems that I have no choice. About Hallson though…I am unsure if he should accompany us. My relatives would disown me, if they have not done so already, should anything unforetold happen to him.’

    ‘But you said you would take me with you!’ exclaimed Hallson imploringly. ‘I need this adventure, cousin!’

    ‘Adventure?’ said Theo with a long sigh. ‘This is hardly that, Hallson, my boy. The road where we go is long and perilous, much too perilous for you, I am afraid.’

    ‘I will ask my brother to join us as well. He needs to get away from his forge for awhile, to get some fresh air,’ said Rulf with a smile. ‘You will be going with a fine company of dwarves…what could possibly go wrong?’

    ‘What could wrong?’ said Theo with exasperation. ‘That was said to me right before we faced that terrible spider in the Barrow Downs, my dear Rulf.’

  25. #100
    Quote Originally Posted by idlehands79 View Post
    You must spread some Reputation around before giving it to Brucha again.

    I really enjoy his adventures, your hobbit is endearing, especially with those troublesome dwarves
    He is endearing! I very much enjoy playing Theodoras, although he can be quite useless in a battle! Thankfully, I did not need to test him while facing a troll, even one as weak as the stone troll of the bogs.

    So now the adventure begins - Theo and his company of dwarves will depart for a long journey to the forbidding Trollshaws in hopes of uncovering this mystery...Theo made it out of the Barrow Downs, now let's see if he can journey to that terrible place and return unscathed!

 

 
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