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  1. #1

    Total Immersion - Where Now the Horse and the Rider?

    The desire for beginning this story came as The Riders of Rohan expansion drew near; I decided to pre-order the expansion knowing full well that I was in the midst of my hobbit tale and it might be awhile before I even had time to journey there with any character. But the dream of finally being able to venture to Rohan was more than enough for me to get the expansion right away.

    Over the summer, young Theo’s story drew to a close (or at least a short respite) and I began thinking back to this story. However, things came about that brought Theo’s story back for a second adventure to which I am currently undertaking.

    And yet I could not put this tale out of mind completely; Of course, Theo’s story is ongoing but a bit slow as there are a number of us involved with the story, thus making scheduling times best for all rather tough at times.
    So, I decided that is was time to set out on this story, and run it concurrently with Theo’s tale.


    1. Travel: I will only travel on foot or by regular mounts and absolutely no swift travel horses or map recall use. Except when in a quest, lair, dungeon, combat, etc, I will walk everywhere - I will allow myself to run for short periods of time, however, when undergoing general overland travel.

    2. Chat / Speech: I will always stay in rp character at all times during Chat. I will chat in OOC when it is necessary however, since there are times I might want to talk to someone out of game.

    3. Food and Rest: I will follow the LOTRO day/night cycle closely and force myself to rest at a safe location such as an inn or in a town if such an inn is not available. The day/night cycles are:

    Late Watches

    I must rest during the night cycles of Evening, Midnight, Late Watches and Foredawn each day (or at least camp/rest for four cycles each day/evening). I can hang around an inn, for example, and rp a bit with other players, but no going out into town to shop or craft, etc. This is to simulate my character actually resting.

    During the rest time I must eat a meal of some kind –as well as a morning meal. If I am away from a town or settlement, things will become more tricky. I will attempt to find a safe spot to camp for the evening - this means halting my journey and actually sitting my toon down for rest.

    4. Promoting Realism: This rule is a catch-all for such things as no jumping off high cliffs, swimming with armour on, jumping around while I am moving, jumping every fence I come across, etc.

    5. Role-playing:
    To venture from the beginning of other stories, this one will not begin right out of the starter area. Instead, Folcwain will begin at 20th level, having worked his way to that level without a single defeat and earning the title, The Undying. The story will also not begin in the lower level regions of the world but in the Lone-lands.

    6. Death and Defeat: Since I love a challenge, I will add in a final rule, even more restrictive than with my first Total Immersion story. Folcwain cannot be defeated by any means during the story - should this occur, he will be considered truly dead.


    1. Hunting Program: I desire not to give the full details of the story plot right off; what the plot does entail is Folcwain being on the trail of a fearsome and nameless wolf or warg. A simple program will be used to plot the progress of the hunt; beginning in the Lone-lands, Folcwain may attempt to find the trail and track it. This may be done in two ways.

    The first is the use of the Hunter skill, Passage of Nature in the wilds. The trail of the beast will wander through a region, crisscrossing back and forth, sometimes even backtracking. The program will reveal the trail as map coordinates that can lead further on, disappear into mud or rivers, or even lead to ambushes of fell orcs, beasts or the like. Once I arrive at the map coordinates given by a tracking clue, I enter it into the program to search for the next trail. Should the trail disappear I will have to seek the surrounding area for more tracks.

    NPC’s can also provide clues and sightings of the beast, with the completion of quests. Again, this is not failsafe; some NPC’s may only have rumours to give, others actual sighting and others may even lead to unwitting traps or ambushes set by the beast. Should a sighting be true, the program will lead me to a map location where Folcwain can scour the earth for the beast’s tracks once more.

    The program is written so that I have little way of knowing exactly where the trail will lead – the trail has many possible paths that use many same locations on the map so I will not know that a location I am tracking to is a true path or leading me into an ambush.

    2. Mount: Folcwain does not begin with use of a mount for he has become separated from his most beloved horse, Hálasfal. Until he can find his missing horse, all travel will be on foot. Another sub-program will be used in search of Hálasfal during the long hunt for the wolf or warg. Foclwain may visit Stable-masters and Reputation Vendors dealing with Reputation Mounts for sale. Of course, some clues may be nothing, or perhaps may lead to a quest request. Or, beyond hope, the Stable-master or Vendor may have found Hálasfal wandering alone in the wild and has given him shelter.

    3. Skirmish Soldier: At the beginning of the story, Folcwain will not have access to his Skirmish Soldier, Holdwine, who has also gone missing during the mysterious journey far into the north. That means, during a Skirmish, Folcwain will have to battle foes alone.

    Another sub-program will be used to find lost Holdwine; this entails completing quests from certain NPCS or speaking to NPC Healer Vendors. Perhaps someone has found the wounded Holdwine in the wilds?

    Should Holdwine be found safe, I will allow Folcwain to bring him along for the duration of the story, using Landscape Soldier Tokens to summon Holdwine into battle. Naturally, I will wish to keep Holdwine safe and return him to Snowbourn unscathed. Should Holdwine fall in battle, he will be considered as having been slain.


    In developing the language of the Riders of Rohan, Tolkien used the tongue of the Anglo-Saxons and anglicized the words. For instance, the word, Éored, comes from the Old English éoh meaning "horse" and rád meaning "riding."

    Other words or phrases like, ‘Westu Theoden hal’ was derived from the Anglo-Saxon word, wes þu being westu, which meant “be thou” and hǽl meaning hal - healthy or hale.

    Tolkien never fully developed the language as he did with the Elvish dialects; the novels are left with a scattering of place-names, person-names and a few odd assortment of others. However, I thought it would enrich his story if I expanded the language. I found a very good Old English dictionary to expand the tongue of the Eorlingas for the story. What follows is a concise dictionary to make reading the story more easy and understandable. Those words or phrases marked with an asterisk (*) denotes words that I have developed; otherwise they are the creation of Tolkien himself. The list of words begins short, but will be expanded as the story grows and the need for others comes into use.

    Eorlingas - a name taken by the Men of Rohan in their own tongue
    Éomer - from eoh, "warhorse" and mǽre, "famous
    Ferthu hal - go thou healthy or hale
    Folcwain* - wagon-people or person
    Hafred* - hawk-riders, consisting of ten men, scouts and hunters, commanded by a Héafod -from the word hafoc meaning hawk and éoh meaning horse
    Hálasfal* - prized grey, from the words háls meaning prized and fealu meaning dun-colored or grey
    Héafod* - chief or leader of a hafred, from the word héafdes
    Holbytla(pl. holbytlan) - hole dweller, ahobbit
    Holdwine - loyal-friend
    Láthnéat* – from láð meaning hateful or loathsome and níeten for beast
    Riddermark - the name of Rohan in the tongue of the folk there, also called simply The Mark
    Snowbourn - the settlement in East Rohan or the river
    Théoden - from þēoden, "chief" or "lord"
    Westu hal - be thou healthy or hale

  2. #2

  3. #3

    Chapter One: A Strange Land - 6 Solmonath, 1418 SR

    Folcwain woke with a start from a deep sleep suddenly, as if some hidden sound or presence had disturbed him. At first, be began to scold himself for oversleeping, and was about to call for Holdwine to set the morning fires ablaze and call the men. Yet something hovering on the edges of his memory brought forth confusion and doubt into his mind. He blinked as he slowly opened his eyes.

    He found himself lying in a deep bed of brown fern surrounded by thorny thickets. Rising up around him stood tall and green-leafed ash-trees, their boughs rustling softly in a gentle breeze. For a moment, he lay there looking up at the patches of sunlight peeking through the clouds overhead and listened to the sighing wind. Some distance off he could hear the faint call of a bird, a lonesome call it seemed and it soon faded away.

    It was then that Folcwain was aware he was clutching his long spear of ash-wood with both hands across his chest. He sat up bewildered at once and glanced about uneasily; beside him lay undisturbed his quiver of long-feathered arrow and a bow of ash. He set down his spear as his hand strayed to his belt, much reassured that his sword still hung by his side. Folcwain lifted his iron-shod helm and shook his flaxen-hair, the long carefully braided plaits falling down over his shoulders.

    He went to stand and began to wince in pain, placing one hand on the fine burnished ring of his hauberk. Folcwain glanced down to gently lift the mail; beneath the mail, the skin was blackened and dark with bruises, and the rings were bent inwards as if struck by a heavy blow. He laid his head back down and did not move for sometime; only when the pain at his side began to recede to a dull throbbing did he sit up once more.

    More slowly this time, Foclwain climbed carefully to his feet; hesitantly he parted the thickets and looked out. He saw that he stood atop a tall ridge; a steep slope climbed up from the mouth of a narrow valley below. In its center stood widely-spaced old ash-trees and ancient crumbling rocks that hinted of a long-forgotten ruin.

    Folcwain tried to reckon what time it was or where he was; the sun was high in the sky, hinting at later afternoon but his mind was still fogged and drowsy with sleep, or worse. More puzzling was that there seemed no sign of his men or horses, most especially his own, Hálasfal.

    Much vexed, Folcwain sat back into the bed of ferns. He reached into his pack and withdrew a wrinkled pear and a hard, stale crust of bread, the only provisions he had it seemed, and began eating hungrily. When he was finished with his meager meal, Folcwain collected his bow and quiver of arrows, grasped his spear and stepped from the thickets.

    Warily, he went down from the ridge into the valley below. He crossed the lower vale and began to wind slowly up the long steep slope on the far side. At the summit, he paused to gaze about the landscape; the wind was hissing now through the heather and grasses and for a moment all seemed tranquil. Below his feet, the ridge began to descend rapidly allowing a wide view of the lands beyond to the south. Far away hung a line of huddled and wooded hills and below them Folcwain could see a faint road sweeping round the feet of the hills.

    He gazed back at the vale below and then set out down the ridge; nearing the bottom, the ground went on towards the south falling gently further onwards. The land seemed to Folcwain an empty, lonesome land, wild and cheerless. Occasional stands of trees, each bent and tortured by the winds, grew in scant patches with side spaces in between. The grass too was scant as well, coarse and grey-green.

    Folcwain kept vigilant as he went on, casting his gaze about, hoping to escape the notice of unfriendly eyes in this strange unknown land. Yet there came to his ears not few noises of beasts; he could hear the forlorn calls of scattered birds in the distance or the mournful howl of an unseen wolf.

    Steadily, the line of hills drew nearer and he could now see that the road wound up from the west, bending eastwards through a wide bleak valley. Folcwain was picking his way round a large outcropping of bare rock when his eyes caught a dull gleam to the east.

    It was a building, or rather seeming the remains of one that had seen far too many years. It was one-storied, and made of stone and shingled roof and looked long abandoned, for great gapes in the sagging roof could be seen. Yet as he gazed intently, he could glimpse a dim glow from the grimy windows and spotted a thin blackish-grey plume of smoke curling up from the lone chimney upon the roof.

    Folcwain slowly approached the building, and made his way round towards the front. There the road wound past the building and, much to his surprise, there was more signs of habitation. On the far side of the road stood a tumble-down stable and around the yard of the building was an odd assortment of folk.

    The folk turned dark gazes at Folcwain as he stepped into the yard, and for a moment, all fell silent. Folcwain felt an immediate sense of mistrust and uneasiness in them, as if half-expecting him to be a bandit or brigand from out of the wilds bent on mischief.

    But soon the folk returned to their business, which seemed little more than lounging in scattered pairs about the lawn, and paid him no more mind. Folcwain gazed one last time at the motley assortment of folk and then turned to climb worn stone steps to the only door. There he paused and knocked hesitantly upon the wooden frame.

    From within came muted sounds and hushed voices from beyond the door but nothing else. Folcwain knocked again, louder this time. Finally he swung the door open and entered, stooping a bit under the low door frame.

    The interior was a contrast of deep patches of shadows mingled with shimmering light that shone through gaping holes in the splintered and crumbling roof overhead. To the right were short steps leading to a raised area; there crackled a dim smoky hearth and next to it was a ramshackle bar of sorts and shelves of wooden casks. Dim flickering candles upon swaying chandeliers hung from the rafters overhead.

    Long wooden tables the length of the room from the bar and smaller tables were seated in the shadows nearer the walls. Dusky men were seated at the tables, alone or in scattered pairs all about the seedy room; all seemed very wretched and woeful. At the wall to the left stood another hearth; coal and wood lay red in the stone fireplace and shone with a dim glow.

    It was inn, though one that had seen much better, prosperous days. Folcwain was filled at once with deep suspicion and doubted the wisdom of seeking lodging in such a dismal place. And yet the desire to return alone into the wilds was enough for him to push aside his distrustfulness.

    Folcwain strode through the room and found a place alone nearer the fire. He set down his spear and unslung his bow and quiver then placed them at his feet. He sighed softly, feeling warmth slowly seeping into his chilled limbs from the warm glow of the smoky hearth. Folcwain then turned a hesitant glance about the room, his ears listening to the muted, half-whispered talk around him.

    In the dim light, he became aware that man was eying him darkly and doubtfully from a distance, as if Folcwain was of dubious and sinister purpose. Folcwain looked away at once and the room seemed to grow very quiet and the glow grown dim.

    Yet very soon Folcwain’s uncertainly and uneasiness was replaced by curiosity about the strange man. Finally, pushing aside his distrust, Folcwain turned to approach the man slowly but deliberately until he stood face to face with him.

    ‘I seek to know of this place,’ be began lowering his voice. ‘My journey has been long and this land is not known to me.’

    For a long moment, the man gazed at Folcwain silently with grim untrusting eyes. Then he spoke, hesitantly and with barely a whisper. ‘Some come to these lands because they are shunned, others to simply pass through,’ said the man, scratching his whiskered chin and shivered the cold from his bones. ‘Some folk, like me, are here at the behest of others with nothing more than profit on the mind. Which ilk are you?’

    Folcwain returned the grim gaze but it faded as his face drew soft and unthreatening. ‘As for that, I am indeed a stranger here among you and your folk,’ he said softly and without menace. ‘Trust is a rare gift, not to be given lightly nor gained easily. I am called Folcwain, son of Aldwic, fifth Héafod of Snowbourn in the Riddermark.'

    The man gazed up at Folcwain with incredulous eyes then turned away as if he had said too much already. Folcwain frowned but swiftly nodded and turned to return to a seat beside the fire. There he fell into deep, troubled thought. It was some time when Folcwain roused his sleepy head; when he glanced about the darkened room once more, he eyed a dark-haired woman standing in the deep shadows near the door. Brushing the long braids from his shoulders, Folcwain stood and approached her.

    ‘At first glance from afar, I thought this place abandoned, or worse, but now I see that is not so,’ he said without reproach. ‘And yet this place bears signs of some misfortune or strife. There are strange things afoot here. Tell me, what has brought such misery to this place?'

    The woman gazed at Folcwain, apprehension in her eyes; she glanced about the room, as if fearful to speak. ‘So many travellers have been stranded here because of goblin-attacks,’ she said finally with a deep breath and stuttered words. ‘We could sure use some help.’

    ‘Goblins you say,’ said Folcwain sullenly at the mention of goblins. ‘That is fell news, but what would bring the likes of them down so far from the distant mountains?’

    But again, as the strange man did so, the dark-haired woman fell silent and would speak no more. Folcwain muttered a quiet apology for his intrusion and slowly made his way towards the short steps and rickety bar on the far side of the tavern. There stood a grey-haired man, busying himself with filling wooden mugs atop round trays that was soon whisked away by the maids to be brought to the tables below.

    The man gazed up as Folcwain approached and set down a dirty rag atop the bar. Folcwain smiled weakly then spoke.

    ‘A forsaken inn,’ he said quietly but with little jest. ‘That seems a befitting name for such a dark place as this. I have heard talk of goblins or worse among the folk here. Are these tales true?'

    The innkeeper looked long at the stranger with a dark gaze, and then simply shrugged. 'Pay no mind to the name; not all who pass here never return. Only ones that stray too far off the road and find themselves in the clutches o' them goblins.’

    ‘I have seen naught of those foul things here yet I do not doubt your words,’ answered Foclwain.

    'Those goblins are a menace, if you ask me!’ said the old man with much loathing. ‘Driving them off will help travellers find their way into the Lone-lands with less fear in their hearts, and I'll lose fewer customers. Anyone of any importance will win and only the goblins will lose, my friend! Isn’t that what we want?'

    At once, Folcwain opened his mouth as if to speak, and then quickly shut it, a look of awe and disbelief spreading across his face. He turned to gaze about the tavern as if seeing it for the first time. ‘The Lone-lands?’ he muttered softly. ‘Little do I know of it but that it lies far north of my homeland. Can it be that I travelled so far north...'

    The proprietor nodded absentmindedly and turned to begin pouring another number of wooden mugs full of ale. ‘Bloody-handed creatures deserving of a good beating, those goblins!’ he said over one shoulder. He then turned back to Folcwain and, with a wink and tap of his nose with a finger, he spoke swiftly.

    ‘You're an able-bodied sort. Why don't you go show those brutes they're not wanted here? The lands around the inn are just crawling with them. People scare easily, you see. With the goblins creeping all about the ruins and so close to the Inn, I'm destined to use the wood falling from the roof to bar the doors unless someone gives me a hand. You'll find goblins on the fields of Annunlos, and a goodly number of them have established a foothold in the old ruins of Minas Eriol, to the southeast.’

    Folcwain fell silent and gazed closely at the innkeeper. ‘Hunting is foul business, yet their presence here is fouler,’ he said. ‘I do not hunt goblins or their ilk alone in the wilds by choice, yet it seems the doom of chance is upon me. I will do as you ask, in exchange for information I seek. Look for me on the morrow ere the sun sets and I will bring you word of my hunt.'

  4. #4

    Chapter Two: Hunting – 7 to 8 Solmonath, 1418 SR

    Folcwain paused to take in a long breath as he leaned on the long shaft of his ash spear, and looked out over the land. The merciless wind had suddenly fallen, veering now round to the south, and overhead the swift flowing clouds lifted a bit as the first fleeting rays of dawn shone through them, pale and watery.

    He looked out towards the brow of a distant hill ahead and smiled as he spied a magnificent silver-necked buck standing there. The deer shook its long antlers and raised its neck to sniff the air uneasily, watching him with a swish of its short tail.

    Folcwain smiled once more, and bowed the tip of his spear at the buck with respect. He would enjoy the hunt of such a proud and splendid beast, he thought contentedly. Yet the buck had little fear of this man for, though Folcwain was hunting, it was not deer or bird he sought that day.

    Suddenly, the buck froze and became very still, its ears stretched out atop its head. Folcwain frowned at that and glanced quickly about with searching, disquieted eyes. The land had grown ominously silent, and not even the distant call of a bird could be heard. Then the buck let out a bawl and a bleat before leaping away over the far side of the hillock. He sighed as he watched the beast disappear from sight; Folcwain glanced about warily once more then trudged onwards and thought back to the dawn that day.

    Even before the dawn, Folcwain had risen. He had found rest for the evening in a dingy and bedraggled private room below the tavern. One look at the dismal room made him reconsider even a single night’s rest there. The room was very modestly prepared; a questionable and very-hard-looking bed and worn blanket stood against one wall and a filthy-looking bedroll was flung onto the floor beside it. A number of smoky candles atop a stand cast flickering light about the walls, whose crumbling plaster was easily seen.

    Donning his mail hauberk and collecting his gear, Folcwain made his way upstairs to the quiet tavern. There he found the old proprietor preparing for another day of business, while a helper or two mindlessly swept the stone floors. No other persons were there, certainly no customers, and the dimmed voices and chatter that had filled the room the night before were now gone.

    Folcwain took to a small table as he called for breakfast and was soon brought a cracked and chipped plate of food. Not a hearty meal to be sure, he thought scowling; the meal was very simple and meager. A few slices of crusty bread, a piece or two of hard cheese, and a much wrinkled apple or two that had seen much better days. This he ate, for there seemed little else to be offered or sought. Old Anlaf poured a wooden mug of cider and returned shortly to set it down beside the plate. Folcwain lifted the mug, sniffed then took a hesitant sip before grimacing. It was sour as a goblin’s temper and smelled far worse; he set it down with disgust and pushed it away.

    When the scantly meal was finished, Folcwain spoke quietly with Anlaf once more, who turned to walk into the kitchen. The innkeeper soon returned with some dried bread and smoked pieces of coney meat wrapped in cloth.

    Folcwain quietly made his way from the inn and faded into the still darkness outside. He set out at once, winding slowly up the rising hills beyond the inn that led to the north. With slow but steady steps, he passed round the entrance of the narrow vale from which he had awoken the day before. There Folcwain found the land rose steadily onwards along contoured hills.

    As the thoughts of morning began to fade, Folcwain stirred himself back to the business at hand as the buck faded from view. The morning had broke sullen and cold, a bitter wind blowing up from the west. Billowing clouds hid the sun as it rose over the distant East so much that only a dull paleness filled the air. Cupping his chilled hands to his warm breath, Folcwain crept slowly towards the hilltop where the buck had stood. He had just reached the summit when he suddenly turned aside and gazed down at the earth.

    Warily Folcwain inched forward and bent down nearer the ground. There he found the soft earth and short grass bruised and trampled by the passing of a heavy but small iron-nailed shoe. He followed the tracks with keen eyes as they went away further northwards and then fell from view.

    Folcwain stood and set out to follow the trail at once, pausing often to survey the grass and patches of dusty bare earth as he went. He had gone on for some distance to the north and east until steep slope began to frown upwards upon his left.

    He had not gone much further when the sound of cursing and muttering reached his ears. With quick steps, Folcwain crept behind the trunk of a tall tree and watched silently as the muttering drew nearer. Presently a figure came into view. It was a short, crook-legged goblin, clad in filthy and ragged leathers. It one hand it held a round wooden shield with dried hide drawn tight across its surface and in the other was a cruel-looking axe.

    Some ten paces from where Foclwain was hidden behind tree, the goblin froze and began sniffing the air queerly. It took a wheezing breath, turned its bloodshot-eyes to the tree and was instantly aware of the man. Hissing and spitting, the goblin gazed swiftly around for other foes; when it saw none others, it crouched low and then, with a hideous snarl, leapt forward.

    Folcwain cursed, and sprang from his place of hiding drawing both sword and dagger as the two foes met with a crash and sharp ring of blows. The goblin snickered and sneered through discoloured fangs as it hewed at Folcwain with its axe. But the goblin hissed with hatred as the man deftly turned aside the clumsy blow and drove the creature back.

    With hesitation, Folcwain sprang forward with two swift strokes and the goblin’s shield splintered and shivered under the heavy blows. The goblin gave way once again and turned to flee but Foclwain bounded after it and cut it down. The goblin gurgled with a curse and then fell to the ground, still clutching its axe.

    Folcwain looked on the slain goblin and then bent to search the body. To his bewilderment, he found that, upon the splintered shield, was borne a strange design: a small white hand in the centre of a black field. Another peculiar item was that the goblin carried neither pack nor gear, as if it had wandered from some encampment nearby.

    He pondered this strange riddle for a moment and then turned away to take up the hunt again, leaving the goblin where it lie for the crows to feast upon. Now he turned west and north along a pathless slope towards the summit of a distant hill. When he reached the brow of the hill, a sudden breeze came up, blowing his long plaits of hair and stirred his cloak. Folcwain took in a deep breath, enjoying the faint smell of green and flower and then looked about.

    The hill crown was littered with ancient, blasted and forgotten ruins, moss-covered and some nearly hidden in the tall grass. He picked his way carefully through the crumbling masonry and cracked plinths to the far side and then looked round, turning his gaze north and west.

    To the west, the land fell sharply away below his feet and he now stared out over a vast miasmic swamp. Rising like sickly limbs from the fetid water were stunted trees half-shrouded in thick swirling mists that hinted at a much wider expanse of dismal land further on.

    Folcwain sat down upon a crumbling stone and drew from his pack a shriveled apple. He munched quietly on the meager meal, and gazed out over the marsh below for some time. Finally, with one last look, he turned from the hill and began making his way down to the north and east. The way was slow and plodding, for he searched as he went with keen eyes, always bent low to the ground. He halted only once more, resting a short while in a patch of thick brush among the folds and gullies of the rolling hills, before continuing on.

    The sun climbed well past noon and then passed slowly down the sky to the west as Folcwain neared the last of the rising hills of the rugged land. Suddenly, a sound came to his ears, a long echoing caw or cry, followed swiftly by several shorter ones.

    Folcwain tensed and turned his gaze about; his eyes halted upon a roost of large black crows perched in the boughs of a dark tree some distance to the east. He grew wary at once and crouched into the grass and gazed intently at the rooks. Much to his surprise, the unkindly-looking birds seemed to watch him eagerly with dark, lidless and knowing stares. Then they let out a raucous trill and took to the air, wheeling and circling upwards before dwindling into the distance to the east.

    Only when the crows fell from view would Folcwain rise from the grass. He looked out where the rooks had flown; the eastward sky had turned dim and dark, and the first hints of stars were slowing growing as the last fleeting light began to fade quickly. Night was coming, he thought, gazing at the dying light in the sky.

    Setting down his spear and bow, Folcwain slipped a small wood-handled axe from his pack to cut several branches from nearby trees. He then unclasped his cloak and spread out on the ground and sat down. Soon the light of a welcome flickering fire was casting shifting shadows against the trees.

    He sat quietly but with watchful eyes and ate a simple meal of dried bread and coney meat. About the camp the land was dark and formless in the night and overhead a waxing moon was shining pale and bright. Then Folcwain stretched out beside the fire, keeping his spear and bow close; he did not sleep straight away but listened to the crackling of the fire and the silent night. Finally, he fell slowly off to sleep in the deep shadows of the darkened hills.

    Before the dawn, he woke and rose, gazing out over the quiet land for some time. He stood in silence, eating the last bit of bread and meat from his pack, and watched the dawn grow slowly in the sky, still thick with clouds with the coming sun. The wind blew in from the north and the wide lands lay bleak and quiet in the dim light.

    After some time, he then turned to scatter the few remaining smouldering ash in the fire. Folcwain recovered his cloak and threw it about his shoulder, collected his bow and spear, and began making his way southwards once again. The morning wore on as Folcwain came down from the highest slopes of the hills that flowed towards the wide valley and road. He marched on as he climbed slowly down, keeping a mindful eye about; but he saw neither bird or beast and nothing further of the strange crows from the day before.

    The morning was swiftly passing towards noon when Folcwain reached the narrow opening of the vale where he had first awoken in this dismal, forsaken land. There he halted to snuff the air and looked out further into the vale to the east. Presently, he began creeping forward, turning his head back and forth.

    The vale was filled with a knot of old and twisted trees, about which lay a collection of mossy stones. Many looked to have been worked by hands, though now they lay tumbled and ruinous in the sparse grass. Folcwain came round a large stone taller than a man in the shadows of the trees and suddenly froze; there on the far side only a few steps away stood a lone goblin, its head turned as if listening. The goblin heard the man’s approaching footsteps and whirled round with a start and a cry, then drew a short wicked blade.

    Before Folcwain could close with the goblin, it gave a loud bark in its foul tongue. Folcwain stopped in mid-step as a large grey wolf slinked into view from the brush, its yellow fangs menacing and mane bristling. At once the goblin threw itself at him and Folcwain was instantly beset by blows from the goblin’s blade.

    Desperately turning aside each blow, Folcwain watched with one eye as the wolf began bellying forward, low to the ground, its nose pointed skyward with hungry cries. But his wavering attention soon paid its price as Folcwain cried out suddenly in pain as the goblin’s blade lanced his side. Folcwain fall back hastily, clutching his bleeding and stricken side, as the light of day began to grow dull in his eyes.

    Sensing victory, the goblin redoubled its attacks as a sharp howl erupted from the wolf. The beast leapt forward with bounding steps and a flash of snarling teeth and Folcwain now faced two foes eager for blood. Folcwain gave ground swiftly, hewing at his foes to drive them back, but his blows soon began to fall shorter and slower with each breath.

    The hungry wolf slid up close to one side and nipped at his legs as the goblin lunged savagely at his throat with its short blade. Folcwain struck blindly out and the wolf yipped in pain as his dagger cut deep into its haunch. The beast snarled fiercely, scrambled quickly backwards and out of reach of his reach.

    Through the dim glow of his eyes, Folcwain whirled to the goblin and struck; with a swift stroke he swept the hideous head from its shoulders and the goblin stumbled to the ground. Haggardly he turned to face the wolf once more. The beast paced just out of reach, its jaw half-writhed into a snarl, and the hair on its neck bristling in anger.

    For long a moment, the two circled round one another, neither taking a step closer. Then the wolf crouched low for a last spring and dug its paws deep into the earth. Folcwain flung down his sword and dagger, and then swiftly grasped his bow to fit an arrow to the string. As the wolf leapt his bow sang and the wolf crashed to the ground, the single arrow piercing its throat. Folcwain let out a long breath and slid to the ground.

  5. #5

    Chapter Three: A Red Day – 8 to 9 Solmonath, 1418 SR

    After long moments of wearied stillness, Folcwain rose and looked about hastily before he began stumbling across the narrow vale and up the farther slope to the south. He did not halt until he had reached the ridge-top and could feel the wind upon his face.

    The wide valley and distant line of hills lay below the ridge and the lands were bathed in the dying golden light of the waning sun. Folcwain turned to look back down into the sheltered vale and then prodded down from the ridge, using his long spear as support. The day was waning fast when the inn finally came into view, and Folcwain was very stiff and weary, and the pain of his wounds had subsided to a dull ache that never completed faded away.

    He passed slowly and silently towards the inn, pushed open the door and stepped inside. At once he was welcomed by the warm smoky glow of the hearths, surprised by the gladdened feeling of being there once more. Folcwain set down his pack and spear atop a lone table and approached the old innkeeper towards the back of the room. ‘Westu Anlaf hal!’ he said as he motioned for Anlaf’s ear with a wave of his hand.

    The proprietor turned and set down a mug of ale atop the bar; Folcwain gazed down at the drink and winced before pushing it aside with disgust. ‘I have returned with dire news,’ he said in a low guarded voice. ‘I found the hills about here rife with many foul goblins. Their numbers were far greater than I dared guess.’

    Folcwain fell silent, watching the old man expectantly. Yet Anlaf only nodded absently and turned aside to place several foaming mugs atop a tray at the end of the bar. Folcwain hesitated as he watched the seemingly unhurried innkeeper then fill several bowls of hot broth onto another empty tray on the bar.

    ‘My hunt was long and perilous, and not without trouble,’ said Folcwain finally with a stern voice. Anlaf turned back, as if only now remembering the tall flaxen-haired man standing at the bar. He nodded quietly as Folcwain continued.

    ‘Yet the goblins were not gathered together in strength. I dealt with the scattered creatures each in turn as I found them. I cannot say that the threat of them has been removed but their numbers have been thinned and the goblins will stalk the hills with more caution after this day.’

    Anlaf nodded once more silently as he took the neglected mug of ale and turned to pour it back into the barrel. Then he gazed at Folcwain and spoke. 'You've done me a favour, friend, and I feel that I owe you something. I've not much to spare other than a little coin, and that's not worth much this far from Bree. There are some others here at the inn that might have need of help. You should speak with my cook, Old Mugwort, and my server, Lieva Dourlily. Mugwort has a very strong dislike of anything associated with goblins, and Lieva has been working on a scarecrow meant to scare the goblins away. Why not speak with them? You've been a help to me, but you're not willing to leave it at that, are you?'

    Folcwain listened politely then shook his head and gazed grimly at the old innkeeper. ‘Nay, I am already delayed because of my business with you and I seek only the end of our agreement. It is time for you to honour our bargain. What can you tell me of wolves in these parts?'

    Anlaf glanced about the smoky room at the motley collection of folk in the tavern and then took a deep breath, his words coming with a stuttering voice. ‘Queer things you see these days. Yet I did spot a wolf, a big one, on the far side of the dry ravine to the east of the Forsaken Inn.’

    ‘A wolf?’ said Folcwain scowling. ‘And what else can you tell me of this wolf?’ Anlaf did not say more, but only shrugged and bent to begin wiping a filthy rag across the rickety bar. ‘Very well, to the east,’ said Folcwain finally with a sigh. ‘I thank you for your aid. It is not a thing I soon forget easily or swiftly, Anlaf the Forlorn!’

    Folcwain returned to the dismal room below the tavern, enjoying the relative silence over the drone and noise of upstairs. He tended to his wounds as best he could and then reclined atop the ragged bed. He was very weary but sleep escaped him and for many hours Folcwain laid there with eyes open. At the first cold light of dawn he rose and went in haste from the inn.

    He set out at once to the east and before long he came to a ravine, running down into the vale from the north along a rocky bed of dry earth and towards an ancient and crumbled bridge of broken stone to the south. On the far side the ground began to rise upwards where there stood many shadowed ash-trees.

    Grasping his long spear tightly with both hands, Folcwain crept down into the ravine and began climbing the slope on the other side. At the top, under the eaves of the ash-trees, he paused. To the east of the wooded escarpment, the ground fell steeply away into a narrow hollow below. Much to Folcwain’s surprise, the hollow was filled with crumbling and windswept ruins of stone; the ruins seemed empty and there was a silence over them that did not seem the quietness of peace.

    Slowly, Folcwain crouched low to the ground and gazed cautiously with keen eyes for some time into the shadowed hollow. All was silent save for the rustling of the trees that stirred now or then in the breeze. Beyond the ruins to the east the ground was harder and rockier and the grass shorter in the hard earth that rose up along steep stony ridges. Finally, he stood and descended quickly but quietly down from the wooded ridge.

    Just as he reached the center of the ruins, Folcwain stopped and looked further east and then northwards as there came the soft fall of footsteps climbing down the rocky ridges. Within moments, Folcwain’s keen eyes saw a short shadow creeping down into the ruins, a dark moving blur. As the figure crept into view, it suddenly halted; it was a goblin, Folcwain could now see, and it raised its head towards him as a mocking snicker rang out cruel and cold.

    With a hoarse cry, the goblin stirred and leapt to life, drawing a wicked-looking blade in one hand and grasped a wooden round shield in the other. As the goblin bore down upon him, Folcwain cried out a challenge and swept forward with his sword. There was a ringing clang as the two blades met in the air. The goblin sprang back with surprise, eyeing the stranger with squinting eyes before throwing itself at him with fierce determination.

    Folcwain hewed the goblin with sword and dagger and the creature stumbled, then cried out under the heavy blows; and yet Folcwain too let out a cry of pain as the goblin’s blade lanced his thigh. For a moment, the two opponents withdrew from reach of the other, and circled one another with watching eyes. Folcwain’s breath came in painful gasps as he kept his eyes upon the goblin, expecting the brute to leap at him at any time.

    For several long agonizing moments, the two danced about, neither daring to step into reach. Then, Folcwain drew another quick breath and sprang forward, stabbing down with his dagger. The goblin turned the dagger aside with its wooden shield even as Folcwain struck out with his sword and dagger at once. Again, the goblin deftly parried the dagger hew just as the sword came down upon its head. The goblin let out a strangled cry as it fell the ground in a bloodied heap.

    Folcwain staggered back from the unmoving goblin at his feet and clutched his wounded side. He quickly turned back and forth for signs of other foes, but none could be seen. Sheathing his weapons, Folcwain sat and tended to his wound; the goblin’s blade did not go deep but the wound seemed ugly and it flowed freely. He winced as he washed the wound clean then bound it with fresh cloth. Slowly the Folcwain felt the pain lessen and his breath grew easier. Though his thigh was stiff and sore, he climbed slowly to his feet to hide the goblin in the thickets near the ruins. Then climbing out of the hollow, he crossed back over the ravine and towards the inn once more.

    Once in the inn, Foclwain stalked through the tavern with a scowling grimace despite the pain in his leg, until he was standing in front of the grey-haired innkeeper. Folcwain’s eyes blazed darkly as he set down the butt of his long spear at his feet and began to speak.

    'I did as you directed me, to look for signs of the wolf you spoke of,’ he said swiftly and dangerously. ‘Yet I found naught beyond the ravine to the east save for goblins in the ruins there! What foul trickery is this?'

    Anlaf turned to the new arrival, a foaming mug of ale in one hand and moved to set it down in front of Folcwain. Then a look of worry passed his face and the mug became all but forgotten in his hands as he began to speak with sputtering pleas of apology.

    ‘I meant no wrong! Speak with Constable Bram Ashleaf, he knows more about wolves than anyone I know!’

    Folcwain fell silent as he listened to Anlaf’s hurried words of apology. Then his grim face softened. ‘Very well,’ he said quietly. ‘I will speak with this constable as you suggest. But I warn you: Men of the Mark speak no lies and we are not easily deceived. To attempt to do so is at your peril!'

    With that, Folcwain spun round and strode over to the hearth. He took a weary seat at a small round table and drew his cloak and hood tightly about him. Still clutching his long spear in one hand, he gazed around the tavern and then slowly closed his eyes with a quiet sigh.

    For quite some time, Folcwain dozed in the chair, half-listening to the whispered and quiet voices round the tavern. The late afternoon was fast waning and a moon was already shining through the broken roof of the building when there came to his sleepy but sharp ears a voice. For a moment, he listened to the voice as a slow recognition crept into his mind.

    Folcwain’s eyes fluttered open and he turned towards the voice; at another table nearby sat a tall and proud-looking man, his short-cropped flaxen-hair falling past his fine bearded face. The stranger looked warily down at a plate of gamy, greasy chicken and a mug of ale atop the table. With a distrusting frown, the man took a hesitant sip of the ale before gagging and coughing and set the mug down swiftly.

    Folcwain blinked once, then twice as wonder and disbelief spread across his face. At once, he leapt to his feet and ran to the stranger, a look of joy beaming upon his face. 'Westu hal my friend!’ he said swiftly in a mixture of the tongue of Rohan and the Common Speech. ‘What luck it is to find one of my own here of all places!'

    The stranger looked up startled at Folcwain, then at the startled faces in the room that looked up as one, and a hand fell down to the sword sheathed at his belt. Then the stranger cried out with understanding as he took Folcwain’s outstretched hand in his. 'Westu hal! Another Man of the Mark so far from home? What brings you here, friend?'

    ‘I would ask you the same of you,’ answered Folcwain as he lowered his voice and glanced warily about the ramshackle inn. ‘What is a Rider doing here?’

    'It was a long road and a strange one that led me here, but I hope to return home soon,’ answered the Rider quietly. ‘Though few in these lands know what my gear signifies, the servants of the Nameless One have come to fear it.'

    Folcwain turned a troubled gaze to the fire for a moment, and then spoke. 'That is a dire name you use, but come tell me your name for I am among many strangers here and long for one such as myself.'

    'Éoleof, son of Éadwine, my friend,’ the man answered proudly. ‘It is always good to find those of our folk who wander these lands.'

    'I am Folcwain, son of Aldwic, Fifth Héafod of Snowbourn. I thought I was lost in this forsaken land, but to meet one of my kinsmen here? What has brought you hither?'

    'If you really wish to hear my story, I will tell it, but it is dark with unavenged deaths,’ answered Éoleof grimly. 'My story starts back in the Westfold. On the death of my father a decade ago, I inherited our farm, where I raised horses for the service of the Riders. For several years, all was well. I and my brother cared for our ailing mother, and I eventually married and had a daughter.'

    For a long moment, Éoleof sighed at the very memory of the words he spoke. ‘Eventually, my brother married and moved to a town in the Eastemnet. Hytbold, I think it was called. A few years ago, I and one of my hands left the farm to take a herd of horses to the Hornburg for sale to Lord Erkenbrand's men. While we were away, my farm was raided by Dunlending. Everyone....'

    Éoleof cleared his throat and did not speak right away for some time. When he began again, his voice broke slightly. 'They left no one alive. I am still haunted by my failure, but I vowed revenge upon the filthy Dunlendings.'

    Folcwain lowered his gaze as he listened to the Man’s tale and dared not speak. Éoleof faltered as he continued.

    ‘After burying my mother, wife, and... daughter..., I burned my buildings and returned to the Hornburg. I joined Lord Erkenbrand's Riders as a scout and stable master. For several years, I served faithfully, until my patrol was sent to harry a Dunlending raid back across the Fords. They fell back quickly before us, but my maegisterwigend made a fateful decision.'

    'He chose to follow them across the Fords, and rode into an ambush. Hosts of Orcs and Dragon-clan warriors surrounded us, and three others and I were the only ones who escaped, fleeing north up the old Road, as the Fords were held against us. We barely made our way through Dunland and Enedwaith, but then we lost one of our numbers at the crossing of the Greyflood. The other two fell in an ambush just south of Andrath when bandits surrounded us. Fortunately, Felanfot was able to bear me safely to Bree before I collapsed of exhaustion and starvation, but Léof and Beorthnost were not so lucky. They fell to the brigands.'

    Once more Éoleof sighed heavily and fell grimly quiet. For long minutes, neither man spoke; Folcwain turned his gaze up to the other Rider and finally spoke hesitantly. 'A sorrowful tale indeed then, my friend. The Dunlending are a foul people, full of hate for Men of Rohan. I have too long from the Mark, on a long hunt of my own, one that I now regret deeply. But what is now that you seek?’

    Éoleof turned sad eyes to Folcwain’s and spoke slowly. 'Now, I seek nothing more than to return home, slay as many Dunlending as I can, and make an end worthy of mention in song. What is this hunt you speak of?'

    Folcwain was silent for some time. At length he spoke. ‘It began when word came to Snowbourn of a foul and merciless beast that stalked the lands of the Entwash. And the wolf was not alone, for the pack that roved with the beast was large; I was dispatched with twenty-five of our men, nearly three hafreds in all, at once. We found them and gave battle but the fighting was fierce and unforgiving. Alas, two of my men I lost, and one horse. Great was my pride that day; the beasts were greater in number that I had counted on, and others soon joined them from back over the Entwash.'

    Folcwain fell silent once again, gazing up through the fractured roof to the twinkling stars above. He sighed.

    'We fled before them, and they pursued us long into the night,’ he said finally. ‘As the sun broke over the East Wall, we turned to face our pursuers. There rose a great singing from my men and with a cry we charged the wolves, the light of the dawning sun gleamed on mail and spear. Through the ranks we cleaved, wheeled round and charged again. Many of foul beasts were slain and those who were not soon broke and fled back towards the Entwade. Everywhere I spurred my steed I looked in vain for the pack master, until I laid eyes upon him. The great beast had gathered the stoutest wolves about it and drove for the crossing in retreat.'

    'At once I called for a swift pursuit, but my men begged off; another of our men had fallen, Feolor was his name, and we were very weary. My men called for me turn aside from further pursuit, for we had too long away and were needed elsewhere. But I would not listen; onwards I drove on and my men, out love and respect, followed without further question.'

    At once, Folcwain’s voice fell to a shamed whisper as he continued. 'On the west side of the river, their trail was plain to see, and we found clear clues not far from there that led us further on. For a fortnight, we pursued them, to the very eaves of Fangorn and endless leagues to the River Isen. And further onwards we drove on, into the wild and dangerous lands of Dunland and beyond.’

    'On the tenth night we halted, for my men had grown wary of wandering further and the trail grew cold and silent. The moon was hidden in cloud and the night as very dark when we halted. We set camp in the deepening dark; our horses were restive, straining at their tether-ropes, showing the whites of their eyes. It was a little while before Boeda, a master at horsemanship, could quiet them. My own man, Holdwine, took watch as the rest slept; all about was silent, save that the trees rustled and the horses picketed endlessly. When the dawn came, the dark spruce about the camp frowned with frozen sparkles of new-fallen snow, and they seemed to lean, black and ominous towards one another. A vast silence seemed to reign over the land.’

    'There was no hint of humour among the men, but a terrible sense of worry and grimness. At once we rose and took positions, expecting an attack; and yet an hour went by, then another and nothing showed. The pale light of the sunless morning was only now beginning to crest on the horizon when a faint howl arose on the still cold air. It soared upward with a swift rush then slowly fell away. Then a second cry arose, piercing the stillness, away to our rear. A third and fourth answering cry was then heard, to the right and left of the camp. From every side the cries arose, and the horses showed their fear by huddling together and we drew close to the fire in a tight group.’

    'Then they appeared, their bristly fur rimed with frost, their breath freezing in the air as it left their jaws, spouting forth plumes of vapour. To the forefront of the pack there came a great wolf, no more than a dozen yards from the fire, and it sat down upon in haunches to gaze wistfully at us. Its jaws opened, and licked with a sense of anticipation. Holdwine drew back his bow and let fly an arrow; but it went wild and the great wolf sprang away, baring its fangs to their roots. Holdwine leapt forward in pursuit but a bolder wolf sprang from the pack forward at him, its jaws snapping only inches from him.’

    'With a shuddering howl, the rest of the pack was now surging forward. At once they were upon us; twice they came on and twice we drove them back; but we could little hold on, for we were hungry and weary and the enemy rested and well-fed. Long did the battle last, until our quivers were empty and hands numb from cold. All about the camp lay many silent forms of the hateful wolves and on they came without relent. Noon had come and daylight was soon fast dwindling. The fire was burning low; we had no more wood and dared not venture for more.’

    'One of my men attempted to step from the circle to gather more fuel but the wolves surged forward to meet him. A wall of stout spears made them spring aside, but they no longer sprang back. From all sides they now came and we were soon overwhelmed. There were cries of my men, the howl of wolves and the frightened whimpering of the horses. To me came a gaunt old wolf, a chieftain, grizzled and marked with the scars of many a battle. Ever he snapped and frantic did I strike, my sword and spear before me. Deftly the old wolf evaded my every blow, laying its steely jaws at me with every swing. Then I stumbled and it was atop me at once. There I fell and knew no more; I know not what happened to my men, nor why I was spared the stomach of the great beast.’

    Folcwain fell silent and did not speak again. Éoleof followed his silence, his face worn with dark grimness. Finally, Éoleof broke the silence. 'Were you able to slay the foul beast, or did he escape?'

    'Nay, neither,’ answered Folcwain quietly. ‘I do not know what happened after I fell, nor how I came to this land. Yet the hunt must continue and the beast found. The wolf moves with a great speed and he does not tire easily or often. Astride my horse Halasfal, I would certainly overtake him. Yet on foot I cannot hope to overtake his long start unless he is hindered. But Halasfal is missing and I am left here.'

    'You mean to say this demon is in the North?!’ exclaimed Éoleof. ‘That is ill tidings, indeed!'

    Folcwain shook his head as he spoke. ‘I cannot say where the beast is or if he has come this far north. Yet I must find him no matter the cost.’

  6. #6
    And so the hunt goes on! I have been successful in gaining two clues concerning the warg; unfortunately the first led Foclwain into a trap:

    And the second clue directs him to speak with yet another NPC:

    I will see what this constable has to say and then perhaps it is time to seek the beast's tracks in the wild for myself...

  7. #7

    Chapter Four: Ere the Sun Rises – 9 to 10 Solmonath, 1418 SR

    ‘Friend, I think we could be of assistance to one another,’ said Éoleof after a silent thought.

    ‘How so?’ answered Foclwain suddenly, gazing up at the other Rider. ‘We are but two Riders here this far north; I had many more than that number when my hunt began and and those numbers proved futile to the task at hand…’

    Éoleof looked at Folcwain and smiled. 'There are more of us here than you may think, and I have found many unexpected allies in my time in these lands.'

    ‘How is that in these forbidding lands?’ said Folcwain with disbelief.

    'I have heard tell of preparations for war in the North,’ said Éoleof grimly. ‘And I have seen with my own eyes the ruin which the traitor Saruman prepares for the Mark. I have been gathering as many of our folk together as I can who wander these lands, as well as many allies. I hope to lead them south soon, over the Mountains and down Langflood, that we may drive our enemies from the Mark as did Eorl so long ago.'

    ‘Alas!’ cried Folcwain, his fair face spread with great dread. 'The Dunlending are marching to war against us? So the rumours are true! Whatever foul alliance would bring such terrible portents that have not been seen since the ride from the north in Eorl's time?'

    The other Rider did not speak straight away, but turned his gaze about the tavern with downcast eyes. Then Éoleof spoke. 'Come with us. We can hunt this beast of yours in a great host so that he cannot hope to escape from us.'

    Folcwain bent his clear bright eyes at Éoleof, and then spoke slowly and grimly. ‘Advice and counsel is not given easily not should it be dismissed swiftly. You speak wisdom and I should dare not disclaim it; and yet little can I ask of you with such a heavy burden upon your shoulders. I do not know how my hunt will end; yet follow the beast I must. Give me until the dawn and I will give you my decision.’

    Éoleof gazed at him silently with understanding eyes, his head bowed. ‘Very well, my friend.’

    Presently, Folcwain sighed aloud, returned to the table to take up his spear and pack, and then walked towards the basement room below. Éoleof’s concerned gaze followed the Rider until Folcwain passed out of sight down the stairs.

    Once in the room below, Folcwain sat down on the edge of the bed. Yet he did not lie to sleep but sat hunched in the dim flickering light of the smoky candles, grim and silent as a weary, sulking hawk. It was the coming dawn when at last Folcwain stirred and rose to his feet. A great weariness was about his heart, and yet his will was firm and decided. In the quiet tavern, he found old Anlaf cleaning the tables from the previous night. He strode hesitantly to the aged man and spoke in a hesitant voice.

    ‘There is a stranger in this place, attired in garb and appearance as myself. He is one of my kinsmen from the Riddermark; his name is Éoleof.’ For a moment, Folcwain fell silent. ‘Tell him…,’ he began again, his voice shaking. ‘Tell him…Folcwain has gone hunting. He will understand.’ Foclwain turned without waiting for a reply and stepped out into the growing light of dawn.

    On the raised stone porch, Folcwain bushed the flaxen-hair from his eyes then turned to gaze at an old man seated atop a wooden stool beside him. For several moments, he watched as the old man whittled contently and quietly at a piece of wood. Folcwain smiled slightly at the sight then cleared his throat and spoke aloud.
    'Hail my friend; I am Folcwain, son of Aldwic. I have been sent by Anlaf to speak with you, for I seek any word you may have concerning wolves that prowl these lands.'

    The old man turned his head upwards to gaze upon the stranger and the sound of his whittling fell away. He looked quizzically at him and scratched his bearded chin with the point of his knife before speaking.

    'Greetings, young man. I'm the Constable here at the Forsaken Inn. My body's too old for adventure, but my mind is young enough to know there's work to be done around here.’

    At once, Folcwain frowned as he gazed down at the old Constable but said nothing. Presently, the Constable continued. 'There are wild boars scattered throughout Annunlos, all causing no end of trouble. I've a bit of a proposition for you: clear out the threats. If you bring me proof of your noble deeds, I will see that you get a fair reward. Are you interested?'

    Folcwain gazed long and coldly at the Constable with dark eyes. ‘Little desire do I have for gold or riches. Yet perhaps we can strike a bargain: in exchange for my aid in dealing with these boars, you will lend me all you know of wolves hereabouts. But a warning to you; I have tarried here too long already and wish no further delays. I have no stomach for games. I will depart this very morning and shall return by nightfall with news.’

    It was still the cool hour of dawn when Foclwain passed from the inn and a hazy mist hung among the rising hills to the north. The climbing sun rose higher still from the horizon to the east and cast long dark shadows about the lands ahead as he set out at once. For a time, Folcwain made good time but his pace was soon slowed as he reached the feet of the stony hills that led towards the ruin-filled vale ahead.

    At the summit of the ridge, he paused to survey the darkened vale below with cautious eyes, fearing the unwelcome sight of goblins stalking perilously among the ruins. Yet the vale was still and quiet and after only a few moments, Folcwain made his way forward until he passed through and beyond to the slopes further on that led to gentler and furrowed hills in the highlands.

    Folcwain’s burnished mail and flowing green cloak faded softly against the brown, featureless landscape as he walked; so much that few but Elvish eyes would have glimpsed him until close at hand as he passed them. For an hour he pressed onwards towards the rising highlands, striding tireless with only the briefest of pauses to gaze intently upon the ground.

    Even before the sun passed slowly above his head, the dark slopes of wooded trees came into view ahead. Presently he halted and turned his gaze aside before darting quickly towards a patch of disturbed earth. There he stooped to survey the ground in a widening circle.

    About his feet were patches of churned up soil, as if from some rooting beast; he gazed up at some tortured trees to one side and saw that their bark was rubbed and scraped away in places. The he paused once more and crouched low to the earth.

    There in the soft earth was seen two hoof prints followed closely by two clear dew claw imprints. Folcwain’s gaze followed the tracks as they went this way and that across the open ground before curving sharply back from the scarred trees and disappeared to the east.

    Folcwain rose with a smile and hastened forward, bow drawn, along swiftly steps. He went on for a mile or more, bending often to scan the earth even as he raced onwards like a hound on a strong scent. Suddenly he froze as a distinct sound of grunting reached his ears.

    Folcwain bent to the ground and gazed ahead to a wide patch of thickets and waited. The grunting grew louder, and soon the brush rustled and then shook as a beast waddled from its center. It was a magnificent boar, a bristling mane of grey hair down its back and long white tusks curving from below its mouth.

    For long moments, the boar rutted at the earth with its gleaming tusks, cleaving great rifts of overturned soil as it searched for grubs below the surface. Suddenly, the boar started and turned its earth-caked snout upwards to snort and sniff the air nervously. The wind sprang up and Folcwain’s cloak fluttered in the breeze. At once the beast stiffened and grunted aloud even more, its poor eyes glancing about nervously.

    Folcwain slowly rose, drew back his bow with a steady hand, and let fly a single arrow. The boar let out a startled, painful wail as the shaft sunk deep into its back. With a mournfully squealing, the beast lowered its head and began to charge. Deftly, Folcwain withdrew another arrow to his bow and released with fluid motion. The boar let out a stifled cry and crashed to the ground, kicking up dirt as it came to a thudding halt.

    Folcwain drew to the silent boar and gazed down at its proud form. He spoke soft words of thanks and admiration to the quiet beast, and then turned his fair face to the sky. With swift hands, he deftly drew from the beast its fine tusks and wrapped them in cloth before placing them into his pack. Even as the noon had passed, Folcwain left the fallen boar and struck out to take up the hunt once more.

    With bow and arrow in hand, he went onwards, resting for scant minutes before continuing all the day with scarcely a pause. In this manner, Folcwain stalked and felled many boars through the highlands of Annunlos until his quiver was spent. Only when the day drew on and dusk fast approached, and his pack was brimming with the sharp boar-tusks of a dozen beasts, did he finally turn and begin the long march back to the inn.

    Dusk was long past and the sky was darkened when Folcwain returned once more to the Forsaken Inn. He strode silently to the front porch where he found the aged Constable still seated atop his stool enjoying the cool night air. Folcwain climbed the stairs and placed his swollen pack at Brams’ feet.

    The Constable gazed down at the pack, bent to open it and peered inside. ‘Boar-tusks... you are quite the skilled warrior,’ he said with admiration. ‘It may seem a menial task to you, but believe me when I say this is much appreciated. The people here at the Inn struggle enough without worrying about the wildlife and evils that are spreading unhindered. Ever since those lights appeared atop Weathertop, we've had one trouble after another, and there isn't a sign of relief in sight.’

    Bram closed the pack and then drew a small number of silver coins from his pouch. 'Take this small reward... you've earned it,’ he added with a smile.

    Folcwain took the coin, and bowed his head in thanks, then spoke roughly. ‘I would otherwise refuse such a gift, but it would be less of me to refuse. As I said to you I desire no riches, but an answer to a riddle that I seek to solve. What can you tell me of wolves in these parts?’

    The old man frowned slightly and then turned his eyes to the darkened lands about the inn. ‘I’ve heard their howls but never dared look for them with my own eyes!’ he said with a shiver.

    Folcwain followed the aged Constable’s gaze and the two men fell to silence, enjoying the fair but cool evening. It was Bram that stirred from silence and turned back to the young man.

    'You handled yourself very well against the swine, and wolves,’ he said plainly. ‘I think that you may be able to assist my Deputy. He headed out to the camp on the far eastern side of Minas Eriol. He is watching over one of the workers there and the brother of that ornery fellow, Gadaric. If you are interested in helping them out with the tasks I put before him, seek him at the camp on the far eastern edge of Mina Eriol.’

    Folcwain did not speak, but remained silent, his eyes still gazing into the still darkness. Bram too fell silent, returning to his ceaseless whittling of a shapeless stick of wood held in one hand. The stars in the darkened sky twinkled brightly overhead as wisps of clouds passed the round shining moon.

    ‘I left on this errant search a fool and remain so,’ said Folcwain slowly, his voice harsh and thickening. The Constable looked up but said nothing, and nothing could be heard for some time but for the sound of knife upon wood. Folcwain shook his head wearily and finally spoke.

    ‘There is trouble upon all borders of my homeland and even now within them. And yet how can I turn aside from the road ahead? But at what cost will this…’ His voice died away before he had asked the question in full.

    Bram gazed at the young man in silence for some time then began to whistle softly. Foclwain brushed his hair back from his face and gazed about. Then he bowed his head to the Constable and stepped into the inn quietly.

    The tavern was smoky and dimly lit as he entered; furtive eyes from the many folk seated at various tables about the room turned to gaze at the new arrival before returning to their hushed private conversations. Foclwain ignored the many eyes, and scanned the crowds for the face of Éoleof. He then strode to the bar and spoke quietly to the proprietor.

    ‘The one I spoke of this morning, my kinsman,’ he said quietly. ‘Is he here still?’

    Anlaf paused in mid-word to the man standing beside Foclwain, and gazed strangely at the Rider for a moment. Then he shrugged and shook his head before returning to his soft prattling.

    Folcwain stood silent, his heart saddened and his face mournful, and gazed about the room with desperate hope of the sight of his kinsman. It has seemed many an age since he had spoken with one of the Mark and the chance meeting with Éoleof had touched him far more than he thought until now. He gazed at the table where his friend had sat, remembering the joy of seeing another of his kind in such a forbidding place. Strong was the desire within his heart to ride with the others and return home where their numbers were sorely needed.

    Yet the fulfillment of his duty and task before him would not be stilled; this was no vainglorious wish for glory, or for praise. It was unbridled hope to wrong the wrongs his disgraceful and wanton pridefulness had wrought. Holdwine was missing; Hálasfal was lost, and his hafred was scattered. And it was his hand that brought this about. His heart grew very heavy and he cast his eyes downwards in shame.

    But then his face softened and Folcwain looked up and smiled, a sudden and gladness warming his heart. Éoleof had suffered too, he thought mindfully, and dark was his road. Yet Éoleof now held a new task before him, a new direction and in that redemption would be gained. His friend had newfound purpose born from tragedy.

    Without thinking, Folcwain called to Anlaf for a mug of ale; he blew the discoloured foam from the brimming cup and lifted it in silent cheer, then drank until it was empty. He then chuckled quietly to himself, not minding the sour, unwholesome flavor of the ale, and then sighed contently.

  8. #8
    And so another clue from an NPC...and of course it turns out to be of no help to the search!

    It is time to go on the hunt for myself it seems - hopefully Folcwain may find the trail that no NPC can offer him. There are many leagues left to pass through in the Lone-lands, so if there are any rpers out there that wish to join the hunt, please feel free to contact me in game!

  9. #9

    Chapter Five: The Eglain Camp – 11 Solmonath, 1418 SR

    Folcwain stood watchful and unmoving under the arching boughs of a tall ash tree, gazing out north and east over the rising hills. Below the ridge atop which he stood lay the narrow vale from which he had first awoken in this bleak land. In resigned silence, he turned his head to one side as if he was listening.

    When the sun first rose and the light began to grow in the skies, Folcwain had left the Forsaken Inn to take up the hunt in the lands the Eglain named Annunlos. Only after a short passage, the dark slopes of the rising hills came into view beyond the inn and he began to slow climb towards the high ridge far above.

    There atop the ridge now he stood, his keen eyes gazing down into the quiet vale below. Little stirred there, but for one or two boars or sly fox among the ruins and there was no sign of the foul goblins that he had fought. When he was certain the vale held no hidden dangers, Folcwain sprang away from his perch, now that his mind was at last made up. He would seek signs of the hated warg, if his skills proved themselves, and pursue the beast if luck would have it.

    He sped through the quiet vale on swift feet and soon the ruins fell behind him as he climbed the hills further on. The sky was growing a deepening red as the dawn grew and fleeting clouds blew with great speed overhead. For a good time, Folcwain went on for a mile or more, searching the ground with keen eyes for any signs.

    As he climbed, the sun rose ever higher and the reddish glow as overtaken by the glimmering yellow light of day. A little further north Folcwain came to a fold of level ground shaded by tall ash trees separated by thin and scraggly patches of grass. There he paused, turning his gaze round the wide ground with darting eyes.

    There in the earth was a set of tracks, half-hidden in the short grass, many times larger than the biggest fox. To an untrained or unskilled hunter, the tracks of dogs and wolves would easily be mistaken for one another. But Folcwain was no such a huntsman; he knelt down and parted the grass to peer at the tracks.

    At once, he could glean that the prints did not seem sharp or clear; Folcwain gently prodded the earth with a single hand and soon discovered that the ground was caked hard and his open palm left no molded print, a sure sign that the tracks were old.

    Yet, Folcwain did not feel displeasure at this find; the tracks hinted at a massive large beast, larger than the fiercest hound. His eyes looked towards the direction from where the tracks led from and he swiftly saw that they showed the maker moved with deliberate motion and purpose over the open, flat ground. At once, he knew that the tracks were not left by a dog, which would wander almost aimlessly in a ceaseless cris-crossing fashion or travel. Folcwain’s keen eyes followed the tracks as they passed with clean strides across the ground towards the south and west and was lost from sight.

    Spurred by this find, Folcwain rose and sped after the trail, keeping his eyes to the ground. He soon began passing down from the heights, passing to the east of the ruin-filled vale. The trail was plain to see as he went, and soon it led towards a low treeless hillock within sight of the narrow vale to the east.

    With renewed hope, Folcwain sprang up the hillock and surveyed the ground with searching eyes for a continuation of the trail. Much to dismay, he found that the earth was trampled and upturned by the tusk and hoof of many boars. Frantically Folcwain drew round the hillock in a circling fashion until he was certain that the trail was hopelessly lost in the tumbled earth. He drew round the hillock once more in fruitless search before slowly coming to a halt.

    Folcwain sighed at the thought that the hunt had come so close to his grasp, only to be snatched from his hands. He turned and strode to the lip of the hill to gaze out over the land where the slopes fell steeply away towards the distant road far below. There he stood, drawing his cloak about him and looked out with mournful eyes. Finally, he drew his longing eyes away and looked at the trampled earth before beginning the march down towards the inn.

    As noon fast approached, the inn slowly came into view. But Folcwain did not turn towards it; instead he made his way to the road and swiftly crossed it into the thin stretch of land than ran along it, sheltered to the south by the rising impassible hills. The old constable at the inn had spoken of a camp somewhere in the hills to the east – perhaps the folk there could supply him with the clues that have so far eluded him. After a little while, Folcwain turned to look back over the road; the inn was already small and far away.

    As he followed the line of hills, the road began to turn away further east and northwards until it soon was lost from sight behind a rise of steep hills to the north. As the day drew on, the sky began to grow overcast and the swift- flowing clouds of dawn now hung heavy overhead. The growing bleakness upon the horizon hinted at the threat of rain as the sun crept steadily on westwards.

    At last, as the afternoon was waning, Folcwain came to a peculiar sight; over the rise of a gentle hill he spied and ancient-looking road that at once sprang up from the grass and earth and swept up towards a cleft in the hills opening narrow before him. His eyes turned to follow the road where it marched under a crumbling bridge of stone that spanned the coomb high above. In the dim shadows further inwards he could glimpse stairs that wound up from the floor of the coomb to a narrow ledge; and from that ledge rose spiraling wisps of dusky smoke. As it rose up the smoke caught the light of the dying sun and spread in glowing billows in the sky before the wind bore them over the valley.

    Grasping his spear tightly, Folcwain passed through the cleft and along the bottom of the coomb, his eyes darting about for any hint of foes or ambush. The vale was shallow and led back only a short ways to the rising stairs before coming to an end of sheer cliff walls.

    He hastened up the steps with light feet, and stopped just as suddenly as he neared the top. There upon the narrow grassy shelf stood an encampment of low tents and smoky campfires alone in the midst of this desolate land. It was inhabited, as his eyes fell upon the figures within, but they were not goblins as he feared but Men.

    For a moment, Folcwain stared at the strange camp with wonder-filled eyes, gazing at the wary Men that now turned their eyes to him with readied weapons. The Men watched him with dark eyes, ready for any hint of malevolence from the stranger. But Folcwain gave none, and stood in astonishment that there were one or two children among the Men, each clad more as older folk than younglings.

    Folcwain lowered his spear and raised a single hand in peace before slowly making his way through the camp. Slowly the wary Men too lowered their spear or bow as he passed and turned back to their business. Near the further-most tent, Foclwain spied a fair-haired Man, clad in simple livery of blue and white who watched the newcomer with guarded eyes.

    Glancing swiftly at the others within the camp, Folcwain strode up to him and held out his hand as he spoke. 'I am named Folcwain, son of Aldwic. I have been sent by Bram Ashleaf to speak with Deputy Osmann. Are you he?’

    The man looked at the stranger with distrusting eyes, and then slowly took the offered hand in his. ‘Bram sent me help?’ he began slowly, a hint of suspicion in his voice. ‘He sent me here to watch over this Hobbit -- Old Mugwort -- who is proving to be far more difficult to watch than I like. He also wanted me to make certain that this fellow Hunulf was kept safe. Then I receive a message from him that he wants all these other problems handled and...well, thankfully you are here now.'

    The Deputy fell silent, pointed one hand towards one of the strange children in the camp, and then turned back to the sharpening of a long spear shaft. Folcwain frowned as he passed his hand over his brow then back to the Deputy; but the Man did not speak further.

    Shaking his head, Folcwain slowly made his way over the youth, who was stirring an bubbling iron pot hung over a smoke fire. The child caught sight of him and climbed swiftly to his furry unshod feet, looking him up and down inquisitively.

    ‘Greetings young master,’ he said to the strange child. ‘I am Folcwain; I have been sent from Bram Ashleaf to offer my aid to you and your folk. Yet I know little what aid I may offer.’

    The young man stirred the pot with a wooden ladle then took a taste of the boiling stew. 'The folk at The Forsaken Inn are not the wealthiest sort here, friend,’ he said waving his other hand over his burning mouth. ‘We barely make our lives comfortable, and the goblins overrunning the eastward stretch of road have turned the inn into a lonelier place than ever. If you've time to offer, there's work to be done! Our fortune is about to change, though -- I've devised a way to make the road safe! Kill the creature at the top, and the rest will turn aside!’

    ‘You?’ said Folcwain dubiously and then laughed. ‘Do the men of the Eglain now bring children to war? A hobbit Osmann so named you, I will try to remember that. You seem but a boy to me and yet not so. Your tongue is strange as is the name of your folk, yet it seems not unfitting!'

    The hobbit eyed the stranger as he tossed potatoes into the pot and then stirred it vigorously. Folcwain watched the hobbit for a moment before continuing.

    ‘You bring old tales to mind as I speak with you, master Mugwort. They spoke of the Holbytlan, a people of old songs and children’s tales in the vales of Anduin, or so the legends tell. Yet my people came from the north long ago and little more do I know of those tales.'

    Mugwort nodded politely as Folcwain spoke, tasting the hot stew once more and then threw more wood onto the crackling fire.

    ‘But what of this plan you hint of? To make the roads safe?’ said Folcwain, not knowing how to deal with this strange hobbit. ‘I am in great need of news of the road ahead and all you may tell me would be most helpful.’

    Mugwort set down the ladle and wiped his hands upon his apron before speaking. ‘I need some help making this work. If you're willing, head north or north-east into the brush and get me some lynx-meat. Everyone knows that dog-like things eat cat-like things. Get just enough meat to make a meal for a Warg or two! What's wrong? Lynx are deadly creatures when angry, and their meat will serve my purposes nicely. Don't you want to end the threat of goblins and Wargs? Then get out there and hunt some lynx! No excuses! We'll be killing two lynx or Wargs with one stone! Ha ha ha!'

    ‘Do not think I care little of the woes of your people, little master,’ said Folcwain slowly. ‘I seek a darker road than the one which troubles and plagues you here. And yet, I too am in need of aid. I will do as you ask, for I have some skill as a hunter. Upon my return, perhaps we can sit and talk of these wargs you speak of, for their ilk are the cause for my urgency.’

    Folcwain turned to gaze up to the darkening sky. ‘The day has drawn long, and night is fast approaching,’ he said. ‘I have not eaten yet this day nor paused for rest. Give me until dawn and I will depart on the morrow.’

    With a slight nod of his head, Folcwain turned and took a seat under the eaves of a tall tree near the fire. He laid his bow and spear in the grass and drew out his blanket from his pack and laid it too upon the ground. The he sat down, taking out the last of his stale bread, hard cheese and a wrinkled and sour apple. As he ate, he peered out over the vale below as dusk settled in and the camp grew dark but for the flickering light shining from the smoky fires.

    When his sparse meal was finished, Folcwain laid his head down atop his pack and drew his cloak about him. He gazed up at the twinkling canopy of stars overhead and listened quietly to the guarded murmurings of the Eglain around him. Then slowly the soft voices of the Eglain began to mingle with the crackling fires and he fell into a restful sleep.

  10. #10

    Chapter Six: A Fitting Meal – 12 to 13 Solmonath, 1418 SR

    It was the fifth day since he had come to the Forsaken Inn when Folcwain made his way back to the Eglain encampment overlooking the narrow vale. He had nearly lost count of the hours during which he had hunted among the barren slopes and stones of Annunlos for the lynx that the holbytla master, Mugwort, cherished so.

    He set out first at dawn eastwards along the valley floor, and then turned north after some time nearing the road. Sometimes Foclwain would turn to retrace over his steps to fool anyone or anything that dared to follow after him. So steadily he hunted through the day, always within sight of the sheer line of rising hills just to the south that frowned high over the vale below. As the day drew on towards night, his pack was very full from his labours of the long day.

    Folcwain now stood at the top of the stairs leading to the encampment of the Men of the Eglain. To his left, the valley was crowned with swiftly-flowing clouds over the shapeless land and the yellowed sun was fading fast to a sullen brown in the West. He looked wearily over the camp before he strode towards the hobbit, Mugwort.

    ‘Master holbytla, my friend, I have returned as promised, and not empty-handed,’ he said with a smile as he slid his pack from his shoulders beside the crackling fire. Foclwain then bent and drew from the pack several haunches of lynx meat wrapped in folds of freshly-cut green grass and handed them to Mugwort.

    The hobbit accepted the meat and unwrapped it upon the ground, leaning over the fresh kill with expert eyes. ‘This one is a bit tough and this one a bit tender,’ he said as he picked through the wrappings. ‘Hmm... no matter, they'll all go into the grinder nonetheless! A pinch of sickle-fly eyes, a dollop of gooey crawler flesh. Really tasty things, crawlers.’

    Folcwain laughed aloud at the hobbit with much mirth. ‘Sickle-eye, crawler-flesh, indeed tasty? You hobbit-folk are queer but the lightness of your heart is refreshing after such a long and perilous journey as mine.’

    But the hobbit did not answer; he instead drew out a clean pot and set it to hang over the fire, which he fed with fresh logs of wood. Mugwort then sat down, took out a sharp knife and began skinning and carving the haunches into long strips with skillful fingers.

    Once the meat was ready, Mugwort plopped all into the pot, added a pinch or two of spice and soon the kettle began to give off an aromatic scent. The hobbit stirred the pot several times, and then took a quick taste with a ladle before tossing in another bit of spices into the boiling water for added measure.

    Folcwain watched the hobbit at his business, but before long he grew sleepy as Mugwort tended the stew with unwavering patience. The hobbit would occasionally lift the steaming lid of the pot to test the meat with a fork or taste the broth with his wooden spoon before returning to his relentless watch over the fire. An hour or more had passed when Mugwort finally broke his long silence.

    'It's going to take awhile before the special meal I am preparing will be ready. What should I have you do in the meantime?’ The hobbit scratched his head, forgetting about his boiling pot for some time.

    'Ah, I have it!’ he said with excitement, snapping his fingers. ‘Wargs are mean-tempered sorts of beast, and they're smarter than your everyday wolf...stronger too. That means that they can get angry, and if they can get angry, they can make mistakes!’

    Folcwain laughed. 'A special meal? To whom would such a princely meal would this be prepared for? And what of these láthnéat you speak of?’

    'The logic of that all works out, I'm sure of it!’ answered the hobbit. ‘Now, you listen well: go east! Go to the far side of Nain Enidh and search the wilderlands off the road near Ost Cyrn for Wargs; defeat all those you find! Let's get them good and angry, and their leader is sure to come forth, hungry to taste some flesh!'

    Folcwain gazed at the hobbit grimly. ‘You speak with great jest and yet I sense grimness in your words. These wargs are of some concern to me as well, though I do not wish to of that here. If dealing with these láthnéat will ease your mind to allow it to turn to more precious concerns, then I shall do so.’

    Folcwain turned to gaze out over the darkening vale for some time before he spoke again. ‘I would very much like to find this leader of the beasts for there is much it could tell me of that which I seek. I must rest awhile, but I will depart soon and find these wargs as you ask.'

    As the last of the sun’s rays fell away, Foclwain rested in the camp, seated beside the hobbit’s crackling fire, until the shadow of the rising cliffs grew long and darkness filled the entire ridge. In silence he stared about into the formless grey under the growing night; then he sat up to eat a little, and drank from the hobbit’s offered water gladly.

    The valley was dark when he set out, creeping through the coomb and faded like a ghost into the broken floor of the wide vale beyond. The moon was nigh full now, but it had not yet climbed over the hills until nearly midnight, leaving the early night very dark for some time.

    Cautiously, Folcwain stalked through the vale in silence, an arrow fitted to his bow as he made his way east in the gloom. Every now or then, strange red eyes seemed to stare at Folcwain from the darkness as he made his way quietly through the valley. More than once he halted to watch the eyes and, if he took a step closer, they would suddenly extinguish each time and he found the darkness deserted.

    The night was old and the westward waning moon was setting through the darkened clouds when the valley began to narrow, with sheer cliffs to the right and ragged hills to the other. Suddenly, darkened ruins atop a steep hillock loomed up ominously ahead. Many works of stone leaned precariously to one side, others were cracked or broken and all seemed more like towering hungry teeth in the night, hinting of a malevolence unspoken.

    Folcwain turned careful eyes towards the dark ruins and passed with swift feet. Beyond, the narrowing vale now swung round northwards to the right of the ragged hills into the impenetrable darkness. He did not continue his path through the vale but turned to begin climbing the steep slopes of a hill further to the east.

    Warily, he slowly climbed the slopes to the grassy crown of the hill and halted. For a moment, Folcwain closed his eyes to enjoy the cool wind that sprang up and he took in a long gentle breath. He turned a distrust eye towards the dark ruins that lay shrouded in the darkness just beyond the hill.

    Folcwain drew a bit of the hobbit’s cooked meat from his pack and stood there eating the tough gristly meat. He was about to take the last bite when, with a start, he tensed. The wind had whistled softly from atop the crown of the hill as he stood there but now it was suddenly replaced by a long and lonesome wail from the surrounding darkness. Within moments, the wails grew louder and closer and Folcwain fought down a rising fear in his heart.

    At once, a pair of shining eyes flickered over the brow of the hill; at once a great wolf-shape advanced into view. The beast trotted forward a few steps then snarled and let forth a howl of hunger and malice. Saliva drooled from its gapped maw and the warg pawed at the earth with anticipation and hunger.

    Folcwain whirled and his bow sang as an arrow flew through the darkness. The warg let out a snarl and leapt to one side as the arrow disappeared into the darkness. The beast lifted its haunches and sniffed the air menacingly. With a shuddering howl, the warg sprang forward even as Folcwain’s bow sang again, and in an instant the beast was upon him.

    Foclwain slipped the bow from his hands and swept up his sword and dagger as the warg lunged at him with cruel fangs. But just as suddenly, the warg sprang back, howling and shaking its head in pain as Foclwain swept forward with his dagger into its open, snarling jaws. The warg’s eyes blazed with hatred as the beast shook its fur and then darted in low, closing with its merciless fangs.

    Folcwain cried out in pain as savage teeth sank into his thigh; he stumbled back as the warg lifted its snout to let out a long howl. At once Folcwain began to shake as if he was bitter cold; he felt a chill run through him that clutched desperately at his heart as the warmth drained from his limbs.

    Sensing victory, the great beast leapt at him for the kill. Folcwain stood his ground, and hewed at the warg with desperate blows. His dagger hand was struck aside by the beast’s massive head and it reared back with gaping jaws. Once again, the warg lifted its snout skywards and a dreadful howl began to gather and grow deep within the beast.

    Folcwain’s sword and dagger flashed in the dim light of the moon and he cried out. ‘Eorlingas!’ he said as he hurled himself upon the great beast. Three times his sword rose and fell and the warg gave ground beneath the heavy blows. Then, with one final cry, Folcwain drew back and swept his blade forward through the warg’s great throat. A hideous yell rose from the beast and it staggered back a step before collapsing upon the ground.

    Folcwain stood looking down at the warg, his sword and dagger clutched tightly with shaking hands. Only when he was certain that the beast did not further stir did he reach down to retrieve his bow. He gazed one last time at the unmoving warg before making his way with slow painful steps to the far side of the hill. There he paused and sank to the ground. Gasping in pain, he gazed down at the wound on his thigh; it was a long ripping slash, and deep as well. He cursed softly as he tore some clean linen from his pack and bound his wound.

    He rested in the darkness for a long while and then rose to his feet with a grimace. His leg supported him still, Folcwain thought thankfully, but the wound would take some time to heal. He looked up into the dark sky, and then began to descend from the crown of the hill.

    The dark of night had lifted and the sun came out, clear and pale, as he found his way back to the Eglain camp. His sword was notched, his quiver nearly spent, and the linen about his leg was stained with blood when he climbed the long steps to the camp above the vale; yet his eyes were bright and his voice strong as he strode forward. Folcain found Mugwort seated at his fire, tasting the bubbling pot of simmering stew hung over the fire with the devotion of a metalsmith would to the melding of the finest blade.

    Folcwain stifled a soft laugh as he approached the hobbit. ‘West Mugwort hal!’ he called out as the hobbit turned to gaze up at him. 'I bring word of these láthnéat, these foul wargs. I found one, a terrible beast. He did like my scent, and disliked my blade and bow even more. Yet I slew it atop a hill in the gathered darkness though I did not escape unscathed.’

    'So you defeated a warg? You've a hand for this that much is certain!’ said the hobbit with wide eyes. 'I finished my cooking too, I think. Maybe not quite yet, but I'm sure this will draw out their leader, or leaders, and then...’

    ‘And then?’ asked Foclwain with a raise of his brow.

    'Then you'll defeat them and make the road safe for travellers, that's what, and we'll have more guests at the inn!'

    Folcwain laughed aloud. ‘I know little of holbytlan, hobbits as you say, yet your innocence does you justice in these dark times. What is this plan you have in mind?’

    Mugwort set down his ladle and turned to Foclwain. 'There is a signpost on the road through Nain Enidh, and a path near this signpost winds southward. If you follow the path as it slopes into a mild depression to the southwest, you will arrive at a stone structure, like an ancient table or a flat section of ruin. Bring the gruel I have prepared to that table and pour some of it onto the stone. I am certain that the leader will come running to the food, thinking it the cooking of some foolish Elf! When you have slain the creature, come back here.’

    Folcwain fell silent and very grim as he listened to the hobbit. Then he gazed down at Mugwort with bright and flashing eyes. ‘Little master, I would wish little else than to rid this land of this wolf-chieftain. But I must rest for the night was long and my hunt was not without its cost.’

    He turned and set down his bow and spear then stretched out wearily beside the fire. He closed his eyes and listened to the crackling fire and the soft humming of the hobbit. After a time, he lifted his head and gazed at the hobbit.

    ‘Wake me when the sun reached noon,’ he said quietly. ‘But I beg of you to save some of your delightful stew there for my return after this beast of beasts is slain and is no more. No better reward could I ask for from such a victory!'

    And with that, Folcwain turned and fell at once into a deep sleep.

  11. #11

    Chapter Seven: Shadepaw – 13 Solmonath, 1418 SR

    The sun shone weakly upon the land about Folcwain. The swelling scrub-lands rose and fell steadily on, with long ridges and shallow dales on both sides of the road he now followed. Further to the east, the road began to rise steeply, and the long arms of hills rose upon either side, all steep, stony, and bare of trees.

    Noon was swiftly passes when he had awoken in the Eglain camp and set out in search of the warg, named Shadowpaw by the hobbit, Old Mugwort. All that afternoon he plodded on as the road drew nearer to the height of the rising ground ahead. The bright sun that had shown at dawn now flickered and was overtaken by swift-flowing clouds blown from the North and now only the faint hint of light shone through the darkened canopy.

    At last Folcwain came to the sharp brink of the rise as the road passed between sheer walls of rock and into wide lowlands to the east that fell away steadily on the far side of the ridge. Nain Enidh, it was called, a wide valley of grass and heath spreading eastwards like a winding ribbon. To the north and south it stretched back to the feet of dim hills that seemed ominous and hard as broken teeth in the dim glow of the fading day.

    As he passed over the ridge and descended into the lowlands, Folcwain caught sight of a wretched-looking and faded wooden post set into the hard earth beside the road. A little before the post a narrow gap in the hills along the road opened to the south between sharp pinnacles of bare rock. There a much overgrown and ancient-looking road led away south through the gap and then seemed to recede westwards into the deepening gloom.

    Folcwain turned his gaze down the main road that led further down the desolate valley to the east then back to the ancient road with uncertainty. Finally, he surrendered and began to creep cautiously down the grass-covered road. As the road turned westwards, high slopes of hills began to march up upon either side, forming a narrow gorge; further on Folcwain could see the road went on for a short stretch before it bent away southwards once more.

    Folcwain turned his head to glance up the long broken slopes on either side and then forward until his gaze halted upon a strange stone table half-hidden ahead in the deepening shadows of the tall hills. For long unmoving moments, he stood gazing out at the crumbling and weatherworn stone like a silent statue. Glancing about warily, Folcwain stirred and lightly stepped to the stone. No living thing, beast or bird, was to be seen, but in the ominous silence he grew watchful and he turned his eyes about with caution.

    Foclwain set down his bow, drew out Mugwort’s stew and placed it atop the stone; he then reclaimed his bow and stood back, fitting an arrow to the bow-string slowly. Westwards the sun was setting, gleaming it last fitful rays of light through the bleak clouds and the first stars twinkled to the east as the darkness thickened and drew together in the narrow gorge.

    It was not long when he caught a glimpse of a dim shadow further down the faded and darkened road; at first it seemed shapeless in the deep shadows of the tall hills, but as it drew nearer it took on the form of a great wolf, grey and grim. Hateful was the look it fixed upon Folcwain through eyes like pits of black emptiness and its jaws writhed with hunger and malice.

    The slinking form of the beast trotted slowly forward with a peculiar sliding gait, its nose to the air. Folcwain did not stir but raised his bow slowly and watched quietly as the beast approached until there were only a dozen yards left between them. There it halted, throwing its head up and regarded him with nostrils that twitched as it caught and studied his scent.

    Then the warg crept warily towards the worn stone table and sniffed at the stew placed atop it. Shadepaw turned its head towards the hunter, let forth a long snarl that slowly dwindled to a growl ebbing down its throat and ceased as it began to lap up the stew.

    At once, Folcwain cried out and stomped the ground with heavy boots; the bristles rose suddenly on the beast’s neck and a threatening growl rushed up in its throat as the warg turned its great head towards him. The beast snarled mockingly as it flattened its ears and, with the swiftness of a coiled snake, it sprang forward with a great leap. There was a sharp twang as Folcwain loosened his bow; the warg let out a hideous yell as the arrow pierced its underside but came on without pause.

    Folcwain cried out as he felt the scythe-sweep of its talons about him and was sickened by its foul breath washing over him. Despite the pain, he fiercely parried with sword and dagger and struck back with a flurry of blows. Shadepaw snarled and sprang away, baring its white fangs with a carnivorous malignity that made him shudder. Yet again the warg came on, redoubling its attack, snapping and lunging at him.

    Folcwain felt the beast’s talons dig into his leg even as he plunged his sword into its mane; black blood fell in thick droplets onto the grass as his sword rose and fell. The warg sprang at him, rising up upon its haunches, intent on driving Folcwain to the ground under its heavy weight. In desperation, he thrust the beast back with his shoulder and sprang back as its jaws snapped together in the darkened air.

    Mortally wounded, the warg snarled and sprang at him, and he felt the sharp slash of talons into the flesh of his side as its teeth closed upon his arm. Folcwain faltered a step as the beast shook him like a dog with a rag toy, all the while plunging his sword into the beast’s back. At once his eyes grew dark and all began to fade as a feeling of sleepiness washed over him.

    Suddenly, Folcwain stirred from his growing slumber; no long did he feel the beast’s fangs about his arm. His eyes fluttered open to see the great beast had released him, and lay upon the ground. His sword dipped low until it too touched the earth, and it was dark with the warg’s blood. His cloak and mail was torn with great cleaves of talon and fang but he still lived. For a long silent moment, Folcwain shuddered as his sword slipped nervously from his hand and he collapsed to his knees. For untold minutes he lay there unmoving and seemingly dead.

    When strength slowly returned to his body, Folcwain sat up and painfully began to remove his cloak and mail. His wounds were deep and blood flowed freely but they did not seem infected as he had feared. He set aside his mail and began to cleanse the wounds with water from his flask. He held back a sharp exhale and then tore strips of cloth from his tattered cloak and bound the wounds tightly. When he was done, Folcwain climbed slowly to his feet, looking very pale but grim and triumphant. The wounds on his leg and arm still pained him greatly, but he found he could stand, though upon weak legs.

    Folcwain then drew his knife and removed the great paws of the beast and wrapped the hard-won trophies into his pack. He donned his mail once more and collected his sword and bow before beginning to wind his way out of the narrow gorge and took to the Great East Road again. The sun had sunk behind the westward horizon and great shadows crept down the hill-sides in the gathering gloom of night as he turned west down the road. He went on through the dim lands for nearly an hour, pausing only once to check his wrapped wounds; the lands were very dark and no waxing moon was visible in the inky black sky.

    No sound of wind came to his ears as he went, and no sight or hint of neither goblin nor wolf tarried his passing. Folcwain plodded slowly onwards until he finally turned aside from the road and went into the shadows of the tall hills southwards. It was not long when he reached the coombe and up the crumbling stairs leading to the Eglain camp.

    Folcwain strode quietly through the camp until he stood beside the hobbit’s fire. There Mugwort was seated atop his blanket; the hobbit looked curiously as Folcwain drew out the wrapped warg paws from his pack and laid them upon the ground with a smile.

    'It is done, the warg is no more,’ he said with little pride. ‘I have slain him, young holbytla; you and your folk may rest this evening with lessened fear of such a beast prowling the night.'

    The hobbit leaned to unwrap the scraps of cloak from the bundle and then let out a cry of glee with a clap of his small hands. 'We did it! You watch, those Wargs'll think twice about chasing down anyone now that you've slain their leader. We'll be heroes here at the Forsaken Inn. You'll see!’

    Folcwain hid his smile as he gazed down at the hobbit. ‘We did it?’ he said, but his voice held no rebuke. ‘We will be heroes, you and I?’

    But the hobbit did not respond right away; he climbed to his furry feet and turned to call the others within the camp over to tell them of the great deed. The Eglain pressed round the young Eorlingas and stared at him and listened with wonder to Mugwort’s news. The Elgain then turned to Folcwain and asked for the tale once more and they began to feel that their fear was lifted from them with such a victory even in these harsh lands. As the men gazed down at the great paws of the beast on the ground, Mugwort turned to draw Folcwain towards the tent.

    'I owe you, friend. Here, take one of these for all that you've done!' said Mugwort as he flung back the flap to his tent to reveal several items lain out inside. Folcwain looked down at the weapons and armour then shook his head at the hobbit.

    'I thank you master holbytla, but I need no payment for this victory. I am saddened by the ruin this láthnéat has brought upon you all here. And yet my heart is gladdened that I could lend my aid to you gentle folk here.'

    Mugwort opened his mouth to protest but Folcwain raised his hand for silence. ‘I would very much wish to stay and learn more of you and of...hobbits...but I cannot. Alas, the road has not yet drawn to an end for me; farewell young Mugwort. You have lightened my heart much since we first spoke, and it is good to hear such innocent words and laughter after so long.'

    With a deep bow, Folcwain turned away to an unused tent and fell at once into a deep sleep. The sky was grey when he finally awoke, for the sun had not yet climbed over the horizon to the east as the dawn slowly approached. The camp was quiet and few had left their tents as he took up his pack and bow. For a moment, Folcwain stood still as a figure carven in stone and looked over the camp with a heavy heart.

    The Eglain were a simple folk and they were a scattered people living in this miserable land far from their home. He could not think ill of that, thought Folcwain, for they were dutiful to make what life they could from this land. Their ardent vow to reclaim this land for their own was worthy of any praise, no matter how hopeless the task seemed.

    Finally, Folcwain hefted his pack higher upon his shoulders and slowly strode from the encampment. Only the lone guard at the stairs saw his passing as he descended from the heights and into the valley beyond. Soon the coomb was lost to view behind him as Folcwain pressed on through the predawn darkness.

    The late night wind blew chill through the hills as Folcwain made his way north; he soon passed over the Great East Road and turned westwards. Darkened and scattered trees passed by and their boughs rustled with withering leaves in the chilled wind. At last, he drew near the ruins beside the dry ravine just within sight of the inn.

    There Folcwain halted to gaze at the dark ruins with wary eyes; the gaunt ash trees along the slopes above gleamed in a thin ray of sunshine as the first of dawn began to break in the east sky. When he was certain there was no hidden danger or ambush, Folcwain bent low to the earth and began a widening path searching with keen eyes.

    It was not long when he was rewarded with the sight of deep prints in the soft earth, the mark of something large and powerful having passed with long loping strides towards the east. At once Folcwain sped onwards with hope as the sun began to shine bright and clear in the cloudless sky.

    The land swept swiftly past as he ran, his keen eyes turned down to the ground to follow the trail by the clear light of day. It seemed that the beast pressed on with all possible speed along an easterly path with little deviation. Slowly the sun climbed past noon and then rode slowly down the sky as Folcwain pursued the beast. Light clouds came up out of the distant south and were blown away upon the breeze. Then the sun sank and shadows rose behind reaching their long arms across the land. And still he went on.

    As night began to close about him, Folcwain halted along the bleak and shadowed slopes of a towering hill that now loomed against the dusky sky overhead. He set down his pack and spear, and then began to gather a handful of dry grass and broken wood or fallen branches. Within minutes there was a whiff of smoke from the pile he laid out on the ground; Folcwain fanned the flickering flames with the hem of his cloak and piled larger wood over the growing fire.

    Folcwain settled down beside the fire and gazed out from his camp. The hill was bare and the brush was scattered though along the far slope stood a few twisted ash-trees. Already the twilight was about the land but he was content, seated in the warmth of the fire. He turned his eyes upwards where stars leapt out above and the sky was clear and cold. For some time he sat with watchful eyes in the flickering glow of the fire but he saw no sign of enemy or spy in the darkness.

    Finally, Folcwain threw the last wood atop the flames and stretched out beside the fire. For a moment, his thoughts turned to his first meeting with the holbytla, Mugwort. He chuckled softly and laid his head down onto the grass and slept.

  12. #12

    Chapter Eight: Ost Guruth – 16 Solmonath, 1418 SR

    The dawn arrived bright and clear when Folcwain awoke at last. The campfire had fallen and now glowed red from sleepy coals in the growing light of day. Folcwain sat up atop his bedroll and glanced out over the landscape with dozy eyes, feeling the first warmth of the mounting sun pierce the chill in his limbs. For a time he sat there thinking back to the journey to his present spot.

    The memory of the days since he had left the Elgain camp seemed faint and uncertain, full of vague visions of dark lands rushing by mingled with the sigh of steady winds. Foclwain had set out at first light in the deep shadows of the darkened and tall hill where he had last set camp. Little did he recall of the journey through the bleak landscape, passing over the desolate lands with determined speed and with only the briefest of halts before continuing onwards ever more.

    That was the first day and it was not until dusk had settled deeply when Folcwain cast himself upon the ground and slept. Before the dawn was in the sky he woke and rose to take a scant meal before springing away. The long hours of relentless pursuit marched on and the sky was filled with sweeping clouds and a fitful sun; seldom that day did he halt of rest as the lands faded over his shoulder.

    The second day was followed swiftly by the third; all that day Folcwain went onwards, unerring to the east over hills and scattered stand of beleaguered trees. It was as the day wore on to its end, and the last light of the sun dwindled in the sky far to the west, did he reach the crest of a low hill. A sudden breeze swept up and blew his cloak and fair hair with a chill of the coming night as he stood silent for a moment. Then he made camp as a slivered moon began to glimmer in the sky, but it gave only the smallest of light among the twinkling stars.

    A wind sprang up and rustled through the bent grass when Folcwain awoke the next morning and climbed to his feet to gaze out over the quiet lands. Suddenly, he started and turned towards a faint and distant glint in the rising sun. To the north there now could be seen rising towers and walls that seemed broken and crumbling; but soon his keen eyes spotted wisps of rising smoke from what seemed only ruins at first glance.

    Folcwain collected his bedroll and kicked the remaining coals in the fire, then took up his spear and bow to begin jogging to the north. Slowly the fortress grew closer and at once up there sprang towering walls of stone on the far side of the road. At the foot of the walled hill stood a narrow vale that was gained by a faded and much worn path from the road behind. At one end of the vale could be seen a simple stables from whence came the familiar sounds of horses within. Rough and broken stairs rose from the vale; at the top stood a formidable gate, though it too bore signs of ancient visage and ruin as the walls and towers above.

    This was Ost Guruth that once served as a strong hold of the North Kingdom in the lost days of the Witch-realm of Angmar. This was unknown to Folcwain, more so that it now served as the temporary home of the lost wanders called the Eglain. For a moment, Folcwain stared out over the ancient fortress, crossed down into the vale and climbed the steps until he came to a halt at the gates. There stood men in worn but formidable mail and well-used weapons who sprang to their feet and barred the way further with spear and drawn bow. Interest filled their eyes at his arrival but showed little warmth as they looked darkly upon the newcomer.

    For a moment, Folcwain returned their gaze with disquiet, then slung his bow over one shoulder and slowly approached under their unfortified glances of dislike and distrust. Then he halted and raised both hands in peace as one of the guards spoke, demanding his name and errand.

    ‘Folcwain, son of Aldwic I am,’ replied Folcwain slowly and without hostility. ‘The Fifth Héafod of Snowbourn in the Riddermark.’

    ‘You must be lost to have found us,’ said one of the watchful guards as he inspected the stranger at the gates.

    ‘Lost? I was at first but I am no longer,’ answered Folcwain simply. ‘I come in friendship to you and without malice. Your tongue was strange to me when I first heard it but no more – I lent aid to Constable Bram Ashleaf to the east in hopes of dealing with the terrible goblins and wolves that plague this land. Indeed, I slew a formidable beast, Shadepaw it was named, that stalked the hills near the Forsaken Inn. I did so in exchange for information I sorely sought when I first came to this land.’

    The guards glanced at one another with wonder and awe filled their faces. ‘You should speak to Frederic the Elder,’ said one of the guards slowly. ‘He is our leader.’

    Folcwain’s eyes glinted under his fair hair as he looked at the guards. ‘Yes, I will do so,’ he said slowly. ‘The words of Bram Ashleaf may be of interest to this elder.’

    The strong gates were swung open and Folcwain stepped through. He found a wide stair of hewn stone falling down into the fortress courtyard beyond. Many crumbling and half-repaired stone structures filled the wide courtyard below, mingled with smoky campfires, tents and ruined pillars of a lost magnificence. At the foot of the stairs stood an old man, simply clad and appearing as little more than a wizened and watchful father over his flock.

    The old man watched as Folcwain descended the steps, his face soft and without pride or judgment. The old man was silent as Folcwain stopped hesitantly before him, uncertain as if to speak. For a time the old man did not speak nor stir, only looked into the young face of the stranger, until Folcwain grew uneasy and began to speak haltingly.

    ‘Westu hal, I am called Folcwain’ he began slowly in a soft voice. ‘I am no enemy of your people; I bring word from Constable Bram Ashleaf of his battles with the many foes that plague you and your people. I offered him and his men what little aid I could that you may wish to hear.’

    The old man smiled warmly and then spoke. ‘Hail to you, Folcwain. I am Frideric, Elder of the Eglain. I know of your deeds. We are already in your debt. You have done much to assist the people of the Eglain, and I thank you for your efforts. A shadow has been brought to our home here; Orcs came from the south, careful not to cross paths with the Orcs from the north and their dwarf-allies. The half-orcs have long been a threat, as well as the spiders, but the wargs and crebain all came with the Orcs and goblins.’

    Folcwain lowered his head at such praise and his face blushed red briefly. ‘My deeds are no more than your brave folk show each day’s sunrise, Frederic the Elder. I gladly gave what little aid I could to stem the tide of such terrible afflictions you face here and yet for what success I have brought, I cannot say.’

    Frederic smiled once more softly. 'Worse still, a kind of troll -- Jorthkyn, or Earth-kin, they call themselves -- sought refuge from the Trollshaws over the Last Bridge. They are not violent, but they have trailed evil with them. There is also another matter, but I will not yet speak of that to you. In time, perhaps, you will learn of this greatest danger to the Eglain.'

    ‘I thank you,’ said Folcwain without pride. ‘I would gladly extend whatever aid I may to you and your people and I will look kindly on whatever you wish to speak with me about. But now I must beg your pardon for I am weary and sore from my journey here. I seek only a hot meal and rest within your walls, free of the dangers that lurk in the lands about.’

    With that, Folcwain bowed his head in reverence and strode out into the courtyard to walk among the many Elgain. Near the stairs he came to a lofty crumbling hall and from within came pitiful sounds and groans. Folcwain turned, bent his head to cross through the archway and stepped into the interior of the wide hall.

    There he gazed out over a collection of simple beds and cots spread across the stone floor; each bore a sleeping form or shuddering person in great pain. This was the healing house of Ost Guruth, under the care of Strangsig, a gentle woman wise and skilled in the art of healing of the wounded, hurt and sick. As Folcwain gazed at the sad sight, he could see that many of the folk within were sickened with some malady or illness, while others were stricken with the wounds of battle.

    Great was the healer’s skill, but little could she do to stave the constant flow of the such in need that grew daily as the Elgain fought an unending battle against the foes that sought to sweep them from their last and only place of refuge. Folcwain’s face grew mournful as the light of the narrow windows shone upon their grey faces that reflected looks of forlorn and hopeless despair.

    Presently, a woman approached Folcain, her face softened with lines of care. She paused and looked into the fair face of the man of Rohan with patient silence. Folcwain gazed about the halls and then down to the woman. ‘Greetings good lady,’ he said with great respect. ‘I thought this to be a garrison hall, yet it is not. It seems more a place of healing for those who are sick and injured.’

    The woman turned to whisper softly to an aid who strode up to speak quietly into her ear; the healer then turned back to Folcwain with a nod to his question but said nothing more. Folcwain’s face beamed with a glimmer of hope and began to speak with swift words.

    ‘Ah very good then! These folk will long remember the care you give and in that will arise hope in this terrible darkness,’ he said simply. ‘I am need of no healer, but I do seek word of a companion that was lost to me. He is garbed in the manner as I am and I fear the worst for him. Please, tell me of any such strangers that have come to you in such need.’

    The woman gazed up into his eyes with genuine concern but shook her head slowly before she spoke.’ I am afraid that I have seen or heard nothing of a person matching your description of your companion, my friend.’

    For a moment, Foclwain’s face grew grey and his eyes misted with tears. ‘Alas, I could not have hoped for such luck. And yet that does not end my search for him, no matter how long the road takes me. I thank you nevertheless, and will delay you work further.’

    Folcwain bowed his head and went out of the healing house with a heavy heart.He questioned a passing Elgain outside and was soon shown to others of the Elgain guard camped round the many camps nearer the stairs. There he was warmly welcomed by them and he made what merriment that could be had under the relentless gloom that hung upon the forsaken fortress.

    Folcwain took a meal among the men gladly and talked in hushed tones with the Men as the morning passed and afternoon drew on to dusk. Then, as weariness fell upon him, he was led to a simple tent; there he rolled into bed and soon fell asleep.

    In the deep of night, he was awakened by a quiet guard standing outside the tent. Folcwain muttered quietly as he peered out into the night and then nodded slowly as the guard turned to briskly disappear into the darkness.

    Folcwain grasped his bow and spear, crawled out of the tent and strode across the quiet courtyard with a stifled yawn. At the foot of the stairs, he found Frideric speaking quietly with a guard with a hushed voice. Folcwain stood there quietly until the guard nodded and turned to climb the stairs towards the gate. Only then did he speak.

    ‘I received you summons, Frederic,’ he said slowly. ‘Of what did you wish to speak to me about?’

    The old man’s gaze followed the guard through the gate for a moment then turned to him with a grim look. 'A moment of your time, Folcwain, but know that the task I will ask of you will take more than moments and set you on a course for true danger.’

    ‘A task you must ask of me?’ answered Folcwain with a frown. ‘Any request for aid I give willingly for you and your people. What is it that I can do?’

    The old man fell silent and glanced up into the darkened sky and did not speak straight away. Finally he turned to look into Folcwain’s bright eyes. 'Some time back, before the darkness spread from the east and north, we witnessed the arrival of the Dead at Nan Dhelu. We have often stayed afar of that place as something there always set unease upon us. Now, though, the evil emanating spreads fear throughout the people.’

    Folcwain’s face grew dark as the Elder’s words and trembled. ‘Nan Dhelu, a fell name even to one such as me who knows nothing of such a place. And what is this about the Dead?’

    'I dispatched one of our strongest kinswomen to watch the ruins...’ said Frederic as his face softened. ‘She is there now with her companion who is there at the behest of Stanric. Should you wish to aid us further, make your way to the ruin of Dol Vaeg, east along the road and north to the highest hill, and assist her.'

    ‘This I will do gladly, Elder Frederic’ offered Folcain without hesitation. I will seek this place called Dol Vaeg at first light.’

    Folcwain turned to walk away but Friderik spoke once more and placed a wrinkled hand upon his shoulder. ‘One thing, here is small gift from our people, the Elgain, for your untiring and faithful service to us in such time of need.’

    He drew out a small token of strange metal and offered it to the amazed man. ‘Metals such as this are rare in these dark days and loath are we to part with what little we have,’ he said kindly and with a warm smile.

    Folcwain took the token and pinned it to his breast. He muttered a quiet thanks before bowing very low to the Elgain elder and turned round to return to the camp to await the coming first light of dawn.

  13. #13
    Well Folcwain has arrived in Ost Guruth - there he was able to look for clues to Holdwine (his soldier) or his whereabouts. No luck, but I could not expect to find him on the first try!

    He also somehow managed to reach Acquaintance rank with the Elgain in a very short time, and even recieved a special gift - the Provider's Symbol for his efforts:

    And finally, here is a map of his hunt thus far up to Ost Guruth and the path that led him to where he is now:

  14. #14

    Chapter Nine: Nan Dhelu – 17 Solmonath, 1418 SR

    Morning was still distant in the sky and dim still lay thick in the deep dale below the gates of Ost Guruth. Dark and shadowy were the strangled trees that climbed upon the steep slopes that lead towards the road to the south. Folcwain strode down the steep stairs and passed from the gates and into the lands about the ancient fortress. In the vale below the foot of the great hill he came beneath a stand of murmuring trees.

    Quiet and watchful, Folcwain went on in the deep darkness until soon he came to a long tree slope fading away to the east, where the ground was harder and drier and the grass shorter. Beyond, the land quickly sunk before rising again further on towards a line of high, smooth downs ahead. His keen eyes detected no sign of enemies and all the land seemed empty, yet the silence upon it did not seem to be the quiet of peace. Through the wide solitude the hunter passed, his cloak curling in the gentle breeze of a chill wind.

    At once there rose slopes of grass and heath high above the vale and past thinning slopes of darkly frowning stands of somber trees. Atop the summit stood crumbling pillars of stone, surrounding the remains of an ancient tower. Dol Vaeg the Eglain so named it, the “Piercing Head”. Long ago, it was abandoned by the Race of Men and had fallen under the sway of roaming servants of the Enemy. Yet, for the valour of the Eglain, the old fort had been reclaimed who now stood watchful over the many dangers that now plagued the desolate lands about.

    Foclwain looked darkly at the shadowed figures that turned to watch him with bristling weapons within the ruins. 'Have no fear I am neither bandit nor Orc, but have been sent by Frideric the Elder to speak with Cwendreda,’ he said with a gesture of peace. A tall brown-haired woman passed the guarded Men and stood unmoving, grave and watchful at the newcomer. Folcwain did not stir but watched as the woman motioned for the Men to lower their spears and bows.

    Folcwain strode forward and climbed the steps into the ruins. Then he halted. The woman did not move and he felt the heavy gaze of the Men in an uncomfortable silence. At length the woman spoke. ‘Frideric is a strong leader and wise,’ she said. ‘I have learned much just by watching the comings and goings within the ruins. I know that there is wealth to be gained from within that place as well. If you are here to help, then I will gratefully accept any help you offer.'

    Folcwain bowed his head and drew his blade from its scabbard. ‘I know naught what aid I may offer you, but all I have is at your command, Gwendreda,’ he said as he laid the sword at her feet. ‘Frideric spoke only of hushed rumours of the woes you face here. Tell me, what dire peril plagues you for him to send me hither?’

    Gwendreda turned her gaze north as she spoke. 'The Eglain have always kept their distance from Nan Dhelu. The ruins have an ominous feel that cannot be avoided.’

    Folcwain followed her gaze northwards. There he could glimpse dark walls of stone and crumbling towers that seemed half-obscured by a wisping gloom of shadow. He shuddered and blanched at its sight and all warmth seemed to wither from his limbs as the very sight of the dark ruins beyond.

    'We know that there are a great number of Dead within this place,’ she continued, and turned back to Folcwain. ‘We have learned of these foul beings from our stone-speaker and our friend Radagast.’

    'This is fell tidings indeed!’ muttered Folcwain and his face grew pale. ‘But what could I, one of the living, do to avail against such abominations?'

    ‘We know that they are evil and that they hate all that live,’ answered Gwendreda simply. ‘I must ask that you make your way to the ruins and destroy the Dead there, for they are a blight on these lands and should be purged. You will find a great number of these creatures, some bloated, some barely sheathed in flesh, and others bereft of flesh within the borders of Nan Dhelu. Banish them from the ruins, and then return to me.'

    Folcwian returned his gaze to the forbidding ruins to the north and then to the Elgain woman. 'We Eotheod are men of honour and duty; I swore an oath to Frideric to do his bidding and seek you here. I will journey to this foul place as you ask, though my blood runs chill at the very thought!'

    Folcwain bent to retrieve his sword. Then he bowed and passed down from the ruins of Dol Vaeg and did not look back. A faded and overgrown path led away to the north from Dol Vaeg near the stairs; nothing could be seen moving within the narrow vale that led down towards the forbidding ruins further on. And yet Folcwain shuddered once more and he sensed a great evil in the air, as if things might indeed be passing up and down the vale that eyes could not see.

    As he drew closer down the path, there seemed to be a great darkness looming over the ruins, eating up the clear morning sky, its edges ringed with a sickly glare. At last Folcwain came to the end of the path and there stood a towering wall of worked stone; in the wall a dark door-less gate gaped before him like the mouth of night. A sense of dread and danger seemed to waver and flow from the gate like the unwholesome stench of decay.

    There Folcwain stood like a figure of stone, his hands clenched at his sides unmoving and he looked out at the ruins. For a moment he fought down a rising quail within his heart. Then he passed his hand over his eyes and trembled before forcing himself to step into the doorway.

    The interior seemed more an ancient graveyard than the courtyard of a forgotten and time-worn fortress, and Folcwain trembled once more at the signs of immemorial years of the ruins. A narrow way led ahead flanked by sheer walls of stone topped with battlemented walkways. The ground was of hard earth mingled with rank grass, moss and creeping weeds and all was filled with a vague stench of rotting stonework. On all sides were signs of neglect and decrepitude and Folcwain felt he was the first living creature to invade this lethal silence of centuries.

    Amorphous shadows seemed to lurk deep within in the dark recesses of the walls and the mouldering and weed-choked earth. Little could be seen in the heavy gloom, and no sound came to his ears. And yet there seemed to be an endless whisper of voices about him, a murmur of words Folcwain could recognize.

    Folcwain took an unsteady step forward, drawing his sword from his belt. He had only taken a dozen steps when there came a noxious rush of mist and frigid air from ahead. It was suddenly followed by the shadow-sound of footsteps in the darkness, slow and dragging, as if from some heavy burden of great weariness.

    Folcwain raised his sword as if to ward some unseen blow as there came a voice, deep, hollow, remote and unearthly from the miasmal vapours that flowed out from the path ahead. Suddenly a dark form loomed up in the shadows ahead and an insufferable foetid stench wavered over him as Folcwain fought back a welling sense of nausea. A chilled and breathless cry arose from the figure as it stepped towards him with horrible jerking motions.

    Fear threatened to overwhelm Folcwain as he watched the horrible wight advance towards him relentlessly. He quickly glanced about but knew that there was no aid to summon to his side in the alien place, where nothing and no one was known to him. He stood alone, with little more than his sword and dagger standing between him and this terrible foe.

    The wight took a step towards Folcwain, and its arms came groping out towards him, its eyes blazing with a terrible brightness. A sudden rage of disgust and horror filled Folcwain and he swung up and hewed at the thing; as his sword passed through its unwholesome form, the wight leapt, quick and hideous, at him. Folcwain gave a short strangled cry and staggered back under the weight of the thing, its talon-like claws gripping and tearing at him.

    The darkness about seemed at once to widen and stretch and all strength seemed to flee from Folcwain’s limbs as he fought desperately to break free of the grip of the terrible wight. He sobbed with horror and pain as the thing tore into his flesh. Then with last remaining strength he threw the wight from him and cried aloud. The wight gave a hoarse cry and crumbled to the ground as Folcwain’s sword swept its hideous head from its shoulders with a single blow.

    Folcwain ‘s sword fell from his cold hand as he too slipped to the ground, his face blackened with blood and there was great black stains on his mail. For long moments, he made no sound until, at last, he began to stir and his lips parted gasping for breath. Then he slowly rose, leaning heavily upon his ash spear with a bowed head, as if he had scarcely strength to stand.

    He took up his sword and staggered from the courtyard and down the path at a run. With every step the darkness that loomed overt that terrible place seemed to lessen and the strength and warmth crept back into his body as he ran. Soon, the first beam of sunlight shined down upon his face and Folcwain raised a hand to his eyes, and he looked up at the broadening sun with laughter. He was unscathed, and he still stood and the despair was not fast depleted from his heart.

    The sun was now shining bright and clear when Folcwain made his way back to Dol Vaeg. He paused at the steps to glance back towards the darkened ruins then swiftly climbed up and strode up to Gwendreda.

    ‘It is done,’ he said with a bow of his head. ‘Indeed, the Dead do overrun the ruins and I sense an even greater evil there. I slew a thing, one I wish to not name, but the perils of that place remain. The memory of that place will lie heavy with me long after I leave this place.’

    There came a low murmuring from the Eglain, but Gwendreda raised a hand for silence.

    'This cannot have been an easy task,’ she said grimly. ‘The Dead are creatures that inspire fear within the most courageous of hearts. We Eglain are indebted to you, Folcwain. I offer you this meager gift for your efforts.'

    Folcwain accepted a few silver coins and bowed his head once more. ‘My thanks,’ he said simply. ‘But now I must return to Ost Guruth to speak with Friderik the Elder.’

    The shadows of the fading day long when Folcwain returned to Ost Guruth. In the narrow vale at the foot of the walled hill he paused, looking towards the simple stable nearer the stairs. He smiles slightly and slowly approached the open air stable and towards a grim-looking dwarf who could only be the horse-master. A beautiful mare stuck its head over the fence, tossed its head and stamped the earth. Folcwain again smiled as he gently stroked its great flank and mane.

    ‘I am Folcwain, son of Aldwic, master dwarf,’ he said as the mare lifted its head up and neighed loudly. 'You have a fine stock of horses here, master dwarf. I would be foolish not to take one of them, and yet I seek another. Nay not from another master, but my own. Hálasfal is his name, a magnificent grey mare. We became separated in an ambush I desperately seek his return. I was hunting a great wolf when he was lost to me and I fear that beast is to blame.’

    The dwarf tugged at his beard and gazed up at the tall Eotheod with interest. ‘Some wolf stole your prized steed, you say?’ said the dwarf with wonder and disbelief. ‘That doesn’t sound much like the atrocities of wild beasts I’ve heard of…or seen! Wolves are concerned with feasting on your horse, not stealing it!’

    ‘All the same,’ began Folcwain haltingly. ‘I seek him with the utmost urgency. Pray look for such a mount should one find its way to you.’

    Folcwain climbed the steps towards the gate, bowing his head politely to the guards that stood there with watchful eyes. In the shadows of the gate, he turned his gaze upon the Eglain camp within. For long minutes he did not stir and was gravely silent. Then he spoke softly.

    ‘These people, the Eglain are a proud people, even without hope. I am gladdened by what little aid I could offer them in these dark times. Alas, the hunt does not wait for the idle and I must say goodbye to these gentlefolk and be on my way.’

    He sighed softly and strode back through the gate and down the steps once more.

  15. #15
    Well, Folcwain has faced off against his first Wight! Actually eight of them to be precise, since he had to slay that many for the quest given to him by Gwendreda....

    But that draws to a close to his time in the Lone-lands - though Folcwain is only 29th level, he must begin the journey towards the Trollshaws in his continued hunt. As with his search for the lost soldier, Holdwine, he found no clues to his horse while in Ost Guruth:

    The next part of the story will be very interesting - I am rping Folcwain as a typical Man of Rohan. What that means is that he possesses a fear/distrust of Elves. If he wishes to gain quests (or even enter a single settlement within the Trollshaws), he is going to have to overcome this fear and distrust from a player elf...

  16. #16
    A hunter! In the Lone-Lands! I know those hills! And that ruin! And that one!

    My first toon on LOTRO was a hunter on Firefoot, and he's in the Lone-Lands right now, so this is awesome to see. You had me nervous several times that Folcwain might not survive very long. So far, so good, though.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    May 2012
    In my TARDIS
    This is absolutely brilliant, but you do realize you are a little crazy, right. Either that or you just have way too much time on your hands. I think the second choice is the correct one. I even think I might join you, I have gotten a little tired of grind, grind, grind. Maybe I'm a little crazy too.
    Lore-Monkey(not a Lore Guardian) and proud of it.


  18. #18
    Everyone's a bit crazy.

    I'm thinking of starting a total immersion one for myself this summer once school is finished. Maybe it's contagious.



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