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  1. #1

    Total Immersion - Where Now the Horse and the Rider?


    Greetings! 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 over on Crickhollow 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.

    Before departing Crickhollow only recently, I began this story but ultimately I have abandoned it with my move to Landroval. However, my desire to run the tale in full was never forgotten. Thus, I decided to kick-start the story from the very beginning here.

    Naturally, I already have the story of the poor dwarf, Brimbur going quite steadily along right now - his story will remain the focus of most of my attention. This story will be played out much slower and with fewer updates and chapters than Brimbur's story, yet I cannot without my desire to return to the story and complete it if I can.

    Since I already began to story and adventure back on Crickhollow, I decided to change the beginning a bit as to not create an exact replica of the first.

    TOTAL IMMERSION RULES

    1. Travel: I will only travel on foot or by regular mounts and absolutely no swift travel horses or map recall use. This can be waived when conducting toon upkeep, such as visiting a settlement to level. 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, such as trying to run away from an enemy.

    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:

    Dawn
    Morning
    Noon
    Afternoon
    Dusk
    Gloaming
    Evening
    Midnight
    Late Watches
    Foredawn

    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 - Folcwain, the story character, his a hunter by trade so gathering food in the wilds is perfectly acceptable.

    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 sit 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.

    There is one rule I play that I always forget to mention - and that is the repair of equipped gear. I may only pay for repairs of weapons from a suitable vendor; ie, weapon repairs from a weaponsmith npc in a crafting area.

    5. Death and Defeat: Since I love a challenge, I will add in a harsh rule for myself. Folcwain cannot be defeated by any means during the story - should this occur, he will be considered truly dead. For all of my stories in the past, the character begins at 6-7th level right after the Intro. However, for this story, Folcwain begins at 20th level and has managed to survive to gain the Survival title of UNdying to begin the adventure.

    6. Arms and Armour: Folcwain may only equip or use equipment gained via mob drops or gained by the completion of quests. So, he may not craft gear for himself, or purchase gear from a vendor or the Auction House.

    SPECIAL RULES FOR THE STORY

    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, Holwine, 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 Holwine; this entails completing quests from certain NPCS or speaking to NPC Healer Vendors. Perhaps someone has found the wounded Holwine in the wilds?

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

    THE LANGUAGE OF THE EORLINGAS

    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 h?l 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 m?re, "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
    Holwine - 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 þ?oden, "chief" or "lord"
    Westu hal - be thou healthy or hale

    STORY CHAPTER LIST

    Chapter One: A Strange Land - 18 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Two: Ere the Sun Rises – 19 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Three: A Red Day – 20 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Four: Hunting – 21 to 22 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Five: The Hill of Rain – 23 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Six: Elders in the Shadows – 24 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Seven: I Came Singing in the Sun, Sword Unsheathing – 24 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Eight: To Hope’s End I Rode – 25 to 30 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Nine: Dark to the Day’s Rising – 31 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Ten: Dark to the Day’s Rising – 31 Forelitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Eleven: An Elf-swain's Lament – 2 Afterlitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Twelve: Lilies in the Valley – 3 to 5 Afterlitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Thirteen: The House of Elrond – 5 to 9 Afterlitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Fourteen: The Riddle Game – 10 Afterlitha, 3017 TA
    Chapter Fifteen: The Rider Fallen – 11 to 12 Afterlitha, 3017 TA
    Last edited by Brucha; Nov 18 2013 at 10:32 PM.

  2. #2
    Good luck! I am glad your doing this again. Would you accept help along the way? Is your dwarf going to be a hunter?

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by rangerofthewest View Post
    Good luck! I am glad your doing this again. Would you accept help along the way? Is your dwarf going to be a hunter?
    I am unsure what you mean - Folcwain is of the Mannish tribe, and from Rohan, the Riddermark. Certainly I would welcome any aid during the story - and the assistance would be be most beneficial!

  4. #4
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    Oh, this looks excellent. From where are you starting? The Forsaken Inn? You're trying to make it all the way to Snowbourn? With the rest of Rohan coming out this year, will you be going the more logical path geographically... through the Gap of Rohan... or will you be going the level-appropriate route? XD Horses cannot go into the mines, after all...
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Laire View Post
    Oh, this looks excellent. From where are you starting? The Forsaken Inn? You're trying to make it all the way to Snowbourn? With the rest of Rohan coming out this year, will you be going the more logical path geographically... through the Gap of Rohan... or will you be going the level-appropriate route? XD Horses cannot go into the mines, after all...
    Folcwain will begin in the Lone-lands, near the Forsaken Inn. As far as the path he takes, that is uncertain. The hunt for this elusive warg will take him from the Lone-lands and into the Trollshaws. After that, it becomes more tricky. The path may lead up into the Misty Mountains, and over into the Great River or even into Mirkwood.

    Or it may lead into Eregion - from there the path could lead across the Redhorn pass and into the Great River, Mirkwood, or Lothlorien. Or it might lead further south towards Dunland and even Rohan itself.

    There is no way of knowing exactly where the path will lead me (since the program I wrote will dictate the path I am lead along); thus there is a great chance it will not be a level-appropriate route! Each region has the possibility of locating the warg Folcwain seeks. The first area is the Misty Mtns and Eregion, though the program is set with a low probability of that happening. Beyond those regions, the chances increase.

    However, should the hunt succeed, his horse is found safely, and Holwine found unharmed, Folcwain will finally make the slow journey back home to Snowbourne and the end of the story.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Brucha View Post
    I am unsure what you mean - Folcwain is of the Mannish tribe, and from Rohan, the Riddermark. Certainly I would welcome any aid during the story - and the assistance would be be most beneficial!
    Oh, I am sorry. I was a little confused. I'll try to help you when I can.

  7. #7

    Chapter One: A Strange Land - 18 Forelitha, 3017 TA

    Folcwain slowly stirred from a great sleep and, with still-unopened eyes yawned, stretched his arms over his head. Somewhere off in the distance the faint call of a bird sounded, a lonesome call it seemed, and it slowly drifted away among the soft rustle of branches in a gentle wind. He blinked as he slowly opened his eyes, and at once began to scold himself for oversleeping. He sat up to call out in stern voice to summon Holwine to set the fires and call forth the hafred. Bewilderment washed at once over him and he shook his head as if to awaken from a dream.

    He sat up suddenly only to wince in great pain; hazy hints of an ill-remembered battle and unending hunt slowly crept slowly into his mind. Folcwain looked about and found he was lying in a deep bed of brown ferns surrounded by thorny thickets. Rising up about him stood tall and wind-bent trees, their boughs marked with greenish-grey leaves. All was quiet but for the sighing of the wind.

    Only when the pain at his side began to ebb and recede to a dull ache did he slowly rise to his feet. There in the ferns was a bow of ash wood and a sheaf of arrows; Folcwain’s hands strayed to his belt, and sighed when he was assured his sword still hung by his side. He lifted his iron-shod helm and pulled at the long braids of flaxen-hair that fell down his shoulders.

    He stepped to the thickets and parted them with a gloved hand; what stared back at him from the hiding place was an unrecognizable land. The fleeting light of the dying sun shown dim and shadowy across a landscape that seemed wild and threatening. Bushes and stunted trees grew in sparse patches across the undulating ground all about the thicket, and the ground was covered with scant, coarse grey-grass.



    Folcwain turned to spot his pack upon the ground next to him. He winced slightly as he bent down to take it in his hands and then sat gingerly down onto the ferns. His hand fell to the fine burnished rings of the long hauberk and then lifted it up; the skin beneath was blackened and dark with bruises and the rings were bent inwards as if struck by a heavy blow.

    Folcwain let the hem of the mail fall from his hands and he opened his pack. He frowned at the sight of an old, wrinkled pear and a hard piece of bread inside. As with the men of his hafred, Folcwain kept much of his foodstuffs on the bags of his horse, Hálasfal, and the thought of such a meager dinner did little to raise his failing spirits. Yet he drew out the pear and munched on it, a puzzled look spreading across his face as a feeling of dread and uncertainly crept into his thoughts.

    Finally, Folcwain reached for his bow and pack and climbed slowly to his feet once more; he parted the thickets and stepped out. He stood there for some time, gazing guardedly over the land before he set out with wary, uncertainty steps. He made his way down a gentle slope as the wind began to hiss through the heather and grass. To the south, the ground descended rapidly and now offered a wide view of the darkening landscape.

    Far off in the distance hung a line of huddled and wooded hills and at their feet wound a lonely road sweeping from west to east in the growing dusk. Nothing of the bleak landscape seemed familiar to Folcwain and he found himself uncertain as to the proper direction to follow. He looked out for some time and then set out down the slopes towards the distant road.

    He kept a vigilant eye as he went, casting his keen gaze about at any hint of foe or danger; yet there came to his ears few sounds of beasts. Far off in the dimming light he would hear the forlorn calls of unseen birds or the distant mournful howl of a wolf as it woke from its long daylight sleep.

    The last glimmering light shone to the west, and the sun slowly dipped beneath the horizon, as Folcwain made the careful way down from the heights. Slowly, the line of darkened hills drew near when there came the sound of a snapped twig. It was swiftly followed by a harsh muttering in a horrible guttural tongue.

    At once, Folcwain halted to crouch beside a large bare stretch of exposed rock and looked out warily as the muttering drew nearer. Presently a goblin came into view; a smaller breed of orc it was, green-skinned with a wide and sniffing nose. It was clad in ragged filthy leathers and clenched a wicked but short spear in one hand as it made its way alone snarling to itself.

    Folcwain slowly drew his sword very silently from his belt and then suddenly leapt up with a cry; but the goblin shrieked aloud and sprang back as it released it short spear through the air towards its oncoming foe. At the last moment, Folcwain swerved aside as the spear passes within inches of his body and he closed the last steps between them.

    The goblin’s nostrils widened and hissed and its small red eyes raged as the two foes met on the short graying grass. The air rang with the sound of clashing metal as their blades met before the goblin sprang back again with upraised blade ready to strike.



    The two foes danced warily just out of reach in a wide circle for some time, each gazing warily at the other. Then the goblin let forth a snarling snicker and came at Folcwain; the Eorlingas cried out in pain as the spear lanced his thigh even as he hewed forward with sword and knife. The goblin let out a hideous yell and stumbled back a step before toppling over onto the ground.

    Folcwain took in a long wheezing breath and clenched his thigh to gaze down at his slain foe. He had battled goblins and orcs in the lands about Snowbourn, and yet this one seemed strange to him. This goblin-soldier looked as one from the mountains, and yet upon its filthy tunic of leather it bore a strange device; a small crudely-painted white hand in the center of a black field.

    Folcwain took up the goblin’s spear to break it in two and then tossed it into the grass. He then took from his pack some strips of linen and wrapped it round the wound on his leg. He gazed one last time at the strange goblin at his feet then, with a hasty glance about, Folcwain wound down the last stretch towards the bottom of the long hills behind him.

    The first stars were twinkling in the sky, though the moon had not risen to the east yet, when his sharp eyes caught a dull gleam ahead. It was a ramshackle building that now came into view, one that seen far too many years. It was one-storied and made of stone and shingled roof; Folcwain thought at first it was long abandoned for he could glimpse large gapes and holes in the sagging roof. Yet as he gazed at it, he could spot a dim glow flickering through the grimy windows and a thin plume of blackened smoke curling up from the crumbling chimney.

    Intrigued, Folcwain slowly approached the lone building and round to the front that faced the road that wound ever eastwards. He as much surprised to find an odd assortment of Mannish folk seated here or there in the yard. The folk at once turned dark suspicious glares at the stranger and all fell to wary silence for a moment. Folcwain felt a sudden wave of mistrust and uneasiness from the men, but when he did not draw a blade, they returned to their own quiet, solemn business.

    Folcwain climbed the worn stone steps to the door finally and paused hesitantly; he then knocked loudly upon the wooden frame and stepped back. From within came muted sounds and many low, guarded voices. Folcwain looked back at the men in the yard, pulled the door open and stooped low to step through the doorway.



    Beyond the door he found a long hall, deep patches of shadows mingling with flickering starlight that shone through the gaping holes in the splintered and crumbling roof overhead. Dim flickering candles swayed atop chandeliers hung from the low rafters and to each end stood smoky hearths of stone that gave off a dim glow.

    The far end of the hall stood atop a raised area where there could be seen a ramshackle bar; long wooden tables ran the length of the room and smaller round tables sat in the shadows nearer the walls. Dusky and crestfallen folk were seated at the tables, alone or in small numbers; all seemed very wretched and woeful.

    It was an inn, though one that had witnessed far better days long past. Folcwain at once was filled with deep distrust and doubted the wisdom of seeking shelter in such a dismal place. And yet the desire to return alone into the wilds was enough for him to push aside his misgiving.

    Ignoring the silent stares of the inn folk, Folcwain slowly made his way near the hearth and set down his bow and pack onto the ground at his feet. He then sighed softly and closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of the smoky fire slowly seeping into his chilled limbs. It was some time when Folcwain finally stirred once more to gaze about the darkened hall.

    His eyes passed slowly over the muted quiet folk until his eyes rested upon man who was watching him with dark and distrusting eyes. The man seemed waiting for some sinister and dubious purpose to be made clear from the new arrival. Folcwain lowered his eyes for a moment and the room seemed to grow very quiet and dark.

    Finally, Folcwain turned his eyes to the man and approached him with slow but deliberate steps, until he was standing face to face with him. He swept his long braids over his shoulders and spoke with a hesitant voice, using the manner of the Common Tongue.

    ‘I seek to know of this place,’ he said with a lowered voice. ‘My journey has been long and this land is not known to me.’

    For a long pause, the man did not answer, but gazed at the stranger with grim untrusting eyes. Then he spoke.

    ‘Some come to these lands because they are shunned, others to simply pass through,’ said the man, scratching his whiskered chin and shivered from the unrelenting cold in 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 of the man but it swiftly faded to grow soft and unthreatening. ‘As for that, I am indeed a stranger here among you and your folk,’ he answered softly and without malice. ‘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, muttering something under his breath and then turned away, as if he had said too much already. Folcwain stared at the sudden silence of the man, but nodded and turned to stand beside the fire once more. There he fell into a deep, troubled mind and it was some time before he roused his head.

    When he did begin to stir, Folcwain glanced about the hall once again and his eyes fell onto a dark-haired woman standing in the deep shadows nearer the door. Even in the dim light her face was visibly strained with a deepening look of disquiet and fear. He gazed at the sullen crowd in the hall and then slowly stepped up to her with open hands.

    ‘At first glance from afar, I thought this place abandoned, or worse, but now I see that is not so,’ he said softly and 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 up at Folcwain, a foreboding filling 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?’ he answered sullenly, and an image of the goblin he had battled that very day crept into his mind. ‘That is fell news, but what would bring the likes of them down so far from the distant mountains?’

    The woman did not speak and, as the man had done so, she fell silent and would not speak further. Folcwain muttered a quiet apology and turned towards the rickety bar on the far end of the hall. There behind a low table 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 would find themselves in the clutches o' them goblins.’

    ‘I have seen one of their foul ilk this day, and do not doubt your words.’ answered Foclwain slowly.

    '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 lowered his gaze and the round the darkened hall. A feeling of remorsefulness crept into his heart as he looked out over the wretched and hopeless folk. Finally he lifted his eyes to gaze at the proprietor.

    ‘Hunting goblins in any land is foul business, yet their presence here seems fouler,’ he said solemnly. ‘It is not in this manner, alone and bereft of my hafred, have I hunted their sort before. Yet the doom of chance is upon me; I will do as you ask for I am need of your wisdom and of answers I desperately seek.’

    Folcwain bowed his head and then spoke swiftly but with great weariness. ‘For now I must rest and will set out at dawn. Then I shall hunt these goblins wherever I may find them; look for me on the morrow ere the sun sets and I will bring you word of my hunt.'

  8. #8

    Chapter Two: Ere the Sun Rises – 19 Forelitha, 3017 TA

    The dawn had broken sullen, and cold, a bitter wind blowing up from the west, when Folcwain quietly made his way from the inn. Billowing clouds hid the sun as it rose hidden over the distant East so that only a dull paleness filled the waking sky. He set out at once with slow but steady steps beyond the inn to the north until he came to the feet of rising hills that wound up towards distant highlands along tumbled ridges and slopes.

    For some time he scrambled up the slopes towards the crest of the high ridge above; his path went slow for the slopes were steep and difficult. Yet after some time, Folcwain came to a thin shelf of level ground. There he halted, cupped his chilled hands to his warm breath and gazed out over the quiet land. Morning was now shimmering in the sky and the red rim of the sun peeked through the tattered clouds. He took a deep breath.

    ‘Ah, the green scent,’ he said quietly as he looked out over the sea of green-gray grass far below. ‘It brings Snowbourn and the grasslands of the Mark to my mind. Alas! Long have I been away from home.’

    His gaze swept over the lands about then came to rest at the grass round his feet. A puzzled look spread across Folcwain’s face as he bent down nearer the ground. There he found the short grass trampled and bruised by the passing of heavy but small iron-nailed shoes. Folcwain’s eyes followed the trail of footprints as they went along the narrow shelf before curving sharply towards the ridge above.

    Swiftly he turned and followed the trail; at last he reached the crest of the rising hills and a sudden wind blew his hair and stirred his long cloak. The merciless cold wind of dawn had warmed and veered round from the south. The swift-flowing clouds had lifted a bit and now the fleeting rays of the sun shone through them, pale and watery.

    The ridge upon which Foclwain now stood went down sharply before his feet and tumbled down into a narrow trough running east to west until it widened onto an undulating stretch of grasslands. To the north and east stony slopes rose ever higher above.

    Folcwain crouched in the grass and gazed down into the valley below. His eyes looked warily over curious but ancient and crumbling works of stone that choked the vale; tall and wind-bent trees grew here or there among the ruins, their boughs casting wide stretches of shadows about the ground. Then a glimpse of sudden, dim movement caught his keen eyes.



    ‘Goblins,’ he muttered softly.

    Folcwain swept his eyes round the valley; all about the ruins sat, stood or wandered about a small company of goblins. He watched in silence as he slowly counted three within view. Finally, Folcwain rose, set an arrow to his bow and slowly made his way stealthily down into the vale.

    He crept towards the nearest goblin who was seated in the short grass beside a large rough boulder of bare rock. The goblin spoke to itself with a wicked voice, harsh and cruel it sounded, as it ran a crude whetting stone along the short blade of its sword atop its lap.

    Folcwain let out a soft whistle and the goblin looked up with surprise before leaping to its feet with a long snarl. A soft twang came from Folcwain’s bowstring as a pair of arrows whistled towards the goblin. The goblin cried out as the first arrow struck its leg and it stumbled forward; it took an unsteady step as the second lodged deep into its throat before faltering and crashed to the ground.



    Folcwain glanced about guardedly and then strode carefully to the fallen goblin. He took up his arrows, cleaned them on the grass and turned round to the sight of the next goblin. Quietly he crept towards the foul creature, his bow ready in his hands; but as he came round a broken pillar of stone jutting from the earth, there came a sharp bark to one side. At once Folcwain turned to spot another goblin; their eyes met before the goblin let out a hoarse snicker and sprang from the grass.

    Folcwain let fly an arrow from his bow, but the shot went wide and disappeared in the grass beyond. The goblin took several quick steps then halted, drawing back his arm. A short spear flew over Folcwain’s head and then another smote his shoulder only to spring back as it struck his stout hauberk of mail. Folcwain’s bow sang swiftly and there came a hoarse croaking scream as the goblin fell to the ground, an arrow passing through its throat.

    Folcwain spun round as the second goblin, its sharp ears alerted by the cries of its companion, flew at him with a short wicked blade in its hands. Folcwain’s bow slipped from his hands as he swept up knife and sword; at once their blades met with a sharp ring. For tense moments, they struggled with one another; the hideous goblin leaned in, bringing its yellow fangs close to his face. It shivered and licked its lips as its foul breath washed onto Folcwain’s face.



    Folcwain let out a cry and drove the goblin back; he leapt forward with a flurry of blows. Folcwain smiled as the goblin’s shield splintered and shivered as his sword beat down on it. The goblin wailed aloud in terror as Folcwain turned aside a clumsy stab of its blade. With a swift stroke, Folcwain swept the hideous head from the shoulders as the goblin tumbled to the ground lifeless.

    Folcwain bent down to wipe his sword on the grass and then stood to gaze about. When he was certain the valley hid no other foes, he turned west and came out into the grasslands beyond. From there he went north up a pathless slope towards the summit of a hill. When he reached the brow of the hill, 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 moss-covered ruins, some nearly hidden in the short 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, crouched into the grass and gazed intently at the rooks. Much to his surprise, the unkindly-looking birds seemed to watch him eagerly in turn 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 and then turned to make the trek back down the highlands once more. 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, when the inn fell into view finally.

    Folcwain passed slowly and quietly into the inn; at once he was welcomed by the warm smoky glow of the hearths. He strode through the hall, ignoring the silent stares of the gloomy patrons. Setting down his pack and bow atop the bar, Folcwain hailed the old innkeeper.

    ‘Westu Analf hal!’ he said as he motioned for the old man’s ear.

    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 came upon a vale to the north of here, riddled with long forgotten ruins. Within I found 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.

    He watched the old man for some time and then spoke in 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.

    ‘Three I found there in the ruins and dealt with them. I cannot say that the threat of their foul presence has been removed but their numbers have been thinned; 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, to the southeast of the inn, south of the road.’

    ‘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!’

    He took up his pack and bow and then turned to make his way down to the dingy and bedraggled private room below the tavern. 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.

    Folcwain sat down on the edge of the bed and set down his pack and bow. Yet he did not lie atop the bed but sat hunched in the dim flickering light of the smoky candles, grim and silent as a weary, sulking hawk. Dawn was still a far cry to its rise 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. He made his up the stairs and through the silent, dark tavern to fade into the still darkness outside.

    The stars in the darkened sky twinkled brightly overhead as wisps of clouds passed the round shining moon as he set out at once. He crossed the road and picked his way silently until a stand of dark trees came into view. He suddenly 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.

    In the earth he found 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.

    Folcwain could glean that the prints did not seem sharp or clear; he 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 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 east and was lost from sight.

    Spurred by this find, Folcwain rose and sped after the trail, keeping his eyes to the ground. He soon passed from view of the inn, as the trail led towards a low treeless hillock within sight of a 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. 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.

 

 

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