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  1. #1

    Total Immersion - Frecwain's Folly

    With the unfortunate and untimely loss of Folcwain, I feel completed to begin another Rohirric Total Immersion story swiftly. This is due mainly for my desire to reach The Mark with at least one character and I hope that to be a Man of Rohan before all others.

    When Folcwain perished, I sat down and began to construct a new story idea. Naturally the new story plot had to differ greatly both in character and reason than the first. The concept for Frecwain’s Folly came from an old paper and pen short adventure for the Decipher rpg game, LORD OF THE RINGS. To ensure the new Rohirric story was different, I designed Frecwain in a completely different light than Folcwain.


    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:

    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 - Frecwain, the story character, is a skilled 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. Frecwain 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. Frecwain begins at level 7 and I will post Survivor titles as he gains them up to 20th level.

    6. Arms and Armour: Frecwain 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.


    A New Program: The over-arching story plot will be for Frecwain to become a true warrior and hero, thus to win the respect of Brytta and the hand of his daughter, Hild. This will require the matching and defeating of a single powerful Signature mob before he can at last turn onto the long road homewards. The new program will facilitate this while in the game.

    At first, Frecwain will only accept quests involving the defeat of beasts and animals, so no Orcs, goblins, trolls, giant spiders, etc. When Frecwain is faced with the possibility of tackling a quest involving anything other than normal beasts, the program will be used.

    The chance of being able to accept a quest will be at first small. Each region in the game will have a separate program; the chance of Frecwain gaining a quest such as to hunt down Orcs will represent his growth as a hunter and as a warrior; at first he will be wary and incapable of taking on such quests as he still believes his skills are still no match for such foes.

    The chance will slightly increase the more quests he has completed, of his Reputation rank within the region, and a small increase should the NPC giving the quest be rude, mocking or otherwise derisive to Frecwain when offering the quest.

    For each region in the game, there are separate programs to be used. These include only the Signature mobs within each region. These programs work in a similar fashion as the ones above, but with an even smaller chance of being able to accept the quest (the chance for each region begins at a 5% chance at first). Frecwain will have to do a great deal of hard work to be able to accept even a single quest within a region involving a Signature mob. So it is likely that a region may even give him the opportunity at all.


    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 mere, "famous"
    Eostre - from awes, "to shine", the Anglo-saxon root word for the Spring Equinox
    Ferthu hal - go thou healthy or hale
    Folcwain* - wagon-people or person
    Gúdhafoc - war hawk
    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
    Seolforo- from eoh "horse" and seolfor "silver"
    Snowbourn - the settlement in East Rohan or the river
    Théoden - from þ?oden, "chief" or "lord"
    Westu hal - be thou healthy or hale
    Last edited by Brucha; Jun 17 2015 at 01:44 PM.

  2. #2

    Story Chapters

    Story Chapter List

    Chapter One: Den of Wolves – 6 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Two: Hunting – 7 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Three: The Midgewater Marshes – 8 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Four: Bree – 9 to 10 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Five: The Old Forest – 11 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Six: The Hunter's Path – 11 to 12 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Seven: The Barrow-downs – 13 to 15 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Eight: Howls That Shake the Spirit – 15 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Nine: The Dead Spire – 16 to 17 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Ten: On Cold Hallowed Ground – 17 to 19 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Eleven: A Man of Bone – 20 to 21 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twelve: The Forsaken Inn – 22 to 23 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Thirteen: Wolves of Annunlos – 24 to 28 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Fourteen: Hunters Become Prey – 29 to 30 Ostermonth, 3018 TA
    Chapter Fifteen: Orcs of the Hills – 31 Ostermonth to 1 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Sixteen: Wargs of the Scrub – 2 to 4 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Seventeen: Shadepaw – 4 to 6 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Eighteen: Song of the Red Swamp – 7 to 8 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Nineteen: A Dark Road – 9 to 10 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty: Nan Dhelu – 10 to 11 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty-one: Whispers of the Red-maid – 12 to 13 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty-two: The Vessel of Purity – 14 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty-three: Reclaim the Red-maid – 15 to 17 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty-four: The Forever Road – 18 to 21 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty-five: Scouting the Wilds – 22 to 25 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty-six: Wolves in the Shadows – 26 to 27 Thrimilch, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty-seven: Southwards – 28 Thrimilch to 6 Forelithe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty-eight: Eregion – 6 to 8 Forelithe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Twenty-nine: Vale of the Sirannon – 9 to 16 Forelithe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Thirty: The Windfells – 12 to 14 Afterlithe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Thirty-one: The Uch-lûth – 15 to 16 Afterlithe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Thirty-two: The Boar-queen – 17 to 18 Afterlithe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Thirty-three: The Hand of Isengard – 19 to 22 Afterlithe, 3018
    Chapter Thirty-four: The Brenin’s Council, Part One – 23 to 25 Afterlithe, 3018 TA
    Chapter Thirty-four: The Brenin’s Council, Part Two – 25 Afterlithe, 3018 TA
    Last edited by Brucha; Jun 17 2015 at 01:42 PM.

  3. #3


    Frecwine was born in a lonely village called Feldburg, nestled in the river vales of the Anduin within the northernmost border marches of the Wold. About the village lay the pastures and fields of the folk that sloped downwards toward the Great River; to the west only forest stood and behind rose the rocky and snowy heights of the misty Mountains. And in between rode an expanse of rolling hills covered in tall grasses that withered in the dry earth.

    Frecwain’s father was the tanner of the village. He was a grim man who cared deeply and proudly for his youngest son but had little time for pleasantries. Long were the days at the tanner shed and little time could he spend with the boy. His dear mother was a weary woman, tired from a harsh life; she spent much of her time raising Frecwain’s three younger sisters, and had little gentleness or time for her only son.

    Frecwain grew to be an untamed and wild lad, a tall, quick boy, brazen and proud and full of boldness. As many other children within the village, he herded the cattle in the steep rocky meadows above the village each day. This he found much pleasure in and first would he be to take the herds out every morning.

    On a day when the boy was thirteen years old, a day in the early splendor of autumn while still the bright leaves were on the trees, Frecwain made his way above the meadows above Feldburg. He was often sent there by his mother to hunt rabbit and bird for the pot when he was not tending the herds; this he did gladly and he would tarry there until late, splashing through the many streams that ran quick and cold from the mountains or scrambled by cliff and scarp in the heights above the forest.

    Some days he spent there not alone but with another; a girl, whom he had known from an infant. The daughter of the village miller she was, and Hild was her name. She was ever pursued by the other boys for she was a tall fair girl about his age, her soft hair fell long and straight and was as golden as the sun. Frecwain thought her beautiful beyond measure and desired above all else to please her, to win her admiration.

    He would never have had the courage to speak with her, yet she came to him often and spoke with pleasant kind words. He turned ever his eyes down and at first he was shy and timid and would not speak. And yet her soft voice and gentle demeanor was welcoming and his ill-ease soon departed.

    Often they walked in the grass of the meadows or sat beneath the boughs of green trees and talked. Like that they were that pleasant day, late in the autumn, and the wind blew cold keenly from the North. The waning day looked grey and drear and the sun shone pale and watery. They had passed the day wading barefoot through the icy streams as the sun shone ever fainter in the fading day and they talked merrily until long into the afternoon.

    Hild shivered in the chilled air, her gaze turned about the graying lands, and Frecwain unclasped his cloak and set it round her shoulders,. He then rose and went out to collect twigs and fallen branches and set to building a flickering fire. And as they sat there, their hands met and neither dared stir as a few white puffs of snow danced in the cold air.

    Then Frecwain looked at her long and steadily, and he spoke, his words coming haltingly and uncertain. ‘I say you are more beautiful than the dawn, fair Hild,’ he said with his eyes turned to the snowy sky. ‘Many are the flowers that blossom fair and bright in the meadows where I hunt and herd, each a treasure onto their own. And yet none can match your loveliness or grace.’

    Hild laughed aloud, but not with malice. He fell silent for a time as her laughter faded through the air. Finally he spoke anew. ‘Do not scorn my words, foolish and unseemly as they sound. I am but a simple son of a tanner and yet little do I wish for more than to have you at my side, forever.’ Hild did not answer, but as he looked upon her, a great love welled in his heart.

    Yet this growing friendship and devotion did not escape Hild’s father, Brytta. The man had read young Frecwain’s heart true and one day, before the coming snows of winter, he called for the boy to his home. There Brytta said, ‘No mere herder shall my daughter be betrothed to, young master. You are stout and full of pride that I grant you, and yet only the best shall I give her unto, young Frecwain. Never to a simple herder and hunter of rabbits.’

    Frecwain fell silent and his proud head bowed low. ’Perhaps you are too young to prove your meddle, Frecwain,’ said Brytta.

    To this Frecwain could not endure. He said nothing, but at once his heart was filled with resolve that he would prove himself to Brytta. He took his leave of the miller and the following day he went to his father and mother and said farewell, saying only, ‘Strong is my desire for the greatest of all gifts, and heavy is the price to gain it,’ he said simply. ‘No longer can I be but a herder of cattle, I must seek a higher road.’

    He went out into the village and spoke to the héafod of the hafred of the village but his youth and age betrayed him. The héafod laughed at the rash prideful boy, saying, ‘Go back to the meadows, young herder. How old are you? Tall and proud you are indeed, but more than pride is needed to join us!’

    And so shamed, Frecwain turned away, even more driven now he was to fulfill that which he so desperately sought. In those days, the Men of the Wold dealt in the trading of horses to the Woodsmen of the north and to the folk along the North-South Road. Among them he sought out the horse master and begged for him to take the lad in as one of his own.

    ‘What do you know of horses?’ questioned the horse master.

    Frecwain’s heart sank and his head bowed, but a clear gleam crept into his fair eyes as he looked up resolute and proud. ‘I have some skill in tannery,’ said Frecwain.

    The horse master laughed aloud. ‘I have no need for such things little boy. You have no other skill to offer?’

    ‘Do you need boys to clean the stables or strong arms for the lifting and carrying of supplies?’

    The horse master turned stern eyes to the boy and he fell silent. Finally, he said. ‘We lost a stable hand to Dunlending raiders only this week. You can sleep in the stalls with the others at night.’ With that the horse master said nothing more.

    So Frecwain became a stable hand as the first bitter snows of winter began to fall. He awoke each day before the chilled dawn and long into the night he went until his limbs stiffened. And the next day came and it was worse for the boy. Yet after some time of relentless work, Frecwain hardened to the labour and the weariness that greeted him before sleep fell away at last.

    There were others of his age among the horse-masters and they greeted him kindly but gruffly. Most were two or three years older than he, and Frecwine thought them rude and scoffing. Among the others he tried to show himself an equal in all matters and things but he was soon crestfallen. What did he know beyond the simple hunt of rabbit and bird? Or to herd the cattle in the high meadows?

    There was little friendship among the stable hands; most wished to apprentice under the elders and become partners in trade. None of the lads faced a cruel whip, but harsh and demanding was the horse master of their labourand the others said little to one another after a long day and even less to Frecwain.

    And yet this did not sadden the boy for he had little mood for making friends. At night as he rolled himself into his tattered and worn cloak to sleep, weary as he was from the day’s work, he would dream; dreams of Hild and of his village and of their unborn children he so longed to hold in his arms or upon his lap beside a crackling fire at dusk.

    As each day passed, the task before Frecwain grew on him heavily. He would not forget the other boys’ playful spite and mocking grins, nor of the unyielding and seemingly unending labour of the elders. His pride was such that it would be slighted. He swore to prove to them and all the rest that he would one day be a great warrior and hunter, as Eorl was when he first rode out of the North long ago.

    So bolstering up his pride, Frecwine set all his strong will on the work they gave him. At all tasks, he was apt and his heart was stern of what lay before him for hope dwelt deep in the depths of his heart unyielding. For nearly four years he labored, learning many things. Especially at the bow was he skilled and Frecwain was often sent out to hunt at night for game for the fires, but only when the day’s chores in the stables were complete.

    One of the elder horse traders, a gentle kind man whose own son had been lost to him at a tender age, took to Frecwain and taught him all he knew of archery and of sword play when time was allowed for such things. Of this Frecwain readily accepted; the harsh unforgiving days and hunts at night were hard and long on the boy and yet little did Frecwain complain for he was glad of the respite from the stables and more so of the training he received.

  4. #4
    Ferthu Frecwain hal!

    I'm glad to see that you're not letting the loss of Folcwain turn you off from telling the story of one of the Eorlingas. I look forward to seeing where this is going, as I see some echoes of Theodoras in this story already. Any of my Eorlingas will be glad to help you, just as soon as I get my new computer and get back in game.

    Forth now, and fear no darkness!

    The Éored of the West-Mark ~ Lore-accurate Rohirric Kinship on Landroval

  5. #5
    Take care of this one I'll be watching.

  6. #6
    Greetings, Frecwain! Let us hope the story carries you to a better fate than your predecessor.

    I remade Turodhor on Landroval, and he's only level 16, so I'd be glad to assist/RP with Frecwain! It might do Turodhor some good, in fact.

  7. #7

    Chapter One: Den of Wolves – 6 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    In the hot sunlit commons of the village square, yellow flowers bloomed. Somewhere a gong was rung for the changing of the watchmen at the northern gate and a chorus of loud voices called out as well from the door of the sleepy inn. The stable hands has risen before dawn and were coming out from the inn to the morning meal at the long tables sat outside, along with one or two of the village folk.

    They waited, joking with one another as the stable cook loaded their plates from great steaming buckets slung onto his shoulders. There was plenty of room for seating among the noisy group of sleepy faces; Frecwain sat beside an older boy with an immature beard growing wiry across his face, who said nothing to him, but shoveled in his food. The boy had the accent of the Chetwood, but was of fair skin and reddish hair. He grumbled about the meal and of the coming daily chores but said little else to his seated companion. Among them all, Frecwain had no friends and had little desire for such and he often sat with the gloomy boy for every meal.

    When the meal was finished, they went down to the stables and began their chores; they first feed and watered the horses, then turned to cleaning the stalls while others lead one of two at a time from the stable for a hand walk about the commons or brushed and groomed the beasts with gentle hands.

    As the morning came on, it began to rain. Under the shelter of the stable roof Frecwain was thankfully dry but he looked gloomily out over the windswept rain about with a glower upon his face. Frecwain sighed and grumbled sometimes during these chores, but he did not complain. He was very fond of horses, and such creatures were highly praised back in the Mark, though these were no match for the prized Mearas. It was Eorl the Young’s father Léod, a tamer of such wild things, who captured a white foal called Felaróf. But Felaróf was proud and strong and willful and when Léod dared to mount the beast, he was thrown from the saddle and struck a rock and thus he died.

    Yet on this dawn his mind weighed heavily on the youthful boy. Frecwain paused to lean on the pitchfork in his hands and glanced about the stables with distaste. One of the other stable boys looked up at him but quickly lowered his eyes as Frecwain began to scowl back. Suddenly he was jolted to the present as the other boys turned to bow their heads as the stable-master, Jack Cloverdale, strode into the stable. Frecwain did not bow his head but stood up straight and tall and glowered about with disdain.

    ‘Is there no end to this drudgery, master?' he muttered. 'I am a son of the Mark and wish for better than the life of a stable boy...' This brought bemoans and soft ridiculing laughter from the others but he did not hear them; yet he too soon fell silent as the others under the quiet but watchful stare of the stable-master, who stood there unmoving for a time.

    This brought belittling snickers from the rest and this fueled Frecwain’s heart and he, driven by shame, suddenly cried out. ‘How am I to learn anything, or of the path to a true son of the Mark when you teach me nothing of war or battle? Since I have come to live among you I have done nothing worthy of song or story. I have done nothing, seen nothing but endless cleaning of stables...'

    Frecwain threw down his pitchfork and it clattered onto the stone at his feet and he stalked off with a muttered curse at his lips. He climbed the steps and sat down dejected and discomforted by his brash display. For a long while he fell silent and lowered his head, wrapping his cloak tightly about him and ignored the rain pattering upon his face and hair.

    Then he lifted his head and saw a pair of villagers seated at the end of the long table. By their garb they seemed woodcutters that plied their work in the forests and woods to the east and south of the village. They were now speaking to one another with low hushed voices.

    ‘...and another thing...that Thorne fellow doesn't know the least bit about cutting trees,’ murmured one of them as he turned a heedful eye to Frecwain who now stirred.

    ‘Oh, you needn't tell me!’ said the second quietly. ‘Did you hear that Will was attacked by a wolf the other day?’

    ‘You don't say!’

    ‘I do say! Right out in the open too, just as natural as you please, charged right up and took a nip out of his leg!’

    That made Frecwain smile as he gazed up at the two, his eyes sparkling curiously in the growing light. ‘Thorne?’ he said thoughtfully and he slowly recalled the lumber camp he has brought horses to one or twice to the east of the village. There the woodcutters worked upon the very edge of the Chetwood to harvest the much-needed wood for the neighbouring villages. But of recent tales began to filter from the camp of many things, and little was of comfort.

    'Wolves you say?' said Frecwain again as the two Combe folk fell silent and turned shaded eyes towards him. They both nodded grimly but said nothing else in return. Frecwain fell silent as the pair returned to their hushed conversation discussion, his mind lost in deep thought. Then he started and stood to his feet with a glimmer in his fair eyes. He glanced up at the rain-swept sky then strode into the inn.

    He made his way upstairs into his room shared with the other stable boys. There he reached under one of the beds and pulled out a wrapped blade of tarnished metal. It was a sword with a simple leather-wrapped hilt and Frecwain was very proud of it. The friendly and kind stable-master had given it to him some time ago when Frecwain was tutoring in hunting. Frecwain slid the blade into his belt and then bent down to retrieve a bow of rowan wood and quiver of green-fletched arrows.

    Of the bow he was ever more prideful of for Frecwain had crafted the bow with his own hands under the watchful and guiding gaze of the fatherly stable-master. He had sought the wood himself in the woods about the village, and found a curving branch of rowan free of knots and twists. Being green, Frecwain then cleaned it with wiry wool and skinned and soaked it in hot water before smoking the wood over a fire to dry.

    With a careful hand and sharp knife he then took to forming the bow; he followed the natural curve of the branch, shaping the bow slowly, mindful to shave off the inside of the curve or belly and then more slender at the ends as it slowly took shape. As it dried he applied pressure to the wood to further bend it into an arch. For the string he cut and striped thin rawhide into thin strands the width of thread and then wound them together into a revolving braid.

    Returning to the tavern below, Frecwain approached the innkeeper and placed a few simple copper coins with a soft word. Shortly the inn keeper returned with a small sack of wrinkled apples and cheese which he took and strode from the inn.

    Frecwain went down into the village and up the sloping dusty lane. Few were the roads within the village and the one he now walked along wound up to the east. The lane led him up and around the base of a grass-swept hill, round and treeless at the top, and past wavering trees standing thick with shadows under the darkened and rainy clouds.

    As soon as the village had sunk behind him, Frecwain looked eastwards towards a growing shadow ahead. The land below sloped down into a wide dale surrounded by low fieldstone walls. Within lay a camp that housed eight or ten men in all; the sheds and work stalls were build of logs with tar-paper roofs held down with green saplings stripped of the boughs. To one side stood the log buildings that gave poor lodging to the woodcutters where they slept and ate every passing day. The dark edges of the Chetwood loomed up on the far side of the camp; mists lay there pale and glimmering and deep shadows seemed to have taken root under the trees creeping away further east.

    No one in the camp knew Frecwain and none spoke to him as he wandered into the camp. The woodcutters he passed, so intent upon their business, seemed to pay him little heed. Then Frecwain spied a lone woodcutter standing unmoving near the far end of the camp, his hand at his eyes to shade the rain and gazing out towards the forest that seemed dim and silent.

    ‘I am called Frecwain, a stable boy in Combe,’ he said as he came to stand beside the watchful man. ‘I heard word of troubling wolves near here. Are the tales true?’

    The man’s gaze remained hidden beneath his raised hand at his brow but Frecwain felt the unseeing eyes meet his. Then mildly the man spoke. ‘Combe has always relied on this lumber camp for her livelihood, and now the people of Archet will be relying on us to supply the wood to rebuild their town, I expect. There's no shortage of work that much is certain.’

    Frecwain stood silent as hope and doubt struggled in his mind as he listened. ‘We'll need to start taking down some of the trees to the north-east, along the cliffs,’ said the man slowly after a time. ‘But there's a wolf-den up that way that endangers our workers.’

    ‘I have come here more than once to deliver horses for your camp, yet you know me naught I believe,’ said Frecwain, looking ever at the man, trying to judge what kind of man he was.

    The woodcutter nodded slowly and then turned to the youthful boy. ‘Could you deal with those wolves for me?’

    Frecwain stepped back, thinking the man was mocking him with his question. 'I might if I choose,' he said in a calm voice.

    ‘It's not safe to chop down trees near there, and I'm afraid we might lose some of our best loggers. Follow the cliff wall. You'll see the wolves, or they'll see you.’

    'I was a herdsman in my home in the Mark and often would I have to deal with wolves that preyed upon our flock,’ answered Frecwain when the man spoke no further. ‘Little would I fear from such beasts, no matter the number!’

    Then Frecwain asked him no more and quietly bade the woodcutter to await his return. He went with sudden decision and haste through the camp towards the edge of the forest. He paused at the gate to wipe the dripping rain from his face and then went away under the tall branches, their boughs blowing and swaying in the wind. Down the path he went that the dark and tangled forest allowed within, following it eastwards deeper and deeper into the Chetwood.

    As the sight of the camp was lost, there came wariness in Frecwain’s heart and uneasiness grew; he had to steel himself not to look back over one shoulder at what might be coming behind him. His swift pace slowed and a queer stifling feeling came over him, as if the air was too thin or too scanty to breathe.

    At last he halted and peered round through the trees that stood silently about him, rank upon rank, until they faded away in the gloom in every direction. To the north the ground fell away steeply along a treeless path and became rocky; beyond the gloom parted and grew less further on and Frecwain saw there was a rock-wall at the far end; the side of a tall hill trusting up from the forest. No trees grew upon its summit and rain was falling full on it stony face.

    About the floor of the dell were weathered piles or rock all rough and unhewn. Nothing grew in the stony earth but a few grasses and weeds in places or an old withered tree with bend branches looked like some gnarled old man in the dim light. Frecwain came at length to the end of the lane and turned his gaze round; his keen eyes spotted clefts or shallow hollows in the rocks and cliffs, their entrances marked by large amounts of unearthed soil, the sign of a large wolf den.

    Frecwain backed into the shadows under a tree and thought back to his village of Feldburg and of the wolves that were known to be seen in the highlands. A fearful coward in summer, a wolf had plenty to eat and lived alone; it was only in winter that, emboldened by strength of numbers and desperate from the gnawing of hunger, that a wolf became a savage and ruthless beast of prey. The trackless forests of the Wold teemed with the grey brutes, and thence in winter they came down to the pastures in search of prey, travelling hundreds of miles across the frozen wastes, attacking and devouring anything and everything that came in their way. For this reason all livestock were kept under cover throughout the whole of the winter.

    As the winter drew on, many a mother would scold and threaten a willful child, saying, ‘Hush, of the wolf will come and take you!’ Yet it was not only the children who feared the wolves, for they were a menace to old and young alike.

    From the shadows of the tree he stood under there suddenly came the far-away baying of a wolf to Frecwain’s ears. He drew up tall and, after a time, the sound died away; but then it broke out again, closer now and straight ahead. The young boy heard the crackling of broken twigs and soon the baying seemed so near that Frecwain at once wondered why he could not see any beast.

    Just then, a wild grey shape running among the shadows of the trees across the rocky muddy ground appeared. Frecwain smiled and then unslung his bow and set an arrow to the string. The boy’s bow sang once, then twice, and the arrows struck and lanced the beast’s hind and shoulder. The wolf’s jaws snapped and howled as it turned to lunge towards him but another arrow pierced its hind. The wolf faltered and dark blood began to drip in thick drops onto the muddy earth.

    With reddening eyes, the wolf now paced some distance from the boy, biting at the arrow in its shoulder and letting out a mournful howl. There came a snap as it broke the arrow shaft and turned to Frecwain; gathering its failing strength, the wolf shuddered and staggered towards him. Frecwain swiftly set more arrows to his bow and there came a harrowing yelp as the wolf hurled down into the mud like a falling stone. Frecwain drew another arrow and took a step forward, his eyes drawn to the wolf upon the ground.

    He had only traversed a few steps when there now came two wolves against him from the trees. The first and farthest came flying at him over and round a low hillock dotted with trees, rattling its jaws, and salvia spewed from its fangs. But the larger and closer one came circling from the left, very swift, to tear him and bleed him with its snarling jaws. Frecwain drew back his bow and between one breath and the next an arrow shot out and it passed into the beast’s neck.

    There was a yelp of pain but the beast came on and Its great leapt at him nearly unsealed the boy, and Frecwain faltered back, slipping his bow from his hands and drew out his sword. The beast’s jaws tore at his cloak and then the wolf sprang back as Frecwain hewed forward only to brush empty air. Just as quickly as it retreated, the wolf returned to the attack, harrying him with slavering jaws, leaping and then turned from his reach. Frecwain cried out and felt the scythe-swipe of its talons about him and he grew sickened by its foul breath on his face.

    Fiercely he stabbed and hewed at the beast driving it back as his blade began to run red with blood. Then the wolf sprang up upon its hind quarters; Frecwain whirled and brought down his heavy tarnished blade down upon its head. There came a loud crack and the beast dropped off.

    Without pause, Frecwain swept up his bow and looked anxiously for the other beast; he broke into a trot and saw the second flying towards him across the ground. But the muddy ground gave little foothold for the beast and it stumbled and waxed and it scampered towards him.

    As he ran, Frecwain loosened an arrow, then another; the first shot past the wolf but the second stuck quivering in the gaunt, red-eyed wolf’s back. The wolf came on with greater speed, wanting its chance to pull the boy down to his death. Frecwain dug his heels into the mud and came to a halt, and showered arrow upon arrow at the onrushing beast. As the wolf drew ever nearer, its fur and back stuck with many arrows, it shuddered and leapt towards him. With a horrible yell, the wolf sprang into the air at him, even as Frecwain swept out his sword and passed the blade through its throat, and then dropped to the muddy ground at his feet.

  8. #8
    Alright then, here is the start of the new Total Immersion adventure! First the obligatory Survivor title of course for Frecwain:

    It seems fitting that the first quest for the story involves wolves - I am going to make a very spiteful point to hunt down every wolf Frecwain crosses paths with...

  9. #9
    Indeed. A fitting tribute shall be the death of the wolves by Frecwain's hands.

    Really like the start of this story.

    And sorry I wasn't at the RP last week. I thought you meant be there at 6, or slightly after. It never occurred to me it might be anytime after 6.

  10. #10
    Glad to see this is off to a good start, and be sure to give those wolves what for! Also, check your private messages, if you don't mind.

    The Éored of the West-Mark ~ Lore-accurate Rohirric Kinship on Landroval

  11. #11

    Chapter Two: Hunting – 7 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    The evening after Frecwain’s return from the wolf den within the distant forest, Jack Cloverdale rose from the inn and stepped outside into the gathering loom of dusk. He went out to fetch water from the spring well that stood in the center commons and there he stood quietly drinking a cup in silence.

    Flickering light played across the stable-master’s face as he stood by the spring looking out over the village. A whinny of horses lifted up into the darkened air and the man smiled. He looked up at the sound of approaching feet as saw the form of Frecwain approaching with heavy steps.

    The master said nothing as the boy came to stand before him, but offered him his cup which Frecwain did not drink. The master stood gazing out at nothing as Frecwain waited for some time; the stable-master turned and strode back towards the inn; Frecwain followed in disturbed silence. Cloverdale said not a word to the boy as he sat down at one of the open-air tables and motioned for Frecwain to the same.

    The boy only stood unmoving for a time, trembling and dull-eyed, unable to gaze into his master’s eyes. His tunic and cloak were rent and torn and dotted with wolf’s blood, and he stood gaunt and afraid, his hair lank about his fair face.

    Frecwain bowed his head under the man’s quiet gaze, whose silence demanded word, and Frecwain said at last. ‘I visited the lumber camps to the east...' he murmured, his voice harsh and thickened. ‘I thought to aid the woodcutters there against the dreaded wolves within the woods they call the Chetwood.’ The boy shivered as he thought back to the wolf den within the woods.

    Now shame and pride struggled within the boy. Driven weak by his shame, Frecwain cried, ‘Tirelessly I work the stables and hunt for game at night and little else!’ he said swiftly, arguing perhaps with Cloverdale, perhaps with himself. ‘I long for more than this...'

    Frecwain fell to brooding silence and said nothing more for some time. His eyes turned into the darkness of the sleeping village, his heart heavy and bewildered. He had come to love this man the stable-master; he who had had no anger, who had taught him the craft of bow-making. As a father the master had become to Frecwain, and yet other yearnings were in him that would not stilled, the wish for glory, the will to act.

    Now there came a long silence and neither boy nor master spoke or stirred. Then Frecwain spoke slowly, his head bowed low. ‘I know all that you have given me and for that I am thankful. Yet there is more pressing that a clean and tidy stable. Give me until dawn to think and I will return.’

    That night as he lay wrapped in his cloak and blanket on the mattress in the cold unlit room at the inn, the sadness of his hope began to come over him heavily. Doubt surrounded him, shame filled him. He wished he was anywhere else but that tiny quiet village.

    Then the older boy who often ate with the gloomy Frecwain sat up and looked at him. Without a question, the older boy began to ask Frecwain about The Mark, and of his village, and then spoke in turn longingly of his own home, telling how the smoke of the village hearth fires would blow around the houses at evening. Kneeing to the floor, the older boy traced the village into the dust and dirt with his finger, naming each elder of each home in turn. As the older boy fell silent, Frecwain did not speak nor tell more, and he fell sullen and sour-hearted, until he turned over and closed his eyes.

    Before the sun rose Frecwain stirred and stood up. He quietly opened the shutters and looked out into the still darkness; then he gathered his things and crept silently out. He went down the darkened streets of the sleepy village and it was not long when Combe had faded behind him out of sight. He wandered first along a rutted path to the south, climbing from the low vale and then gradually along until the land leveled once more.

    Soon the boy passed through a simple gate and into the village of Staddle as the first folk were rising for the coming day’s work. The homes of the village were solidly built of timber and fieldstone, with hearth and chimney aplenty. A tall woman dressed in simply livery watched him with curious eyes from the village center as the boy looked out. At first, Frecwain did not know who she was and then putting his mind to it, he recalled her as one of the local watchers of the villages of the Chetwood.

    The boy went down into the village center to stand before the watcher. ‘I sense a tenseness in the morning air, watcher. Pray tell me what would bring you out so early after the dawn?’

    The woman smiled and greeted him, saying. ‘The good folk of Staddle provide much of Bree-land with fresh, farm-grown food, and they have our thanks for it. Our captain in Bree has assigned my fellows and me to keep watch over this town. Recently, there's been an increase in the wild animals outside Staddle. If we don't do something, one of the Little Folk is bound to be attacked on his way home from the fields, and the town will be in an uproar.’

    Frecwain’s eyes brightened as he listened eagerly to the watcher’s tale breathlessly. The woman turned and did not look at the boy but said in a soft voice. ‘Constable Bolger reported a large number of boars by his home south-east of here. His house is due south of the Widow Froghorn's farm. If you could take care of those boars, it would help.’

    ‘I can,’ said Frecwain answered shortly, unsure if she was scoffing at him with her pleasant and inviting words. ‘I am called Frecwain. Many a beast I hunted for the spit back home, and I hunt now for the stable master of Combe for the evening meals. This would prove to be no large task…’

    With no further words, Frecwain left the watcher to walk alone through the village and up a shaded lane under the leafy branches of trees upon both sides. As he walked, the dawn broke, quick and bright and soon he left the lane to wander across over the fields and meadows of the outlying farmlands. Often he would pause to sniff the clear warm air or feel the gentle breeze on his face. But he never entirely forgot the boars. He kept an eye for signs of their crossings, while he climbed and roamed, and strode and explored over the gentle lands.

    Frecwain came to the edge of a wide field, newly turned earth covering its length, where the land fell away sharply to the south. There rose a thin forest of trees, whose boughs were separated by thick underbrush along the ground. The boy made his way down from the hillock and towards the nearing trees. He was passing under the shadows of the tall trees when he halted as the sound of rustling came from the brush ahead. Frecwain knelt to the mossy earth and set an arrow to his bow and looked out with held breath.

    Soon a large boar, scarred and battle-ugly, emerged from the brush, a bristling snout raised to drink in the gentle wind with a snorting grunt. The boy smiled and drew back his bow. There was a twang followed another, an arrow shot through the air to bury into the boar’s shoulder and another truck its back. A terrible squeal rent the air as the boar staggered upon its hooved legs, and then leapt back to disappear back into the brush. The smile fell from Frecwain’s as he watched the boar and then he cursed. He leapt and sprinted forward, struggling through the thick brush in pursuit, his cloak ripped and torn by branches and thorns.

    He came from the brush on the far side to spot the boar reeling on unsteady legs some paces away. Frecwain cursed again, drew back his bow and let fly an arrow. The boar let out a shudder and it fell cleaving a row of upturned earth into the ground.

    The boy stalked up to the boar cautiously and knelt beside the beast. At once he felt sorrow for this was not a proper hunt, no meat for the spit over the evening fires. He said soft words the boar and took out his knife to cut from the massive head a pair of long ears. Frecwain then stood tall and looked about.

    Frecwain glanced up at the bright sky and turned back to return to the hunt. He passed from the deep shadows of the tree and into a small clearing lit by the shimmering sunlight. There Frecwain paused to rest beside a fallen tree. At once, a deep-throated grunt rent the air. The boy crept over the fallen tree and through the grass, parted the tall blades with one hand, and looked out.

    Some distant away, the boy’s clever eyes spotted a large boar, a sow, rutting the soft earth beneath the boughs of a tall trees for grubs. Frecwain quietly took out an arrow and planted it into the earth and then set another to his bow; then he waited for a long moment. An arrow shot out but it went slightly wide and only grazed the beast’s flanks. Coolly Frecwain took up the second arrow but froze as something emerged from round the tall tree.

    It was a second boar that he now saw; it lowered its head and rutted the earth beneath its massive head with its long tusks as it shuddered with gathering rage. The first boar raised its snout and let out a long grunt before lowering its head and sprang forward. The second swiftly followed.

    The boy rose tall and let fly arrows that sank deep into the first boar’s flanks and neck. The boar threw its head up with a gurgling squeal and it crashed to the earth. The second boar did not slow, its eyes flaming red and its neck bristling as it bore down upon the boy. Frecwain threw down his bow and drew out his blade as the boar’s tusks lanced his leg and its great weight struck him, sending him staggering back.

    The boy cried out in pain as his sword arched over his head and sank into the boar’s shoulder; but this only sent the beast into a more terrible and maddening rage. It dug its hooves into the soft earth, trampling and snorting as Frecwain struggled to steady himself. The boy kicked a boot at the beast and lanced the boar’s back with an unsteady stroke. The boar let out a long grunt and crumbled to the ground as he passed his sword through its throat.

    The afternoon lay still warm and bright on the furrowed fields when Frecwain finally turned from his hunt. He walked out from the fields in the slowly approaching soft blue of the coming dusk and into the village, smiling wryly as he sought the watcher once more. He tossed a set of bristling boar ears at her feet and stepped back, excited and uneasy.

    ‘Many a boar I found in the fields as you warned,’ began the boy as he watched the woman smile faintly towards him. ‘They were fine beasts and sad am I to have hunted them for mere sport,’ he added, looking for a sign of a jeer in her polite face.

    At that the watcher looked at him with a degree of approval and said, ‘I thank you for your aid, Frecwain. It is a great relief to me that the boar population has been thinned, and before the creatures injured any folk of Staddle, too! I thought it only a matter of time, but you have proven me wrong, and I am glad of it!'

    The boy bent to plunk a single blade of grass; her tone made him look at her deeply and then answered. ‘I am glad for your thanks,’ he said with pride. ‘Perhaps there is something more I can lend to you and your folk…my hands yearn for more than clutching a stable broom!’

    The boy turned aside and found a quiet spot under the eaves of a tall tree beside the gentle banks of a small shallow lake. From his pack he drew out a crust of hard bread and a hunk of cheese; there he sat eating his meager meal as the new moon and stars of early spring drew across the sky. Finally, and alone in the deepening darkness, he lay with eyes open until at last sleep over took him.

    In the morning Frecwain rose, feeling the yesterday he had been a boy, today he was a man. He felt ready for anything. Taking up his bow, he made his way from the lakeside and down into the village, not knowing where he should go. He walked over the village center quietly. He took off his rent and worn cloak, for the sun was warm and cheerful, and sat down.

    A passing farmer raised a hand in polite salute and smiled at the boy so that deep furrows ran down his cheeks from nose to chin. Frecwain replied the same. Small birds went up into the air and sang. Far up, a hawk cut a wide arc on the sky. Frecwain glanced up, one hand at his brow to watch the hawk wheel and circle in the sky.

    Frecwain smiled as he watched the hawk soar over the trees and disappeared from sight. He then looked about and soon his eyes fell upon two watchers standing on the far side of the commons, speaking with hushed voices to one another.

    The boy stood up and came with silent, vigorous steps towards the men. He called to them momentarily as one of them watched him with dim eyes. ‘One of your ranks I have spoke to only yesterday,’ he said. ‘And now I find two more here this morning. What would bring such a gathering of the watch folk here?’

    ‘Everyone is talking about the goblins these days, but I'm worried about something other than the goblins,’ said the man slowly, his eyes still on Frecwain, and now the boy looked deep into his eyes in turn.

    ‘The sound of the Neekerbreakers in the Midgewater Marshes has gotten much louder recently,’ continued the watcher. ‘There are many more of them than there used to be, I'm sure of it! I'm afraid before long they will move out of the Marshes and descend upon the town!’

    ‘A tale of sorrow to be sure,’ said Frecwain jokingly yet his eyes were steely and cold.

    The watcher nodded. ‘If you could kill a few of them, you would be doing this town a great service. The Midgewater Marshes are east of Staddle, beyond Swatmidge's farm. When you are done, seek out Edda Twiggins in the south-eastern reaches of the Midgewater Marsh. She will be happy to hear of your progress.’

    ‘I aided one of yours with thinning the wilds boars that plague your fields,' answered Frecwain, trying to show himself an equal to the polite but disdainful watchmen. 'I cannot fathom that these Neekerbreekers would any less of easy to deal with. I will do as you ask. Await my return with news of my hunt!’

  12. #12
    Ah, rash young Frecwain. Ready for everything, he says. I hope he knows what he's getting into.

  13. #13

    Chapter Three: The Midgewater Marshes – 8 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    As the morning drew on, Frecwain wandered over the scattered fields and homes of the farmlands of Staddle. And yet, whether round grassy fields or through tall stands of grain and wheat, his path led ever onwards to the east. At last, the boy came upon the edge of a steep, grassy slope broken by ledges and outcrops of rock as it fell sheer below his feet. A narrow way led down from the cliff past narrowing shelves of reddish stone peeking through the sides.

    There the boy halted and began to shiver even in the warm sunlight of the morning. What lay before him was a great expanse of mists that rose from a miasmal marshland. Little grew upon its length but lichens and rockworts; here or there stood wind-stunted twisted trees or patches of thick brackets over the vague lowlands. The landscape melted away into the mists in all directions save the west from where Frecwain now stood.

    Frecwain drew his cloak tight about himself and began to make his way down the narrow path below. He walked for some time, round the muddy banks of stagnant pools, and along wide sluggish streams that wound down from the highlands towards the deeper reed-choked pools and marsh further in. Though it was early spring, the wind blew chill, coming from the east from the seemingly endless reaches of the marshland. A mist veiled the sky, and no sun shone through the canopy.

    The morning drew towards noon-time and yet there seemed no end to the marsh. Everywhere lay deep pools and scattered stretches of reeds and rushes. He held no direction save what could be made, for though lithe and quick-footed, Frecwain found it pathless and treacherous going. The flies too became a torment to the boy, particularly the thick clouds of tiny midges that buzzed endless about his head and hair.

    As noon passed, Frecwain found his path led him to a dry stretch of land, grassy and sheltered with several tall mossy trees at its center. For a brief moment, his assurance had departed, his faced flushed, and now the regret of coming to this quagmire was nearly too much for the boy to suffer. He paused to rest under the boughs of a moss-strangled tree and gazed out in silence. Then he turned his head to listen to the many croaking frogs and buzzing insects. But slowly puzzlement crept into Frecwain’s face as another sound, strange and unmistakable, came to his ears.

    It was a sort of chirping, an almost aggressive song, that washed through the air. The boy turned his eyes round until it came to rest on a form in the shadows of the trees ahead. Greenish in colour was the thing he now watched. It was the size of a large dog, and borne atop powerful spike-like appendages for legs. Its body was of a hard carapace and long slender wings swept over its length. Antennae sprouted from its head above faceted eyes.

    For a moment, the boy laughed, as he thought this strange creature was singing; but as he watched he saw that it was not so; instead the strange creature rubbed its long wings together to produce the song that he listened to, harsh and threatening it seemed now. The chirping ended as Frecwain's laughter reached the creature and it rose up on all legs and turned its ugly many-eyed head towards the boy. Its wings folded and the strange chirping was replaced with an odd chittering warble. Now Frecwain grew wary and he took down his bow and set an arrow to the string.

    Without warning, the creature leapt forward and began to scuttle towards the boy. As a great revulsion began to wash over him, Frecwain let loose the arrow and set another to the string. There came a sickening thud as the arrow shot into the creature’s carapace, most of the length deep within the creature. And yet the creature came on across the mossy ground; it was not until a trio of arrows sat quivering in its back and body that it slowed and crumbled to the ground.

    The boy did not stir but watched with sullen eyes at the unmoving creature until he was satisfied that it would not once more rise. He slid his knife from his belt and crept up to the creature and gazed at it in silence for some time. He plucked his spent arrows from the creature and cleaned then onto the grass at his feet. Then he went on.

    Scarcely did Frecwain pause as he continued his hunt through the meandering marshes. He took only snatches of rest on infrequent dry patches of ground he came upon. All around him in the veiled mists, he could hear, always faintly, the chirping of the creatures and in that way he hunted until he had silenced nearly ten of their number.

    It was dusk now. The sun was fading down through the mists that hung so close and thick all about; too fallen was the wind. It was cold and deathly silent but for the chorus of little frogs as the boy came to the feet of a tall rise. Frecwain began to climb the rounded hill, hoping for a vantage point of view to the dismal lands about. The dewy grass brushed his breeches as he climbed towards the summit where the grass was more dry and grey.

    When he had reached the crest, he stood still looking out west and north. The hill rose like an island amidst a wide sea in the marsh. Greater was the boy’s surprise when ahead of him there loomed ancient and crumbling pillars of stone, and in the deep shadows stood a small encampment of mossy tarps and a smoky fire. The three folk standing within the camp rose to watch the boy with unsettling eyes. When Frecwain saw them look at him, he became unbearably aware of his appearance, of his mud-caked boots and marsh-washed clothing, and strode forward unsettled.

    ‘I was sent to hunt the Neekerbreekers that has brought such worry to Staddle...’ he said with a quiet uncertain voice, and his eyes turned round sullenly. ‘The folk there seem concerned of their growing numbers and that they may soon begin to cross from the marshes onto the fields.’

    Frecwain shuffled on one foot then another before stammering when there came no reply to his words, ‘I seek one called Edda...I am called Frecwain.' These words brought the eyes of the grey-haired woman in the camp down upon the boy; it was a formidable gaze. Then the harshness in her eyes melted with a soft friendly light.

    ‘Excellent, Frecwain! It will be a while before the Neekerbreeker population again grows to be a threat to Staddle,’ said the woman in a suddenly sober yet gentle tone.’ It is good to know I can rely on you to deal with dangers to the town that does not walk on two legs!’

    The light of the fire shone on Frecwain’s face, but it left it unmoved and harsh. Nor did his voice soften as did the grey-haired woman’s. ‘Perhaps,’ he answered simply yet grimly. ‘Forgive the manner of my intrusion. As a stranger among you I can scarcely ask for anything and yet I feel I must. May I request to stay here only for the evening?’

    The woman did not answer but nodded slowly and turned motioning for the boy to follow. She brought Frecwain under the tarp and there he sat down on a mossy stone. He eagerly accepted apples, rinsed and stored in a wicker basket in the short grass; he ate one, then another, then a third. Questioned with a mirthful look by the grey-haired woman, he admitted. ‘Long through the day was my hunt for the Neekerbreekers and I had eaten nothing all day.’

    He sat munching on the last apple while the woman went from the tarp and returned presently with bread and cheese and half an onion. The boy ate the bread and cheese and onion, and drank from a cup of cold water his host brought him. Food and drink and fire had clearly eased the boy, but he still looked worn.

    The last light of day had faded. As it did, the cold seemed to grow. The woman got up and began to gather dry grass and fallen twigs, breaking off the tough branches from the gnarled tree beside the tarp, and through all atop the fire. The dry grey grass and twigs caught at once. The branches and bark bloomed into rosy flame, scented with resin. Now it seemed quite dark all about the fire, and a few stars could be faintly glimpsed in the misted sky.

    Frecwain rose and sat down beside the fire, his boots almost in the flames, his arms round his knees. Then he set down his bow, his cloak pulled round him, and laid down, one arm under his head. Within moments, he was fast asleep, his face worn and stern-looking, but his hand seemed to reach for the short grass beside him.

    As soon as the sun’s first light broke the sky, the chilled dew upon the ground roused the young sleeper. Frecwain sat up with a shiver, then stood up, a bit stiff and bewildered, with grass in his fair hair. He blinked and looked about; seeing the woman filling a bucket from a wooden barrel, he went to help her.

    He then sat beside the fire with the others of the camp; they had a cup of warmed barley gruel, an apple of two and some crisp bacon in the warmth of the fire. For a long while even as the others rose, the boy say brooding a while. He then looked up as a familiar chirping reached his ears.

    Near the fire sat the short man and not young, of the group, a quiet-voiced man with eyes as deep an evening. Beside him stood a metal-wrought cage and within sat one of the foul insects of the marsh. The man held a long sharp knife and was chopping a little heap of naked greenish-white membranous and delicate wings twice the length of a grown man's arm. With each handful, the man tossed the strange meal into the cage which the NeekerBreeker gobbled quickly and hungrily.

    Frecwain looked at him as if in puzzlement. The old man gave a curt nod of acknowledgment, his expression was hard for the boy to read. He simply chopped more wings and then leaned back; after a minute, the old man said, with a half smile, ‘Hello there! Enjoying a nice stroll through the Marshes? I don't meet too many folk that can stand the smell, or the bugs, or the damp, so it's always nice to meet a kindred spirit!’

    Frecwain turned harsh eyes to the man, unsure if his words came as an insult. Yet the old man did not seem to notice, and scooped up another handful of wings and tossed them into the cage, saying with a warm tone in his voice. ‘Say hello, Sniken! Who's a good boy, then?’ The NeekerBreeker in the cage responded only with an angry clicking sound.

    ‘That wasn't nice, Sniken. I don't know what's gotten into you,’ he said scolding. The man scowled at his pet and his husky voice died away for a moment. Then the old man called Frecwain closer, saying, ‘He might be hungry. In fact, he might be wanting his favourite food: sickle-fly wings. If you kill a few of the greater sickle-flies, you might find enough wings to satisfy Sniken. That might cheer him up!’

    Frecwain looked on with silent disbelief; his eyes strayed to the pet within the cage. Then he spoke, his words coming slow and methodical. 'You and the others were welcome enough to allow a stranger from out of the wild marshes to rest here as the sun set. A favour given freely must be paid the same.'

    The old man laughed. 'The sickle-flies here in the southern Midgewater Marshes are a noisy lot what their swooping around and collecting the midges in the air. My neeker here, Sniken, loves their wings, probably his favouritest food about.'

    The boy turned his eyes out over the marsh in the growing dim light of the morning. Then he faced the old man again. 'Then I will return when I have hunted these flies as you ask, though large they must be to bear such wings as I watched you harvest for you pet...'

    The old man nodded vigorously, his hand touching the cage beside him. 'If you are lucky, the wings won't be damaged when you kill the creature, and you'll be able to pull off the wings. Then Sniken here will have a treat!'

  14. #14

    Chapter Four: Bree – 9 to 10 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    By evening Frecwain returned to the marish camp. It was overcast and windy, freezing weather. Atop the outlooking hill, the wind blew harsh, with rain in it, stinging and blinding. The boy paused and looked down into the thick mists that shrouded the endless marshlands about. The sun was hidden in the clouds above, but there was a glitter on the horizon to the west, a hint of a break in the thickening canopy.

    Frecwain looked down at himself. His stable-hand clothes were rent and torn, and his cloak frayed; his face and hair was matted with sickly ichor than no rain seemed able to wash away. Wordlessly, the boy strode up to the elderly man and his strange pet. He set down a bundle of delicate gossamer wings and pointed at them. Only when the old man stir and took up one of the wings did Frecwain speak.

    'A treat for your pet...' he said softly with disdain and gazed down at the neeker-breeker in the cage. 'Strange that the folk of Staddle would come to fear the growing number of these foul things and yet here you keep one fat and content as a pet?'

    The old man only smiled and looked at the wings with delight. 'Those wings are just the kind that Sniken likes,' he said still smiling. 'You saved me some trouble hunting down those greater sickle-flies.' He then set aside the treats and reached into his tunic to take out a small iron key.

    'Now, there's a treat for you!' he said laughing as he set the key into Frecwain's hand. 'I'll give you a key to my chest over there. I put all the treasures I find in the Marshes in there. Maybe you'll find something you like!'

    Frecwain held up the key with distrusting eyes. 'Treasures?' he said softly and guardedly. He turned to look down on a small iron chest half-obscured in the grass beside the old man, who was now busy cutting up the wings to feed to his pet.

    'Look what the nice folks brought you, Sniken!' said the old man. 'Here you go!' But Frecwain paid no heed; he bent down to the chest and slipped the key into the lock. There came a soft click and, with hesitant hands, he lifted the lid and peered inside.

    Many odd things lay inside the chest; an old cloak, some simple copper or silver coins, a worn flask or two. Suddenly, Frecwain gasped as he lifted a long dagger from the jumbled contents.

    The dagger blade was six inches long to the hilt, sharp on one side. The boy tossed it into the air and caught it; the blade was keen and sharp, enough to cut a finger to the bone. 'Wonders upon wonders!' said Frecwain as he turned to the old man. 'What a fine blade!'

    The old man laughed with a nod and then swiftly drew his hand back from the cage beside him. 'Ouch! Careful now, Sniken!' he said painfully as he sucked his finger. 'Near on took my finger off.'

    Frecwain laughed too, despite himself. 'I will take this if I may, Roderick, it would help greatly in my task that awaits me.'

    'And the next time you take a pleasant stroll through the Midgewater Marshes, stop by and say hello!' answered the old man with a kindly smile.

    'Indeed I shall,' said Frecwain. He turned to look about into the wisping mists that boiled round the feet of the tall hill. 'Yet for now I must return to Staddle and alert the watchers of my hunt.' He gazed down upon the neeker-breeker in the cage one last time then said, 'Take care, master Roderick.'

    Though dusk was drawing close, Frecwain set out from the camp at once, for he had little desire to remain in that foetid marsh any longer. There was joy within him that no manner of long weary march through the night could darken. He opened his pack as he went and took out a small flat loaf. He bit into it. The bread was tough and sour, but very good to eat. He munched in silence, mindless now of the snaking marsh all around him.

    The rain had stopped though the ground was still damp and muddy when he came upon the lane that led through the scattered farms east of Staddle. He took to it and shortly afterward, it brought him past midnight into the village square where a few houses were strung along the lane there.

    He camped along the banks of the shallow pool, where there was plenty of wood and he at once built up a sturdy fire of logs by which he could keep warm. Frecwain wrapped his cloak tight and turned away from the fire to gaze out into immense and starlit dark. There was silence, no sound, no motion. Yet presently, at the very edge of the flickering firelight, a pair of round eyes, like pebbles of jet, could be seen very near the ground. A curve of reddish furry back; ears, long, alert, upraised. Frecwain smiled at the red fox and tossed a piece of hard bread before it. The ears flicked, and then leapt away with soft, lithe hops.

    Frecwain laughed softly, poking the fire with a twisted stick. He laid more wood on the fire, and it flared up in fireworks of sparks and crackles. He sat back feeding the fire, and watched the early spring constellations stretched from horizon to horizon, until his head began to droop. The boy was indeed worn out from the trek into the marshes and his hunting has spent his strength. He soon curled up, as near the fire as he could get, and slept.

    Frecwain woke. The fire was dead. The stars he had watched were now far over the horizon and a soft glow had risen in the east. It was the cold that woke him, the dry cold of the spring night, the wind like a knife of ice. A veil of cloud was coming over the sky from the southwest. The boy sat up and took out a piece of dry bread and crumbling bit of cheese for a simple breakfast. He rested a little, and then stood.

    His teeth chattered as he set out, walking along the long slow lane westward. The bushes and rocks showed black in dim light. After a cold first while, the walking warmed him; and he soon stopped shivering, and the way began to go easier. It was by sunrise when he came by a large town.

    It was walled round by a deep ditch and hedge, in typical Breeland fashion, and had a single gate, under which a group of Men were herding a flock of sheep through. The red tile roofs of a hundred or more houses poked up over the walls of greenish hedge. At the gate stood two guards in the iron-wrought helmets of the watch. Frecwain had seen men in such helmets come, once a year or so, when he and the others came here to deliver horses to the local stable. Watchful and grim they seemed to the boy.

    There the boy stopped under a tall tree, its quivering faded leaves of fall still clinging to the boughs. Little of Bree did he know; he was used to his tiny village, where things were silent and moved slowly. He was accustomed to the fields and hills of his home, sluggish rivers, shadows of deep clouds. For a moment, Frecwain was almost afraid of entering. At last he passed through the gate.

    Inside, he looked out over the slowly awakening town, its high houses huddling close over the steep narrow street that led from the gate. The town was not large, but to the boy, who only knew of scattered villages, it seemed a great and wondrous city. A passerby bumped the boy as he stood there, and in a flash, Frecwain grew angry. The man muttered an apology and headed down the lane swiftly.

    He sighed and soon followed, wandering down the lane until he found himself in a wide circular square. He looked about, unsure of any destination; Frecwain turned to a man, a merchant by his garb, who was sleepily unloading his wares from a cart. 'Where might s stranger find lodging here? The man looked sidelong at the boy and then shook his head before going back his readying of the market day.

    The boy looked about until his gaze rested on a stone fountain. From the carven mouth of a magnificent boar statue poured splashing water into the basin below. Frecwain bent down to cup water into one hand. He sputtered at the chilled water but drank it swiftly.

    Frecwain turned to leave the square, unsure of where he should go. But he drew up suddenly as he found a tall man standing there, watching the boy with amusement. 'Morning to you, lad,' said the man courteously and bowed his head. 'Take care, the water is cold as ice.'

    Frecwain stepped back, and wiped his lips on his sleeve and gazed at the man; the stranger bore a friendly enough face, dark-haired with specks of grey which was shorn about his shoulders. He was much older than the boy and he moved and carried himself with a stiff look of a seasoned veteran of the march. Frecwain, so fresh in his mind of the scoffing of the héafod of the hafred in his village, that his answer came short and curt. 'Good morning,' he said cautiously and he straightened up and turned a little aside.

    The man waited a quiet moment as if expecting the boy to speak further, but when getting none, he glanced into the rising sun in the sky and then down to Frecwain. 'You seem a little lost,' said the man,a smile dancing faintly on his face. 'You recently arrived?'

    'I am, if you must know,' answered Frecwain sullenly. 'I am called Frecwain; my home is but a village and little do I know of such a large city as this...'

    The man chuckled softly and then said aloud simply. 'I too come from a village, though this does not warrant such a gloried title as city.'

    At that Frecwain scowled, sensing the man's seeming ironic tone. 'Perhaps...' he said slowly. 'Yet my fate has brought me hither and loath am I to turn aside from the path that has been given me.'

    Again the stranger gave a small smile. 'Then we are alike,' said the man somberly. 'So has my fate brought me here, I am afraid.' He gave a shrug and stood tall. 'Pardon my manners, master Frecwain. I am Turodhor, from Gondor, near Dol Amroth.'

    With that the boy, turned with wonderment to the stranger. 'Gondor you say? Long has been the friendship grown between my people of the Mark and your folk since the day Eorl rode from the north so long ago...all in my home learn that tale from an early age and of the ride that had brought from the north so long ago.'

    'I suspected you hailed from the Mark,' said Turodhor in his plain unassuming way. 'And such a tale is learned young as well in Gondor. What brings you here, then?'

    Frecwain, now crestfallen at the question, said nothing. Then he spoke sowly with careful words. 'I seek a treasure, that which is most precious to me beyond measure - even more than my very life! Yet I know not how am I to gain it, nor the path that will lead me to it.'

    'Would such a treasure happen to be the heart of a fair maiden?' inquired Turodhor, a smile tugging at his lips.

    The boy's eyes flared and his teeth set on edge. 'My search is my own Turodhor and little would I not give to take it, should chance prevail...' But the boy felt suddenly foolish and his words came ignorant and childish to his ears. His cheeks flushed red and he felt at once a fool.

    Turodhor simply laughed, not ill-humoured, saying, 'You remind me of myself in my youth, Frecwain. Then by chance fortune will go with you.'

    'Perhaps...' answered Frecwain, his voice sullen and sorehearted. Then his voice came proud and resolute. 'I seek the glory of battle and to join the ranks of my elders among my village as one of the warriors to seek my treasure. But little of this have I found so far.'

    Turodhor nodded and spoke in a way understanding and remorseful. 'That indeed is a path worth treading, should it lead to your treasure, though the danger is great.' He fell silent, his face solemn and thoughtful. 'Have you seen battle?'

    The boy turned away, then gazed up at Turodhor, his eyes shameful. 'Little...' he said slowly. 'I came north with horse traders and have done little more than tending to horses and their beds. I wish above all else to show the elders my skill in battle and stand beside them as one.'

    'You seem like a bold lad. You will accomplish that, I have no doubt.'

    Frecwain looked long into Turodhor's eyes for signs of scorn there. But the man only chuckled softly, saying. 'Indeed you probably shall. And if you wish, I can assist you in this. It seems a noble goal to pursue.'

    'Noble?' asked Frecwain quietly. 'Nay, that I cannot set claim to, only the desire to do what my heart chooses for me.'

    'Quite so, but a desire such as yours is what makes a thing noble. That may be better a debate for the masters of lore, and not for me.'

    Again Frecwain lowered his head. 'What in the way of battle may I learn, ever here?' he asked.

    'Much is the strife that plagues this gentle town,' answered Turodhor. 'The trainers of the watch are willing to school most decent folk in spear or shield, bow or blade, whichever you prefer.' He paused, his eyes searching about. 'The folk here have had some troubles with brigands of late and much is the aid needed for the trouble these ruffians have wrought.'


    'Yes,' said Turodhor. 'Skill at the blade is learning through fighting in battle. We may well find some brigands along the road west of here and there is a camp not far from the gates of this town. And I could teach you what I know as well, if you wish.'

    The boy let his fair hair fall down his face and his voice grew soft and quiet. Good,' he muttered. 'I too have heard stories of strife and worse and of brigands.'

    'Yes, plenty of strife there is,' answered Turodhor, his voice grim. 'Makes getting supplies here more dangerous than they say it used to be.'

    'Then we must first gather supplies for the journey. I have little myself and would not enjoy a march without some foodstuffs for the road.'

    'You have the beginnings of a soldier to you already, lad,' laughed Turodhor.

  15. #15
    Finally, after braving the Midgewater Marches, Frecwain gains his first new weapon for his trying labours:

    And once finishing the hunt for pet-good, he also reached his next Survivor title:

  16. #16

    Chapter Five: The Old Forest – 11 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    Frecwain sat huddled near the fire, his arms wrapped around his knees and his head hung low. His mass of long yellow hair looked pale in the moonlight. Turodhor had rolled himself up in a wool blanket and gone to sleep just after supper, his fine mail and helm hung on a tree nearby with care. The boy looked at his companion; he could not sleep. He had grown concerned with their arrival at the camp along the road that swept ever westwards from Bree.

    Adso' Camp Turodhor, so named it for one of the Buckland folk, also named Adso, who had chosen this time to open a lodge here. With him he had brought all manner of labourers and craftsmen and the first foundations of the lodge had already been laid. Yet this gentle land was rife with rumour and tale, and many a story Frecwain heard round the fire that dusk of brigands in the fields, of wolves prowling the nights, and worse. The companions had spent the day wandering over the grass-fields hunting boar and other game at the behest of the camp's master, and worn they were when they returned to the camp from their hunt.

    It was the halting words of the folk about the fire that night that pushed sleep from young Frecwain. He had spoken his concern once the sun set to his companion, but Turodhor only scoffed at the boy. The man drew out his blanket and fell at once into a noisy sleep, saying that the tales were only that, told round the fires at night by the workers so as to scare one another.

    Stinging from Turodhor's mocking words, Frecwain did not join his companion in sleep and swore silently to himself to watch all through the night. Yet the night was very long and very quiet. Most of the camp had fallen asleep and the moonlight shone down, changeless in the darkness. Huddled beside the fire, Turodhor snored, long, soft snores. Slowly the night moved onwards, and softly and unwilling the boy slid into sleep.

    Dreams came to his wakelessness. At first, they danced fragmented and unremembered, but slowly these tattered dreams became a vision of wide rolling familiar grasslands. Far in the distance rose towering mountains with great arching arms of snow-capped peaks. Horses galloped across the fields upon strong legs, their whinnying carried over a gentle wind.

    Then, far beyond the green sea of endless grass, shone a tall tower in the shelter of the great mountain-arms. Smooth was the stone sides of the tower that seemed riven from the very bones of the earth, black in colour and hard. There came the sound of brazen horns blowing desperate from a wide ford and river between Frecwain and the dreadful tower.

    From a road that wound from the distant tower came hoarse yells and shouts, the fierce battle-cries of many dark shapes, some short and broad, others tall and grim and swarthy. Flaming brands they carried and there soon reached the boy the dull sounds of terrible battle. Cries of dismay and fear rose into the air and Riders came galloping back over the ford, followed by others on foot, reeling and crying aloud, casting their shield and sword upon the ground.

    Suddenly, Frecwain was standing, or running with the host that fled back over the ford, and the horn-blasts of their pursuers blew fierce and triumphant on his back. On he ran until he could not take a single breath. A man, tall and long of hair down his mail hauberk, cried aloud and pitched forward, an arrow quivering in his back. The boy spun round with a shout and raises his sword aloft; all about him came foul Dunlendings, their hot sweaty breath released as mist into the cold air. Frecwain cried aloud as the first reached him; the boy struck a clumsy blow. His foot slipped in the treacherous mud and he fell.

    Suddenly, Frecwain awoke; he was cold, and his arm ached as if having suffered a great wound. He had simply fallen asleep with his arm bend beneath his head, but that was beyond the boy to recall. He shut his eyes tightly against the flickering light of the fire. It was a good while until the boy stirred and stood up over the fire. Shaken by the strange dream, Frecwain stole quietly from the fire and stood for a time, gazing up at the twinkling stars shining from the velvet canopy in the sky.

    Minutes past, and still more, and the boy did not move. Then there came the sharp twang of a bow in the darkness. Frecwain started and threw his head around as a voice reached his ears. 'All right then,' said a laughing voice. 'How about that one?'

    'Hoy,' answered another mockingly. 'That's an easy shot!'

    Frecwain released the hilt of his sword at his belt and stepped quietly forward towards the voices. Presently he bent under the low branches of a tree and watched in silence at two archers having game at shooting a dim hay-crafted round target just outside the gloom of the campfires. He smiled slightly and did not stir as he watched on; only did he speak when the rustling wind shook the branches and the men turned round and called out with harsh wary voices.

    'I am no brigand creeping from the darkness,' he said aloud and stepped from under the tree. He held his hands out before him in a gesture of peace and friendship. The bowmen glanced at one another and then at the strange, fair-haired boy. They lowered their drawn bow-strings and one called to him with a derisive tone.

    'What do you want?' he spat and did not take his fingers from his bow-string. 'If its work you're searching for, speak with Hawkling or Larkspur.'

    The other bowman laughed, for he saw in the boy no lurking ruffian, and clapped his companion on the shoulder. 'If you're quick with blade or bow, speak with Larkspur or Hawkling. Otherwise, look for the hobbit, Adso Haybank.'

    Frecwain looked at the Men, unsure if they were mocking or playing with him. 'I do not seek work...' he said slowly, but for a moment he could think of any other words. The Men looked at the boy curiously and then returned to their archery game. Frecwain stood mute and then sighed and turned to stride softly back through the dim camp.

    He passed the fire where Turodhor still slept and nearly stumbled into a man standing beside a small wooden cart laden with crates and barrels just beyond. To the boy's surprise, the Man stood up as he set down a heavy crate and called out to him. 'You there, we've a wolf problem which needs addressing,' he said, wiping the damp from his face with a rag. 'Some time ago, Adso bought a fine, fat milk-cow out of Buckland, but filthy wolves out of the Old Forest stole it, slaughtered it, and dragged it off.'

    Frecwain's eyes glimmered softly and playfully as he stepped forward to lend a hand to hefting another crate down from the cart. 'A wolf brought down a prized milk-cow?' he asked with a slight smile.

    The man groaned and set a hand to his sore back. 'Hunt down the foul wolves in the northern part of the Old Forest,' he said pointing to a dark smudge of forest to the south. The forest was dark and distant, but on the lower slopes before them stood the first outlying trees just beyond the camp. 'Bring me pelts as evidence of your work.'

    'Good,' said the boy, thinking his return from such a hunt would make for a fine morning tale to give to grumpy Turodhor. 'I am tired of sitting round listlessly at this camp, nor do I pleasure the thought of another stinking boar.'

    The man laughed at the boy. 'I won't take any old shabby pelt, mind you. I'll only accept the largest and most lustrous.'

    Frecwain returned quietly to the fire. With careful watchful eyes on his sleeping companion, he took up his bow and arrows and crept away with a smile on his lips. 'I shall show Turodhor when dawn returns,' he said softly as he went from the camp towards the distant forest. Just beyond the light of the fires he came to a worn and dusty path that led away towards the dim forest.

    There too stood a man, his eyes turned to the path and forest, his back to the distant camp. He was an older man, his face and beard white-gray and his garb was that of a grocer or cook. Frecwain came to rest standing beside the watchful man, saying, 'What do you see, old one?'

    The man looked at Frecwain and looked away, and began mumbling as an old man does or wills. Then the mumbling ceased and the man spoke in a slow voice. 'We have been working quite hard on this lodge for some time now, and it's thirsty work, but it seems that our water supply is running low. One of my hunters came across a spring in the northern parts of the Old Forest where the water is particularly sweet and refreshing. A strange thing to find in such a wretched, gloomy wood. Go west into the Old Forest and stay in the north woods. The spring is a beautiful place...hard to miss in that dismal forest.'

    Frecwain turned his eyes to the old man. 'One bucket only?' he said surprised, and thought the man was a bit mad if not more. 'And how would that suffice such a large number of men?'

    The man only nodded. 'I would appreciate it if you could fetch that water for me as soon as possible. I would hate to run out before you return. The Forest is getting dangerous, I hear, so you'll want to be careful.'

    The boy looked out over the forest. 'Wolf pelt and water bucket,' he said softly. He pulled his hood up over his head, set an arrow to his bow, and followed the path. The ground was steadily rising and soon the trees began to grow darker and thicker and taller as he went. The line of hills stretched out to east and west as far as the eyes could see and there stood the forest atop its summit ahead. Now that the campfire-smoke of Adso's Camp was hidden behind in the darkening
    night, there was only one path to take: forward.

    Soon Frecwain passed under the thick canopy and plunged into the depths of the deep forest. There was no sound, save an occasional drip. A small branch fell from an old tree with a crack on the ground behind him. He stopped, startled, and looked round. He knew not how far he had come into the woods, but he was now drowsy with the steady pace and of the long hunt that day. An uneasiness crept into his heart but caution seemed dulled in the boy.

    There seemed no silence like the silence of this forest. The trees about remained hidden behind a grey dim fog despite each step taken and soon Frecwain's clothes and hair was wet with dew dripping from the many boughs. His cloak and tunic clung icily to his body, as if a great torrent of rain had suddenly appeared in one of the rare breaks in the forest canopy overhead.

    Frecwain stepped into a wide clearing in the forest; his eyes turned to the open sky and he saw the moon hidden behind a swiftly flowing bank of dark clouds. He took a step within when a sound came to his keen ears. He stopped, looked about with every sense alert. A queer sound, a scrapping sound, that stopped and paused with a strange sniffing, then continued with hurried earnest. To his nose came an unwashed musky scent.

    The boy sensed the thing's nearness, yet at first he did not see it. Frecwain held his breath as the clouds past from the moon and silvery light shone down. As he bent low to the earth and looked out, he saw a dark shape in the tall grass near the edge of the clearing. It was a wolf, its brownish fur damp with dew and its paws all clogged and filthy with fresh dug earth.

    The wolf stiffened and its snout slowly rose, its fangs gleaming white in the dim silvery moonlight. The sniffing sound returned. Frecwain felt the wind change and at once he knew he would be betrayed. He rose suddenly and let fly an arrow. The wolf jumped with a yelp as the arrow bit deep into its haunches. It spun round with a howl of pain and its jaws slavering with hate.

    The boy drew back his bow; an arrow shot through the dim air but went wide into the grass. The second flew high and into the trees. At once his heart sank. He was not strong, he thought; he felt the beating of his heart and rush of blood in his head. The boy set another arrow to his bow and with a shout of rage and tears, he let loose his bow. Straight and true flew the arrow and it sunk deep into the wolf's shoulder. The beast faltered, turning its head round to snap and bite at the arrow. Its yellowed eyes then turned to the boy and it leapt.


    The wolf flung its head with snapping jaws as it lunged forward desperately to catch hold of the boy. But it missed and the jaws snapped close on only air. Frecwain threw his bow to the grass, and swept out his sword. Down came the blade, swift and deadly. The wolf made no cry as it fell. No sound came up from its quivering form at Frecwain's feet. For an eternity, the boy did not move, his sword still buried deep in the wolf's frame. He gazed down; he listened.

    Then Frecwain withdrew the bloodied blade and stepped back. His voice laughed aloud despite his shaking limbs; he had disappointed the wolf. He remained alive. Wiping the blade on the wet grass, he slid it into the scabbard at his side. Bending down to take up his bow, he crept forward. There in the trampled grass lay a wide trough of overturned earth. And poking from the exposed earth was a small box of iron and wood.

    With bare hands, Frecwain knelt and dug up the strange find. He stood up in the soft moonlight. The box was earth-encrusted and the metal rusted from long years under the ground. A stout lock was set upon it and the boy turned it over before slipping it into his pack. Pulling his knife from his belt he turned to the bloody task of gathering the pelt from the fallen wolf.

    So on he went; the path wound on and his weariness grew with every step. The wind stirred in the leaves above his head and his breath shone as mist in the dim light. Little could he see behind him and forward seemed only the endless forest, fading on and on into the distance. The howl of wolves came often through the trees, but sometimes distant to his ears. He crouched and sneaked about at every cry, felling each wolf that crossed his path.

    Two he had come onto in a small widening of the forest. There they were snapping and shuddering at one another, their jaws snapping each the other's throat. Frecwain watched from a distance before setting a clever noose trap hidden in the short grass. Then he lifted his bow.

    The first wolf was felled even before it could turn round to snarl at the boy. The second came on snarling with only one desire. But the boy's arrows flew again true and the wolf was soon ensnared by his trap. It was while he strode forward to collect their pelts did he notice a strange key in the grass where the beats had been quarreling. Frecwain lifted it up and looked at the wolves. He slid it too into his pack and kept going.

    At last, as the moon began to sink low in the sky, he came to a spot where the path trough the trees went downwards, dim and grey into darkness. Crowding shadows hugged the trees ahead and somewhere in the distance he could hear running splashing water.

    Then a clear voice, youthful and yet ageless, came floating like sparkling rain up the path. The boy was mesmerized by the song though no words could he make out. On went the voice and it sailed about the darkened trees with a life of its own, never rising further, but never falling. Frecwain took an unwilling step forward, his legs bearing a life of their own. Sweat beaded on his brow and the boy began to shake with fear.

    Down he went until at last he came to the edge of a deep shimmering spring. Water cascaded loudly over falls and deep mists swirled from its blue-green surface. There, nearer the falls, stood a woman. Long yellow hair flowed down her shoulders and onto a gown of reed-green. Round her waist was a belt of gold, in the shape of flag-lilies and set with pale-blue eyes of forget-me-nots.

    As the boy came a few fainthearted and unwanted steps closer along the muddy banks of the spring, the woman turned to him. She laughed aloud in a clear voice and her gown blew rustled soft in the wind and misted air. 'You have come a long way for water and into danger you do not know,' spoke the woman.

    Now control returned to Frecwain's limbs. He started and his blade leapt to his hand. But nothing more; at once he stood still as a cold stone, staring at the woman, his blade forgotten in his hand. His breath came as a hiss as the woman swirled the hem of her dress round; the delicate grace of her dance filling the boy with fearful dislike.

    'It is true the water of my pool is the sweetest, and will gladly share, but the Forest is wild and untamed, unfriendly to those who do not belong,' said the spring-maiden with a shimmering voice that rose endlessly up through the arching boughs of the tall trees.

    'Enough of your prattling, witchling!' snarled Frecwain with a hissing whisper. 'A boy do I stand here, but of the Mark am I as well. Release me from your foul sorcery, forest enchantress, and meet me with steel!'

    Again the strange woman laughed. Her eyes fell upon the boy and he fell silent, his eyes falling to the muddy earth, unable to hold her gaze. 'Take this bucket and draw from my pool, ' she said quietly and waved her arm to a bucket at her feet. 'Unless your friends drink too greedily, this will last far longer than water from the wells of Bree.'

    Suddenly the unseen manacles about him was gone. Frecwain stood silent, his face was watchful and intent.
    He gazed down at the naked sword in his hand and the tip slowly lowered. The strange woman smiled softly. She again spoke.

    'Be wary as you journey back to the Road, lest the Forest trap you. My Tom is the Master, but he is about his business and may not come to save you. Fare you well.'

  17. #17
    So on goes my feverish writing over the past week...

    A few things of note; first, I had planned the story to first go to Buckland. There is where I could pick up the intro quest that would allow me to begin quests at Adso's Camp. But since many quests right now deal with hunting of ordinary animals, I decided to complete the quests needed to move onto to Adso's Camp, but not include them in the story. This was only due to not having so many chapters relating to the same old sort of hunt over and over. I kept the xp of course but tossed away any rewards given from the quests.

    I was surprised to find a Bronze Lootbox as a drop from the first wolf. I was even more shocked when I soon found a Sturdy Key as well! Turodhor was online and so I immediately told him of my good fortune. Now to get back to the camp and unlock the chest and find out what's inside!

    I think Frecwain's story (and as a character) is turning our very well so far. He is rash and prideful but has a good deal of emotional range to lay with during rping. I hope others are enjoying the tale as well.


  18. #18

    Chapter Six: The Hunter's Path– 11 to 12 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    Frecwain was seated in a small stand of swaying ash trees whose shadows lay thick for all the brightness of the sun. Over the sun-warmed meadows yellow flowers bloomed in the grass. He plucked one from the grass and blew on its rosette of seed heads atop the taproot; the white seeds shook loose and went up on the wind and floated over the grass.

    He drew his eyes from the whispering fields and down to a padded tunic quilted of wool laid out in the grass. Beside it lay hosen and gloves of worsted wool. With shamed eyes his drew his hands across the jack and then looked down at his thread-bare tunic. He stood and quickly donned the tunic and hosen and then strode back into the camp along the road.

    At the fire he met Turodhor who rose to greet the boy with a friendly smile. 'You travel to dark places, master Frecwain,' said he. 'I had not expected such when we first met.'

    'It was indeed fortune that brought us together, Turodhor,' said the boy.

    'Aye. Fortune does strange things...' said Turodhor with a simple nod. 'Did you find my parcel upon your return from the forest?'

    The boy placed a hand upon the tunic and smiled. 'I did,' he answered with some hesitation. 'I cannot ever repay such a fine gift, one that was so generously given...'

    The tall man only shrugged and waved the boy's words away. 'I am glad only that it will serve you well.' His eyes turned to the distant dim forest. 'And what of that place?' he asked slowly. 'Strange are tales told about the Old Forest.'

    Frecwain followed his companion's gaze and he fell wordless. 'Only yesterday I braved the forest to hunt wolves for master Hawkling,' he said brash and prideful, seeking to put himself on equal footing with the old warrior. 'A forlorn place it was, I felt many eyes upon me as I hunted along its pathless ways. Even the trees seemed to watch me with silent malice...'

    'There is wisdom in which you speak. Dark things dwell in those woods. If half the tales be true, it is fortunate it was but the trees whose eyes watched you.'

    'True,' said the boy. 'Yet wolves and water I went there to seek. And it was pelt and bucket I returned with.' Frecwain rose tall, and his voice rang clear and joyful. 'Enough grim talk!' He motioned to the fire and sat down. 'Dusk draws near and chill does the wind blow when night comes. Let us sit and enjoy the warmth of the fire and we may speak further.'

    There they sat, and a cheerful lad from the camp, quick and eyes full of wonder at the strangely-garbed travellers, brought them supper laden on vessels of wood and bronze. They ate and long into the night they talked. In the glow of the fire, the boy recalled the wolves of the forest and of the strange river-maiden he had found.

    At last, as a waning moon rose among the stars, Turodhor bid his friend good night and laid down at the fire. Frecwain fell silent, watching the fire and enjoyed the warmth on his legs and face as he sat, his feet almost among the glowing coals. Then he too drifted off into sleep.

    At daybreak, as grey light welled up in the east, a calm, pale sunrise came to the camp. Frecwain rose to splash cold water on his face and he drank too; the water was sweet and clear as any mountain spring in the heights above his home. Though the boy did not know it, this way the very water he had brought back from that strange river-woman in the woods.

    With dripping hair falling round his shoulders, Frecwain looked for Turodhor. But the man was gone, and after word with some of the folk about, he found no sign or word left of his passing. After breakfast, Frecwain passed the day with the servant boy who had brought their supper, rollicking in the fields near the camp, and enjoying mock battles with one another, as young would-be men do.

    When the afternoon came, the cook called for the servant-boy, Frecwain turned from the warm fields and went back into the camp. And still there was no sign of his friend. He wondered what or where he should go. 'Back to Bree?' he thought miserably. In the light of the torches that were now beginning to be lit in the camp, he was suddenly met by a woman who greeted him.

    'You say you are a hunter, but what proof do you have that you have chosen the right calling?' she said scornfully to the boy. 'Perhaps you should have been a minstrel, like that Prescott fellow who sometimes sings of my doings. Or perhaps the calling of burglar would have suited you better, like the hobbit back there with his eyes on Adso's roast?'

    Frecwain stood tall before the woman, grim and raged of face. 'And those who speak in such manner may find a sword at their throat.' he said as a hand fell to the hilt of his blade. 'I am as best a hunter as you may find within this camp. I am a true son of the Eorlingas, not some Dunlending out of the wilds.'

    'Still you say you are worthy of calling yourself a hunter!'spoke the woman with a cool smile. 'I shall be the judge of that, then, for I have a challenge for you. A mighty wolf stalks among the fallen leaves of the Old Forest, but she displays unusual cunning for her kind and is a menace to those who stray from the paths. Come with me if you are willing to undertake this challenge, and I will go with you into the forest. There will I judge your skill in bringing down the terrible Yellowfang.'

    What merriment then we shall have!' laughed the boy aloud, his anger not the slightest cooled. 'I am no stranger to the hunting of such beasts, and little do I care for your manners. But come let us speak and I too shall judge your words as you judge my skill.'

    The boy looked cannily into the woman's mocking eyes, his black temper now cool and slumbering. He said nothing. Frecwain pulled his hood up over his head, took up his bow, and followed the woman from the camp and upwards into the forest. They walked in silence and the silence seemed to lay deep on all the forest.

    The path they now took was only a slender scar through the dim and forbidding forest. From time to time other tracks or trails crossed it or branched from it, but their course remained true, never deviating. They had come far, and Frecwain was drowsy with the steady pace of his guide. It seemed to him that they had walked forever and the light of the day was swiftly fading.

    The woman stopped. She stood at the edge of a wide glade, open above to the late, dusk light. Frecwain followed behind, in silence, curious and breathless. The woman went a few paces into the glade and turned, saying in a clear voice, 'Keep in your mind these two warnings. The Old Forest is a confusing place for the unwary, and it seems as if the trees move about when you are not looking. Even if you have journeyed beneath the canopy before, you might find that the paths are unknown to you now.'

    The boy turned his head round and pulled down his hood. The woman followed his gaze. After a pause, she answered, without turning, 'And secondly, Yellowfang is no fool. She will not challenge you unless you can somehow draw her out of hiding. Your combat ability, as well as your skill at tracking, will be tested. I will wait here for you to defeat the mighty wolf. If you are worthy of calling yourself a hunter, you should be able to do this deed.'

    In silence, the boy went out from the glade. There was no sound at all, but the gentle swaying of the dim trees and the slow footfalls of his boot-steps. Nothing moved but the ever-shifting trees. He soon looked down into a tapering glade ahead, and looked up at the dark open sky overhead. Nothing could be seen in the dim when he looked around. Frecwain stood up, chilled, and called out, peering into the empty murk. 'Come then,' he cried, 'Come on. Why do you slink about like a coward?'

    There was no answer, but there came dark motion among the dim trees of the glade. Wolves they were, but not the one he sought. Mangy and lank were they, and hungry did their howls come into the air. He could not tell if they had seem him. Yet he waited, unmoved. Then all at once, he cried aloud strong and clear, and an arrow leapt from his bow, straight at one of the beasts.

    Now the lank shadowy forms turned, making half-circles, loose and dim in the moonlight. Then they doubled back and ran straight at the boy like a whirling tide from the sea. With bow in hand, Frecwain shot one wolf dead as it leapt at him, but fast were the others. Fang and talon came stinging across his back and legs, as many wolf-shapes danced about him. He could tell how many there were. He did not care. His voice sang aloud and for a long time they battled until none remained hale but for the boy.

    Bloodied and torn, Frecwain now took to the hunt. Aloud his cried as he ran through the trees, his eyes turned to the ground for a sign. All at once, he saw a shadow for a moment not far from him. He slowed and backed away, then all at once leapt and ran. The wolf fled from him, and Frewain followed, through the vast darkness of the forest where there would not now be no hiding place for his prey. Once the wolf's voice raised its withering howl to the air, calling to the boy as if with great mockery.

    Night was thickening; his heart pounded in his ears, and his breath burned in his throat. He was no longer running, but stumbling and staggering forward. Then the elusive form halted ahead, just within sight of the dim trees. The wold turned shining eyes to the boy and it began to whisper a thin wail into the night. It was an ugly battle-scarred face, course and cruel, that Frecwain now glimpsed in the dim light. Great and terrible did the wolf seem, cruel and filled with malice. But he feared no beast. Thrice he bow was drawn and the two foes clashed in the dim light, neither bound to anything but the bitter end.

    The glade where the woman stood was swallowed in the darkness of the spring night. The air was heavy, like a weight in the air. The wind was still and no sound could be heard. Then, a shape appeared in the gloom. It drew nearer. It came into the glade and stopped calling on in a clear voice,' It is done,' said the voice mockingly. Something was lifted into the dim air and there came a thud upon the ground. To the woman's feet rolled the severed head of a great wolf, its tongue lagging from its jaws, forever silent. The figure stepped forward, revealing the haggard face of the boy, a sword held on one hand, its blade drenched in blood.

    'You surprised me, Frecwain,' murmured the woman, now looking at the boy with new eyes. 'But I have no reason to doubt your words. It could be that I misjudged your worth as a hunter.'

    'Surprised?' said the boy in a low voice. 'I am but a tanner's boy and yet I hail from the Mark. There a Man's, or boy's, deeds far outweigh their words. I kindly ask you to remember that.'

  19. #19
    Frecwain is leveling at a rate I am very surprised at. When he was hunting in the Old Forest the first time, he hit 14th level, gaining him his next Survivor title, and reached 15th level when he returned to Adso's Camp:

    This swift advancement is due mainly to having the Out-Rider token equipped. I got it when I pre-ordered RoR and it gives a constant +25% xp boost. Not to mention I slew at least fifteen wolves while hunting the Old Forest, plus some nasty other mobs that got in his way while walking about.

    Turodhor was very kind enough to craft me some new armour - nothing great (9th level gear I think) but a vast improvement over what Frecwain had before. He also picked some new boots and a new dagger from collecting wolf-pelts and that bucket of water in the woods. Plus he recieved that ugly hat for the hunting quest. It gives a good stat bonys but to me with its pointed animals ears, I am ashamed to don it. The only thing lacking is a new bow - his is still the 9th level Rowan Bow he crafted at the story's beginning.

    I also opened the Bronze Lootbox when back in the safety of the camp: [20 Barrow-treasures][Tome of Vitality I][25 Dale-men's Crams][5 Slayer and Skill Deed Boosts (90 min)]. I was hoping for a weapon, but the Tome of Vitality gave Frecwain a permanent +5 Vitality bonus. The Cram and Slayer/Deed Boosts will come in handy also!


  20. #20

    Chapter Seven: The Barrow-downs – 13 to 15 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    As soon as Adso' Camp had sunk behind him, Frecwain looked eastwards to the distant rising spires of Bree. He let his pace slacken as he walked, for there was little desire for speed in him to return there. He felt a strange sadness and loneliness come into his heart; the friendship with the tall grim Man of Gondor had brought some happiness to the boy but now he was alone once more. He held no clear path, or of what he should do. He must go forward, but where?

    Bree was an old town, built heavily of stone and brick, walled against the lawless lands about. No lord sat upon a throne there, and simple were its folk. There was a heaviness clinging to Frecwain's thoughts as he went up from the gate. To the only inn did he come to, where travellers and merchants ate together of good fare provided by the fat innkeeper, Barliman Butterbur. And there one might sleep in a private room where such hospitality could be found in the Bree-lands. Yet the boy turned from the inn, for he knew little of inns and the folk there he found suspicious and unfriendly.

    The days were lengthening into spring and the dusk would come late that day. Yet even in the bright light of the sun, Frecwain felt wary of the many turning streets and alleys of the town. As the sun set he came down from the hill; people passed him, intend on their own business, and he felt isolated and alone. Frecwain found an inviting fire in the growing shadows of a great wooden and thatched lodge not far from the south gate. Many folk were there in the yard of the lodge, and the brightness of their fires shone on his face as he sat there. To his ears came laughter that ringed about, and their voice rose in song as their fires flickered in the gusty early spring night. Sparks rose thick and bright and brief upon the wind.

    At dawn, a wind had come up from the east, and the sky was clear. The weather seemed settled and mild as Frecwain awoke. He sat up and tossed a log on the fire and blew on the coals. He looked up at the folk from the lodge who were beginning their day's labour. Some had hides laid out for curing, others were fletching arrows, and still others chopped wood into logs for the hearth.

    One hailed him suddenly as Frecwain fed more wood to his fire. Turning he saw a man dressed in grey wool, and who seemed a forester by trade. The stranger’s face was bright from the red light of the fires, and his eyes met the boy's. Mildly the man spoke. 'Greetings. I have been very interested in the doings here at the hunting lodge. It seems the only place here in Bree where people would even think about heading up to is the old Barrow-downs.'

    Frecwain rose to his feet silently. He looked at the man, his lined face tan from many suns. 'Westu hal...I am called Frecwain. I too am a hunter...and what do you and your folk hunt?' he asked softly.

    'Well, there I go talking before explaining. You see, I am quite interested in the place -- the Barrow-downs that is. Ancient cities, old kings, and treasure beyond imagining! My dad, Newbold, has told me such wonderful stories. It seems somehow he got quite a few pieces of old histories out of the Downs, though he never would tell me how.'

    'The Barrow-downs? A fell and dark name...,' Frecwain said, looking ever at the man in grey, trying to judge what kind of man he was. 'What would you seek there?' Interest and mistrust struggled in the boy's mind as he listened.

    'I have tasked every hunter who frequents this lodge to travel to the Barrow-downs and retrieve some of the Barrow-treasure,' answered the man simply. 'But it seems that none of them have the nerve. I keep asking Anglinn, but he never seems to leave eyeshot of the main gate, and those Rangers aren't the ones to be pushed, if you get my meaning. Anglinn seems to believe that the treasure of the underground barrows are some of the finest. He goes on and on about some curse lain on it...all a bunch of nonsense if you ask me.'

    Frecwain 's fair eyes brightened and his youthful face grew proud. 'Seven and nine count the mounds in Edoras since Eorl rode from the North. Within lie the sires of Théoden-king in their everlasting sleep. All are cherished in song and deed among my people though the passing years have been lost in the mists of time. And yet little would I wish to trample upon their rest. What is it that you ask of me?'

    'If you would travel to the Barrow-downs, find these barrows, and retrieve some of the old Barrow-treasures, you would be held in high regard, I'm sure.'

    Frecwain stood silent. 'Little do I have to fear of curses or such things,' he said. 'They are but tales to frighten small children too unruly to mind the elders.' Frecwain turned, irresolute whether to heed this man's request or not, and looked to the sky. The red light of dawn was spreading. 'I care not for treasures, but I can do ask you ask.'

    The boy went in sudden decision and haste from the lodge along the lanes that wound up the hill. He found a watchman who was watching the merchants gathering in the market square, and hailed him. 'Do you know of the Barrow-downs?' The man looked at the boy and pushed him away, as if the very question was forbidden. In the same haste, Frecwain called on the merchants in the square for supplies. Food he bought, and a bundle of freshly fletched arrows.

    That night Frecwain slept little. It was not the thought of the downs or the hunter's words that kept him awake; rather that thought was driven from his mind by the hope of being being treated as one of them, the hunters at the lodge. To go forth and do what others would not, was too much for the prideful boy to let go.

    Long before the sun rose he went down to the West Gate and down the road that led away towards Adso's Camp. The boy reached the crossroads and over the stone bridge, then along the winding road past the darkened grass-fields. Slowly the sight of the shoulders of steep hills to the south could be seen; a dim shadow seemed to lay thick just beyond the hills.

    Frecwain soon came to a faded path that turned aside from the road. It wound away from the road and went slanting up towards the hills. His eyes followed the path as it climbed and disappeared into a narrow cleft in the rising hills. He stepped onto the worn path and soon passed into the cleft.

    There came the unseen and loathsome-sounding croaking of a bird through the dark ahead. The path climbed into a narrow coombe along the flanks of the hills. The boy's eyes darted though the darkness; he now saw a form lying on the path ahead. It was a man, to be sure. Frecwain knelt silent beside him and put a hand to his head. He drew back. The body was cold and bore terrible wounds; in his unmoving hands he clutched a crumbled piece of ragged parchment.

    He took the note from the dead man's hand and rose. He looked long onto the path and saw that a trail of disturbed earth led from further into the coombe. He lifted the crumpled note into the dim light:

    Barliman, the situation with my daughter is worse than expected. Our expedition is sundered and we have found safety on the edge of the Old Forest. We need help from the watchers. Please send help.


    Frecwain turned the note over and then stuffed in into his pocket. The coombe led forward until it came to an opening between two steep hill shoulders. A wide valley lay before him winding away southwards. Rising from the valley were hills, wide and flattened at their tops. Atop some stood forbidding standing stones in the deceptive haze of the darkness. He turned and caught a glimpse to the west of a distant forest forming a long dark line along the valley edge.

    From the coombe, he set out, winding along he floor of the valley, and round the feet of the strange stone-crowned hills. There were no trees visible, and the the ground lain with grass and short turf. And silent it was, but for the whisper on the air of the lonely cries of strange birds.

    The sun began to peek, pale and chilled, on the horizon but the fog still lay thick, cold and white about the valley. The air was silent and ominous. Soon he was climbing towards the rim of a low hill. On the far side the ground fell away down a long slope into a wooded hollow. A road lead through the hollow from the south and at his feet it faded into the short grass of the downs. Among the tress flickered campfires where a group of sullen men stood in the dim light and mists.

    Coals and damp wood lay red and smoky in the fires, and in their dim glow Frecwain saw the folk crouch in fear behind the boughs of the trees as he approached. 'I am not here to harm you,' he said softly as he came to rest at one of the fires. They said nothing. The boy looked from one to another. Their eyes were blank with uncertainly, as if he was an apparition from the depths of a terrible darkness. He laid down his bow and warmed his hands above the fire.

    For a long while, he paid the folk no heed; his teeth chattered and his body shook with chilled shudders. He looked up to a holbytla who had inched from round the bough and sat nervously on the far side of the fire from the boy. Frecwain took out the crumpled note and held it up. 'I found this beside an unfortunate man along the path that led me here...' he said with a whisper. 'He is no more I am afraid.'

    The hobbit did not move, but watched the boy with troubled uneasiness. 'You, you came here instead of seeking Barliman and the Watchers. Oh this is a fine mess,' moaned the hobbit quietly.

    'Nay, I do not come here seeking you; it was only chance that I came upon your camp. I have come here for quite an entirely other purpose.' Frecwain paused, and then asked, 'What has befallen you here?'

    The hobbit's head fell with gloom, like a broken soul facing a terror too horrible to speak of. He tossed a mossy log onto the fire and looked at the others. The hobbit shook with dread, saying, 'I'll not forgive Barliman soon for the tale he spun for my Lalia. If you have arrived to assist us, then I am pleased to see you. Just concerned that you mayn't be capable to lead us out of this terrible place.'

    'Again you are mistaken, for I have not come to aid you, though truly aid it sorely needed. I was asked to come seeking treasures that are fabled to lay undisturbed in the barrows here.' Frecwain looked at the crestfallen faces of the others. Then he said, 'Yet perhaps with my arrival, there is some aid I may lend you in your plight. '

    The boy took off his cloak that was damp with misted dew and hung in beside the fire. He sat crosslegged close to the fire. The hobbit's sullen dread never lessened, but he threw more wood onto the fire and offered water and strips of roasted bacon and hard bread. Frecwain drank, and ate a little. He kept turning his cloak to the heat. The thick wool dried fast, and as soon as the cloak facing the flames was at least warm, he wrapped himself in it and stretched out at the fire.

    'Go to sleep, master holbytla,' he said to his sullen host, and laid his head down. 'We may speak further once I have rested.'

  21. #21

    Chapter Eight: Howls That Shake the Spirit – 15 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    That morning Frecwain spent at the lonesome camp along the Old Barrow Road; he had laid like a log of fallen wood beside the fire all that morning. It was nearing noon when he woke, stiff and sore from the hard ground. The hobbit was seated there, his sullen dread never lessened. When the wind rustled in the trees the holbytla would peer round with fearfulness under the bush of his russet hair. The hobbit had sat whimpering beside the fire as Frecwain lay dozing through the growing morning; now as the boy sat up, he stared at him with a strange, dull, hopeless look.

    The hobbit brought him water to drink, and offered bread and cheese, which Frecwain took eagerly and graciously. Thanking the hobbit, he leaned back. The sun was hot but the ceaseless wind cooled his face and arms. He gazed up into the sky for a long while, until a bird flying from the south drew his eyes. He got to his feet and stood motionless. It was not a hawk, for it flew steadily, and too high for a crow. He watched the strange croaking bird and the slow beat of its dark wings, far up and high in the air.

    As the bird fell from view, he strode from the fire and at the edge of the camp, where the leaves of a great ash tree reached out, he sat with his back against a mighty root, his bow across his lap. Frecwain shut his eyes as if resting.

    The ground beneath the tree was hard, and littered with the rotten leaves of many winters. Thorny brush and small plants grew from the leaves, and the air smelled earthy and had a taste in the mouth like decaying moss. In the trees sat no birds singing. The camp was silent in the drawing noon, light and hot. About the camp stood the trees and shadows.

    At once there came the sound of heavy steps from the road that led up into the downs. The folk within the camp looked up with fear in their eyes. One or two flung up a spear or club as if a ward off some threat or act of evil approaching. Even Frecwain hesitated a moment as he climbed slowly to his feet. Then a voice called out and at once Frecwain lowered his bow, for he knew that voice.

    'Westu Turodhor hal!' he cried and ran up to take his friend's hand, and hugged him round the shoulders. 'I did not know why you left so suddenly and without word Turodhor, or if something unforeseen had befallen you. What chance would lead you here to find me?'

    'Aye, well met,' said the tall Man with a grim smile. 'Nay, not chance. Tad Leafcutter said you would come this way, and I came to seek you in this accursed place.'

    Frecwain spoke low to his friend, so that the watchful and wary folk in the camp standing anxiously behind him would not hear. 'Ah, Leafcutter, yes...he asked me to journey here to seek the fabled lost barrow treasures rumoured to be found here.' The boy's eyes fell with sorrow and shame. 'Yet now I must believe that was a fool's bargain to agree to now that I have set eyes on this place...'

    'No doubt there is treasure here, for in ages past men were buried with their treasure. But I fear that an evil upon this land has corrupted them.'

    'Truly, my friend,' said Frecwain softly. 'Here I found this encampment - fools they were to seek this place, as have I, and what may happen to them, who can guess? I fear I do not possess what is needed, but perhaps together we may be of some good...'

    The boy motioned for them to take a seat beside one of the fires. There he told of his arrival to the camp, of finding the poor soul on the path that led him into the downs. He spoke of the hobbit master's words and of the plight of him and his companions. Then he told of a great fear that gripped the folk; Frecwain's eyes strayed to a sullen man under the trees at the other side of the camp. A wind stirred the ash trees and moved its withered leaves.

    “I would never have taken folk into the Barrow-downs had I known what walked here now,” had that man confessed to me with great shame. “We shielded them as best we could, but the fright is still too much to ignore. It is the howling of the barghests. It will drive us mad if we cannot quell it. Could you help us? Kill these beasts, these terrors, so that we might have some rest to regain our strength for a return to Bree?”

    Frecwain's eyes watched the sullen man in silence. Then he said, 'The name barghest is unknown to me, but believe it to be a láthnéat as we say in my home, a wild beast? Their hope is to drive these creatures off to allow a safe path out of here.'

    When the boy fell silent, Turodhor sat pondering for a long while. The he spoke. 'We have them in old tales of ours. Far worse than mere beasts. They are beasts of death, foul creatures.'

    Again they were silent, watching the fire and enjoyed the warmth of the coals on their legs and faces. Frecwain stood up under the ash tree, then raised his face to the hot sun. The boy said at last, speaking low, 'Let us go out to seek these láthnéat, my friend. The worry and fear upon their faces is too grim to bear. Even a glimmer of hope for them would drive away the sorrow in my heart of knowing of their plight.'

    With silent voices they climbed from the camp. The barrow's wind had dropped with noon and all seemed silent. The boy slowed at the sight of the downs once again; it was a queer-looking land that sat hazy under the bright sun. Seen from afar was the odd bowl-topped hills and standing stones surrounded by wide stretches of uneven grass. A fear crept into his heart, a fear of some nameless horror that lurked out of sight, or waiting for the unwary among the hills and stones.

    Very cautiously they steered a path, watching before them and behind them, and up and down the hills. The cleft in the hill's shoulders seemed a remote, inaccessible gateway from this forbidding land as he glance northwards. The hills loomed overhead as they wound round their feet. Nothing moved.

    Frecwain whispered for his companion as he bent low to the earth, and brushed the grass with keen eyes. The grass was trampled by great marks, as if the passing of a large beast. From southwest to northeast the trail led on up the slopes of a rise and down the far side. He rose and pointed a hand out towards the rise. 'There,' he said quietly. 'Here are tracks of some beast, though no track that I am familiar of.'

    The boy set an arrow to his bow and padded forward. The fear came upon him again, a sinking dread that urged him to turn away, to run away. Worry began to gnaw at the boy that, at any moment, this beast they now stalked would turn on them from behind a stone. His eyes looked down at the tracks; it was close, he knew that.

    Driven by his fear, Frecwain soon had outdistanced his companion. The rise became steeper, choked with rock and stone. At the top his eyes looked down into a hollow that wound along sheer walls of bare rock. The boy stepped forward, rocks clattering down the slope under his boots. Turodhor lunged forward and caught his arm, halting him.

    Frecwain held still. The cold silence and the dread of this land of the dead surrounded them, silencing their courage. Turodhor leaned heavily on his axe haft and wordlessly pointed ahead. Again the boy held unmoving as he followed the man's outstretched arm.

    The boy's every muscle tensed. He heard the snuffling sound of a snout pressed to the ground. He could hear the click-clicking of claws on the rocks The musky, foul smell of wet animal fur drifted up the slope. He heard a soft growl and then the sound of paws as a dark form came into view in the hollow. The great wolf-shape turned to stalk up the slope, long snarling at its jaws.

    A sudden cold wind bit across Frecwain's face and he gave a short, hoarse cry. Turodhor stepped as if to attack, raising his axe. As if great chains were lifted from his limbs, the boy cried again and an arrow shot at the barghest, then another. Then all grew hazy and he felt the barghest snap at his leg and he felt the sting of its fangs. He fell back struggling; Turodhor ran forward between the boy and the beast. There came a long howl and a cry, then a loud sickening thud. Then all went silent.

    The boy looked up with weeping eyes. Turodhor's axe was washed with dark blood and at his feet lay the barghest, its red eyes dimmed forever. Frecwain let the bow slip from his grasp as he gazed down at the silent beast. 'Strange...' he whispered. 'A wolf and yet not so. It bears a malignancy and sense of evil I have never felt.'

    Turodhor set his axe to the earth and leaned heavily on it with a bowed head. 'Aye, as I said, a foul creature.'

    The boy found strength return and he took up his bow. 'Then there must be more we must find and silence, Turodhor...'

    The afternoon came and the skies remained clear. The barrow wind returned and was cold and gusty from the southeast. They spoke not at all as they hunted. After a few hours they ate, chewing on dry bread and cold bacon and neither said anything. All afternoon they cleaved a winding path through the downs. As the afternoon drew on, the wind slackened and the last of the sun shone fitfully. They climbed and scrambled over and around a hill, and climbed the next, and the next.

    As the sun crept from the sky, all grew dark. Frecwain's face was grey with weariness and his fingers cramped and sore with cold and the string of his bow. They stood side by side on a low stone-crowned hill. The boy looked out across the wide downs. His eyes were tired and troubled. At last he said, 'That is eight in all we have felled. And little do I wish to hunt them further without the light of day. A single drop of rain I think of those that seem to haunt this place and yet perhaps it is a start?'

    Turodhor was slow to answer. 'Nay. Less than a drop of rain. A drop of mist from the waves upon the shore.'

    Silently they turned back at last. For an hour or more their feet bore them west and north. They meet no more barghests and they steered ever on until they saw the trees of the forest rise ahead in the gloom. Smoke of the camp drifted dark and grey on the wind. They sat thankfully in the light and warmth of a fire under the dark trees.

    Frecwain's companion slept that night in the smoky warmth of the fire. Yet he did not, but sat in the flickering light, watchful and thinking. He left the fire to sit among the others in the camp, asking all about what could be gleaned about the barrow-downs and of ancient forgotten treasures. This drew mostly shakes of fearful heads, and questions of why would one seek such things.

    One of them, a grey-haired and bearded man, drew the boy close, saying, 'Lore and knowledge you man, that is the treasures in life to be found.' Frecwain gazed into the old man's eyes that shone with thoughtful pondering. 'The strength of you arm will one day fail, but a keen mind...ah, there is an unfailing strength.'

    'And what would you know of such things?' asked the boy with rising ire. 'In my home, one's strength never falters, unless you grow feeble or mad or cowardly.'

    The man only shrugged then said, 'I've lived a long time here in Bree-land, but in my long life I've never taken the time to learn the land's history. Now, near the end of my days, I found I wanted to know what came before.'

    The boy's displeasure cooled and he listened to the old man continue. 'I joined this trip to the Barrow-downs with hopes of finding some keepsakes or to take some rubbings, but it seems the Barrow-downs had a design of its own. I remember tromping over the hills as a lad and seeing that some of the barrows had fallen into a ruin. I remember lots of broken stones, covered in rune-letters, littering the ground, especially near the "Dead Spire." I wanted a few of those stones for my own. Are you interested in bringing me, say, three of the stone fragments from near the Dead Spire? Perhaps we can both learn a bit of history.'

    Frecwain sat silent gazing into the fire. 'I am in need of such things. But I will say that perhaps these broken stone fragments may serve to lead me to the treasures I seek here.'

  22. #22

    Chapter Nine: The Dead Spire – 16 to 17 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    Before daylight Frecwain rose quietly as his companion still slept. With quiet steps he followed the road to the top of the rise from the dell and peered out over the darkened downs. The slopes of the strange hills went up and down in the darkness before the moonrise. Frecwain sniffed the cool air and strode from the road, not looking back. The fires within the camp behind fell from view and he went on, curious and silent.

    The presence of the odd stones that crowned the hills seemed heavy, like a weight in the air about him. As he nearer the closest stones, the boy thought of how their base, sunk deep into the hill, seemed as roots dug deep into the earth like strangling roots of great trees. He stopped at the feet of the hill and he gazed up at the sullen stones. Thick mists and clouds hung over the black grass on the hill's crest.

    More hills rose ahead as he went on, their slopes looming up darkly so that he felt better to keep his distance as best he could manage. The too rounded summits gave the boy a sense discomfort and unnaturalness, and too did the queer circles of tall stone pillars that which most of them were crowned. The stones stood silent and furtive and a strange uneasiness came over Frecwain as ever he nearer the feet of the hills.

    Further on, he climbed up a slight rise between stone-topped hills and he peered out over the far side. By chance, a sliver of moonlight glinted far ahead. There atop a rising hill could be seen a great standing stone, its very tip shining in the rising light of the moon. At once Frecwain felt disquieting at the tall stone, ever taller than all the rest. It was shapeless and yet stood like a guarding finger thrust up forbodding of some terrible warning.

    Indecision gripped the boy; at last he willed his legs forward to begin climbing the long slope. The crown of the tall hill loomed higher and ever higher as he approached, dread filling his heart with ever step. He peered to the west where the trees of the forest rose dark into the distant air and a desire to flee back to the camp grew strong within the boy. He tore his eyes from the forest and went up into the hollow circle atop the vast hill.

    In the midst of it there stood the single stone, standing tall under the dim moon to the west, though casting no shadow. Nothing moved in the hollow and all was deathly still. With a trembling hand, Frecwain stepped down into the hollow to stand motionless for a moment under the eyes of the tall stone. He felt uneasy touching the dark earth with his boots, and he envisioned the stone's roots going down and down into the dark below the ground. He looked up and saw the misted, far fires of stars overhead.

    He shivered; momentarily his boots touched something. He looked down at a fragment of broken stone in the short grass. The boy bent to lift it from the grass. The surface was lined with delicate carved runes, none that he could read or decipher. He gazed round and found more stones, each broken and inscribed with strange writings and sigils. He traced his finger over the carvings and then slide the stone, and all others he could find in the hollow, into his pack.

    With one last glance at the forbidding tall stone, Frecwain walked to the edge of the hollow and looked out. Suddenly the cool wind began to whine through the dancing grass on the hill and tossed his cloak about. Above the stars seemed to dim and blot from the sky. All grew very dark.

    With a growing fear, he gazed out from the summit. There at the feet of the hill was revealed a flickering radiance, like the movement of leaves in the wind. It shone like the brightest moonlight, though the moon was still low in the sky. He stood watching, not speaking or moving except to shiver a little in the chilled wind.

    The radiance grew and a pale spindle of light could now be seen. It drew closer to the feet of the hill and it began to move with a visible form, the shape of a man. A tall grim man clad in ancient gilded mail and tall was his helm atop his head. Kingly did the man seem and yet his face was sorrowful and full of grief. The man slowed and for long moments did the figure glimmer at the feet of the hill unmoving.

    Frecwain climbed down from the hill. The ghostly image turned to the boy; silent was it, but there was a gleam in its eyes. The boy reached out a hand and it passed through the man's form as if it were only mist. He cried softly and drew back, lifting his arms as if to ward an unseen blow. But the spirit did nothing, and spoke nothing.

    'What manner of a thing are you?' asked the boy when his voice came to him at last. There came no answer, unless it was an utter silence most dreadful to behold. Then the shade spoke with a cold voice, as if from very far away. The words came distorted and vague at first, but soon became a haunting echoing whisper in the air:

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

    'Duty-bound we stand as one,
    lost as he may be.
    A lord he rose and, solemn,
    buried me.
    'My shield calls to my arm,
    my ring calls to my hand,
    my sight departed as my life,
    our oaths bind us still;
    protect and serve this land.'

    The shade's words rose and fell, circling and dancing in the dim air, even as it fell silent. Frecwain stood silently, a sadness upon his face that now shone no fear. 'Our oath binds us still...' he muttered softly. Then the shade spoke anew with a cold sorrowful murmur that rose and fell with great suffering:

    Long did I rest,
    now awake, as vengeance claims trinkets
    to call a curse upon our bones.

    As it was in life,
    so too in death.
    His curse on us still
    as we yearn for sleep.

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

    As the last murmuring words fell silent, the shade turned to drift over the ground without a step seen. It drew off and slowly vanished like a shimmering mist. Frecwain started and looked about, as if waking from a distant dream. With a strange quietness, the boy passed from the Dead Spire and crossed the downs with patient footsteps. He went on to the west as the dim forest beyond rose up dark into view.

    The pale light of dawn grew feeble in the east when he came at last to the camp along the barrow road. There he found Tobold Leafcutter seated hunched by a fire; the man smiled at the boy and motioned for him to sit. For a long while Frecwain did not speak, but gazed down into the flames. At last he spoke. 'Chill and harsh does the wind blow here, master Tobold...' he said quietly.

    Frecwain shook his long hair but said no more for a time. At length, he said, 'I found that which you so desperately seek, Tobold...' His eyes turned back towards the barrows in the darkness above and then drew out the broken stones from his pack. 'There is little to learn of these stones, master Tobold, but the whispering of the sleepless in the dark places...'

    'Well, these runes reveal nothing new,' said the man, looking at the stones closely. 'Each stone gives a bit of an account of the man who was buried there. There's nothing to reveal why these terrible creatures have taken up in those barrows. This is quite a mystery.'

    'Yes...a mystery,' answered the boy distracted. He was thinking back to the words of the shade. 'A tomb of ground...' he muttered softly. A vision of the strange stone-crowned hills came into his mind. Then he grew sleepy; the air was heavy with fire-smoke and the scent of roasting bacon. His mind began to drift and wander as he listened to the soft voices around the camp. Slowly, the boy fell asleep.

    In the cold dawn when Frecwain woke, Turodhor was gone. The boy inquired earnestly for his friend among the camp. Though the folk there knew not Turodhor by name, they all recalled the grim dour man. Frecwain pressed them for news or his departure but they could not provide any. He waited in earnest through the day, in hopes of his friend's return but no hope came. Finally, as the day dew long and old, he resolved to return to the downs and seek the answer to the shade's riddle.

    The air was grey and the sky was grey when Frecwain set out. He passed from the sheltered vale at the forest's edge and crossed into the downs. He struck eastwards towards the rounded hills and the westering moon lit the land with a grey, misty light. He climbed the slopes of the first domed hill with slow steps; the grass at its top was dry and short, blowing and blowing forever in the wind. No stones stood crowning the hill. He scoured the hill but found nothing. At last he turned and looked out where other odd hills rose up further to the east and south.

    A kind of weariness of dread, grew in the boy, yet no foe showed in the dim light under the moonlight that poured down, changeless, from the night sky. With one last look, he set out down the far side of the hill. There was a terror in him. The sky was black and there were stars; yet their sight shrank his heart cold deep within him.

    From the first hill, Frecwain wound his way towards the next. As he passed along its feet to reach the southern slope, the boy stopped suddenly. There towered balefully before him two great slabs of unmortared stone and another resting atop them like some great doorless portal. A great chill ran through Frecwain's body, his teeth chattered and he felt cold to his very bones.

    Then, as if an echo from some deep dark place, came a whispering from the opening, a dry trembling murmur, as if the earth itself was speaking. A horror came over the boy. He raised his eyes; the land had grown very dark and some force seemed to bind him where he stood. Slowly his eyes caught sight of something within the portal, a shapeless clot of shadow, darker than the deepest darkness. It seemed to stand up tall in the portal, and to whisper, to call to him, but he could not understand the words.

    The form moved now and, quick and hideous, it leapt straight at the boy, crying out with a wailing, cursing voice of dread and pain undelivered. With tears washing down his face and sobbing in horror, Frecwain shot an arrow, then another as the thing came at him to grip and tear him with cruel hands. The thing staggered and the arrow wounds burned with a terrible white radiance. The boy fell back, struggling and shaking, and fired again. The form swelled and shrank then all grew dark and the horrible whispering ceased. When the boy opened his eyes once more, the darkness was dispelled and there came a long mournful hateful wailing from the bowels of the barrow.

    The night was old when the folk about the camp watched the boy return from the barrows. His face was marked with paralyzing fear and no words came to his lips, as if his very voice had been taken from him. They watched with growing uneasiness as the boy staggered through the camp; he laid down his sword and bow gently on the ground and then stood silent, unwatching, wordless. Then Frecwain laid down beside the fire.

    To folk, it seemed that the boy was dead. One or two began to weep, others stood bewildered and confused. Another, finding some bravery, crept up to the boy as he lay there, cold and lifeless. He touched the boy's lips and drew back with a sigh as his hand felt a shallow breath from him. The dread lessened from the folk, yet he was watched for they were unsure if he should ever wake once more.

    At dawn, Frecwain stirred, and his lips parted gasping for breath. He sat up suddenly, as if not knowing where he was or where he had been. He blinked in the bright light of dawn. Then slowly the memory of the barrow crept into mind and he shuddered despite the warmth of the sun. He found he was clutching a ring tightly in a clenched hand. He opened his palm to gaze at the ring; old it was, ancient as the very hills, and engraved upon the worn surface was seven stars under a high crown. He spoke. 'My ring, forgotten...,' he said and his voice was grim and sad.

  23. #23

    Chapter Ten: On Cold Hallowed Ground – 17 to 19 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    When Frecwain had awoken, a grey fog hid the sun. Distant croaking birds came murmuring out of the fog and fell away only to return in a different direction. He did not rise, but beside a fire he sat for long hours, taking some scant food silently offered by the camp folk. The boy was weary and worn; long were the unreal visions that plagued him when he had returned to the camp.

    Nothing did he recall his journey back from the downs, nor of coming to lay beside one of the fires there in a wake-less sleep. What he could recall were dreams of a thing, a mouthless shadow of dread, that stood in a darkened aperture calling out to him with sightless eyes that have never beheld the daylight. Now he felt weak and cold that no fire could drive away.

    Over and over in his hand he turned and gazed at the ancient ring; this must be what the shade sought and yet Frecwain could not find the strength or courage to venture back into the downs. He raged at his cowardice, for he had not the strength to return to walk again among the dreaded barrows above. The hours drew on and still he sat there at the fire. As the day closed and the sky grew dark, he curled up and fell into a deep restless sleep.

    Again he dreamed of the thing within the barrow and the fear quickly returned even in the waking sunlight. Over and over he chided his cravenness and, slowly, resolve came to him and won over his hesitation, though the fear remained. Perhaps the shade had an answer to the dread that had been awakened within his heart. To return to the downs, to the tall spire, was his only choice.

    The next morning he set out for the downs once more. The mists of dawn began to thin and moved as he climbed from the narrow vale and through the fog he could see sunlight in patches of open sky as his eyes came to rest on the dreadful barrows in the distance. With unwilling steps, he made his way from the forest road, the hills and standing stones came and went as he walked, colourless and distorted by the veils of mist. It was past noon when he came to the tall hill and spire and the sun grew clear and warm, burning the last blur of mist from the air.

    The boy climbed the long slopes and into the hollow at the top. Desperately he scoured the lands about the tall hill yet no sign of the shade came to the boy's eyes in the bright sunlight. Despair gripped the boy and he fought back the desire to flee hopelessly from the hill. He sat down, his back against the tall stone, and set his blade across his lap. The day passed and the shadows of the afternoon drew long as dusk approached. Soon, the last light of the sun dipped below the forest to the west, and Frecwain at last stirred.

    He stood a while by the tall spire atop the hill, then raised his face to the dim sky. All sounds of wind, and bird, were quiet, lost in a dull silence. No breath of wind moved, and nothing could be seen in the darkness below the great hill. The boy stirred and lightly stepped from the hollow and down the long slopes of the hill. Patches of bare earth showed his boot-prints as he climbed down and the grass whispered a little under his steps.

    At the feet of the hill, his eyes turned towards a hazy dim and flickering light gliding over the short grass nearby. The fear grew strong within Frecwain and again he fought to flee back over the downs. Closer and closer came the shade but it uttered no sound or word. Frecwain stood silent, his breath held back, until the shade came to hover in the dark air before him. Then he called out. 'It is done, sleepless one,' he said in a suddenly somber tone, as if uncomfortable. He held up the ring and let the untouching hand take it and took a step back from the shade.

    The face of the shade turned with unseen eyes to the boy, his ghostly face full of sorrow and pain. 'Help my hand, now to his arm, lost too, lost too.' Then the shade began with murmuring voice another haunting riddle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Frecwain shivered; the night seemed thickened about and the wind blew sharp and shrill at once. The shade's words echoed in his ears and upon the air. It turned to drift across the grass as new whispering now rose into the air, just above the threshold of hearing:

    'Against many did we fight,
    for a treasure, which we stole.
    Rise they from the ground
    at his call
    his cackle, cough and cry.
    Fighting at the edge of stone
    in a hollow where we lay the bones.'

    Slowly the shade disappeared into the darkness and its unearthly whispering words soon followed behind it. The darkness seemed to lift and a dim moon shone between the tattered clouds above. The cold left him and Frecwain lifted his head to the sky; the stars he had watched under the shadow of the spire-stone were now far over the west and new ones now rose in the east. A veil of clouds was coming over the sky from the south and the light of the waxing moon was slowly fading.

    Frecwain returned to rest under the shadows of the spire. He took some bread and a little water from his flask, struggling to strengthen his flagging courage. At last, he climbed to his feet and set out, down from the crowning hill and then struggling up a long dim slope to the north. As he went, the air seemed to grow cold and colder, the dry cold of the tomb, and the wind blew and cut like a knife of ice. He held his cloak tight as he reached the rise and looked out; beyond, the ridge fell sharply down the far side towards a distant line of barrow-mounds. Each was topped with turfs and grassed earth and all bore dark opening whose edges were lined with kerbed stone. Set around them were rings of ancient and worn standing liths; wide stone paths in the earth sprang from the grass and led to upright stones topped with long flat capstones of the openings.

    The boy stopped. The line of barrows stretched unwanted before him in the late darkness. The wind died suddenly and all grew as quiet as the grave. Then Frecwain saw something down the slope, a strange dark figure. At once, he thought it was one of the half-witted folk from the forest camp who had foolishly wandered alone into the downs after dusk. He looked about and scampered down the slope.

    A little vague fear crept into his heart and stirred in his mind as he neared the dim figure. He lifted an arm to grasp the foolish idiot; hesitant words came uncertain to his lips. 'What madness would bring you here?' The figure turned with an unnatural jerking and it shrieked with a thick wordless voice, as if from the crumbling lipless mouth from a tomb. Arms came groping out and grasped the boy with the chill of the dead and his heart froze for he saw now it was a barrow-wight.

    Mindless fear and horridness washed over Frecwain; he cried aloud, 'No! No!' His sword swung over his head and came down passing through the shadowed wight's form. It passed as if slashing the very winds, and yet the wight began to writhe and shudder. Its hard deathly grip loosened and the boy fell back and cowered away even as the wight came again at him. He struck again and a shriek tore the air. The wight faded back a step, blazed and smouldered with a bright light then it faded with a dim shimmering.

    As Frecwain steadied his uncertain feet, there came from the black mouths of the barrows a long, low growling of hatred and lament. Stones tumbled from the tops of the mounds and the very ground quivered. The doorless openings seemed to move; they jerked and leaned like trees in a great wind. They seemed to twitch and rise taller as shudders went through the mounds. More stones fell, smashing against the standing stones at their feet. From the very earth and barrows came amorphous shadows that seemed to rise and dance in the wanning moonlight. Frigid air swirled round in a vortex of withering ice-cold wind.

    To the end of his days, Frecwain could recall little and to ever fewer would he speak of what still lingered in his memories. Unwilling did the memories come into his dreams in the darkest of nights that only the dawn ever washed away.

    The wights swirled in the dark like great shadows of death, and deadly eyes turned always to him as they came at him, striking with taloned hand and sword. Soon cries rose into the dark air about the barrows and shrill shrieks passed into the winds. Thin wails that never again came into the world as one by one the wights faded into the wind.

    Frecwain stood there in sight of the line of barrows when all fell silent, his eyes unseeing for some time. He wept and shuddered with chill. He could barely stand and a dizziness gripped him tightly. Then he staggered from the barrows and at once turned and ran.

  24. #24
    When setting out on this part of the story, tragedy almost struck. When I got to the northern-most line of barrows where one must hunt the wights to complete the quest, I found another player there hunting wights as well. I waited for the player to finish but found that she had slain all the wights. The first wight I encountered spanned right in front of me as I came down from the slope, forcing me into melee. Not good.

    After I defeated the wight, I took perhaps two or three steps - too close apparently to the barrows themselves because all at once, the ground literaly shook as three wights appeared from the ground. Suddenly I was battling not one wight but three. Not only that, but the other wights that the player had defeated also now took this unfortunate moment to spawn all around me like a well-oiled alarm clock. I was so worried that Frecwain would get defeated that I spent the entire battle running around to avoid being surrounded by so many wights at the same time. Unfortunately with this frantic running around, firing arrow after arrow, that I completely forgot to capture any screenshots but one. Hunting a single wight in the downs with a 9th level uncritted bow is one thing, but fighting an entire horde of them is quite another...

    However, his skillful dancing about kept Frecwain alive and the xp from slaying at least a dozen or more wight raised him to a new level and a new Survival Title:

  25. #25

    Chapter Eleven: A Man of Bone – 20 to 21 Ostermonth, 3018 TA

    'Still I linger, one foe remains.'

    Those were the whispered words of the shade when Frecwain returned, the chill of the grave still clutching at his young heart. The boy stood shivering in the brisk wind as the shade began to chant a new riddle:

    'In the south he rose
    from an earthen grave.
    Once flesh and whole
    now bones, depraved,
    by spirits seeking a home.

    'A man of Bone
    slept 'neath Cardolan stone.
    Rising once, struck low,
    by oathed brothers
    now sundered twain.

    'Brothers, cursed,
    return again
    to face this for
    from whom they stole.
    For deeds most noble
    in intent.

    'Whilst evil walks
    so too will we.

    'Seek you he,
    beyond the border
    south towards stone
    the land of Cardolan
    his Bones there still roam.'

    Frecwain did not return to the forest camp, but climbed the tall hill and sat down in the hollow summit. He lit a few clumps of dark charcoal and sat watching the stars that occasionally slipped through the mantle of clouds overhead. His fear cooled somewhat and his mind ceased to race with doubt. He did not sleep, but kept watch through the night.

    A paling dawn came when he at last rose. A few white stars lay high and cool in the last breaks in the clouds that thickened with a new breeze from the south. He felt the chilled wind on his face and he thought of the task ahead. Pride drove him forward and pride held him from turning back. He knew not what lay before him but the fear of the dead rose in his heart that could not be quelled.

    From the Dead Spire to the distant rising hills in the south was no great journey, but the walk took nearly two hours. The wind blew cold and carried on it wailed the cries of unseen barghests. Soon there rose a winding path through the dim shoulders of the hills and that he took with wary eyes as he climbed. The stones under his feet were damp with dew and mist; after a time he missed his step on the worn slick path, slipped and fell scraping his hand on the cliff-wall as he struggled to rise. The way became steeper as he climbed along a tall cliff on one side. Rocks clattered under his boots down the other side from a great height.

    At last, on the high sloping pass that ran up to the hanging mists, Frecwain paused. A hard wind blew, with rain in it, stinging and biting. He saw the land beyond the rising hills and looked down on it from the high rocky slant of the hillsides. To the east the sun was hidden behind a thick roil of thick clouds.

    What the boy saw was a wide uneven valley lashed by misted wind, a grey land under a darkened, grey sky. An ugly land, coarse and cruel with standing stones and crowned hills. The path from the pass led down through the land and he reluctantly wandered along its way. From time to time other paths crossed it or branched from it. He did not know what he sought or where but always south he strode. When he had walked for an hour or more, Frecwain thought he saw, away off, on rising hills to the south, a tiny scratch against the sky, like grey withered teeth of stone. The light of the day was fading but on the next rise of a low stoneless hill he could make out towers of broken stone, only a bit more clearly than before.

    This is where he struggled to reach, a dark slope up a vast ruined hill of ancient works. There was no sound; no wind blew over the hill. There was no other way forward for the end of the uneven ground was behind. The towers now began to rise like wisping fingers in the mists until he came to a line of roofed stone pillars; under them climbed broken stairs that led up through a narrow archway into the dark ruins ahead. Wariness now gripped the boy and he swerved to the left and dodged stooping up the slope and slipped round the pillars.

    Frecwain looked upon an ancient roofless courtyard laid with paving stones. It was cold, bitter cold, and no fire seemed possible to ever warm the ruins. He felt a grave, terrible power within the place; his breath caught in his throat. Something waited there, an evil that longed for wickedness against those of the sunlit world. Then terror gripped the boy; across the stone, facing him was a shadowy form. It seemed to bear no discernible shape, man or beast at first. It could scarcely be seen, but seemed to whisper to him with a reaching hand.

    Frecwain's forehead beaded with sweat despite the cold. Held fast and struck with fear, he watched as the form drew across the courtyard with purposeful malice. As it drew near it took on the shape of a man. A fierce cruel man, with malignance upon its face and clouded staring eyes that shone cold with an unearthly light. Then from a distance, it stopped, standing beckoning to the boy, a tall lord of shadows and of the dead.

    Frecwain lifted his bow and through the air shot an arrow at the dead soul that crawled from earth and darkness. The arrow struck the writhing hateful form but it sloughed off the strike and drew closer, its eyes like blackened pits of emptiness. The earth trembled the stone under Frecwain's feet and across the wisping sky a long roll of thunder ran and rang out.

    The thing of darkness lunged at Frecwain and caught him in a powerful grasp. The spirit had weight and strength in the world of the living and its cruel hands bore a terrible edge. Frecwain cried out as the thing clawed him deep and grievously. The boy's might weakened, dying from his hands and from his face, until only a sliver of it clung to his heart.

    Then rage and loathing swelled up in Frecwain, a fury not expected. He swept out his sword and raised it high then struck a terrible downward blow. The wight bowed and staggered and fell to the broken stone. Frecwain stopped and lowered his blade in growing horror as the dead thing began to rise with crying hatred, undeterred by such a mortal blow.

    Crying out through sobbing tears, he raised his sword again and brought the blade down straight and hard upon the wight's neck. He struck again, passing the blade upwards through unseen flesh with both hands upon the hilt. The wight suddenly shone with a brightening radiance that seemed to rail against the dark abomination's very existence. The wight drew back, shrank and withered and a thin soulless cry rent the air. The cry faded over the wind and no more could the horrible image of the dead thing could be seen.

    Then there came an endless whisper of voices all about the courtyard, a murmuring of words in no tongue Frecwain knew. But they held him in no grip of terror or fear; they bore a sense of thankfulness of ever-wanted release. Slowly the shapes of Men began to coalesce in the air, proud Men of tall bearing. Together their forms swung round the boy and he watched with slow sorrowful understanding. Soon the images began to waft like shredded clouds in the wind; their voices rose as one and then faded, both sight and sound.

    Frecwain fell forward weeping aloud. Slowly, when strength returned a little to his limbs, he got to his feet; he swayed a little. When he could stand firm, he turned from the courtyard and back down the hill on unsteady slow steps. The night had fallen over the downs when Frecwain made his way back to the spire at last. There he found the shade there, waiting in silence. It said no word but gazed at the boy. Its face bore no anger now, no hate, no grief.

    'It is done, lost one,' said the boy quietly. 'That terrible spirit will never rise but will lay as it should for all time.' The shade lifted its eyeless head to the dark sky, and called out with a rousing woeful voice:

    'Hear you this brother?
    Hear you absolution?
    Rest now, brother,
    rest as we were
    as we shall be.'

    The shade then turned to the boy and a ghostly hand reached out. Hesitantly, Frecwain stepped forward and held forth an open palm. The shade placed the ancient ring down, saying in a fading voice:

    'Duty done, again, to rest at last I yearn.

    'So too my brother, wandering by night. A spirit lost brings naught but fright.

    'Provide this ring, show him it is done.

    'Then we rest 'neath Moon and Sun.'

    Slowly the shade turned, went off down into the dark downs, and soon was gone to sight. Frecwain watched in silence, his face soft and thoughtful. He whispered a soft farewell and then he too turned from the spire. He made his way back towards the rising forest, stumbling along slowly, as if bewildered or exhausted. When the forest road came into view, and his eyes beheld the flickering light of the campfires, he sighed long and quietly.

    The folk there lifted thankful eyes at the sight of the boy's return, certain that he had fallen to the evil in the downs. They gathered round Frecwain as he entered the firelight and warmth, and sat down with a grave heaviness. They stared at the boy's silence, and dread now began to fill their hearts. Then he spoke.

    'Those of the downs must walk upon the hills there ever, though they never will stir a single grass,' he said slowly, his voice bleak and cold, his eyes turned down into the fire. 'Great evil still is there, and who knows what will ever cleanse the land.' He then looked up with eyes that shone bright and hopeful. 'Yet a greater darkness had been cleansed never to rise again. The way will be difficult, yet you may now traverse your path back from here at last.'

    At once their fear was lifted from them and they cried aloud with joy, their hearts lightened. They drew nearer, begging for more, of what great evil he had faced, but Frecwain fell silent with a troubled face, and would not speak for some time. Finally he laid out his bow and sword on the ground, saying, 'It must be so, for the memory of that place I will bear until my hair is grey. But now you all can return home, and so must I.'


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