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  1. #1

    The Tale of Bilwise (of the Lonely Mountain Band)

    I've been sharing a story at Ales and Tales (Monday nights on Landroval) that my sweet Tamoro and I put together about friends and folks in our kin. There have been some who asked that I post the chapters as they unfold somewhere so they could read the parts they missed. This was the only forum I could think of that everyone would have access to. hehe

    So, I share with you all, the Tale of Bilwise!

    Chapter 1 : The Adventure Begins

    Patting a comfortably full belly, Bilwise stepped out of the cavernous building that had served as his inn for the night at Tinnudir. Offering a smile and nod to the rangers at the entrance, he took a deep breath and stepped out into the early morning sunlight that was bathing the porch in a yellow glow. A gorgeous spring morning, small white clouds speckled the bright blue sky. Warm sunshine, peeking over the mountains, had begun to nibble away at the chill of the crisp morning air. Pulling his pipe from his coat, Bilwise carefully filled the bowl with an aromatic sweetleaf pipeweed. He tamped it down several times before lighting the pipe and enjoy a long satisfying draw.

    Bilwise was well known about town for his abundantly-stocked snack cart. While he didn’t cook everything on the cart, and realistically wouldn’t have enough hours in the day to cook it all, most of the tastiest dishes were by his own hand. He had a knack for knowing when and where to find the very best ingredients. One of his special recipes required a rare mushroom that he’d found only in the area around Lake Evendim in the early spring.

    Like many hobbits, Bilwise wasn’t overly fond of water but, he wasn’t afraid of it either. There was something almost majestic about the huge lake and the lands around it, mountainous and rough though they were. And while there was danger, like any wild wooded area, there were many rangers speckled about and as such, the hobbit felt relatively safe after his many years of coming here.

    Usually, his hunter friend Sullo joined him, offering friendly conversation while keeping an eye out for coneys as well as things that might try to make dinner out of a hobbit. Today, however, the hobbit hunter and his wife, Amberflower, were busy off in the Dead Marshes hunting down an orc captain that reportedly had a fetish for turtles. There were many theories as to what he did with those turtles, from making soup to using them for things dark and strange. Amberflower was determined to find out where the turtles were being held and rescue them. Naturally, Sullo couldn’t let his wife go alone.

    However, the mushrooms at Lake Evendim should be at their peak, so Bilwise didn’t feel the luxury to wait. Others that he might have asked to come were all off in far-away lands and so, the hobbit chef had decided to venture to the lake alone.

    The hobbit adjusted the pack on his back, took another draw on his pipe and headed down the stairs and towards the lake shore. These fungi could be found growing in the shade of any of the tall evergreens that populated the hillsides. But the biggest, and tastiest, grew around a cave on the opposite side of the lake, one rumored to be inhabited by a ghost, or spirit, or some such. Bilwise never took much stock in those types of stories and in his handful of times visiting the area, had never seen anything out of the ordinary.

    It was a day’s walk or more around the lake to the waterfall and cave, depending on how many wildcats or wolves you had to dodge on your way. Fortunately, recent years had seen the addition of a boat dock. There you could catch a skiff to an island in the midst of the lake, home to many frilled lizards, or to the Eavespires, a small clearing that was home to an Ent and some elves. The Eavespires was his destination today.

    This landing was the closest he could get to the special cave and even then it would be a half day’s walk to get there. However, the walk was pleasant, the scenery was suburb and he would most likely find mushrooms under the trees as he sojourned.

    Smiling up at the boat master on the dock, Bilwise drew deeply on his pipe and blew out, producing an almost perfect circle of smoke.

    “Mornin’, Master hobbit,” the tall red clad ranger nodded, his ruddy sunbaked face completely devoid of mirth or pleasure.

    “Aye, a good morning it is at that,” Bilwise beamed a bigger smile up at the man. “I’d like to go to the Eavespires, if you please.”

    “Eavespires is it? I s’pose it doesn’t matter if I please it or not,” the tall muscular man frowned down at the hobbit.

    “Not a very friendly place though,” he gruffed, as if trying to change the hobbit’s mind.

    “Lookin’ for mushrooms, not friends,” Bilwise took another puff on his pipe and nodded.

    Seeing no sign that the hobbit was going to change his mind, the dock master held out a rough hand. “That’ll be 17 and a half silver then”, he growled. “If you please…”

    Bilwise chuckled as he pulled a plump money pouch from under his jacket, counted out the coins and deposited them in the ranger’s large outstretched hand. The tall ranger nodded to two brawny men sitting nearby who leapt to their feet, boarded one of the small boats and helped the hobbit in.

    “Take care where you be lookin’,” the dockmaster frowned. “Reports say the Guaradan’s been comin’ down from the mountain, more and more.”

    “I thank you for the warning, good sir. I assure you I am always careful.” Bilwise replied, offering a last smile as the boat pushed away from the dock. “A good day to you!”

    Guaradan were old news and had been coming down from the hills for years now. Brigands were spotted here and there as well, but both were easy enough to hide from in stealth. More troublesome were the Angmarim, as they had ways to detect you, but they confined themselves to the ruins of the old city, Annuminas, and so weren’t a real threat. That left animals, which were harder to hide from because they used their noses, not their eyes, but could be done if one was careful and minded the direction of the wind.

    With strong sure strokes, the oarsmen began to propel the small craft forward, creating larger ripples on the soft glittering ripples of the lake. It wasn’t a bad ride. The oarsmen made straight for the first island and then more or less island hopped across the lake to the opposite shore. But it was a fairly long ride. Bilwise settled himself and puffed on his pipe, watching the ebb and flow of the ripples, softly humming a tune that had been stuck in his head since the Andune concert the day before.
    Last edited by Shaeliana; Nov 28 2017 at 02:52 PM.
    "Pink makes EVERYTHING better! Cept Orcs or gobbies. Nothin' can make them better!"
    Tearna Quickfoot, Hobbit minstrel on Landroval
    Lonely Mountain Band

  2. #2
    Chapter 2 : Gone Missing

    A quiet spring morning, the night sky had begun to pale ever so slightly. But, the kitchen windows of the Quickfoot home were aglow with life. Tamoro hummed softly as he pulled a pan of freshly baked muffins from the oven, cracked eggs into a big bowl and began to whip air into them. Always an early riser and the cook of the family, he treasured the quiet solitude of mornings.

    He’d just poured the egg mixture into a pie pan loaded mushrooms and bacon, when loud noises erupted from somewhere near the front of the house. Frowning, he shoved the pan into the oven, grabbed his dagger, and headed towards the noise to find out what goblin was trying to wreck his home.

    He was in the grand room when it dawned on him that it was someone pounding wildly on the door. And pounding hard! Tucking the dagger in his belt, he hurried his steps to see what was so urgent. As he opened the door, a young lad nearly fell into the entry hall in the midst of a knock. Human, he looked to be a tween, his face beaded with sweat and breathing heavily.

    “Mr. Quickfoot?” he managed between gasps.

    “Yeees,” Tam replied a bit slowly looking up at the lad. “You’ve found the Quickfoot home.”

    “I was told ta bring you this,” the lad blurted out as he thrust a note at Tam. “Was told it’s very important and I’d get 500 silver for deliverin’ it within half an hour so here it is!” he shook the note at Tam urgently.

    Tam nodded and received the note from the lad, raised a brow and asked, “Who sent it?” Having had some very bad experiences with anonymously delivered notes, he was understandably cautious.**1

    “Don’t know,” the lad shook his head. “Open it.”

    “Open it!” he pleaded seeing Tam’s hesitation. “S’got some special elfy magic on it and they’ll know when you opened it so I can get my coins!”

    With a wry smile, Tam slipped his fingers under the fancy seal and pried the note open. Five hundred silver was a fortune to some folks. The note was from Lhinnthel, written hastily. Tam frowned as he read.

    “Thanks!” the lad replied gleefully. “Any message back?”

    Tam, part time treasure hunter, shook his head, took a gold piece from his pouch and held it out.
    “This was a very important message. Thank you,” he smiled as the lad took the coin, eyes wide with surprise and alight with happiness.

    “And be careful as you head back to Bree. Lotta bad folks between here and there that would like to take that from you,” he added gruffly as the youth tucked the coin away.

    “Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!” the lad beamed a smile as wide as his face. Wiping a trickle of sweat from his brow, the young man turned and headed back down the road towards home.

    According to the note, no one had seen Mr. Bilwise for eight days. Lhinn had learned from Mr. Sullo that Bilwise had asked him about going to Lake Evendim to look for mushrooms. No one had seen or heard from Bilwise since.

    Back in the kitchen, Tam began to convert his breakfast spread into an eat-on-the-go meal as his mind began to rearrange the plans for that day.

    He and Tearna were supposed to meet Wicked and the rest of the ‘gang’ for a venture into Isengard to continue their search for special rings held by Saruman. These rings were said to unlock a stable where special ponies were found, and Tearna dearly wanted one of those ponies. They’d found the first few rings rather easily. The next took much more stealth and prowess and the last had been down right elusive so far.

    Leaving a couple of the muffins stuffed with egg for he and Tearna to eat on the way, he packed the rest in a bag and hurried upstairs to wake his sleeping wife and pack some necessities for the trip.

    While Tamoro loved early mornings, Tearna was of the opinion that the sun should be up at least an hour or more before she ventured from her bed. She was snuggled under her favorite pink quilt, snoring softly. Tam smiled and kissed the rosy cheek peeking out from the covers.

    “Morning, love. Time to wake up,” he murmured softly near her ear.

    “Mmmmmm, mornin’?” she rolled over a bit and squinted through one eye. “S’dark still,” she slurred as she rolled back to her side and pulled the covers over her face.

    “Yes, I know love, but the sun will be up shortly and we got an urgent message from Lhinn,” Tam gently tugged at the covers, meeting resistance.

    Tam sighed, his voice taking on a quiet, serious tone. “Bilwise is missing. No one’s seen him for eight days now.” Tearna rolled over and sat straight up, almost colliding with her husband in the process.

    “Missing? Does they know where he went?” she blurted out, rubbing sleep out of tired eyes as she rolled out of bed and began to dress.

    “They think he went to Lake Evendim looking for mushrooms and they are mounting a search. Word’s gone out to all the kin to come if they can. We’ll have to stop on the way to let Wicked and Night know we have a change of plans. I’ve already got breakfast made. We can eat on the way,” the burglar explained as he began packing their clothes for travel.

    Tearna joined her husband, nodding to his words with a frown as they filled their bags for the trip. Lake Evendim was a very big place to be looking for someone.

    **1 : Those who were around for the first story we did, The Quickfoot Adventures, may recall that Tamoro got into some very serious trouble responding to a note given to him by a stranger. He was the one who inserted this flash back to the past. hehe
    "Pink makes EVERYTHING better! Cept Orcs or gobbies. Nothin' can make them better!"
    Tearna Quickfoot, Hobbit minstrel on Landroval
    Lonely Mountain Band

  3. #3
    Chapter 3 : The Gathering

    Members of the Lonely Mountain Band hailed from far and wide, with homes in Bree, the Elven lands, the Dwarven caves and the sunny Shire. There were even those who called no land home except where their feet trod at the moment. So, Lhinnthel had sent the call for help to as many different lands in as many different ways as was possible.

    “Meet in Tinudur as soon as you are able to aide in the search for our beloved, Bilwise, missing these eight days hence,” was the message.

    Tamoro and Tearna’s first stop, however, would be the home of Wicked and Nightmagic Panzer, who lived in another corner of the Bree neighborhood. The sun had risen to just above the trees and the Panzer’s were sitting in a large patch of sunlight, enjoying a sumptuous breakfast of bacon and eggs with all the trimmings. Tearna’s nose twitched, her mouth watered and she heard Tam’s belly grumble in response to the wonderful aroma.

    “Hello…,” Nightmagic rose and waved. “Wasn’t expecting you two until later. Did you smell the bacon all the way over at your house?” she chuckled. “Come, join us,” she offered a welcoming smile as she beckoned them to her. “There’s plenty. Hobbits don’t know how to cook small meals.”

    “Does smell awful good,” Tearna smiled and waved back without offering to dismount. “’Fraid we’s not got time ta stay though.”

    “We’re going to have to take a rain check on Isengard, sadly,” Tam shook his head. “We got word that Bilwise has been missing for many days now. Maybe went to Lake Evendim looking for mushrooms. Kin is amassing a search party and we’re headed there now.”

    “How long has he been missing?” Wicked frowned thoughtfully as he approached the hobbits, who were still perched atop their war ponies.

    “Eight days,” Tam replied. “That's a long time to be mushroom hunting. S’pose he could just be lost, but as you know, lottsa bad stuff roams around that lake these days.”

    Wicked nodded, “That is a big area of land to search too,” and he turned to Nightmagic and tilted his head to the side ever so slightly.

    “Well, of course we should go help,” she responded promptly. “They’ll need all the eyes and ears they can gather.”

    “Won’t take us long to finish packing,” the hunter added. Night nodded in agreement and headed into the house as Wicked turned back towards the house and raised his voice. “Jasmine and Ice, I know you’re back there listening in!”

    Giggles greeted Wicked’s deep gruff voice as the two hobbits slipped from around the corner of the kin house.

    “Come clean up the table and pack it up to take with us,” the hunter instructed, this time greeted with groans. “What’s that? Blah, blah, blah… I can’t meet….” the human trailed off as the two hobbits were joined by two others and they all set to work, chattering away about the news and theories on what might have become of Mr. Bilwise.

    Wicked chuckled and turned back to Tam and Tea, patting her pony on the nose. “We’ll meet you in Tinnudir shortly,” he added as he turned and headed toward the door.

    “Thanks Wicked,” Tam offered. “See you soon then,” and the two hobbits turned their ponies and headed out with some haste.

    Lake Evendim was some distance away. But, there were magic elven paths … if you knew where to look. The war ponies from Rohan could travel faster and longer than regular ponies and the magic of the elves somehow managed to cut the time it took to travel drastically. Still, the sun was almost straight up by the time they arrived at the ranger camp on the east side of the lake. Many of their kin members were already present, talking with one another or with the rangers.

    Tearna slipped off her pony, patted his neck and offered him a small carrot from her pocket before handing him over to the stable master. As they headed towards the main camp, Lhinnthel approached with a wave.

    “So glad you could come,” she gave each a hug, which was no small feat for the tall Elfess.

    “How could we not?” Tearna replied as she returned the hug. “D’ya know anythin’ more than what ya had in the message ya sended us?”

    Soberly, Lhinn shook her head. “Not really. Boat master says he took the skiff across the lake to The Eavespires. The ents and elves there bid him safe journeys as he headed south along the lake shore, towards Annuminas.”

    “Leastwise it narrows down where we need to search,” Tam offered thoughtfully. “The other side of the lake has the mountain in the back so not as much ground to cover as we might have had on this side.”

    Lhinn nodded, “Of course that is assuming he only sojourned on that side. If his search for mushrooms was unsuccessful, he might have doubled back to try on this side.”

    “But, we should focus on the other shore first,” the sweet voice of Byrcha chimed in from behind them as she tucked a pair of riding gloves in her belt and adjusted her hat.

    “Do we have an operation center set up yet? And who else has arrived?” the pert hobbit lass famous for her big plumed hat strode purposely towards the small group.

    “Byrcha!” Lhinn smiled at the kin leader. “Yes, Holly finagled a few tables out of the rangers and has them spread with maps and charts that she is pouring over now. Geoffroi is assisting her. Or at least he is there with a lute in hand," she chuckled.

    "Last I saw, Aedon and Craicwyth were trying to gather what information they could from the local population. Sullo and Amberwise are already on the other shore looking for tracks. Corulin, Greyylene, Veriwyn, and Lauralda are out talking to rangers. I’ve also seen at least a dozen others wandering about talking to each other.”

    The elfess chuckled, "Even Aegthil is here!"

    Byrcha nodded and headed to the sandy encampment area brushing the road dust from her outfit. “Let’s see what Holly has for us.”

    The elf, Hollyberye, was busy studying the various maps and making notes. She was surrounded by cages with pigeons, and various crates and totes of supplies stuffed to overflowing. She looked up as the kin leader approached, worry etched in her face.

    “Oh Byrcha! Eight days! Eight whole days!” her voice cracked and a tear streaked down one cheek. “How could we let eight long days go by and not know something was amiss?” Another tear joined the first and the elfess bit her lip, choking back the tears.

    “We will find him, Holly,” Byrcha nodded with an encouraging nod! “And knowing Bilwise, we will find him alive. There’s more to that lad than pies and pipeweed!”

    “He must be alive… he simply must! I don’t know if I could stand it….” Holly’s voice trailed off, full of remorse. Lhinnthel moved around the table to give her elven friend a comforting hug.

    Knowing that work was the best antidote for helpless anguish, Byrcha pointed to the tables full of parchments. “What do you have for us, Holly?”

    Holly sighed, wiping the tears from her face. “Well, honestly… not much. Yet!” she twisted a tendril of hair in her fingers as she frowned at the maps.

    “The rangers say he went to the Eavespires,” she placed a long slender finger on the map. “The elves confirm that he was there and headed south,” her finger traced a line on the map along the lake shore. “After that, no word of him. If we get enough folks here to search…”

    “We’re here to help in whatever way we can,” the deep voice of Wicked carried across the sand, cutting her off, as he approached with Nightmagic in tow, followed by Palafoxia, Chukkato, Ereylin, Blynd and Miazine.

    “Thank you,” Byrcha turned and beckoned to the approaching group. “We’ll take all the help we can get!”

    She turned back to Holly, “Let’s start a roster of who is here and mark up the map into territories for the groups to search.”

    “And meanwhile,” the kin leader looked at the growing crowd standing about, raising her voice so all could hear. “We’ll need transport across the lake. Go see how many boats we can lay hands on, even if it means taking some of them from bandit camps nearby!”

    The thought of taking boats from brigands drew enthusiastic nods and noises from the attendees as they coordinated among themselves and set out on their missions, grateful for something concrete to do.
    "Pink makes EVERYTHING better! Cept Orcs or gobbies. Nothin' can make them better!"
    Tearna Quickfoot, Hobbit minstrel on Landroval
    Lonely Mountain Band

  4. #4
    Chapter 4 : The Search Begins

    Bilwise was much beloved, and not just because of his snack cart. He was known for a generous spirit and his lightheartedness and optimism seemed to lift the gloom from those around him. And so, everyone who heard the news came. Even the likes of Aegthil, who rarely left Madame Celestine’s these days, showed up in a garish bright pink dress offering to “entertain the troops” at the base camp.

    Little more than an hour later, plans were drawn up and search parties assigned. They’d managed to secure four skiffs and one canoe. The skiffs would easily accommodate four people, six if several of them were hobbits.

    Holly and Byrcha would man the base camp, assign any stragglers and send out pigeons for word on the progress of the various teams. Freemark, Tulenn, Belathriel, and Zarenwen would coordinate groups to search the eastern side of the lake while everyone else would head to the other side.

    Though it was a long shot, Aedon, Greyylene and Bunnyman set out in the canoe to the island in the midst of the lake famous for its frilled lizards. Bilwise had been known to whip up some scrumptious repasts with those lizard’s eggs.

    It was decided that hunters, with their tracking skills, should lead the groups on the other side of the lake. Lhinnthel would lead the group searching near the shore, Sullo’s group would scour the high side of the hills, while Wicked’s group tracked the terrain between those two.

    The lake was calm, the only movement the ripples as the boat moved forward. A soft breeze stirred the air, cooling the heat of the sun on the traveler’s skin. There was a heavy silence as they rowed across the lake, minds busy pondering what they might find.

    Now hobbits are known for having big feet. But they are not heavy footed and don’t wear shoes so are not as prone to leave footprints as big folks. Added to that was the fact that Bilwise was trained as a burglar and accustom to hiding his tracks. Thus, the tracking was slow and any signs of the hobbit’s passing once he left Evenspires, were few and far between.

    Lhinnthel’s group made the first discovery, a patch of mushrooms that had been carefully harvested with a knife, the younger fungi left behind to mature. Wicked’s group found the next, the black remains of pipeweed on the ground beside a rock. Here and there they’d find a faint bare footprint, or a bent twig or more mushrooms that had been cut. It was agonizingly slow work, but the fact that they’d found signs encouraged the teams.

    Wicked’s group had sat down for a moment to eat some trail food and have a drink when they heard screams. Terrified screams.

    “What the…” Wicked stood up, turning from side to side, trying to determine where the screams were coming from on the echoing hillside.

    “That scream sounds familiar,” Nightmagic said slowly, looking up the hill, her elven eyes taking in details that others would miss.

    “Ereylin,” Tearna nodded in response.

    “Can’t be Ereylin. She is with Sullo and Chukk,” Tamoro countered.

    “Ereylin,” Tearna repeated. By now, it was obvious the sound was coming down the mountain and had been joined by a deep drumming sound.

    “HEEELP!” came a loud screech.

    Nightmagic pointed at a small shape hurrying down the hillside. “It is Ereylin,” the elf shook her head incredulously. “And GIANTS,” she added, shouting as four large shapes came into view. The ground under the searchers began to shake as the running giants came nearer.

    Weapons ready, the group spread out. Wicked ran forward to lay a trap to hopefully slow at least one, perhaps two of their foes.

    “Over here, Erey!” shouted Nightmagic. “Come to us!” The rest of the group joined in as Ereylin ran towards them, barely ahead of the huge stomping feet.

    “Oh, hurry, Erey!” Tearna yelled, her harp out and a chord of encouragement already started. Picking up a burst of energy, the hobbit lass streaked past Wicked as the giants slowed down a bit at the sight of the others.

    “Wot’s this?” one giant asked as they stopped some distance back from the searchers.
    “Dinner?” grinned another giant, drawing rough chuckles from the rest.

    “But some fun first,” said the biggest as he stepped forward and picked up a large boulder. “Get em, boys!” he bellowed as he tossed a rock at Nightmagic.

    The runekeeper already had her hands in the air, concentrating. Bright yellow bubbles surrounded the team. The boulder bounced off Night harmlessly, landing behind the group.

    “Arghhh,” screamed one of the giants, tugging at his legs pinned in the hunter’s trap. “Hurts! It hurts me!” he bellowed, cries of pain turning to anger.

    “Kill! Kill you tiny creatures!” he roared as he picked up a boulder and heaved it at the searchers while the other three giants moved in.

    Huge hands smashed and slapped but the yellow bubble held secure while Wicked and Curmudgeon tried to turn the nearest giant into a pin cushion.

    No longer afraid, Ereylin turned and screamed her most blood curdling cry at the closest giant who momentarily froze in his tracks while she played a tune of despair and death to demoralize the frozen enemy.

    Nightmagic shifted her magic rocks and the searchers began to emanate a soft green light as their strength increased. Suddenly, the yellow bubble was gone and the giants erupted into a cheer, almost simultaneously. Craicwyth put up a banner to help encourage and protect the team.

    Tam did whatever trick burglars do to hide in plain sight and snuck around behind one. Swiftly he lept up in the air and stabbed the giant, rendering him useless for a bit. Another giant nearby growled in rage and swiped at Tam, tossing him far across the field. The burglar slammed into a boulder and fell to the ground, shaking his head.

    Tearna screamed and struck a chord and a beam of light came down from the sky on the monster’s head. The giant bellowed in pain and held its head, dazed as the minstrel followed up with another dissonant chord that had the hulking creature bent over in agony.

    The ground thundered as one of the hulks pounded both fists into the ground. A shock wave burst forth stunning the whole party, except Tam. Now recovered somewhat, he moved forward to try and help Nightmagic, who was taking quite a beating.

    The hobbit burglar reviewed his options. Marbles were too small to trip the giants. They wouldn’t even know they were there. His special dust would work, but only if he could get it in their face and unless he suddenly learned to fly, no chance of that. Stabbing at fists that got too close as they grabbed for the healer and dodging hands that grabbed at him, Tam worked to keep the giant’s attentions until the stun wore off. But it was tiring work and he was running out of tricks.

    “Come on… wake up every one!” he murmured under his breath, barely ducking in time to avoid a hand trying to fling him aside.

    Then from behind the giants came a roar and a javelin flew through the air, burying itself in the side of the giant’s neck. Yelping in pain, the giant grabbed the barb and yanked it out. Blood spurted from the wound and ran down his neck as he turned to face the new foe. A barrage of arrows flew into the giant’s face followed by more cries of pain.

    Sullo, Amberflower, Chukkato and Miazine advanced on the giants, with Blynd following closely behind. Meanwhile, the daze began to wear off on Wicked’s team and they began to assault the giants from the back.

    “Too many… run boys,” screamed the giant with a face full of arrows as he darted away from the oncoming hunters and warden. Two of his fellows followed him.

    “Huh-uh,” chuffed another as he turned, grabbed a boulder and tossed it at Miazine and Sullo. They dodged it easily and let loose another barrage of arrows. With a howl of pain, the giant grabbed at the arrows in his face and raced off after the others.

    Tamoro waved and smiled at the others. “Good thing you showed up. It was getting kinda dicey there!” he clapped Chukk on the shoulder.

    “We were looking for Ereylin,” replied Chukk. “Have you seen her?”

    “Right here!” came the cheerful hobbit voice from behind Nightmagic as Erey slipped out into view.

    “Why weren’t you with your group, Erey?” Wicked asked, a slight frown creasing his forehead.

    “Good question,” added Sullo looking at Erey.

    “We were worried sick about you!” added Miazine.

    “Wellll….” she started out, voice dropping a bit. “I was hungry. And… I saw a blackberry bush but it didn’t have much on it but there was another bush nearby and then another,” she held up fingers dark with berry stains.

    “I started looking for you all, but didn’t know where you went. Then after a bit I didn’t know where I was. I was afraid to holler for you and good thing I didn’t because as I came over a hilltop, there they were! The giants saw me before I saw them and the race was on. After that,” the hobbit minstrel shrugged, “it didn’t matter if I screamed or not, so I did. I’m sorry. But boy am I glad I found you all!”

    “You stay with the group and no wandering off for berries or pies,” Wicked warned as Ereylin bowed her head and nodded.

    “I will. Promise,” she stuck a hand in her pocket and fished out a handful of blackberries.

    “Berries?” she chirped cheerfully. With a sigh, Wicked shook his head and turned towards Sullo and Chukk.

    “I suggest we stay together going forward,” Wicked said softly while looking around. “I doubt Bilwise got near the giants and so far all the clues have been between here and the shore.”

    Sullo nodded, “Yes, I agree. And, with more of us we can make sure we don’t miss anything.”

    “Let’s take a short break to tend any wounds and,” he paused, glancing at Ereylin, “have an energy snack. Ours was interrupted.”

    Ereylin grinned sheepishly and shrugged as she sat down and pulled another berry out of her pocket and popped it into her mouth.

    To be continued... next week...
    Last edited by Shaeliana; Nov 28 2017 at 01:18 AM.
    "Pink makes EVERYTHING better! Cept Orcs or gobbies. Nothin' can make them better!"
    Tearna Quickfoot, Hobbit minstrel on Landroval
    Lonely Mountain Band

  5. #5
    Chapter 5 : Following Clues

    Sullo and Wicked’s teams crept forward. Slowly. Methodically. Carefully. Taking note of each broken twig or the occasional hint of a footprint, they moved south towards the waterfall cave and Annuminas. Many hours later, they’d not discovered anything that firmly pointed to where Bilwise might be, but at least they’d not found his body and so they held onto hope.

    It was well into the afternoon when Palafoxia, from Lhinnthel’s team, came running.

    “Paly,” Nightmagic frowned. “What’s wrong?”

    “We found… somethin’,” Paly, panted out between breaths. “Lhinn says… you should… come! And hurry!”

    Setting off at a speedy jog, the two combined teams followed the hobbit guardian to the shoreline and then south. Just before the inlet with the waterfall and cave the beach tapered off, replaced by cliffs next to the lake.
    Trudging up the rocky incline, they crested the hill and finally saw the others. Lhinn, Carica and Sonica knelt examining a patch of ground. Pinoh and Corulin were not in sight. Looking up, Lhinn beckoned to them, pointing at handful of shriveled mushrooms on the ground and the surrounding evidence of a scuffle.

    “There was a fight here,” Lhinn pointed to boot prints clearly evident the moist dark soil and even the grass.

    “And these have to be mushrooms that Bilwise cut along the way,” Carica added.

    “This wasn’t guaradan,” Sullo spoke up. “Brigands or grave robbers?” he mused, looking at the disturbed ground more carefully.

    Blynd shook his head, “Why wouldn’t Brigands and the like just kill him?”

    “Or Angmarim,” Lhinn replied quietly, her voice much steadier than she felt inside.

    “Why would Angmarim be out…” Amber started but trailed off. The wizardy type, in their bright red robes, rarely left the confines of the ruined city of Annuminas.

    “Looks like at least five, maybe six,” Chukkato spoke up as he knelt, examining the footprints.

    “Still, we are closer to the old city than anything else,” Tamoro postulated as he look southwards with a frown.

    “There’s no blood. That’s good,” Wicked’s gaze turned to the ruined city.

    “Whoever it was,” Miazine turned her gaze south as well, “escorted him elsewhere. That’s not so good,” the elven hunter added.

    Lhinn nodded, “Pinoh and Corulin went on ahead to see what else they could find. Let’s catch up and see what they found,” she motioned southward, down the other side of the cliffs.

    The trail wasn’t hard to follow. Whoever it was, they made no effort to hide their tracks, which did indeed seem to be headed back to the old city. In what felt like no time, they caught up with Corulin and Pinoh.

    “Looks like they are indeed going to Annuminas,” Pinoh waved the newcomers over.

    “And Bilwise has been leaving a trail,” Corulin smiled as he pointed to a large shriveled mushroom on the sandy shore.

    “There’s a few more down the shoreline,” Pinoh offered.

    “S’not as if we needs a trail with all these feetprints,” Tearna shook her head.

    “But, that means he was conscious and walking,” Wicked responded.

    “And apparently unfettered if he could fish mushrooms out of his bag and drop them,” Corulin nodded.

    “And not being closely watched by his captives either,” added Amber.

    “Hopefully he has enough mushrooms to keep this up inside the city,” Sullo looked towards the ruined city.

    “Yes, that’s a lot of dangerous territory to search,” Lhinn frowned. “It would be great to have the trail marked.” Lhinnthel pulled out a small piece of parchment and started to write a quick note.

    “Amber,” she began as she folded the note. “Send the messenger pigeon to the base with this note. We need to let them know we are going into Annuminas to look for Bilwise.”

    Amber nodded, attached the note to the bird and with a whisper, sent it to Holly.

    (To be continued next week)
    "Pink makes EVERYTHING better! Cept Orcs or gobbies. Nothin' can make them better!"
    Tearna Quickfoot, Hobbit minstrel on Landroval
    Lonely Mountain Band

  6. #6

    Chapter 6: Into Annuminas

    The trail along the shore was not hard to follow, even without mushroom tidbits dropped here and there. The captors held to the coastline, but just above the sand, where their footprints might have been blown or washed away. The booted prints in the soft dark soil were easy to see and every once in a while even a hobbit footprint showed up.

    As they approached the edge of the old city, they slowed and moved up to the tree line. A group of eighteen would be too conspicuous to just march down the shoreline in case anyone inside was watching. But they reached the broken down city gates without incident and found no greeting committee made up of Angmarim waiting on them. They slipped into the city as stealthily as possible, planning to once again split into three groups to search for clues as to where their beloved Bilwise had been taken inside the city.

    “So much for mushroom clues,” Sullo groaned as he shot a large rat eating a shriveled mushroom.

    “Far enough!” a deep voice quietly warned and suddenly the group was surrounded by a dozen men, their clothing rough and rather dirty, their surprisingly clean weapons trained on the searchers.

    Looking down at the hobbits, one of the younger men shook his head, “No place ta be bringin’ youngin’s. Are ya daft?”

    “What’s yer business here?” the original deep voice interrupted. "We’ve no tolerance for thieves. And mind ya keep yer hands away from yer weapons lest ya’d like ta become a pin cushion,” he snarled.

    “We’re just here looking for our missing friend,” Sonca retorted quietly before bursting into tears.

    “We’re not youngin’s and you didn’t have to be so mean!” Amberflower snarled, putting an arm around the weeping hobbit standing next to her. Tearna moved in on the opposite side, protectively.

    Off to the side, Sullo shook his head and mumbled to himself, “Good thing fer you Amber doesn’t have her knitting needles,” and then smiled at the thought.

    “Missin’ friend is it,” a tall gritty, dark-haired man spoke up. “If he went missin’ here, like as not it’ll be the last bit of missin’ he does,” which made Sonca cry harder.

    “What’s yer friend doin’ in these parts an’ what makes ya think he ended up in Annuminas,” the first man, who appeared to be the leader, asked.

    “He came to the lake looking for mushrooms, about a week ago,” Lhinnthel spoke up, taking a step forward. “He’s not been seen since. We followed his trail into these ruins.”

    “A week ago?” the tall dark-haired man laughed. “He’s worm food for sure then!”

    “Hush!” the leader gruffed. “A week ago, huh? What’s this friend look like?”

    “He’s a hobbit,” Lhinn offered. “Brown hair, short and on the portly side, like all hobbits. Why?”

    Some of the rough men began shaking their heads, a few muttering under their breath about children in the ruins.

    “They’ve been reports, unsubstantiated rumors mostly,” the leader shook his head. “Reports of the Angmarim bringin’ a child into the city. Inta the fortress they hold. But if the Angmarim have him,” he looked down for a moment, “it’s for something dark and unsavory. Ya may not wanna find him, assuming he’s still alive.”

    “We have to know what happened to our friend,” Lhinn replied, her tone even, soft and steady. “Even if that means the news is bad. It’s better than not knowing.”

    The leader nodded and pointed to two of his men, “McGuire … Fitch… go with ‘em.” Lhinn shook her head.

    “We don’t need hel…,” she started but was cut off by the leader as two brawny men stepped forward.

    “Keep them outta our traps and outta our way,” he added softly with a nod to Lhinnthel. “These’re two o’ my best rangers. You’ll be safe with them.”

    “Rangers?” Sullo said softly, more to himself than anything as he’d never seen a scruffier, scarier lot than these and he’d had plenty of fights with the brigands in Bree.

    “Aye, rangers,” the leader replied without looking at the hobbit hunter. “Tryin’ ta keep the Angmarim and tomb robbers at bay here doesn’t leave time fer much else. It’ll be safer for a smaller number ta go lookin’,” he added, scanning the large group.

    Lhinnthel nodded, “Quite right. Sullo, Amber, Tamoro, Tearna, Craicwyth, Sonca, Palofoxia, and Carica, come with me. Carica, you’ll heal?” to which the hobbit minstrel smiled and nodded.

    “The rest of you go with the rangers and see what else you can find out, in case this is a wild goose chase,” Lhinn looked at the ranger leader.

    The lead ranger nodded, “We’ve a camp up ahead you can work from. Just follow us.”

    He turned his gaze back to Lhinnthel with the slightest smile, “Good luck findin’ yer friend. But, I’ve no faith ye’ll find anythin’ but sorrow,” he nodded his head in respect.

    Breathing a soft gruff, he turned and started up a small slope with his rangers and the rest of the searches following.

    “If you’ll follow me, ma’am,” the youngest of the two rangers assigned to help them. “We’ll show you where the reports say the child… the hobbit, was taken.”

    Lhinn nodded. “And you are…?”

    “Fitch, ma’am,” he replied softly. “McGuire’ll follow and watch our backs.”

    “Thank you, Fitch,” the dark haired elven woman nodded, motioning her group to follow.

    Fitch headed out at a good walking pace, booted feet silent on the stony ground, keeping his distance from bushes, trees, or ruins. His head turned from side to side, ever vigilant of the landscape around him, pausing occasionally, listening.

    Annuminas had once been a magnificiently beautiful city. It still retained some of that previous splendor, though it was broken down and much of it underwater. The group crept along as quietly as they were able, sandwiched between the two rangers until they drew near a raised walkway. This long bridge, spanned the current land and connected with an impressive building sitting out at the edge of the water.

    Fitch stood straight and pointed. “That’s it. He was taken in there. Ost Elendil!"
    "Pink makes EVERYTHING better! Cept Orcs or gobbies. Nothin' can make them better!"
    Tearna Quickfoot, Hobbit minstrel on Landroval
    Lonely Mountain Band

  7. #7
    Chapter 7: Breeching the Fortress

    Fitch had lead Lhinn and her searchers to a long raised walkway leading to an impressive building near the edge of the lake.

    “He was taken in there,” he said softly. “Won’t be easy getting in though. See the shadowy shapes along the side of the walk? Angmarim guards.”

    Lhinn frowned, then motioned to Tamoro and faded as she activated her sylvan shadows.“Let’s see what we can learn by getting closer, Tam,” she whispered. With a nod, the burglar Tamoro disappeared as well and the two moved forward. A faint shimmer of the air, like rising heat waves, was the only indication of their movement.

    After what seemed like much too long, Lhinn faded back into sight and smiled. “They’re spaced out pretty good,” she reported to the group. “I think that we can take them out one at a time, if we are careful and do it quietly.”

    “Emphasis on quietly,” the young ranger nodded. “Can’t let one of them utter a sound or they will all be on us.”

    Lhinnthel nodded in agreement. “I left Tam there watching. Sullo and Amber, get your stun shots ready and get ready to disappear as we move closer. Craic, give us your best inspiration,” Lhinn whispered. “You and the minstrels must watch our backs lest some strays sneak up behind us.”

    “But I wants ta go! Tearna blurted out. “Tam and me fights t’gethers!”

    “Shhhh…“ came responses from all around the pink clad minstrel.

    “Sorry Tearna,” Lhinnthel shook her head. “Minstrels have to stay here… they can’t fight quietly.” Tearna frowned and hung her head, realizing it was true but not happy just the same.

    However,” the dark haired elf looked at the group soberly, “should things not work as planned, be ready to join in at any moment.” A small furrow still on her brow, Tearna nodded with a sigh.

    And with that, Lhinn and the other hunters started down the bridge and faded from view. The others watched as a slight shimmer of light moved down the bridge towards the first sentry. Once they reached Tamoro and were in position, Lhinn chirped very softly.

    The burglar moved forward slowly, creeping in behind the Angmarim sentry, and pulled a bag from his belt. Pouring a bit of dust, Tam blew it up towards the face of the sentry, who sneezed and shook his head groggily. Tam’s leapt up. His arm slammed down. The dagger struck the base of the man’s neck. A soft plink sounded nearby as an arrow buried itself in the man’s skull and with barely a grunt, the sentry slumped and fell. Lhinn caught him and lowered him quietly to the ground.

    The second sentry was dispatched as handily and the small team of assassins were almost to the third when a commotion broke out behind them. Their companions were surrounded by Angmarim and fighting. Now the sentries ran down the walkway towards the battle. Tam tripped the closest and managed to gut him, while the hunters loosed their arrows on the others running to join the commotion. The sentries fell to the ground without the chance to put up a fight, looks of surprise on their faces.

    Sentries dealt with and the need for stealth over, Lhinn and her team raced back to the confrontation at the entrance to the bridge. But by now, Angmarim were pouring out of the building behind them, as well as arriving from camps on the mainland. Though they fought valiantly and felled many of the red robed magic users, the odds were against them. One of the Angmarim held up his arm and the searchers were surrounded by a faint bubble. Try as she might, Tearna couldn’t move her feet. Neither could anyone else.

    From the walkway, an Angmarim taller than the rest stepped forward. “Surrender or die,” he smirked, dark eyes scanning the invaders trapped in the bubble.

    Lhinn fought the urge to throw up as bile filled the back of her throat. Was it better to capitulate and live or resist and die? If they surrendered, would there be an opportunity to escape or did it mean a slow, torturous death? The dark-haired elf’s darted around to each of her companions as the thoughts swirled through her mind. Standing tall, she faced the speaker and set her chin in defiance. The dark man’s eyes crinkled in what could only be called glee.

    “Gothrogia,” he said softly and one of the red robbed men produced a red orb that shot a bolt of light at the ranger McGuire. It very neatly pulled the heart from the man’s chest. A chilling scream of pain erupted from the ranger as he fell to his knees, clutching his chest and gasping for breath before he collapsed, dead.

    “We surrender!” Lhinn shouted quickly as she threw her bow to the ground. Most of the team gasped in shock, but slowly joined their leader and tossed weapons to the ground. “What now?” the elven leader asked of the Angmarim chief.

    “Why we’ll escort you inside," he chuckled as he lowered his arms and the bubble dissipated. "That is where you were headed, correct?” With a nod his men moved in to collect the weapons and began to herd the group down the walkway to the building. Was Bilwise inside? They were about to find out the hard way.
    "Pink makes EVERYTHING better! Cept Orcs or gobbies. Nothin' can make them better!"
    Tearna Quickfoot, Hobbit minstrel on Landroval
    Lonely Mountain Band

  8. #8

    Chapter 8: Not A Pleasant Way to Die

    Though in poor repair, the inside of the building was even more impressive than the outside. Stained glass windows lined the halls and ceilings, flooding the inside with beautiful shimmering colors. Lhinn and the searchers shuffled along silently,each imagining their own gruesome version of what the end might hold for them.

    Guardian Palafoxia shivered over thoughts of giant spiders, while other hobbits quaked over thoughts of going a day or more without food. Amberflower wished she'd brought her knitting needles. Tearna walked close to Tam, hand in hand. Lhinn mourned the fate of her companions and Craicwyth trembled over thoughts of being subjected to unhappy trees!

    They passed through a room long room with anti-chambers, filled with light and up a steep stairway to another short hallway, leading to a high vaulted room. It almost looked as if it were made of glass. They were marched down the long room stopping before more stairs leading up to a throne. A tall man sat on the throne, adorned in very heavy, but very regal armor.

    “Your magnificence,” the chief executed an elaborate bow. “We found these outside attempting to break in. All the sentries are…” but he stopped abruptly as the man on the throne stood, holding up his hand.

    “I know," he stated calmly. "Those that perform poorly are destined to die. As these obviously did!” he added as his eyes scanned Lhinn and her team.

    “What brings you to this place that most mortals avoid?” his eyes fastened on the dark-haired elf. "And most immortals as well for that matter,” he added, a hint of amusement in his voice.

    “We came looking for a friend,” Lhinn replied simply.

    “You claim an Angmarim as friend then?” his eyes smiled as he pursed his lips. “Curiouser and curiouser,” he mused as he moved down the steps, eyes scanning his captives.

    “You’ve invaded my home, killed my guards,” he paused at the bottom. His eyes fastened on the hobbits of the group as if seeing them for the first time and frowned.

    “What shall I do with you…” he trailed off softly, his eyes studying the hobbits.

    “You should let them go, of course!” came a loud confident voice from the entrance door. “What have I told you about making friends, Balhest?” the voice continued.

    “No one wants to hang around people with a bad attitude! Smile! Be a good host!" the voice came from within a circle of tall Angmarim.

    "Offer your guests food… not threats!” the voice continued as the circle drew near. By now, Lhinn and some of the others were trying to hide grins, while others stood with mouths gaping, at the distinctly recognizable sound of the voice of their friend.

    “Bilwise!” Lhinn nearly crowed with pleasure as the Angmarim parted, revealing the missing chef! “You’re alive!”

    “Well, of course I’m alive," Bilwise looked up at his elven kinmate. "I wouldn’t be saving your skins if I was dead now, would I?” he chuckled. “Have you had your tea and hot buttered scones today, Miss Lhinn?” he asked with a bow.

    A peculiar gurgling sound found its way out of the ruler’s throat. “You… you know these… invaders?” he finally managed to ask Bilwise incredulously.

    “Why yes! Yes, I do,” Bilwise beamed up at the man. “Good friends, comrades and kinmates!" the hobbit added with a nod to his friends. "So you’ll be nice to them, hear me?” he demanded, hands on hips and feet set apart. Bilwise's gaze flickered back and forth between the ruler and two priestesses who stood on each side. Seeing no resistance, he turned to his friends with a smile.

    “Come with me friends,” the hobbit beckoned them. “You all look famished! I’ll set out some cakes and pies and beverages!” And with that, he turned and walked back out the way he came, his escort of Angmarim following while the rest of the red robes parted to let them all through.

    Behind them, the searchers heard a huff and a grumble as Balhest started to protest.

    “Dinner will be served in an hour majesty,” Bilwise announced as he continued towards the exit door with his friends. “Do make sure you’re washed up and ready,” he added.

    Behind him the grumbling stopped, replaced with dead silence. The cook led his friends through a maze of turns and halls, finally marching through a lovely banqueting hall to a large kitchen full of Angmarim… ...cooking. With words of encouragement to those cooking, Bilwise proceeded through the busy kitchen to large and comfortable living quarters on the other side.

    “Bilwise!” Lhinn exclaimed when they were inside with the door close. “What in the world are you doing here?” she laughed lightly as she hugged the smiling hobbit cook. Suddenly, Bilwise was surrounded by hugs, laughter and even a few tears of happiness.

    “Well, it was a beautiful day," the hobbit chef shrugged. "Just the right mix of warm sun and cool breeze for walking and exploring. And I was finding plenty of mushrooms along the way but I so wanted some from the special cave. They're just bigger and tastier.

    “I guess I wasn’t paying as much attention to my surroundings as I should. When I stood after cutting a mushroom, I was surrounded by these men in red robes. I’d heard dreadful tales about how wicked and evil the Angmarim are,” the hobbit cook shuddered.

    “I don’t mind telling you that I was awful frightened. As scared as I think I’ve ever been," he added with a slight shudder.

    “Anyway, they didn’t kill me, but marched me here instead. I dropped mushrooms along the way, hoping they’d be found if someone came looking for me,” Bilwise chuckled.

    “Yes! Good thinking! We found a few here and there,” Sullo chirped up.

    “You should have seen it when I arrived here,” Bilwise clucked and shook his head. "I dare say a good part of the ill temper of these folks was their lack of food and what food they had was just horrid!" he shook his head.

    "So, what could I do but offer to cook for them and plump them back up a bit. Balhest accepted that offer, though hesitantly. But after eating my first meal he had his old cook beheaded.

    "They stuck me in the kitchen and this apartment, as if it was some sort of prison," he chuckled. It’s been a very nice arrangement," Bilwise beamed a confident smile at his friends.

    “But, Bilwise,” Lhinn shook her head, eyes full of sorrow. “We don’t want to leave you here. We love you, and not just for your food!”

    After a long chuckle, Bilwise looked up at the elf. "Not to worry folks. I don’t intend to stay here! I've been working to make sure I could leave when you all arrived. Just wait til dinner tonight,” and a glimmer of mischief lit up the hobbit’s eyes.

    "You'll see! And a marvelous going away dinner it will be!" he chuckled.
    "Pink makes EVERYTHING better! Cept Orcs or gobbies. Nothin' can make them better!"
    Tearna Quickfoot, Hobbit minstrel on Landroval
    Lonely Mountain Band

  9. #9

    Chapter 9: We Gotta Get Outta This Place!

    Dinner was as magnificently beautiful as it was tasty! The banquet hall was decked out in its full splendor. Hundreds of candles, set in fancy crystal chandeliers, bathed the hall in a golden glow. Angmarim in white aprons stood all about the hall.

    The tables were laden with enough food for a birthday feast in the Shire. At a glance, Tearna recognized stuffed roasted conies and blackened beef thinly sliced. There was some sort of delicate fish dish with fried mushrooms and more varieties of savory pies than she’d ever seen in all her days.

    Then there were taters! Mashed, roasted, fried, and boiled! She saw all sorts of other vegetable dishes
    and a desert table covered with pies, cakes and other sweet treats!

    The red robbed Angmarim filed in silently, filled the tables and sat waiting. Bilwise led his friends to a table near the front. “Make yourself comfortable,” the hobbit smiled.

    Tearna’s squirmed a bit, trying to get comfy in the chair built for big sized people. Next to her, Tamoro took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. The hobbit minstrel sighed, quieted herself and smiled.

    After what seemed like forever, the kingly person arrived and sat down. The men in white aprons promptly began serving everyone and the red robbed men started eating ravenously, but silently. They were served a bit of this and a bit of that and it was all perfectly scrumptious, not that any of the friends of Bilwise expected anything else.

    A bard, stationed near the leader’s table, started playing and the mood of the hall lightened. The Angmarim began to talk among themselves in soft, hushed tones.

    But it was not at all like a hobbit feast. Those were loud and boisterous with much laughter and joking amidst the eating. But the food was delicious and that was enough for now. Finally, even the hobbits pushed their plates back, unable to take another bite.

    Balhest rose from his seat, nodded to Bilwise with a smile and burped. “Thank you master chef, delicious as always. I should reward the one who found you and brought you to me,” he crossed his arms, thinking.

    “That would be difficult. You beheaded him for bringing me in to start with,” Bilwise replied simply.

    “Oh, yes,” the ruler shrugged. "Well I suppose perhaps I acted in a bit too much haste."

    “Not entirely your fault,” Bilwise smiled. “Hunger and poorly prepared food will do that to you.”

    The ruler nodded as he used a long fingernail to pick a piece of meat from between his teeth, “That’s not a fate I will ever face again, now that I have you, Mr. Bilwise.”

    “Well now," Bilwise looked up at the man. "Having a full tummy hasn’t cured all your ills, majesty. Like in-hospitality. And assumptions. As if the whole world revolved around you,” he added with an even non-threatening tone.

    The leader laughed, “But here it does! Look around you,” he waved a bejeweled hand to those amassed at the tables before him.

    “Yes,” Bilwise acknowledged. "They fear you, but don’t mistake that for loyalty." The cook looked up at the king.

    "People become loyal friends because you share a bond of respect and friendship,” Bilwise beamed as he looked at the table where his friends and kinmates sat. “Loyal friends will get out of their comfortable homes and come looking for you, knowing they put their own lives in danger doing so."

    Bilwise turned back towards the king. "Loyal friends are more precious than gold... unlike those who follow because they fear the consequences,” he added.

    “I’ve filled your bellies and helped sweeten your souls, but the rest is up to you," he shrugged. "Rather than fight the rangers, you should team up against the real enemy, the tomb raiders, a foe you both hate for desecrating that which is sacred."

    “However, that is your decision to make. My time is at an end here,” Bilwise stated quietly.

    “What do you mean?” Belthar growled and his face started to turn red. “You are mine as long as I need you.”

    Bilwise chuckled, “You no longer need me!”

    “Of course I do,” the leader bellowed. “Who will cook all this wonderful food if you leave?”

    The hobbit cook chuckled, “You haven’t eaten my cooking in days now.” Bilwise pointed to a trio of Angmarim standing nearby.

    “They’ve been doing all the cooking. And they are quite talented at it,” Bilwise smiled with pride at his new chefs.

    “AND they have been teaching others who show a talent,” he gave them a thumbs up. "You’ll be eating well for a very long time now!”

    Belthar sat, mouth open, staring at Bilwise. He looked at the three budding chefs, to his empty plate and back to the cooks again.

    “So," Bilwise continued cheerfully, "you can clearly see… you don’t need me. And if you tried to keep me, you know others would come looking for me and there would always be trouble! So, tomorrow morning, I’m heading home with my friends, taking what few mushrooms I have left," he ended with a determined nod of his head.

    "My garden is desperate for tending, I’m sure and oh, how I long to sleep in my own hobbit sized bed!” he crowed and hugged himself before heading to the table where his friends sat.

    “But…,” Belthar started.

    “But what?” Bilwise asked, turning back to the ruler, who simply stared at him, wordless.

    “I do thank you for sheltering me these eight days," the hobbit smiled. "But my job here is finished,” and he turned back towards his friends.

    “The hour is late," he yawned, "and we have a long journey tomorrow," Bilwise motioned to his friends. "Let’s go find our beds, my friends," and he headed towards the door to his rooms.

    Lhinnthel looked at the Angmarim ruler, who sat motionless, then back at Bilwise and with a shrug, she rose to follow the hobbit and the rest of the table of friends followed.

    And as the sun broke over the surrounding mountains the next morning, the party departed Ost Elendil. The red robed Angmarim watched silently. Some waved at the smiling portly hobbit chef. A few, including the new head chef, bowed low and wiped away a tear.

    The happy group rejoined those who’d gone to the ranger camp where there was more laughter, hugging and retelling of the how Bilwise had been rescued… or more aptly, how he had rescued them. The trek back up the shoreline back to Tinnudir was one of laughter and joy.

    And there was yet a third round of rejoicing and hugging upon rejoining everyone back at Tinnudur, though Byrcha did threaten Bilwise with demerits for “getting yourself lost and dragging the kin into this!” Everyone was too happy to have Bilwise back to take demerits too seriously.

    And so it was the next evening, after an uneventful trip back to Bree, Bilwise was settled in his home. There would be gardening and chores to do on the morrow. But that night, after a good meal and a peaceful pipe, Bilwise snuggled up and slept in his own, wonderful, hobbit sized bed.

    The End!
    "Pink makes EVERYTHING better! Cept Orcs or gobbies. Nothin' can make them better!"
    Tearna Quickfoot, Hobbit minstrel on Landroval
    Lonely Mountain Band



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