Mythgard RP!


You've probably all heard me blathering on in comments on Facebook and on Bingo nights about kinship RP. Well, it's finally starting this Monday, January 9! For anyone who may be wondering what role-playing is, to put it simply, it's basically improv acting with other folks in order to tell a story. Generally, one person guides the overall narrative, but each person is responsible for the actions of their own character(s) within the story.

We're going to be using the overall arc of the Epic Quests laid out by Standing Stone as our framework. While the Epic Quests, particularly in Volume 1, tell a wonderful story that's very true to the spirit of Tolkien, we need to be honest. Some of the things the Epics have you doing are boring (go kill 10 crows) or downright ludicrous (Book 7 of Volume 1, anyone?). I'm going to use the Epics to tell our own story as a company.

Now, some ground rules:

-First and foremost: separate in-character and out-of-character issues. I assume that all of us are mature and decent folks; that doesn't mean our characters have to be. You may experience a character who's a downright jerk who you want to punch in the teeth; do not transfer that your interactions with that character's player (unless, of course, the player is also a jerk; but that's a different kettle of fish). Nothing spoils an RP campaign faster than antagonism between players, and I refuse to let it stand if I see it. It will be discussed frankly and openly, and steps will be taken as necessary.
-Keep things PG in your actions in-game. This is Mythgard, after all. We're a family-friendly outfit here.
-We'll be meeting Mondays at 9:30 pm servertime/EST (GMT -5), at least for the present. Any changes will be communicated in-game, on these forums, and on Facebook. I'd prefer to meet weekly, but we can discuss that at our first meeting.
-IMPORTANT STORY ITEM: For the sake of our narrative, we are going to deviate from the Epics (told you we would) and say that Archet was not burned to the ground. You'd think something that important would have been noted in the gossip when Frodo and company were in Bree. While Amdir is missing, we don't know anything about the circumstances behind his disappearance. Yet....

That's all I can think of for the moment, but feel free to post any comments, questions, concerns, or feedback here. I'm also going to use this thread to post our edited chat-logs so everyone can follow along with the story.

Needless to say, I'm excited to be doing this with all of you. Thanks in advance for coming along for the ride!
Prologue: Stirrings of Shadow

Maegdin walks swiftly up the hill from the Midgewater Marshes as dusk falls, his long legs making short work of the journey he must make in haste this night. He pauses for a moment and his hand strays to the hilt of his sword as he sees the small fire in the grove of trees, but he masters himself and approaches the fire. He calls out, affecting a Breeland accent, 'Good evening, friend! What passes this evening?'

Miriaden stabbed the small coney roasting over the campfire with her knife, checking its status. At the sound of footsteps reached her ears, and the Breelander voice calling out, she rose to her feet, giving the newcomer an easy smile. "Good eve, friend. Just cookin' a little dinner." Her own voice carries a well-practised Breeland accent. She is wary, though it would not show.

Maegdin visibily relaxes as he recognises the voice. 'Ah, mae govannen, Miriaden,' he says, no trace of the farmer or trapper in his speech now. 'Have you space at your fire for a cousin to rest his legs for a moment? I must get to Bree as soon as may be, but I will go quicker for a rest.'

Miriaden relaxes at the sound of Maegdin's voice, and she chuckles. "Suilad, Maegdin. There is always room at my fire for our own kinsmen. Are you hungry?" She turns to turn the coney on the spit. Her easy-going nature remained as she glanced back towards him.

Maegdin settles himself across the fire from her and sighs. 'Somewhat, but I am more weary and heartsick than anything. I bear ill news.' He looks away from a moment and busies himself with preparing his pipe. 'Reniolind and Mundol are dead,' he says softly, not looking up from his pipe.

Miriaden's expression had grown more serious at the mention of ill-tidings, but in hearing of the death of her companions, she slumps where she sits, murmuring. "I saw them only days ago. What happened?" She asks softly, her voice suddenly filled with weariness.

Maegdin picks a twig from the fire and puffs his pipe to life. He takes a long pull and breathes it out before answering. 'I fear treachery. I was returning from a patrol by Nen Harn and thought to stop with Mundol to see if he had seen anything in his rounds near the Road. The birds and beasts seem more disturbed than is usual, and I was worried some agents of the Enemy may have arrived in Bree. I found Mundol dead of a knife to the back, with no sign of struggle at his camp. I buried him as best I could in haste and hurried to Reniolind's camp, only to find the same.' He pulls again on his pipe as if steeling himself against the memory. 'There was another thing. At both camps, I felt a sense of lingering dread and fear, such as only the Enemy's slaves leave in their wake.'

Miriaden stares at the fire, taking a moment to mourn before turning her thoughts to the ill-tidings. "I have felt no such thing in my own patrol, but then, I have visited neither of their camps since their passing." She frowns a little, looking to Maegdin's face. "How did an agent of the Enemy get this close to Bree without being noticed before this?"

Maegdin shakes his head and meets her gaze. 'I do not know, and that is why I am in all haste to Bree. I wish to see what the news is at the Pony, and what the Watch knows, if anything.' He sticks the coney with his knife, checking if it is ready. 'I have also not seen any of Amdir's signs for perhaps a week now, nor has he left any messages for us at our usual drops.'

Miriaden frowns a little more, nodding faintly. "I have seen no sighs of him either. The last I heard, he was on his way towards Combe." She gives the coney another turn, as it is finally turning a nice, crispy brown on the outside.

Maegdin sighs and leans back, looking at the early stars. 'We need to find him, at least to warn him to be on his guard for treachery. I am actually thinking of organising a search party in Bree, if only to put the Watch on notice of danger.'

Miriaden lifts a brow at Maegdin. "A group of Rangers wandering around in Bree would probably send the Watch into a panic." She comments, knowing well the rumors that surrounded their people. "But that is a wise idea. How can I help?"

Maegdin chuckles softly at the thought of the Watch scrambling around like a bunch of frantic hens. 'I meant a party of Breelanders. One traitor, even if he has been suborned by the Enemy, cannot best a whole group, particularly if they are led by some of our kin. For now, I think it best to keep your watch on Combe and Staddle. If I learn aught of import, I will leave a message.'

Miriaden had the same mental image, and she gave a small, amused smile. It vanished as quickly as it came and she nodded. "Alright. I will head there at first light. But, for now..." She pulls the now cooked coney from the fire and begins carving delectably juicy strips of meat, handing some to Maegdin. "You cannot organise such a thing on an empty stomach. Sup with me."

Maegdin carefully sets his pipe down on his pack so as not to spill it, and accepts the food gratefully. He lifts his eyes to the western horizon and sits for a moment in silence before eating. As he eats, he asks, 'What news is there from the villages and Bree? Am I walking into a beehive?' He smiles slightly, in spite of his mood.

Miriaden frowns a little as she carves a slice off for herself, then grabs a small loaf from a plate to hand to Maegdin. "I have heard some disturbing reports on the bandit front. Talk of allies from the North. Perhaps I will see what more I can learn while in Combe."

Maegdin also frowns slightly at that news. 'Allies from the north? That could only be Angmar. What are Andreg and Saeradan doing if Angmarim are slipping into Bree?' He sighs. 'The days are getting dark. Sometimes, I fear we will lose even what little we still have.' He sits and eats in silence, lost in his own thoughts.

Miriaden also eats in thoughtful silence, thinking over these recent tidings. "Perhaps it is simply brigands from the Northern Chetwood. If Angmar was showing interest in Bree-land, Esteldin's scouts would know better. We would not be the first to hear of it here." She tears off a bite of her own loaf.

Maegdin nods slightly, but does not answer. He finishes his meal and then takes up his pipe again, staring into the fire.

Miriaden finishes eating and begins pulling the leftover meat from the carcass, preparing it for travel. "Do you really think Angmar is stirring?" She finally asks in a small voice. She was younger than most Rangers out on patrol, and could feel the stirrings of fear at the possibilities.

Maegdin looks up from the fire and lets a thin trail of smoke escape from his mouth. He shakes his head. 'I do not know. The lands seem more troubled than usual of late, but I have heard naught from Esteldín. As you say, they would know first.' He takes a final pull on his pipe before tapping it out into the fire. 'This may be nothing more than a dour old Ranger's gloom-mongering. Keep up your heart. So long as Lords Aragorn and Halbarad guide us, I'll try not to fret overmuch.' He stands and stretches. 'Thank you for the meal and the company. But now, I must away. Until next we meet.' He bows his head.

Miriaden smiles a little again, and dips her head to him. <S> "Safe travels, Maegdin. Until next we meet."

Maegdin slings his pack back on his shoulders and walks off in the direction of Bree, leaving the other to her vigil.

Miriaden's grey eyes follow him until the darkness hides him from her Dúnadan sight. She sits in silent thought, stoking the fire.
Chapter 1: Dark for Dark Business

Word has been going around Bree for the last couple of days that someone's looking for help searching for his friend. Those who could read would have seen fliers, while those who couldn't would have surely caught the gossip in the Pony: one of those Rangers, who calls himself Matt Westing, wants help in a search. Most can't decide what's more surprising: that a Ranger would friends, or that the Watch doesn't seem concerned by it.

Supposedly, anyone who wants to join should come to the back dining room of the Pony this evening and be ready to set out immediately, if needs be. There's coin in it, too, and more if they find his friend alive; though where a Ranger got that much money is anyone's guess.

Anyone who came to the meeting place would find Matt seated in a chair at the table, an empty plate in front of him, a tankard of ale at his elbow, his pipe in his mouth, and his feet on the table. There's still a large spread of a roast (still warm), cheeses, bread, and some dried fruit, as well as several jugs of ale. The man raises a hand in welcome as people arrive. 'Make yourselves comfortable,' he says companionably.

Bialver sits himself down and pours a mug of ale
Arasthel peers around the room, a little smile on her lips. "I am here to help, Mister. Though I would not mind more details..."
Minabel sits sits down and decides that it is worth her time to find out what this ranger can offer her.
Maegdin smiles at Arasthel. 'All in good time, miss. I'd rather not have to explain myself more than once.'

Buckford strolls into the back room, pipe still held in his mouth, and tips his hat to the man in the chair. "G'day to ye. Reckon yer this Westing feller, aye?" He squints suspiciously. "Awful local name for one such as yer self." He frowns beneath the beard, "But seems like a decent sort of need. I'll do what'er I might."
Buckford takes a seat at the table, resting his bow against the back of the chair
Bialver puffs thoughtfully on his pipe, and waits to hear what everyone has to say
A Watcher enters the room and glances around at the assembled crowd. He crosses his arms, and his eyes would narrow upon seeing Maegdin. He remains silent for now.
Buckford tips his hat as the Watcher enters.
Maegdin raises his pipe in greeting when the Watcher comes in and ignores the dark glances the other casts his way. 'What can I say?' he says to Buckford. 'Me mam was an Archet lass.'

Arasthel nods politely to the Ranger and finds a place against the wall, trying to be out of the way, but eying the others with a certain fascination.
Buckford raises an eyebrow and chews his pipe with a slight frown. "Archet, ye say? Aye, reckon yer a decent enough fellow, I reckon. Decent enough folk in Archet." He leans back in the chair, a little more satisfied.
Minabel hopes that this is the right room. The flier did say "The Prancing Pony, back room".

Maegdin stands up from his chair and walks over to stand by the fireplace. 'Well, I suppose now's as good a time as any to start.' He looks around. 'Thanks to you all for coming to help. As you must have heard, a friend of mine's been missing. No one's heard from him for a week or so, and I'm starting to fret.'
Maegdin takes a pull on his pipe and continues. 'I'd like to ask the lot of you to help me find him, if you're willing. I'll not lie to you: it may be dangerous. He might be dead in a bear den for all I know, or taken by the Blackwolds.'
Minabel nods sympathetically to the Ranger. That is how it starts. Her mother went missing and never was heard from ever again. It was Sharkey's men- whomever that is.
Thorford says, 'A bad sort, the Blackwolds.'
Arasthel nods, then looks at the Ranger. "And you have no leads to work with? Where was he last seen?"
Buckford purses his lips, chewing more aggressively on the pipe. "Aye, I can help ye with that. Know these lands bet'er than the back of my hands. We can circle around fair enough and pick up what traces we may."
Bialver murmurs, half to himself ‘Blackwolds. Bad business there.’
Adaldag frowns at the mention of Blackwolds.
Bialver looks at the Ranger 'But ye say ye don't know if 'twas Blackwolds or what-ye-may?"
Minabel turns to Thorford. The Blackwolds have killed men and burned farms. Some women like Minabel's mother have gone missing, but no one wants to talk about it. They do not want to think about who the strange orc like men are.

Maegdin lets the others have their say for a moment before continuing. 'No, we do not know where he is. The last I heard, he was somewhere in the southern Chetwood, maybe near the southern Greenway. I've another friend out looking for tracks already, but I imagined that the more eyes, the quicker the search.'
Arasthel shrugs, looking a little uncomfortable at the idea of facing a camp of brigands. "Alright, well....where do we start then?" She adjusts her walking stick on her back and looks at Maegdin expectantly.
Bialver nods "Well begun is half done"
Buckford nods, pulling his cap a little lower. "South Chetwood, eh? Seen bear tracks that route. But aye, more eyes find tracks quicker than a hawk, my old father used ta say."
Minabel eats an apple. This may take a while!
Bialver pours another mug of ale, wishing it was mead instead, but is too interested to leave the room to go to the tapster.

Adaldag finally speaks. "I'll be joining you with your search on behalf of the Watch. I'll also file an official missing persons report next time I am in the jail, but I am going to need a basic description to put on file."
Thorford says, 'It *would* help if we knew what sort we're looking for.'
Bialver chimes in with "I can track, a little, but mostly what I can do is lend my eyes to your search and my paw--' he coughs-- 'my hand if any trouble is toward my hand to
Maegdin looks over at Adaldag and nods. 'I'll give you what you need before you file your report, but I'd like to get the search started as soon as may be.' He looks around. 'The moon's full tonight, so if you're all willing, I'd like to meet you all at South Gate in an hour to begin the search.' He smiles slightly. 'I hope you're all willing for a little night hunting.'
Thorford says, 'The night's the best time for hunting.'
Minabel nod nods "Hunting is what a hunter does best. Let's go!"
Arasthel nods. "I have a falcon that can act as our eyes in the sky, if that would be helpful."

Maegdin chuckles at Thorford. 'I suppose you're right, friend. My friend's also a Ranger. I don't know what folk call him in Bree, but I call him Amdir. He's about my height; dark hair, no beard, slight build. Usually wears green and brown.'
Bialver puffs thoughtfully on his pipe and stuffs a couple of apples into the pouch on his belt
Thorford ponders this.
Thorford says, 'I believe I may have met this Amdir once.'
Bialver asks "What color 'r his eyes, then?"
Minabel says "That reminds me of a Ranger I ran into while hunting boar."
Thorford says, 'Dark, like all the men of Eriador.'
Maegdin lifts a brow at Thorford's remark, but says nothing. 'Grey,' he says to Bialver.

Buckford stands from the chair, slinging the bow over his shoulder, "Aye, I can search this night. Tracks are tricky, but the moon'll 'elp."
Bialver nods
Adaldag inclines his head. "I'll file the report and prepare a hound immediately. I'll see you in an hour." He steps out of the room to go get started on his tasks for the night.
Maegdin nods to the others. 'Very well, then. I'll meet you outside South Gate in an hour.'
Buckford sets some of the food in his satchel and slings it crosswise across his shoulders, "Aye. Best be off on me way fer some final supplies. Ye have torches?"
Bialver stands and stretches, rolling his shoulders and securing his bow before he strolls out of the room, heading for the taproom and one more mug of mead after all.

At South Gate, Bialver strolls up and looks at his chance companions expectantly.
Minabel shivers "It is cold tonight."
Buckford paces lightly through the town, bow in hand as he approaches the small band of erstwhile companions and he gives a quiet nod.
Bialver displays a bag full of honeycake "I've brought some provender. Not as good as Elf-Bread, but tastier that Cram."
Minabel puts her cloak on.

Maegdin walks up to the others outside of Bree and nods. He now has a well-worn sword belted at his side, and a shield is slung at his back. 'Well, I've good news and I've bad news,' he says as he walks up. 'Which would you like first?'
Bialver says "Give us the bad first. That way whatever comes after'll be the more welcome."
Buckford frowns as the Ranger reappears. My gran always said start with bad news so ye finish with good."

Adaldag approaches. In one hand was a lantern, and the other held a leash to a dog. The hound had its nose in the dirt and wasn't too particularly loud besides a bit of growling every now and then if anyone got too close. At his waist was a standard watcher club, and on his back was a small buckler.
Minabel agrees.
Adaldag shrugs. He asides to Maegdin, "If you've got anything the dog could catch a scent on, of your friends, then let me know. Brought him just in case."
Bialver offers the bag of honeycakes to Minabel "'Twill do ye good on the march, Lass"
Maegdin chuckles. 'Well, the bad news actually flows out of the good, so I guess I have to give the good first. I talked to another friend of mine. They think they've found Amdir. The bad news is his tracks lead to that Blackwold camp south of town, and it looks like he's their prisoner.'
Bialver mutters "Eh. Bad business."

Buckford nearly drops his pipe in surprise, but catches it. He coughs slightly. "Blackwold prisoner, ye say? Indecent folk, them brigands are. Hmmph. Not a sense of common decency 'tween the lot o' em."
Arasthel frowns. "So...a rescue then? Do we have a plan?"
Bialver wonders aloud: "A lot of 'em in that camp, d'ye know?"
Adaldag frowns deeply, following it with a sigh. "Thought we cleared that dang place out last month." He hands the dog off to the guard. "I don't think I'll be able to secure any teams from the Watch for this. We just sent one south into Andrath earlier today to clear out a camp. We do our best, but we're no army. We'll be on our own if we're getting your friend back."

Maegdin nods to Arasthel. 'We do. Some other Rangers are going to meet us near the camp. My friends will head off and try to distract the brigands, while we go in, deal with any trouble we find, and hopefully get Amdir out in one piece.' He looks to Adaldag. 'Assuming, of course, the Watch has no problem working with Rangers?'
Adaldag shakes his head. "No problem at all. You may be a strange folk, but Bree has plenty of them these days. Don't see why people pick on you bunch in specific. Besides, Blackwolds are no friends to us either."
Bialver murmurs, half to himself ‘’A friend in need...‘’
Buckford nods slowly, carefully fitting his pipe into a pouch on his belt. "Can't reckon me experienced with these matters, but I will do what I can." He unslings his bow and nocks an arrow.
Buckford peers into the murk. "Reckon any of 'em are on the roads?"
Minabel thanks Bialver for the honeycakes.
Arasthel straightens her coat, giving a quick whistle. A falcon circles down and comes to land on her arm. "If my bird can be of use, she will help."

Maegdin nods. 'Well, then, if that's settled, let's set off. My folk will be waiting.' He shakes his head at Buckford's question. 'Most likely not.' Without waiting for the others, he starts off towards the camp, moving at a great pace on his long legs.
Bialver hurries to catch up with the Ranger, now and again turning his head and sniffing the night air
Adaldag sets off after Maegdin.
Arasthel sends Birdie back up into the air, whispering something, then pulls her walking staff from her back, gripping it tightly.
Buckford lets out a hmmph, but keeps the arrow on the string. he sets off after the Ranger, moving at surprisingly rapid pace for his apparent age, boots hardly making a sound
Bialver passes around the bag of honeycakes as the group hastens along the road
Minabel eats a piece of boar jerky
Arasthel pads after the Ranger, her soft leather boots nearly silent as she follows. One might think she had some experience moving about quietly.
Minabel decides not to tell Bialver that she also packed bear jerky
Bialver starts to reach for his pipe, then stops himself and clouses his pouch up tight so nothing will rattle as he walks

Maegdin leads the group down the Road and then off it into the woods. After they enter the woods, they begin to notice an unnatural chill in the air and start to feel a slight sense of dread and foreboding. Eventually, the group comes upon four Rangers standing on a rise above the ruins, talking in hushed voices. Matt walks up to them without pausing and speaks in a low voice to their apparent leader, an exceptionally tall Man, for a few moments.
Arasthel pulled her coat a little tighter around her, then yanking her odd hat a little lower on her head. "So what is this place?" She looks towards the ruins with open curiosity.
Buckford peers through the gloom to the ruins below, "Just old ruins. Not a bit special about it."
Bialver turns away so no one will see his nostril flares as he sniff for a tang of old blood and ill-kept armor.
Minabel takes her shoes off. She is almost silent when barefoot.
Bialver catches the whiff of bear jerky as he sniffs the night air, and frowns, but says nothing.

Adaldag looks around quite often, lifting his lantern to light up the darkness for a few feet as he did so. "Something just doesn't feel right."
Arasthel glances to Adaldag and nods. "It's extra cold, and...this doesn't feel right." She whispers. She eyes the men Matt is talking to curiously.
Thorford says, 'It's almost dawn. Good time for an attack.'
Buckford rubs his fingers along the bowstring, eying the forest suspiciously. "Aye. Been hearin' tales of ghosts and ghouls in the wood. Seems gossip's has a ring o' truth."
Bialver mutters "This'll be no ordinary chill we're feeling"
Adaldag glances to Buckford. "Out in the woods? I've heard tales of that sort of thing in the Barrow-downs, but out here.… I don't know. If his friend," he jerks his head toward Maegdin, "wasn't trapped out here, I'd be saying head back to town. Don't think we picked a good night to be out in the woods."
Thorford says, 'That's quite a bow you have there, Buckford. Keep it at the ready.'
Bialver shrugs "In for a penny..." he says.
Buckford strokes his beard and nods to Adaldag, "Aye. A few foresters workin' this neck o' the woods talked of 'em deep in their ale." He shrugs and nods to Thorford. "Aye, so I will."

Maegdin walks back over to the others for a few minutes. The other Rangers begin to move quickly and silently away through the trees. 'Alright. My friends are heading around to find another way in and start some trouble on the other side. We're going to stay here and wait for the brigands to get distracted, then we'll hit them from this side and try to find Amdir.'
Maegdin rubs the back of his neck absent-mindedly as he speaks, as if concerned by something.
Buckford nods silently in the gloom to the plan, resettling the arrow on the string.
Bialver loosens his bow from his shoulder, and checks the club that hangs by his side
Adaldag perks a brow. "Matt, you feel it too? Like something's off?" He rolls his shoulders a bit, lifting the lantern a little higher after.
Arasthel wonders what a penny is, but shakes off that thought and nods to Matt. "Alright, lets go before we lose our nerve."
Maegdin nods to Adaldag. 'Aye. Something's not right here. This is no natural chill.' He loosens a dagger in its sheath on his belt as he speaks.
Minabel looks around to to see if any danger is approaching
Adaldag continues to frown, then decides to snuff out his lantern light. He's decided he doesn't want to find whatever is out there, and he doesn't want it to find them either. He sets the lantern down and rests his hand on the pommel of his club.

An interminable time passes, and the feeling of dread and cold seems to grow, slowly but inexorably, like a chill water rising to quench light and hope. Suddenly, there comes a racket from the camp, and several brigands rush out in a near-blind panic. 'We need to get out of here!' one cries to the others. 'That Dwarf's mad!'
Bialver carefully looks at his companions, one after another, wondering who'll charge in and who'll stand back...and why.
Buckford starts at the sudden racket, frowning even more deeply in confusion as they rush out. "A dwarf? Is my hearin' gettin' old? What's a dwarf to do with this lot?"
Adaldag blinks and holds up a hand to his mouth, indicating to the others that they should 'shh' so they can listen to anything else the brigands might say.
Bialver tenses, standing almost on his toes
The brigands don't say another else, but instead blunder almost blindly into the group, looks of horror on their faces. They don't even attempt to fight, but just try to push through the others. 'Get out of here, you fools!' they say, and run off into the darkness.
Arasthel's eyes widen. "A...dwarf?" She looks up and around, then tries to duck for cover as the brigands run past them.

Maegdin draws his sword as the brigands rush towards them, but does not strike. He simply looks surprised at the mention of a Dwarf, but shrugs and heads down the hill towards the camp anyway.
Buckford steps back in surprise, half drawing his bow as they approach, but stops in surprise as they run past. "Reckon that's a bad sign." He shivers. "P'raps we may want to stay back a bit."
Minabel lies flat on the ground; no longer caring that she is wearing her best dress.
Thorford says, 'Dwarf...?'
Adaldag starts, "Hey, in the name of the Watch you come-" he gives up as they keep running off into the night. He turns to look at Maegdin, then follows him down toward the ruins. He draws his club fully as he descends the hill.
Bialver looks at the fleeing brigands and back at the gate. Chase? Run into the fort?

Buckford grumbles, but half draws the bow and makes his way down the hill behind them, seeking for a threat.
Bialver follows Adalag down the hill
Minabel jumps up. She is not going to lie on the ground like a little girl while the other confront the brigands
Arasthel stands up again, shocked at not being attacked. She readies her staff in her hands, in case they change their mind and return.
Bialver takes a swing, but is almost knocked over by more Blackwolds fleeing the ruins
Buckford steps back in surprise as another band runs out. He draws the bow back fully, but holds. "What're they runnin' from? Anyone see somethin'?"

Maegdin leads the others into the ruins as more brigands run out of the camp. None of them seem overly-concerned with stopping to fight the group, and all have looks of terror on their faces. When they come to a courtyard with a large wrought-iron gate at one end of it, they do finally find a group of four brigands who aren't interested in running. The brigands are cowering in a corner of the courtyard, but they look up with fierce and desperate looks on their faces. 'No!' one of them cries. 'We're not gonna let you haul us to him! He'll just kill us like he did the rest!' The brigands rush at the group, knives and clubs out.

Buckford steps back in surprise at the sudden onrush of the four terrified brigands, "Feral..." He mutters, but holds the bow steady, drawing it back to its full length and releasing the goose-feathered arrow towards the lead bandit.
Bialver, finally faced with something he understands, swings at the head of an onrushing brigand
Arasthel's jaw drops and she gets ready to start swinging that staff in her hands.
Thorford recognizes one of the brigands. "That one's mine...."
Adaldag holds his ground with his club and shield. If any brigand approached him, they would earn themselves a proper thumping.
Bialver tries to look backwards and forwards at once, hoping to clobber brigands without getting in the way of anyone's arrows
Minabel takes aim at the closest brigand and lets an arrow fly.
Maegdin stands his ground and prepares to meet the brigands head-on, shield raised.

The lead brigand falls dead with two arrows in him, but the other three continue their mad charge. One falls to the ground and lies motionless as Bialver's club clouts him on the ear, while the other two barrel into Matt and Adaldag. The one quickly finds himself knocked senseless by the Watcher, while the Ranger's sword makes short work of the other.
Buckford lowers the bow, eyes wide with shock at the sudden conclusion to the skirmish and he blanches, muttering quietly to himself. "Ne'er meant harm to anyfolk, but... " His voice trails off as she shivers in the unnatural chill again
Bialver starts to swing at the prone brigand, then decides live men are easier to question than dead ones, and just puts his foot on the man to hold him down.

Maegdin looks around at the others after the short fight. The feeling of dread was stronger than ever, and he wipes beads of sweat from his forehead. 'Something is very, very wrong here. I would not fault any of you if you do not wish to continue, but I must press on. We have not yet found my comrade.'
Bialver growls "We begun it, let's see iffen we can finish it"
Buckford stops muttering and clears his throat, "Aye. Said I'd do what I could. Ain't no decent folk go back on their word."
Bialver gives the downed brigand another love tap with his club, making sure he'll stay down
Adaldag doesn't seem to register the thought of putting manacles on either of the live brigands. He's too worried about whatever is amiss. "Let's just find your friend and make for town quickly. I'll carry him over my shoulder if he can't walk, but we need to go as soon as possible." He looked around constantly, feeling watched.
Arasthel nods, looking very uncomfortable with the growing dread. "Lets just...uh...keep going."
Bialver gives a shiver, but nods agreement at Arasthel

Maegdin sighs once, then nods. 'Very well. Follow me.' He walks over to the iron gate and swings it open. As he does so, another cold wave of horror and dread sweeps over the group. The keen-eared among them might be able to hear a deep voice speaking in the darkness beyond the gate, though they could not make out the words.
Maegdin steps back for a moment as the fear passes over him, but he masters himself and move forward silently into the next courtyard.
Buckford shudders and clutches the bow as another storm of cold terror rolls through his mind. He freezes for a moment, but grits his teeth and pushes himself forward, trying to piece the words together to no avail
Adaldag stops in his tracks as he passes through the gate. Fighting every urge in his body, he takes the next step. He shakes his head to himself. He mumbles, "What've I gotten myself into?"
Bialver grits his teeth and forces his feet to move: right...left....right...following Maegdin as resolutely as he can.
Arasthel is shaking as she continues along with the others. This was certainly more than she had bargained for!
Thorford follows.
Bialver flares his nostrils again, not caring who sees this time. Something smells...wrong. Deeply wrong.

As the group moves into the courtyard, a hideous scene of slaughter meets their eyes. Bodies of brigands lie strew about the courtyard, all of them cruelly hewn with axe-strokes. In the centre of the courtyard, a raised platform sits with torches on either end. The courtyard is encircled by a crumbling ring of pillars. In the light of the torches, they see yet more bodies lying there. In the centre of the platform, a Dwarf in ornate armour stands over a prone Blackwold. The brigand is already bleeding from many small cuts, and several of his fingers are missing. He whimpers in pain, and the Dwarf laughs in a deep gravelly voice. 'Now, now. There's no need for concern. Not yet. Just tell me what you know, and I'll release you.'

Adaldag 's mouth falls open. He fails to form words, reduced to staring in shock.
Arasthel looks horrified at the scene before them and just shakes her head until she sees the Dwarf and is suddenly terrified.
Buckford freezes at the sight of the carnage in the courtyard, arrow slipping from the string and bouncing on the stone below. He retches, leans over, and loses his last meal, before slowly standing again, face pale as a sheet, mouthing silent words to himself. His hands shake as he watches.
Bialver stops mid-sniff, and puts his hand to his nose, desperately trying to stop smelling the reek of something unnameable and foul
Minabel has never seen anything like this before in her life. Even when she came home to the sight of her family farm burning and her father dead.
Maegdin comes up short as he sees what lies about. His brows draw down, and he continues to move towards the dais.
Buckford numbly clutches his bow in one hand an arrow in the other. He half moves to nock it, but can't quite manage to accomplish it. He hangs back near the gateway, now still and silent
Bialver gags and chokes on the smell, he stands motionless, trying to force calming breaths into his lungs

At the sound of Buckford's retching, the Dwarf looks up. He grins and looks each of the company in the eyes, never mind that they are in the darkness and he should not be able to see them in the glare of the torches next to him. 'Well, Blackwold,' he says. 'It appears your services are no longer needed. I release you, as I promised.' With that, he brings his axe down on the prone man's neck, severing his head with a single blow. The Dwarf laughs mockingly as he looks steadily at the company. 'Is this all?' he says. 'You lot are not even worth my effort. I have better things to do. My servant can handle you.'

Adaldag starts to back away, speeding up the process as the last brigand is so carelessly beheaded. "I don't think your friend survived this Matt. We need to leave!"
Arasthel gasps and looks away as the man is beheaded. The blood drains from her face as she finally brings herself to look at the dwarf once again.
Minabel shakes in anger to think of such carnage around her.
Bialver stares at the dwarf through watering eyes, swearing he'll recognize this monster if he sees him again… but devoutly hoping he never will.

The Dwarf makes a strange gesture with his hand, and speaks horrible words in some strange tongue which none of them can understand before turning to walk calmly away up a long staircase which ascends behind him into the darkness. As the last syllable fades away, the headless body on the dais shudders and spasms before slowly clambering to its feet, a club clutched in its dead hand.

Buckford nods as the Watcher speaks about leaving. "Aye…." His voice cuts out as the headless brigand rises to its feet once more. His face nearly as pale as the corpses, Buckford retches again, and brings the arrow to the string, his hands shaking too strongly to nock it. He finally nocks it...
Bialver begins to back slowly away, his club raised in a shaking hand
Thorford says, 'That was worse than even a Blackwold deserves.'
Adaldag 's eyes widen even more, if that's possible. "What in the name of..."
Minabel looks away in horror. Dead men rising. What does this mean?
Maegdin seems more angered than horrified by the sight before them. He strides forward, drawing a dagger from its sheath as he does so.
Arasthel pales even more as she sees the dead rise again. "What in the..." This must be a terrible dream…. She just shook her head, standing there in utter terror.
Chapter 1, continued

Bialver closes, then opens his eyes, takes a deep breath, and follows the ranger
Buckford swallows fearfully and holds up his shaking bow, pulling the string back and sets his jaw, forcing himself into stillness as he looks past the men who advanced forward and looses the arrow
Thorford glides into the shadows.
The headless abomination takes a jerking step forward, as if it a puppet on a string handled by an inexpert puppeteer. It raises the club as it continues forward, its movements becoming more fluid, though no less unnatural. Buckford's arrow sinks deep into its chest. It staggers for a moment, but continues forward.

Minabel aims carefully at the wight and lets an arrow fly. The wight must be stopped
Arasthel looks between all the members of their group before looking between their enemies in this camp. She gripped her walking stick, ready in case that...thing...came towards her.
Thorford silently unsheathes his shortsword.
Minabel's arrow whizzes past the wight.
Buckford blinks in horror, taking an unconscious step back as the thing proceeded forward despite the arrow. He pulls another from his quiver, but takes a few more steps backwards
Adaldag tightens his grip on his club, taking a step back as well.
Bialver eyes the wight - will knocking it over stop it?
Thorford closes in behind it.

Maegdin walks steadily towards the thing advancing on them, anger flashing in his eyes. As he draws near, he suddenly cries out, 'A Elbereth Gilthoniel, le nallon sí di'nguruthos, a tiro nin, Fanuilos!' The creature reels as if suddenly struck by a blow. As it does, the Ranger runs forward, dagger glinting in the faint starlight.
Thorford makes his move, striking it in the kidney with his blade.
Buckford blinks in confusion and frowns at the strange foreign words, finally nocking his arrow and drawing back the string, waiting for a clear opening to make a move
Bialver raises his club, but waits so as not to spoil the Ranger's aim
Minabel yells "Bring it down. It is still advancing".
Bialver starts and swings, catching the wight on the back.

Maegdin quickly closes with the wight before it can recover, driving the blade home into its chest. As he does so, he cries, 'Gwanno, dae e-gorthad, awartho i gaew lîn! Ú-bresto Dôr-i-Guinar dan drego ned Gast ui! No goren i Innas lín, A Eru!' The thing shudders and falls to the ground as the Ranger pulls the dagger from its heart. As the body collapses to the ground again, a faint wail seems to come from the wight, chilling the hearts of the company before it fades away into the night. The feeling of dread lessens, but does not wholly disappear. Matt wipes the dagger off and replaces it in its sheath.

Buckford shudders and lowers the bow as the creature finally falls to the ground. He coughs and shifts his boot, "I have ne'er seen such a foul thing." He shudders. "Reckon any more of 'em wandrin' 'bout heres tonight?"
Bialver gulps and backs away from the body, ill at ease even though it's been stopped, it seems
Arasthel shivers a little, shifting uncomfortably with that chill.
Thorford says, 'Where did the dwarf go?'
Thorford says, 'Hmm. He went up this stair...'
Adaldag relaxes, slightly. "I never believed tales of the dead rising, until now. We should leave."

Maegdin turns to look at the others. 'I do not think there are any more, though I still feel uneasy.' He nods at Thorford. 'That he did. I fear we must follow him. We have yet to find Amdir, and I will not leave without him, or at least news of him.' He looks at Adaldag, Buckford, and Arasthel with sympathy. 'I do not ask you to come with me,' he says softly.
Thorford says, 'And we do not ask your leave to follow. Let us make haste.'
Arasthel shifts a little, then says, "What's the worst that could happen? More undead? More murder? Nothing that we have not already seen tonight. I will go with you." She tries to look brave, but she's mostly terrified.
Adaldag sighs deeply. "It's my duty as a watcher to protect the people of Bree-land. If you're going, I'm going." He nods at what Thorford said. "Let's get this over with."
Minabel swallows nervously. She does not want to face the undead, but she cannot back out now. She made a promise to her parents to fight for the farmers of Bree. She says, "If the Rangers are risking their lives to protect the people of Bree, then I must try to help to save one of them.

Bialver wishes desperately for a, a bottle of mead, but contents himself by gobbling down a honey cake
Buckford clears his throat and pulls at his beard, frowning deeply as he considers the stairs for several long moments. "Ah, well, I'm but a woodsman, ye know. I hunt game and good stout lumber." He lifts his hat for a moment. "But if evil things be 'bout, I reckon it's my duty to nock my bow for bigger game." He looks at the ranger. "Ye have any more of those magic words?"
Minabel takes another bite of boar jerky. She feels weak after what she has seen.
Maegdin smiles slightly. 'It's not magic, it's....' He trails off. 'Now is not the time to explain it. Come. Let us press on.' He turns and walks up the stairs.
Bialver swallows, steels himself, and pads forward
Thorford follows.
Arasthel looks up the ominous looking stairs and murmurs. "Nobody in my family would ever believe this if I told them about it..." She looks at the Ranger and will follow where he leads.
Adaldag rolls his shoulders and follows Maegdin, determined to actually help next time it's required.
Buckford settles his cap more firmly on his head and nocks another arrow, following some distant behind Matt, muttering quietly. "Not magic, he says. Killed an already dead man. How can't it be magic?" The words make a small under-current to his clearly strained face.

As the company ascends the long staircase up the cliff face, a mist begins to grow around them, almost as if it is flowing down from the heights rather than rising up from the ground. The feeling of dread and horror only grows as they climb. Those with keen ears may hear a deep murmuring from above, the barely-heard syllables freezing the heart.
Arasthel seems to shrink as she walks, the dread murmurings causing her to quake. "What is that?" She whispers. "Do you hear that?"
Bialver growls an affirmative
Minabel steels herself
Maegdin catches the voices from above and freezes on the stairs for a moment. He steels himself and forces himself on into the face of the terror. As he finally reaches the top of the ascent, however, he freezes again, cowering away in terror.
Minabel takes cover behind Maegdin.
Buckford ceases his muttering and clenches his jaw, muscles twitching as he half-draws the bow, moving to one side beside the stairway and trying to peer further ahead.
Minabel peers ahead from behind Maegdin's shoulder, ready to let fly another arrow.
Adaldag looks down to the ground, cringing away as even the ranger becomes afraid.
Bialver is unable to keep himself from peeking around Maegdin, then wishes he hadn't

As the company comes out on the clifftop, the mist has grown thick, rising almost to their waists in billowing waves. Between the drifts of mist and fog, ancient gravestones loom in the night. The graves, however, are not the source of the terror. The five tall black-robed figures clustered around what seems an altar in the centre of the graveyard freeze the hearts of all of the company. Four of them are chanting in deep voices, fell words in a language none of them know, while the fifth raises a bitter dagger above its head. The blade shines with a pale light as it plunges into the heart of the man laid out in blood-red robes on the table. Amdir shudders once before breathing his last.

Adaldag drops his club and shield on the ground, backing away slowly with his mouth agape.
Minabel stifles a scream and drops her bow. She quickly picks it up again. No time to panic. Have to be brave.
Buckford freezes, the arrow falling from the string and the bow snapping back to upright position as his hands slip on the string.
Minabel shields her eyes at the bitter sight. After all they went through, to have this brave ranger end like this
Arasthel's jaw drops as she sees that knife come down into the man's chest. "By the Valar..." She whispers, too terrified and shocked to do much more than stare.
Bialver 's mouth forms a question - "what", or "why" or "who", but no sound comes out

As it withdraws the dagger, the figure turns to the company, as the others cease their chant. The figure with the dagger lets out a cruel laugh, which pierces the company like a burning blade of ice. 'Weak fools! Did you think to forestall the plans of Mordor? This Ranger's change is now complete, but none of you shall ever tell of it!' The thing lets out a piercing wail while the other four draw pale swords and advance on the company.
Minabel silently begins to sob.
Buckford mouths silent words as he tries to back down the stairs, fumbling for another arrow to nock, just barely getting it on and drawing back
Bialver mutters "That's it then" and starts to raise his club, which shakes wildly in his grip
Minabel stumbles back and then checks herself. She steels her nerves and nocks another arrow in her bow. She takes careful aim at the center figure, but the arrow bounces harmlessly off of it.
Adaldag drops to his knees and covers his ears at the scream.
Minabel thinks of what could make such a noise. No creature that she has ever heard of, nor any man.

Suddenly, there comes a cry from the darkness to their left. 'A Elbereth Gilthoniel!' At that cry, the five black-clad figures wheel to face its source, while the horror seems to lessen in the hearts of the company. The leader of the small group of Rangers charges out of the darkness, two of his men behind him, all three waving torches and brandishing blades.
Arasthel nearly drops her stave as she winces and covers her ears at the screech, but when she sees the figures advancing, she fumbles to grip it in readiness. As the other Rangers come charging out, her eyes widen and she feels a profound relief.
Minabel weeps in relief. Finally help has arrived for them.
Adaldag feels around the ground, trying to find his club and shield. He's having a hard time due to all the mist.

Amazingly, the black-clad figures withdraw before the Rangers. 'Begone, Nazgûl! There is no place here for you! Go back to the Shadow!' the leader of the Rangers cries. As the black shapes withdraw, the Rangers pursue them. 'Maegdin, deal with Amdir! Do not let the others come near him! I will drive these beasts off!'
Buckford lets his jaw drop open in surprise as the others burst into the shadows and chase off the shadow-draped figures, calling something back. He frowns and mutters, "Not magic indeed. Nonsense, I say."
Minabel again composes herself and wipes her eyes on the sleeve of her dress. She must be stronger if she is going to travel with this group.
Maegdin stands as he hears the voice of his Chieftain, the icy fear receding from him as the shadows flee. He nods as he hears Strider's words, and breaths deeply before picking up his sword and walking slowly towards the altar.
Adaldag finally finds his things, standing up after. He listens to the man calling out orders, remaining where he is and letting Maegdin deal with Amdir.
Bialver realizes he's still holding his club above his head, and slowly lowers it, both terrified by what he's seen, and profoundly relieved to have to go no closer
Minabel watches Maegdin approach the altar and wonders what he will do.

On the altar, Amdir, or the thing that once was Amdir, is slowly rising. Or, rather, the red robes are rising, shaped as if they shroud a form, though no face can be seen in the hood nor any hands at the ends of the sleeves. As it stands, it lets out a cry, a pale echo of its masters', but no less heart-chilling.
Arasthel shakes visibly as she holds onto her stave for dear life. She cringes at the chilling shriek and stays rooted to the spot.
Buckford mutters quietly again and hefts his bow once more, unsure of how best to respond. "Is he..." He can't even finish the phrase, Bree's local tongue incapable of assessing such evil
Adaldag holds on to his things this time, though he shrinks back as his ears burst into pain once more. He looks toward the ground and closes his eyes.
Minabel thinks "by the powers that govern this world, never have I seen such a thing. A fate worse than death. To be turned into one of... them.
Minabel turns and looks the other way. She cannot watch any more.
Bialver 's mouth is still moving silently, and he stands as if frozen to the spot

Maegdin staggers at the cry, but continues forward, tears shining in his eyes. As the wraith picks up the knife from where it was dropped on the altar, Maegdin closes with it. He dodges a slash from the wraith, though the tip of the blade slides along the leather covering the Ranger's chest. Before the thing can attack again, Maegdin slashes his sword at the wraith's neck.
Bialver starts forward, muttering to himself. "Better a corpse than a craven...better..."
Maegdin reels back as his blade passes through the hood, severing it from the robe. As the sword connects, it bursts into glittering shards. Maegdin drops the hilt and grasps his hand, falling to his knees as the red robes crumple into a heap. A wailing cry goes up into the night air, passing away on the west wind which springs up and blows away the mists and fogs. The stars shine out clearly overhead and the horror and fear finally pass away. Maegdin collapses to the ground, clutching his right hand, tears welling in his eyes.
Minabel turns to look at the altar again. Finally the figure that was once Amdir is gone and the nightmare over.
Arasthel cannot deny she is relieved that the danger is passed, but in seeing the Ranger's pain at the loss of his friend, she begins to tear up.

Adaldag rushes over to Maegdin. "What happened? I didn't see it strike you."
Bialver silently curses himself...too little, too late...
Minabel goes to Maegdin and hugs him; fresh tears in her eyes. Amdir shall be avenged.
Buckford lets the arrow slid from the string and replaces it in the quiver as he hurries forward, surprised at Matt's collapse as the vice of fear of departs. "Reckon you gone cold, by the looks." He frowns and turns to the sinister graveyard. "Let's hurry away from 'ere to light and warmth and food."
Thorford says, 'Yes, let's.'
Minabel slowly rises; letting go of Maegdin. She turns to see if anyone has began to move away from the altar.

Maegdin lies on the ground, seemingly unable to rise. His right hand is icy cold to the touch, and it seems to be spreading up the arm. He murmurs, 'Help me... help me stand. Someone find... Strider. And kingsfoil. Please.'
Adaldag reaches down, grasping Maegdin by the forearm and would attempt to haul him up.
Arasthel looks around, pulling her hat down firmly on her head. At hearing Maegdin, she moves forward to help. "Are you alright?"
Bialver bends down over Maegdin, attenmpting to help Adaldag
Minabel races off. Kingfoil is everywhere in these parts. She has seen it many times and collected if for her sister's headaches.
Arasthel rises. "I know kingsfoil… I will find some." She turns to search the ruins.
Adaldag blinks. He's not sure what kingsfoil is, but he's guessing Strider is the fellow who was calling orders earlier. "Someone go find those other rangers. Get the one giving orders and tell him to come here."
Bialver straightens up at the word "kingsfoil", turns, and runs into the darkness, nostrils wide
Buckford frowns at the mention of the planet, "Kingsfoil? The weed?" He shrugs, beginning to kneel, but catches sight of the man's face. "Aye, I'll go seek Strider." He sets off into the darkness, following the trail of othe other Rangers and the boot-prints they left beind
Thorford follows Buckford to search for Strider.

Bialver blunders amongst the trees, head down, concentrating on following his nose so he doesn't have to think about what he just saw
Minabel comes back with four plants. "Does anyone have a vessel to hold water from the stream. I shall start a fire and make a tea. That is how we always took kingsfoil in my house."
Maegdin staggers to his feet with the help of Adaldag before slumping back against the altar. He breathes heavily and rummages in his belt pouch. He pulls out a small flask, but cannot remove the stopper. He holds it out to the others. 'Please....'
Buckford pauses and bends towards the ground, trying to keep track of the confusing trail. He frowns when he only counts three sets of feet, but hurries forward, breaking into a lope to catch them. Distant torchlight glimmers ahead of him. "Strider! Matt's hurt real bad!"
Bialver returns some minutes later, with a single plant, and his leather water-skin full and dripping
Minabel takes the flask and fills in the stream. She returns and begins blowing on the tinder.
Arasthel searches the ruins, finding a few small sprigs of athelas, though this place had certainly been picked clean. She frowns, then finally returns to Maegdin.

The other Rangers are already coming back towards the ruins, talking softly among themselves. Strider looks over as he hears Buckford's call and the Men increase their pace. 'Thank you for coming for me. Let us go back, quickly.'
Buckford hurries to meet them and nods, turning to head back to the camp, "Aye, got a cut from the man in red-" He shivers, picking up the pace, "Barely can stand." He frowns again. "Strange for a small cut."
Strider looks over at Buckford. 'He was wounded, you say? Come, we must hurry.' With that, he sets off at a run back towards the ruins.
Buckford nods briefly and then breaks into a run after the rangers. "Aye, caught a knife cut."

Bialver puts a slightly battered honey cake down next to Maegdin, with a muttered "'taint Kingsfoil, but it'll do ye good," then turns around and puts another in Mina's hand
Minabel thanks Bialver for the honey cake
Adaldag continues to stand guard as things are sorted out.
Maegdin drops the flask and slumps back down into a sitting position against the altar. His right hand rests heavily in his lap, while he buries his face in his left hand. Soon, Strider, Buckford, Thorford, and the Rangers return. Strider nods approvingly as he sees the fire and the water being heated before kneeling down next to Maegdin, looking over him with evident concern.

Maegdin looks up as Strider kneels down next to him. 'It is done. He is gone. I hope he is at peace.' Strider shakes his head. 'Hush, cousin.' He looks with concern at the slash across Maegdin's chest, but breathes in relief as he sees that the blade did not pierce the leather. He feels Maegdin's right hand before nodding.
Buckford hovers back behind the rangers, peering back behind into the darkness around them
Arasthel hands her kingsfoil to Strider.
Bialver goes 'round pressing honey cakes on the rest of the company, growling "Eat." if they begin to demur.
Strider takes the leaves from Arasthel, whispering words over them in the predawn dark before tossing them into the water. The fragrance of the herb rises quickly, driving away the remaining shreds of fear and despair from the others. Strider laves Maegdin's right hand with the water and lays his hand on the Man's head, speaking softly to him. Maegdin shudders, but then breathes deeply and seems to come back to them. He flexes the fingers of his right hand before taking Strider's hand in his and kissing it. 'Le hannon, aran nîn,' he whispers.
Buckford looks back from the woods around them, "Not magic words..." he finishes with a hmmph.
Minabel takes note of Maegdin's gesture. There is something special about this "Strider".

Strider smiles and says softly, 'Tolo dan ammen, gwador nîn.' He stands and offers a hand to Maegdin, who climbs to his feet with only small difficulty. Strider nods and looks around at the others. 'Thank you, all of you,' he says softly. 'Now, we must leave this dreadful place. Let us go back to Bree and the Pony. None of us wish to spend any more time in the wilds.'
Buckford raises an eyebrow at the mention of these as wilds, but nods, "Aye, so we must indeed."
Adaldag quickly nods in agreement.
Arasthel looks relieved and takes a deep breath. "Well..."
Arasthel adds. "I would like a hot bath."
Minabel decides that a hot bath sounds nice. Perhaps she will have one too.
Maegdin nods wearily before bending over and picking up the hilt of his sword. He speaks softly, as if with some effort, 'Yes, let us leave as soon as we can.' Strider nods again before setting off down the steps and back through the ruins, while the other Rangers wait for the company to follow him. Maegdin moves as quickly as he can down the stairs after the tall Man.
Bialver lets out a long breath "and not afore time, he says
Adaldag follows after Matt, being most familiar with him.
Buckford follows behind them, bow still clasped in his hand, feet light on the ancient stones
Bialver glances quickly around, making sure no one is missing, then follows.
Arasthel will just follow the others, happy to leave this place behind.
Chapter 2: Answers and Questions

Maegdin and the other Rangers lead the company back to Bree. They arrive at South-gate as the sun rises over the Chetwood, dispelling the night mists which still clung to the folds and hollows of the land. The other Rangers leave them at the gate, but Matt and Strider continue back to the Pony, talking quietly to each other as they go. When they arrive, Matt speaks to Butterbur and arranges for rooms before turning to the others. 'After our experience tonight, I think we all need rest. Barley will show you to your rooms. Sleep as long as you need, then come to the back parlour when you wake. I will answer your questions then.' With that, he follows Strider to his room, leaving the others to their devices.
Bialver plows straight to the taproom and orders more mead than is really good for him.

In the early afternoon, Maegdin walks slowly to the parlour. Finding none of the others there yet, he sits down in a chair and draws a new sword from its sheath. He takes his whetstone from his belt pouch and sits down, sharpening his blade as he waits for the others.
Arasthel yawns as she exits her room, tugging her hat lower over her head while she makes her way to the back room. She sees Matt there and greets him. "Hello, did you rest at all?"
Adaldag enters the room silently. He doesn't look as if he slept well.
Maegdin looks up as Arasthel enters. 'Some, yes,' he replies. 'Thanks for asking. How are you?' He nods to Adaldag as he comes in.

Bialver wakes late and muzzily. He orders an enormous breakfast, and by the time he finishes it, he almost feels ready to face the day
Arasthel manages a weak smile. "Oh, all things considered… I am not all that sure how I am."
Minabel orders a breakfast of porridge, honey, and cream and hopes that today will be a day without undead men.
Bialver dunks his head in the rain barrel, shakes off the excess water, and makes his way to the back parlour, nodding to his companions as he enters.
Maegdin nods in understanding to Arasthel's statement, but says no more. He turns back to his sword as he waits for the others.

Minabel finishes up her meal and takes out a comb from the folds of her dress and begins to comb and braid her tresses. Even in the wilderness, a girl should strive to look her best.
Adaldag gives everyone a nod as he settles against the wall.
Maegdin looks up as Bialver enters as well, raising a hand in welcome. He leans his sword against the wall next to his chair and pulls out his pipe. He fills and lights it as he waits for the last members of the company.
Arasthel makes herself comfortable by the fire, waiting for the rest of their group.

Minabel finally finishes her unnecessarily vain beauty routine and makes her way into the meeting room, bumping into a cobweb as she comes into the door and messing up her hair in her attempt to rub the cobweb out of her hair. Exasperated and disheveled, Minabel finds the first available seat and sits down.
Bialver fidgets in the silence. He takes out his pipe, packs it, and taking up the tongs lights it with a coal from the hearth.
Minabel puts her hood over her head and waits for further instructions from their Ranger leader.

Maegdin smiles slightly as Minabel comes in. He sighs and takes a long drag on his pipe. 'I don't think we'll see Thorford or Buckford today. Barley said they didn't go to their rooms last night, and he's not seen them this morning, either. Given last night, I don't blame them. I thank you for showing up, though.'
Minabel hopes wights did not get them in the night
Bialver wonders to himself; such stout fellows that seemed… taken themselves off? Or met with some mischance? More likely the latter.

Arasthel nods to Matt. "So… what exactly happened out there?" She says, bewildered. "I have heard stories about such things, but… never expected they were true."
Bialver looks from Arasthel to Matt ''It all really happened, then? I was hopin' 'twas a nightmare.''
Adaldag rolls his shoulders and just listens to the others converse.
Maegdin sighs and nods. 'Yes, that really happened, much as I wish it hadn't.' He clenches and unclenches his right hand, as if it still pains him. 'I am sorry for getting you all mixed up in this. Had I known what waited in the ruins, I would never have asked you to come.'

Arasthel frowns a little, giving him a compassionate look. "What exactly happened to your friend?"
Bialver shrugs. " 'twasn't like ye forced us to follow, or to stay"
Minabel agrees with Bialver. "We all came because we want to stop the evil that is taking over Bree."
Minabel continues "the brigands, the strange undead men, the strange men wearing the black hoods, and so forth."
Bialver shakes his head. "Not that I'd relish another meeting with… them...that..." He gestures vaguely, at a loss for words.

Maegdin sits in silence for a moment, as if he does not want to speak. Finally, he sighs heavily and looks up. 'Does the name of Mordor mean anything to you?' he asks softly.
Arasthel cringes. "Indeed it does. I hail from Gondor and I have seen its shadow growing."
Bialver is relighting his pipe, but looks up in alarm at the name. "It means danger an' trouble an' bad business," he says, "...but I never knew it meant dead men rising"
Minabel wonders if all this murder has anything to do with a land that her father told her about called Angmar.
Adaldag shakes his head at Maegdin's question, but he's listening.

Maegdin gives Arasthel a curious look at her mention of Gondor, but says nothing about it now. 'Those black-robed figures come from Mordor, and it is truly worrying that they have come to the North.' He shudders slightly at the memory, and absent-mindedly rubs his right hand against his thigh, as if trying to warm it. He looks to Bialver. 'It means far more than just that. I fear it means war. We will be hard put to here in Bree, I'm afraid.'
Bialver stares at the Ranger. "War? WAR? There hasn't been war in these parts since… since..." he sputters to a stop.
Arasthel steps a little closer to the fire, feeling a sudden chill. "The Rangers of Ithilien have kept the Shadow at bay for so long, surely they can keep the forces of Mordor at bay." She looks dismayed.
Minabel realizes that Maegdin has not been saying "murder" but something about "more door", but where is "more door"? Surely, it must be a place. Is it in Bree?

Adaldag stares at Arasthel. "I don't know of any Ithilien around here, so I'm assuming they can't help us." He steps forward to look at Maegdin. "What do you mean by war? We've no army. The watch and the militia barely stave off the brigands that line our roads. We can't field anything to combat… whatever those things were from last night."
Minabel speaks up "We can arm the farmers. Farmers will fight if their lands and families are at risk."
Bialver nods at Aladag's word. Brigands, thieves, marauders, these he understands. But war? Thousands dying at a stroke, the stink of the battlefield, the hordes of crows circling overhead? He's hard put to believe it.
Adaldag looks at Minabel. "I'm a trained Watcher and I doubt even I would've made a difference last night. What good will a bunch of farmers with pitchforks do against those things?"

Maegdin takes another draw on his pipe before answering. 'When I say war, I mean war. Like the stories from when the old kingdom fell. However, we've not come to that pass yet. Bree and the Shire have defenders you don't know of.' He looks at them each for a moment before continuing. He sighs. 'I can't say more of them now, but I have another job I'd like you to help me in, if you're willing.'
Bialver sighs.
Arasthel nods. "What is it you need? I mean, we are already in with both feet, I would say...."
Bialver looks straight at the Ranger "Any more of them...?' he gestures vaguely.
Adaldag narrows his eyes at mention of these 'defenders', but says nothing more. He goes back to listening.
Maegdin shakes his head at Bialver. 'I can't say, but I hope not to run into them ever again.' He sighs. 'However, we have only found five of them. Strider's asked me to see if I can find any trace of where the others are. A friend of ours is watching the Road near the Brandywine Bridge. I want to see if he's seen them on the Road or heading into the Shire. I'd like you to come with me.
Minabel nods. "I will come with you."
Arasthel nods. "As will I." She straightens her stance, trying to look braver than she feels.
Bialver takes a deep breath. "And so will I" he says
Adaldag looks around. He sighs, then nods. "Very well then. I'll make arrangements at the jail for my time away."

Maegdin nods. 'Thank you,' he says with genuine emotion and gratitude. 'It's too late to set out now, as I'd rather not go anywhere by night without knowing where those things are. Make your preparations, and we'll set out tomorrow at daybreak. I hope to only be gone from Bree a day or two, at the most.'
Bialver wonders if he will have time to visit an armoursmith in Bree...and whether any armour will give protection against what he saw last night.
Arasthel nods to Matt. "I will be ready."
Minabel wonders if she has time before tomorrow to see her old friend Lalia and buy a matching red dress as a change of clothing for the trip.
Bialver mentally counts the coins in his pouch, and hopes the armourers of Bree can be persuaded to work late into the evening.
Adaldag nods. "I guess I'll bring my sword along tomorrow too to go with the club. I'll see you all in the morning."
Bialver nods to the Ranger. “Daybreak it is, then."

Minabel bids goodnight to the group. It is time for a final dinner of roast boar and red wine, some plum pudding for dessert, then a trip to Laila's Market, and a final hot bath and bed.
Maegdin nods. 'Until the morrow, then. Be well, friends. And, once again, thank you.'
Minabel curtseys politely.
Bialver turns to Adaldag "Who's the armoursmith the Watch uses, then?"
Arasthel dips her head to Matt and says, "I suppose I should go get supplies and food...and bandages, we might need those..." She drifts off into thought.
Adaldag replies, "I may be mistaken, as I don't do our inventory, but I believe the fellow in town square just across from Town Hall does our uniforms."
Bialver nods "Thankee, I'll have a word with him"
Adaldag nods and takes his leave.
Bialver nods to the remaining company. turns, and dives out the nearest door.
Sorry I couldn't make it last time. Ended up drowning in a paper that I needed to finish. Looks like I won't be able to make it tomorrow either. Have to go work a fundraiser.
Chapter 3: The Horn-call of Buckland

Bialver lumbers out the gate, rubbing his eyes, and looks for his companions
Maegdin leans against the wall of the bridge smoking his long-stemmed pipe as the sun rises over the shoulder of Bree-hill. A pack lies at his feet and he watches for the rest of the company to come out of West-gate.
Arasthel strides through the West Gate, looking around for her companions. She adjusted her pack and pulled her walking stick from her back, the end clicking on the paving stones.
Bialver gets halfway to the bridge before he notices the Ranger. "Mornin'." he says
Arasthel nods to the others already gathered, murmuring, "Good morning, everyone."
Bialver nods a good morning to Arasthel as she clicks up.

Maegdin raises a hand in greeting to the two of them as they come up. 'I trust you're well-rested and ready for a good walk today?'
Bialver mutters to himself "It ain't the walk that worries me"
Minabel finally makes her way out of the Prancing Pony inn and down the road out of Bree to join the others already standing on the bridge.
Arasthel glances to Bialver and nods in agreement. "I am used to walking… it's all this other business that makes me a little concerned."
Bialver answers the Ranger differently, however, merely saying "Oh, aye, a fine mornin'. An yerself?"
Bialver stretches out his muscles. It's time for adventure!
Minabel yawns, and thinks about the soft feather mattress at the Pony; wondering when, if ever, she will sleep so well again.
Maegdin takes his pipe out of his mouth and knocks it out on the bridge-wall. 'I'd not worry overmuch,' he says as he stows it in his pouch. 'We're walking in the day, and I doubt we'll run into anything today.' He picks up his pack and slings it over his shoulders. 'If you're ready, let's be off.'
Minabel wonders if she should have worn her boots instead of her slippers. She sighs and prepares to follow Maegdin
Bialver gives himself a shake, and sets off after the others
Arasthel nods and sets to follow Maegdin.

Bialver stretches his legs to keep up with the Ranger, who sets a good pace, and breathes deep of the morning air
Maegdin walks at the head of the company, his long stride making up for the slower pace he walks. He hums a walking-song as he goes. His eyes, however, continually scan the fields to either side of the Road.
Minabel starts to feel out of breath. She cannot remember the last time that she walked so far. All of her hunting before was done near her house, but then again, she never hunted men or whatever were those creatures.
Arasthel had spent a lot of time hiking in her life, and was accustomed to such things. She looked around also, but more in appreciation of the beauty of the area than wariness of her surroundings.
Minabel hopes that they reach Maegdin's friend's camp soon. Her feet are starting to hurt. Her mood starts to improve as she sees herds of boars move across the road. Looks like boar is on the menu for tonight.

Maegdin and the rest of the company pass a building site at around midday. The builders look up for a moment as the travelers come down the Road before turning back to their meal.
Bialver looks among the builders for Clothar Sandheaver, a Hobbit who took him into the Old Forest
Arasthel gives the partially constructed building a curious look as they pass by. "What will that be, I wonder?"
Minabel recognizes one of the workers as a man who used to own the farm next to her family's. Many of the farmers have had to give up farming and take up work in Breeland.
Minabel hopes that this new inn will restore the Bree countryside to the lovely place it once was.

Maegdin turns his head to speak to Arasthel as they continue walking. 'An inn, or so I hear. Though I'm not sure why one's needed. It's not but a day's walk between Bree-land and the Shire, and there's inns at both Bucklebury and Stock.' He turns back to the road and keeps a wary eye on the copses of trees to either side of the Road.
Arasthel nods, then gives a perplexed look. "That is odd, but I suppose they have their reasons." She turns to look at the landscape once again.
Bialver shrugs "Never amiss to stop for a pint, although the beer at the Pony and the Golden Perch are hard to mtach"
Minabel remembers that she heard from her uncle Barnabas that Adso the hobbit hoped to rival both the Pony and the Green Dragon with his inn.
Bialver adds "But no beer here today!" as they stride on

Minabel yawns and stretches. They have been walking for what seems eternity.
Bialver gets his inevitable bag of honeycake out of his pack, and passes it around
Maegdin accepts one of Bialver's cakes gratefully. 'My thanks, friend,' he says. 'We'll eat well tonight, I'm sure. My friend, Glen, is a fine hunter.'
Bialver shoots a mischevoius glance at Minabel "perhaps we'll get one of those boars you were looking at so hungrily, eh?"
Minabel says, 'I hope you all do not think me a pain if I ask how long it is to the camp?'
Arasthel also takes a honeycake, smiling at him, "Thank you." She looks over to Minabel, having wondered the same thing.

Maegdin looks back with mild sympathy. 'We're probably reach his camp around sundown,' he says. 'He's supposed to be camping on a rise near the Hay Gate and the Brandywine Bridge.'
Minabel thanks both Maegdin for the update and Bialver for the honeycakes; which she delicately nibbles at.
Arasthel nods. "I am grateful for my well crafted boots, then."

Bialver, after another hour or so, shades his eyes and looks off to the north of the road, where smokes is visible on a rise some distance away
Maegdin and the company finally draw in sight of the Bridge as the sun touches the tops of the distant hills in front of them. He leads them off of the Road and up into the hills to the north, aiming towards the smoke some of them may be able to see rising from a small hollow.
Bialver follows, casting a wistful glance toward Buckland to the southwest
Arasthel followed Maegdin, looking around more closely. "I hear there are some interesting ruins in these hills." She comments, looking towards Maegdin for confirmation.
Minabel slowly climbs the hill behind the others

Maegdin replies to Ara. 'So I hear. I've never been to see them myself.' As he says this, he crests the last rise and catches sight of the campsite. He cries out in surprise when he sees a Ranger lying by the fire as if in pain. He rushes towards him, suddenly concerned.
Minabel stops as if startled by Maegdin's cry. She starts to speed up as she climbs the hill.
Bialver looks up, interested at the mention of ruins, then starts at Maegdin'd cry and hurries after him
Bialver waves to Arasthel and calls "Bandages!"
Arasthel was looking around, but at Maegdin's cry, her head snapped around to also see the Rangar. She ran the rest of the way, already fumbling for her satchel, pulling out all the medical supplies she had.
Minabel reaches the top of the hill and kneels down by the wounded man. "Would you like me to brew you a tea to dull the nerves?".

Maegdin kneels over his cousin as he comes up to the fire. "Glen" feebly raises a hand in welcome. 'Oh, good,' he says. 'Aragorn sent help.' Matt looks him over in concern. 'What happened, Glen?' he asks, carefully using the name.
Bialver lifts his waterskin from around his neck and hands it to Mina.
Minabel looks towards the Brandywine and sets off to see if any of the herbs her money taught her about grow on its shores. Finding a few, she grinds them up and adds them to a cup in her bag along with water from Bialver's waterskin.

Glen nods in understanding at Matt's words. 'I'm glad Strider sent you,' he says. 'I was watching the Hay Gate last night when four riders in black broke down the gate and rode for Bree like thunder. I was fool enough to try to stand in their way.' He rods to Mina gratefully. 'Yes, a willowbark tea would be most welcome.' He waves off Ara's bandages. 'I'll be fine. I'm bruised, but there's no lasting damage. All I need is rest and I'll be as well as I ever was.' He looks to Matt. 'I do need you and your friends to do something for me, though.'
Minabel waits for the water to boil in the Ranger's fire and then hands him the cup.
Minabel then goes back down the hill to see if she can find more willowbark to boil.
Bialver frowns at the mention of "riders"
Arasthel nods to him, tucking the bandages back into her satchel. " riders...." she asks nervously.
Bialver nods at the half-formed question
Minabel sits down next to the Ranger and watches him anxiously.

Maegdin settles himself next to Glen and waits for him to continue. The other smiles slightly. 'Well, first I need you to do some hunting, seeing as we have all these mouths to feed. But tomorrow, I need you to head into Buckland and make sure everything's alright. Their Horn-call alerted me to the riders, and I'm concerned for the Hobbits.'
Minabel stands up and asks "What do you feel like eating? I can hunt just about any type of game. Just as long as it is not a baby animal. I do not hunt piglets or young and tender coneys.”
Bialver thinks of the fine oven at the Buckland Craft-Faire and says "I'll be happy to go at first light, if y'like"

Maegdin looks over at Bialver. 'I think we should all go. The Bucklanders aren't as leery of us Big Folk as the rest of the Shire-folk are. And,' he looks to Mina, 'feel free to bring in whatever you can quickly. I'd not advise you to go more than a mile or so, though. If need be, we'll just eat what we've brought and buy more food tomorrow at Newbury.'
Bialver nods silently, then offers to accompany Mina
Minabel grabs her bow and takes off down the hill looking for an over the hill boar who has lived long enough and is ready to become stew.
Bialver follows her, muttering about what hobbits can and can't carry
Maegdin speaks quietly and urgently to Glen as the others head off to hunt.
Chapter 4: Questions at Crickhollow

As the Sun rises over the valley of the Brandywine, those in the little camp overlooking the Road are awakened by the sound and smell of grilling bacon. Matt is seated by the campfire, several rashers of boar bacon sizzling away, while several more sit ready to go in next. A camp kettle is just beginning to steam, and a loaf of bread sits beside him on top of his pack.
Bialver wakes up sniffing the air, and smiles before he even opens his eyes.

Buckford strides up to the camp, tipping his hat to the folks present. "Well met! Pleased to see your 'live and well. Ol' Barli shared yer message." He pushes his cap back on his head. "Sister's husband took sick. Needed some hands 'round the farm. Walked all night to catch ye." He pauses to look at the food. "Looks mighty fine."
Minabel gestures to the bacon cooking on the fire and says, "Help yourself."
Maegdin looks up and smiles as he hears Buckford come up the hill. 'Ah, welcome back!' he says brightly. 'Glad to see all's well with you. Have a seat. This'll be ready soon enough.'

Arasthel wakes on her bedroll, neatly tucked off to the side and she sits up. Her eyes widen and she perks up and the smell of bacon and she gets up, pulling her hat over her mussed hair. "Mmm, that smells delicious!"
Bialver stretches and scrubs his face with his paws before reaching for his first rasher
Trumodir walks up and greets the group with a gruff "'lo, I was passing by and heard voices, so I thought I'd best see what was going on." She sniffs and grumbles, 'What's that awful smell? Burning flesh?'
Bialver looks up at the sound of another Beorning voice and quickly hides the bacon he was about to eat.

Adaldag approaches the camp on horseback. As he reaches the others, he stops and dismounts. "Sorry I'm a little late. Had some business in town to attend to." He guides his horse to the side and glances around the small camp.
Trumodir turns to the strange Beorning and asks, "Got any vittles with you?"
Minabel offers the wounded Ranger some bacon in the hope that it will give him strength.
Buckford tips his hat once more and takes a seat by the fire, pulling some hard cheese and bread from a small satchel, "Aye, thank ye kindly." He slices the bread and cheese, offering them out. "Share if ye will." He nods to the newcomer. "Reckon yer not from 'round these parts?"
Bialver hesitantly holds out his ever present bag of honey cakes

Maegdin looks over at the newcomer. 'Welcome, miss,' he says carefully. 'Make yourself at home at our little camp. I'll certainly not turn away a hungry traveller. Name's Matt Westing, and this--' he gestures to the Ranger beside him-- 'is my cousin Glen. The others can make their own introductions?' He smiles at the others.
Bialver looks off into the distance and says "it's not what you'd call *proper* Vales cake, but it'll take the edge off your hunger."
Arasthel eyes the cooking food, then looks up to the newcomer with an easy smile. "I am Arasthel of Gondor. Welcome."
Minabel smiles amicably at the newcomer. "Minabel with a "b". Pleased to make your acquaintance."

Maegdin nods in welcome to Adaldag. 'Ah, welcome back, Watcher. Glad to see old Barley didn't lose my message in that lumberyard of a head of his. Sit down and have a bite. We'll be heading into Buckland soon as the folk there are up.'
Trumodir says, 'Thanks all the same, but I have cake. I was hoping for honey to pour on it.'

Bialver makes a slight bow and says "Bialver Hunnangsbjorn, of the Vales"
Minabel points to a tree a few years away. "I thought I saw a hive up in the branches of that tree."
Trumodir replies, 'Trumodir, also of the Vales, which are lovelier than anywhere else in Middle-earth.'
Buckford sets his bread down for a moment, "Fraid I brought no honey. But I'm Buckford Arrowroot. Might have a touch o' butter if'n it suits ye."
Bialver smiles reminiscently. "Not but what the world is worth seeing, but aye, aye..."
Trumodir replies to Buckford, 'Yes, that would be a good addition.'
Adaldag grabs a few pieces of bacon, but remains standing off to the side. He nods to the newcomer, "Adaldag."

Maegdin pulls the finished bacon out of the pan and places it on a wooden plate. 'Help yourself,' he says as he adds new meat to the pan. He also gestures to the bread. 'If you want toast, it'll have to wait.' The kettle starts to whistle. 'Can one of you get that? I think Glen has some tea in his pack.' Glen grumbles a little at that. 'I wish you'd not be so free with my things, cousin,' he mutters. 'I don't know when next I'll be able to get more.'
Trumodir muses, 'Honey-cakes are good solid food, but best with a bit of something on top.'
Buckford snorts beneath his beard, but makes no further comment as to the most beautiful part of Middle-earth. He adds some slices of bacon to his bread.
Arasthel chuckles at the Rangers' exchange and reaches over to pull the kettle from the fire, putting her gloves on before grabbing the heated item.
Minabel finishes her bacon and bread and find a patch of sunshine to lie in and soak in the morning sun.
Maegdin chuckles at his cousin's mutterings. 'Ah, come now,' he says. 'You'll be up and about soon. If it's really that important to you, I'll bring you some back from Buckland when we return.'

Trumodir growls with pleasure. 'That was very good with your butter; my thanks.'
Buckford nods an acknowledgment. "Most welcome. Let it never be said Bree-folk are inhospitable with their butter."
Trumodir turns to Bialver and asks, 'How far down the Vales is your home? I don't remember meeting you before.'
Bialver is looking closely at the designs on Trumodir's shoulder wrap. He says with great interest, "I can't help but notice...ahem...isn't that the knotwork of old Knurringbjorn's clan?
Minabel sits up and looks around. "I swear I hear crebain cawing. Let's hunt some and save the annoying little things for lunch."

Maegdin scowls at Minabel's suggestion. 'Why would you *eat* those foul things?' He shudders slightly.
Arasthel makes a face. "Ugh...I can't imagine those would taste good."
Minabel looks abashed. "Sorry, I just thought we could put them to some use. As it is, they have no purpose but to fly and spy for Sharkey".
Buckford frowns at the suggestion. "Eat th' carrion? Ye'd take sick in an hour."
Adaldag nods at what Buckford says.

Trumodir gives a small smile, replying to Bialver's question, "Why, yes. How is it you know of my clan yet I do not know you?” She interjects into the other conversation, “We can use the feathers, or sell them.”
Bialver smiles back "I took to wandering young… but Birokter Bikube raised me, old Knurring's shield-mate." He whispers to Trumodir "...and taught me not to eat carrion birds."
Trumodir gasps, “Ah! now I know you. I have heard tales of your wanderings! But, I didn't know your name.”
Minabel turns excitedly to Trumodir. "Oh yes, they would make a nice cloak! I used to make clothes, did you know?"
Bialver nods. "Well, not everyone in the Vales thinks a Beorning should go running off after impossible dreams, eh?"
Trumodir nods vigorously, adding, “I would have preferred to stay there amongst the flowers and animals, but my father bade me seek to help others in the wider world.”
Bialver nods gravely. "Yours has always been an honourable clan."
Trumodir pauses, then speaks slowly to Minabel. "I hate to kill animals, but if the crebain are truly spies for evil, we should do so.”

Maegdin finishes cooking the second batch of bacon. He helps himself to some food before looking around to the others. 'Finish up your meal, friends. We have to go figure out what got the Bucklanders so riled up last night.' He looks over to Trumodir. 'You're welcome to come, if you'd like. So long as Bialver will vouch for you?' He looks at the other man.
Buckford raises an eyebrow in surprise, pipe held halfway to his mouth, "Riled the Bucklanders? Must ha' been wile to stir the Hobbits up."
Minabel looks at Trumodir with a puzzled look on her face. "Do you not hunt?"
Trumodir replies to Minabel. "Only my enemies."
Bialver straightens up and gives the Ranger a very direct look. "Any daughter of the Knurrebjorner can be trusted when claws come out and teeth are bared." He adds with a smile, "And for good fellowship and a hollow leg for mead… if it's good enough."
Trumodir laughs.

Arasthel takes a strip of back and alternates sipping at her tea, looking around the group. "I am ready whenever everyone else is ready."
Minabel stretches out her arms above her head. "Okay, lead on."
Adaldag finishes up his bacon. "Ready." He adds, "Will we be returning to this camp after, or should I bring the horse with me?"
Minabel gets up off her warm patch of sun and brushes off her dress.
Bialver wipes his hands and shoulders his bow "As am I."
Buckford knocks the ash from his pipe and stands, slinging his quiver back over his shoulder. "Aye, let us be off."
Maegdin takes a drink of tea and smiles. 'Very well, then. I can't ask for more than that.' He finishes the rest of his food and sets his dish to the side. He claps Glen on the shoulder. 'Well, cousin, since you're not going anywhere today, we'll leave the cleaning for you. We should be back before nightfall, at the latest.' Glen grumbles under his breath and Matt laughs. He stands up, slings his pack on his pack, and picks up his bow. 'Well, then. Let's head off.'
Minabel dusts herself off and picks up her bow from the ground, slinging it across her back.
Adaldag nods and moves to follow Maegdin.
Arasthel chuckles a little and hoists her pack onto her back, grabbing her walking stick and readying to follow.

Maegdin leads the company down the hill and along the Road towards the Bridge. The journey goes quickly, and before an hour is out, the company is nearing the Hay Gate. There appear to be more Bounders than usual watching the Road today.
Trumodir looks at Minabel and asks, "You don't look ready to get blood all over that beautiful dress of yours."

Maegdin walks right up the Gate, but a Shirriff steps in front of him. 'Stop right there, if you please!' the Hobbit says. 'What's all this, then? We don't want no more Big Folk nosin' around Buckland right now, 'specially not so many of you.'
Trumodir growls softly to herself.
Bialver chuckles
Buckford tips his hat to the Shirriff, "Top 'o the morn to ye, Shirriff. Been a while since I made my way here. Buckford, from Bree."
Adaldag walks forward to stand next to Maegdin, figuring seeing a Bree-town watcher might put the hobbits at ease somewhat.
Arasthel arches a brow at the little hobbit, then frowns. She doesn't say anything though, figuring the others can handle it.
Bialver discreetly hangs back.

Maegdin laughs. 'Oh, come now, Hob Hayward! You know me. How many pelts have I brought in to market here over the years?' Hob looks closer at him, and his face brightens. 'Oh! It's you, Mr. Westing! Well, that's different, then. But who're all your friends? Don't think I've ever seen so many Big Folk in one place in all my days.'
Bialver slowly moves forward
The Hobbit takes a closer look at Buckford and shakes his head, though he nods to Adaldag. 'Don't know who you are, friend. Watcher,' he says companionably.
Buckford shrugs, "Aye, thought it might be the case. Been more'n a few years."
Adaldag nods his head in agreement with Maegdin. "The Bree-town watch is working with Mr. Westing here to help figure this out."
Minabel curtsies. "I am Minabel from Bree-land. Daughter of Bram Applegate, farmer and his wife Mina."
Bialver takes another slow step forward and nods "Bialver Hunnangsbjorn, of the Vales, good Halfling."
Trumodir chimes in, "And I am Trumodir, also from the Vales, beyond the mountains.”

Maegdin smiles down at Hob. 'One of my friends said he heard the Horn-call a couple of nights ago, and asked me and my friends here to come see if you folk needed any help, or at least to see what the ruckus was.'
The Shirriff's face darkens a little at that. 'Oh, that was some queer business, it was, right enough. Rousted me right out of bed, it did. Thought the Forest might be up to some mischief, but I'd hardly rolled myself out of bed and put my cap on when I heard a clatter of hooves on the road from Bucklebury. I stuck my head out of the Watch-house door, and what did I see but four Big Folk in black clothes on great black horses ridin' like the wind for the Hay Gate! Well, I ducked back inside, and good thing, too, for they burst down the gate and rode like lightning toward Bree! Turns out they ransacked that little house at Crickhollow Mr. Baggins had bought, though I can't say what for. At least old Fatty's safe, though he's still shaken up.'

Adaldag frowns deeply. He remains silent.
Arasthel frowns. "Why would those black riders ransack a hobbit house?"
Buckford frowns beneath his beard, pulling at it, as he listens.
Trumodir mutters to herself, "and what about Bree then?"
Bialver shivers. The Black-Robed ones again!
Maegdin frowns slightly, but speaks lightly. 'Well, that is queer, indeed. Do you think we could go take a look at the house, and maybe speak to... Fatty, you said it was?'
Minabel says, "Fatty. Is that his proper name or some kind of a nickname?"
Bialver murmurs, "Seven Big Folk. They'll talk of it for years, these halflings"

Hob nods and waves them on. 'If you'll vouch for your folk, Mr. Westing, Watcher, go right ahead. It's Fredegar Bolger, Fatty as most folk call him, who you'll want to see. Last I heard he's back at the house, trying to get things fixed up. Can't say where Mr. Frodo's got hisself off to, nor Mr. Merry. I just hope those tom-fools didn't decide to go gallavantin' around in the Old Forest. Trees are acting queerer than they have in a month of Mondays, and that's sayin' something.' He waves them on in. 'Crickhollow's a couple miles down the road, then turn east. It's about a mile further on, behind a large hedge. Be sure to be back out the Gate afore dark. I don't think there's any beds that would fit you in Buckland.'

Trumodir whispers to Bialver, "These halflings sure do love to talk"
Maegdin nods to the Shirriff. 'Thanks for the directions, Hob. We'll make sure to be out before you lock the Gate. Good day to you.' He turns to the others and waves them on, saying nothing more for the moment.
Adaldag smiles and dips his head to Hob before following Maegdin.
Minabel bows deeply.
Bialver gives the Shirriff another nod and walks softly by, trying not to loom

Maegdin pauses part of the way down the path to Crickhollow and turns to the others. He looks around to make sure there are no hobbits around before speaking.
Arasthel halts as Maegdin does and looks at him expectantly.
Maegdin says, 'It sounds like they've gone already, thank heavens. Still, keep an eye out. They wanted something, though what it was, I can't even begin to imagine.' He turns and heads down the path, eyes scanning the trees and bushes for any signs. The outward track of the riders is plain to see, as it drives straight for the Gate, over the fields and through hedges.
Minabel positions herself in the middle of the group.

Trumodir gives a little gasp when she sees the door of the house
Maegdin pauses as he comes to the gate in the hedge. 'Hullo!' he calls. 'Mr Bolger, are you home?' 'Eh? Who's there?' comes a hobbit voice, tinged with worry and anxiety. A hobbit, shorter and fatter than most, pops his head out from the door, which is still hanging off its hinges. He jumps slightly when he sees a large group of Big Folk standing by the hedge.
Trumodir hastens to hide her weapons
Arasthel gives a little wave to the Hobbit before looking around the yard.

Maegdin raises his hand in greeting. 'I'm Matt Westing, and these are some friends of mine from Bree. We heard word from Hob at the gate that there was some commotion here, which I can see clearly was true. Can we come in?' Fatty eyes them for a moment before sighing and nodding. Matt unlatches the gate and heads up the lawn path.
Adaldag nods and stands off to the side to listen.
Buckford stands off in the back, looking up above the house to the trees behind it
Minabel cocks her head. "There is the sound of those annoying little birds again."
Bialver peers around the back of the house
Trumodir sighs and looks frustrated.
Arasthel follows the group in, listening carefully.

Trumodir whispers to Matt, "Can we look around to see if we can find anything, or must we wait for this fat hobbit to invite us to?"
Trumodir sighs, "Why does it take so long for hobbits to do anything?"
Bialver mutters almost inaudibly "mustn't call them fat little bunnies....mustn't call them fat little..."
Minabel frowns at Trumodir. "I do not think that it is very nice to make fun of people's weight."

Maegdin smiles slightly at Trumodir, but speaks to Fatty. 'So, what happened here? Hob said something about black riders? It certainly looks like they did for the house fairly well.'
Adaldag continues to listen quietly.
Trumodir is fidgeting restlessly.
Buckford looks back to the front gate, shifting his feet uneasily, listening to what Fatty was saying
Trumodir begins to pace back and forth
Bialver 's eyes stray to the forest that looms over the hedge

Fatty shivers. 'Yes, I think they were all in black, but I didn't wait to find out. They came in the midnight last night, and I ran out the backdoor and out the back gate as fast as I could. They scared me right out of my wits! Worse than anything I ever heard tell of, they were. When I got to the closest house, they sent up the Horn-call and scared those villains off. I'm glad I ran. I can't imagine what they'd do if they found out I didn't have It!'
Arasthel looks towards the hobbit hole, assessing the damage, then looks back to Fatty with widening eyes.
Trumodir says to nobody in particular, "Look what they did to the vegetable bed!"
Minabel turns to the hobbit. "What didn't you have, Fred?" "Can I call you Fred?"
Maegdin nods at the hobbit's story. 'I agree; it's good you ran. There wasn't anything else you could have done. But what were they looking for? You seem to have some idea.'
Bialver looks intently at the Hobbit. "Didn't have...'It'?"
Trumodir says, "Maybe you'd better speak more plainly"

Fatty nods vigorously. 'Well, it sounds like they were looking for Frodo. He, Pippin, and Sam told some tale about how these black men chased them all the way from Hobbiton! Maybe it's all for the good that they went into the Forest instead of taking the Road. Frodo seems to be sure they were looking for him and the Enemy's Ring.' Fatty's eyes go wide as he suddenly realises what he just said, and he claps his hands over his mouth. 'Er, um, ah...' he stammers. 'That's to say, they've probably got something to do with some of that treasure old Bilbo brought back from his adventure. Though I can't say why. He spent all of it, I thought.' As he says this last, several crows take flight from the branches of a tree and wing off towards the east.

Minabel gasps. "A ring? What does it look like?"
Trumodir asks, "Does anyone know what he's talking about?"
Buckford raises an eyebrow. "A ring?"
Adaldag raises a brow.
Trumodir says, "Last I heard, rings are pretty common things."
Minabel points at them. "There go those nasty little things again."
Maegdin 's eyes widen slightly, but he keeps his composure. He seems ready to respond when he sees the crows. 'Damn!' he shouts. He strings his bow and shoots off an arrow, but it misses by far. He scowls and unstrings his bow.
Adaldag blinks, tensing up as an arrow is fired. "What? What makes a ring so important?"
Buckford starts in surprise, drawing an arrow and nocking it to the bowstring, following the bird's path and looses it

Bialver lets an arrow fly at the retreating birds
Arasthel gives a sharp whistle and her falcon comes streaking out of the sky, talons extended towards one of the crebain.
Minabel suddenly notices a cloak lying on the doorstep. "Who does that cloak belong to?" I can patch it up for you, or perhaps I can make one of crebain feathers. There seems to be no shortage of potential doners."

Buckford's and Bialver's arrows both strike home, and two crows fall out of the sky. Arasthel's falcon, however, is less lucky. Its craban makes a lucky dodge, and the falcon's talons close on thin air. About four crows disappear into the canopy of the Forest.
The falcon, affectionately named Birdie, screeches and within a few flaps of his wings is back in the air.
Buckford frowns, lowering the bow as the birds fly off into the distance. "Odd behavior for birds."

Maegdin looks back at Fatty as the crows fly off. 'Thanks for your time, friend. If you'll take my advice, I'd suggest not to remain in Buckland. It might be best to head back to your family's home. We, however, need to be off.' Fatty nods. 'Oh, don't worry! As soon as I can make sure the door is fixed and locked, I'm heading back to Budgeford! I'm never crossing the Bridge again!'
Trumodir mutters, "We should have just gotten them outside the camp"

Maegdin nods. 'That sounds like a good plan. Thank you, again.' He turns and heads back for the hedge gate, turning left to go see if he can find the birds before they leave.
Adaldag follows with a confused expression on his face.
Fatty looks around in slight confusion. 'Oh, very well. It was a pleasure meeting you!' he calls after them.

Bialver follows as the Ranger circles the hedge
Trumodir shrugs, "I'm glad that's over with!"
Arasthel also follows, her eyes lifting up into the sky in search of Birdie.
Buckford gives a tip of his hat and steps out the hedge, looking out to the entrance, following the others.

Maegdin crouches down by a bush some distance towards the Hay. 'Over here,' he calls. Two crows lie broken beneath its branches, arrows stuck in them.
Buckford walks over and kneels to study the birds, reaching to retreive his arrow.
Bialver trots towards the fallen birds, bent low, snuffing the air as he goes
Trumodir asks, "Find anything?"
Bialver makes a face. "Nothing good", he says
Bialver picks up one of the birds and retrieves his arrow.

Maegdin looks over the birds, scowling. He turns to the others. 'We need to get back to Glen's camp, and quickly. I'm afraid we won't be able to stop for provisions in Newbury. I need to talk with him and decide what to do now.'
Buckford nods seriously.
Bialver sets off at a trot, back towards the road and the Ranger's camp
Adaldag nods and goes to follow. "When we get a free moment, I would like to know why a ring would be so important to those… things. You seem like you might have an idea."

Maegdin raises a hand to Hob as they pass the Gate. 'Thank you again, Shirriff,' he says. 'Fatty's doing well, all things considered.'
Bialver draws back, examining the dead, and to be truthful somewhat odorous, bird.
Buckford tips his hat again to the Shirriff, "Preciate yer allowance, Shirriff."

Hob looks up as they come up the road. He takes his pipe out of his mouth. 'Well, that's good to know,' he says. 'Afore you go, I should have told you earlier: old Gandalf come through here early this morning, while everything was still all astir. He didn't stay to talk, but just rode on past toward Bree.' He takes a draw on his pipe and blows out a wavery smoke-ring. 'Sounds like all sorts of queer folk are heading for Bree today. Be safe if you're headed that way yourselves.' He raises a hand in farewell.

Maegdin looks sharply at the hobbit, but just nods once. 'Thank you for letting me know. Be safe, Hob.' With that, he heads back towards Glen's camp.
Adaldag raises a brow, but then shrugs and follows after Maegdin.
Bialver mutters to Trumodir "Galdramaðr."
Trumodir turns without a word and mounts her horse.
Arasthel simply dusts herself off, though she wasn't dirty, and follows after the others, giving a smile and a nod to Hob.
Bialver 's steady trot takes him back toward the camp

Bialver arrives at the camp, and sits down to study the corpse of the creban
Trumodir sits down.
Maegdin settles himself beside the fire when they return to the camp. He sighs heavily and takes his pipe from his pouch. As he packs it, Glen asks, 'Well? What did you learn?' Matt sighs and lights up before speaking. 'I learned quite a bit, and none of it good.'
Buckford frowns as he listens, steepling his fingers beneath his chin.
Trumodir sighs, "All that listening made me thirsty"
Bialver takes out a knife and begins to skin the craban.
Trumodir looks over at Bialver."What are you going to do with that?"
Bialver looks up at his kinswoman. "Feathers."

Maegdin takes several puffs, as if to clear his head. Glen waits for him to continue. 'It turns out that the Riders attacked a house in Buckland, looking for a Mr. Baggins.' Glen looks up sharply at that name, but says nothing. 'He and some of his friends had headed off into the Old Forest a few days ago, but there was still one of his friends there. He got away, fortunately, and sent up the Horn-call. He was able to tell us what happened, but some crebain were listening. I didn't see them until too late. We shot down two of them, but more got off into the Forest.'

Arasthel extends her arm as Birdie comes down from the skies. She pulls out some dried meat from her satchel, feeding her companion as the others talk.
Buckford taps his fingers together. "Ye mean to go after the crows that fled?"
Glen nods gravely. 'Well, there's no changing what's past now. All we can is decide how to remedy this.' He looks around. 'But no more of this for now. You lot must be hungry and thirsty. I was just waiting for you to come back to cook up a haunch of that boar you brought in. Take your ease here tonight. I'll be glad for the company.'
Trumodir glances at Bialver. "You have any mead? I'm running low."
Bialver gives Lenglinn a smile. 'That's welcome, Ranger."
Bialver smiles at the mention of mead, and extends a half-full skin to Trumodir. "Butterbur's, but not half-bad."

Trumodir accepts the skin, takes a drink, and passes it back with a smile.
Adaldag takes a seat and dozes off.
Maegdin spits the boar-haunch that Glen had prepared and sets it to roast. He looks over at Buckford. 'Maybe. Can't say yet. Don't worry about it for now, though.'
Chapter 5: Into the Woods

Minabel asks Bialver "Would you like me to make that crebain into a cloak? I brought a sewing kit with me."
Bialver looks up from the carcass to meet Mina's eyes. "Might not be enough feathers for a whole cloak" he says with a smile.
Minabel smiles, "That is okay, I think I will make this poor injured Ranger a pair of crebain socks to keep him warm."

Maegdin sits close beside Glen as the boar-haunch roasts over the fire. The Rangers have their heads close together, talking in low voices. Concern and worry are evident on their faces.
Arasthel looks up into the sky, watching Birdie soar as she listens to the little bits of conversation floating around her. The general worry in the group was making her worry even more, leaving her quieter than usual.
Adaldag stands there quietly.
Bialver 's smile turns to a frown. "Or will wearing these bring us unwanted attention?" he asks.
Minabel turns to Bialver, "Do you think the crebain can sense their fallen comrades?"

Maegdin pauses for a moment and looks around at the other members of his company. He sighs, and turns back to Glen. He speaks softly and urgently, shaking his head. Glen answers him with a scowl and a muttered, 'I don't see that we have any other choice.'
Minabel shakes her head. "That is okay, we can always sew the feathers into a bag and use as a pillow. We can use something soft out here."
Bialver shrugs "They're uncanny birds, maybe we don't want whoever....." He trails off as he catches a few words of what the Rangers are saying
Arasthel looks down towards the Rangers as she hears Maegdin's words. She frowns a little, not liking the sound of that.
Adaldag looks over and raises a brow at Maegdin and Glen.

Maegdin sighs and shakes his head, turning away from his cousin. He checks on the meal and then lights his pipe, taking a few puffs to calm himself.
Maegdin looks around at the company again, and then beckons them over. 'Come, friends. Have a seat at the fire. We need to talk, and our dinner is almost ready.'
Arasthel clears her throat gently, then asks the obvious question. "So...what is the plan, exactly?"
Arasthel takes a seat at the fire.

Maegdin takes another drag on his pipe and lets out a smoke ring before answering. He watches it go floating away on the breeze as he says, 'I will be going into the Old Forest. I need to find those crebain which fled us before they report to their master. I do not ask any of you to go with me.'
Adaldag frowns slightly. "My father used to tell me the trees in there walked and that the plants had minds of their own."
Bialver lights his own pipe and smokes silently while his companions consider the Ranger's words
Minabel looks at Maegdin in horror, "Not that place. It is cursed, and the animals are not normal. Adaldag is right, they say the trees move in the Old Forest."
Minabel continues, "I have hunted all over Breeland, but of the animals of the Old Forest, no one hunts." They are possessed."
Bialver says 'I've entered that forest as a favor to one of Adso's men. The trees are old, very old...they do not care for what goes on two legs.' He takes another puff. "They will not welcome us."

Maegdin smiles grimly and nods at all of their comments. 'I know it well, friends. I would not go into that place unless I had no other choice, which is why I will not insist that you come with me. I have gone in a few times, and come out again, but it was... strange, to say the least.'
Bialver asks "Is that all we will do in that forest? Hunt for winged spies?"
Arasthel looks from Adaldag to Mina and back to Maegdin. "I, for one, think those tales are mere myth. If you require people, I will go along."
Bialver puffs his pipe and appears to consider. "I have been in once, and come out again. I will go on this errand with you."
Adaldag rolls his shoulders. "I'm not turning back now."

Maegdin smiles warmly at them. 'Thank you all, once again,' he says with genuine feeling. 'This may seem like a small matter, but truly it may have a greater impact than any of us can say.' He looks over at Bialver. 'Perhaps "hunt" is the wrong word. I cannot hope to find a few birds in the whole expanse of the Forest. However, I have heard stories of one who has lived on the edge of the Forest for many years. I hope that he can help me find what I seek, if he still lives.'
Bialver looks interested "Another Ranger?" he asks.
Maegdin shakes his head. 'Not from what I've heard. I've never actually met him, though I have heard stories. He's something of an... eccentric.' He chuckles. 'Not that any other kind of person would live in the Old Forest,' he says.

Minabel looks at Bialver, "I hope it is not that funny little man that the farmer who lived a few miles from us encountered. He went to the Old Forest to look for boar and he said a strange man with a blue coat and a yellow hat greeted him. He said his name was 'Tom', but what kind of man named 'Tom' lives in the Old Forest?"
Adaldag continues to listen quietly.
Maegdin leans forward and checks on the boar-haunch. He nods and pulls it from the fire and begins carving it up. He looks over at Mina. 'Yes, that is one of the names I've heard he has. Did this farmer say where he met him?'
Bialver raises his eyebrow "A blue coat and a yellow hat? That does sound like one of Arasthel's myths"
Arasthel just stares. "You realize this all sounds very....unlikely?"

Maegdin shrugs and begins passing plates of roast boar around. 'I have it from very good authority that he lives there. Besides, do you have a better plan?'
Minabel looks at Maegdin. "He said that he followed the boar he was hunting to a waterfall in the Old Forest and that he saw a house. I man came out and acted very strange and began to sing. The farmer told my father that he thinks the poor man went mad from living in the Old Forest. This Tom guy was singing this nonsensical song and referring to himself in the third person. The farmer gave up on the boar and turned to go home. Besides it was getting late, and no one wants to be in the Old Forest after dark.'

Bialver waves away the boar, and takes a heel of the bread from breakfast out of his pack, which we puts on a stick and begins to toast at the fire.
Bialver shakes his head. "I would go into the forest just to see this curious person."
Minabel shakes her head. "He must have been mad. He was deep in the cursed place and all he cared about was picking lilies for some girl named Goldbuggy, or something like that."
Minabel looked quizzical, "Maybe it was not Goldbuggy. Something 'Gold'.
Bialver whistles "An insane romantic poet deep in the woods. We will be keeping some curious company on our journey!"

Arasthel looks incredulous, muttering something about it all being very unlikely again.
Minabel looked at Arasthel. "Well, anyway that is what the farmer said, but after all, he was heavy into the mead that night."

Maegdin laughs at Bialver's comment. 'That's certainly true!' he says brightly. 'It lightens my heart to see that you're willing to come with me. Thank you again.' He looks around. 'We'll set out in the morning. I'm sure none of us want to be caught in that forest at night.'
Minabel shakes her head no. "Most certainly not."
Bialver puts down his pipe and slaps his knee. "If nothing else, we will have some tales to tell of what we did...or did not...see in this forest. In the morning it is!"
Adaldag nods in agreement.

Arasthel finally lets out a short laugh. "Indeed. It will seem the light of day, yes?"
Adaldag says, "I'm going to get some rest before tomorrow. I'll see you all in the morning." He moves over toward the spot he had picked out for sleeping.
Minabel collects a pile of leaves and makes herself a soft bed off to the side of the campfire. "See you all tomorrow."
Maegdin nods to the others. 'Sleep well.'
Arasthel tugs on her odd hat and murmurs. "I do hope we don't get lost..."
Bialver puts out his pipe and stretches out beside the fire.
Chapter 6: The Old Forest

As day begins to break over the camp by the Road, Matt is once again one of the first ones awake. He sits and looks into the fire for a moment before lighting his pipe and standing to look out across the Road at the forest. He takes a few draws as he watches the light brighten, and then turns back to prepare a quick meal for the company.
Trumodir looks toward the Old Forest, apparently lost in thought.
Minabel reaches for her bag for a few strips of boar jerky and offers the other members of the group some of the tasty meat.
Bialver , who has been happily dreaming of the Vales, opens his eyes when the fire begins to crackle.
Trumodir looks at the meal being prepared with a grumpy look on her face. 'I don't suppose there's any cream here?' she asks.
Arasthel rolls over on her bedroll and finally sits, yawning. Feeling around for her hat, she pulls it over her hair as she sits up and looks at the fire.

Maegdin smiles at Trumodir and shakes his head. 'None closer than Buckland, I'm afraid,' he says. 'I'm just glad Glen had the sense of mind to pick up a few eggs when last he was down there. And that they've not gone yet.' Glen grumbles slightly at this, muttering about 'using all my stock,' but Matt simply laughs again. 'You'll be up and about within the day, cousin. Stop your whining.'
Adaldag composes himself after awaking. He resumes his job of silently standing around.
Trumodir asks Matt, "Do you know the Old Forest at all? Are there any paths we could take?"
Bialver smiles "Perhaps our mysterious singer in the woods will have a table set with cream and honeycomb. Or perhaps we will gnaw on acorns at dinner time."
Trumodir gives Bialver a little smile in response.
Arasthel chuckles a little, heading towards the campfire in search of tea. "As long as it is edible, I'm fine with whatever."

Maegdin looks up from frying eggs and nods. 'There are paths, after a fashion. But they say the paths change and don't always stay the same. There was a way into the forest a little to the east of here. I hope it is still there.'
Trumodir murmurs, "Perhaps we should look for a guide in Buckland."
Minabel turns to Trumodir. "Do you suppose any of the little people would want to go into the Old Forest? They seem rather timid."

Maegdin shakes his head and turns back to the eggs. 'While the Bucklanders are braver than most hobbits, not even many of them go into the Forest, and certainly not as far as we're going to go. They don't go much further than a mile or so into the western edge, and this fellow we're looking for lives on the eastern edge, or so I've heard. Right near the Barrow-downs.'
Minabel shrieks "The Barrow downs?" Are you mad?
Trumodir mutters, "I'm glad there are several of us - safer that way"
Arasthel cringes. "The Barrow Downs are no place for the living."
Bialver says "Barrows, is it? Uncanny things are wont to happen around those old homes of the dead"
Trumodir interjects, "But they are passable if you keep your wits about you"
Adaldag frowns deeply, but doesn't object.

Maegdin begins pulling the eggs from the pan and laying them on thick slices of bread. 'I said he lives *by* the Downs, not *on* them. And besides, they're nothing to fear so long as you walk there in the day and have your wits about you.'
Maegdin begins handing out the trenchers of bread before taking one for himself. He takes a bite and says, 'Besides, we've no other course of action. As I've said many a time, none of you need come with me any further than you wish. For now, eat up, and we'll set out soon.'
Adaldag accepts his food and eats it quietly.
Arasthel helps herself to a bit of breakfast, looking nervously over her shoulder towards where she knew the Old Forest was.
Trumodir accepts the food, grateful that there will be no bacon today.
Minabel looks at the last strips of boar jerky as she finishes them off, sorry that there will be no more bacon.
Bialver finishes his bread and eggs in a few bites, then goes quickly to the nearby spring to fill his water-skin.
Bialver returns a few moments later with his water-skin dripping… as are his hair and beard.

Maegdin eats quickly and drinks the last drops from his water-skin before turning to Glen. 'Thank you again for your hospitality, cousin,' he says earnestly. 'I'll repay you as soon as I may.' Glen waves the thanks away and Matt smiles. He turns to fill his skin at the spring before returning to look at the others. 'When you're ready,' he says.
Minabel follows Bialver to the spring. A girl needs to stay hydrated to preserve her skin... and also not to die of thirst.
Trumodir growls, "Let's get going then!"
Arasthel finishes her breakfast and rises, grabbing her backpack and rolling up her bedroll. "I am ready whenever the rest of you are."
Adaldag nods. "Ready."
Minabel makes sure her water-skin is full, then rejoins the group.
Bialver stretches "Ho for the merry madman of the woods! And Ho for the life of a bear!"
Trumodir glances at Arasthel and fidgets nervously.
Arasthel tries to look braver than she feels.
Trumodir looks about at the group and mutters, "I hope nobody here will turn tail and run when the going gets tough."
Bialver lights his pipe, knowing he won't dare smoke in the woods
Trumodir begins to pace, patience never having been a strong point for her

Maegdin looks around and nods. 'Very well, then. Let us be off.' With a wave of his hand to Glen, he sets off down the hill and along the Road to the east. He walks perhaps half a mile before turning aside and making for the woods.
Bialver makes a slight bow to the Ranger Lenglinn "Thank you for food and fire, Ranger. May your wounds be swift to heal, and your sword arm strong."
Arasthel dips her head to Glen. "Thank you for your hospitality." She then follows Maegdin.
Bialver sets off after Maegdin
Minabel kneels down and pulls the blanket closer around Lenglinn. "Hope you feel better" and follows the others down the hill.
Minabel catches up to them. "Sorry, the big sister instinct in me made me want to make sure he was properly bundled before leaving him."
Adaldag asks, "Should I bring my horse?"
Trumodir, not being adept at social graces, walks by Glen without a word or even a nod.
Maegdin shakes his head at Adaldag's question. 'Not much place for a horse in the woods,' he says. 'Best send it back to Bree, or at least Adso's camp.'
Adaldag nods and guides his horse off to Adso's camp to have it sent back to Bree.

Maegdin pauses at the edge of the Forest. The first straggling trees are all around them, but the main bulk of the woods looms to the south of them. Looking ahead, they can only see innumberale sizes and shapes of tree-trunks: straight and bent, twisting, leaning, smooth or shaggy. All the stems are green or grey with moss and slimy, shaggy growths.
Minabel moves to the center of the group. "Now I am sure that we are lost."
Bialver settles his helm carefully on his head
Arasthel looks uncertain as she stares into the depths of the woods. "This looks.… unnerving...."
Trumodir whispers to herself, "What is that dolly with the red dress doing here? She's likely to run at the first sign of trouble."

Maegdin looks over his shoulder at the others. 'There should be the end of a path around here, unless it's moved. Let me find it, and we'll be on our way.' He begins walking along the edge of the thicker growth until he comes upon the path. 'Ah, here it is. Come, follow me!' With that, he plunges into the depths of the woods.
Arasthel winces and follows, whistling for Birdie to stay close to her.
Trumodir looks about her, not with fear but with anticipation, hoping for some action.
Bialver looks around at the trees, trying to see if he can sense the mood of this part of the forest, then shrugs
Trumodir whispers to Bialver, "There are bears near here; I can smell them"
Adaldag follows closely after Maegdin, not wishing to get lost.
Bialver nods. "Our cousins live happily here, I think. The trees do not mind what goes on four legs."

Trumodir says to the group, "Go slowly and try not to rile the woodland creatures, some of which won't tolerate it.”
Minabel wrinkles up her nose, "something smells foul here."
Minabel turns and sees a wolf walking along. "Oh, so that is what is so foul."
Bialver walks quietly, stopping to rifle a patch of wood strawberries.
Trumodir surveys the woods, wondering where the bears she can smell might be.
Arasthel held her staff in a tight grip, head on a swivel as she looked around. The creaking trees and the wind sent chills up and down her spine. "This place gives me the chills," she whispered hoarsely.
Trumodir responds, "I love the trees. They're very old."

Maegdin leads the company into the Forest. The trees quickly close in around them, hiding the sky and dimming the light to a faint green glimmer. As they go on, the ground begins to rise, and the trees seem to grow taller, darker, and thicker as they go. No sound of bird can be heard, and a sense of growing watchfulness and dislike grows upon them. Some of them may begin to feel like eyes are watching them.
Bialver nods to Arasthel "We are not welcome here, but if we give the Old Ones no offense, it may be we can pass quietly."
Maegdin hums softly as he goes. The forest seems not to bother him overmuch, or at least he doesn't show it.
Trumodir continues, "We should be respectful of the trees here. As everywhere," she adds.
Adaldag constantly looks around as he follows after Maegdin, clearly uncomfortable.
Arasthel nods over to Bialver. "Hopefully they don't consider this an intrusion."
Trumodir huffs, well, maybe we should move along then"

Maegdin looks over his shoulder as he leads them along the trails. 'So long as we walk in the day, we should be fine, especially if we don't break any boughs from the trees as we go. It's warm enough to not need to worry about fire.' After perhaps another half-hour of walking, the company begins to climb a steep slope. They suddenly pass out into an open glade surrounding a tall hill, standing up out of the woods like a bald head, or like an island standing up out of deep waters. As they catch sight of the sky again, they can see that the Sun has risen perhaps half the way up the sky and has burned off all the mists of the morning. The Forest lays around them like a great green carpet.

Adaldag continues to look around, asking Maegdin, "Are we almost there?"
Bialver breathes deep of the forest air and his step grows lighter, but he keeps a wary eye on his companions
Minabel turns to Maegdin. "How long do you think we will have to walk before we reach a place where we can stop and rest? My feet are killing me."
Trumodir takes a deep breath. "Ah, the smell of the forest!"
Minabel takes a small breath. "This forest stinks of wolf and bats."
Trumodir growls harshly, "That's the smell of LIFE!"
Adaldag frowns at the discussion.
Bialver nods "There has been life here long before Men or Halflings knew these lands"
Arasthel climbs the hill, looking out over the trees. "Well, this is a little more open. Thank goodness; it was starting to feel very closed in."
Maegdin looks over at the others. 'Here's as good a place as any to take a rest. We've only come perhaps a quarter of the way.' He points to the east where the trees fall away into a great valley. 'That's the Withywindle over there, and supposedly, the man we're looking for lives on the other side of it.'

Minabel looks at Maegdin. "Good, maybe he can put us up for the night, and I can finally get a proper bath."
Trumodir looks around appreciatively, saying to nobody in particular, "I love being up here, surrounded by a sea of trees."
Bialver looks curiously at a nearby tree "Someone has tapped this tree for its sap."
Trumodir responds, "Then clearly someone comes here who is not afraid of the forest and its inhabitants."
Arasthel scrunches up her nose as she looks towards the river. "This forest is so large. How do we know where to find this man? Even with the river as a landmark?"
Trumodir continues, "It can't be such a haunted place as the tales tell"
Bialver murmurs to Trumodir "By his singing, perhaps?"
Adaldag takes the opportunity to set some of his things aside and take a seat at the base of the tree so he may rest.
Trumodir murmers back to him, "Are regular people always this full of fear about everything?"

Maegdin chuckles a little at the talk. 'All we can really do is make for the river valley and then hope we can find him. If he lives near the river, we should be able to find him easily enough.
Trumodir says to the group, "Look! You can see the trees breathing!"
Bialver smiles as he murmurs back. "You are not long from the Vales, Daughter of the Knurrebjorner. Strange lands, strange folk, full of strange fears."
Trumodir assents, "It can't be that hard, with the river as a guide."

Minabel sits down on the ground and takes off her shoes. She looks at Trumodir, "You must be mistaken. Trees do not breathe. My father said that trees cannot move and he knew all about the Forest."
Bialver sniffs the air. "Springs I smell nearby… but not yet a river." He turns to Trumodir with an inquiring look.
Arasthel takes a seat, pulling a boot off to empty the dirt and small pebbles from it.
Trumodir replies to Minabel, "Open your eyes, will you? You can see their movement as they take breaths!"
Trumodir nods to Bialver, "Yes, the river must be quite a distance from here."
Maegdin gives Bialver and Trumodir an odd look as he takes a seat. 'I can see their branches swaying in some slight breezes, yes. But what do you mean about "breathing"? And you say you can smell springs? Odd.'

Arasthel looks around in confusion. "It just a creepy forest, as far as I can tell."
Trumodir looks at Arasthel and says as kindly as she can, "If you try to sense the life of the forest, it won't seem so creepy."
Adaldag says, to no one in particular, "You know, it's kind of peaceful up on this hill."
Bialver sits with Trumodir.

Maegdin stands up again after a short rest. 'Well, the day's not getting any younger, friends, and I don't want to be caught in the Forest when night comes. Let's be on our way.'
Arasthel pulls her boots back on and rises, brushing the dirt from her pants. "I would rather not be lost at night, that's for certain."
Minabel nods in agreement. "Yes, lets get to this strange man's house and out of this creepy forest."
Trumodir jumps up. "I'm eager to move on."
Adaldag rises and prepares to follow Maegdin.
Bialver follows the others, murmuring to Trumodir, "Let us see what this forest holds, eh?"
Minabel looks apprehensively around her. "Let's just find this crazy guy and get out of this forest."
Bialver shrugs at Minabel, as if to say it takes all kinds.
Arasthel grabs her walking stick and whistles for Birdie, ready to follow the group.

Maegdin leads them off again, deeper into the woods and down towards the valley of the river. Indeed, it seems like they would be forced to go that way even if it were not their goal. The trees always seem denser and thicker to the left and north, and the path they are on curves downhill and to the southeast.
Trumodir breathes deeply and says, "The smell of plants is powerful here, much more powerful than one would expect."
Adaldag looks around the forest repeatedly as they continue on their path.
Bialver's gaze returns again and again to the forest roof, thick and green, and a smile of contentment steals over his face.
Minabel looks as a skinny squirrel scurries past her. "I hope that your friend has some food to spare, because the game here does not look very promising."

Maegdin leads them on their way, though even he begins to look somewhat apprehensive at the thick trees and undergrowth to the north of their path. After about an hour's steady going, however, the company comes suddenly out of the trees and into a wide river valley. A warm noon lays over the valley, and the rustling sound of willow leaves fills the air. The banks are lined with willows, fallen willow-leaves fill the air and float upon the waters, and the stream is blocked by fallen branches and boles of willow. Matt yawns and stretches as if suddenly worn out. 'Well, here we are,' he says. 'This is the Withywindle. Now to find a way up it and across it.'

Bialver nudges Trumodir and nods towards the rustling willow boughs.
Trumodir nods thoughtfully.
Adaldag yawns in turn, glancing around for ways to cross.
Minabel looks across the stream. "Isn't there a bridge or something? Surely, we are not going to wade across it?"
Trumodir retorts grumpily, "If we have to. It's only a little water!" She sits down heavily.
Minabel sits down in the shade of a large willow. "My goodness, I am tired".
Bialver smiles at Minabel. "Are you made of sugar that you will melt crossing the stream?"
Arasthel murmurs. "I only brought one pair of boots, I hope we don't have to swim."
Trumodir responds, "It doesn't look too deep; we could probably walk in it."

Maegdin makes his way down towards the water's edge. 'There is a path here!' he calls. 'Come, let's head north up the stream. It will be easier to cross further towards its source!'
Adaldag follows after Maegdin.
Bialver follows the ranger towards the water, stepping carefully over the willow roots
Trumodir mutters, "I smell danger."
Minabel frowns again. "That is one creepy looking tree over there."
Bialver looks at Trumodir. "From man or beast?" he asks.
Trumodir asks Matt, "What if we cross the stream and go up the other side?"
Trumodir adds, "I have a bad feeling about that tree."

Maegdin pauses suddenly in the shade of an enormous willow and gives a huge yawn. 'What say you all to stopping for our noon meal here?' he says somewhat drowsily. 'The shade under the tree is nice, and there's no real need to rush. We can't be far now.'
Adaldag seems to hastily agree with Maegdin. He plops down immediately against the large boulder and tilts his head back.
Minabel looks up at the tree. "Okay with me. Creepy tree or not, I am exhausted and my feet hurt." She sits down with her back to the huge willow and begins to remove her shoes.
Bialver looks curiously at the Ranger. "I thought you said…." He trails off with a yawn
Trumodir shakes her head. "I think that tree is hiding something; something malevolent."

Maegdin chuckles at Trumodir. 'Nonsense,' he says as he slings his pack off his back and begins rummaging wearily through it. 'It's just a tree. Isn't the breeze nice here in the shade?' He settles himself on to the ground and relaxes.
Bialver is about to sit down, but at Trumodir's words he backs a few feet away from the great willow.
Minabel yawns and begins to nod off. "Feel more like napping then eating. Besides, nothing good to eat in this cursed forest." Minabel lies down on the ground in front of the tree and tries to make herself comfortable.

Trumodir fights to keep her eyes open, but rubs them hard as she moans softly to herself, "This is bad...."
Minabel mumbles in her sleep. "Crispy bacon, eggs, fresh coffee...."
Bialver starts towards Trumodir in concern, but sits down suddenly and blinks his eyes
Arasthel blinks slowly. "This place looks nice…. We should rest here."
Minabel rolls over. "Too tired to go on. Must get some sleep."
Maegdin stops digging through his pack and yawns again. 'Lunch... can wait....' he says drowsily. 'Need a.... nap... first.....' He leans back against a large tree-root sticking up near the water's edge and closes his eyes.

Trumodir growls loudly, "Careful! This tree is angry, or jealous, or both!"
Adaldag yawns. "Shouldn't we...set up watch or...." He stops trying and just goes quiet, his eyes closing.
Trumodir looks wildly at Bialver. "Don't be like the rest and go to sleep!"
Bialver is shaking his head as though trying to clear his mind, and blinking his eyes to keep them open, but slowly they start to close. He looks sleepily at Trumodir. "What?" he says in confusion.
Trumodir starts lumbering around, trying to shake the others awake, but to no avail.

Arasthel begins to doze, though was woken as Trumodir shook her awake. "Whaa?"

Just as sleep begins to grip most of the company, several things happen. A tree-root writhes like a snake across Mina's legs, binding them tightly to the ground. At the same time, the root Matt is resting against twists away, and he tumbles down the slope into the river. He starts up, spluttering and drenched. 'What in the name of wonder?' he says.
Minabel suddenly shrieks. "Help, its got me by the leg!"
Trumodir shouts, "Bialver! Wake up! The others need help!"
Adaldag jumps awake at Maegdin's exclamation and Minabel's cry, but it is short lived. He tilts his head back against the rock again.

Minabel shrieks again. "Somebody do something. This monstrous tree has me by my legs." She begins to pound on the trunk with her fists.
Bialver lumbers to his feet and take a step towards the water, but slips and sits down again hard and suddenly.
The leaves overhead rustle in the wind like the sound of distant, hissing laughter.
Trumodir rushes up to where Mina's upper half is still visible and begins tugging. "Somebody help me with Mina!" she cries.

Adaldag stirs again as Minabel shrieks. He looks over at her, blinking several times. He begins to stand, though he does so rather slowly and clumsily.
Minabel then grabs a nearby rock and begins to strike at the trunk. "Let me go, you freak!"
Trumodir cries, "Adaldag! Do you have an ax or hatchet?"
Maegdin throws back his sopping hood and glares up at the tree. 'We'll see about this,' he mutters darkly as he looks through his pack. He pulls out a hatchet for chopping wood and stalks over to where Mina is lying.

Bialver struggles up once more at the sound of Trumodir's cry, and manages to get almost to the water before he trips and falls again. Finally he rouses himself and helps Matt out of the water
Adaldag shakes his head as he finally gets to his feet. He points at Maegdin. "He does though."
Bialver turns towards the tree, growling.
Maegdin kneels down next to Mina. 'Stop moving,' he says. 'I don't want to hit you when I swing.'
Minabel lies still and covers her eyes. "Just get me free, Ranger."
Bialver reaches towards the Ranger. "This is no ordinary tree..."
Adaldag begins to make his way over to the others near the base of the tree.

Maegdin nods once and swings the hatchet down firmly on the root. The strike does not cut through the root, but the root draws further down into the ground, pinning Mina's legs even tighter to the earth. At the same time, the hissing laughter of the leaves turns into sounds of pain, and a great anger seems to spread through all the trees around them. The branches start waving and tossing like a great wind is blowing, though only a gentle breeze can be felt. With a sudden crack, a large branch drops from the canopy above. It narrowly misses Matt where he is crouched by the root, but it strikes Bialver square across the shoulders, knocking him back to the ground.

Minabel begins to sob. "It is hurting me! Make it stop! I just want to go home. Oh, why did I even agree to come on this trip?"
Bialver gives a great "Ooof!" as he hits the ground.
Adaldag, who is still half asleep, trips over Bialver and tumbles straight into the river.
Maegdin throws himself to the ground as the branch falls, casting his axe away. He clambers back to his feet, and begins pulling on Mina, attempting to free her from the tree's grip.
Trumodir rushes up to help Matt, hoping that the root has been severed

Adaldag begins to flail around in the river, seemingly more awake and alert now. He looks rather mad at being soaking wet, and his helmet has gone missing in the water.
Arasthel also grabs Mira's arm and tries to pull her free.
Minabel continues sobbing. "It is no use. We are going to die here at the mercy of this abomination of nature.
Bialver fishes around in the water and brings up Adaldag's helmet. He pours the water out of it, holds it up triumphantly, and is hit in the face by a fish that slips out of it.

Trumodir calls out to Bialver, "Come redeem yourself, son of Beorn! You've got the strength to pull Mina out!"
Bialver tosses away the helmet, and the fish, and comes over to lay hold of Mina.
Adaldag angrily rips the helmet away. "Thank you." he mutters to Bialver. He storms over to the tree, ripping his club from his waist. He kicks the nearest root, then moves toward the others again.
Bialver pulls, slowly and steadily, growling and grumbling at the tree in a language most of his companions have never heard before

Maegdin lets go of Mina's arm as the other two come up to help. He curses in Sindarin and kicks at the tree trunk. He cries out in pain, but stops suddenly as if listening. A deep, glad voice which seems to be singing nonsense can barely be heard over the willow-wind.
'Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!
Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow!
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!'

The wind suddenly dies and they can all hear the voice coming loud and clear down the path to the north.
'Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;
bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow!
None have ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the Master!
His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster!'

With the last word, a man hops into view on the path. As his song says, he is clad in a bright blue jacket with large yellow boots and a tall yellow hat with a long blue feather stuck in the band. His long brown beard hangs down over the chest, and his bright blue eyes are shining with joy. Matt stops and stares, utterly dumbfounded.

Bialver looks up, eyes wide, but continues to pull
Adaldag doesn't seem to hear the voice, and he just keeps making angry faces at the tree and glancing to Minabel with a helpless expression.
Arasthel hears the singing and looks around. "What… or who… is that?"
Minabel stops her struggling and stares at the strange figure coming towards them.
Adaldag turns around as the voice becomes more clear, his club rising. As he gets a good look at the man, he lowers his arm and stares with equal confusion.
Bialver stares and whispers "Hamingja..."
Minabel turns towards Matt. "Is that the mad man you told us about?"
Trumodir stares in silence.
Minabel tries her sweetest, most polite tone of voice. "Excuse me, good sir" she calls to the strange man. "Do you happen to have an ax with you?"

The man smiles broadly at the company as he hops and dances down the path towards them. 'Well, now, my merry friends,' he says, 'why do you now tarry? I'd have thought that you would come along your way much faster, but here I find you drowsing in the willow-singing!' He looks at Minabel and laughs. 'No, my little merry lass, I haven't such things with me. But I know the Willow-man, and all the songs I'm needing. I'll freeze his marrow cold, if he don't behave himself.' With that, he comes up by the tree.

Maegdin simply continues to stare, dumbfounded, water dripping unnoticed from his soggy clothes.
Adaldag keeps looking at the man, then looks up. He seems to put something together. "Can you ask the 'willow-man' to let go of our friend?"
Minabel's jaw drops. "You have power over this tree? How? And, how did you know we were coming? You said you were expecting us."

Suddenly, the old man stoops and picks up the branch that had struck Bialver. He smites the bole of the willow with it and says, 'You let her go again, Old Man Willow! What be you a-thinking? You should not be waking! Eat earth! Dig deep! Drink water! Go to sleep! Bombadil is talking!' The root binding Mina's legs to the ground quickly slithers back into the earth, and another root strikes her in the small of the back, pushing her swiftly to her feet before diving back into the ground. The wind dies, and the branches on the trees hang limp in the warm air.

Adaldag turns to watch the willow after it lets go of Minabel.
Trumodir glances knowingly at Bialver.
Bialver nods and murmurs to her "Hamingja...?"
Trumodir nods back.
Maegdin simply watches, stunned, as the old man effortlessly makes the tree release Minabel. He shakes himself and seems to come back to his senses. 'It seems clear that you're the one we came looking for,' he says. 'Thank you, father, for your aid. May we come to your house and speak of our errand?'

Tom bursts out laughing. 'Yes, yes, my wandering friends, that was my intention,' he says. 'You shall come home with me! The table is all laden with yellow cream, honeycomb, and white bread and butter! Come home and sup with me and with my fair Goldberry! Time enough for questions then around the supper-table. Why, we've not had so many guests since it was our wedding! Hop along the Withy-path, then lay aside your burdens!' With that, he turns around and begins dancing back along the path, seemingly completely unconcerned about any danger. He sings a long string of nonsense as he goes, with many a 'Hey dol!' and a 'Merry dol!'

Bialver follows the strange man, looking dazed but pleased
Maegdin gathers his hatchet and tucks it back in his pack before following after the strange man, eager to get away from the willow.
Adaldag looks at Maegdin. Now that all the panic and surprise was over, he frowns down at himself and his soaking wet state. He follows after the ranger.
Minabel reluctantly follows the singing stranger.
Trumodir takes up the rear after the others, just in case more danger assails them from behind.
Minabel makes sure to stay in the middle of the pack in case more tree branches reach out and grab her.
As of the 18th, I'll be on the road without a gaming machine (sob), so Bialver will miss the RP on the 20th & 27th. He'll emerge from his drunken stupor, mystic reverie, beehive hunting expedition, baking intensive with Goldberry, or whatever, in time for RP in April 3rd.
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Chapter 7: Chasing the Wind

Maegdin and the rest of the company follow Tom up the path beside the Withywindle. The afternoon sun warms their bodies and spirits as they go, and any unease they may have felt from the Forest doesn't seem to touch them. Suddenly, they come the end of the trees as suddenly as if they have stepped out through a hedge. The path winds on before them, up a small hill, then down into a dell, and then up again onto a higher hill, behind which the shoulders of the Barrow-downs stalk away into the East.

On the hilltop stands a small house. The young river flows down beside the path over a series of short falls. As they follow Tom up the last slope, the door of the house opens and a woman clad in green steps over the threshold to greet them. Tom gives a great halloo and laughs. 'There's my pretty lady, then; there's my fair Goldberrry, clad all in silver-green with flowers in her girdle! Is the table laden, love? Is the supper ready?' Goldberry laughs, a sound like rain falling into silver pools. 'It is,' she says. 'Come, dear friends! Come within and lay aside your burdens!'

Bialver has been walking as though in a daze, but as they come to the house his nostrils flare "Oven?" he mutters
Minabel sweats a bit.
Bialver nudges Trumodir "Bakstrofn!" he whispers.
Trumodir sniffs deeply and growls with pleasure: the inside of the house smells like plants! "How wonderful!", she says to herself
Adaldag enters the house and looks around, then moves over to the fire to dry off since he is still pretty wet from his fall into the river.
Minabel looks Goldberry up and down. "Where did you find that dress? It is fabulous. I don't think Laila carries it."
Maegdin gasps in awe at the vision before him, but then laughs, a clear sound free of care or fear. The sound seems odd coming from such a grizzled and stern man, but it seems to suit him, nonetheless. He hurries up the path and enters the house, bowing in greeting to the mistress. He lays aside his weapons and pack and stands before the fire.
Arasthel's eyes widen a little as they come across the cottage, and when Goldberry emerges, she blinks in disbelief. "I suppose we must be dreaming..."
Bialver gives one last look around before he follows the others inside. He starts at the sight of the lady of the house, and makes a low bow
Arasthel heads into the cottage and looks around, heading right for the warmth of the hearth.
Minabel continues to address Goldberry. "Do you have tea? I believe it is about that time and we have had a fretful time with a crabby old tree."

Tom laughs again and takes Goldberry by the hand. 'Come now, my merry friends!' he cries. 'The table is all laden with yellow cream and honeycomb, and white bread and butter.' Goldberry smiles at him. 'The supper is ready,' she says, 'but our guests are not.' Tom claps his hands to his head and exclaims, 'Tom, Tom, your guests are weary, and you had near forgotten! Come now, my young friends, and I will refresh you! Lay aside your muddy cloaks and be at your ease then!' He walks down a short hallway and beckons to the company to follow him.

Trumodir looks up at the herbs drying in the rafters and gives a deep sigh, longing for her home, yet at the same time feeling very much as though she is there.
Maegdin follows the advice of Tom and hangs his cloak and hood on a peg by the door before following the old man down the hall.
Adaldag steps out of his boots and leaves them near the hearth, then removes the rest of his apparel until he was in nothing but his shirt and trousers. He leaves it all neatly laid out by the fire to dry. He then follows after Tom.
Bialver doffs his helm, lays aside his pack and bow, and follows after their host.
Trumodir gives herself a hard shake and considers herself dry enough
Minabel hangs her cloak on a peg by the door and takes a seat at the table.
Arasthel does the same as the others, pulling her muddy boots off and wringing her hat out from the moisture that had gathered in the rain before pulling it back on her head.

Maegdin and the rest who followed Tom come to a room attached to the side of the house. Here, there are basins of cold water as well as two kettles warming over a fire. Several mattresses are laid against one of the walls. Tom said, 'Now then, my weary guests, wash your hands and faces. Lay aside your muddy clothes and be at your comfort.' With that, he turns and heads back down the passage, singing as he goes.
Bialver peels away his chainmail, shaking it carefully, and laying it before the fire
Adaldag takes advantage of the basins and washes his face, then his hands. Afterward he moves back out to the front.

Minabel asks Goldberry. "Do you have a basin of water that I can wash my hands in? How about those bowls of lilies?"
Minabel looks at the food laid out on the table and her mouth waters. "It has been days since we have had a good meal, but I do not see any meat. Do you enjoy boar stew or squirrel on a stick?
Goldberry pauses in her final preparations and smiles at Minabel. 'If you follow your friends, you will find basins for washing,' she says sweetly. 'And here we eat nothing, save what the earth brings forth. Fear not, though! You will find no lack.' She continues to make the final touches on the supper, singing wordlessly as she does.

Bialver dunks his face in a bowl of water, and scrubs it with his hands, which as a concession to domesticity he dries on a towel. He takes a deep, happy breath, and the smells of the table draw him back to the other room
Adaldag walks back over to the fire to dry off for another minute or two.
Maegdin gladly strips off his sodden leathers and lays them aside by the fire to dry. He contemplates replacing his tunic and breeches, but shrugs and decides against it. That done, he washes his hands and head and quickly runs a comb through his hair before heading back out into the main room of the house.
Arasthel washes up, relieved to finally feel somewhat cleaner. She heads over the table, once finished washing up. She looks over the food and her stomach growls.
Trumodir sinks into a state of bliss as she smells the baked bread and honey, and feels the warmth of the fire
Bialver walks over to the table and stands behind a chair, looking at Goldberry as though for permission
Adaldag finally makes his way over to the table. He quietly fixes a large plate for himself, but doesn't start eating yet. He glances to their hosts, wondering if it was alright to start eating yet as well.

As the company files back in, Tom and Goldberry take seats at the ends of the table. They gesture their guests to seats on the sides. Tom laughs again. 'Sit now and be refreshed! I'm sure you must be hungry.' With that, they begin passing around the plates and dishes of food.
Minabel digs into the food with relish, but a part of her longs for boar steaks like she used to make for her sisters.
Trumodir asks, “Do you by chance have any mead to drink?”
Adaldag begins eating once he is sure it is permitted.
Arasthel begins eating, not even worrying about appearing lady-like right now; she is famished!

Maegdin takes a seat and gladly begins to eat. The drink in their bowls seems to be only spring water, but it goes to the hearts of the guests like the best wine and refreshes them more than many a draught of other vintage.
Bialver takes 3 large slices of bread and slathers them with butter, then honey, adding a dollop of cream in top of each one. He systematically devours each slice, then reaches for more
Adaldag practically chugs down his water.
Trumodir uncharacteristically eats slowly, savoring each bite.
Minabel burps and then looks around to see if anyone heard her.
Bialver gets through about 10 slices of bread, then looks at the table in wonder, for steadily as they're all eating, none of the platters appears any emptier.

Maegdin eats in silence for a few minutes, a look of contentment and joy on his face. The bread and honeycomb, the fruits and the vegetables, seem better than anything he has eaten in many a long day. 'This, then, is a finer meal than any I can remember!' he says gladly, before pausing suddenly in shock to hear himself singing.
Adaldag blinks at Maegdin before seeming to come to a conclusion and deciding he is not going to talk.
Bialver cocks a shaggy eyebrow at the Ranger, normally so taciturn, the drains his bowl and lets out a rumbling laugh so loud the crockery rattles. 'Well, Ranger, you're in an uncommon merry mood!'
Arasthel lifts her brows at Maegdin, smiling in amusement.

Tom laughs again. 'Glad I am to hear that, child, and glad to be your host here!' he says. 'Eat, now, my merry folk, eat to heart's contenting!' Maegdin laughs again in a rich baritone and drains his bowl in one long draught.
Bialver helps himself to more bread and honey, substituting cream for the butter this time
Trumodir gets a happy glazed look in her eyes and leans back in her chair
Bialver finishes his fifteenth...or is it sixteenth?...slice. He reaches for another; the heel of the loaf, his favorite part, and catches Goldberry's eye
Minabel asks Tom "Do you have any honey mead for dessert? That would be lovely.”
Bialver gestures to her with the bread, and waves his other hand at it reverently, for all he's grinning broadly
Arasthel wipes her mouth, perking up at the mention of a drink. "What of wine? Is there any wine?"

Tom shakes his head in reply to Minabel. 'No, we don't, I am afraid,' he says. 'Only what you see before you.' Goldberry smiles in response to Bialver and replies to Minabel. 'You need fear no lack, though. Be at your ease and comfort.'
Trumodir opens her eyes, which had been closed in a peaceful half-sleep, at the sound of Goldberry's voice
Bialver starts to reach for just one more slice, then draws his hand back and pats his bulging stomach with a chuckle. "These are no ordinary loaves" he says.

Trumodir looks a bit blearily at Tom, hoping he will show them to their beds
Maegdin pushes his plate away and sighs with contentment. 'I can't tell the last time I've eaten till I'm sated,' he says gladly.
Minabel yawns and dreams of a fluffy bed stuffed with crebain feathers
Arasthel leans back, resting her hand on her stomach and groaning contentedly. "I am so full..."
Adaldag finishes his plate and pushes it away in a similar fashion. He leans back and stretches his arms.
Trumodir starts to snore gently

Tom and Goldberry stand, with broad smiles on their faces. Goldberry raises her hands in farewell. 'Sleep now, until the morning,' she says. 'Heed no nightly noises.' With that, Tom heads off toward the room prepared for the company, beckoning them to follow him. 'Sleep till the morning-light, rest on the pillow. Heed no nightly noises, fear no hoary willow!' With that, he bows and leaves them to their rest.

Bialver stands up and fetches his pack from in front of the fireplace. He takes out his now depleted bag of honey cake and brings it over to show to Goldberry. Their heads bend together and they begin a long murmuring conversation, Bialver gesturing with his hands, Goldberry smiling indulgently. Through the long night, Bialver wanders about the house, stoking the fire in the bread-oven built against its side.

Adaldag plops down and is quickly out like a light.
Maegdin settles himself on his mattress and sighs in contentment. 'Good night, friends. Thank you for your company. Rest and be at peace. I know that I will.' With that, he lays his head on the pillow and is quickly fast asleep.
Minabel walks over to the bed that Goldberry assigned to her and delicately peels back the covers. She slides into bed and quickly falls asleep.
Arasthel sets her things down at the foot of her bed, smiling happily. She settles herself in, pulling the blankets over her head in a cozy cocoon and promptly drifts into her slumber.

When the morning comes, it finds Tom moving about the house, whistling like a tree full of birds. As the company awakes, they can hear the clatter of dishes and the soft song of Goldberry mingling with Tom's joyous noise. The two melodies flow together and make an unexpected harmony.
Trumodir rises at the sound of birds singing and stretches
Maegdin wakes and stretches as the sunlight streaming through the eastern window strikes his face. He yawns in contentment and looks about.
Minabel stretches her arms and yawns. Time to get up! She rises out the bed and looks sorry to leave its warmth behind.
Arasthel rolls onto her back as she begins to wake, her eyes fluttering open. She realizes where she is and she smiles, reaching her arms above her head in contented stretch with a happy sigh.
Trumodir listens to her stomach growl from hunger and wonders when breakfast will be served
Bialver can be heard outside, moving loaves about in the oven with a long oaken peel.
Adaldag yawns as he sits up and awakes from his sleep.

At the soft noises of waking coming from the guest-room, Tom comes in, a smile on his face and a song on his lips. 'Hey, now, my merry friends! Wake and hear me calling! Hey! Come, merry dol, derry dol, my hearties! A fine day lies ahead, with wind and cloud and sunshine! The table now is filled and laid with food to sate your hunger! Come now and fill your plates, and then we can take council!' With that, he skips out of the room and back to the breakfast-table.

Arasthel sits up and tries to comb her unruly hair with her fingers, wrapping the strands into a slightly lopsided ponytail. She then promptly pulls her odd hat over her dark hair, smiling up to Tom as he enters the room. Swinging her legs over, she stands and heads into the main room, smoothing her rumbled coat.
Bialver laughs loudly outside, and Goldberry's trilling laughter makes a counterpoint to his rumbling chuckle.
Maegdin throws off the covers and climbs easily from his bed, more rested than he can remember in many a long year. He washes his face and hands and runs a comb through his hair before pulling on his boots and walking out to the breakfast.

Adaldag gets out of bed and stretches before making his way into the main room and over to the table.

As the company makes their way to the breakfast-table, neither Tom nor Goldberry are to be seen, though their voices can be heard moving throughout the rest of the house and outside. The table is laden much as the night before, and places are set for all of them.
Minabel washes her face and hands in the pools of lilies in the front room and combs and puts her hair up in a bun. Then she makes her way to the breakfast table and eyes the fare. She sees bread and honey and yellow cream and berries, but alas no bacon.
Minabel takes a chunk of bread and spreads some cream on it. She nibbles at it and thinks about bacon.
Trumodir eyes the food hungrily, happy to see that the repast is exactly what she would have had back at home.
Outside, there are thuds and scapings, and Bialver comes thumping up the stairs. He opens the door and comes in, smiling broadly, his hair and beard burned with cinders.

Minabel serves herself some delicious looking berries and pours some yellow cream on top. She scoops some into her mouth and smiles. "Just like home!" she exclaims. “Where in this dreary little forest did they find such succulent berries, do you think?”
Maegdin settles himself at the table and helps himself to all that is on offer. He eats and drinks quickly, eager to be away while the day is still new. He hums softly to himself as he eats, clearly enjoying himself.
Trumodir cuts a thick slice of bread for herself, puts it on her plate, smothers it with cream, pours berries on top, and smiles broadly
Arasthel slides into a seat, her mouth watering at the fantastic display of food. She manages to be somewhat ladylike, eating as much as her stomach can hold. "Mm...thish ish delicious." She mumbles.
Adaldag piles his plate high and digs in.
Trumodir fidgets in her chair, and exclaims "Let's get going! This place is nice, but I want to move on!”
Bialver sits down at the table and helps himself to slice after slice of bread with butter and honey, and nearly plunges his face into a bowl of berries and cream.

Minabel dabs at the corner of her mouth and rises from the breakfast table. She asks Maegdin, "Should we seek our hosts and thank them for this lovely breakfast?"
Trumodir, having gobbled her breakfast, looks impatiently at the others and growls, "The game is afoot! Let's get going!"
Maegdin looks over at Minabel and pushes his plate away. 'I think there is no need,' he says. 'Go get your things and prepare to depart. I don't think our host and hostess will let us leave without farewelling us.' With that, he stands himself and heads back to the guest-room. Once there, he puts back on his now-dry leathers and collects his sword, pack, and shield.
Minabel gathers her comb, her bow and arrows, and her cape.
Adaldag finishes his meal and rises to gather his things from by the fire since he sat them there to dry last night.
Bialver fetches his chainmail, boots, and helm, examines them to make sure they're dry, and pulls them on.

Trumodir tromps out of the house.
Arasthel finishes her breakfast and also rises from the table to return to her bed. Pulling her pack on and grabbing her walking stick, she follows the others to the doorway.
Bialver takes a sack from the kitchen, bustles outside, and begins filling both his own leathern bag and the sack with the honeycakes that are cooling by the oven. He comes back in and grabs his weapons with a sheepish smile.
Arasthel grins a little at Bialver.

Maegdin walks over to the fireplace and collects his cloak and hood from where they had been hung to dry the night before. As he slings his cloak over his shoulders, Tom walks in from outside, whistling merrily. 'Ah, now, my merry friends,' he says. 'I trust that you are sated? Now's the time to speak with me, to set you on the right path! I know where you can find the crows you are a-seeking. They're not among the trees, nor in the woods no longer. Off among the Barrow-downs they flew in early morning.'

Adaldag finishes redressing himself properly and turns to listen carefully.
Bialver bows deeply to Tom, and says "Your Lady, Landvættr, is no ordinary eiðhúsfrú, but a great and wise Húsfreyja. The Honunghleifr we have made this night! It shall hearten our company for many a day.”
Arasthel looks around and waits, though looks a little worried at the mention of the Barrow-downs.
Adaldag visibly pales at the mention of the Barrow-downs, but he remains silent.
Bialver makes another deep bow, shoulders his bags of honeycake, and pushes open the door.
Minabel looks in terror at Tom. "You cannot be serious? Go to the Barrow-downs, where evil spirits dwell? No sane man or woman enters the downs.”
Maegdin looks up as Tom speaks, and then nods, as if expecting this answer. 'Some folk enter the downs,' he says to Minabel. He then asks Tom, 'Do you know where in the downs they have gone? We cannot search all the hills, not if we wish to be clear of them ere sundown.'
Bialver follows Trumodir out the door.

Tom nods, smiling no longer. 'I can tell you, my young friends, where your quarry's hiding. Head north along the path that leads from out my doorstep. That road will lead you up onto the barren hilltops. Then turn south along the hills beside the forest-border. There you'll find the birds you seek, and their dreary mistress. But keep to the green grass, and mind your own small business! Don't you go a-meddling with old stone or cold Wights or prying in their houses, unless you be strong folk with hearts that never falter! Pass any barrows by along their western border, and keep your minds and wits about you while you go a-wandering! Tom's blessing on your road, and on your journey's ending.'

Minabel assures Tom that she has not intention on trying to make contact with any barrow-wights
Adaldag sighs as talk of them heading into the downs begins and Tom mentions wights.
Maegdin nods his head again at Tom's words. 'My thanks, father, for your kindness and that of your lady. I do not know whether I will pass this way again, but I will remember my stay for the rest of my days.' He turns to head out of the door.

Tom calls after him as he goes to leave. 'Wait a moment, my young friend! I'd not leave you defenceless! You'll be in my country yet, until you leave the barrows, and I'll keep an ear for you to help you if you need it. If you have a need of me, call me with this singing:
"Ho! Tom Bombadil! Tom Bombadillo!
By water, wood, and hill, by the reed and willow,
By fire, sun, and moon, harken now and hear us!
Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!"
Call out those words at need, and I will hear and harken, wherever you may be in the borders of my country.' With that, Tom raises his hand in farewell and Maegdin walks out the door.
Minabel curtseys to Tom. "Goodbye, and we thank you for your hospitality."
Adaldag slides his helmet on and follows the others outside.
Trumodir beckons to Maegdin.
Arasthel dips her head to their hosts. "Thank you so much for your gracious hospitality. Be well."

As the company walks out of the house, Goldberry comes around the corner. 'Farewell, my fair guests! A blessing on your journey, and hold to your purpose! It was a merry meeting!' She raises her hands in farewell to them, and then turns and heads back into the house.
Trumodir stops her impatient pacing to wave a perfunctory good-bye to Tom and Goldberry, social graces not being her strong point.
Minabel waves to Tom and Goldberry. "Goodbye, thank you for all you have done, and remember, Goldberry, that green is your best color and that bathing your face in yellow cream keeps your skin young."
Maegdin smiles slightly and bows his head in farewell. With that, he raises his hood, glances at the others, and says, 'Well, then. Let us be off. The daylight is wasting.' He sets off up the path leading up onto the shoulders of the down.
Bialver makes a deep and reverent bow to Goldberry and says only "Lady. Hhúsfreyja. Vatnavættr..." before he turns and follows the others.

Maegdin leads the company up the road and onto the downs. The sun is shining bright and clear over the green hills, many of which are crowned with barrows or standing stones. The company holds to the edge of the Forest, as Tom directed, and soon they come to a small dell where a barrow lies almost lost within the shadows of the trees.
Trumodir spots a murder of crows and stops to observe them.
Arasthel follows Maegdin, though often gives wary looks over into the Barrow-downs. She looked upwards to where she knew Birdie was flying, then quickened her pace as to not fall behind.
Bialver trudges along, lost in a reverie, until they climb down the dell and see the barrow. Then he settles his helm more firmly on his head and lays his hand on his club.
Minabel approaches the barrow and frowns. The smell of the crows is offensive. "What do you suppose they have dining on?" she asks no one in particular.
Arasthel snorts softly at Mina's remark, looking over to her. "We probably do not wish to know..." She murmurs to her.

Maegdin pauses a moment at the lip of the dell and looks at the crows. He scowls under his hood and strings his bow, though he does not nock an arrow. As he walks down into the dell, a cold laugh comes from within the shadows of the barrow's door. 'So, these must be the ones who killed my poor pets. You'll pay for that, fools!'

A tall woman in long red robes strides out of the barrow, sword in hand. She pauses and sneers at the company. 'I see none here who can possibly stand against one such as I, a servant of the Iron Crown. If you run now, I'll let you live, so you can savour the taste of defeat when my king returns in triumph, as he surely shall once I tell him that the Great Lord's Ring is being taken east by a hobbit. If you stay, I'll feed you to my birds. What will it be, little fools?'
Arasthel grips her walking staff a little tighter, looking nervously at the woman with all the crows. She could hear Birdie give a screech above her and she knew her companion was descending.
Bialver grips his club more firmly, and loosens it from his baldrick.
Trumodir lets a great roar of fury in answer to her threat.
Bialver leaps in behind his kinswoman, his club raised.

Maegdin puts up his bow and draws his sword as he walks calmly towards the woman. 'We'll take neither,' he says simply. 'Neither you nor your birds will survive this day.' With that, he charges at her, shield raised to ward off any blows.
Birdie screeches down from the sky, moving with swiftness towards one of the crebain near the top of the barrow.
Bialver wades in with a roar, trying to strike the crebain out of the air.
Trumodir runs at her, appearing to the others as though she had become a furious bear.
Minabel notches an arrow into her bow and aims at a particularly ugly craban above the barrow entrance.

The woman laughs coldly at Matt's words. 'Very well, then!' She raises her sword and prepares to meet his charge, but her eyes go wide at the sight of Trumodir charging like an enraged bear. She shouts out some words in a hoarse, harsh language, and half a dozen of the crows take flight and launch themselves at Trumodir.
Bialver roars louder and bats furiously at the attacking crows.

Arasthel's bird seems to completely misjudge its descent and plows headlong into the grass atop the barrow. Several of the crebain hop over and begin pecking at it as it lies stunned. Bialver's swatting misses several of the birds flying at Trumodir; however, she bats two of them down, crushing them under her paws. Mina's shot strikes home with one of the birds still sitting on the barrow. The woman screams in anger as she watches several of her birds fall dead, and she swings her sword wildly at Matt. He blocks the blow with his shield, but stumbles back, unprepared for her ferocity.

Minabel looks at Birdie with pity.
Trumodir rears up, her wrath poured out against the remaining birds, which she strikes at with a frightening ferocity
Arasthel gasps as Birdie is in trouble, and gripping her staff, she rushes towards Andraste as she is busy with Matt, swinging her staff around in the hopes of clubbing the Angmarim over the head.
Minabel takes aim at the bird closest to the craban mistress and fires an arrow, not caring if she hits the bird or its mistress.
Bialver throws down his club and leaps at one of the birds, one hand grasping, the other swatting.
Maegdin steps back for a moment to get firmer footing, and then thrusts his shield towards the Angmarim in an attempt to knock her off balance.

Trumodir swats down another bird as the other three fly around her head, trying to peck at her eyes. The other three crebain still standing on the barrow launch themselves towards the bear, but one quickly falls with Mina's arrow in it. Bialver nearly strikes one of the birds flying towards Trumodir, but it flaps out of the way at the last possible moment. Arasthel's staff goes wide and misses the Angmarim, though it almost hits Matt. By sheer luck, she manages to smash it down on one of the crows pecking at her bird. Birdie flaps a wing weakly and the other crow backs off for a moment. Meanwhile, Matt's blow with his shield knocks the woman's sword from her grasp and she falls to the ground, stunned for the moment.

Arasthel winces as she nearly hits Matt. She would apologise later. She brings her staff around in the attempt to hit the dazed Angmarim in the face!
Trumodir swats at the birds with her powerful front paws, as though they were flies.
Bialver turns to the Angmarim and scoops up his club from the ground.
Maegdin follows through with a downward strike from his sword as his foe lies prone on the ground.
Minabel takes another arrow and shoots directly at the craban mistress Andraste.
Bialver's swing follows close on the Ranger's strike
Adaldag draws his club and rushes over to help Trumodir with the crows, taking a swing at the first one he encounters.

The Angmarim tries to roll away to grasp her sword, but she is stunned by a blow to the head from Arasthel's staff and then dispatched in short order by Mina's arrow, Bialver's club, and Matt's sword. Meanwhile, Birdie hops back up and runs at its foe, pecking and cawing at it. Trumodir swats down another crow attacking her, while Adaldag's blow sending two of the crebain flying through the air, eventually striking the side of the barrow with sickening thuds.

Trumodir let out one final roar that shook the earth and all the bystanders...
Bialver turns from the fallen Angmarim to the crows attacking Trumodir, and takes another swipe.
Arasthel gives a smug smile as her blow dazed Andraste, but in only a moment, she turns to look with concern at Birdie, and with a huff, swings her staff at the craban still fighting with him.
Adaldag swings at any birds still attacking Trumodir.
Maegdin kneels down by the body, seeing as the fight is nearly over, and begins looking through her belt-pouches for any information.
Minabel holds her bow by one end and uses it as a club to hit the craban still attacking Birdie.
Trumodir pants heavily, and continues to swat at the birds, but with less force.
Bialver roars at the Creban and goes into the berserker's relentless maul

Mina's and Arasthel's strikes both connect, and the craban falls dead with a crunch of broken bones. Birdie hops up Arasthel's staff and onto her shoulder, one wing held at a worrying angle. Meanwhile, Adaldag knocks one more of the crows out of the air, but Bialver's blow goes wide and nearly strikes Trumodir in his fury. Matt, for his part, pulls a missive from the belt pouch of their fallen foe, and unfolds it, reading quickly.

Bialver swipes furiously at the crow, roaring the name of The Vales in his fury
Minabel is filled with enthusiasm for killing crebain after clubbing the craban attacking Birdie and she moves on the one attacking Trumodir.
Arasthel's only concern now is for Birdie and she strokes the feathers in the front while studying the bent wing. She murmurs something to the falcon. <S> "What have they done to you, Birdie? Do not worry, we will get you fixed up." She very gently begins to run her fingers over the wing, frowning.

Maegdin turns back to the rest of the company just as Bialver swats down the last bird and stomps it into the ground. He looks around, giving Trumodir a look of concern, but he says, 'That is over now, it seems. Come, let us away. I do not wish to be caught out in these hills after sundown.' He walks over to Trumodir. 'Can you walk?'
Trumodir smiles weakly and nods.
Bialver helps Trumodir to her feet, and slips his arm under her shoulders.
Arasthel turns to follow the others, though her movements seemed a little absent. She looked at Birdie, murmuring more encouragements in Sindarin before looking with concern at Trumodir.

Adaldag edges away from Trumodir as the conflict comes to an end. He puts his club back at his hip and looks around, then nods in agreement with Maegdin. "Same here."
Bialver murmurs "Bravely fought, Daughter of the Knurrebjorner.”
Trumodir whispers back, “Thank you for the support when it was most needed."
Minabel looks at the crebain bodies around her. "Thank the fates we have defeated this horrid woman and her ugly little spies." She gives a well deserved kick to the nearest craban body and follows the others.
Maegdin looks about at the carnage as the company begins to walk away. 'Well, hopefully this will be a nice little puzzle for the servants of the Enemy to figure out,' he says. 'Let us away.' With that, he leads them due north, until they leave the downs behind them. As the Sun touches the western horizon, the company comes back to the Road.
Bialver looks down the road to the west, thinking of Adso's brewing experiments, then to the east, thinking of Butterburr's mead.

Maegdin turns to face the others as they come back to the Road. 'This detour seems to have lead to a very long delay,' he says. 'But we learned something out of it, and we have all come safe. I can't speak for the rest of you, but I'll be happy to be back inside Bree tonight. If we hurry, we can make it to the Pony not long after sundown.'
Trumodir cheers.
Adaldag nods eagerly.
Minabel agrees with Maegdin. "I will look forward to a hot bath and a warm bed."
Bialver nods firmly. "The Pony it is" he says.
Arasthel looks relieved at the idea of sleeping in a real bed in Bree. "I would not complain about that, I will admit."
Maegdin nods to the rest of them. 'Let's away, then.' With that, he turns and walks quickly down the Road towards Bree.
Trumodir sighs, and begins to trudge toward Bree
Adaldag follows quickly.
Bialver trots along behind the others, but every now and then he looks back over his shoulder to the dark shadow of the forest and sighs "Vatnavættr..."
Chapter 8: The Way North

The morning after their return to Bree, the company gathers in the rear parlour of the Pony. Their sleep was less than restful, for a company of horsemen in black broke down the gates during the night and rode through town like the wind. All of Bree is in an uproar, and there's a loud rumour of conversation filtering back from the common room. Matt stands by the fire, pipe in his mouth as he looks over the letter he took from the woman in the Downs.

Trumodir leans back in her chair and burps softly - what a hearty breakfast that was! She glances over at the table to make sure there's nothing more to eat.
Arasthel shifts uncomfortably as she rests her backside against the barrel. She looked tired and worried, the events of the night leaving her filled with dread.
Bialver is still yawning and stretching. He drinks a pint of mead as he watches the rest of the company.
Adaldag seems on edge, constantly glancing toward the door and window. He finally works up the courage to ask Maegdin, "What do you make of the events last night? All watchers are /required/ to be on duty today and to report even the slightest oddity because of what happened last night. Everyone's on edge down at the jail."

Trumodir starts at Aldagag's words and shakes her head as though she's just been woken
Bialver says "'Twas quite an uproar."
Trumodir mutters to Bialver, "And just when I thought we could spend a few days enjoying the big city."
Maegdin looks up from the letter. 'We've met those horsemen before,' he says darkly. 'I think, though, that you have no more need to worry about them around Bree. They've headed off east. I spent some time talking to Gandalf before I came down here, and he's going after them shortly.'
Adaldag exhales in relief at Maegdin's assessment of the situation. "Alright. Glad to know they won't be around here anymore."
Bialver mutters back to Trumodir "City? Bree? Pfft"
Trumodir whispers to Bialver, "There are more people here than I've ever seen in one place before"
Arasthel frowns. "They might not be here, but where have they gone to?"
Trumodir asks, "Who is this Gandalf person?"
Bialver gives her a significant look and says, "Galdramaðr." He grins and whispers back, "The world is wide, frændmær!"

Maegdin shrugs at Arasthel's question. 'I cannot say, but they should not return to trouble Bree again, and that is enough for me. However, what is in this letter--' he holds it up-- 'is far more concerning.'
Arasthel looks at the letter now. "What does it say?" She tries to peer over at it, even though she was clearly to far away to see anything.
Trumodir speaks a bit more loudly now: "Who is this Gandalf person and what does it matter what he thinks?"

Maegdin smiles slightly at Trumodir. 'Gandalf is a wizard. I thought everyone knew that. That's reason enough to care about what he thinks and to listen to his counsel.'
Adaldag just raises a brow, but he can't quite scoff at the thought of a 'wizard' after all he had seen recently.
Trumodir responds, "Then he is like Radagast. But what is he doing in a city like this instead of caring for nature as Radagast does?"
Bialver murmurs to Trumodir "Not all the wizard folk are wise in the same counsel, but I still trust Radagast most."
Trumodir smiles.

Maegdin looks over at Arasthel, and his face turns grave. 'As for the letter, however, it truly worries me. That woman came from the North, from Angmar. It seems that evil is stirring in the North again.'
Bialver starts. "Angmar? The Angmar of the old Witch-king?" He frowns.
Arasthel frowns. "I have heard stories abotu Angmar and the Witch King, could it stir again? He was defeated, wasn't he?"
Adaldag just blinks, not quite sure what Angmar or a 'Witch King' is, but he listens intently anyway.

Maegdin looks at the letter again. 'Listen.' He begins to read: "The Steward of Angmar greets thee, Andraste. Thou hast been chosen to journey south to meet our King. He returns to the North after so long a time. The Blood-hand and the Dourhand shall be with him. Aid them in whatsoever they may wish, and then return to the north with the Pale Dwarf. The Gaunt-lord shall go east with our King to aid him and his brethren, while thou art to aid the Dwarf-lord in gathering an army to drive forth the rebels and reclaim the North for the Iron Crown. Succeed, and thou shalt find great favour with me and with our King." It is signed, "Mordirith."'
Trumodir bursts out, "it's a good thing we killed her!"
Adaldag shivers slightly as the name 'Mordirith' is spoken, though he doesn't understand why.
Arasthel pales a little, murmuring hoarsely. "Well then..."

Maegdin sighs and tucks the letter back in his pouch. 'I had hoped to talk to Strider about this letter, but it seems he left yesterday. Instead, I've spoken of this with Gandalf, and we are agreed: I, at least, must go north and tell my kith and kin of this threat while Gandalf rides east to do what he can in those lands.'
Trumodir asks, "Do you want company? My father sent me away from our lands to help where I can, and I don't see how I can be of any help stuck in this city."
Arasthel lifts her eyes to Maegdin, about to ask the same question. "We have come with you this far, we might as well continue if you will have us."
Bialver looks sharply at the Ranger. "North" he says "Up in the downs away north of the Chetwood? Or away north of the Halflings' land?"
Adaldag frowns and rolls his shoulders.

Maegdin smiles slightly at the others' offers to join him. 'I would certainly welcome your company, should you choose to come,' he says. 'I will be heading up the Greenway before noon. I do not know when I will return, though.'
Bialver mutters something to himself that sounds like "Foremost"
Bialver says aloud "Trestlebridge I know. And whither then?"
Maegdin knocks the dottle out of his pipe and puts it back in his pouch before answering. 'To the north and east. More than that, I will not say, though there is a haven at the end of my road.'
Adaldag says, "I will sort it out with the Watch and join you as well. These… these wrongdoers need to be brought to justice for their actions in Bree-land."
Bialver nods "I'll go with ye, Ranger, though north and east sounds like The Witch-King's old lands"
Maegdin nods in response to Adaldag and Bialver before looking to Trumodir and Arasthel, the question plain on his face.

Bialver smiles, knowing his kinswoman's answer before she speaks it.
Trumodir says, "Of course I'll join you! I already gave my answer."
Bialver nods. “Stout the arm of the Knurrebjorner when deeds are to be done”
Trumodir looks over at Bialver with a look of glee in her eye.
Maegdin smiles slightly at the banter between the two Beornings. He then turns to Arasthel. 'Well? Will you come with me? I can promise that there will be much to learn on this journey, and at its end.'
Arasthel shifts a little, then frowns. "This all sounds a little...out of my skill level. I will think on it and decide before you depart."

Adaldag says, "Well, it's best I get going. I need to work this out with my employers since I don't know how long we will be away."
Maegdin nods in understanding. 'Very well, then. Meet me at West-gate at noon, all who are coming. Bring a horse, if you have one. The way is long.'
Adaldag nods and steps out of the room.
Bialver counts the coins in his thinly provided purse, and wonders where good hoses can be fouund in Bree.
Maegdin notes Bialver's concern, and smiles slightly. 'If you need a horse, friend, I can help you on that account. A friend of mine owns a horse-farm north of town, and he owes me more than a few favours.'
Arasthel fidgets where she sits, chewing on her lip.

* * * * * * *

Maegdin leans against a fence near the West-gate of Bree, his hood pulled up against the rain. A shaggy chestnut gelding stands near him, head down and water streaming from his mane. The Ranger looks up for a moment and gives the sky a sour look before lowering his head again.

Trumodir shambles up to him, grumbling enough to be heard. "Where is everyone? I don't want to stand around in this rain forever."
Arasthel emerges from the stable, the reins of a chestnut mare in her hand. Her hair is tucked up into her hat, and she looks surprisingly unaffected by the rain. Birdie flies nearby, recovering quickly.
Bialver joins them, leading a white mare to whom he's feeding an apple
Adaldag approaches from the road leading south through town, his usual horse behind him strapped with packs of supplies and extra provisions.

Maegdin looks up again as the others join him. 'I'll not waste time with words, not in this weather. Let's be off, if you're ready.' With that, he climbs up on his horse and waits for the others.
Arasthel nods and mounts her own horse.
Trumodir calls for her horse, "Marr!" and a beautiful gray mare trots up.
Bialver lets his mare finish her apple, then swings himself into the saddle.
Adaldag nods and mounts his horse.
Maegdin leads the others out of Bree, nodding to the gatekeeper as he goes, and on to the Greenway. Turning north, he sets off at a canter up the nearly-vanished road.

Maegdin leads the company up the road for some hours. They pass by a number of small farmsteads and the odd copse of standing trees. Few other folk can be seen, given the rainy, miserable weather.
Arasthel follows, nudging her horse only occasionally to keep pace. It isn't long before she is soaked by the rain, though she doesn't complain. Birdie soars above, keeping watch on the road ahead.

Maegdin eventually turns west off the road and heads up into the hills. They trot along the ridge overlooking the road for another hour or so. Evening is coming down when they come to a small, dense group of ashes growing atop a hill behind the ruins of a fort. Matt climbs down from his horse under the canopy of the branches and looks about. 'This is a good place to make camp.'
Adaldag follows behind Maegdin, and picks a tree to get up under once they reach the camp site.
Bialver climbs down, takes off his horse's saddle, and turns her loose to graze.
Trumodir slides off her horse. "What a storm!" She exclaims. Shebegins to search the site for some dry wood to start a fire

Bialver wanders off into the grove, picking up branches as he goes.
Arasthel dismounts, looking around the camp for a moment before, giving her horse a pat on the neck. She also removes the saddle and lets the steed graze off by the trees.
Maegdin nods to Trumodir as he removes his horse's saddle and gives him a pat on the neck. He joins the others in gathering what dry wood they can find. He looks up at the western sky again. 'It doesn't seem to be letting up, does it?'
Trumodir nods. "Seems to me to be getting worse. Probably best not to stay under the trees with all the lightning about."
Bialver comes back and dumps a small armful of branches next to the fire, then takes out an ax and begins to chop them into lengths.
Arasthel kneels at the firepit and begins arranging wood, pulling out a flint and some parchments to try lighting it.
Adaldag blinks, then starts to remove the metallic parts of his armour. He sets it all off to the side, and then moves over near the fire.

Maegdin drops an armload of wood by the fire. 'Well, I'll leave you to it, then. I'll be back presently.' He picks up his bow and walks off towards the east.
Bialver finishes chopping, then goes off again, returning a few minutes late with an armful of twigs and leaves.
Trumodir exclaims, "What misery a storm creates!"
Arasthel gets the fire started, though with the rain, takes a few tries. Soon enough, there is a cracking and cozy fire blazing, warming the company in the downpour. Arasthel smiles at the success.
Trumodir gives her a friendly nod
Bialver stretches has hands out to the fire and gives Arasthel a grateful look.
Arasthel smiles at the others and says, "At least we will not freeze, even if we cannot dry off." She scoots back to have a seat.

Bialver adds "At least we won't want for water!" He props his water skin against a branch so the rain will trickle into it.
Adaldag nods his head and spares a glance upwards. "Hope it's over soon."
Trumodir mutters, "It'll be dark soon - except for the lightning strikes"
Arasthel nods, looking over to Birdie as he alights on the log next to her. Arasthel nods to Tru, then smiles. "You have never had to camp in the rain?"
Bialver begins to nod, his elbows on his knees and his head slowly lolling
Trumodir responds, “No, not much; I usually find a cave or somewhere dry to stay when it starts raining."
Bialver gives her a sly look under his heavy brows and says "A cave? Aren't you afraid you'll find a bear, too?"
Trumodir smiles at him.

Maegdin makes his way back through the trees. His bow is slung over his shoulders, and he carries four field-dressed conies with him. 'Ah, good. You managed to get a fire going.' He sits down and pulls out his knife to finish preparing their dinner.
Arasthel smiles up to Maegin and nods. "Yes, I hope this will do for cooking?"
Bialver pulls some green branches down, and begins to trim them of twigs for the Ranger.
Trumodir rummages in her pack for a honey cake.
Adaldag dips his head to the ranger. "Thanks, Matt."
Maegdin smiles at the others. 'This will do fine.' He has the conies skinned and spitted in short order and sets them to roast over the fire.

Trumodir shudders slightly at the sight of the roasting carcasses as she nibbles on her honey cake. She stands up and walks away from the fire in order to block the smell of burning flesh
Maegdin tends to the conies. As the rain lessens, he looks up with a slight smile. Eventually, the rain ends altogether and he sighs. 'Finally....' He pulls off his cloak and hood and hangs them on a branch near the fire to dry.
Arasthel pulls her hat from her head, sending her long, dark hair tumbling down her back while she wrings it out.

Trumodir returns from having a talk with her horse and doffs her cloak.
Adaldag just inches closer to the fire so he can dry off.
Bialver rummages in his pack and takes out a loaf of honey-cake.
Arasthel pulls her hair up into a ponytail after setting her hat out to dry. "Well, thank goodness the rain stopped. We might get to dry off yet tonight." She chuckles as she carefully lays another log on the fire.
Trumodir settles herself some distance from the fire until the others have finished eating the flesh they are cooking.
Trumodir lays back to enjoy the night sky, as the clouds have broken up and stars can be seen
Bialver finishes his honey cake, and washes it down with rainwater from his water skin.

Maegdin tests the rabbits with his knife. He nods, and pulls them from the fire. 'They're done, but they're still a bit too hot to eat.' He looks at the others. 'Thank you again for coming with me on this journey.'
Bialver nods to the Ranger/e nods to the Ranger. "Trestlebridge" he says, "and then where?"
Arasthel waits patiently for the cooked rabbit to cool, reaching out to take Birdie on her arm. She nods to Maegdin. "We have a duty to help, yes?"
Trumodir asks, "Help whom?"
Maegdin looks over at Bialver. 'We'll head east into Kingsfell. I can't say more than that, I'm afraid.'

Bialver looks at the group curiously, wondering what answer they'll make Trumodir.
Adaldag eyes the ranger warily, but nods. "As long as you're not turning us into those robed figures..."
Maegdin tests the conies again and begins cutting them up before answering Trumodir. 'We're going to visit my friends and kin. By helping them, you'll be helping all of the North. Please, I cannot say any more than that now. I ask that you trust me. We are going to a place of safety, and there, I promise that I will tell you whatever you wish to know.'

Bialver considers the Ranger's disclosure, and says "Kingsfell's deserted, from what I hear."
Maegdin shakes his head and gestures for plates, trenchers, or whatever else the others may have. 'No, there were still a few farmers hanging on there when last I was up north. Also a dwarf-mine in the hills up north, last I heard.'
Arasthel rummages in her pack for a small plate, which she hands to Maegdin.
Bialver scratches his head and mutters, clearly trying to remember something. In the end, however, he shrugs and says nothing more
Trumodir stretches out on the ground (her cloak is too wet to use) to listen to the talk of the others, having nothing to add to the conversation.

Maegdin passes out pieces of coney before looking over at Adaldag. 'I promise you, friend: if I have nothing more to do with those creatures in black, it will be too soon.'
Adaldag nods his head and acceps the food from Maegdin. "Same here."
Arasthel takes her food, tearing off a little piece for Birdie. She listens silently.
Adaldag quietly finishes his food and gets to his feet after. "Think I am going to get a bit of rest. Wake me for a shift at watching whenever you see fit."

Maegdin nods to Adaldag. He finishes his food, and then sits looking at the fire for a few moments before standing and walking to the hill's crest and looking out over the Greenway.
Bialver curls up by the fire and is soon snoring mightily
Trumodir gets up and follows after Matt, wondering at the large ruin below them. "Who built that?"
Maegdin looks over at Trumodir. 'The Men of the West,' he says softly. 'Have you heard of them over on the other side of the mountains?'
Trumodir shakes her head no and answers, "There's so much I haven't heard of or seen…" She turns and walks back to the fire, where she settles herself and is soon asleep.