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Something Rotten in the Riddermark

Turgon

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Chapter One

The old man splashed a handful of water on his face and let out a resigned sigh. He was fast approaching sixty, and as much as he hated to admit it, he was beginning to feel it. As he gazed down at his reflection in the gentle rill that trickled passed his campsite, a stranger looked back at him. A long mane of shaggy hair hung down around his shoulders, a few glitstening beads of water caught in the iron-grey cascade. Skin like old leather, faded and worn from a once ruddy glow. His beard a patchwork of grey and silver, quivering now as a breeze caught the water. Only in the eyes could the old man see something of the man he once was, green they were, as green as the grass that ran westwards to the horizon, and eastward to the very eaves of Fangorn. Slapping at the water in annoyance he drew himself upright, looking if he only knew it, very much like the trees of that ancient forest. Weathered but not bowed.

'Hengist you old fool,' he muttered. 'What are you doing out here in the Marches? Travelling is a young man's business. You should have taken yourself a wife whilst you still had the looks for it.'

Stamping back to the small canvas shelter he had been dwelling in for the past three days, he rummaged around in his pack and pulled out a few strips of salted pork. Placing them on a small, flat stone at the edge of his tiny campfire. Damn that forest! he thought, as he sat down with his back against a rock. Although high summer was fast approaching, the early morning sun had done little to warm him. Hengist knew well enough what dwelt within the eaves of Fangorn, and though his people might view tales of tree shepherds and dark woodland spirits as stories fit only for children, the old man knew better. He was well travelled for one of his race, having passed beyond the borders of the Riddermark on many occasions, and unlike many of his countrymen, he had few predjudices or preconceptions. It was out of respect for those who dwelt within Fangorn that he kept down his fire, not out of fear; and though the forest lay some leagues away, Hengist knew that one watched from beneath Fangorn's hoary boughs, to whom the very thought of fire was pain beyond mortal ken.

The salty smell of sizzling pork drove all thoughts of the forest from the rider's mind, as the breeze took up the aroma and blew it, teasingly, beneath his nose. Pulling a small knife from his belt, Hengist leant forward and speared the pork with three swift strikes. 'Trust the elf to be late.' he grumbled, as he gobbled down his meal. 'Could take down one of them big Fangorn tuskers with that bow of his; it is going to be a lean journey back to Edoras otherwise. Especially with two mouths to feed.'

At this the old man jumped up, a half-eaten strip of meat falling unnoticed to the floor. A loud whinnying could be heard from down by the steam, where Hengist's steed was grazing. The horse, it seemed, had spotted something. Rushing to his pack the rider pulled out his battered broadsword, and crouching down as best he could made his way around the rocks that sheltered his campsite.
 

chrysophalax

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"Eru, did you have to create your most delicious animals....not that I'm complaining mind you...so...inconveniently heavy? Where is that old horse thief when he could be of use? " This rather ambiguous statement was delivered to no on in particular (save Eru, of course) as Haluin dragged a fat doe out from under the shadows of two ancient elms, with whom he had a nodding acquaintance, the guardians Fangorn's southernmost edge. She (the doe in question) had run him a merry chase and he now found himself eagerly anticipating some of Hengist's venison stew for which, Hengist had assured him in the past, he was widely famous. Haluin intended to put him to the test.

Suddenly, he heard a piercing neigh and stopped dragging his kill long enough to shade his eyes against the sun's rays. "Well, well. That must be that bat-eared old nag of Hengist's. I believe he could hear a mouse break wind in Isengard from here." He chuckled. "I know I can." In much higher spirits, Haluin grabbed up the doe's well-trussed forelegs and re-doubled his efforts in the direction from whence the neigh had come.

Haluin couldn't help grinning. He could hear scrabbling amongst the rocks ahead and the occasional faint chink of metal against stone, far too faint for a man to hear, but all too easy for an elf. He knew an ambush awaited him and he decided to walk right into it. As he approached the base of the rocky outcropping, a head cautiously peered down at him from above. Haluin dropped his burden, assumed a heroic stance with one foot atop the doe and threw back his cloak over one shoulder. "Hengist, mellon! I see that you are well...well, if my eyes do not deceive me. If you would care to help me carve up this deer, I would have you make good on your boast as a cook. Unless, of course I have awakened you betimes? Do not lay the blame for that at my feet! Nay, rather, blame that old windbag of yours. Ruined my entrance, as usual. Come, help me with this!"
 
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Daranavo

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An evening sun had almost disappeared below the horizon and the sky was emblazoned in hues of gold and crimson. Two forms sat under a poplar tree that was in full bloom. It's blossoms were of a pale violet and they served as almost a blanket for them as they sat and watched the sun dive deeper behind the hills just beyond Edoras. Daranavo was not sure what to say but he knew in his heart that he was not ready. So much has happened of late and so few of the Rohirrim to fight. The words caught in his throat and he just smiled politely at her and then turned away to gaze once more at the sun.

In a soft tone he spoke to her. "It is not for me to decide such things anyway. If I am needed then I must do what I have been trained to do...I have taken the oaths and to them still I hold. I wish...I wish you could understand." He began to stammer and his expression changed as he did not really like his own words that he had spoken, however, he knew she would like them even less.

Her gaze lingered on the burning sunset. She seemed to have grown cold as the silence deepened between them. There was no question about their needing good men at the call, but why had he given any heed to the call? Why had he gone forward? Did he have any idea what the cost could be? Of course he did. How could anyone not. He had known since he was old enough to understand why the men would go out, and not all would always come back. Aerin’s eyes hardly blinked as he broke the silence. Tears burned behind her eyes, but experience helped hold them back. Level and calm, her voice was spoken out ahead of them, her face not turning to him, "Why can't you tell them no?"

He turned and faced her. His eyes softened but always they glowed a bright blue when he looked at her. How many times have they had the same conversation? How many times had he said the same things? He did not know for certain and he desperately tried to find the ones that would burn the least. "Look...down, over there just beyond the stable." He pointed below them where a small group of young men were being taught how to use a shield while on their horses. "Those men have people who care for them...mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and wives. Each day men die and more of those there...our youngest take up the oaths and bear the responsibility of protecting our lands. What little they can learn in the short time they have, perhaps, it will save their life and perhaps not but always the risk is the same. Each day we ride those that care for them, those that love them will go another day and do what they must do and live their lives as best they can. For if it is not to be so, then those that die, that give their lives so that others can live, their sacrifice is wasted." He looked closely at her and hoped that his words were not to harsh. He thought back to when his own father had died. He was just a boy himself. He remembered that he had knelt down beside his father. Broken and bloodied. He traced the lines of his face with outstretched fingers while his mother stood above him and wept. Daranavo had no tears for his father that day. Nor did he have tears for any of his men that never returned home. Such sentiments were lost upon him however today, at this very moment, his heart felt as it would leap from his very chest. For her...for Aerin who was not but a few feet from him now.

She remained silent while he spoke and her eyes refused to look where he had pointed. She already knew their faces and even the names of most of them. They were somehow different in her mind though, the men and boys that she herself would cheer for upon their going out, and the one sitting beside her. They were others', he was... she wanted to call him hers. Everything in her was against the thought of loosing him to any war. Even if it meant giving up what she had, she thought she could live happily so long as he stayed. What sort of a life is there for someone if the one she gives her heart to is no sooner taken away?" Fighting to keep still, Aerin kept her eyes as far away from his as she could. How many times from then to now had she had to fight against each tear since he had left that very first time? Even since he had returned she had nearly refused to look him in the eye, so frightened was she of what could come of it. There seemed to never have been a way she could get through to him, but stubbornness and her heart demanded that she not let go of any scrap of hope he may give her.

He sighed and knew what she wanted...what she always wanted and he wasn't getting any younger to be sure. "Perhaps she did have a point," he thought to himself. Though the decision had been made for a while now, it was something that he could give her that wasn't at all a promise that he couldn't keep. "Well, what I have been trying to tell you is that soon...Aerin it shall be the last time I ride out of those gates as a soldier." He detected a slight stiffness in her just then but continued. "There is a young man who is coming along well and good enough that soon I think...he shall be ready to take my place." With that he turned and looked down the hill once more.

A breath of chilling air pricked at her arms; something inside her began to quiver and her eyes darted on their own to the side of his downcast face. "Daranavo... I..." But her voice was choked out by the surprise of what had just been said. A single droplet escaped to roll unnoticed down her check. Had he really just said that? But... The thought of him going out at all, even one last time made her very blood feel cold. She wanted to beg him not to leave again; wanted there to be some way she would know for sure that he would come back to her. She wanted to tell him she would sooner fight at his side then allow him to risk his life even once more so far from where she was.
 

Daranavo

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A strong, summer breeze found its way to them up on the hill. Several of the blossoms flew into the air and spun around them almost as if they were suspended in slow motion. He turned his head and gazed at her. The tiny flowers twirled around her and a few settled within her hair. Right then and there he knew he had made the right decision and that it was long overdue. Perhaps he had done his bit for King and Country but there was this last thing that he did have to do. First though was the summer harvest and he had not asked her yet. "Aerin...would you go with me to the Harvest? He asked her. It would do me proud to have you there beside me."

Her cheeks filled with a warm glow and Aerin found that she could do nothing to look away from him; how could she want to? His question danced on the edge of her mind and then it was snatched up like a glittering gem. Another tear slid down her cheek and she smiled as brightly as she could. "Of course!" She blurted and just barely kept her voice from cracking. "I'd be honored..." A smile crept lightly upon the corners of her mouth.

Slowly, he shifted, moved over next to her and took her hand in his own. Her skin was very warm to the touch even though the wind had whistled past them for most of the evening. She only half turned her head as he leaned over to whisper in her ear as if others were nearby and might here him. "Will you dance with me at the Harvest milady?" His tone was almost playful.

It was too much. She felt the happiness rise within her and it tickled and stirred almost to a frantic swirl as his face came so close to her own. She tried to speak out in response, but instead of words, a joyous laugh began to brake free. Aerin's arms came up and wrapped themselves around Daranavo's strong neck. Before he could catch her so close, she pushed away and looked into his face. A strong, appraising tone came over her. "I shall dance with whom I please, my good sir." The harsh expression melted back into an almost laughing smile as quickly as if it had never been there. Though her heart still ached, she let her doubt and fears fade away into the moment.

Contented he wrapped her in his arms and lifted her up with him as he stood. Not wanting the day to end, he gently pressed his face up against her hair and watched as the last burning embers of the sun fell slowly beneath them.
 

YayGollum

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A short, stocky, hairy, and hodge-podged sort of armoured man with a large raven on his shoulder stumbled gratefully into Edoras. A graceful and intelligent-looking white horse with a few depleted packs on his back trotted amiably beside him. The man reached over and absently started fiddling with his friend's mane. "When was the last time we were here, Anthrax? This is the first time that our old buddies haven't found us this deep into Rohan."

All of Anthrax's (and Shadowflaps's, towards the end) translated from Animalic, just for the readers ---> "I don't know, but I was definitely a lot younger. They could be dead or retired, by now. Why do you have such a bad memory? Their horses are certainly dead."

He pulled his hand back and grunted. "Probably. Oh. sorry. I didn't know them as well as you did, but, hey, you always said that they were hard to talk to."

"Well, at least I tried, human. It took me a while, but they had some good stories once they loosed up. You would have liked them."

"That's, 'Beorning,' Anthrax. And their stories couldn't have been too good, or you'd have already told me. Anyway, you have too many friends already. You should be more like me and Shadowflaps. Unapproachable. You're too nice."

"Ha! And I get you to admit that there's nothing wrong with being nice every time you condemn it."

"Yeah, so it doesn't take much to keep you happy, then, huh?"

Anthrax shuddered and sped around to halt the guy. "And you pride yourself for being honest?"

A few humans were startled by what looked to be an eccentric and an unpredictable animal attempting to have an argument. The man shrugged his shoulders at them and glared at the horse. "Would you mind not calling so much attention to us? Yeah, I'm honest, but that doesn't mean I'm nice. Argh! I don't like making friends. You and Shadowflaps are the best, okay?"

The raven squawked a disdainful laugh and flew off. The other two didn't even have to roll their eyes anymore and barely noticed. They resumed their walk and were distracted by the sights and their attempts to find anything familiar. The man studied his friend's face for annoyance, after a bit. "Well, it doesn't matter if we can't find those guys, anyway. It's just a little tradition, checking in on the first guards that caught us sneaking around the border. You know that. I knew the humans about as well as I knew their mounts!"

"What are you going to do when I'm gone?"

"Huh?" A heartfelt growl. "What do you mean? You think I'm ready for it or something?"

"You should be. Heh. Who'll tell you what to do, then?"

"Huh! Same person who always did, that's who!"

"Nah, I don't think I'll be haunting anybody."

"Like I said, too nice." He placed his hand back on his friend's mane. "Don't ask me about that. sorry I even mentioned your old friends."

"Hey, I can always make more. It's you I'm worried about."

Getting uncomfortable, not as interested in finding some old acquaintances anymore, and spotting a smallish inn with a stable nearby ---> "No need, Anthrax. I know what you'd say in any situation. Here, why don't we stay here? I'm already asleep out here."

Anthrax snorted at him but brightened at the sight of a couple of experienced-looking horses in the stable. "Have fun, Beorning. I won't stray too far."

Shadowflaps resumed his perch on a shoulder just after the man slammed the door of the inn open. "About time for a vacation from your conscience, Truor?"

He stopped short, which surprised the raven but didn't dislodge him, then gave him a hurt look, which very quickly passed to make way for a shrug and a look of resignation. "You said it!"

Back in the stable, Anthrax settled in and began to introduce himself to the others. One was an older warhorse, who looked like he could tell plenty of decent stories but was only politely listening and would take a lot more warming up before he'd tell anything. The other was what Anthrax thought of as the typical Rohan sort: all business, wouldn't deign to speak with a foreigner, but if he could be made to forget that, he would have lots of fun with telling stories. They all looked to the doorway when they heard a horse outside in a disturbance. "No! Come on! We have finer stables for you!" Lots of grunting and shuffling and a yelp of pain later ---> "Ugh! If you weren't so valuable... Huh. I wonder if this was where your former master was accustomed to keeping you. But why? He was entitled to better. Well, fine. At least I'll have put you somewhere."

The horses ignored the limping stableboy leading the horse in. Anthrax blinked and self-consciously adjusted himself a few times. He had travelled many places and had met many horses. He still thought of the ones from the Vale of Anduin as the best and had lost his awe for the Rohan sorts a long time ago, but this one was the ideal that they all seemed to be thinking about. The other two made their own noises of admiration and kept their heads low. Realizing that he recovered so quickly because he had been around Truor's cynicism for so long and wishing that he knew if that was a good or bad thing, he cheerfully introduced himself. "I am Anthrax, of the Vale of Anduin. You have chosen a good resting place. Heh. We all tell great stories." The older horse gave him an incredulous look and kept his head lowered. The haughty one scoffed and pretended to ignore Anthrax while still hoping for him to ask the Mearas everything that he would have wished to. Anthrax laughed to himself and decided that he didn't mind Truor's influence so much.
 
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Miss Insanity

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"Perhaps," responded Taetho to the new horse. "But I doubt I shall find much rest in this resting place." He was tall and muscular, and his coat was of soft black hair. His eyes showed a wisdom that was a rare sight amongst horses. The stableboy and his master laughed as they closed the door on his pen and locked it firmly. "This one must be crazy. I wouldn't sleep here if you paid me!" and the two men walked through the open doorway into the village. There was a brief and awkward silence before Taetho spoke.

"Come now brothers," he said to the other horses in the stable. "Do not fear to look on me. I am different than the others. I am like you." One of the horses glanced quickly at him, then shuffled around to face the wall, pretending to examine a crack. The other merely stood fast, staring across the stable and out the door, hardly blinking.

"Fine. Wonderful... At least one of you is willing to talk!" He turned towards the new horse, who had been listening with interest to Taetho's conversation with the other horses. "You speak very well... for a common horse. Well," he chuckled, "at least better than these ones if you can get a whinny out of them." He smiled - if horses are able to smile, which in their own special way, they are. He sat down in his stall, but was tall enough still to see clearly over the gate that locked him in. "Were you educated, or are you just naturally brilliant?
 

Turgon

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'Greetings to you Haluin!' Hengist boomed from his vantage point above the elf's head. 'And well met! Two days late by my count, but we shall let the deer pay for that. A goodly price too, once she's cooked up and served.'

Slinging his sword over his shoulder the old man made his way down the narrow, twisting slope, bordered by the rocks, down to the water where the elf stood smiling. Hengist looked his friend up and down, marvelling how even though it had been ten years since last they met, the elf looked not a day older. Not so for the Rohirrim, ten years had brought him down from the prime of life, to a shadow of the warrior he once was. Hengist, as he strode towards the carefree elf, thought back to the day the two of them first met, some thirty year ago now. Where, on the borders of Mirkwood, the two of them fought, simply for pleasure, in the joy of a chance meeting, and where the Rohirrim had beaten the elf down to his knees, the youthful fury of the secondborn proving too much for the carefree elf. Now Hengist knew, he would not stand a chance against his old friend. Time, as always, his greatest foe.

Standing before Haluin, Hengist nodded his head, and reaching out his arms, embracing his friend. 'It has been too long Haluin.' He said softly. 'And the years have weighed heavily upon me.' With this the old man into gazed his friend's eyes, catching a glimpse, or so he thought, of pity in those almond eyes. 'But though I must leave you soon, I can promise you one last adventure. Come with me to Edoras...'

Haluin took a step backwards at these words, knowing well enough, the Rohirrim's fear of those different from themselves. Indeed amongst the Rohirrim the Firstborn were viewed with something akin to fear. Unlike the the men of Gondor, the horseriders knew nothing of the elder race, thinking of them as sorcerers, or something worse. Hengist knew better though, was it not the elves who found him close to death on the borders of Lorien? Was it not the White Lady herself who drew the arrow from his chest and brought him back from the dead? The Rohirrim's life had never been the same since. An outcast he had become, his mind at odds with those of his countrymen, filled as it was with elven tales.

'Adventure you say my hairy friend,' Haluin smiled sadly, taking in the thick silvering beard that grew now from the rider's chin. The last time the two had met, Hengist had reminded him of one of the elf-friends of old. A man with a beauty even an elf could appreciate, being as it was, high, and solitary and most stern. But the man who stood before him now? A tree in winter, but with no promise of rebirth. It was a bitter blow. 'What adventure could a mere mortal lay before me?' the elf laughed. 'I who stood by my lord Thranduil in his hour of need, and weathered the greatest of all adventures?' Yet regardless of his tone, Haluin saw the troubled look in the Rohirrim's eyes.

'There is something rotten in the Riddermark,' Hengist said slowly, his grim state of mind returning despite his carefree friend.. 'Something even I fear to combat. The Dunlendings are massing on the borders of our kingdom...' With this the old man ran his hand through his iron-grey hair. 'And yes, I know you think we have treated them ill in the past. Perhaps you think it is but natural for them to claim back their ancestral lands? But no... this time it is different. Something guides their hand. Something cunning. Perhaps it is only I who see this, for there is none now amongst our people who know them as I do. Yet I can see the darkness falling upon them, and I need your help, come with me to Edoras. Be the eyes of a faltering old man. Tell me what you see. And perhaps between us we can make right that which is wrong?'
 
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YayGollum

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When the Mearas mentioned that he might not be able to rest especially well, he figured that he should leave the guy alone for a while, but he forgot about that when he started talking to the others. He tossed a sympathetic look at them when they wouldn't speak but focused entirely on Taetho when he was spoken to. "Naturally brilliant, if those are my only choices. My companion and I are just travellers, so I haven't been trained the way that you probably have. He just tells me what he needs, and I do it, if I feel like it. Heh. I've got him trained, actually. We're friends, though. We travel all over, telling stories, getting into trouble. He always just walks beside me, unless we really have to run. Have you never met a horse from the Vale of Anduin? We're all naturally brilliant, then." He turned and nodded at the other two. "Not that you are stupid. When humans speak of intelligent horses, they think of you first. The Beornings are just a little more private. People think they're strange for talking to their horses like they talk to their brothers." He remembered something and turned back to the pinnacle of equine perfection. "Ah, and if I may ask, why did you choose this place? I am not so surprised that they let you choose. That boy didn't seem to know you very well."
 
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Miss Insanity

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"No..." began Taetho. "No, that boy does not know me. Nor does his master. I..." he trailed off, not wanting to finish his sentence. "I have never met a horse from the Vale of Anduin before, but I have heard many things. I have been told that it is a beautiful land and that the people there - and I suppose the horses too - are a free-spirited, peaceful folk. That sounds Ideal. Do you know that I wish nothing so much as freedom? I do not care for royal treatment and a life of servitude." Suddenly he looked towards the other horses again. "Neither should any of you! But what's the use?"

He gave a long sigh, stirring the dust on the cracked stone floor. His eyes trailed slowly back to the white horse across from him. "I haven't gotten your name yet, and I don't think you've got mine. My name that the Rohirrim gave me is LightFoot, but the name I prefer is Taetho-Ernil, or Taetho for short. It's my Elvish name and it means Fast Prince. Personally, I just like the way it sounds. But please, tell me yours so that I might have decent conversation with you."

He smiled, and his eyes looked expectantly towards the new horse. Finally. Someone who might understand...
 

Turgon

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Upon a hill, some miles north of Edoras, three figures stood in the moonlight. Two men, Dunlendings by the look of them, well armed and dressed in light armour, and another, more sinister character, cloaked and hooded in a mantle of darkest black. There was nothing to signify what lay beneath these garments, be it elf, man, or something other. It was apparent, though by the distance the hillmen kept from this stranger that they viewed it with great fear. Turning now to the Dunlendings the figure spoke, slowly, and with a soft, sibilant hiss.

'I have a task for your master.' The voice cut through the still night air like a blade. 'A simple task, and one that he will not find difficult. Perhaps there by he can gain my favour, and give me proofs of his loyalty?'

'I'm sure my master will be willing, lord.' The boldest of the hillmen muttered. 'Ban bids me tell you that he is ever at your command.'

'That is well,' Came the reply, and there seemed to be a flush of pleasure in the sound. 'For the time is coming when I will raise your people up from the dirt where now you languish, and give you lordship of this land. This then is your master's task. A lone rider comes now from the eaves of Fangorn, one your master knows well. Ever a thorn in my side, and an obstacle to my plans. Hengist he is called, an old man of little merit, though meddlesome as old men are want to be. He must die before he reaches Edoras, and an ambush would suit my purpose well. Tell Ban to send me his head, and, in return, he shall receive an equal weight in gold.'

'It shall be done, lord.' Said the bold one with a shiver. 'This Hengist is as good as dead.'

'That is well. Return here in seven days time, and I shall have new orders for your chieftain.' With this the black figure waved a gloved hand, dismissing the Dunlendings from its presence.
 

chrysophalax

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Over a bowl of venison stew, the elf and the man talked of journeyings and mishaps that had befallen them over their ten year separation. Hengist recounted in great detail the defeat of his three greatest opponents, one using only a bread knife, while Haluin made his friend laugh until his sides ached with the tale of how he came to have his scar, the wearing of which he was decidely displeased. Ever the dandy, Haluin now often kept the hood of his cloak up, or left his hair unbraided on the left side so that it fell cross his left cheek.

"Tell me, Hengist. What woman would have me now? If I had not killed that foul Corsair...I would...I would kill him again. Just for the pleasure of it!" Hengist could only try not to choke on his stew. "Serve you right, peacock. You always have thought too highly of yourself." The grim look Haluin threw him made him pause. "Nay, nay Haluin. You know..." "You are right, Hengist. My people have always said that I am far too vain. I now have no right to be." He slowly stirred the remains of his stew and sighed. "How could you even ask if I would help you? Ever have I been at your side if there was need, so let there be no talk of last adventures between us." He leaned forward eagerly. "Tell me all that has happened in the Marches of Rohan that gives you such cause for concern. Leave nothing out."

Gloom was thus displaced by earnest discussion and before they realised it, the sun had climbed to noon. "We must go. 'Tis a long ride yet to Edoras and you, foolish elf, have no horse...again." Haluin only shrugged and together they wrapped up the remainder of the deer and set off. Hengist on his veteran mount and Haluin, jogging at his heel. After they had covered the first two leagues toward Edoras, Haluin chuckled. "I must be mad not to enter Rohan without a horse. I always end up having to run entire length and breadth of the land gazing at your nag's backside. Not the most elegant of sights I have to say!"

A hearty laugh greeted this declaration. "Better his than mine! Perhaps this will cheer you up. Midsummer Festival is upon us and there will be as much drink, food and dance as your elven heart could wish for. Be that of interest to you? Haluin?" Hengist glanced down, only to find that Haluin had vanished. He reined his horse in and danced it in a circle and saw his friend racing to the top of a nearby hillock. Curious, he cantered slowly after him, wondering what had triggered such behaviour. He watched as Haluin reached the crest of the grassy rise and stood still, scanning the plain below. After a short time, he ran to Hengist's side with a stern look on his face. "I sense...something, something I have never felt before. I can see nothing ahead, but I am uneasy. We must go forward with caution."
 

YayGollum

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Anthrax made eager noises of agreement towards the things Taetho was saying but tossed him a look of sympathy when he was asked for his name. "Oh, I said already. I am Anthrax. But that's okay. Taetho-Ernil? Hm. I don't have an elvish name. How you got that must be a story! My companion hates elves, so I've never seen one. We both came from the Vale of Anduin, and it is very free-spirited and peaceful. But he is a wanderer, and my father asked me to protect him, as a favor to our benefactor, old Beorn. We go back to visit fairly regularly, though. Everyone is treated fairly. We all help each other. No one gets any special treatment, really. Sounds like you'd like it, but you must have responsibilities here. It makes sense. You look very strong, very useful. It must be exciting, if they aren't wasting your time?" The idea then popped into his head that this horse could be strong willed enough to even wish to leave his masters to obtain more freedom. He knew that Truor could be talked into helping him, if he wanted to be helped. Truor had a distaste for convention, which Anthrax frequently found short-sighted yet amusing. The thought passed quickly, but he made no effort to conceal it, with his suddenly mischievous eyes.
 

Miss Insanity

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"I'm sorry. I've been very distracted lately. Details and events, even faces have been slipping out of mind. I have no more purpose here anyhow. I failed in my duty and now my life is the stable. They'd never think of formally punishing me, for in their hearts they still pity me, but lock me up they will. I deserve luxury less than these horses and, surely, far less than you." Taetho was leaning his head downwards to the floor. Suddenly he looked back up to Anthrax.

"Your companion, Truor, you go with him freely? He does not ride on your back or saddle you with burdens you cannot carry? That sounds like real Heaven to me... Feeling the wind's brutal force as you gallop towards the moon on a blue night, the splash of water over your hooves as you cross new rivers that lead to distant seas, never before seen by man or beast. That is what I long for. But it seems now that I shall never reach that. I feel as if my days from now will be spent here, learning the cracks in the floor and speaking in futility to these silent statue-horses. If I could just see the ocean and hear the croaking of gulls..." Taetho snorted in discontent at the hay out in front of him. "That would be bliss."
 

Turgon

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Hengist frowned at the elf's words, and dismounting his horse, pulled his pack loose from his saddle. 'Best be prepared then.' the old man said with a crooked smile. 'I have come to trust this sense of yours, you may be the first elf I have met who had any at all, and you, it seems, have some to spare.'

Placing the pack upon the ground, Hengist loosened the cords which held it tight, pulling out a thick bundle of oiled linen which unwrapped to reveal a well-tended coat of chainmail. Removing his sword-belt, the old man slipped the mail over his head, shrugging his shoulders to let the hauberk fall into a comfortable position. Then slipping his belt on once more, cinched it tightly about his waist. Again the Rohirrim slipped his hands into the pack, this time pulling out a helm of shining silver hue. Obviously a work of great craftsmanship, and dwarven in its origins, judging by the ornate face mask that adorned it. Hengist placed the helm upon his head, looking for all the world, like an oversized dwarf-lord, his forked beard poking out beneath the beautiful, gilt-edged image that was graven upon the mask. The old man felt better at once, the helm had always lent him strength in battle, and he had always taken pride in it. Haluin had always thought it looked ridiculous, but Haluin was an elf, and perhaps the dwarf-mask seemed unlovely to him.

Pulling his shield from the pommel of his saddle, Hengist slipped his arm into the straps, and climbed on to his horse. Haluin had dropped to the floor now, crouching low in the tall grass of Rohan. The elf slashed his arm southwards across the plain, five slender fingers signaling the number of the oncoming foe. The old man saw a quick grin play across his friend's face as Haluin motioned the rider to charge down the rise and meet the oncoming threat head on. The elf, as always, had some trick in mind. Hengist could see the enemy himself now, five skirmishers, slipping quietly through the grass towards them. Their arms and armour darkened with mud. The hillmen were crafty, well-skilled in the ambush, and the lightning-quick raid. If not for Haluin, the rider doubted he would have noticed their coming at all.

'Eorlingas!' Hengist let out a sudden yell, and sped down the slope, spear in hand. It was not long before the rider closed with them. As he got within twenty feet of his assailants a javelin came flying at him, hitting his face mask with ringing peal, before skimming away into the grass. The old man grunted, raising his own spear high and launching it into the chest of the man who dared to give him such an insult. Hengist pulled his own sword from it's battered scabbard as his horse barrelled through the hillmen's ranks, knocking one of them backwards with a sickening crunch. Pulling his steed around, the old man tested the weight of his blade in his hand, readying himself for the final charge on the Dunlendings. He need not have bothered; the elf was already amongst them.
 
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chrysophalax

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Haluin hid in the tall grass as Hengist charged headlong into the enemy. "Mad old fool! By the Valar, if he..." Stealthy sounds coming nearing set Haluin's nerves on edge. His fingers curled tightly around the stout quarterstaff in his hands. "Come nearer,ulundore. See what awaits you." he said to himself. With a cry, he sprang at them, his staff a blur of motion as he cracked first one, then two skulls before leaping back to avoid a sword thrust at close quarters. The remaining Dunlending's eyes were pig-like and gleamed with hatred. His breathing came in harsh, fetid gasps as he rushed at Haluin, who leapt aside. The elf was tall, but the Dunlending was massive. If caught, the elf would surely be crushed to death in the man's arms.

Haluin wasted no time in talk. He had slain the man's comrades and he could see that nothing short of his own life-blood would satisfy his foe. A short distance away, he caught Hengist, still astride, out of the corner of his eye. Relief washed over him that Hengist had apparently suffered no harm. With a lighter heart, Haluin taunted the man. "It seems you are the only dance partner I have left. Such a pity. " The man shouted a string of epithets and waved his sword at Haluin, but the elf merely laughed. "Nay! Kind of you to ask, but I have plans already. Besides, I think you will be much too busy being dead." He spun his staff and buffeted the man's elbow sharply, causing him to drop his sword.

Howling with pain, the man grabbed Haluin's cloak and yanked him close. He cracked his forehead against Haluin's, stunning him. Haluin fought to remain standing as he groped for his dagger. Valar, do not let me die in front of Hengist. I would never be able to escape the humiliation! With a surge of effort, he shoved the man away from him long enough for his dagger to clear its sheath and bury itself in the Dunlending's gut. As the man lay thrashing on the ground, Haluin staggered a short distance, then collapsed onto the grass. cradling his head. He winced as he heard the snort of a horse a few feet from him. "Well, I've seen that better done." "No doubt." grumbled Haluin. "No doubt."
 

Turgon

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'A stout stave is well for walking,' Hengist laughed. 'But a sword serves better when the wolf come a-stalking.'.

The old man sheathed his blade and climbing down from the saddle, offered a hand to Haluin, who was sitting cross-legged in the grass. Hengist nodded in the direction of the wild warrior who had given the elf so much trouble. 'One of Ban's men. If I had doubts about the troubles brewing in Rohan, this has done little to assuage them.' Seeing the puzzled look on the Haluin's face, Hengist offered an explaination. 'Ban is one of the more ambitious chieftains of the hillmen clans, for years now he has tried to unite them in common cause against the Rohirrim. He is as cunning as he is bold. The other clans though, have long prefered raiding to open warfare, though I fear now this may have changed. Yet why move against me? I hold no favour in court, and I doubt the king would mourn my passing over much. These are strange doings indeed. Although Ban bears me no love, he has never offered me any injury in the past.'

Hengist pulled the elf to his feet, before turning to retrieve his spear from the chest of his fallen enemy.'We should make haste to Edoras, we will ride through the night if need be. I still have friends amongst the Riders of Rohan, perhaps one of them can gain me an audience with Déor.'

Taking his horse by the reins, Hengist climbed back up the slope, and gathering his belonging, fixed his pack once more to his saddle. His armour, though, he kept on, slinging his shield upon his back and fixing his helm to the pommel of his saddle. Haluin came to join him upon the brow of the hill, and ere long the two of them were far across the plains. By noon they were a mere speck to the carrion birds that now feasted on the dead.
 

chrysophalax

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Tattered, crimson-coloured wisps of cloud were all that remained of a magnificent sunset to greet the two comrades as they stood looking out across the great, flat plain that lay before the city of Edoras. Two days of constant arguing and wild speculation as to where their attackers had come from (Hengist's suppositions seemed to mostly favour Dunlending settlements to the south and west of Fangorn, while Haluin believed they might have come from Angrenost), had served to hasten their journey to Rohan's capital.

As Hengist looked toward the city, Haluin rubbed his hands eagerly. "It has been too long since I held a cool cup of wine in my hand. Not for me the over-sweet mead of the Rohirrim. No offense intended, Hengist, but once one has tasted the wines from Thranduil's cellars..." Haluin paused. Hengist seemed leagues away, his expression a mixture of sadness and longing. Haluin laid a hand on his shoulder. "Is there something you have not told me? I know your king holds you in little favour, but aside from his poor judgement of character, what else is there that troubles you?" Hengist sighed deeply, but remained silent. "As you wish, mellon. So, shall we sleep out here under the open sky, or shall we go irritate the gate-keepers?"
 

Ghorim

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A sudden bump in the road awoke Jokim. The dwarf opened his eyes slowly, taking in his first dim vision of the day. All of his familiar companions were there: the constant shaking and unnerving squeaks of the rickety carriage, his splitting headache, and the hulking figure of Ollie sitting hunched beside him. The giant smiled down at Jokim as the dwarf sat up groggily, picking bits of straw bedding out of his mouth and bushy beard.

“Did you have good dreams?” asked Ollie in his resonant baritone.

Jokim glanced up at his mammoth companion in annoyance. Even in the wan light that snuck in through the carriage’s two heavily barred windows, the dwarf could still make out Ollie’s idiot smile. The giant always carried that empty grin around on his gnarled face, even when the crowds scattered and cowered in his wake. Mothers would cover the eyes of their children everywhere he stomped, and still Ollie smiled on, as if the horrified masses were just new friends waiting to be made.

“You ask that every morning,” said Jokim dryly. “Need I say it again? I do not dream.”

“Everybody dreams,” said Ollie with a warm, almost philosophical air. “You just need to try harder to remember.”

Jokim grumbled and rubbed his hooded head gingerly. “Dreams are not worth remembering. If I cannot grasp it in the hand, why attempt to hold on to it?”

“Everybody needs to dream,” said Ollie, his smile expanding to reveal two uneven rows of yellowed teeth.

Jokim shook his head and rose uneasily to his feet, ignoring Ollie as he attempted to align his balance with the nervous rocking of the carriage. Much to his surprise, the dwarf had grown accustomed to most of the giant’s ways. Ollie’s girth had long since ceased to intimidate. His kindly and dumb sayings just bounced off of Jokim’s ears now. Even the giant’s overpowering, musky aroma barely elicited a twitch of Jokim’s nose anymore. One might even stretch to call the pair friends.

Among the performers in Sir Astoundo’s Astonishing Assortment of Associates, they were obviously the most physically dissimilar. Jokim estimated that Ollie had a good three or four heads on him. They only traveled together because Jokim was the sole performer who could fit in one of those cramped carriages with the giant. Yet their personalities somehow meshed – only Ollie’s sunny, inquisitive manner could coax the dwarf out of his stony shell, while Jokim’s pragmatic outlook kept the giant’s head from floating too far off into the clouds. They were, to put it coarsely, two freaks in a pod.

Jokim wobbled up to one of the windows, grasping the thick iron bars for support as he looked out upon the passing landscape. It all looked the same to him – drab greens and browns passing by in a blur. Everything was flat out here. The air felt too thick. Jokim tried to shake off his vague nostalgia for Erebor. He hadn’t been fully truthful with Ollie – he could still dream, but only while awake, and only with a great deal of concentration.

By straining hard enough, he could rearrange the old images into a complete picture: the Lonely Mountain rising triumphantly above Dale and the Long Lake, bathed in moonlight, its snowy peak lit aglow in the still night. With an even greater effort, he could again feel the gentle caress of the winds, the crisp taste of the mountain air, and below ground, the ancient songs of his folk reverberating off of the stone walls. He wished he could return…

“Where are we headed?” asked Ollie, unwittingly intruding upon Jokim’s memories.

“Edoras,” muttered the dwarf, tightening his grip on the bars.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know much of it.” Jokim paused to think. “Do you like horses?”

Ollie shook his massive, bald head. “They taste sour.”

Jokim blinked in surprise, turning around to stare at Ollie. And then he laughed, a big dwarvish laugh that rippled up from his abdomen and spilled out of his lips. He removed his hands from the bars and pointed a finger at Ollie, his bearded face alight with a rare grin.

You, Ollie…”

But another pothole in the road interrupted Jokim mid-sentence, sending him sprawling off of his feet. Instinctively, the dwarf brought his arms up to protect his head and braced for impact. The shock of the rotten floorboards never came. Instead, Jokim found himself steadied by one of Ollie’s thick paws.

“Be careful!” said the giant, his voice charged with genuine concern.

Jokim exhaled, and gratefully patted the hairy hand that held him on his feet. “My thanks, Ollie. That’s another favor owed…”

Pushing off of Ollie’s hand, the dwarf made it back to his pile of straw and sat down slowly. He glanced up at the ceiling and sighed.

“I tell you, Ollie. This festival is my last performance…”
 
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Seregon

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A fire barely flickered in the hearth, yet even Avari had no idea why she lit it. It served little purpose; the room was mostly dark, and it was a very warm night. Avari was in just a nightshirt and some leggings, her sword sheathed and tied to the bedpost, everything in the room undisturbed, and the moonlight flitting in through the windowpane. She let a sigh escape her lips, leaned her head against her knees. Somehow, she felt like it wasn't right. Sad old tourneys with sad old men, far past their prime and far past their years in the Rohirrim. She had gained acceptance, but what kind of acceptance? Acceptance from men who could be beaten by boys. I need something more. She thought, something big. Something to be remembered for... A true fight, against a true opponent. I need something... legendary. A smile graced her face, and disappeared. Yeah, that'll be the day. And the shadows returned to her face as she resigned herself to another night of rum and overflowing glasses of alcohol; another night of drunken men, with perhaps a half of a good story between them all. Maybe one of them had had a brush with something close to an actual story; met a distant cousin of someone who ventured beyond the lands. So she pulled on an overshirt, and ventured into the dining hall, which could more properly be called a bar. Leering gazes and drunken calls met her almost immediately, and she sighed, getting a beer from a waitress who only looked mildly annoyed at being distracted from her customer. Whores and immature men. What a surprise. Yet oddly enough, there was one person in the bar who did not seem anywhere near as drunk as the rest. She walked up to him, trying to feign interest. "So," she said sweetly, "I guess you're a warrior, come to Rohan for the Spring Festival." She smiled in the most charming way she could.

"Yes." His voice was soft, with an odd accent to it. "And don't worry. You don't have to feign any interest in me. I'm not interested." Avari opened her mouth, shocked, and he just smiled at her. She wasn't quite sure what she was most insulted by - the insinuation that she was a whore or the fact that he wasn't interested.

"I'm not a whore. My name's Avari, and I could probably beat you blind in a swordfight, so I wouldn't be so smug if I were you." He laughed, swept his hand across his face, carelessly throwing his hair back over his head.

"You? Really?" He laughed some more, took a sip from his drink, and narrowed his eyes at her. "I take it back." Avari smiled smugly. "I am interested." And she practically hissed, turning slightly red. "It's okay darling, don't be angry." He interrupted her rage with kind words, patted her hand. "I'm sure you know your way around a fight." He smiled genteelly, and she felt herself calming down. Well... at least he's slightly charming. And, admittedly... kind of funny. Heh. That wasn't too bad, really. She felt herself smile a little.

"So... I suppose you've traveled a lot... or, you're from a distant town. Your accent isn't familiar to me." He laughed a little.

"Ah, of course. I came from Southern Rohan, and ventured into Gondor when I was young. Yet my accent comes from my years of travel. I've spent more than a decade exploring Middle Earth, and as far beyond as I could get." And suddenly, her interest was peaked.

"So... you've met elves, I expect?" He wasn't sure whether it was a question he should answer, and he hesitated for a few long moments.

"...Yes, yet-"

"Really? Like from Rivendell?" And her tone was actually interested, curious.

"Yes, actually... I spent two years in Rivendell... and three in Mirkwood, and Lorien." Her smile widened. "Why, any questions for me?" She laughed.

"Thousands."

*****

Leoh stretched his bejeweled fingers, looked at the bright, colorful stones on the rings, as if he was just enraptured with the fact that they were shiny. Yet it was only brief, as he turned his attentions back to the map on the table in front of him, rubbing his chin and running his fingers across the map. Damned elves. He bit his lip, turned his head slightly. As if it'll help. Scribbles, nothing but scribbles! He knew where the map was of, just not any idea of what was around it. He couldn't even identify the general region. "Probably fake anyway." He grumbled. Yet he hesitated to put it away, or move it, afraid of creasing or damaging it, just for the one little chance that it wasn't a fake. He brought out other maps, looking for something, anything similar. Some landmark, some translation of some of the jargon. Some... anything! He grumbled curse words into his drink, shoving all of the other maps away, and searching the first for just one familiar landmark. Yet nothing fit. That could be the Lonely Mountain, but last time he checked, it wasn't near a sea of any kind. That could be the Nimrodel, but he always thought it went through a forest... Whores and out of work soldiers crowded the bar, the soldiers on their way to Edoras, the women folk following in their wake, most of them of ill reputation. Well, so much for the evening. Might as well take my share. And he put the map carefully away, just as a woman came up to him, smiling, her eyes clouded.

"You a strong horseman, on his way to the festival?" A smile graced her face, and he noticed she wasn't half-bad. Yet she wasn't the best he could get, and that was what made him what he was. Why settle for half of what he could have if he invested a bit of time and effort?

"Yes of course milady, yet as such I hope you understand I could never partake of your company." She looked disappointed, yet refused to give up. If he was a horseman, he had money, and as long as he had money, she was interested. The night drew on, and before long there were no less than six women gathered round him. "Ladies, ladies. I must respect your honor. I do hope you understand." He smiled sweetly, his hand just brushing the shoulder of one of the girls.

"Well, could you at least spend some time with me alone... to tell me of your adventures?" She smiled sweetly. He paused, thinking for a moment.

"Well..." A pause, for her to look pleadingly at him. "I suppose that would be acceptable." And he led her to his room, a smile plastered across his face.
 

YayGollum

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Eorache the Valiant jumped into action. His steed, whose frightful neighing had awakened him, fought the rope that held him to a tree. Three scruffy-looking men cursed and ran towards him, badly maintained swords swinging. The largest held back and directed the other two to surround the hero. He looked like he was ready to sneer something at him, but Eorache had already drawn his sword and engaged the one closest to him. "Cowards! I am Eorache the Valiant! You cannot hope to best me! Stand down!"

A couple of clumsy attacks by his opponents later, and the first was bleeding his life out on Eorache the Valiant's bedroll. The second had been mercifully disarmed and stood there, shuddering. With eyes flashing but obvious restraint in his movements --->
"I would prefer to spare your lives, fellow Men, if you could convince me that you are worth it." The large one snarled and directed the other to pick his sword back up. He was ignored, however, since the guy was still overcome with fear.

The leader, while scowling and retreating ---> "You will die, Eorache the Valiant! Maybe not today, but you've been trouble for too many to live for long!" Eorache the Valiant watched the two scuttle off, then turned sadly to the now dead body. With a sigh to his horse, while preparing to bury the body ---> "Good horse. You have saved me yet again. Ah, I don't regret choosing this place to sleep." He flicked a glance at the magnificent view from the top of a hill towards Edoras. "So many paintings, so many poems. It's a pity that you can't appreciate them, Rogane. But you should enjoy Edoras. The Harvest Festival is approaching. You may have the chance to prove yourself again, there."

Rogane, for some reason unknown to his master, merely continued his attempts at escape exactly as frantically as before.

Back at the stable, Anthrax's reply was cut off as Eorache the Valiant led his horse inside. He dropped his reins and forgot all about Rogane when he saw the Mearas. "Oh!" to the stable boy, who was having a hard time with keeping Rogane from bolting now that his master wasn't watching ---> "Whose magnificent animal is this?" Suddenly glaring at the stable boy ---> And why is it being kept here?"

The stable boy rolled his eyes but cringed when he noticed that Eorache the Valiant had caught it. "Uh, I don't know whose he was, sir, but he's, uh, died, sir. His horse wanted to stay here. They couldn't get it to go any further." Eorache the Valiant nodded, then strode back to the door. "Ah. A magnificent inheritance. Now, take good care of my horse. He has saved me countless times. How is the food?" Confused but still fearful ---> "Ah, for the horses, sir? It's just your basic - " A flash of irritation and a cutting off gesture ---> "No, inside." "Oh. I'm sorry. We are famous for our bread, sir. And the stables really aren't bad, sir. We are taking good care of every horse." While walking away ---> "Fine, fine. We must both be rested for the festival."

Rogane, after miserably being led ---> "I was so close! Two times! Those bandits could have taken me! I wouldn't have minded! I can't be mad at the stable boy, though. He was just afraid of the guy." He coughed with surprise and embarrassment when he really got a look at the Mearas. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Uh, he's just always running straight into trouble! Don't most of the Riders only fight when they have to? This guy, he'll stick to the borders half of the time and stumbles through the mountains the other half! This is the safest place I've been in years! I really wouldn't try to run if I had, maybe, an average human."

Inside the common room, Eorache the Valiant and Truor Tupnm caught eyes and instantly disliked each other, of course. :rolleyes:
 

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