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Something Rotten in the Riddermark

Ghorim

A Dwarf
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Jokim crept carefully into the carriage where the troupe kept most of its costumes and props. After a minute of rummaging about, he found the garb he sought: a dark brown hooded cloak that would adequately conceal his identity. It was somewhat oversized, but it would have to do. Wrapping himself tightly in his disguise and tucking his beard into the folds of the cloak, Jokim stepped back out into the square, trying to stand as erect as he could. In truth, he felt he could pass for a shorter rider of the land. The Rohirrim, after all, were never an especially tall folk.

Jokim stomped up to Domo, who had crept up to the edges of the wrestling crowd to try and get a look at the competition.

“Domo,” muttered the dwarf discreetly as he approached.

The fellow turned about, and upon seeing Jokim so disguised had to stifle what would have been a crippling laugh.

“How do I look?” whispered Jokim as he glanced about the crowd defensively, not noticing Domo’s reaction.

“Like Khuzd who needs a better tailor!”

“Good! Your pronunciation is improving.”

And with that Jokim waded into the mass of bodies, keeping the cowl of the hood pulled low as he casually shoved past spectators to get to the front of the teeming throng. A bout was already in progress, and as Jokim advanced he could begin to make out the two competing figures – one older and the other younger. A seeming mismatch, but it looked hotly contested at the moment. Finally, fending off the curses of the spectators he had dislodged, Jokim arrived at the fore of the crowd. He gave a quick glance at those who stood in his immediate vicinity.

And there he was, standing directly to the dwarf’s left: the eavesdropper Halfast.

“Hail, Sir Jokim,” said the fellow, his bright eyes not deviating from the match in the least as he spoke.

The dwarf froze in temporary surprise, before he regained his senses and mumbled, “Just keep that to yourself, eh?”
 

Turgon

Ghost-King of Gondolin
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Hengist took a few steps forward, his mind empty now of thought, running only on instinct. It was always like this when he faced men in the ring, so different than the calm that washed over him when facing men on the battlefield. This was almost bestial, primordial, primative. Kjartan was circling him slowly, looking for an opening, a weakness, a way passed those burly arms. Hengist however saw only his prey. Lowering his body Hengist took the younger warrior at a run, smashing his shoulder into Kjartan's stomach and driving the very breath out of him. Then, slipping around his opponent's back, he locked his arms around Kjartan's chest and began to crush the fight out of him.

The younger warrior however had plenty of fight left, and Hengist was quickly rewarded with a wild elbow smashing into his mouth, and another to his chin, then another, and another, until a savage hit into the socket of his eye forced him to release his grip. Staggering backwards the old man let out a roar, buffeting Kjartan with several strikes from his heavy fists. The two men quickly came together again, grasping each other around the shoulders, each trying to force the other to the ground. Kjartan snaked a foot around Hengist's leg, getting a brutal knee thrust into his stomach as a reward. Then Hengist wrapped his bear-like arms around his opponent and began to lift him upwards, only to drop him as Kjartan smashed his head into the older warrior's skull. The crowd let out a hiss at this, but by the look on their faces, they were lapping it up.

Kjartan leapt forward now, hoping to take Hengist's legs with a shoulder charge, but a heavy foot in his face sent him sprawling backwards onto the ground. That was all Hengist needed, leaping onto his prone opponent he pinned him to the ground, driving his head into Kjartan's skull not once, not twice, but three times. And then it was over. The younger warrior's eyes rolled back in his head, fortunate perhaps, as Hengist stood and lifted him off the ground once more, grunting with effort as he raised him above his head before slamming him down upon the ground with a mighty yell. It was brutal, but Hengist cared not, nor did the crowd to judge by the cheer that went up.

There was life in the old dog yet.
 
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chrysophalax

Dragon of Note
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The appearance of the dwarf at a human contest of strength intrigued Haluin, but his own concentration upon the struggle before them was such that he could spare no more than the briefest of greetings. This in itself would have told anyone who knew the elf at all the depth of his concern. True, Hengist was a skilled and canny warrior, however...one ill-timed feint, the twist of a knee, unsure footing, any of these could result in permanent injury, or worse. Had this been true battle, Hengist's adversary would long ago have bled his life out on the point of Haluin's dagger, but this was his friend's fight alone and so he cheered along with the others as Hengist returned blow for blow, finally besting the younger man with a mighty throw Haluin would hardly have given him credit for.

A cry of victory enveloped the old man, who stood wiping blood from his eyes that streamed from a cut in his forehead. A rapidly swelling eye and a split lip could not stop Hengist from returning the wolfish smile on Haluin's face. It was more than obvious that the elf had bet heavily on him and he had not disappointed. Hengist threw his arms up and bellowed as the crowd roared their approval. It had been too long since he had felt so alive and he revelled in it.

"I hope you had time to wager on him." The softly spoken statement nearly made Jokim jump. "To my knowledge, Hengist has never lost a match." The dwarf seemed discomfitted by the fact that the elf was speaking to him, which only served as a source of amusement to the elf. "Come, would you join us in a tankard or two of ale? I have little doubt my friend would welcome the criticism of one such as you, who are renowned for their feats of physical prowess." The dwarf turned a baleful eye on Haluin. "You make free with your coin and your invitations...sir. Is your friend so eager for criticism that he would willingly take it from a stranger...should the stranger even care to give it?" Haluin chuckled. "After a victory such as this, he would gladly do as much and more if ale were involved."


The subject of their discussion limped gamely over and Haluin threw Hengist's tunic around his dirt-encrusted shoulders. "Well done indeed, Grey-beard! The money I have just won will fetch me a very fine bow, with more than enough left over for provisions, if you do not drink it all. I had no idea you had that much fight left in you." Hengist threw Haluin a wry grin as he wiped the sweat, blood and grime from his face. "Was there ever any doubt?" Hengist looked about him searchingly. "Is there no ale ready to hand? What manner of friend do you call yourself?" Haluin heaved a heavy sigh and smote his breast in mock-contrition. "I am truly remiss in my duties! I pray your forgiveness, O victorious one!" Both the dwarf and Hengist rolled their eyes as Haluin's melodramatic antics which caused the elf to grin. "Shall we to the mead-halls then to celebrate?"
 

Ghorim

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Jokim quickly turned his gaze from Halfast and did his best to ignore the fellow. It wasn't difficult - the two combatants were putting on quite the show. The dwarf watched them from beneath his hood with a squinted gaze, trying to filter out the incessant noise from the crowd. He saw the match differently from the jeering masses. Each move from each wrestler created with it dozens of possible responses that his counterpart could undertake. Jokim read ahead in the action, trying to gauge the styles of the two opponents and anticipate the responses before they were made. He would mutter to himself as he watched, occasionally nodding or shaking his head as the two men grappled fiercely.

His mutterings intensified as the combatants’ heads collided and blood began to flow. The crowd howled for more, and Jokim could sense that one of these fighters would soon make a rash decision as the atmosphere heated up. Sure enough, the younger combatant went for the win too soon, and caught a boot to the face as a result. Jokim smirked and shook his head, giving a glance up to Halfast. From the fellow’s smile, it was clear that he had good money riding on the old goat. The dwarf turned back to the action just in time to see the elder wrestler deliver a sharp series of headbutts to subdue his opponent.

Ah... there must have been a history between those two, thought Jokim amusedly.

“I hope you had time to wager on him,” said Halfast, his voice cutting through the drone of the crowd without warning. “To my knowledge, Hengist has never lost a match.”

So they are friends, eh?

Jokim grunted something unintelligible in response, drawing his cowl lower in annoyance. What fowl luck that he’d run into this meddler again...

“Come,” continued the fellow, his voice dancing with hidden laughter, “would you join us in a tankard or two of ale? I have little doubt my friend would welcome the criticism of one such as you, who are renowned for their feats of physical prowess.”

The cajoling words of praise rang hollow in Jokim's ears. It had seemed a great while since he thought himself capable of "feats of physical prowess," outside of dragging himself up onto Astoundo's rickety stage to make warrior dances for the shadowy crowds. But what use was it explaining any such thing to this Halfast jester, or that bloodied Hengist besides?

Jokim glared up at Halfast from beneath his thick hood, just one eye visible amidst the darkness of his face, one eye shining bright and untrusting like the full moon.

"You make free with your coin and your invitations... sir," said the dwarf, adding the "sir" as a polite afterthought. "Is your friend so eager for criticism that he would willingly take it from a stranger... should the stranger even care to give it?"

Halfast laughed. "After a victory such as this, he would gladly do as much and more if ale were involved."

Hengist now approached, and Jokim stepped back to let the two companions share in congratulations. Outside of the ring and up close, the old man looked rather ragged and unimpressive. But the dwarf could see that he had a wolf's spirit, and had fought the match with an abiding rage. That wild power made him dangerous, but in Jokim's eyes, Hengist was yet rough around the edges.

"Shall we to the mead-halls then to celebrate?" suggested Halfast.

"A fine salve that might be for this one's wounds," said Jokim, stepping forward as his oversized cloak dragged along the ground behind. "But he has another match, does he not?"

Hengist's eyes narrowed at this odd-looking stranger, but he nevertheless responded to the question that had been indirectly hurled his way.

"Aye, that I do."

"So I thought. That fellow you bruised up just now did not seem the championship type. Who is your next opponent?"

"I'd sooner know your identity, stranger, before I take to this interrogation of yours," said Hengist, still filled with violent passions after his bout.

"This," said Halfast, quickly cutting in, "is Jokim. We met earlier today by chance."

"Or rather, you stumbled upon me by chance," corrected Jokim. Hengist kept trying to catch a gaze under his hood, but the dwarf would always seem to turn so that the man could not steal a good look. "Well met, Hengist."

"Aye, well met..."

Jokim stepped forward and shook Hengist's hand. Gazing up into the man's eyes, the dwarf now made no attempt to conceal his identity. Even in the evening's dying light, Hengist could clearly make out the thick beard, the stone-set expression, and the keen eyes that could only form the face of a dwarf.

"Sir Halfast speaks highly of your abilities in the ring. I would add to those a few words of advice, if you would allow me."

Hengist merely nodded, looking surprised.

"Point out your next opponent to me, if he is within sight."

The old man turned, scanned the crowd, and then indicated the towering presence of Prince Helm. Jokim followed Hengist's gesture, his eyes narrowing as he took in the prince's youth and vitality from across the square.

"He is of... distinguished stock, is he not?"

"He is the king's grandson," replied Hengist.

Jokim whistled quietly, while Heingist and Halfast exchanged glances. The dwarf stood silent for a few moments before speaking, tucking his hands beneath his armpits as he brooded over the options.

"If mine eyes do not deceive, he has you bested in size, speed, and endurance," said the dwarf grimly. "I do not know how he fights. But I will say this: he is still a boy."

He turned to face Hengist now.

"To stand a chance, you must frustrate him... and the crowd as well," said Jokim. "They hunger to see their combatants take risks and fight without patience... but you shall not give them that satisfaction. Get in close and grapple. Do not seek to entertain. Make as if you are fighting for a stalemate. Your opponent's enthusiasm will get the better of him more soon than late, and then you will be there to capitalize upon his error, aye?"

Hengist nodded once again, but his gaze lingered upon the prince.

"You do not hate him as you hated your last foe, do you?" asked Jokim with a sharp air of inquisitiveness. "You respect him."

"It shall not hinder my performance, if that's what you aim to suggest," replied Hengist in some anger.

"Good," said Jokim tersely, before suddenly turning to head off into the crowd.

"And what of our ale, then?" called Halfast after the dwarf.

Jokim turned about, his cowl slipping down to conceal his features once again.

"I have an errand to complete," said the dwarf.

"And what, pray tell, is that?" Halfast smirked, never before having heard of a dwarf opting out of an opportunity to drink.

"I must place a healthy wager upon this one," said Jokim, pointing dead-on at Hengist. Though his face could not well be seen, the dwarf's smile was all too apparent. And then he disappeared into the crowd, leaving the two friends to converse between themselves.
 
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