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The Eastern Clans

chrysophalax

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Fingil was just sampling the beer he had come to know so well over many years. The Butterburs had long been known for producing the finest brew west of Imladris and the Prancing Pony was always a welcome stop for any traveller with a taste for good food and better beer. This particualr batch ddin't disappoint and he slid a few extra coins Butterbur's way with a sly wink. The fellow looked at him vacantly at first, then his eyes widened as recognition set in. The king's brother was well known in Bree-land and it was understood that he was never to be acknowledged as such, preferring to remain in the background.

The ranger had been about to join the two dwarves outside, when Truor spoke up and said he and his ever-present raven would be joining them. It's not like they need a small army out on those walls. he thought, but he had wanted a word with Zubrim before their next stage of the journey. A certan question was nagging at Fingil's mind and he had never been one to let things rest. Therefore, he downed the remains of his beer and called out to the dwarvish guide. "Hoi, Zubrim! A word if I may before you go?"

With a grunt, Zubrim got to his feet and carried both apple and mug over to Fingil at the bar. He stared up at the man irritably, so Fingil got right to the point. "I know your people look to you to get them through this part of your adventure, but unless I miss my guess, I know a damn sight more about where is safe and where isn't right now than you do. In my opinion, we should head south, hugging the eastern shoulders of the Barrow Downs, then follow the line of the Greenway on the western side. Possible troop movement from the south is what I fear most at this time and I feel that we would be caught like foxes in a henhouse if we should travel directly east. If your next destination is Moria, then we must get to the Greyflood, to Tharbad and from thence straight east to the Gate. There should be no danger to you dwarves at the least, as they have traded often with the citizens there and with any luck, I won't be recognised. Think on it whilst you and the others watch from the walls this night and I will be ready in the morning, never fear!"
 

Ciryaher

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Zûbrim guffawed and pulled off his hood, swatting it at Fingil's arm and cursing at him in Khuzdûl, "You ninny-faced, sod-gnawing, shovel-head!" He grumbled and went back into speaking the Common of Eriador, "Of course we're not going to go marching right towards Rhûdaur! Do you think I was born on a steeple?" He furrowed his blue-hued eyebrows and leaned towards the man, now speaking in a strongly-accented Sindarin, "You think I didn't drop eaves while we were in Fornost? I know more than you think, my long-shanked friend. This dwarf's nose smells more than a moneybag full of coin, and it's nothing so beautiful as that."

He swatted the man's arm with his hood once more and then trudged back to his chair to resume a long-awaited pull from his tankard.
 

Ghorim

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Cowards and blowhards were equal liabilities to a healthy unit, in Dvarim's book. And here he was, saddled with one of each!

This blackbeard's excitability ought to get him skewered much worse than that pig he's about to devour!

Dvarim dribbled his fingers upon the table in annoyance, resting his face upon his right fist as he eyed Kiril sideways. The commander busied his mind in trying to recall a good example of fatally foolhardy soldiering to sober his subordinate. Thankfully, the guide Zûbrim's words had a similar effect without being nearly as heavy-handed.

The luster in Kiril's expression departed as Zûbrim made his grave and altogether cryptic prophecy. When the guide departed their company to speak with Fingil, Kiril placed his hands upon his hips as he eyed the bluebeard from across the room.

"Well well... there goes the doomsayer once again! Always prepared for a funeral pyre, and yet we haven't one of us suffered a single scratch yet!"

Froli wanted to comment on the nasty scrape that an errant tree branch had inflicted upon his right hand, but wisely kept silent.

"'Just so you don't feel surprised when it happens?'" continued Kiril, mocking the guide's tone. "Ha! Little does he know that this dwarf is always prepared!"

"Ahem..."

A barely discernable noise and faint tap on his shoulder turned Kiril about. There stood two haggard-looking halflings, each with a tenuous grip on the massive steel platter that served as the final bed for the soldier's roasted pig. There it lay in its appetizing repose, the flesh cooked to a fine brown, the eyes gazing blindly into ether from atop the flabby, snouted face, an apple shoved into the jaw for good measure. The servers clung to the dish depserately, with rags to protect their hands from the scalding metal handles, and yet the heat from the dish was still causing them a great deal of discomfort.

"Where do we put it?" asked the lead hobbit in a strained croak that sounded like a plea for mercy.

"Er..." Kiril turned to the dwarves' cluttered table, appearing rather caught off guard. "Well, don't just sit there, lads! Clear some space!"

The others, seeing the pitiable state of their servers, moved swiftly to brush aside the plates and bowls that still bore the stains of their appetizers. Down came the charred corpse upon the table with a seismic rumble, its sheer girth earning the respect of all those assembled. Though his purse had already been severely strained by the expense of this particular dish, Froli nonetheless gave each of the halflings a healthy tip for his efforts.

Kiril hastily settled into his chair to admire the hog, his belly's new best friend and adversary, before he readied himself to tear it apart with fork and knife.

"Always prepared, eh?" asked Halak with a wry grin.

"Ahhh... stick a fork in that mouth of yours, already," grumbled Kiril. "I'm going to need a bit of help on this one."

"And on the walls tonight, if what Zûbrim says is true," said Halak, initiating the hostilities against the pig with a well-placed thrust of his fork. Froli and Boffin in tandem led the assault on the other side of the hog, effectively outflanking the dead beast.

"Now half a moment," said Kiril. "He didn't actually say anything. He merely dropped hints about something happening, something that he supposedly sees coming! That's how you sound like a prophet, Hal. You make with a few vagaries, keep your options open, and then twist your statements after the fact to make yourself appear wise."

Kiril punctuated his remark with his own stab into the fleshy main course. Halak chewed on his first sample of the hog thoughtfully.

"Well, at any rate, you'll need someone to keep you awake, what with all this pig that's soon to be in your belly. I'll fill that need."

"And that ought to be enough," cut in Dvarim from nearby. "I'll commit no more than four of this party to the watch tonight. The rest of us need to rest up, as Zûbrim says."

The old soldier nodded to the guide as he returned to the table to partake of his tankard.

"Now... for those of you going out, I expect discipline and common sense from the lot of you. Should there be some provocation, you shall engage sensibly, and not get drawn out into the thick of things. If it is a wide scale incursion from the North, we are leaving this area immediately. You will vacate your positions along the wall in such an event, and reconvene with the rest of the party to the East. This, need I remind you, is not our fight."

"Should there be no incidents of note, you will complete a shift of sensible length and return here to take your rest. I don't want any of you lagging behind the rest of us on tomorrow's march. It forecasts to be a long day for the lot of us, and you all ought to expect more of the same from here until Khazad-dûm."

The others at the table had temporarily halted their eating and drinking for Dvarim's orders, and his stern, fatherly words brought forth submissive nods and a chorus of, "Aye, sir!" from his subordinates.

"Now dispose of this damned pig already, you soft-bellied lot of gravel horders!"

Of course, the diners could do naught but oblige such a sharp-worded invitation. The hog never stood a chance.
 

chrysophalax

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Being both affronted and hungry, Fingil joined in. He pulled a large hunk of meat from the pig's shank, grabbed a large piece of bread to put it on, then sank down next to Kiril, all the while glaring at Zubrim. Kiril, never one to let a man (or dwarf) go thirsty, passed Fingil a brimming mug. With a quick nod of thanks, Fingil gulped it down. Carefully returning it to the table, he then leaned across and grabbed Zubrim by the shirtfront. "Let's get one thing straight, shall we? I have no need to chastised as though I were a youngling! Granted, I am no great age such as you, but I am wise enough in the way of my people. Understand?"

The table ( and those gathered around it) went very quiet, then talk resumed as though nothing had happened. Fingil once again tucked into his meal, having said what needed to be said. Behind the bar, old Butterbur heaved a sigh of relief, for he remembered many years before when this particular ranger had gotten his back up and it had taken a week to get window glass and new tables ordered and replaced.
 

Ciryaher

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Zûbrim glowered over the rim of his mug, leaving his grey shirt frumpled where Fingil had grasped it for the moment. He kept his eyes on the human and took a long drink, then set down his mug gently before moving his hands down to the bottom of his shirt and tugging down to smooth out the garment. With an icy tone in his voice, he laced his fingers together and the set them on the table as he spoke, "I did not speak to you as a youngling, human, and will continue to not do so as long as you stop speaking to me as though I were a cave-dwelling troll." The volume of his voice raised at the last few words, and stayed at that volume as he went on, "I've wandered the world since before it ever thought of you, and I will not be lectured on a land that I know quite well. This may be your home, but it was the home of others before, and before them were others. Do not think that in so short a span that you have become master of all you survey, human, because once we leave your happy little home here, the only thing we're going to have is eachother. So go ahead. Be the expert, for now. But I tell you that we are going into lands where nothing you know applies, so have an ear and an eye!"

Strangely enough, the dwarf stood up in his seat and bowed to the human, then hopped off, calling over his shoulder as he whirled about on a shod heel, "I'm going to the wall. Don't let pig and ale dull your wits too much." Zûbrim stepped over to the door, then turned around briefly, muttering, "I hope they haven't forgotten how to fight in the dark..." Pushing open the door, he took another bite from his apple and headed out into the murky night.

The air was thick with moisture, and the lamps of the streets glowed eerily in the heavy air. A fog was rolling in from the west, off the Downs, much to Zûbrim's frustration; already wisps of it were floating down the streets like ghostly birds. He made his way to the west gate, which lay between the village and the highway that ran from the south to Tharbad and north to Fornost. The guard seemed to have heard tell of dwarven assistance, and clapped him on the shoulder before gesturing to a ladder that leaned against the palisade, "On up there, ye'll be fine enough for a night o' watchin'! I've no doubt a narrow fella sech as yerself be havin' a hard time stayin' on the narrow plank, but have a mind! I've none of a mind for scrapin' ye off the 'Edge."

The guard turned around, chuckling to himself and resuming his post at the guardshack. Zûbrim hung his bow over one shoulder and then ascended the ladder, crawling onto the smoothly-planed gangway that jutted out from the backside of the wall. It seemed fairly new, judging by the woodwork. Maybe ten years old, if the planks' wear were a good indicator. He slapped the nearest post, which didn't move at all--to his satisfaction--and then nodded. There was a narrow shelf no more than eight inches wide that ran along the inside of the parapet, with regular holes in it that were obviously made for holding arrows. Standing on this, and leaning through a crenel, he found that he could easily shoot over the wall at...anything that he might happen to see that night.

He made himself comfortable, pulling the arrows from his quiver and dropping them into the hole, fingering the fletching idly as he waited for the others to arrive. After a time--as the fog flattened itself against the ground and seeped into the town--he could hear a small calamity in the dense air as a contingent of his companions finally made their way out of the inn. The stars above were hazy, distorted by the night's air slightly. They offered little comfort to him, and he turned his eyes down to watch the party as they approached and began clambering up the ladder, talking to eachother jovially still.

Zûbrim's mouth opened to scold them for talking so much, but the only thing that could be heard was the ear-splitting blast from what must have been a tremendous warhorn, its low quaver rolling through the valley of the Baranduin like thunder. The dwarf leapt up to his feet and peered out into the night, but saw nothing. Echoes came from all directions, but he was fairly sure that the sound had come from the south. There was a long, eerie silence, and the warriors--already having drawn their weapons--waited anxiously. They began to wonder if there was some trick of the night air playing with their minds when a high-pitched note came sailing in from the air to the north.

The call was not an answer: it was a challenge. The night had just begun.
 

YayGollum

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Truor, with his crossbow out and ready, sidestepped around on the wall, trying to get a better view. His vision wasn't the best, and he was still feeling a bit sick from not leaving the inn soon enough to miss witnessing the pig being devoured. He had never even taken the time to get to know any, but had always heard that they were surprisingly intelligent. When the second horn sounded, he automatically jerked his shield into readiness.

After a couple of beats with no immediate threats making themselves known, he checked the faces around him, then looked down at the human guard that had greeted them. Seeing that the guy had also reacted to the bad news, Truor let a nervous grin loose and headed back down the ladder. "Looks like we are no longer needed as watchmen. After that, the city should be a lot more interested on defending itself, I'm sure. Ah, we don't have to rush out there to defend any Ranger's men, do we? I'll just be heading back to the inn, now. Must be sure that our companions have been alerted, of course!"

Shadowflaps, who still hadn't seen any actual combatants yet, squawked a scoff at the guy and steeled himself on the wall, waiting for incoming information, and not stupid enough to fly too far yet.
 

Ghorim

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Halak had forgotten something... some bag or other, one of those nondescript items that were entirely too easy to misplace. It wasn't with the rest of his supplies inside the Prancing Pony, so he could only assume it was still lashed to one of the ponies, or else lost along the trail. So he found himself in the musk and filth of the inn's stables, wandering past row after row of identical equestrian rumps. Halak was looking for one of the shorter beasts housed here, but that was about all he had to go on. He had to enter more than a few stalls, tiptoeing around pungent booby traps to search for his missing bag, which led to a fair share of awkward conversations with the stable dwellers.

"Don't mind me, lad, just passing through..."

Naturally, it was the last stall that rewarded Halak with his marginal prize. This final pony was just as anonymous to him as all the others, but evidently it was one of the beasts that had accompanied him and the rest of the party all the way from Ered Luin. For there, lying beneath its discarded saddle, was that meaningless little brown bag. Within it dwelt a hodgepodge of little worth: spare packets of cram, a length of rope, as well as a few interesting rocks that Halak had stumbled upon along the journey.

Perhaps collecting stones as trinkets was a bit of a boyish hobby, but this pastime had yielded at least one item of practical value in the past. As he beat a cautious retreat from the stall, Halak laid his axe upon the earthen floor of the stables and rummaged through his bag for the one particular stone that he sought. He knew it by feel, his hands grown intimate with its smooth surface. After a few moments, Halak’s fingers struck their goal: his whetstone, as pristine and efficient as the day he found it during a soggy morning’s jog.

The stone found, Halak tossed the bag back to the ground - unwittingly crushing his reserve supplies of cram beneath the collected stones - and once again took up his axe. The dwarf sat upon a crate that rested just outside one of the stalls, and drove the spiked pommel of his weapon deep into the ground to steady it. Now his well-practiced eye danced along the blade’s edge, searching for minute imperfections. He wanted his weapon immaculate for that night’s festivities.

Sharpening the blade in his hand was akin to keeping his father’s memory bright and vivid in his mind.

Your axe is all you have in this world, lad.

Halak smiled faintly. He would have something to say to that now.

No, father. There are other things.

The army had been his father’s religion, his salvation and final burden. The father had invested himself in it fully, and though his young family was not forgotten, it remained secondary. How... and when did he lose sight?

Halak wanted more than just this axe. He wanted to see his own form re-imagined in that of a child, his better traits combined with those of his lifelong love. A wife to extinguish the raging desires, to whisper away the night terrors, a bosom that Halak could collapse into when overcome by the weariness that always seemed to plague him. She would bear him a grandchild for his mother, bringing her the joy of which her twilight years had been so cruelly deprived. All of these fantasies whipped through the dwarf’s head as he rubbed the whetstone along the blade. This task was mere habit for him now. His thoughts could soar unfettered.

Once the axe’s edge met with his satisfaction, Halak slowly stood, grounding his mind for the coming hours. War. He was preparing for war. He had already pulled his tufts of dark brown hair into a tight braid that descended from the rear of his helmet like a tail. His hands, now steeled in gauntlets, settled into a familiar grip upon the axe handle. Halak eyed the weapon as he stood, inspected his posture, took a heavy step forward. He gazed dead ahead with that soldier’s ironheaded resolve. Now the axe began to move, at first in arcs as gentle and smooth as the arched ceilings of his home. The motions were economical, perfectly geometric, in short: thoroughly dwarvish.

With his weapon, Halak sketched a blueprint for his battlefield designs. The speed increased; the diagram became more complex. And yet all the angles still had to add up, lest he leave a fatal opening in his defenses. He moved in circles across the stable floor, his axe losing its rock solid appearance with its increasing velocity. Aye, he felt ready for whatever was to come. The blade flew perfectly free, deadly in its graceful swoops, splitting air in twain... but instantly, shockingly, a jarring obstacle met and intercepted it.

Halak’s eyes shot up, their meditative tranquility suddenly shattered. Another axe had split through his designs unnoticed, and now he found his weapon and this foreign blade locked in a stiff, martial embrace. There stood Thuri, with his venerable, stony gaze peering inquisitively upon the younger soldier’s frozen stance.
 

Ghorim

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“Decent form,” said the old soldier gruffly. “But your perceptiveness is sorely lacking.”

Halak felt his limbs melt into a casual stance as he saw that it was only his comrade and not some mysterious assailant. With a solid tug, he released his axe from the metallic entanglement.

“You’re getting stealthy in your old age, my friend Thuri!”

And yet the old soldier did not ease his posture. He took another step forward, inexplicably menacing in his air. Halak’s relieved expression fled.

“What’s this? You want a spar, now? My apologies, sir, but I just sharpened my blade, and I don’t much want to dull it without need.”

Nothing eased in Thuri’s demeanor. “Tell me, Halak... how much sleep have you gotten over the past week?”

Halak cocked his head, and slowly raised his weapon once more, as if to assist in warding off his superior’s words.

“I’ve gotten enough shuteye to keep me on my feet, don’t you worry.”

“And yet I’ve never seen you at rest since we departed Fornost. You’re always taking the first shift at guard, or keeping others company for theirs.”

“We’re all doing with less sleep than normal, Thuri. It’s been a rough slog.”

“You’re not fit for battle, Halak.”

Halak shook his head slowly, prickling at such an accusation. “Never say that of me, Thuri. I’m ready for my duty tonight. And if Arnor comes knocking, so let them! I’ll hold the line. Did I not prove myself to the company in the North? I held the front alongside all you graybeards. We didn’t sleep then, none of us did! Don’t pull me back.”

Thuri closed his eyes briefly and smiled softly, remembering the young Halak as he stood firm on the misty slopes, relaying orders along the line with the barks of a seasoned veteran. A thick fog erupted into the frigid, yellow air, bursting from the young, scruffy-bearded soldier’s mouth with each shout. They all whispered... wasn’t it just like Halrik was standing next to you? Wasn’t it just like Holmin?

The old soldier’s thoughts returned to the stables.

“I never questioned your abilities, or your history of service. But something has been hounding you for this whole march. And as it is, Halak, I don’t want you on the wall tonight.”

“I’m prepared, sir. I’m in fine fighting shape.” Halak’s axe was rising higher.

Thuri lowered himself into an offensive stance, his weapon angled in a striking diagonal.

“And even with no sleep, you’d be likely to think that. But it’s peculiar, when one goes without rest for a few days straight...”

Thuri took an aggressive step forward, prompting an instinctive swing from Halak. The elder soldier, no longer so fleet of foot, was nonetheless well out of the way by the time the blade passed by.

“... he doesn’t realize that his movements have slowed.”

Thuri struck this time, a conservatively placed blow aimed at Halak’s midsection. As anticipated, the younger soldier snared Thuri’s weapon, and with weapons locked once more, the two warriors pitted their weights against one another. At first, they seemed deadlocked, but gradually Halak’s footing began to give way. Sensing his advantage, Thuri sent Halak stumbling with a shove of relative ease.

“His strength departs him, and yet still he does not realize.”

The old dwarf marched forward without remorse, his axe raised high, with the blade at head level.

“And he does not react...”

Thuri rotated his axe blade, a quick glimmer of a movement that caught Halak’s gaze in a singular moment of distraction. The old dwarf saw that brief flick of his opponent’s eyes, and acted upon it, lowering his right shoulder and driving it into Halak’s chest. The young soldier fell backward into a pile of hay.

“... until it is too late.”

Halak coughed violently in a struggle to fill his lungs, sitting up briefly with the effort before falling back down upon his straw bed. Thuri stood over him, leaning on one of the stalls with a strangely casual air.

“Perhaps you could catch a few winks while you’re down there,” said Thuri, making one of his queerly gruff-sounding jokes.

Halak coughed again, and despite the odd and humiliating nature of his predicament, managed to fire a volley in return. “Well... I think you woke me up right good. I’m off to the wall, then!”

Thuri’s axe made a slow descent to hover just above Halak’s throat. “Please, do reconsider.”

---

“There’s been a change of plans,” said Thuri as he marched up to the table. Boffin, Froli, Brian and Owin had all scuttled off to bed at Zûbrim’s suggestion. The guide himself was already at the wall. Those who remained noticed a haggard-looking Halak approach just behind Thuri, still rubbing his chest and coughing a bit.

“I’m taking Halak’s place on the wall this evening.”

Kiril stood up, looking aghast. “Hal! What did this old badger say to you?”

Halak gave Kiril a brief glance and simply shook his head, appearing astounded all around. “He pulled rank on me.”

And with that, Halak was off to the party’s room, carrying his axe and that useless brown bag with him.

Thuri glanced to Malkin as Halak departed. “Make sure that he gets some sleep tonight.”

Malkin glanced up at his elder with an amused smirk. “What? Should I tuck him in, then?”

Thuri raised a finger and clicked his tongue admonishingly. “Too much time around Kiril!”

The blackbeard himself, meanwhile, was looking rather cross at this last minute change of the guard roster. He knew Halak had been forced into bed for the night. Only Thuri was crafty enough to pull a reversal like that. Kiril eyed the old dwarf curiously as they each geared up for the shift at watch, but Thuri revealed no secrets. The two had fought together for many years now. They were friends enough, but Kiril only knew as much about Thuri as the old fellow wanted him to know.

Dry wit. Smart fighter. Smart talker. Must’ve had an education, what with all those words he tosses around. Takes charge in a jam. A family dwarf. His younger daughter looks good enough to take back to the barracks.

That was the extent of his archives on Thuri. Of course, the graybeard knew a great deal more about Kiril...

“Go on!” ordered Dvarim sharply. “Zûbrim’s waiting for you others at the West gate. Complete your shift. And remember, should things go awry, engage sensibly.”

Out went Thuri, Kiril, Truor and Shadowflaps into the night. The lights of Bree and the thickness of the air made the stars seem a bit more distant that evening. The night clouds enveloped the moon in an ambiguous swirl. There was an ominous mood that seemed to hang just over their heads, but it could not dampen Kiril’s spirit. He continued to talk in animated, bouncing syllables. His voice, reassuring Truor that pigs did indeed deserve to be carved up and swallowed, was the only sound save for the crunches of earth beneath their boots. The western boundary of the township loomed ahead, a dark, hulking mass in the foggy night. Truor and Thuri proceeded immediately up the ladder, while Kiril tarried for a few moments to converse with the guard in his shack. After a time, he went for the ladder and clambered up to join his companions, calling out as he went.

“Where’s that Zûbrim? I want him to see the expression on my face when exactly what I expect to happen happens, which is, of course...”

Nothing? Oh no, Kiril would not have so restful an evening. The horns sounded. They were all in for a workout.
 
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chrysophalax

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It hadn't been long enough even for Fingil to finish his third mug of ale when he heard the sound he had never truly expected to hear. The sound of horns, not just any horns mind you, but those being used to assemble troops. The hair went up on the back of his neck and he motioned to Dvarim, who looked at him with a cautious eye. "Aye, Ranger? What is it?" Fingil's glance shut his mouth for an instant. "Listen. Now is not the time to quarrel. Did you hear those horns? This town is about to be scouted out and some of our people are out there in plain enough sight for my people to see. Two of the king's sons have moved far more quickly than I could have dreamed and now we're caught." His mind raced as he tried to think how best to proceed. "Send Boffin and another to the stables for the mounts, then send another to the walls. Have them meet us by the southern wall, in the back alley of the Sleeping Wyvern. From there we can escape the town and find ready concealment. Do it now!"

Fingil drew Butterbur aside quickly, telling him they would be leaving westward, in case any should ask after him or a party of dwarves. He knew the old man would comply, as they had been fast friends for years and their fathers before them. Behind him, he heard Dvarim barking out orders in his own tongue and blessed the dwarf for using his natural caution. Out the door he flew, heading for the western gate. He had to make certain that the guard there would be able to vouch for his hasty flight if questioned. Beren's Hand! If I've brought misery down on these people because my nephews might be seeking me... Fingil pushed the guilty thoughts aside as he clung to the shadows, hoping to meld into flickering, torch-lit darkness. He had to reach the southern wall ahead of the others in order to prise open the old ivy-hung door that had served him well on several occasions. From there, with any luck, they would be able to escape onto the Downs before dawn.
 

Ghorim

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Dvarim stood from his chair, seeming to draw all of his years and commanding power about him like a cloak. With one flick of the leader’s sunken eyes, Malkin shot to his feet, instinctively bringing his left hand up in a stiff salute.

"To the Western walls, young one!" cried Dvarim in Khuzdul. "Lead our comrades to the South, where the Sleeping Wyvern lies. Do not relent in your pace!"

Using the language of his home seemed to give Dvarim an otherworldly sense of command. When speaking Westron, that silly common language of the Men, he found his tongue blunted by its foreign cadence and illogical expressions. In Khuzdul, each word seemed to slide perfectly into its proper position, like soldiers falling into formation. He was master over the syllables now, his authority undeniable.

Malkin, as young soldiers are wont to do, executed the command with unflinching zeal. He shot off, a speeding projectile even with armor and axe to hinder him. He weaved between the tables, crashed out the door (causing Butterbar to audibly wince), and cut through the night’s fog in a righteous sprint.

Dvarim was engaged in his own race now, completely ignoring Fingil as he bounded up the stairs toward the party's room. Much to his surprise, he found Halak standing in the hall, completely equipped for battle. Dvarim felt divided between his approval for Halak's soldierly preparedness and his disdain for the fellow's obstinate refusal to get his much-needed rest. The commander had hoped that dispatching Thuri to humble the young soldier would have had some notable affect on him, but the fellow clearly hadn’t even climbed into bed.

I shall likely have to bash his head in myself to get him to sleep, thought Dvarim grimly.

“I heard a commotion downstairs, sir,” said Halak, sensing that the night was about to get a bit more interesting. “What’s the news?”

With a bit of a disapproving squint, Dvarim marched right past his subordinate.

"Come, Halak. That heel Fingil has brought two of his vulture nephews down upon our heads. We must rouse the civilians. You and Boffin shall round up the ponies and head for the Sleeping Wyvern with the rest of us. Fingil wants us to drive south to avoid our pursuers."

Halak cursed to himself as Dvarim pushed open the portal to the party's room. "Why do we insist on bringing him along? We're now a moving target due to his flight from duty! Zûbrim can lead us out of this mess just as well, sir."

Dvarim spun about, and obscured by the darkness of the slumbering room, he took on a horrific appearance, a looming storm cloud bathed in shadow.

"I am not so dishonorable as to abandon a Man in his starkest hour of distress. Fingil may have failed in his station, but we would likewise fail in ours were we to throw him to the hounds. Do not forget, we are defenders first and foremost."

Halak did not have a positive reaction to this lecture, but Dvarim had no interest in gauging it. He turned toward the room's interior and bellowed with a troll's strength, "Boffin!"

The gale gust that accompanied his shout sent not just Boffin but all of the four sleepers tumbling out of their warm beds. Dvarim glanced over this motley assortment with an annoyed glare as they struggled to kick their way out of their bed sheets on the floor.

"Boffin!" he repeated. "Follow Halak to the stables. Froli, Owin, Brian! Follow me. Don't forget to take your bags! We're on our way out now, lads! We've got to be miles away from this inn by dawn!"

Trying desperately to wrap their sleepy wits around what was being said to them, the four dwarves groped for their boots and belongings. Halak moved swiftly to assist Boffin in his search, and wound up practically dragging the fellow and his bags out of the room.

"You're going to have to take the lead with the ponies," muttered Halak as he and Boffin hurried down the stairs. "I don't get on well with things that have four or more legs."

Boffin nodded vaguely, only now beginning to grasp what the party was doing, and just what particular role he was expected to play in that intended course of action.

“You awake, there?” asked Halak, delivering a gentle elbow to the dwarf’s shoulder. Boffin nodded more emphatically this time, and the soldier was satisfied.

The two flashed by a bewildered looking Butterbar, and the portly fellow's expression was so harried and pitiable that Boffin felt compelled to double back and give a bow.

“Our humblest thanks for the hospitality,” he said reverently.

Halak, who had continued in his march for the door, had to stop and twist around awkwardly, reaching out to grab the exceedingly round dwarf’s collar.

“Come along! No time for that!” he said sharply, once again taking Boffin along with him as he made for the exit.

“We’ll be back someday, don’t you worry!” called Halak over his shoulder to the innkeeper as he manhandled the door on his way out.

For a second time in only a few minutes, Butterbar worried that the battered wooden slab was going to fall off its hinges.

“I really ought to get that thing dwarf-proofed,” he muttered, searching his bar for a draught that might calm his nerves a bit. Judging the situation from the behavior of Fingil and his stunted companions, the poor innkeeper was already begging for the dawn to come and chase away this clammy night...
 
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Ghorim

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Kiril’s hand stopped just short of the next rung on the ladder when the horns sounded. He froze instinctively as the violent calls from beyond the township faded into a wide and barren plain of silence. Footsteps on the gangway above. The blackbeard felt battle’s terrific avalanche of energy cascading through him, though the enemy was not yet in sight. He rushed up the ladder hastily, poking his head up just above the walkway upon which the others stood. Spotting the reedy hunter to his right and his stockier companions to his left, Kiril hoisted his axe up through the opening and laid it upon the gangway. He hurriedly pulled himself up after it, standing alongside the others in the mist, all sounds suddenly dead between them.

Kiril glanced among the others, then tried to peer out through the nearest crenel himself.

“Any of you see anything?”

He asked in as quiet a voice as he could manage, which amounted to a soft shout.

“Not a single body,” said Zûbrim quietly. “But to these ears, those warcalls came one each from North and South.”

“Two separate factions, it sounds like,” muttered Thuri, attempting in vain to peer out over the wall. “Well, come, we must pull back to the inn.”

Truor had beaten the old dwarf to the punch, having climbed back down the ladder to speak with the guard below.

“Half a moment,” grunted Kiril. “Why in the name of Azaghal’s axe did we come out here only to go flying off at the first sound of trouble? I thought we were out here to engage the enemy if they came.”

Thuri clicked his tongue sharply, once again amazed by Kiril’s wargheaded approach to battle.

Sensibly, Kiril. Dvarim said ‘sensibly.’ That means we don’t engage them unless they engage us directly.” The old dwarf moved for the ladder, indicating that he saw no reason for further discussion on the matter. “This is the ‘strategic retreat’ that you were crowing about earlier, Kiril. These two armies that assail us now have a definite quarry: your new friend, the ranger. If they pounce at him here, the citizens of Bree will stand in harm’s way. We must move Fingil out of this area immediately. To attempt a stand here would be folly.”

And now Thuri’s head disappeared as he descended back to the ground below, which he trusted infinitely more than the wooden concoction of Bree’s engineering. Zûbrim followed, moving as if he’d rehearsed all of these steps before. His prophecy had come true. Flustered and feeling denied the gory ecstasy of combat, and still more frustrated to be proven wrong by Zûbrim, Kiril once again brought up the rear. Heading down the ladder, however, he heard the guide remark from below:

“Not to worry, Kiril. You’ll sully that axe of yours ere the morning’s light.”

The three dwarves came upon Truor and the guard, the latter of whom was just moving off to marshal some more support along the walls. They were about to head back for the Prancing Pony together when a sudden commotion of footfalls sounded from the gray veil of the mist ahead. Kiril and Thuri instinctively stepped up with axes at the ready.

“It’s just one,” said Thuri, “a runner.”

And the runner soon emerged, revealing himself to be an excited looking Malkin.

“Comrades!” he cried, with only half a lung of air behind his words. “I’m under orders... *cough*... to lead you to the South gate... *wheeze*... to convene with the rest of our party... at the Sleeping Wyvern.”

“South?” said Kiril. “Isn’t that where one of the horns blew from? Why are we cutting that way?”

“Not much choice to it,” said Zûbrim. “North and West lead us back toward the belly of Arnor. I’d wager good coin that they’re expecting us to bolt dead East. We’re going to have to puncture a front, in any event, and the South’s our best chance of escape.”

“Hmm... lovely,” said Kiril, and the exhilarating notion of “puncturing a front” did indeed sound positively romantic to him in that moment.

“I’d still like to have a better notion of what we’re charging into,” said Thuri cautiously. As if sensing the moment was ripe, Shadowflaps came winging over just then to land on his master’s shoulder. The old dwarf glanced at Truor. “Hmm... perhaps your winged companion could do some scouting for us to the South?”

“Depends how lucky he feels,” said Truor, craning his neck away from Shadowflaps to get a good, honest look at the raven.

“Well, consult with him, then. But for now, let us cut a brisk trail south!”

Though Thuri did not know exactly where the Sleeping Wyvern lay, he figured that he could stumble upon it easily enough, and led the group in a lively jog for Bree’s south quarter. Despite his obvious age, he didn’t seem stiff or burdened in his movements as his stout form chugged through the dead layers of drifting gray. The others followed in tight formation, and Kiril and Malkin suddenly felt as if their aged comrade were once again leading them on a typical morning jog back home.

And yet these weren’t training exercises to which they were headed. The field of battle lay ahead, and for Malkin, this would be his first visit. The young dwarf felt the faint prickles of his nerves, but to his credit concealed his worries rather well. He gripped his axe with iron clamps for hands, and put one foot in front of the other as he followed close behind Thuri.

Don’t think, thought Malkin, against his own orders. Don’t think.
 

Ciryaher

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A tall form rushed out of the Pony as the party shuffled down the street towards the Wyvern, which stood a bit lower on this shallow end of Bree-Hill. Zûbrim glanced over his shoulder momentarily, then nudged Thuri's arm, "Luckily for him, they didn't bring their cavalry here, eh?" He grinned in the darkness and remained in step with the rest of the group as they came down to the inn.

Gesturing to the vague shapes beyond the high hedge, he spoke to those around him. "You can see the Kingsway running down between that cleft in the trees; the two blobs of shadow there in front of the horizon, if you've an eye in the night." His hand moved a bit over towards the right.

"That's where I reckon the southern group is, on that little shoulder with the trees. They're most likely not expecting anyone to come out the gates, so they won't have thrown pickets out--yet." He rubbed his beard, "Ought to cut through those trees on the left. There are likely to be a few sentries..." A grin in Malkin and Kiril's direction, "...but that's nothing we can't handle. We just need to dodge the main body."

A small, shrill horn could be heard, sounding from the west. Thuri's gaze swept over to it, "That sounds like an alarm to me..."

All eyes moved over to the direction of the trumpet, just as Zûbrim chimed in, "I hope he can run." He gave Truor and Shadowflaps a grin, "Feeling lucky enough to take a peek at the south road as well as our long-shanked friend?"
 

YayGollum

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Shadowflaps, all business, knew when his talents were useful and flew off with a reassuring squawk. Truor kept checking on his weapons and armour, running plenty of scenarios through his head on how to escape. When Zubrim spoke to him, he nodded and stomped after Fingil in a loping manner. "I hope that someone is bringing my horse!"

In the stables, Boffin grinned as he helped and probably had to direct Halak with their hasty exit. Once he was awake and supplied with adrenaline, he couldn't stop grinning while picturing himself as the hero. He even slipped into elvish a few times while ordering the animals, on the way. While manuevering the line through the nervous traffic ---> "Ah, the enemy is at the gates as we rush to protect our mounts and supplies! Making our way to our party of warriors! Oh, I hope that we can just slip out! Hm. But that wouldn't be very epic, now would it?"
 

chrysophalax

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"Amlaith, you young fool!" Fingil muttered heatedly under his breath. A lone horn sounded in the distance once again. He recognised the call as one of searching. It seemed that several men had gotten separated from the main force, possibly a scouting party. Rangers rarely use horns except in dire need, for theirs was the way of stealth and secrecy, not the open blunderings of ordinary men. Inwardly he cringed, thinking how far his people had fallen already if this campaign was to be pursued sa one of open warfare. All the more reason to get out before being caught!

His hands were beginning to bleed as the last of the stubborn ivy yielded. It had been a job to prise it away from the gate from beneath, so that it could be replaced in a single sheet of green of prying eyes came looking. Suddenly, with a flapping and a fluttering, Shadowflaps landed on Fingil's shoulder. He gasped, shaken, then chuckled nervously as the yellow eye glinted irritably at him. "Hail, my sable friend. I hope your watchful eyes have not found any of my kin too close by. If you will, go tell friend Truor that Boffin and that bright-eyed elven pony of his should head out the west gate, the way we came in. None of my folk will question a dwarf on business, I'm certain. He can lead the other ponies and Anthrax will, I'm sure be able to either find TRuor once he's frre, or will come along withe others. In eiether case, the rest must come through here. Even ironshod boots won't show much in this hard soil and I will do my best to cover what trail we do lead, but we must be swift. Tis not long until the first dim light of dawn and we must be within the mists of the Downs before then! Go!"

With a squawk, Shadowflaps left his shoulder and flew back over the city wall. Fingil watched the bird as it flew, hoping that his comrades were moving fast. He wanted no armed conflict this close to Bree, for there were people here he trusted and that trusted in him. Looking away to the south-west he saw with relief that the sky had not yet begun to lighten. Perhaps they would make it after all, though the Downs was a desperate, deadly shelter. Even those who purported to know them beyond doubt had gotten lost, only to be found weeks later, babbling and mindless, if at all. He hoped that the ponies would be brave enough to be led into the swirling mists, though he had heard tales of horses refusing to budge after crossing onto the Downs.

Putting his fears aside, Fingil pushed against the door and after a few moments it gave. He stepped into the putrid back alley of the Wyvern and strained his ears, listening for the sound of approaching steps.
 

Ghorim

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The dreary night gave a soggy slap to the faces of Halak and Boffin as they hurried out the door and made a beeline for the stables. Distantly they could hear the confused sounds of Bree's recently roused villagers attempting to discern what unpleasantness had befallen their bustling but generally inoffensive township. The soldier seemed to be literally running circles around his pudgy charge, at times rushing ahead to ensure that some unexpected ambush did not lie in wait for them, at others doubling back to see if they were being followed. For all Halak knew, the pursuing armies were already inside the walls, already knew that Fingil had been accompanied here by dwarves, were already scouring the avenues and alleyways for anything that wore a beard. But no adversaries revealed themselves. They were merely phantoms in the mist.

Once inside the stables, the site of his humiliation at the hands of Thuri, Halak rushed for the farthest stall on the right. He now knew this beast was one of theirs; the rest he counted on Boffin to recognize. The soldier gave the pony a quick slap on the rear and took up its saddle. Lucky for him this was a relatively placid creature. Were it a mule, or a more lively stallion, Halak would have received two hoofmarks permanently stamped into his breastplate in recompense for such rude behavior.

"Up and at 'em, lad! We've got to make trails South!"

Halak shoved the saddle atop the mount (backwards, it should be noted), and grabbed a tight hold of its reins, trying to yank the pony about in a brisk about-face. As gentle-hearted as the pony was, it wasn't about to stand for this sort of treatment, and refused to budge. Utterly dismayed by this insubordination, Halak gave a few more unsuccessful tugs. His short temper already at its end, the soldier unleashed a quick tirade in Khuzdul upon the pony's ears, his speech colorfully spiced with a stunning variety of profanities. By the time he finished and glanced over his shoulder to appeal to Boffin for assistance, he saw that his companion already had the rest of the party's ponies lined up in a neat little procession down the stable's main aisle.

Boffin chuckled in what Halak considered a strange showing of merriment. He moved past the soldier, first reversing the saddle, and then whispering a few sweet nothings in the pony's left ear. Around it came, stunningly subservient to his gentle entreaties.

"Bloody Angmar," muttered Halak. "These creatures are damn near impossible."

"Not if you take the time to get to know them," retorted Boffin, moving to the head of the pony procession to lead them out into the streets.

Along the way, it became evident the Boffin's excitement was mounting.

"Ah, the enemy is at the gates as we rush to protect our mounts and supplies! Making our way to our party of warriors! Oh, I hope that we can just slip out! Hm. But that wouldn't be very epic, now would it?"

Halak shook his head, his eyes still bouncing about the streets as their miniature equestrian parade moved past several apprehensive-looking citizens of Bree. "Get your head out of the storybooks, Boffin! 'Epic' has nothing to do with it. Our job is to get you civvies out of here in one piece. No need to have another Battle of Unnumbered Tears just to accomplish that."

Boffin seemed to recede slightly at Halak's harsh tone, returning his attentions to the ponies, directing them in what must have been three or four different languages. One of those tongues, with its gently flowing cadence, immediately caught the soldier's attention.

"That's not... Elvish, is it?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder with raised brows.

"Oh!" said Boffin with a start. "Ahem... well..."

"Where'd you pick up a leafy tongue like that?"

Boffin seemed to digging for an explanation, but luckily for him they had now arrived at the Sleeping Wyvern, and gazing ahead, Halak spotted what appeared to be most of the party gathered in the rather unsavory-looking (and smelling) alley behind it.

"Never mind it," he said to Boffin. "What's the plan, then?" he called out in Khuzdul to the shadowy forms of his companions.

About half a dozen pursed lips produced a massive, "Shhh!" in response to Halak's booming question.

"Oh! Aye..." he muttered quietly, adjusting his helmet in embarrassment as he, Boffin, and all of the mounts squeezed into the alley with the others.

"Untenable!" remarked Dvarim in annoyance at the sudden crush of bodies. "Where's that dratted Fingil?"

"Close by!" came a voice from the misty night, and the group turned about to see the fog seemingly birth Fingil into their presence.

The ranger quickly summarized his plan to the others, though Shadowflaps had by now already returned and informed Truor of the whole thing. In all, there wasn't much to it: Boffin takes the ponies out the West gate, the rest of us leave out the recently de-ivyed South door. Zûbrim nodded his approval and quickly chipped in his analysis of the enemy's position to the South, which Shadowflaps confirmed via Truor as correct. The opposition's sentries lay in the clump of trees to the East, and they were ripe for the picking.

Dvarim saw that it was now his turn to boil everything down into something concrete and operable for his subordinates. He had half a mind to suggest that all of the other civilians go with Boffin out the West gate, so that he and his soldiers wouldn't have so much dead weight to drag through a battle zone. But he wanted to keep the non-combatants close, for he had full faith in the ability of his troops to protect them. Left on their own, however, there was no telling what sort of peril those plainclothes fools might bumble into.

"Everything sounds to be in order for our departure. I should think that two of my troops should be sufficient to handle their sentinels," he smiled with a certain militant glee as he looked over the four capable fighters that he could choose from. Naturally, they all tried to step forward at once, causing a terrible jumble in the cramped quarters of the alley.

"Allow me to go, sir!" said Kiril, a bloodthirsty zest dripping from his words. "You won't need to send any others if I'm allowed to handle matters out there."

"Nae," said Dvarim quickly. "That's exactly what worries me. You'll try to engage their main force all on your lonesome, and bring the full brunt of their numbers crashing down upon the rest of our heads. I require discipline."

Kiril bristled at what he considered a hasty and uniformed declaration that he lacked precision in combat, but Halak was already making his wishes known.

"Then allow me to go with him, sir. Kiril and I work best together."

Dvarim gave Halak a cursory glance and then shook his head. "Nae, I shall not send you ahead, Halak, and I believe you know why."

Halak blinked in surprise, but of course knew what Dvarim spoke of.

Well don't that just figure! he thought angrily. I do without sleep better than anyone, but he and Thuri think I'm somehow going to lose my focus in battle. A load of warg's dung, that is!
 

Ghorim

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Dvarim's glance now migrated to the eldest and most junior of his subordinates. He knew that Thuri was capable and prepared, as always. But what of this precocious youngster Malkin? Dvarim probed the lad's expression and posture, his old hawk's eyes piercing the shadow and fog of the night to analyze the youth's readiness. Malkin gamely returned his commander's exacting gaze.

He's putting on a tough front, thought Dvarim, but he's antsy all over.

The lad's eyes, trembling slightly and blinking too frequently, were the most obvious flaw in Malkin's facade. There was no mistaking it: it was a first-timer's look. Without asking, Dvarim knew that Malkin had never tasted battle before. Many a commander would have refused to send him out for that inexperience alone, but as Dvarim saw it, how else was the lad to get his whiskers wet? It was a simple enough operation, and the boy would have the granite-steady Thuri to help on his wing. It would be a fine confidence-booster for the chap.

"Malkin! Thuri!"

Two calls of "aye, sir!" one aged and gravelly, the other young and slightly nervous, rang out in obedient response.

"You are to be our vanguard in our drive South. You lay low any foe who dares stand in your way!"

Fingil, who had been hesitating up until now, cut in. "If it can be avoided, I'd like to see no lives taken so close to Bree-proper."

Dvarim gave a stony and irritated look to the ranger, before turning back to his vanguard duo. "Well, then try to disarm or otherwise debilitate them. True enough, I'm not too keen on the idea of killing Men. But they're our enemies now, and you'd all best show no restraint in fulfilling your duties."

Dvarim now turned to glance among Halak, Kiril, Truor and Fingil. "The four of you are to assist me in protecting our civilians. I want a tight formation, lads. If you have to engage, don't stray too far from the main body, and collapse back into your position as quickly as possible. Fingil and I shall take the front, Kiril shall cover the East flank, Halak the West, and Truor shall take the rear. I don't want a hair on any of these civvies out of place once we're out of the thick of it."

The old commander now turned to the four civilians who would be accompanying the drive South.

"You should not have to use them, but keep whatever weapons you possess drawn and at the ready in case something should go awry. I need all of you moving quickly, so run at your swiftest!"

Froli seemed to blanche at the remark about sprinting, but especially fretted over his lack of a proper weapon.

"Ah... but, Sir Dvarim, if I may be so bold as to remark... that I lack any sort of item with which to defend myself."

Halak moved in to settle the noble, knowing that Dvarim had more important matters with which to concern himself.

"Like I told you before, Sir Froli, just use your walking stick!"

"B-but... I'd never wish to taint it with so... brutish an act! Besides, I'd hardly think it would be effective..."

"Fine, then. Take my dagger," said Halak, drawing the blade from its sheath at his hip. "I never use it, anyway."

Froli seemed to withdraw from the sight of the weapon as he might from a severed head. "B-but, Sir Halak! I've never used a blade before in my life... well, save to cut up a mutton roast now and then. Still! I'd have no idea how to..."

"Listen!" said Halak, pointing to the blade. "This is the stabbing end." He flipped the dagger about so that the blade faced downward, and pointed to the knob that protruded above his hand. "This is the end you handle. Any questions?"

He extended the weapon to Froli without awaiting an answer, and the noble reluctantly took hold of the dagger's handle, eyeing the weapon with a creased and sweaty brow.

Dvarim, meanwhile, had turned his attentions to Boffin.

"Exit the West Gate with our mounts, and once you are past the ranger forces, make your way South. Once we are past the Southern contingent, we shall dispatch Shadowflaps to seek you out and then lead you to our location."

Finally, the commander's gaze came full circle to Thuri and Malkin. "Get going, then! And don't worry about the rest of us. We'll follow not long behind you. Just ensure that our path is clear, and keep moving as fast as you can!"

Before the two could depart, they received a fair deal of wishes for good luck in battle. Halak and Kiril were especially vocal in addressing Malkin, the young upstart whom they'd both come to see as something of a younger sibling. He was going to do the whole company proud, they said.

Malkin and Thuri then marched ahead, with Fingil accompanying them to show where the Southern exit lay. The others eventually followed as well, giving a slightly nervous-looking Boffin an extended chorus of well wishes as they went.

As they stood just before the closed door, Thuri put a hand on Malkin's shoulder, looking at him dead-on.

"Limbs or midsection. That's what you're aiming for. Just knock 'em over, if you can. But keep running, that's the important thing. I'm not going to be far off. Holler if you need help. But I don't expect you to come calling." The old dwarf smiled, though it was not the grandfatherly sort of grin that he often bestowed upon his juniors. He himself now appeared to be a youngster, eager for the imminent thrill of battle, in all of its fury and confusion.

Malkin appeared to stand more steadily, now that he knew what he had to do.

"I'll hold up my end," said the youth with a fresh wind of confidence. "Shall we?"

"After you," said Thuri, nudging open the door.

With his path clear, Malkin didn't hesitate. He was off on his arrow sprint once again. Thuri paused just long enough to cast a grin Fingil's way.

"It'll be like a quiet jog in the woods for the rest of you."

And then he too was through the breach and off into the night, his heavy boot claps joining in harmony with Malkin's as the pair of soldiers entered the tree line...
 

chrysophalax

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Fingil laid a hand on the headstall of Pooftop as Boffin made ready to lead his charges to the West Gate. He looked up with concern into the eager dwarf's eyes for a moment. "You seem ot have a reasonable head on your shoulders, Boffin, so listen to me closely. As soon as you're out the gate, follow the city wall closely to the South. Once the wall turns away East, continue on straight as you can for nearly two miles until you see a large withered oak that was lightning-struck years ago, just to the left of the road. Head up and over the bank to your right, then all of you wait for us there and do not move from that position! I cannot stress that enough. I cannot afford to miss you in the mists that will be creeping from the direction of the Downs. Be brave of heart and keep the ponies calm, for there are many evils that dwell in the mist, waiting for the unwary." He then clapped the elven-pony on the rump and watched as the small party headed off.

"May the blessings of the Valar go with you. " He whispered, then turned to Dvarim as he gave orders to his troops. "If it can be avoided, I'd like to see no lives taken so close to Bree-proper." he said and received a glower in return. Fingil listened to his instructions, then led the way out of the gate, pausing only to restore the ivy hanging as near to its original state as the darkness allowed. He set off at a ground-eating pace, determined to catch up to Dvarim. It had to be made plain to the commander exactly what type of enemy they were facing. Indeed, he was straining his ears even as he ran, knowing that every moment they remained undetected was precious. He wanted no blood, dwarven or mannish on his conscience.

Dvarim cast a sullen look at Fingil as the man drew even with him as they ran. "Dvarim, I know these men. They are as subtle as the Elven-folk in their woodcraft and nearly as deadly hand-to-hand. We must steer clear! The Barrow Downs we're heading for is a place of ill-repute for my people and they will not think to look there. You must pass the word that once we reach the outer rim of the Downs, you must stick close and allow none to wander off. You will all be safe as long as all of you do as I say. There can be no discussion. If worse comes to worst however, have no fear that I will fail to protect those of this company, I give you my word."
 

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