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The Stumbling Of Man Upon The Uttermost West.

YayGollum

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Truor fiddled with his beard as he inspected and whispered with the horses. He tapped a heavy boot impatiently as Brandor came out of the inn again. Everyone looked ready to go, but he had been dithering, making excuse after excuse to wait a bit longer. The boy's eyes lit up when he saw the wolf, but he frowned with confusion when he couldn't find its owner nearby.

While he wondered how many wolves were likely to be loose in the city, and if he should tell someone important about it, Narvi came up behind him and boomed to the others, "We found his journal. It was right where he left it. It does not appear to have been tampered with." He slapped a hand on Brandor's shoulder and insisted, "We can go now, yes?"

Brandor winced and glared. "No! Um, just one more thing! Now, where was it?" Looking for Artos and Jamie, he waved a finger around, searchingly.

Truor had been shooing well-wishers away all morning, but a crowd had drifted from him to Nandreeson, who was amazing them with some sleight of hand tricks. Distracted by Narvi, he growled when yet another Beorning deposited himself in front of him. "Argh! Can't you see I'm busy? It's about time I left this place, once and for all! You're a young guy. Who are your parents? Probably a bunch of -"

He stopped when the guy grinned widely and let out a laugh. "Ha! We know you'll be back! You're just going out to bring us more stories, old man. I wanted to see you off. Looks like half the town has had the same idea."

Truor glared at Nandreeson's crowd, checked to see if Brandor was ready yet, then mumbled, "I might come back. But don't count on it! There have to be better places than the Vale of Anduin! Huh! Maybe I'll bring back a few Orcs to make it like the old days! You kids have had it too good."
 

chrysophalax

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A reluctant grin spread itself scross his face as Artos listened to Truor threatening some old acquaintances. The old man has style, I'll give him that! he thought, then saw Brandor standing in the nidst of the chaos, looking as though he'd forgotten something.

Turning to Jamie, he said, *Look, we'll sort this out on the road. Serra like you, so you can't be all bad. Just...try not to disappear again or get in too much trouble. I have the feeling that travelling with the boy will entail a little more excitement than usual!"

With that, he stepped close to the young man who turned, and, finding Artos so close, jumped slightly before covering his surprise with a nervous laugh. "There you are. I was looking for you." Artos' eyebrow arched in curiosity. "Good, because I was looking for you too, Brandor. Listen, I know you have know reason to trust me, especially since I was sent here to...well, anyway...let's just say it wasn't for your health." Irritated with himself for treating Brandor with such delicacy, he forged on.

"I know things about your uncle, things I'm sure your father never told you. Yes, he's a shrewd businessman, one of the best in the shipping business, which is why your father's company is so wealthy, but...his methods are ruthless, Brandor and he's greedy. I guess what I'm asking is for you to let me go along with you, at least until I feel for certain you're out of danger. I know many of his...associates by sight, so I think I'll be able to spot trouble before even your captain friend there, would. It's the least I can do for, you see...I owe your father for getting me out of a rather sticky predicament several years ago. What do you say?"
 

YayGollum

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Brandor seemed to be mulling it over, but he shortly broke into a grin and offered a hand to be shaken. "I accept!" While shaking, he peered around for Jamie. "Now, where's that elvish friend of yours? He really took me by surprise, yesterday, but don't worry. I can take a joke." He placed a hand on Artos' back to lead him down to the wagon. Narvi released him, followed, and rolled his eyes when Brandor turned back to give him a huge wink.

At the wagon, Brandor announced, "Everyone, please welcome our newest companion, Artos! He sounds like he has some stories to tell!" Truor just trotted up to the wagon, sized the wolf up, and waited for these new additions to settle in. Nandreeson had been extricating himself when he saw that they finally looked ready to leave, and he doffed an imaginary hat at the guy. "Another dissatisfied employee, eh? We'd all be more loyal, if only they'd pay us, right? I look forward to your stories about the boss!"

He hopped into the wagon, and Brandor grinned. "Yes, not many are fond of my uncle, but I'm sure that he means well. He is financing this expedition, after all! How would you like to be a sailor, by the way?"
 

chrysophalax

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Serra leapt happily into the waggon as though she had ridden in one all her life, while Artos was busy mulling over Brandor's question. "A sailor? Well, I do have some little experience with ships, having sailed with my old friend Serewing a time or two, but I have to say, my wolf gets sea-sick, so we'd best keep her below decks."

He waved at Jamie, trying to get his attention. "Jamie! Wake up, we're leaving!" Nandreeson settled himself next to the wolf-trainer, which made Artos' skin crawl for some unknown reason.

"I'm not sure I want to be telling just anyone the things I know about...a certain person of our mutual acquaintance," he said quietly, hoping the thin man would get his drift. "but I do know he never trusts those who go against him, so tell me, friend, why do you speak of him in such a manner?"

All his sense were on alert now. It was evident that Brandor trusted Nandreeson, but then, he seemed to trust everyone! What was it about this man that made him feel so...edgy? He knew he was going to have to grow eyes in the back of his head before this adventure was over if he hoped to stay alive.
 

YayGollum

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Brandor welcomed Jamie aboard and shook his hand. With a grin ---> "You are in for a surprise, if you think that I'm all talk. I don't know if you heard one from me or from someone else, but all of my stories are true. Why, look at Narvi, for one!" Narvi, bracing himself in the center of the wagon, dutifully waved. "With magic like him around, I wouldn't doubt the existence of elves, either!"

Truor, once everyone was in, told the driver head out. They were to meet up with a caravan on its way east. He stayed as far away from the wolf and elf-smelling people as he could and distracted himself by arguing with the driver about whether Dwarves still lived in the now inaccessible Lonely Mountain.

Nandreeson rolled his eyes at Artos. "No need to keep silent, my reluctant assassin! Horatio can't hear us from the coast, you know! Doesn't everyone hate him? Even if they don't know how far he'll go, he's famous enough as a miser. I've worked for his outfit a couple of times, only because I had to, but I'll work for anybody. Kastor's had it lucky, getting to work with his brother, though." He nudged Kastor with an elbow. "Eh, Kastor? It'll be one fun ship, when we find Brandor's old man!"
 

Firawyn

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Jamie smiled to himself, thoroughly pleased at this element of comradeship. He kept silent though, still unsure of how to properly act in social settings. He mumbled thanks to Brandor upon being hoisted into the wagon, glancing at Artos who was sitting sullenly in the darkest corner to be found. Jamie thought that at this point Artos might have lightened up a bit, as his objectives were being presently fulfilled, but he still maintained his firm and irritable disposition.

Jamie moved hastily towards the back of the wagon to sit next to Artos, before he could loose his resolve to continue the earlier interrupted conversation. Upon seating himself and catching Artos’ less than friendly gaze, his resolve did in fact evaporate, and Jamie searched his mind for some other topic to discuss. After a moment, it came.

“Why do you hide so?” Jamie asked. “You should be pleased that we are among Brandor’s caravan and not tracking it, yes?”

“Welcome is in their words, but I do not think it is in their hearts,” Artos answered gruffly. “An outcast I remain.”

“Do you not feel lonely?”

“I have Serra, and you I suppose. No, not lonely. When so many are lonely, as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely, alone.” Artos answered. For a moment, he looked to Jamie to be more noble and less wretched.

Jamie’s resolve rebuilt in this moment, and he decided to ask Artos again what they might do to better get along. “I wanted to ask you…”

“Stop asking questions!” Artos snapped. “If you would shut up for more than five seconds you might have noticed that we are stopping. We can’t be at the dock yet. Something else has held us at bay.”

After a moment’s pause, Jamie realized that Artos was right – they were stopping. He saw Brandor looking surprised, and Kastor, like Artos, looking concerned. Jamie could sense Nin’s fear, and in his own heart a sense of foreboding was growing. Several of the party had loosed their swords in their scabbards, at the ready for whatever trouble might be stalling them.
 
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chrysophalax

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Mentally, Artos slapped himself. I'm letting these people get to me! he thought irritably. Serra, meanwhile was laughing at him, her tongue lolling from the side of her mouth in amusement. What will you give me if I find out what is delaying us, Father? My nose tells me already!

With that, she threaded her way through several sets of legs, then jumped out the back of the waggon. "Women. Fur or not, they're all the same." grumbled Artos. He raised a hand to get the attention of those who seemed ready to defend life and limb, their hands readying weapons of varying descriptions.

"Easy, men! Serra's gone to see what the trouble is, so everyone, relax." He glanced at Nandreeson as he spoke, for the man seemed far too...at ease. Having stated that he was on the employ of Horatio, Artos was now even more suspicious of him than he had been earlier.

Leaning closer to the man, Artos asked softly, "What sort of work did you perform for him? Did you deal with him through Thomas, or directly?" Jamie leaned close, trying to overhear, but Artos scowled at him and he leaned back, arms folded across his chest. "Yes, sir!"

Frowning, Wolfhame opened his mouth to argue, but was then knocked sideways by a large wolf landing in his lap. Together, they fell in a tangle to the floor of the waggon, startled laughter erupting around them.

A broken down hayrick and a cartful of goats running loose, Father! Did you know goats can run fast if I chase them? Artos burst out laughing and hugged her around the neck as she licked his face thoroughly. A boot in the side made him look up to see Jamie's face looking back questioningly.

"The delay was goats, gentlemen. Brandor, I think it safe to move on!"
 

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Jamie laughed out loud. “It seems that Serra is the only brave one of us all!” He knew better, he had heard her words as well as Artos had.

Jamie moved his hand to scratch behind Serra’s ears, and for a second she flinched, and Jamie feared he had presumed too much. But then she relaxed and before Jamie could react, Serra jumped onto his lap, and licked his face clean. If this was not a gladness in itself, Jamie heard Artos’ continuing laugh, and his heart opened.

For some time, Jamie had felt very outcast – his lone friend in this band was the hidden one, Nin. Why did she have to hide so? What did she gain in the mystery? And why in middle earth was she so obsessed with Kastor? Jamie had known many men and woman who were saved by others, yet they did not cling to their saviors like one would cling to a god! Nin was more devoted to Kastor than anyone Jamie had ever met was devoted to Eru. Jamie thought her very weak for this. She did not seem to have a voice of her own. Even Serra was more independent of body and thought than Nin. Which brought Jamie back to his thought - how he no longer felt such an outcast.

Yes, Jamie thought to himself, Let little Nin be the outcast now. See how she likes the feel of rejection.

“Jamie,” Artos said heartily, “Mind Serra’s teeth, she likes to nibble on –,” but he was cut off by Jamie’s yelp as Serra nibbled at his ear.

So you remember me, uncle. Serra said.

“I had no notion I could forget you without your biting me!” Jamie exclaimed.

Serra appeared to pout. Stop behaving like a whipped pup. And Father, stop behaving like a wizened old man with your heart so sour. If the two of you would act more like your true selves, you might each find the brother you both seek.

Jamie and Artos said nothing, but in the silence, and in a quick glace at each other, they knew that Serra was right. For Jamie’s part, he knew that from now on, things would be different between he and Artos. It would still take time to form the brotherhood that Jamie so longed for, but the butting heads would surely lessen. Jamie knew that it was time he stopped looked to the past and started setting his mind on the present.
 

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Since the goats had been chased off, the wagon rolled onwards. It stopped again, after only a couple of lengths, when the driver heard, "Truor! Wait! Old Truor, you rascal!" coming from behind them.

Anyone checking out the back would have seen what was apparently an old and roly-poly Dwarf with a large pack. Truor hopped off the wagon and blinked with surprise but zero recollection. "I am Truor. And who are you supposed to be?"

The Dwarf breathed heavily for a bit, once he caught up, then said with dismay, "Oh, don't give me that! You know me. It's Boffin! We sailed on The Spicy Lady together! And there were a couple of other adventures..."

Truor evaluated at the Dwarf skeptically and finally shook his head with disbelief. "You might just be! But, by Aule's beard, you've gotten old! Why are you out here? We were just on our way to Dale to fetch your expertise."

Boffin chuckled and dislodged a few bits of hay that were stuck in his beard. "I make short trips of my own, occasionally. You've never been in the Vale while I've looked for you, though. May I come in?"

Without asking leave, Truor helped him into the front of the wagon. "Of course, of course! Brandor, Kastor, fellow travelers, you three killers, this is Boffin, an old friend of mine. You won't find anyone on Middle Earth who knows more about what we'll be heading into. He claims to have been taught pretty much every crazy story the elves had to tell, before they left. Now, most of them are clearly his imagination, but I've sailed with him before, and he had much to tell us about the various dangers we came across, usually after they'd attacked, but he is still quite useful."

Boffin bowed and beamed at everyone but was soon tapping his foot at Truor's introduction. "Ah, yes. I have been branded a bit of a scholar. What are you heading into, then?"

Truor gave a very broad explanation of the purpose of the expedition and the doubt that their goal was even realistic, then pointed at Artos, Jamie, and the wolf while asking Brandor, "Do they even know this?"
 

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Raising a sardonic eyebrow at being called a killer, Artos looked the dwarf over curiously. He had never before met one of Durin's Folk, not to mention one versed in the ways of elves.

The dwarf struggled with his pack, nearly taking a tumble before dumping it heavily on top of Artos' foot. He yelped as Boffin hurriedly lifted it off, spouting apologies. "No harm done." Artos winced. "What've you got in there anyway? Bricks?"

"Not bricks, my good man. Books!" He began to delve into his pack, only to suface moments later with several tomes bound in rich leathe, each looking well cared for. "As I said, I'm a bit of a scholar and these... these are my treasures!" His eyes lit with enthusiasm as he began reading titles aloud.

"Gandalf: Maia or Maniac by Anonymous, Never Fall For a Mortal by Arwen Undomiel Telcontar, A Compendium of Elven Remedies for Unsightly Rashes by Altieria Motife and, oh yes!" Here he held aloft a very small, very tatty scroll, "The only know Orcish love sonnet, Love is Bad by..." A wooden clatter of something falling on the floor broke his concentration.

Stooping down, Artos lifted a tiny wooden doll in the shape of an elf with mismatched ears and Boffin snatched it from him, his face scarlet. "It's nothing, a hobby..." he mumbled, stuffing the figure deeply back into his pack. "Don't now how it got there."

"Fascinating stuff you have there, master dwarf. Now tell me, have you ever heard of Serewing and his ship, the Bloodflower? Does she yet sail?"
 

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Jamie bent and picked up a second wooden figurine, this one also elven, but less rough. "This is excelent craftsmanship, friend Boffin," he said, handing the figure to the dwarf.

Boffin grew less red at Jamie's compliment. "Thank you, master..."

"Jamie, at your service," he finished, and did slight bow as was the custom of the dwarf kind.

"And what kind of creature are you, pardon my asking, Master Jamie?" Boffin inquired. "You look a man, but there is a feel of elf in your voice."

"I am half-elven, tainted by the blood of werewolves." Jamie had no idea what drove him to be so open in that moment. This was common knowlage to some in the group, but not all. Jamie could feel Artos' eyebrows raising behind him, and he could sense Nin's feelings. She seemed to be upset that he would confess to any but her. Now he had confessed to all.

"Quite a pedigree you have there," Boffin commented.

"It is my burden to bear, to fit totally with no one." Jamie replied. "But in this mismatched group, I feel quite at home. I only hope that my misfourtune can be of help to Brandor, in some way."

Jamie glanced back at Artos now, and smiled. He wasn't sure why he smiled at Artos, but he was smiling more at himself at the present, because it had been ever so long since he'd been completely honest about himself to anyon, and it felt good.
 

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At Jamie's announcement, Brandor gasped and stumbled back in fear and disgust, was confused when nobody else shrank back, but was quickly overcome with curiosity and was trying to work out on his fingers how it all made sense. "Half elf and half werewolf? Or half elf and half human, with a little werewolf, somewhere among his ancestors? Well, a werewolf is just a man under some kind of curse, from what I've heard. There is no werewolf blood. Maybe werewolf venom? Does the elf in him make him less of a monster? Wait! So there really were elves?"

Narvi was instantly on his feet and between them, knowing nothing of werewolves or elves, just reacting to Brandor. Nandreeson just edged away and tried to look a bit nervous. Truor pulled Boffin out of the way, glared at Narvi and gave a calming wave, then sized Jamie up again. "With a tongue like that, it's a wonder that you survived the Vale of Anduin! The wolf was bad enough!" He fixed the guy with a sober stare. "But you're right about this group being a good place for you. I've dealt with an elf or two, so I'm sure that I can handle a half-breed!" As an afterthought, "Werewolves, too, actually, but they're more trustworthy."

Boffin, certain that he was safe, plopped down on the floor and dragged his pack over, where he peeked inside to make sure that everything was there. With an exasperated glance at Truor, he beamed at Artos, until he remembered the guy's question. "Bloodflower? Serewing? I'm sorry, but no, I've never heard of them. I've been in Dale for so long, and I'd only know elvish ships. Why do you ask? Is that another part of this adventure?"
 
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