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Wayward Ho!

Turgon

Ghost-King of Gondolin
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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a merchant in possession of a good fortune, must be in fear of his life. Or so it was said amongst the Corsairs of Umbar. This was especially true when said merchant stood toe to toe with the the wild-eyed corsair known as Serewing. Ah Serewing! Now there was a name to conjure with. Tales of his exploits would be whispered eagerly whenever his ship hove into port. From the scandalous seduction of elven princesses, to the tricksy thieving of orcish treasure hoards, no tale was too tall when the Corsair was involved. And though the veracity of such stories were sometimes called into question - there could be no denying that the Corsair made for a ripping yarn.

Part I - Tall Ships and Tall Tales.

Serewing lounged idly in a chair by the fireside, his dark hair bound loosely at the nape of his neck by a bright red ribbon. His velvet frockcoat was, as ever, emaculated brushed, and his buckskin breeches tucked neatly into the folded tops of soft leather boots. Perhaps his shirt was a little the worse for wear, and perhaps his sea-grey eyes shone a little too brightly with the soft flush of wine, but he cut an elegant figure none the less. He was regaling the denizens of the squalid Umbarian tavern with a baudy song he had picked up somewhere away to the north, the goblet in his hand sploshing this and way and that to a half remembered rhythm. A sense of excitement was welling up within the him, the like of which he had not felt for a year or more. The people could sense it too, he was an easy book to read was Serewing. More than one old salt fancied that the Corsair had business here this night.

He finished his song, and with a graceful bow to his audience, called for more wine. It was almost midnight, he would be here soon. Thrusting a hand into his frockcoat, Serewing felt it close around something soft, something precious, and could not help but smile as he imagined his friend's face as he told him his scheme. The Corsair laughed to himself and gulped down a mouthful of wine. He did indeed have business here tonight, and as always, business and pleasure would walk hand in hand.
 
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chrysophalax

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He had been wandering the streets of this gods-forsaken town for two nights now and he was starting to become irritated. It had been a damned long time since he had been in his wayward friend's company and the mere sight of the Lady docking had set his pulse to racing. Of course, at first he refused to believe his eyes or the sudden rise in his fortunes his return would bring, but Artos was determined not to let him get away without an explanation...not this time!

Serewing had slipped his notice however and now he had been forced to prowl the sordid, gamey streets in order to run his prey to ground. Serra trotted at his side, his ghostly shadow-self. Her nose snuffled eagerly as they approached the seedier end of the row of taverns lining the dockside. Artos' lip curled in a sneer. "Your taste runs unerringly true, my friend." he grumbled as he squelched through mud and other, more noisome substances. "You're going to owe me a new pair of boots!"

Suddenly a clear, somewhat slurred tenor voice reached his ears as Serra began to whine. He ground his teeth. "Found you at last, you fiend!" he muttered under his breath. The sign above the tavern door said it all. "And The Horse You Rode In On". The loosely hanging wooden sign depicted...well...nevermind. Shaking his head in disgusted wonder, Artos assayed the slippery steps and rubbed at the grimy window. There he was, the scoundrel, dressed like a popinjay in velvet no less, singing away, then bowing with a flourish at song's end, downing yet another sweet goblet of wine. A long-forgotten grin lit Artos' featured briefly and he sighed. "Damn my soul...it really is him!"

Assuming a menacing scowl, he wrapped his black cloak around him, threw open the door and hurled a dagger straight Serewing's hand as it twirled the goblet serenely. The hand stilled for just a moment as the dagger quivered a fraction from his hand, then that voice..."Artos! Artos Wolfhame! And affectionate as ever it seems! Come in, buy me a drink...it's been too long!"

Valar, what am I to do with him? Here we go again!
 

Turgon

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The Corsair grasped the dagger with his hand, letting it linger there just long enough for his friend to notice the exquisite rings adorning several of his fingers. Then pulling the blade free, returned it to its owner, giving him an affectionate hug into the bargain.

'Ossë's Beard! It's good to see you Wolfhame! It's been too long! Too long! And I see you've brought your... ah... your friend along too!' Serewing eyed Serra nervously, he had never been completely at ease in the company of wolves, no matter how friendly they may seem. He was, however, sober enough to avoid referring to Serra as Artos's pet, something that always seemed to raise the wolfman's heckles.

Serewing cast his eye around the mangy tavern, and then, catching a barmaid's eye, motioned for service. Artos, meanwhile, had taken a seat opposite, settling himself down to take a long look at the Corsair.

'So tell me, Artos,' grinned Serewing, making light of the wolfman's serious visage. 'How have you been?'
 
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chrysophalax

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Artos' eyes travelled from Serewing's insolent grin to his fine apparel, raised an eyebrow at the ostentatious display of jewelry and chuckled. "I didn't believe my eyes when I got your message, nor even yet when I saw the Lady sail into port. It's been a long time, my friend. And you owe me a new pair of boots!" Serewing glanced down at the offending footwear and shrugged. He then bestowed a beatific smile on the buxom barmaid, who blushed scarlet at his attentions. Artos rolled his eyes, then reached into a nearly empty pouch for some change.

Granting Serewing a smile that contained an almost complete set of teeth, she snatched up the coins and deposited a frothing pitcher of ale and two mugs on the table without sparing Artos even a glance, a fact that made him grin to himself. He was back in his accustomed place as Serewing's shadow. As Serewing poured, Artos stretched out his long legs with a sigh, watching his companion's every move. "So. Tell me. Why the sudden concern after my health after all this time? It seemed you were in good hands the last time we parted ways..." Memories of a fine palace and several lovely ladies to serve at Serewing's beck and call came to mind as he reached for his mug.

"You grow careless, Serewing." as he nodded toward the rings flashing on the pirate's elegant hands. "You want to be dragged into a back alley somewhere and left without fingers...or worse?" The smile returned, brighter than ever. "Ah, Wolfhame. You never change, do you?" Artos grumbled as he drank thirstly. Anyone watching them would've thought an errant lord was giving a hand-out to a man down on his luck, so tattered had Artos' appearance become. He had his pride , however and he felt his luck was about to change.
 

Turgon

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'Ah, Wolfhame. You never change, do you? You think Serewing is destinied for a quick death in a filthy gutter?' At this the Corsair patted the bejeweled hilt of his sabre. 'Surely you know me better than that!'

The Corsair twisted a fine-looking truesilver band upon his finger, admiring the delicate craftsmanship. 'These? An easy way to keep score... to see how far I am ahead of the game.'

Serewing flashed a quick grin in response the wolfman's disapproving stare. 'And not a bad substitute for good hard coin.'

Taking a quick gulp of his ale, the Corsair stiffled a smile. It was just like Artos to order some of this northern mush, never was one to appreciate the delicacies of the grape. There was something in the northern soul that balked at it. The bitter taste of the ale would sit well with one such as Artos. Gazing at his friend for a while, Serewing took in the tattered apparel, the gaunt features, the hungry gaze. Lesser men would have baulked at this... and yet to the Corsair this was true nobility. Something he had always admired in the wolfman. Indifference to the world about him.

Serewing raised his an eyebrow and took a deep tug on his ale.

'Evasive as always, Wolfhame, so I'll ask you again... how have you been?'
 

chrysophalax

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"Evasive? Nay, my friend...in that I am forced to bow to the master!" He raised his new-filled mug in mock salute to Serewing, then downed it quickly. "Truth to tell, I've known nothing but the nooks and crannies of all the sea-side towns from Umbar to...to, I don't know...all along the coast." He sighed heavily. "I shouldn't have left...not as I did. It just seemed best at the time." He rose and began to pace, not noticing the uneasy looks he drew from the other patrons. Serra lay curled up under the table with her muzzle on Serewing's polished boot. She knew it gave him pause.

Artos came back to Serewing's side after pacing a few moments. "Why did you let me leave?" Serewing sipped his wine slowly, savouring the taste. Also he was buying time. This could be tricky, but he trusted Artos as he trusted no one else.

"Sit down, man! Can't you see you're going to scare off the locals?" With a glare, Artos returned to his chair, grasped it and turned it backwards so he sat astride it, resting his chin on his forearms. His eyes gleamed with a feral light as he said, "Speak on then. Tell me why I'm here."
 

Turgon

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'Very well, my friend, I see you will not be pressed on this matter.' It was ever so with Wolfhame, always the enigma, and when the wolfman would not speak, the Corsair thought it better than to press. He knew his friend too well.

'As for myself...' Serewing knew he was on firm ground here, Artos was ever eager to hear of his exploits. 'I've been doing a little of this, a little of that, and news I have found that interests both of us.' The Corsair paused for a moment, ever one for a little drama, and then after another pull on his ale, he reached a slender hand into his frock coat.

'I wintered last year in Tolfalas, a small village known to be friendly to fellows such as myself...' Artos guessed what the Serewing meant by this, a Corsair haven in the Gondorian Heartlands. There were places still in the South Kingdom who remembered well the glory days of Castamir. 'And coming across a captain who knew me by reputation, we fell to talking of the Golden Years, the voyages of our forefathers, and the glories of old Númenor. So much our ancestors learnt in those bright, long forgotten days. So much that was lost in the wrack of our ancient home.'

The Corsair gazed past the Wolfman then, as he often did when his mind wandered towards the Sealords of old, his sea-grey eyes taking on a distant cast. 'What mysteries did those tall ships find? As they cut the seas from north to south? From the outmost east to the utmost west? Lost, all lost, in the wrack of our fair Kingdom. Or so we thought.'

Again the Corsair paused, but there was no drama in this moment, just a look of deep joy etched upon his face. 'Or so we thought. But it was not so!'

And with this Serewing pulled a folded sheet of parchment from his frockcoat. Brown and shrunken with age, the Corsair held it out before the Wolfhame as if it were the great axe of Tuor himself, a relic of his lost homeland.

'This map remains!'
 

chrysophalax

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Artos glanced up at Serewing sharply. "Are you out of your mind? Get that thing out of sight!" He tried not to panic as he looked around the large public room carefully. Valar, does he know no caution? I'll have to fend off every pirate and vagrant in the place if he doesn't use his wits soon! Sensing her master's agitation, Serra sat up swiftly and her ruff rose in a long ridge down her spine. The map disappeared.

"Ah, I knew that would cheer you up!" Serewing said as he settled back nonchalantly. "Keep your voice down, damn you. You want to get us killed?" He wanted to wipe that serene look off of Serewing's face. It was infuriating! Serewing leaned back in his chair, his booted feet crossed on the table-top. "Artos, my good friend. Have I ever steered you...wait, let me re-phrase that. Have I ever landed you in...no, that's not right either." He looked up at the cobwebbed ceiling for a moment in contemplation, then shrugged. "Let me put it to you this way..."

"No...let me put it to you!" Artos interrupted, as he jabbed a gloved forefinger at the Corsair. "You expect me to keep your elegant self out of trouble as you carouse and cajole your way to this "treasure", am I right? To guard your backside throughout all dangers and petty foolery we might run afoul off...yes?" That grin again. Artos let his forehead fall onto his arms. Then he began to laugh. He raised his head, his grin mirroring Serewing's own. "What are we waiting for?"
 

Turgon

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The Corsair brushed a loose lock of hair away from his forehead and flashed the Wolfman a smile. 'There are few left alive who could read this map, even were it to fall into their possession, they would find its secrets beyond them. It's is an strange old thing, written in Adunaic, the language of my ancestors...' Serewing wondered at Artos' tacit acceptance of the map as genuine, it was unlike his friend to be so trusting.

'Fortunately.' the Corsair continued. 'My schoolmaster had a pretty wife, and I paid close attention to all the lessons I learnt in his house.' Serewing's eyes flashed for a moment as he let the thought wash over the Wolfman. 'I have a good knowledge of the tongue.'

Taking a swift sip of ale, the Corsair rocked back on his chair.

'You know, of course, that the First Age of Middle-earth ended in Cataclysm. The fair lands of Beleriand were broken in the tumult that accompanied the destruction of the Dark Lord and sank beneath the waves.' Artos nodded at Serewing's words, he was familiar with the tale. 'You may not know however,' continued the Corsair. 'That not all those lands were lost. To the west of the Ered Luin stands a remnant of Beleriand, where in ages past the Elves made great havens, ere they sailed westwards into legend. I have walked those lands Artos, and they are fair indeed, as are all places that remember still the tread of the elven folk. Again, perhaps this is not news to one who calls the Northlands home?'

Artos nodded slowly as the Corsair continued his tale.

'Yet if you were to take ship from these havens and steer northwards and then a little west, a small island you would reach. A fair place, its beauty wild and run to seed, and in the forests there one can still catch the scent of the Elder Days. Himling they call it, and, if the legends are to be believed, a great fortress stood once upon it's crown. For ere the fall of Beleriand, it was home to a great elf-prince, and a fierce foeman of the Dark Lord himself. Nothing more than fable perhaps? I would say so too had I not stood upon it's very shores.'

'No...' Serewing murmured, responding to his friend's unspoked question. 'No treasure did I find there, it is a strange place, and one not entired friendly to those of mortal race. Perhaps there is nothing there to find? During the golden age of Númenor, many ships set out to chart the oceans, and tales began to spring up of mariners stumbling across remnants of old Beleriand, some nothing more than barren rocks, others island wonderlands the like of which cannot be imagined, they spoke of finding great treasures hidden in the ruin, free for the asking if one should chance upon them. Perhaps that's all they were - sea-tales and drunken fancy? Yet if this map had come from such a source, do you fancy even I would follow it?'

At this the Corsair grinned broadly, and taking another sip of ale, let out a soft peel of laughter.

'Nay Artos - not even I would be so foolish. You see, others there were who searched the great seas, and to better purpose. The Uinendili, the great Guild of Venturers. The greatest sailors ever to put wood to water. Himling they found for certain, though it lay under Gil-galad's protection, and forbidden were they ever to set foot there. Yet one there was who by the Elf King's good grace was permitted to stand upon its shore. One it is said who stood upon many shores swallowed now into the half-light of legend.'

The Corsair pulled the map forth once more, and unfolding the soft parchment, ran his finger over the flowing script that adorned it.

Whispering the words quietly, almost like a prayer, Serewing raised his eyes to meet his friend's.

'And so I, Aldarion, record this voyage.'
 
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chrysophalax

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Artos' eyes widened at Serewing's words. "Aldarion? The Numenorean King? How in all of Arda did you manage to run across a remnant of the Hirilonde's voyages? That document, in the right hands would be worth a fortune in itself...if indeed it's genuine..." He narrowed his eyes. "Come now, you old sea-fox. Are you having me on? How did you verify it's provenance?" He signalled to the barmaid again to refill the pitcher, for suddenly his mouth had gone dry. Artos knew well that his friend's vulnerable spot had always been his pride in his lineage...wrong side of the blanket or no.

Serra whined beneath the table, then yawned and stretched her full length. It looked to be a long night of her father and the man he called friend talking and drinking endlessly. Artos reached down to scratch her ears and she whined again, contentedly.

The two men gazed at each other, Artos with rising misgivings and Serewing with eyes shining with thoughts of adventure. "Tell me what you propose to do with this artifact, providing of course, that it's real. Will we journey then in the wake of so expert a captain? What is it you think will be waiting for us at journey's end? Or will it be the journey itself that shall be our reward? Say on! I eagerly await the tale!" So saying, Artos took the pitcher of frothing ale from the young woman's hand and poured his mug full, downed it, then leaned forward, intent upon the story.
 

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