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Messages - Henglaf

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1
General Discussion / Re: No more stat cap
« on: June 22, 2011, 04:13:57 AM »
And all the stat-mongers rejoiced!

2
General Discussion / Re: Favorite Quest Dialogues
« on: June 12, 2011, 09:59:14 AM »
Gray squirrels are violent, unless it's autumn and then they're playing a lot :D Sometimes they drop shells on my head from out of trees. /Hijack_off

3
Off-topic / Re: Lord of the Rings in Concert! (West Coast, woo)
« on: June 09, 2011, 06:11:22 AM »
You'll enjoy it. Ive had the privilege of seeing the Fellowship and the Two Towers here in Virginia, and the orchestra, choir, etc. is exceptional if I'm any judge of such (which I'm probably not, but I'll say so anyway.)

Do follow up and let us know how it goes!

H of Dale

4
This man was no slouch in a fight. He was called Gervast, a Barding, and of a character low and devious, given over to taking advantage of his own people even and rallying to the call of them that paid best and quickest. He, like Henglaf, was tall but doughtier of limb, though perchance slower on his feet. Nevertheless, he was quick as a snake in the grass and there was a confident and cold cunning in his eyes that gave Alfrun a most unpleasant feeling. The son of Hengast knew him full well, both in rumor and deed. That Basso had sent one of his best (and cruelest, for he was not known for his kindnesses) almost caused him a moment of pride.

But any such notions were fleeting, overrun and routed, and the seven men weaved about the tables and chairs, forcing Henglaf deeper into the emptied parlor. He felt the second hand of time weighing heavily about his neck. He pushed Alfrun back, but three cut them off before they could retreat into the rear hall. Alfrun didn’t know if she wanted more to shout in bitterness or weep in sorrow. It seemed difficult enough for her to simply breathe in those slowest of moment, though.

Henglaf started forward, and the four before him unexpectedly withdrew a step.

Gervast scolded them. “Your reputation goes before you, Henglaf. Seems all my people know something of your knife work. Step to, boys! Basso doesn’t pay cowards!”

Two now came forward to answer the call. Henglaf parried a sword, turned it aside, and smote one through beneath the jerkin. He pitched into the floor at the burglar’s feet, a simpering, dying mass. The second stumbled away as did all the others.

The half-Barding looked over his shoulder. The three behind them were creeping around either side of a table, swords out like the prows of warships and he knew he could not endure such an engagement whether there were seven or six.
But fortune had something unlooked-for in store for the companions:

Master Brengar found the innkeeper in the foyer upon the floor, and he then perceived figures in the parlor beside. Henglaf was amongst them, and Alfrun clutching at his person behind, and scarcely had he perceived what was happening when the mob came to fresh blows.
There were lanterns hanging at the doorposts and, without thinking, the Black Arrow grabbed one and pitched it across the parlor. It struck one in the back and the glass vial shattered, spilling oil all about. A red fury started up this one’s back and fire grew along his shoulders, a most tortuous set of pauldrons. He screamed and thrashed about, heedless as a mad steer, and the rest of the attackers were for a moment stunned, giving this grisly torch a wide berth as he flailed about.

Another lantern shattered, catching one in the leg. The floor now burned brightly about him, slick with oil, and he released a terrible cry as licking fires intruded up his breeches. A choking smoke roiled up into the rafters and the unpleasant odor of burning flesh.

Henglaf hadn’t any idea how this had all happened, but he didn’t waste any time in exploiting it. He spun on the three behind them, pulling
Alfrun about by the wrist. His father’s sword circled wide and now it was he that drove the fight; he pressed them back into the hall. The room was becoming hot behind him, and when next he looked it seemed that pillars of writhing fires climbed the inn walls in places. The ceiling became black with smoke. Somewhere behind them he heard the tumult and clangor of battle, steel on steel and shouts and pounding feet.

He called out to Alfrun over his shoulder. “Out to the streets with you!” For not all the room was lost to fire yet and some paths yet remained, no matter how uncomfortable or perilous. And she left his side and scurried amongst the burning ruins and scorched bodies, struggling to breath. Then through the haze she spied Brengar and he was at blows with Gervast alone and she envied him not, for she saw that the latter was hot with fury and resolve and his sword moved in a terrible dance.

She came up behind them, fearful of some stroke gone awry or wide parry, and, in perhaps the bravest act of her life, she threw her weight into the mercenary leader. He fell to the side, off-balance and stumbling. Alfrun scampered toward the foyer and Brengar watched her pass by with astonishment, his expression weary as one sore-put and knowingly outmatched.

“Where is Henglaf?” he shouted after, following her into the street. He dragged with him the body of the innkeeper. The street-side windows on one side were lit by mighty fires from within. A coil of smoke wafted out of the front door as he came.

Alfrun couldn’t find her voice; in the turmoil it had left her. The night air was starkly cool upon her skin, and she could feel beads of sweat running down her neck and nose. Her clothes seemed to cling wetly against her tired body. No one had yet come out, neither friend nor foe. She had expected the mercenary to follow them out at least, but there was no sign of him either. “Perhaps he’s turned back for the burglar,” thought she.

The elder innkeeper now began to stir, for apparently he had only been out cold this whole while. He sat up and rubbed his head and then wondered at where he was and how he had gotten there. A plume of smoke wafted out of the inn. “Fire! Fire in my inn! Most wicked fate! Fire!” He was up on his feet, waving his arms and pulling his hair. Then he was off down the street to the west bridge to summon watchmen, shouting as he went, “Fire, fire!”

A body of flame moved across the front door and their hearts sank. A lower window shattered behind its shutter and a tongue of red lolled lazily out. Still there was no sign.

A bell began to toll by the west bridge and Brengar now grabbed Alfrun by the arm.

“We’ll be questioned to no end or worse if they catch us here. This doesn’t look good on us,” he said. “We cannot wait for Henglaf.” Even then a contingent of men were coming down the street. Indeed, many folks were peering out of windows and stepping out of doors to see what all the fuss was about. Somewhere in Lake-town the innkeeper was still running and shouting “Fire! Fire!” as though the dragon were back again.

Brengar pulled Alfrun behind her, made to flee in the direction opposite the soldiers. To where and how far they went Alfrun did not know, nor did she even begin to wonder for that matter. Her feet seemed to no longer obey her will and she stumbled along despite the Black Arrow’s protestations for haste. She found all she could do by her own will was look back. Somewhere was Henglaf, and with him was her heart.

5
That's what I'm talking about!

6
Burglar / Re: Burglar Quickslot Layout
« on: June 08, 2011, 09:12:24 AM »
Did any of this ever work for you?

7
You better be working on this  ;D

8
Alfrun clambered out of the bed, making a mess of sheets and pillows, mouth agape at the three corpses at her bedside. “Unwelcome bedfellows, I know,” Henglaf asserted, seeing her shaken glance. There was a flow of life blood filling the spaces between the floorboards. “Let's get along.” After a sweep of the chamber, they had gathered all their baggage and assembled at the door, which to them seemed like the maw to chaos. They could just have easily faced an army on the other side as walked out of the inn unscathed.

“Put this someplace.” He placed an arming dagger into her unwilling hands (and as an afterthought she wondered how many he truly had on his person.) She trembled at its touch and wondered if she would have the heart to use it even if she put to it. “I do not think anyone would raise a sword against you unarmed, so hide it away for the time.” She struggled with what she should do with it, but at the last settled on slipping it up her gown sleeve. And this was how Alfrun became a woman at arms, no matter how averse to the notion she may have been.

Henglaf adjusted his bags, which were strung over his shoulders one over the next, and drew his sword. The steel seemed to come to life at his touch, shone somewhat brighter. Perhaps some hidden virtue was again awakened unless she was mistaken. In the hazy lantern light, Henglaf son of Hengast seemed especially dour, so severe even that he might have cowed the door open by will alone. The air seemed stifled, her breathing short, and his intensity was palpable.

He swung the door open and stepped out, but the corridor was empty save for flickering candles and an eerie calm. So they swept down the hall, the burglar leading by the point of his sword with Alfrun closely in tow. At midst of the hall were the stairs leading down and these too were clear when Henglaf peeked down them. In fact, he heard very little downstairs at all, except for a bump or swish or the distant rustle as of feet. It seemed to him that if there were more henchmen about they hadn’t heard the scuffle upstairs or guessed that things had gone ill.

The half-Barding now led Alfrun downstairs and they passed by the back rooms where they had met Brengar the previous evening. Where was he, they wondered? Without him, new arrangements would need to be made, both for Henglaf and for Alfrun, for she would have no where to stay and the burglar would have no gear for his journey. Had he perished?

The came to the end of the hall and Henglaf peered around the corner and into one of the parlors. It too was empty and for a moment he thought they might just escape with no fuss, but the winds of fortune did not so blow. Having whisked through the parlor and into sight of the foyer a band of armed men barred the way, girt in leathers and mail and having the look of mercenaries. The Barding halted mid-step, sword raised now into a high posture, a curse upon his lips. Alfrun staggered behind him, a new fear clutching her. She counted seven swords against them.

“Ah, Henglaf!” one cried, raising his sword in salute. “It’s been too long! I guess this means you had your way with my friends…”

“We settled matters as gentlemen by a contest of wit. You might say I won and the prize was passage. It pays to learn your Ps and Qs.”

The other now laughed and he seemed sincerely merry at the jest. “We shall see where wit now gets you.” And the seven fanned out into the parlor, their eyes lit like wolves upon spotting the rabbits. Encirclement was their plan. “I promised Basso I would not be too gentle on you, Henglaf. I may make an exception for your lady friend, though.”

“Then put your trifling tongue to rest and brandy a sword instead, cur!”

9
The lady retired upon the bed and Henglaf upon the floor. Brengar returned to his own abode in the middle of the night, promising to return at about the sixth hour of darkness with goods from the quartermaster. In the same way that Henglaf had sent forward word to Brengar for aid, so also had he sent word to gather what things he had need for. The need for secrecy was still a chief concern of Henglaf, and he felt it wisest to stay off of Lake-towns’ streets and quays. Though he said nothing of it for certain to Alfrun, Henglaf suspected it was only the precious matter of time before Basso’s people were on them. How that meeting transpired depended on the manner and time and place (and of course the number of swords.)

So Henglaf rested uneasily for the better part of the night, half his mind set on what good it was to scour the werewolf lair and the other portion on if he would even get that far. And what of Alfrun? She was in his care still, and, while he trusted Brengar to the death, the woman was ultimately his charge. It was his decision to cross Basso that had brought so much peril upon her head.

She slept peacefully upon the bed and he found himself sitting upright and looking at her. Her chest rose and fell slowly in the gray half-light, and he wondered at the curious feelings in his heart. She had said, perhaps mistakenly, perhaps foolishly, that she did not wish to be parted with him, and, in his own (unexpected) way he also desired to remain with her. Inevitably, though, their paths would have to part. Mirkwood was no place for even a fearless man of war. Alfrun was a noblewoman. He could not take her there. He would need all his wits to just manage himself.

Footsteps were heard in the passage outside. They were peculiarly light and when he poised to listen they stopped abruptly as though aware of his attention. As no upstanding folk had reason to be sneaking about, especially outside his room, he arose and crossed the room to press his ear against the door.

Even as he neared, though, he again heard footfalls, but it seemed a different set now and a sinking feeling came over him when he heard them. Something was amiss unless it was a common occurrence that folks snuck about in the middle of the night at the inn.
Alfrun rolled over with not so much as a care.

Tock.

The lock was being picked. The sound was as familiar to him as his own mother’s voice. It could not have been Brengar. Lock-picking was not a skill that a Black Arrow typically acquired and neither would his friend have had the need when he had a perfectly good hand for knocking. Henglaf struggled for a moment with what to do, whether to grab the lock throw from the inside, which would belie his presence, or to wake Alfrun, or to draw steel. A few more delicate sounds came from the door, of bronze parts moving against one another.

He drew a dagger and pressed himself against the wall so the door would swing in on him.

A space later the door was swinging open and a yellow stream of light cut into the grayness like a brilliant spear. Three men swooped in and past the burglar, who stole out from behind the door after the last and this one received a death blow between the ribs. His sword fell to the floor with a startling clatter and Alfrun leapt up, the other two assassins spun on their heels, and the Henglaf let his prey crumple to the floor.

“You would steal into a burglar’s room to slit his throat? How unkind.”

“Hand yourself over, Henglaf,” one said. “There are too many of us here. You won’t escape like you did before. Basso may yet have kindness toward you.”

The Barding drew a second dagger. “Without the point of knife on him Basso is wont to lack in that aspect. No, friends, I’ll take my chances here.” A dagger glittered in swift flight, toppling blade over hilt in a blur, and caught one in the chest. He staggered, his sword still only half-raised. The other lunged forward, his sword arcing steeply. The burglar panned to the side and in the same motion forward and the second dagger now struck home in a fit of stabs. He let the dying body down gently and slammed the door, re-locking it.

“We seem to have poor fortune with inns,” he snorted at Alfrun. “Let’s be off and quick!”

10
Alfrun was scarcely pleased by this plan. It just seemed as though things got worse instead of better. It could be said, though, that she hadn't a better suggestion and so left the procuring work to the procurer. "What have I gotten him into?" she wondered. She touched her forehead, bowed and shook her head. "And what then of me?" He had said that he had something to say that pertained to them both after all, although she was weary of news and plots for the evening.

"I was just getting to that," Henglaf assured her. "It seems that Brengar has a quarters here in the Town, which will not be in use for the next several days, for he will be riding with me to the forest's eaves. I have spoken with him on the matter, and he has agreed to allow you to stay there. I think this a good plan. I do not want you, or us for that matter, in this inn very much longer. The hand of Basso is still likely reaching; the inns will be searched first.

"Brengar will ride with me, but should return in a few nights and he will then bear you home himself. He has promised to do so, if you can suffer the stench." He grinned, but it was obviously only a ploy to raise her spirits. "What do you think of this?"

"I think," she said, and her father's fierceness lit her eyes brightly now. Her cheeks became flush. "I think you are a fool, Master Henglaf. I think all of this is more than I bargained for and I think that I just want all this to stop. I think that I do not wish to be parted from you for even another moment..." but then Lady Alfrun tarried, as though realizing what she said only after she said it. "... I mean with things such as they are," she added as an afterthought. She let out a long breath, chagrined, and feeling quite like a simpering child.

Idhrenor's son looked her countenance over carefully. She seemed not herself to him, but he wondered if he really knew her at all;  they hadn't spent a stress-less moment together since they had met. But, in his own eyes at least, she seemed to him different, softer perhaps and less pretentious, at ease and candid. She was lovely and adorable, but he wondered most at what she had said and what it might mean.

"I am a fool to take on any such errand," he agreed, "for it is a fool's errand." He loosened a knot of twine in his hair and let loose his tail. "We've spoken already of the Black Tower? Yes, well, it would scarcely be better for me to fly there than to where I now intend, perhaps better still. Who knows? We have never before seen the gaurhoth den. At most, I myself have seen only four. One is terrible enough and I expect the den might be my match."

"Who is we? Why do I feel there is more to you yet again that I at first thought?"

"Because there is," he said glibly. "When I say we I mean the King's Black Arrows. Have you never heard of them? I should say not. Few in even the King's keep know of them. In their short history it is said that when Bard the Bowman re-founded Dale beneath the Mountain he chose for himself the finest of Dale's soldiers and knights and hunters. They were taught many things and shared many skills one with another, such as subtlety, sword-craft, and horsemanship. They became alike to the King's Black Arrow, the barbed arrow that smote the dragon out of the sky, his last and utter hope at victory. So he called these men. They are a furtive band, given to watching in the wilderness and waging wars of movement, the most trained and skilled in all of Dale and her outliers. It is their charge to keep watch on the Mirkwood, nay, all the lands that are of concern to the King. Nevertheless, Mirkwood has always been their chief concern. Their actions are quick and their wars secret."

"You speak of we at times and at others they. Are you not one of them?"

"I was at a time, yes, but no longer. I do have friends still amongst them, such as they are. Brengar hearkened to the letter I wrote him two days ago. I suppose that makes him my friend."

"Why no longer?"

"I see we're having another one of those conversations," said he, smiling. "I think you are over-curious, but I'll speak as you wish.

"Five winters past my company found a curious hollow in the earth. We were someplace betwixt the Tower and the region called the Blight. We were moving through, but stopped to see what this thing might be. There were two men in particular that slipped inside and the rest of us waited. The hour grew late. It began to snow and, if I could have felt my hands, I might have signaled we move on... if only I had had the foresight. But, alas, not since the days of my forebears have we had such gifts. Only seldom now do some of us have visions.

"I went in after them with two more. We stumbled through the dark for some ways but then the earth became smoother and chiseled as if shaped by the crafts of man or dwarf. It is in most cases forbidden we use fire in the Wood: it is just not seemly for a company that values its secrecy. Yet for this we did and upon raising the brands we had quite a sight to behold, one that I wish I had never seen. Our one man was killed, slumped over a stone container. It may have been a tomb for it was graven with images and writings like I have never since seen. It seemed to me ages old, but now the life-blood of the young spilled over it. With him was the other that had gone, and his clothes were rent from his body and a new malice was in his guise and he uttered strange and loud words that seemed to stifle the light of our fires. He recoiled away from the lights like they pierced his eyes. We marveled at this a few moments; we knew not what to do at first.

"At the last, we constrained the living and returned him to the top, screaming and struggling as if we had him at the whips. We bound him and gagged him, and, by the dragon, he was strong! I left some to remove the fallen and bear him from the wood, and the rest of us removed ourselves from the hollow so we could question our captive. I can't explain why, but I felt the need to be far away from that hole.

"I might have had better luck questioning the dead, though, for this one was no longer himself, possessed by some old malice or else gone utterly mad. In my eyes, he was lost and I called the others to see the same. I proposed to slay him and be done. There were others that thought elsewise and I was opposed in the matter, no matter whether I was the captain of the company or no. This debate came to blows. I maimed one and killed another. I at the last had my way, and I answered for all of it later.

"I was condemned to remove myself from the King's service and give up what honors I had won, which may or may not have been merciful for I take the losing of such things not very lightly. There were those that took pity on me, though they were few, which spared me an early death I think."

"In that case, I am glad you are hard to kill, Henglaf."

11
Long leagues o'er mountains once called Iron,
Where are born the rivers three,
Came Sildarion's seed on horse silver beneath gray sun.

On errand he arose and with haste went out;
He durst not fail, durst not falter.
And so on rode in the face of sword, horn, and shout.

To his kin he ventured word in country far,
Where in golden fields horses have ever run;
Guided was he by sun-lit river and ever-burning star.

Alfrun sighed and shut the journal, putting it back into Henglaf's satchel just as she had found it. She suspected that her curiosity would get her in trouble if she wasn't careful, though she also suspected equally that the half-Barding would see no harm in it. Truly, she simply found a diversion to be desirable, necessary even. Without Idhrenor's journal in hand she unwittingly ended up in a short and varied pace in one of the the bedchambers of the inn.

Henglaf and Brengar were still downstairs. She had been dismissed from the conversation, albeit gracefully. As though that hadn't been enough, then Henglaf had bidden her to be the baggage girl and take their things upstairs to the room Brengar had prepared for them. Grudgingly obeying, she knew in her heart that they were discussing the burglar's mission and most likely her brother and his sordid fate. The memory gave her pause, but only for a moment, and, with a proud shake of her head, she clasped her hands behind her back and paced anew.

An hour had passed at least when the door opened and Henglaf entered. He looked weary yet, but calm and sure and she wondered what had been spoken of in her absence and if any useful news had been heard.

"I am sorry to have sent you off," he said before she had time to inundate him with questions. "However, it was necessary." She made to protest, but he seemed to expect it and raised a hand of refutation to stay her. "I will tell you what you need to know of our little errand; that much you ought to know. The rest, though, is not for you to hear. Let if suffice for you that there are rustlings in this land that we will one day rue, sooner or late, even Dale." He unbuckled his sword and laid it across the gray-shrouded bed. "I see you've had a look-a-bout. See anything interesting in my bags?"

"I confess that I looked through your father's book. I am sorry."

"I'd be amazed if you could read it," Henglaf said, pulling the frayed journal from the bag and looking it over himself. "He loved to write I gather, but wasn't much for penmanship." He could scarcely tell if he were just sloppy at times or else writing in a different alphabet entirely. He set the book aside and sat on the bed. "Please, sit. I have somewhat of a plan to share, and it certainly concerns us both:

"It seems that the best clue we have are the werewolves. At first I had supposed that such things would have dwelt about the Black Tower. Not so, it seems. Some of the King's men have found the dwellings of the creatures - as Brengar has said. This is a feat in itself and one I had not even thought of until now.

"Consider how the victims of these things are always taken. To what end we know not, but they are taken someplace, perhaps looted and I care to not think on what else. Were I able to find these grounds and have a look around it is likely I might find what you're after."

"And much else besides!" she ranted. "So now instead of wandering around the woods you're going to go into a werewolf's lair? Yes, Master Henglaf, this plan is really shaping up," she remarked dryly. The proposition gave her chills and she was likely never even see such a monster in her lifetime. How he could remain so calm she didn't comprehend.

"Well, I suspect there will be more than one gaur traipsing about when I find it... but such is the best plan I have until more news comes my way," he consoled, hardly content with it himself. "The lands where the men followed them to I know somewhat. The lair is near the mountains in the Wood, the Emyn-nu-Fuin. It is north of the Old Forest Road and south of the breeding grounds of spiders. They favor it for some reason, it seems. If they took any remains with them that's where I'll need to look."

The painfully obvious question of why these wicked creatures stole bodies away, though, died on her lips.

12
Off-topic / The Hobbit films
« on: May 31, 2011, 09:01:16 AM »
For interested parties:

http://movies.msn.com/paralleluniverse/hobbit-movies-titles-released/story/feature/?gt1=28101

But who is going to be cast as Bard the Bowman, I say?

"Then Bard drew his bow-string to his ear. The dragon was circling back, flying low, and as he came the moon rose above the eastern shore and silvered his great wings. ‘Arrow!’ said the bowman. ‘Black Arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!'"

They had better be grim is all I can say.

H of Dale

13
The son of Hengast paid Alfrun a doubtful look but stumbled through the opening nevertheless and on into a dusky foyer hemmed in by a parlor at either side. They were immediately arrested by suspicious and fearful glances from out of the parlors, from somber tables and out of shadows; it was distressingly quiet for so many folk, Alfrun thought, and nothing at all like the Running River Red. Without regard for any of this, Henglaf made his way across the foyer and to a man standing behind a half-wall. The floorboards groaned sadly beneath them.

This fellow, rather heavy and seeming rather comfortable with his station of collecting monies, he being the innkeeper, greeted them: “Well met, travelers. What could I do you for? Room? Supper? A chair by the fire?”

 “I am meeting someone here. Perhaps you can tell me if he’s arrived. Brengar is his name, tall with dark locks, rather rough looking.”

The innkeeper looked Henglaf up and down and his eyes seemed to say rather disdainfully, “Much like yourself, you mean.” But the opinion of a fat man was not of consequence to the Barding. “Yes,” he said at length. “I think I know the one, but not as much as his name. I sent him into one of the back rooms that was empty; was there last I looked. Go through one of the parlors here about and into the hall behind and have a look about if you’ve a mind.”

Henglaf did have a mind and left without another word or gesture.

From either parlor beside the foyer was an opening at the back to an interconnecting passage. This corridor was lined with small rooms, meant for four or five to take their meat about a set table. At the middle of the corridor some stairs led up. Henglaf peered into the rooms as he passed, many empty and some in use, the whispering going on within them ceasing as they passed like the occupants were discussing sinister business.

But they came to a room where a lone man sat with a chair pulled away from the table with it set before a tiny inglenook. He was hunched over and when they found him his back was to them.

“This must be the room for it smells of dog,” Henglaf announced, entering.

The man turned, looking over his shoulder, and he was scowling and seemed especially grim to Alfrun, much as Henglaf was grim but perhaps less severe. He was girt in a mail shirt and wore a long sword at his side, and his trousers and boots were stained and muddied as from recent travel. Without warning a smile stole over him and he stood with his arms out wide in salutation.
The two embraced as brothers.

“I must like dogs then for I tolerate you as my friend,” Brengar quipped, clapping the burglar on the shoulder. “I can’t disagree that I am wont to smell, however. I find soap hard to come by in the wilderness.”

Henglaf laughed and threw down his things. “Good to see you, Brengar. It warms my heart to see an old face.”

“And you as well, Master Henglaf. Much has changed in these lands of late and you did well to send for me. I will tell you all I know of what e’er you wish. But, if you’d be so kind as to tell me who you’ve brought?”

“This is Lady Alfrun and it is her errand that bears me south.”

The Barding Brengar bowed somewhat, muttering that it was a pleasure to meet her. “If she is here by your leave, Henglaf, then I will trust her. I mean you no offense, my lady,” he added, turning toward her, “but I am thinking that Master Henglaf has a mind to speak on things that are best not spread about freely…” he then added as an afterthought, “especially with what’s been happening here of late.”
“Has it aught to do with the doubled guard we saw outside?”

“Aye, that is a result of it at least. I’ll speak on that shortly, though, if you wish to hear of it. But, please, settle in first and I will fetch food and wine.”

Brengar returned with a basket of food and a bottle of wine a short time later, and he set out without much ceremony a loaf of golden bread, a circle of butter, a wedge of salted ham, and a cup of wild red berries before pulling the cork on the wine and pouring a liberal round.

“So,” he said a time later, after they had slowed somewhat at their meal, “you wish to know of news.” He stood and threw two logs into the inglenook. It crackled and spit. Cinders floated up and faded away. “A week and five days back a band of fishermen were found along the shore south of here, nigh unto where the River Running flows into the trees of yonder Mirkwood. A foolish place to find one’s self,” he added cynically, pouring himself more wine. “Some escaped into the water and returned here later with strange tales, sat in the Town Hall even speaking of beasts large and foul, and, of course, that they narrowly escaped after a perilous and brave fight.

“Well, bodies were never found, neither of fishermen nor of beast. Deep prints were, however, up and down the banks and these baffled the trackers. All Lakers, mind you. Nonetheless, a foul rumor has risen up in the town that giant wolves now prowl the banks of the Long Lake and the River south of it and a strict watch has fallen.” He looked keenly at Henglaf, who listened most interestedly. “I suggest, though, that there are no wolves. Never have there been kind of that size in this country.”

Gaurhoth?” Henglaf guessed and crossed his arms.

Brengar drank his wine.

Gaurhoth?” Alfrun uttered, not recognizing the name. The talk of large wolves grabbed her interest with sure arms. “What is this name?”

Henglaf drew in a long breath. “We’ve spoken of them before, though by a different name. Men call them werewolves, for they are wolves and yet men. The elves call them gaurhoth.” He looked now at Brengar. “This tale is of interest to me. Do the Black Arrows know more of them?”

“Aye, we do, and now is the part of the tale that is not for all ears. This must not be spoken elsewhere.” He was emphatic. “We have tracked these things, though the trail was cold and the reading of the signs difficult. They seem light-footed when they choose to be.” Brengar leaned across the table, said like he were whispering a most secret thing, “We found the den this time, Henglaf.”

14
The riverbanks fell away altogether and the current carried them into open water. The sail was again lowered, easily doubling their gait, and they eased into sight of Lake-town as the last lights of day receded back behind the Misty Mountains. In this sallow, fading light they saw a town upon mighty pillars in the water, hemmed along by many quays. A long bridge spanned off the western side to the shore. Many gabled roofs protruded upward into the last throes of dusk and yellow lights fizzled out of windows and from torches along the docks. The dusky shapes of men moved along the quays.

A sailor went up now toward the prow and began to ring a bronze bell strung off the bowsprit. Lanterns illuminated the decks. The oars were again put out and the ferry crew eased their clip somewhat and the ferry slid up alongside the dock with a thump. Lines were tied and the gangplank thrown out and the crew busied themselves with cargo. Henglaf and Alfrun thanked Master Gowar for his hospitality and passage.

“Think nothing of it,” was all he said with a bow and hand upon his breast, and then a moment later he was yelling at his crew to double-up or they’d be scraping the hull the next three days before their next shipment. Their business was concluded when Henglaf gave the Barding a pouch of coin.

Bags in tow, the companions moved off the quays and took a wide stair up between two dark and looming buildings and then down a long avenue of smooth timber. The homes stood two-stories high at either side and were thrust closely together giving the feeling they were already in the deep climes of a city. Lake winds bayed through wooden shingles. Many streets angled off the one they traveled, all still busy with Lake-men preparing cargo and carrying goods between the ships and the market. A wain of bricks, drawn by snorting oxen, forced them to the side of the street then.

“We are making toward the bridge that spans to the western shore. There is an inn there for us to rest.” The oxen labored by. “You should know that I have an arrangement to meet on old consort of mine this evening. I think he is probably wondering where I am at even now so we should hurry. I don’t wish it that he should wait overlong.”

They came to a great open space in the midst of the Town where there was a body of water about the height of five men down and there were small boats moored therein. It was in the shape of a circle and at its head was a large structure, larger than any other in Lake-town and it was the Town Hall; it stood before what the Lake-men called the Marketwater, where folks brought their goods in off the Lake by narrow canals at varying places throughout the town. There was a great light coming from the heart of the pool off a boat that burned a fire from its deck and in so doing it lit the whole area: for merchants yet made way out of the pool and back out into the lake, the day’s business hours being concluded.

They turned away west at the waterside market and strode for a time when a stretch of fires drove off in a straight line before them. This was the bridge Henglaf had spoken of and along its length ran braziers burning dutifully. The gate on the town-side was shut and manned by many men, more than Henglaf had expected.

“I wonder what stirs in this land?” he wondered, but of greater interest was the inn at the gate’s left-hand, on the very edge of the water. Many chimes hung from its eaves, rustled into song by delicate breezes.

15
"You can't just take a sword to him. It is not right."

"What would you have me do then? Drag him back to open lands hoping some leecher can cure him? Or else the elves' magic? Look at him, Geir!" Henglaf grabbed his companion by the nape of the neck and thrust him forward so violently that the man nearly fell. At their feet, amongst the browning brush and creeping roots, was a curled up figure bound hand and foot and also gagged. It was a man, and yet not, and he was naked and bruised and bloodied as one that has suffered cruelly at the hands of a learned tormentor. He had been screaming when they found him, likely bringing onto himself all kinds of attention. They had yet to see any enemy, but Henglaf suspected their time of solitude was short and often he stopped and looked about expecting the worst.

"I see him," snapped Geir, spinning on his heel and slapping his gloved hand away. "But we must take him back! We must try!"

"Take who back?" shouted Henglaf and his face was flush with anger. All the faces about him were gray and solemn as ash. They were wasting time. "Erli has perished! This thing before us is devilry from the tower! Will you not see this?"

"Geir is right," said another, stepping forward. "We must follow a hope while Erli has one."

The hollow was bitterly cold, and the firs seemed to bow in toward them as though to stifle them. A light snow dappled the frozen earth, but it too seemed as ash in that land. Henglaf would have believed it, for it seemed everything was burning down in that moment.

"It will be the death of all of us," he said, drawing his sword, "and I will not allow it, not while I am the master of this company. I don't need you to be in agreement, either of you, any of you. I need you to obey, as your oaths constrain you to. Now stand aside."

The thing lying before them began thrashing about, perhaps aware of the fate that Henglaf intended for it. Its eyes flashed black in the dusky light. A guttural noise came from its depths that seemed to Henglaf neither that of Man nor of any beast he had theretofore known. It seemed to him something older and fouler than either.

Two other swords were drawn and the sound gave the master of the company pause. "You would slay me for protecting you?"

"You speak of oaths and obedience, but what of your own, Master Henglaf?"

The two stood before the lying figure, swords raised, with hearts to protect someone they called their friend, or at least the home that was once his body. The beast, whatever it was, struggled in its bonds still. The onlookers standing around the winter hollow looked on nervously, seeming to meld into the trees so long as they remained motionless.

Henglaf grimaced, and he would perhaps never again be so wroth as he was in that space. A fell light came into his eyes and, in a motion that was like a lunge and up-thrust, he smote down the one standing at his left and managed to cut the sword-hand from the second, who toppled over clutching his wrist with a shout. Henglaf paid them no further mind, though.

"If I err," he said to the creature, who looked him squarely in the eyes even as it vied to aright itself, "then may the gods of this earth do with me what seems right to them." And he slit the thing's throat with the tip of his sword.

A fell cry erupted from the gored throat, and a force thrust Henglaf back and caused him to shield his eyes as against a strong wind. The wail twisted into a mocking laughter and then was gone as quickly as it had come, seeming to disappear into the foggy treetops. Looking at the lifeless and naked body, Henglaf knew he was yet defeated.

-

Idhrenor's son stirred now. There was a hand on his arm, and it was Alfrun's.

"You seemed to be troubled by something," she said. His expression was that of one who had just faced something harrowing. His brows were arched and jaw set and he looked inexplicably angry, ready to come to blows even. For a moment, Alfrun wondered if he was truly seeing her and not someone else entirely.

"I-I had a dream," he replied groggily, seeming to come more to himself, "one I sometimes have of past things." He threw his legs off the bed. They were together in the cabin, she sitting at the desk beside him. Out the three windows dusk seemed to be setting in.

It was difficult at first for the companions to tell how far they had traveled by water, but a big yellow sun now perched in the west and the lands about the ship seemed to become wetter. The river proper remained wide and addled with debris, but marshlands opened around them. In the glades roundabout a great cry arose that was the sound of many frogs slipping up out of their holes and onto the banks to bask in the fading lights; the peeping was enchanting in Alfrun's ears, carefully harmonized, strangely ordered.

"We are at the marshes it sounds like," the burglar said with a heavy intake of breath, "and so also near the Lake. We will be at Lake-town soon."

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