Chapter 23: Fornost Erain

 

The 21st Day of Nórui. T.A. 1640 in Fornost Erain

Back at the Seven Stars, Fred was fending off yet another assault - yet with little more success than he had with the previous ones.
"C'mon, 'ere, little 'un. Come let Gorbert buy 'ee a drink, then."
"Well ah…," Fred indicated to the full goblets stacked on the table around him. "Really, I think I've got more than I could…"
"Jo-nag! Anudder round for me friend 'ere!" Gorbert slapped Fred on the back. Fred winced. All throughout the city, his "dearest friends" - really people he'd never met before had greeted him, feasted him, wined him, danced him and - after it all - had just about killed him. He was sure his back was black and blue. It certainly felt that way.
"Thirsty?" a deep voice inquired.
Fred bowed his head into his hands. Didn't these Dunedain have eyes?
"Friend, please, I have drink aplenty. You needn't…"
"I can see that!" a woman's voice added. "Determined to drink the King's City dry?"
Fred looked up. Ranciryon and Clarissa gazed down at him, both perplexed and amused by the full goblets stacked around him. In the background, Fred could hear Gorbert bragging how he'd always been special friends to the halflings. With the state of the Shire secure, every merchant wanted to be the first to state he was their friend - and secure trade with these short farmers of some of the richest farmland in the kingdom.
"Hobbits seem very favoured in the city these days," Ranciryon commented. "Quite a change since our last visit."
"Hmm," Fred agreed glumly. "Yes, well save the King's life in battle and many doors open for you. The state of the Shire it seems is most secure. Lords Tarma and Eketta have even agreed to this."
"So Fred, what exactly did happen. How did the hobbits save the King's life?" Clarissa asked.
Fred pulled up his cap, revealing a bandage. "Goblin stone hit me," he explained. "Can't remember a thing after the King's arrival on the field. I woke up a day later in field hospital. Still, as a halfling, I'm every man's hero."
"So, how did you like your first taste of battle?" Ranciryon beamed, slapping Fred on the back.
"Argh! Will you stop that please!" Fred grimaced. "Like it? A bunch of grown men and hobbits about killing and all that muck? It'll be my last taste of it too if I have anything to say about the matter."
Ranciryon and Clarissa exchanged glances.
Clarissa put her arm around Fred, pulling off his cap and stroking his fine hair.
"What's going on?" Fred asked, rightfully suspicious.
"Well," Clarissa said, being sure to smile throughout, "Taurvantar, Kirahan and the others want to get involved in all that political stuff and we thought we'd bow out. Maybe take a walk about and see the world."
"Not me," Fred said, not smiling back. "I've had enough of this adventure rot. I'm back to the Shire. I'm done with Valar and quests and such. A nice hobbit hole, a warm cozy bed to share with a fine comely hobbit lass is all I ask."
"Do you mind?" Ranciryon asked, indicating one of the untouched goblets.
"Are you mad? Please! Drink your fill. I'm near to bursting," Fred exclaimed.
Ranciryon took a sip and added, "Well, Ordain has agreed to a token punishment of one year's exile from the kingdom. It's a political gesture designed to mollify the King, and still punish Lord Tarma by depriving him of one of his lieutenants. Ordain, whose getting on in years - strange concept that since it was only a few weeks back that we parted company with him in youth - anyway, he has a mind to take retirement and see the world. We thought we'd share the road with him."
"I see," Fred nodded, squinting at them while knocking Clarissa's hand away. "Well, I wish you all the best of luck."
"Ah, but we figured we might be in need of a burglar," Ranciryon went on. "Of course we thought at once of you."
"Of course," Fred agreed unconvincingly. "But alas, I too am retired; from anything that has anything to do with roads, adventure and especially danger."
"Well," Clarissa nodded. "I guess you have made up your mind then. Your taste of halfling camaraderie in the army made you homesick for your Shire."
"They were a bunch of dolts," Fred admitted in a whisper. "A bunch of farmers with a typical farmers mentality. They were brave, I'll give you that. But stubborn and rigid to the point of stupidity."
"Well, why not stay here then?" Ranciryon suggested. He and Fred looked back to the main bar where half a dozen tankards were raised to toast Fred. Fred waved off any offers of drink before they were spoken.
"Yes, well even kindness seems like killing after a point." Fred looked from Clarissa to Ranciryon; then from Ranciryon to Clarissa.
"So, not that I'm volunteering to accompany you of course…," Fred said while rubbing his chin. "Just where did you lot think about going?"
Ranciryon and Clarissa smiled and exchanged glances.
Clarissa produced a crude map of Endor from a bag she'd brought. It was just a rough sketch.
"Well, that's what we were going to discuss - with you. Ordain says he will follow the choice we make. He just needs to leave Arthedain. I know you've given up adventuring, Fred," she glanced up at Ranciryon who nodded back; "but perhaps you could help us to wisely choose a path."
Fred, no stranger to the halfling love of maps, stared over the map studying it intently. Clarissa winked at Ranciryon who nodded back conspiratorially in return.
"Well I could put you in touch with some friends of mine in the Blue Mountains if you like. In fact I just spoke to someone who was planning to fill an order for me and was headed that way. Of course if you are not much for the coast, I think I know some people in the Iron Hills as well. That would certainly get you far and away from here. Maybe it would be interesting to follow in the footsteps of Bilbo and company, or maybe it will be he that would follow in our footprints? This whole time thing gets me very confused. But I guess we should get going pretty soon, right?"
"Well," Ranciryon mused. "I don't think there's all that much hurry. There's all the time in the world, so to speak. Still, both roads Fred has suggested offer fine prospects - though the one to the Iron Hills seems a perilous long journey, to be sure. You know, we'd have to not only find our way through the empty lands of Rhudaur; but peril the hazards of the Misty Mountain passes; travel the Anduin Vale and find a way to ford its mighty river; travel untold leagues I hear through the dark woodlands of Mirkwood; pass the secret kingdom of the woodland elves…"
All the while, Ranciryon traced this proposed route with his finger, "…travel up to where the town of Dale may or may not have been founded yet, alongside the slopes of the Lonely Mountain; then trek across uncharted wastes frequented by wyrms and what have you; and then finally to the frozen peaks of the Iron Hills; where only sturdy and dour dwarven folk choose to call home. Even one leg of this journey seems epic. Now…"
Ranciryon twisted the map around.
"If we choose to go the other way, toward the Blue Mountains and the lands of Numeriador, I've been told that we will find haunting beauty but little company for the lands are largely empty save for a few communities scattered here and there and the rivermen who frequent the River Lhûn. Though the city of Mithlond would provide great spectacle. It is the last great elven place that has any hint of Beleriand and there are also said to be great ruins under what were the Dwarven cities of Nogrod and Belegost."
"My interest are towards the beauty of Numeriador, the stories are
fantastic," Clarissa said.
"Well Ranciryon, if you and Clarissa are game, I would not mind seeing some old... at least I think they are still old, friends," Fred said.
Ranciryon turned and looked at the little hobbit. "What do your propose, friend Fred? And who are these old friends that you speak of? Did I take you to mean Taurvantar and Kirahan?"
Clarissa looked to Ranciryon in curiousity, then back to the map. "I am not too sure about tracing the path of the Bilbo and Company, thinking on some of the things they encountered. Tell us of these old 'friends' if you don't mind".
Fred: "No, actually some Dwarves I once/will know. Although now that you mention it, I would miss Taurvantar if I were to go. We have beeen through a lot together, it was he who saved me from the wraith of Mendakhor when I... got lost in that accursed house."
Fred sighed, then continued. "Of course I have been with Ordain and Ranciryon since before we met up with the others at the Inn."
Fred shuttered at that unpleasant memory. He seems to be struggling to come to a difficult decision.
Finally he announced, "I think I will stay here for a time. Less walking, less adventure, more food and more mon... people. When you return we can get together once more and maybe go adventuring then. Be sure to find some good things to do this time, no more dark manors filled with undead!"
"Well, Ordain MUST go, and I have a mind to go with him. What say you, friend Fred. A bit of the outdoors, eh? Works up a mighty appetite I hear."
Fred replied, "If you would prefer the Blue Mountains I could journey there I guess. I have a necklace to pick up and it would be good to see some old friends I might not have met yet...again." Fred stoped with a puzzled look for a moment and then nodded his head. "Yes, that is right I think." He smiled cheerfully.
Clarissa could not help but smile in amusement. "Well, truthfully, I am not overly particular, if you have a strong interest in meeting old-new friends, then that is the journey we will take, alright?"
Fred nodded sagely... or perhaps drunkenly. "I have a few things to do in town first. We will have to pick up some supplies and horses or mules to carry our gear."
"Good idea, I need some things myself, perhaps a early morning start, or will you need another day?" Clarissa replied, adding, " Oh Fred..how much money do you have?..."
"It might be a day or two. Money? About enough to buy the Shire I think. Maybe a bit less. What do you need?", Fred answered. "What do you have need of?"
"Not much, need some new boots, so on, if you don't mind sparing a few gold, I really appreciate it" She smiled sweetly.
"Certainly," Fred agreed. "How about a whole bunch of silver?" asked Fred, as he handed over a sack with 50 silver pieces in it. They appeared to be Numenorian coins. From another pocket he pulled a half dozen more Numenorian coins This time they were gold. Fred nd handed the silver to Clarissa, along with a couple of gold for good luck.
"Thanks!" Clarissa exclaims, "Time to go shopping!".
"Well, we have a plan. I could take it upon myself to procure us transport. I have a trained eye for horseflesh and I'm sure I could try to find us a young pony for Fred here. Now that the war is over, there's plenty of animals available now." Ranciryon volunteered.
"We should make a plan to meet later," Ranciryon suggested.
Fred nodded in agreement. "Sure, how about the Seven Stars. Is this evening OK?"
"The evening is great. See you there!" Clarissa exclaimed, after taking a few coins from Fred's hand. The party dispersed, agreeing to meet later, and with Ordain.

{To answer John's question about the battle - in brief the miniature version was terribly one sided. The forces of Arthedain routed the Angmarim before they had even a chance to do anything significant. Very boring so I took some literary license. Clarissa wasn't there and Fred was knocked out at some point after his flute playing (ala Bilbo at the Battle of the Five Armies). The King arrived on the field with a purchased levy of Cardolani mercenaries as well as his own house guard of heavy Requain and and elite band of Rangers. They were able to punch a gap into the Angmarim host but managed to get cut off. Who but Lord Tarma and the hobbits should come to his rescue. Once's the King's safety was assured, it was a simple matter to surround the Angmarim center and anhilate them. However, many of the more mobile enemy were able to retreat into the wastelands screened by wargs and Easterling Cavalry. The Arthedain host was too exhausted to flee. Tensions have resumed now between the King and his nobes and he's keeping his mercenaries close to his side in case of civil war. JK}

The 23rd Day of Nórui. T.A. 1640

The four of them paused their mounts as they were not yet a fourth of the way down the gigantic causeway. Each of them, unbidden, as if sensing the presence of the immense walls behind them, turned to view the city they'd just left. Seeming impervious, Fornost Erain stood defiant to the dark power to the North. Even as icy winds whipped at the cloaks of the party, biting their exposed ears and bringing tears to their cheeks - the city stood sheltered behind the high impregnable walls. Nothing it seemed fashioned by the hand of man could even think to raise a hand against the power that could create such splendor - and yet, if legends were true, these walls were but a poor copy to others that guarded fabled cities now only a ruined memory of the distant and legendary past. And if troubling dreams could be believe, Fornost would one day itself fall, to the minions of the Iron Crown of Angmar.
Turning away from any such troubled thoughts, the four of them, Ranciryon, Ordain, Clarissa and Fred, fell to discussion about the road they should take on their journey to Numeriador. Once they'd entered the shelter of the Greenway, the giant trees now finding purchase enough as the causeway neared the plain, their words could finally be heard above the unseasonably cold wind.

(56 degrees Fahrenheit/ no rain/ overcast) Slightly more than half a day had passed as they wound their way northward. Desiring no chance of passing under the shadow of the woods that hid ImTarumbar manse, they had decided on a northerly route. They encountered none but farmers and small merchants on their way to sell wares at Fornost as they travelled between to rising downs to either side. A little more than half a day's journey, they espied a small towered keep just off the road; but since they were well provisioned and had only just started, none thought it worthwhile to pay them a visit. Making but fifteen miles, the party settled down to an uneventful night under the stars which were visible under a clearing sky.

The 24th Day of Nórui. T.A. 1640

(43 d./ no rain/ clear sky) After a meagre breakfast, which Fred grumbled at very loudly, the party saddled up and rode off. The sky had cleared and it became colder. They had gone perhaps only a mile before they came to a fork in the unpaved road.
"That way goes north in an easterly fashion," Ordain explained, nodding toward the right fork. "We would pass the ruins of an old observatory but I think the left is more suited to our travels. That way carries us north and west. It is the road to Bareketta, manor house of Lord Eketta, and the upper shores of Lake Nennuial. But we do not need visit the Eketta if we do not wish. However, we must travel either south or north for the lake and the Baranduin River will present us with a barrier. There will be another branch of the road, but it will carry us further north."
"Let us go that way, then," Ranciryon agreed, nodding to the left. "We can make further choices later."
The party chose the left path and began to travel northwestward. Coming through one pass, they passed through a line of downs, coming down the steeper side. Ahead of them, lay another line of downs, but already they could see breaks in the downs and broad rolling farmlands behind. The green pastures and newly planted fields were bordered by stone walls that marked each holding - some large - some small, making the landscape look like a verdant quilt of farmland. Not far beyond the pass in the downs, they broke and camped for the night.

The 25th Day of Nórui. T.A. 1640

(44 d./ no rain/ clear sky) It was another cool night. Having come through more downs, they began passing by numerous small farmsteads, bordered by stone walls and hedgerows. Farmers busy with their planting didn't even stop to hail them or notice their passing once it was assured they were not part of an enemy raid. The country seemed peaceful. Other than for an ill wind, and the downs shielded them from most of those, Angmar was a forgotten threat - having been beaten again soundly on the field of battle. At the day's end, the party passed by another ridge of downs to the south. Beyond a break in that, they glimpsed the rich farmland of Arthedain, spreading out below them.
"Those are royal lands or holdings of the minor nobles," Ordain explained while the party paused to rest the horses. "Later, after we've travelled across this flatland and into the hills of the Emyn Uial, we will come to the holdings of the seven Great Houses. We will have to pass through at least some of their lands in order to reach Numeriador; unless we wish to travel far north skirting the wild norther border - something I would not suggest."
As evening fell, the party reached another fork in the road. The right path led northward while the left wound it's way through a last ridge of downs westward.
"There's an inn just to the north," Ordain said, pointing in that direction. "We can just make it before nightfall if any of you have a mind to break from the road and sleep in a bed tonight. It is out of our way, but shouldn't add but two miles there and two miles back to our journey. The left fork is the way we will travel though for that leads due west. But it will be another two days at least before we come to an another inn. I'm of a mind to take a break. What say you all?"
"I would just as soon press on," Ranciryon said. "But I will go where you all will."
Clarissa was secretly thankful others were thinking of going to the Inn, she didn't want to appear weaker than the male companions by speaking out.
"I can agree to the Inn, it is not too far out of our way" sounding nonchalant, but smiling to herself
With Ranciryon leading the way, the party turned onto the right hand fork, heading north. They hadn't gone all that far when a branch road leading westerly, and a sign posted at the crossing, informed them that an inn, 'The Bleating Goat' was to be found just ahead the land rising slightly as the road climbed the sheltered side of a down. They found it with ease, Fred's nose leading the way. He marvelled everyone with his ability to make out scents of roasted spring lamb and fresh bread that were borne to him on the breeze, heralding their delights well in advance to him before anyone else could confirm them.
"I never knew that hobbits had so keen a smell," Ordain marvelled.
"It is very specific," Fred agreed - tied not so much to the nose as directly to my stomach. I swear it increases with hunger."
In not time, the party made their way to a large manor house, whose lower story housed and inn. A stable was joined alongside and to get through, the party had to first pass through a stockaded fence; not manned and obviously old - but still a testament that true peace only came at the price of eternal vigilance. Noting that the manor also had an attendant farm, with geese, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens, the party quickly passed the farm and noted with relief that a mild breeze shielded them from the effects of any bad smells. The signboard over the inn showed a bleating goat, a somewhat alarmed looking one at that.
Stabling the horses, the party made their way into the inn to pay for their lodging and confirm Fred's good nose. Lamb and roasted capons as well as bread, butter, mead and ale awaited them. The innkeeper bid them welcome and fresh provisions were brought out for them.
{Lodging costs 1 piece of copper for the meal and a separate bed in the common room. Drinks cost half a copper each for ale or beer; and 1 copper for the innkeeper's fine reserve of mead (not for the tame). 2 pieces of copper will buy you a separate room and bed, along with a meal and ample refreshment of either stout ale and/or beer. A quarter-copper per beast will buy you oats and hay along with a good bruising for each beast. Remember to deduct any money spent and inform me so I can change your character sheets.}
Inside the common room, the party found they were the only visitors. The innkeeper, his sons and daughters, brought them their food after they had paid. Noting some poorly made weapons over the fireplace, Ranciryon inquired about them and was told that they belonged to some orcs who had been slain over two-hundred years before, about the time of the fall of Annuminas. Bands of orcs were wandering the countryside, doing ill to the people. The innkeeper's own ancestor, who was roused by a bleating goat in their refugee camp, fought off several orcs who were bent on slaughter until others could be roused. He slew their chieftain and was awarded the lands nearby - "…so the story goes," the innkeeper explained.
The innkeeper also told the party that a number of the local lads had passed through; most of them having come through a week earlier. They had just gotten back from the war.
"Now, there's talk of civil war," the man sighed. "As if we hadn't had trouble enough. I hope it doesn't come to that." Turning to the party, he ventured to ask, "Where are you lot heading for?"
"Numeriador," Ordain replied. "What's the best way for getting there?"
"Numeriador?" the innkeeper paused, as if thinking. "You're planning on going a long ways, then. That's near to the end of the world - leagues off. There's not much there but I've never known anyone to travel as far. Gorbin could help you. He's one of the King's Rangers - though he seems to like Lord Marl Tarma better - even though he's taken Royal service. I suppose that's not surprising being that Lord Tarma is also Captain of the Rangers. Anyway, if you meet Gorbin, ask him. He's the best judge of the way. He's been near to the ends of the earth, they say - at least when he was a younger man."
After a hearty meal, the party bedded down for the night of rest and comfort.

(Mustering out pay: Those participating in the recent battle at Bar-I-Dongorath were awarded a mustering out pay of 2 pieces of gold. An additional piece of gold was also awarded to anyone to reaffirmed their oath to King Argeleb. Ordain and Ranciryon both refused to do this last. Fred couldn't have since he was unconscious when the swearing ceremony took place but he was told that Lords Eketta and Tarma refused as did most of their knights - a bad omen for things to come.)

The 26th Day of Nórui. T.A. 1640

(52 d./ light rain/ partly cloudy) Having eaten a light breakfast, the party got off a little more towards early morning. The wandered back down the side road and headed south until they were back at the crossing and could turn westward. Descending from the last westerly outpost of the Tyrn Formen downs, the party passed first a lake on their right, followed by an isolated stand of woods, mostly aspens and birch. Then, the only ones to be seen on the road, they travelled slowly westward, resting themselves and their horses every now and then. As the day progressed, the sky began to grow cloudy. It began to rain throughout the day and frequently the party had to stop and pull out their oil cloths or take shelter under a lonely tree, whose new leaves provided little shelter. Fortunately, the rain began to subside as night fell and the party made an uncomfortable cold camp on the damp ground.

The 27th Day of Nórui. T.A. 1640

(55 d./ no rain/ partly cloudy) Though the clouds remained, there was nothing of rain past a bit of a sprinkle in the morning. The air was fresh and a bit warmer - though still on the cool side. The journey was likewise uneventful for that day, but towards evening, Fred, begging a chance to relieve himself, dismounted his pony and waddled over to a lonely tree for some privacy.
Being sore from lack of riding practice, it took him some time to complete his business when he was happened upon by a huge gargantuan creature with fierce horns and a misshapen face.
Hearing his screams and cries for help, Ranciryon drew his sword and raced on horseback to cover the distance. Ordain likewise drew upon his power, ready to harness the arcane powers of the hidden world.
"Aggh! Save me, Ranciryon!" Fred yelled, while trying not so well to pull on his pants while running.
Ranciryon and Ordain took one look at the cause of Fred's consternation and immediately began laughing.
"I don't see what, what's so funny," Fred insisted, trying to catch his breath. "I mean look at that thing. It's hideous. It's obviously a minion of the Witch King!"
Clarissa, who had likewise joined her companions was the first to reveal Fred's error. "It's a moose," she told him. "It's not a minion. It's just like a large deer."
"Very large," Ranciryon noted. "If I were nearer to home, I would bring it down with my bow. There must be hundreds of pounds of meat on it. It would feed a dozen men quite well for days."
"They're harder to kill than they look," Clarissa assured him.
"Well, it would be a waste to harm it. Best let it go. But it is good to know there's game around if we should need it."
The moose, hardly noticing the party, continued to graze on nearby plants. Fred looked at it's bulbous nose, and broad rack of antlers and still felt terrified. It was not a little wonder. Even to a man, let alone a halfling, the moose's great size was a thing of wonder.
Ordain informed the party that an inn was near at hand, though they might still make a few more miles if they stopped.
"Perhaps Fred is in need of refreshment after that terrible ordeal," he chuckled.
Ranciryon gazed at the sky. "We could still make a few miles before setting up camp. Why stop now?"
"Why hurry on?" Ordain countered. "In a couple of weeks, we won't have the option of stopping a fine inn. Perhaps we should avail ourselves of Arethdan comforts while we have the chance. It would only be two or three miles. Is that worth it?"
"When only travelling fifteen miles in day, three miles is substantial," Ranciryon pointed out. "What say you two?"
Fred answered first. "Are you sure these Meese don't travel in packs? I don't know that I feel like being attacked in the woods at night by a bunch of the things. Regardless, I for one would prefer to stop at the Inn. We are not on some great quest here, with time being of the essence. Let's enjoy what comforts we can while we still can. There will be plenty of time to sleep out in the wet and cold before long."
Clarissa added, "The inn is fine with me, besides, three miles is only an hour or less of travel, it takes almost that much time to set up a camp and get settled in for the night"
"I bow to your wishes my dear," Ranciryon smiled and nodded. Leading the way, Ranciryon brought them all to another country inn situated in the middle of some moors. Only the distant smoke of farmhouses far off signaled that there were any others living nearby. Yet, a number of horses, carts and wagons could be seen assembled outside the complex - which also housed a house and a stable. The signboard above showed a toad on horseback, riding like the wind. And indeed, the name of the inn was 'The Galloping Toad.'
"Welcome," the innkeeper nodded. She was a matronly woman somewhere in her early fifties. Her thick white arms showed she was used to hard work and she had an energetic aura about her, heralded by a warm smile and rosy cheeks.
"Thank you," Ranciryon said. "We desire room and board for the night."
"Well, we don't get many travellers on the road this time of year. Mostly most folks travel after the harvest or on market days." She scanned the party to see how many there were.
(Prices the same as specified before. Deduct them from your character sheets and note any changes.). Then she brought them all into the common room. It was filled with talk and the clink of glasses; obviously a locals hangout. All conversation died to nothing as the party entered. Fred particularly was the subject of many stares but soon, bit by bit, conversation resumed and the noisy level of the room returned. Still, queer glances were thrown Fred's way.
"You're a halfling aren't you?" the innkeeper asked, while cleaning off a round oak table for the party - near to the fire so they could warm themselves.
Fred nodded.
"Well, you're welcome." She clapped her hands and a couple of stout lads, who from their resemblance might have been her sons or grandsons, arrived with plates of mushrooms, roasted trout, gamecock, potatoes, leeks, cabbage and parsnips, along with a mug each of ale and beer. The party, ravenous from their journey, fell into the meal with a gusto - Fred particularly.
After they had eaten their fill, the woman and boys returned to clean up. "Where are you folks headed?" she asked, good naturedly.
Fred answered for the group. "Mostly West, but a little North as well. Toward the Blue Mountains eventually. I am hoping to meet up with some dwarven friends of mine, unless they meet up with us first." Changing the subject, Fred asked, "You seem to have a pretty full house tonight, is it always this busy here, or did we just happen to pick a busy night to arrive?"
"Oh, well I suppose it's a bit busier than normal. A lot of the young lads who went off to war recently have been showing up each night, spending some of their bounty. It's been good for business, I must say, though I'm sad for those faces we won't be seeing again."
"Yes, a horrible business that." Fred let a brief show of his own grief and tortured memories escape before continuing. "Hopefully it will be the last such affair. I've lost too many friends and companions in the last few weeks. That is part of why I am hoping to leave this region for a time. Too many sad memories."
(Perception: Fred noticed a quick glance between the boys and their presumed 'mother.' One of them, the older one looked rather sad and the younger seemed like he was angry.)

"The Blue Mountains," the woman went on. "That's so FAR! I would have loved to travel. I always wanted to go to Fornost myself. I don't know. It's a long journey, but maybe someday…"
"Yes, Fornost is a rather nice place. Although I did not spend as much time there as I might have liked."
The woman finished piling the party's dishes onto plates.
"Well, your rooms are ready. Feel free to join the others if you wish. We'll close the bar in a couple of hours but we'll remain open for a while after that. Those lads who don't make it home we'll put up in cots down here. Good-night to you."
The boys left for the kitchen while she went and attended to the bar in the Common Room.
"Good night," Fred said.
Clarissa smiled cheerfully, approaching the woman. "I would like a private room, and oats and a good rub down for my mount, and if possible, hot water for a bath later"
{Producing the copper for the fee, (2 for the room, 1/4 for the horse, extra for the bath?)}
Turning toward the others, Clarissa said, "Let us go see if there are any good stories from other travelers"; and without waiting to see if anyone concurred, went into the center of the room to mingle with other patrons.
Fred also ventured into the Common Room, hoping perhaps to swap some war stories if it did not seem too inappropriate. Ordain and Ranciryon both entered for a while, but seeming tired, they withdrew rather quickly to their rooms.
"I hope you won't deny an old man his rest," Ordain apologized to the others. "I'll see you in the morning."
"As will I," Ranciryon said, ending with a waring "Early." He said this while eyeing Fred in particular.
"You know me." Fred replied "Up at the crack of noon." Fred scurried off behind Clarissa before Ranciryon could reply.
The hustle and bustle of the room was warm and friendly. Clarissa soon found that she had to fend off some very frank and forthright enquiries from the stoud farm lads of the region; while the local lasses cast disperaging and jealous glances because of the attention she was receiving. Fred too was the source of much inquiry. Folks it seemed, had not seen much of hobbits. Many of the now veterans of the battle loudly testified to the bravery of the halflings in defense of the King; so Fred was warmly welcomed, especially when he volunteered that he too had been at the scene.
(Perception/Very Hard - no successes)
Fred was jostled slightly from behind.
"Excuse me little friend," he heard a deep voice saying. Fred paid the man no never mind as he was in the thick of a richly endowed description of his own heroics in the battle to a deeply engrossed group of older men.
For her part, Clarissa was startled for a moment by a quick glimpse of a scarred and weathered face; but the man quickly darted out of the room becoming no more than a forgotten memory.
Engaged in good cheer, neither heeded Ranciryon's warning and stayed up well past a proper bedtime.

{Clarissa: At this point has nine days worth of 'Trail Rations.'}
{Fred (having eaten his perishible goods, now has 12 days worth of 'Trail Rations.'}

The 28th Day of Nórui. T.A. 1640

(50 d./ rain/ cloudy) "I don't see why we couldn't have stayed another day or two," Fred grumbled loudly while holding his head. "Ugh, why does this lame animal pound so loudly on his hooves?! I just wish he would stop and that the sky would stop spinning. Is that too much to ask?"
"I wish it would rain," Clarissa whined. She also was holding her head. "That way, we could return to the inn." She gazed longingly back the direction they had come. The inn was no more than a quarter mile back up the road.
All of a sudden, the sky opened up, pelting the party with a heavy cold rain.
"Well, you've found favour with Manwë," Ordain observed, turning his horse back around to lead the party back to the 'Galloping Toad.'
(You'll stay another night at the inn to wait out the storm. Deduct the appropriate fee from your money holdings.)

The 29th Day of Nórui. T.A. 1640

(41 d./ no rain/ cloudy) Though the rain had abated, the land lay under a chilly morning when the party finally departed, back onto their journey to Numeriador. The journey was uneventful and fortunately, everyone felt refreshed from their stay at the 'Galloping Toad' and kind Mavis' (the innkeeper) victuals still left a warm memory in their stomachs if not thoughts. Camping by the roadside, the horses grazed on the new shoots of spring grass peeking up from the ground while the party stopped camped for the night, each taking turns on watch; lonely for the lack of stars to observe while they huddled near a dying fire.

{Clarissa has eight days worth of 'Trail Rations.'}
{Fred has 11 days worth of 'Trail Rations.'}

The 30th Day of Nórui. T.A. 1640

(40 d./ no rain/ cloudy) Though the clouds continued to threaten rain, none came their way by the yet early morning time that gave them yet another choice on which road to take. Ahead of them, the road forked - one leg going west and the other venturing westward on a more northerly bent. A sign pointed the obvious destination for the direct eastward leg. It said, 'Bareketta.' Ordain surmised that the other leg would lead either to the upper Baranduin River (Brandywine River to the Hobbits) that fed the great Lake Nennuial or to the upper shores of the lake.
"We'll have to get around the lake or river one way or the other," he said. "I've heard that the river is barely fordable in a few places while the Lake lacks landing spots on its far shore as that shore dominated by steep beautiful white cliffs that look down upon the blue waters. Does anyone have a preference?"
"I imagine the easiest path would be westward" Clarissa mused. "The path around Nenuial is best in the south, past Annuminas. There is a well traveled road that leads directly to Uialduin river and to Caras Celairnen"
"Unless either of you are interested in going a little southward and joining up with one of the major roads, making a much more comfortable but longer journey, and of course," looking at Fred for a second, "…closer to Hobbiton and the Shire can be much more rewarding a travel for the stomach, but for time's sake, I propose west along the south shores of the lake."
"Then we shall head west and then follow the lake, passing through Bareketta," Ordain agreed.
Ranciryon too was in agreement. Turning his mount, named Fesrul, he led the part on the left-hand path. As the day progressed, the party approached a hill to the right hand side of the road. Set in the plain before this hill, they espied another inn with the cluster of a few homes around it.
Fred sniffed the air. "Hmm. Fresh baked rhubarb pie, I think."
Ordain had started to turn off the road, toward the inn when Ranciryon called him back.
"Ordain? Where are you going? There's plenty of daylight left. We could make another five miles."
"Ranciryon, there are times where we'll dream of an inn like this. I say make the best of it while we can."
Clarissa smiled once again of what may become a afternoon ritual, but she agreed with Ordain, there will be days when the party would dream of staying at an Inn.
"I agree, an Inn sounds nice, and I am a little more tired today than usual. A bed would do me good, don't worry about those extra few miles. You will have long forgot them when the trail becomes hard"
"Indeed" concurred Fred "we still have a long ways to go and plenty of time. No use running all the way when there is no real hurry."
"Very well," Ranciryon grudgingly obliged, leading the way to the inn.
(Prices will be the same as before. Deduct them from your character sheets.)
At the nondescript 'Hill Tavern', the party set themselves down in their rooms and assembled later for a walk about the countryside after they had rested. There was still a bit of time before dinner and they went about examining spring poppies, tulips and hyacinths that had been planted by the wife of the tavern keeper. The children of the couple were busy playing by an ancient venerable oak in a nearby field while cows and sheep grazed nearby.on the fresh green spring grass.
"Plenty of good forage," Ranciryon observed, stating only his observations about things that might affect their journey.
"Oh Ranciryon!" Clarissa mumbled, "Can't you stop and smell the flowers?"
Coming upon a rose bush, she used her knife to clip off one of the many buds.
"There was a bouquet of these in my room. They made it smell wonderful." The sniffed the rose and offered it to Fred and Ordain in turn.
"Mine as well," Ranciryon glowered. "I shall bring them to you. That way yours can smell twice as wonderful and I shan't be bothered by the st… lovely odor."
The party returned and changed out of their travel clothes for dinner.

Evening that day

Later, sitting down to a meal of fine spring lamb, mint sauce, baby carrots and potatoes and a potato and cheddar soup (of course followed by rhubarb and sweet potato pies), Ordain ventured to ask the serving boy how far it was to Bareketta.
"Oh, to Bareketta Manor, is it? Tis not more than twenty-five mile or thereabout. It should be a fine journey. The flowers will be bloomin along the lake shore and the days are milder by the lake to be sure. Only…"
He stopped to scan the party, giving them a quick look over. "You'll come onto some ruins where the river feeds the lake. If you should hear anything comin from there, don't pay it a moment's heed but hurry on as fast ya can. And whatever you do, don't venture inta them - especially at night."
"Why is that?" Ranciryon asked.
"Well, let me just say that there's many a traveller who took shelter from a storm there but which never was heard from again."
"Good advice and we thank you," Ordain said, handing the boy a coin.
The boy took a look at the silver shilling and beamed. Touching the coin to his forehead in thanks, he headed off to serve more tables.
"And I thought this was going to be a boring journey," Ranciryon smiled.
Ordain gave him a studied look, informing the Numenorean in a very serious tone, "We WILL be avoiding those ruins."
Ranciryon ate the rest of his meal in silence.

Loëndë (Midyear)
(46 d./ no rain/ partly cloudy)

It was a rather noisy morning so none of the party was able to sleep in. All came down to a household in the midst of a busy bustle - probably to get ready for the day ahead. A hurried breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits & jam was laid out before everyone and the serving staff disappeared promptly. The party ended up having to leave their dishes uncollected on the table.
After gathering their things, Ordain went to bid goodbye to the innkeeper but couldn't find anyone in the building. Going to the stables, Ranciryon was just able to stop the stable lad in the middle of a run.
"Our horses, lad," he reminded the boy.
"Horses? You're leaving?" He seemed genuinely surprised. "Well they're in the stable if you want them." Not waiting for a reply, the lad ran off.
"Well, that boy will get no tip from me," Ranciryon vowed, going to collect his horse.
It was then that everyone noticed the assembly of carts and horses in the stableyard. In fact, looking onto the road, more were arriving even as they stood there.
"Ranciryon!" Fred called out to the others, having lingered behind.
Ranciryon walked over to where Fred was trying to read a posted bulletin on a tree.
"I can't read it. Lift me up, will you?"
Ranciryon lifted the hobbit up to where he could see the parchment, tacked into the tree with an iron nail.
"Ah, I still can't read it," Fred sighed, unable to decipher the bold letters.
Clarissa walked up. "It's Adunaic. It's a sheet announcing a number of games to be played today."
There was a loud banging and everyone looked over to where the children had been playing the day before. The staff of the inn were busy erecting a large platform. Ribbons and banners were being planted and people arriving pitched in to help out.
"Wait a moment!" Ranciryon put the hobbit down and Fred immediately began counting on his fingers. "What day is this?"
Not waiting for an answer, he exclaimed, "Wait! It's Midyear! It's Midyear Day! There'll be feasting and games and…, and…, and gobs more Food!"
Ordain and Clarissa each exclaimed. "Ah, yes Loëndë!"
"What of it?" Ranciryon stated. "We have no time for this. We are on the road today. We just can't be stopping for every festival that comes along."
"Every festival? But Ranciryon!" Fred protested. "Midyear only comes about once a year. And with Mandos' muddling our years, who knows when we'll see another."
"First prize is a silver goblet," Clarissa interjected, hoping to tempt Ranciryon. "Whoever gets the most feathers in their cap will win the prize. And there will be additional prizes for the winners in some of the events."
Another man, dressed in stained and faded travel clothes, approached the bulletin and pushing past Clarissa without so much as an excuse me, scanned what was written and sniffed derisively.
"Silver goblet!" the man snorted. "In Bareketta, it would have been gold. In Fornost, the King's prize would have been gold - with jewels! These local country bumpkins! Silver goblet, indeed! And it's probably only silver plate at that!"
Fred looked up at the newcomer. "And where are you from friend?"
"I'm from Rood," the man said, looking down at Fred with a mixture of curiosity and distaste.
"And what sort of goblet does Rood give for it's Midyear prize?"
"We don't waste our time with such frippery," the man from Rood replied, and stalked off.
The innkeeper, who was also standing nearby laughed, commenting to a farmer alongside him, "In Rood, a man would be lucky to get pewter, if that." The two had a good chuckle.
"Excuse me," Fred interupted. "Can anyone join in on these games, or is just for locals."
"Anyone," the innkeeper assured Fred. "All of you, please feel free to celebrate with us. You'd be most welcome."
The innkeeper scanned the activity by the large oak.
"If you'll excuse me," I think I had better attend to things. It looks like those lads are putting the tables exactly backwards from what I told them." He strode off to deal with the matter.
"Well that was friendly of him," Fred stated.
"Of course, if we stay another day, we'll have to stay another night at his inn. Good business for him," came Ranciryon's prompt retort. "In Numenor, we didn't give so much credence to 'fun.' We worked hard. There was an empire to manage."
"No wonder Numenor fell," Fred muttered under his breath, "with an attitude like that."
Ranciryon glowered down on him. "What was that? What did you say?"
"What? Me? I was just saying no wonder that Numenor WAS so Fell, with an attitude like that."
"Hmm," Ranciryon glowered but let the matter rest.
"Oh, come off it, man," Ordain urged. "Let's stay awhile."
"Well, as you three are against me, I think I have no choice."
Ranciryon strode off to sit down under a tree, eating a biscuit he had saved from lunch.
Seeing they were going to stay, Fred asked Clarissa to read off the events.
List of events were in order of occurrence: spoon & egg contest, weight lifting, sack race, best sheep, pole toss, rope climb, wrestling, best preserves, fencing, best carpentry, best beer, best milk & cream, horseshoe toss, lawn bowling, sheep dog trials, best strawberries, best butter, (break for brunch), best ale, bottle knockdown, wood chopping contest, best pickles, cross country run, best horse, quarterstaff contest, horse-shoeing event, best cheese, archery contest, best painting, pie baking contest, best cooked dish, (break for lunch), best calligraphy, three-legged race, best bull, prettiest maiden, cross country horse racing, obstacle course, best wine, cap & bull contest, best ham, greased pole climbing, greased pig roundup, best musician, best poem, best dancer, best singer, (evening feast & dancing).

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