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Fourth part of the Journey of Freryn. Previous episodes can be found here:
Part I
Part II
Part III

Freryn’s mining claim proved very profitable, and he was able to replace the axe he lost with twin weapons of comparable quality, as well as purchase a large lot of rare ore. With all his crafting efforts going toward making armor for sale, he had been neglecting his own gear.  Turning again to the anvil, he worked tirelessly to shape links of the strongest steel. The finished mail coat would serve him well on the journey he was planning. For too long he had been in the grip of a complacency inspired by the relative peace of Ered Luin, but wanderlust was finally beginning to chip away at inertia.

Having made up his mind to leave the Halls, he sought audience with Lord Dwalin. Dwalin had asked nothing of him since Freryn helped with the Dourhand uprising months ago, and he assumed the Steward had all but forgotten he was there. Still, it would not do to disappear without his leave.

As he approached the dais, he grew uncharacteristically nervous. Standing at the peak of the imposing throne room, the old dwarf looked down on him with a sharp eye that belied his years. Dwalin really was an amiable fellow one on one, but there was something in his glance that made Freryn think he was displeased.  He remembered too late that the axe Dwalin bestowed on him was conspicuously missing.  He should have chosen to forgo all weapons rather than make its absence noticeable by wearing two imposters!

Bowing, he made mental modifications to the speech he had planned. Before he could get far, Dwalin cut him off, “I was wondering when you would shake the moss from your boots and be off, Freryn, son of Dáin. You have done little here but get rich off my land, and lose my gift to you.” Freryn tried hard not to look away from the accusatory stare, while Dwalin added scathingly,  “I would have expected more from the son of a king. Even a second son should have at least a spark of the original fire!”

Freryn had not expected the Steward to be angry enough to drag his status into the light.  For better or worse, being the younger son of the current King under the Mountain mattered little to him.  He had not begun life as a prince, and he was unlikely to end it as a king.

Fortunately, Dwalin left him no chance to sputter an excuse, “Nevermind that. I understand things happen. Even Thorin lost Orcrist, though that was the least of his worries at the time.  Yet if he couldn’t hang onto that worthy weapon, why should I expect you to do any better with my meager axe?” Freryn could no longer meet his eyes, and stared down at the intersection of polished stones between them, trying to think how to respond without further aggravating the situation. When he looked up again, Dwalin stood in front of him, a slight smile dulling the sharpness of his words. Freryn was relieved, but kept his features contrite, while Dwalin continued, “This time I will give you something you cannot lose so readily: A task.”

The task was not too difficult, or at least did not appear so. He was to speak with a Ranger named Langlas, at an inn east of Gondamon.  After discharging that duty he would be free to continue on his way.

Never did he stay long enough in one place to allow the roots to crack the rock, as they said in his homeland.  This had the unfortunate effect of making him appear like an aimless wanderer.  A wanderer he might be, but hardly aimless.  Or not entirely aimless…he had plenty of worthy exploits, and just because none of them were planned did not mean they were frivolous activities.  He could not understand why so many dwarves felt life was not worth living if you could not foretell exactly what you were going to do one day to the next.  Why bother to wake up if it was all the same?

The night before he was to set out, he dreamed of the grey lands of his youth, the beauty of which was mostly hidden beneath the rock. Almost a lifetime of men had passed since he had walked those hills, and he felt an unexpected longing for them creeping back. Before long, the dream shifted focus, and a reeking smoke choked the air. The sun, which had seemed normal enough, suddenly became a ball of burning pitch. Under this sickly sky walked a nameless beast, such as he had only heard tales of. The creature loomed above him, and he found himself able to do naught but stare at it.

As it raised its club to strike him down, a woman appeared in front of him, chanting words he could not understand. The beast paused, spell-bound. With a silent look, she urged him to flee. Little encouragement was needed, but a pang of guilt followed him to the waking world.  He shook the images from his head, wondering if it was just the usual night fancy, or some sort of premonition.  Putting the dream out of mind, he gathered up the supplies he would need, and slung the heavy pack over his shoulder.  His lucky dried goblin hand dangled from its side.

He was unhappy to find the stable master had hired out all of the ponies, and had only a pack-goat left. The hairy thing looked ill-tempered, but the master assured him otherwise, “She’s a good beast for the price!  She’ll get you all the way to the Shire.”

She turned out to be a docile enough animal, and soon they were passing the gates, heading into the Lowlands.  The goat moved swift as any pony he had ridden, and they made it to Gondamon well before nightfall.

He stopped briefly at the fort to confirm the location of the inn, which was still a ways to the south-east.  The sun was low in the sky by the time he reached it. Happily, the Ranger was there, and appeared to be expecting him.

Freryn passed along Dwalin’s message, and Langlas considered it carefully, “Dwalin suspects the Dourhands and the goblins are building an alliance? This will not stand. Aye, I will help. The peace of this land is more rare and fragile than its people realize. I would not see it broken.”  Freryn thanked him warmly, pleased with how easy that had gone.  The man turned to his friend and whispered something, and the fellow disappeared into the inn.  Langlas spoke again, “But I have a boon of my own to ask of you, in return for my helping your lord.” Freryn stifled his disappointment.  He had been half expecting this. Rarely was a favor granted free of charge. The other man reappeared with a sealed parchment, and handed it to Freryn.  Langlas explained, “I have a message for one of my kin. If I cannot go, then I must entrust it to a worthy champion.”

Well that was flattering and all, but rather inconvenient, Freryn thought.  Yet he accepted the parchment, as Dwalin probably knew he would (he suspected the old fiend likely set the whole thing up).

“He may be found in Bree,” Langlas continued, “if he allows himself to be found at all. Go to the inn-keeper at the Prancing Pony, and speak the name Strider.”

After staying the night at the cottage, Freryn set out early the next morning on the long road to Bree. At least this errand would lead him in the direction he had been planning to go.

The weather turned foul as soon as he crossed the bridge over the Lune River. By the time he arrived at the stable near the Needlehole, he and his goat were completely saturated. Fortunately, the oiled leather and waxed canvas of his pack kept dry his supplies, and the Ranger’s parchment.

Having come to the end of the foothills, he was surprisingly reluctant to part with his mount, though he knew she was unsuited for the muddy terrain he would soon be crossing. Inquiring about the availability of ponies revealed there were none the stable master could loan for longer than a day. Worse yet, the hobbit laughed outright at the suggestion he buy the goat, remarking “What could I possibly use it for, besides a rug?”

Freryn did not want to be stuck with her, but neither did he want to release her to wander into a mire somewhere. She was a good creature, and deserved better. Fortunately, the market at Needlehole was also a dwarven outpost. Some dwarves overheard the discussion, and one offered to buy the goat (for far less than she was worth, but Freryn supposed peace of mind must have some value).

He had a drink with the lucky new owner, and listened to the news of the Shire-lands. “Something has been stirring up trouble near the Brandywine river, but so far no one’s been killed. The Bounders have doubled their watch.” The other dwarf snickered at this, “You mean they’re using both eyes now?” Freryn laughed, thanking them for the news.

The land turned boggy almost as soon as he left the marketplace. With the relentless rain, the water-level had risen over the wooden planks that served as roads.

Every few yards he found himself trudging through a foot of water, while clouds of biting gnats celebrated the arrival of their dinner.

The journey through the Shire was uneventful, punctuated only by claps of thunder that rolled over the gentle hills.  He saw few hobbits, save the Bounders, who did have both eyes open, but did little aside from glance suspiciously at his weapons, and frown at the partially re-hydrated goblin hand on his pack.

The promisingly named village of Stock turned out to be just as poorly stocked of ponies as all the other stables.  The master hardly heard Freryn’s offer for the only beast in sight before he replied, “Sorry my dear fellow, but I cannot sell you the mare.  She’s the last we’ve got here, ya see.  All the ponies ran off when those darksome riders came through t’other week.  All but this brave girl here.  No fright in the night could run her off her favorite pasture!”

Freryn saw no dark riders on the road from Stock to Bree, though he heard a few travelers whisper of them as he passed.

After several days journey, he neared the walls of Bree-town. He wanted nothing more than to find the inn, give Langlas’ parchment to Slider (or Striker, or whatever his name was) and then spend all the coins he saved not hiring a mount on a celebratory round of drinks!

The inn-keeper was a busy man, but he gave generously of his time to any well-armed dwarves that appeared at his bar.  Calling loudly above the raucous noise of the smokey tavern, Freryn shouted that he was looking for a man named Strider.  Despite the clamor of the hall, the barman dropped his voice low, “Carefully now sir.  Say that too loud and you may find what you seek!”

“Why there’s an idea!” Freryn said sarcastically.  He was tired and had no patience for the secretive chatter that men were so fond of.  “Strider!” he bellowed as loudly as possible, “does anyone know of a man called Strider?” The patrons looked up from their drinks, scanning for the speaker, then lowered their gazes a couple of feet upon realizing it was a dwarf talking.  The resultant hush was nearly as impressive as his outburst.  And just as unproductive.  Whoever this Strider was, no one wanted to talk about him.

The inn-keeper had sunk low behind the bar, so that he was nearly eye level with Freryn.  Exasperated, he demanded a room, food, and a jug of wine.  The bar-keep, who kept darting nervous glances this way and that, was more than happy to get him out of the main hall and into a drunken stupor as swiftly as possible.

The promise of sleep in a comfortable bed, after days on the road, proved more intoxicating than wine, and he barely managed to unbuckle his weapons before falling like an avalanche onto the pallet.

Dreams did not trouble him that night.  Which was fortunate, since there were to be more tangible things demanding his attention before dawn.

Part V

Out of Character Ramblings: Freryn the Undying

Despite my negative predictions, Freryn made it to level 20 without defeat, earning “The Undying” title. He’s my first character to achieve that honor, and apparently also the first to get to level 17, or even level 14, without kicking the bucket (I did not even know there were titles at those levels). Most of my characters never made it to level 10, and those who did celebrated by dying immediately afterward. But once I decided to make it happen on this character (and stopped letting him get nibbled to death by shrews) it was easy.

Of course, Freryn became very cocky around level 19 and nearly trashed my goal twice, once to a tree in the Old Forest (the fear of embarrassment saved him at the last second) and later, with only a fraction more XP to go, he pulled 6 orcs at once and was down to 100 health before they were dead. Slightly shell-shocked, he crept to the nearest quest-giver, turned in an outstanding assignment, and was rewarded with a title and some new abilities [yay for bow-use and heavy armor. Boo for not being able to use shields with a champion anymore! WTH?!] Unfortunately, he is now coy about dying. A realist, he knows defeat will come someday, but when, and to what, are suddenly very important factors.

Speaking of the undying, check out the ultimate zombie dwarf: Skorgrim Dourhand.  This BAMF tried to steal the secret of immortality from the elves hundreds of years before Freryn was born, but was killed for it (sorta) because elves don’t like to share their toys.  Did that stop him?  Heck no!  He’s back and in an unholy alliance with some of Sauron’s petty followers.  For some reason, my character is trying to thwart his plans, but really I’m thinking “Go Skorgrim, go Skorgrim!”

Part V