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

The noisy pop and sizzle of sap in the fireplace prodded Freryn out of his dreamless sleep. Opening one eye, he focused on a painting by the bed of an unusual hill surrounded by greyish-green lands.  It was likely the Weather-Hills to the East. He would need to cross that country soon if he was to return to his home lands. But first he needed to resolve the duty of the Ranger’s parchment. It was unfortunate the barkeep could not speak more plainly last night when he had inquired after Strider. Instead the man acted as if he had summoned a wraith to the tavern.

He had been so single-minded about sleep the night before he hadn’t even touched the wineskin. “First things first”, he thought happily, hauling his mail-encased self up from the downy mattress.  He swung his legs over the side—and the jolt of his heavy boots hitting the floorboards was nothing compared to the shock of seeing a man standing near the fireplace.  He fought off the stupefying grip of surprise, searching instinctively for his weapons—which had been dumped haphazardly near the door last night. He knew this tall rascal would intercept him before he could reach them. But the man remained still, and silent.

Anger flooded through him, as much at himself for being so oblivious to danger, as at the intrusion.  Yet the man had not drawn weapons, and his face held no threat. All the same, Freryn demanded he reveal his name and business, or else prepare for the consequences.

The man smiled at this, and Freryn could tell he was laughing inwardly. Then it struck him as to why; looking him over, it became apparent the stranger was attired in the same earth-toned leather, worn down to a suede-like softness, that the Ranger in Ered Luin had been wearing.  He knew little about the Rangers, except that they were guardians of the Shire (which was ironic since the Shire-folk knew even less about them) but it was claimed they were a stealthy folk, a quality which his own people had little use for.  It had certainly worked in this instance.

Presuming this was Strider, he was well-named. The fact he was taller than most of the Bree-folk should have been an immediate clue.  Freryn made a conscious decision to set aside his ill-humor at having been ambushed so perfectly—at least he had been given a chance at a good night’s sleep—and instead congratulated Strider on his tactics.  “Well done, friend. Though if I’d had my axe closer to hand I might have shaved a bit more than necessary off your beardless chin, before I knew just who you were.”

The man’s smile broadened, and he chuckled, “It is wisdom to let sleeping dwarves lie.”  His voice was almost harsh, and accented in a way Freryn had not heard before.  “But after you crowed my name so boldly in the tavern, I thought it best to remain on guard.”

Freryn’s brows furrowed at that. “What would I need to be guarded from?”

“Let’s hope you do not find out,” Strider replied in all seriousness.

Freryn grunted, annoyed, but also resigned to accept the obsession with obfuscation that Men were so prone to. It was probably something to do with those Black Riders everyone was whispering about these days.  It sounded like tales to scare the lads, but he knew there was often truth to such superstitions.  He had fought wraiths before, but they did not typically come into the towns of the living. If they showed themselves, he would deal with them then. Now it was time to pass off the burden of Langlas’ parchment to Strider, and then seek a way out of Bree.

“Your kinsman, Langlas, tasked me to deliver a message. He could not go himself.” Fetching his pack, Freryn located the parchment, unwrapping the protective oilskins.

“Is he well?” Strider asked, with a hint of concern.

“When I left him he was. He had just accepted a request for aid from my Lord Dwalin. I am indebted to him for his help of my kin.” He did not add that he fervently hoped this would be the end of that debt.

Freryn busied himself collecting his gear while the Ranger unsealed the document. He really did not care what business the Rangers had between themselves, and was planning to head out as soon as seemed polite (and maybe slightly before). Having tucked his weapons into their rings, he shouldered his pack, and grabbed the full wineskin. Leaning against a beam, he drank a good third of it while waiting for an appropriate moment to take his leave. It was then he saw the same calculating look cross Strider’s face which had preceded Langlas’ plea for help the previous week.

“I am expecting someone in Bree,” Strider began, “and they will need my guardianship far more than one of Durin’s tough folk ever would. I cannot leave, but I must alert my brethren in the North of a threat to their borders, as the message you carried indicates.”  A shadow of worry flit across his features.  “It must have torn at Langlas’ heart to have left this task to another, as it tears at mine, but he chose well, and for that I am indebted to you, Freryn. But my debt cannot be repaid at this time. Rather I would add to my kin’s tally…”

Freryn’s own heart was sinking as the Ranger made plain his need.  “I put no burden on you that you will not carry, but I must ask if you would take a message to the Ranger Calenglad. He dwells with a group of my people near Lake Evendim.”

Freryn frowned. He wanted to go East, and this errand would take him to the northwest, almost back to the Blue Mountains. But what was he to do? While he had not asked for this man’s concern, the Ranger had been considerate enough to make sure Black Riders, or whatever phantasms he feared, didn’t get him in the night. But did he really owe him a long journey just for that?

Unfortunately, he could not, in honesty, say he had other pressing matters. The fact of it was, he had no plans to do much of anything besides make his way back to the Mountains in the East. And as long as he could beg, borrow, or steal a pony from somewhere, this new errand should not take that long.  In addition, from what he had heard of it, the lands of the Rangers were not without their charms.  Having scaled one of the peaks of the Blue Mountains, he had once seen the turquoise surface of Evendim glinting in the distance, but he had never been close to the Lake. Its beauty was said to be unrivaled, at least by any lake above the ground. Cheered slightly by the thought of the experience, he accepted the Ranger’s challenge blithely.

He left Strider to prepare his message, and made his way into the common room to get enough provisions for the morning, and beyond.  The innkeeper, Mr. Butterbur, was quick to serve, but he noticed that, in general, the hospitality of the Bree-folk was lacking. It had been well over a year since he last came through the town, but in that time quite a few of the inhabitants had become sullen and suspicious, like the lot who stopped squabbling to glower at him from across the room.  He did his best to glower back, and they swiftly returned to their arguing.

He walked the short distance to the stable near the gate, feeling sure his poor luck at securing a ride throughout the Shire would be no issue in a bustling town like Bree.  But his hopes were dashed upon seeing naught but a large, pale stallion stamping impatiently, as the groom brushed it down.

The stable master confirmed his fear, “I’m sorry, Sir, but the only stock I’ve got is what ya see here.”

Freryn was incredulous, “A horse? Better to ride a warg.  At least then there would be no pretending it was not trying to kill me!”

The master advised he try Hengstacer Farm, about a half day journey to the North, “But he doesn’t loan, only sells his stock,” he warned, as Freryn tramped off down the cobblestone road.

Starting off at a jog, he soon slowed to a brisk walk along the Greenway.  The route through the Northern Bree-fields was pleasant enough in the mild Spring sun.  He saw tracks of bear and boar crossing his path where the forest jutted out to meet a small stream running parallel to the road, but he wasn’t worried.  If he met any unruly beasts, his bow would resolve the matter quickly.

The sun was low in the sky when he arrived at the farm.  To his joy the place had ponies in sight.  The stable-hands were busying about, watering the animals and securing the place for the night.  He met the stock-keeper and commenced the bargaining process almost immediately.  The man set a high price, and while his animals were fine looking beasts, Freryn would have expected the creature’s hooves to be shod in gold for the amount he demanded.

Unfortunately he was in no position to seriously haggle, as this was the last merchant between here and the Brandywine.  Freryn had brought enough gold with him to get him far along his originally intended route, but too many poor deals like this would set him back to smithing for his supper.  Still, there was nothing to be done about it.  He was going to lose either money or time on this side-trip, and at this point, he was more willing to sacrifice a few gold coins.

The sun was melting into the hills by the time he had mounted his new acquisition.  He put the mare to task immediately, pushing her into a gallop as they flew back down the Greenway.  They arrived in Bree-town at the edge of dusk, just missing the gate keeper’s refusal to allow entry after the fall of true night.

He made for the Inn immediately.  The innkeeper waved him over behind the bar as soon as he entered.  “Thank heavens, there you are!” Mr. Butterbur called, appearing more flustered, if less busy, than earlier.  “Now I don’t know what business a forthright-looking dwarf like yourself has got with the likes of Strider, and I don’t need to know, but he left a message for you before he disappeared.  Told me I’d best not forget, or there might be trouble.  Wasn’t too clear on if that meant for you, for me, or for him, but for the record, I’m handing it over to you now, and good riddance to it all, I say!”

Taking the sealed letter from Butterbur, Freryn mused at how Men could leave such tasks in the hands of strangers and innkeepers.  Dwarves would never entrust important business to anyone but dwarves, with very few exceptions.  He paid the innkeeper for his stay, and added something extra for his troubles.  Butterbur suddenly seemed quite sorry to see him go.

“You’re certain you don’t want to spend another night, and leave bright and early in the morn?  No?  Well then, no use trying to keep a dwarf from his duty, whatever it might be.  A right pleasure it was serving you, Master Freryn, and I do hope you will return here when next you pass by Bree.”

After assuring him he would not think of staying anywhere else (and forgetting to mention that, so far as he knew, there was nowhere else to stay in town, aside from a stable, or hay loft) he took leave of Butterbur and the Inn.  Standing in the threshold of the doorway, the man called to him, “Before you go, take a gander at the festival.  They’ve had quite a few committees fretting about it for the past month or two.  You’ll not be likely to miss it if you head out through the North Gate.”

Of that he was right.  Sparks from fireworks were raining down perilously near the thatch-roofed dwellings on the north side of town, but the hobbits who lived out that way were carousing too merrily upon the peak of a small hill to be concerned.  Freryn stopped long enough to have a drink or two with the few dwarves in attendance, then mounted his golden steed, and began the long ride to Lake Evendim.

Out of Character Ramblings

I apologize for this rather uneventful chapter of Freryn’s journey.  I blame it all on the surprisingly underwhelming NPC Strider.  He is about as engaging in-game as a wooden board, with none of the vaguely sinister appeal of the book or movie versions.  Like most of the epic characters, he doesn’t move, or blink, or do anything but turn and stare blankly over your head while you shout up at him.

As for the plot, well, I feel like much of what you do in this game can be termed Ranger Relays, bopping around from one Ranger camp to another, delivering messages like some form of Middle-Earth FedEx.  I’m sure it’s all for the good of Middle-Earth, but not everyone wants to be an Honorary Postman (sorry, Anniversary Festival in-joke).

As far as Freryn’s in-game exploits go, he reached level 35 (due to all the XP boosts during the festival) and suffered defeat for the first time somewhere around level 32 (during a skirmish of all things! Forgot my skirmish soldier had not been upgraded from level 20.  Oops).

Despite the legendary endurance of dwarves, he nearly passed out trying to complete all the chores the Northcotton Farmers demanded of him (I felt like I spent about 10 hours doing Northcotton Market quests).  Those hobbits are terrifying taskmasters!

Freryn tries to sneak off for a puff of pipeweed, but the farmers catch wind of it immediately. “Not on my time ya slacker! Catch those chickens and slop those pigs. Now!”

Back to work…

Could this get any more embarrassing?