Part 110 – Tidings of Bree
The atmosphere in the dining hall was noisy; thick with smoke of the patron’s pipes. The smoke lingered at the ceiling of the dining hall as it wafted up from their pipes while the patrons gingerly talked and laughed through the evening. The server, a woman who carried four or five of mugs of beer in each hand, hurried through the dining hall, dancing her way around patrons and table and chairs without spilling a drop of ale, as if she had been doing it for ages. She recognized patrons all as they came in and were welcomed into the tavern of the Combe and Waddle Inn. The patrons of the inn were of all aged man and some women all laughing and all having a good time. A hobbit also there was and also a couple of chickens were clucking and eating off of any small little nuggets they could get their beaks to peck onto.
In the rear room a fire roared in the fireplace, the smoke stack which seemed as if it had been there for ages, disappeared into the low hanging dark wooden ceiling, the ceiling looked aged and almost rotted with the damage of smoke and water that stained the wood to a darker color. The walls, of which were much the same as the outside concrete plaster, was stained with mold dripping down from the wooden planks that surrounded the walls. Mold of which the patrons nor the owner cared much about. Parts of the plaster on the walls had worn off and broken, revealing the wooden bones innards of the walls.
The floor of the inn was strong polished stone, different sizes of squares and all placed in different directions. The placement of the stones were so close and so exact that no concrete or grout was needed between the spaces of the placement of the stones. Hay was scattered on the inside of the dining room, scattered in the main floor and some pushed up on the wooden load bearing pillars of the main dining room and also pushed up against the walls and chairs and the legs of the dining tables from hours of business.
On the side of the main dining room sat Theomin, Sergee, Teryndir, Estonethiel and Eotheron. They were waiting for the arrival of Millie Cartwright, the woman who invited them there in the as a gesture of thanks for saving her in the ruins. Upon arrival to Combe, Theomin had asked a guard for Millie and explained the whole experience in the ruins of the Lone Lands. With excitement, the guard went to track down Millie while the group entered the pub. Only Magla and Eleswith stayed outside away from the cheer of the meeting.
The five sat quietly as the rest of the patrons of the inn continued to laugh and have good cheer. None at the table felt that cheer and all kept a long face as they all felt a tug at their hearts. All wanted Helesdir to be there. He was sorely missed as Theomin began to talk.
“I suppose we will stay one night here. On the morning, we can travel to Annuminus.”
“What way would we take from here?” Sergee asked and then looked at Theomin. “I know for you; Bree is out of the question so we need to find another path.”
“We could travel around the south side of Bree,” Teryndir said. “Those paths, being unchecked by Bree guards, should be safe.”
“Or,” Sergee said, “we could continue around east and up through the Weather Hills.”
“That would make us back track if we go around,” Theomin said. “I feel avoiding the Lone Lands would be wise for all of us. Especially for Eleswith who had lost so much there.”
“Traveling all the way down south of Bree would be just as wide,” Sergee said. “I’m not sure you realize how large Bree is.”
“But the path south of Bree wouldn’t take us back to the Lone Lands,” Teryndir said. “I agree with Theomin that the road east toward the Lone Lands would be too difficult for Eleswith to face again.” Teryndir looked at Sergee, “I vote we head south around Bree.”
They all looked at each other and had not on any path when Millie Cartwright entered the room. Her face lit up with joy upon seeing the five who saved her from the orcs. “There you are,” she said with joy, “the ones who saved me from the orcs in those terrible ruins.” She came to Theomin and offered a great strong hug to him. She then gave Eotheron, Teryndir, Estonethiel and Sergee a hug of appreciation. “Where are the others? There were a few others who traveled with you, were there not?”
The group looked at each other as Theomin spoke up, “Eleswith and Magla are outside. One we lost on our journey in Weathertop.”
“No!” she whispered in surprise. “I am so sorry,” she said as she placed a hand over her mouth. “Where you close?”
“We were close,” Sergee said. “He was my captain for a good stretch of time. Magla was his mate from childhood. And Eleswith…” he paused as it was becoming too difficult for him to continue.
“Eleswith and Helesdir were very close,” Theomin said.
“How did it happen?” Millie asked. For the next hour Theomin explained everything that happened, carefully avoiding what they went into the caves of Weathertop for. He explained the creatures in the caves, the pools of pitch, and the measures they took to not allow the creatures to escape from the cave.
The outside of the pub was quiet, with only a few people who walked the street of Combe. It was dark, but not too dark. The lamps of Combe illuminated the street and the courtyard of the inn. Crickets sung their tunes and a slight breeze filled the underside of the tavern porch. A muffled sound of the drunk men and women inside the Combe and Waddle Inn was heard as Magla and Eleswith sat quietly on the porch of the inn. They each had a mug of ale of which was barely drunk.
“How is your ale?” Magla asked Eleswith.
It took a while for her to answer as if she was barely registering that there was a question asked, “It’s okay I guess. A little bitter.”
It took a while for Magla to say anything in return but came back with, “Yes, it’s quite bitter.”
They both sat there quietly again. The crickets continued their songs, the people continued to walk along the cobble stone street and the slight breeze still rustled the leaves of the nearby tree. Still they sat with their mug of ale in one hand and a long empty face.
“This is quite the place, this Combe,” Magla said. “A quaint village.” All Eleswith did was nod but quietly. Her look was a thousand miles away as if in a trance. “Quaint,” Magla said. “Yes, quaint,” Magla tried to continue but could not find words.
It was then that a small band of three men, rough looking with dirty clothes and scars about their face walked up to the porch of the inn. As they approached the door, they eyed Magla and Eleswith with scowls and looks of dominance. Magla just stared at them, not intimidated by their looks but almost staring them down.
“Go back to your ale, stranger,” one of the men said as he and his companions entered. Magla just stared them down until they entered the inn.
Just after entering, the roar of the men and women inside the inn died down. Just after, it sounded like one of the men yelled out, “Go back to your business. We’re just here for drinks.” The sounds of the inside started up again, but not to the same loudness as it was before.
“What was the name of that waitress at the Forsaken Inn,” Eleswith asked, ignoring the strange men who walked into the inn. “The one sweeping all the time.”
Magla looked at Elewith with surprise for some reason. He looked away and said, “I know not who you are talking about.”
“You know,” she said, “the one with who’s hair is in a bun, dark dress with an old white apron. What was her name?” she banged her fist on the table as she tried hard to remember.
“I don’t recall if we ever heard her name,” Magla said. “I sure can’t remember.”
“I can’t either,” Eleswith said. She shook her head and fought back tears but gave a grin, “Those were the days. You, me, Sergee, Helesdir, Englad all fighting in the Lone Lands. We’d stop by the inn if it was too late in the day. We’d enjoy an ale or two and joke at the expense of Englad.” Her grin fell to a long face again, “Those were the days.” She paused for a long while before starting up again, “Remember we’d always talk about repairing that broken roof top of the inn. We’d get enough money if we found some in the ruins or off of dead orcs or goblins and talk about using that money to repair that roof. It was always a bother when it rained. It would make it cold and damp when we walked in. The people would scatter when it started to rain, as if there was a mighty boulder dropped in the middle of the floor. That always made me laugh. But the cold…it wouldn’t matter if it was too cold. We’d just drink our bodies warm and then head back to our hideout when we were done. We would never make enough money though because we’d spend all our money on drinks and food. Those were good drinks. Not bitter but a sort of sweet taste. It would be just enough to remove all the aches of the long day fighting orcs but never got us to the point of drunkenness. At least not me.” She gave a grin again and drank some of her bitter ale, “Those were the days.” She then looked at Magla, “Oh, and the waitress liked you.” Magla looked over with astonishment.
“A harrowing experience if I ever heard one,” Millie said at last after hearing of the adventure they had gone through. “A terrible tale indeed. Though horrible, the fact that I hear anything outside Combe is amazing.”
“So, where are the others?” Theomin asked. “The men who helped you. Was one not named Morgan?”
“Yes,” answered Millie as the noise in the tavern seemed to grow a little louder. “They are off hunting this night. A good night for a hunt, but that’s up near Archet. They stay in that hunting lodge up there drinking the night away. That is IF they have a good…”
They were distracted by a problem at the bar area not too far from where they were sitting. A Halfling and the three men who had just entered the room were talking loudly and pushing around the hobbit. “No, you halfling coward,” one said as he pushed the little hobbit off the stool. He fell back with his back against the wall. “You do want to fight us, right here, right now.”
“There’s no need to…” the bartender tried to interrupt.
“Stay out of it wench. You remember last time,” the supposed leader yelled to the bar tender. He held up his fist as she took a step back and rubbed her cheek in fear. “This is a conversation between us and this little rat.”
“I want no more blood spilled in my tavern,” the bartender said back at the leader but with trepidation.
The leader moved his ear closer to the bar tender, who had suddenly become intimidated by the man, “Wanna run that by me again? You want to dare run that by me again?”
With shakiness in her voice, she repeated herself, “I want no more blood spilled in my tavern,” she said with a much lower shaky voice.
The man walked calmly over to the other side of the bar and readied his arm. He swung his back hand into the bar tender’s face as she fell back against the wall. “You know better than to talk to us like that,” the leader sad. He was ready to stomp on her but a hand stopped his leg from touching her. He was flipped onto the ground and then looked up. Above him was Eotheron staring down at him with disgust. “You have some nerve doing that to me,” the leader said. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say you wanted to die.” The leader whistled for his two companions to come over to Eotheron. They drew knives and readied themselves to attack Eotheron.
With lightning speed, Estonethiel shot an arrow at the knife of one of the ruffians which hit the blade out of his hand, flipped in the air and planted itself into the bar table. Sergee drew his sword and pointed it at another ruffian whom dropped his knife and Teryndir rushed around and held a dagger at the other one’s throat. The leader on the floor drew a knife out of his boot and recoiled his arm to throw it at Eotheron but Theomin raised his staff; the act of which burned up the knife and made the ruffian drop it.
“You will not hurt him and you will not hurt us,” Theomin said to the ruffians. “You will return to your homes and never come to this tavern again.”
“And who will stop us?” asked the leader with angered skepticism.
“Stay your doubt,” Theomin said. “If you set foot in this tavern or inside Combe, we will receive notice and you will be hunted down to the last man. You see what we can do. You know that just one of us can out match you. But it will not only be us. The whole host of rangers will come hunting for you for that is who we are. We are of the rangers of the north.”
“The rangers are only a myth,” the leader said. “They faded into legend long ago.”
“A myth we are not,” Sergee said, “We are all too real.”
“And we are here to watch over these lands and its people,” Teryndir said, “So leave with whatever dignity you have left.”
The men looked at each other and then at their leader. A long while it took as their leader contemplated the options he had, which were very few. His hands raised and his demeanor brightened, “Fine, no need to go crazy on us, we were only having a few laughs, my friends and I.” Theomin withdrew and allowed the leader to stand. “We will take our leave of this place. It has an ill feel to it anyway.” He looked at the crowd there who were all looking at him, “Go back to your business. I leave you now in peace.” As he passed Theomin, he murmured a few words, “Ivan, remember that name,” he said before he signaled his companions to come with him.
As they exited the patrons of the tavern all erupted in applause and pats on the backs of all of Theomin’s group. “Well done,” was said and “Thanks you, you’ve done it!” was also said. All the group could do was try and graciously accept all the “thank you’s” that were given out. But none felt the need for celebration or joy.
“Thank you,” Millie said to Theomin, “You know not how long they have harassed us.”
“Who were they?” Theomin asked.
“A member of a gang,” she said as she shook her head in anger, “The Blackwolds were a gang of brigands connected to some dark witchcraft. It was not until a few men, with the help of rangers, came and shook them up. These few that are here, we think, were part of the Blackwolds, but it could not be proven. It was not until they were dealt with that these thugs came to this town and harassed us.”
“What do they want?” Sergee asked.
“Nothing,” Millie said, “Only to make our lives more horrible. I think it feeds their egos to feel dominant over us.”
“Do you know where they come from?” Theomin asked.
“They used to come from the Chetwood inside of some ruins, at least that was the rumor,” she said as she drank up her ale. The bar tender brought Millie and he rest a full round of ale just after.
“This is on the house,” the bar tender said as she place a full mug of ale before each member of the group. “Thank you.”
“But I’ve seen them coming by way of Bree,” Millie continued. “Strange things are happening there. I see orcs crossing the boarders and terrible groups of men wandering from the wilds into Bree. What their right purpose they have there is anyone’s guess but my feeling is that they are not there for the best intention of Bree and its people.”
“How can you guess that?” Teryndir asked.
She looked around to see if anyone was paying attention. She then continued quietly, “I have seen, at night, gibbets strung outside in the ruins just outside the east gate. I have also seen one poor soul strung up outside of the main gate, hanged by his neck. Who he is I know not, but he was dressed not unlike your friend here,” she said as she pointed to Sergee.
The rest took a moment to process what she said. Their breaths were stolen and their nerves pushed through their blood. “You are sure of this?” Sergee insisted, “You saw the cloth he bore?”
“I am quite certain,” Millie said. “But that was a day ago, when my friends returned me from the Lone Lands. Dark it was and we came by the southern road toward the east gate of Bree. Though we had not come but a few hundred yards from the gate, we saw them, hanging there as you would a damp cloth.”
“And what of Bree?” asked Theomin. “What of the state of that town?”
“We care not to step foot into that town,” Millie said. “It is said, by the people who live in Bree, that it has become a place of fear. Many have been removed, dwarves, elves and even Hobbits have been threatened. They have stopped trading with other places. Trestlebridge is hurting, I hear. Many in Bree have become desperate and some have left. Rumors have spread that a something has happened in the north. I know not what, but tidings from the north have been sparse when there used to be much talk of the old city in the north retaken by the rangers.” Theomin gave a small smile. He knew that she was talking about what he had participated in. “But talk of what tidings are in the north have stopped.”
“Why do you suppose that is?” Teryndir asked.
“I don’t know,” Millie answered. “But that mayor has been acting strange lately. I doubt he lets any news of the north slip through Bree. He is obsessed with anyone who looks foreign who have arms. In terms of stranger’s arms, he’s tragically suspicious.”
“You don’t say,” Teryndir said.
“Well, we cannot risk entering Bree,” Theomin said. “My last visit there was,” he trailed off as the memories of the beatings haunted him, “My last visit to Bree went very poorly.”
“I saw what you did to these last ruffians,” Millie said with an animated happiness they had not seen on her since they first met her, “and you did that with very little effort. Imagine what you could do in Bree. Hope has been something we have lost long ago. You and your friends,” she looked at each one of Theomin’s company, “you have brought that hope back to me.” She looked at the people in the tavern, “back to us.”
“I am sorry,” Theomin said, we will not do it.”
Millie’s joy faded into the same somber depression she had before. She rose up and looked down at Theomin, “Then let me take you and show you something.”
They rose up and left the tavern. Seeing that the group was leaving, Magla and Eleswith came with the rest of the group lead by Millie. It was night, and though it was very dark, the streets were lit here and there with lanterns. They traveled up the dirt pathway away from Combe past a large manor and up the small road over the short hill. They passed small fences and soon came to a large palacaid that stretched from the local hills near Bree past the road and on toward the hills in the east. Soon, as the path ran down the hill, on the right rose up the gate of Bree. Two guards were stationed on either side of the gate. But there was something on either side of the gate, hanging like sack cloth on a door way. It was difficult to make out until he got closer and then all his thinking began to change about aiding Millie and Bree. There, hanging on the outer door of the gate of Bree was Harion, his good friend and the one he left in charge of the city of Annuminus. It was then that all he thought he knew of Annuminus was suddenly changed and it had been overrun. The site left the company in tears as Eleswith placed a hand over her mouth as tears began forming. Teryndir looked down with sorrow, Sergee’s face began to rage. Theomin fell to the ground. All of his efforts to keep Annuminus stable and strong had faded into nothing. All of the men who kept Annuminus alive had died.
Theomin looked back at the gate of Bree and with vengeful rage in his eyes he said, “What shall we do?”