A Yuletide and New Year’s Wish for Lotro

Happy Yule and soon to be New Year to all!

As this year comes to a close, and we look forward to what the new year will bring, I wanted to take a small break from the festivities and reflect on this past year. It certainly has been a remarkable one!

This past year saw a significant departure from our path in years prior, with class changes and a switch from more traditional group content to epic battles and the like. Sadly, these changes also resulted in the most divisive period in the history of these lands.

It came to me that any wishes I might have for the new year would be inextricably tied to what had occurred this year past. This, then, is my wish for Lotro in the new year, in three parts:

~Reconciliation~

Much has been said of our community and how wonderful it is. We all see signs of this everyday, I imagine.

Yet the changing of our path this past year, and the atmosphere of intolerance that accompanied it, has created a divide amongst us that has yet to heal. For the good of us all, from the Overlords of these lands to each of its citizens, it is time to come together and move forward.

While this divide can be seen in more than one area, the most recent being the new music system and the divide amongst our minstrels regarding when it should have been implemented, there is one specific area which is most plaintive and poignant, to my mind. Here are three statements representative of the issue:

  • During the beta for Helm’s Deep, when a good number of testers reported mixed (or worse) feelings on the changes, the community manager coined the phrase ‘vocal minority’, categorizing anyone who had that opinion, regardless of what they said or how they said it, into a group that could easily be dismissed.
  • One player created polls after each of the Helm’s Deep beta builds, attempting to gauge the general feeling toward the changes. The results of the polls were overwhelmingly negative for each build. Polls are not normally allowed on the forums according to the Code of Conduct, so when asked why this one was allowed to continue, the community manager stated that he allowed them because they served as a ‘lightning rod’, grouping and identifying which players were only involved to cause trouble and hopefully keeping their comments isolated to that one area.
  • During this time, and many times afterward, in response to the many comments against the changes, the statement was also made that “forum users make up only a small percentage of the player base, yet ‘raiders’ make up an overwhelming percentage of forum users and, thus, were ‘over-represented’ on the forums, further categorizing individuals into a group that could safely be ignored.

Rather than help to mend the rift that had already begun to take root between those for and against the changes, these comments, and the attitude behind them, threw gasoline onto a fire that raged throughout the whole of the Helm’s Deep beta, spilled out into the larger forums afterward, and continues to burn to this day. The cost to our community, in most every way imaginable, has been enormous.

Firstly, there simply wasn’t a need to engage in the debate. The Overlords were always going to have their way in the end. Absent an effort to be inclusive of the players as a whole and try to mend differences, it would have been far better to have simply stayed silent and let everyone have their say. Instead, categorizing players into groups to be dismissed gave license to the players to be dismissive as well, not only of the opinions people had, but of the people themselves, those who held those opinions.

Even those trying to make well-intentioned critiques and voice honest, reasonable opinions of concern over the changes were left free to have both their opinions, and themselves, swept into the waste bucket of ‘the vocal minority’. Any debate over a topic where a fair number of posters were against the new changes was dismissed since ‘the vast majority of posters are a certain type of player, so we can attribute the number and substance of these comments to that and ignore them’.

These statements created an atmosphere in which many people felt that, no matter what they said nor how they said it, they simply were not going to heard. This is the absolute antithesis of what a forum is supposed to be. Sadly, it did not end there.

In the months that followed, many players were banned from the forums for their posts. No doubt some deserved to be, but many did not. I think some did so deliberately, just to have one moment when they knew that what they had said had been heard and noted. Likewise, I think a good many decided to stop supporting Lotro financially at this point, at least until they saw signs that their opinions would no longer be categorically dismissed once again . While these steps may seem drastic, desperate times call for desperate measures, and short of leaving these lands entirely, there was little else one could do to try to have their opinion counted.

I am not a business person, but I have to believe that the last thing one would want to do is put a subset of their customer base into a position where the only way they feel they will be heard is by discontinuing their financial support of the company. When the Overlords decided on this new path, they knew some would leave these lands due to the changes. They even stated so. But how many left over these things, the divisive atmosphere created that encouraged individual players to be dismissed due to their shared opinions?

Well, one is one too many, isn’t it? Just one year ago, both resources and players were seen as superfluous, to the degree that class changes were seen as a better option than creating actual content. Now, resources are seen to be so scarce that there is worry that simple changes to the music system that have already been started might never be finished.

When you think of how we have come to this point in just one year’s time, think of these things.

Our community needs reconciliation, and the increased openness and tolerance that characterize the forums now imply an understanding of this on the Overlords’ part as well. A good way to further this would be to rescind the bans many were given on the Overlords’ forums during its most divisive period. Perhaps not blanketly, but with an understanding that this period was a difficult time to keep one’s head every moment, particularly in light of the atmosphere of exclusivity that pervaded during this period. And with that, I wish for each of us who make up the populace of these lands to understand that we all have value, and that we all are worth the effort to keep.

It is Yule, after all 🙂

~Re-evalutation~

As we ready ourselves to make way further into Gondor and, hopefully, to a final victory over the great evil of this age, this is an ideal time to take stock of how things stand at present. The new path taken with Helm’s Deep is now a bit over a year old under our feet, and there is enough of the trail behind us to see where it has led.

Unfortunately, there are signs that this new path has led us astray. There have been two separate layoffs this past year, and resources that once seemed plentiful appear to have shriveled. Many of the projects the Overlords had announced have had to be delayed or set aside outright. Most recently, an issue with reputation items has cropped up, with an attempt by the Overlords to greatly curtail their use for gathering Turbine Points.

While this measure does seem to indicate the Overlords’ concern over their coffers, I think it also is a sign of a much greater, much larger concern.

Six months ago, it was said by Sapience that ‘raiders’ and those who enjoy traditional group content make up only a tiny fraction of our populace and, therefore, no more of that sort of content would be developed unless those numbers changed. At the time, I wrote an article about this statement, and deduced from further statements that the exact percentage of this group could be no greater than 3%, and almost certainly just 2%.

I cannot find the post now, but someone responded to Sapience’s statement with something similar to the following:

  • I do crafting, but only to support my characters for raiding. If there was no raiding, I would not craft.
  • I go to festivals, but only while waiting for my kin to assemble for instancing. If there were no instances, I would not go to festivals.
  • I do landscape content, but only to gain levels for raiding and end-game content. If there was no end-game content worth doing, I would not do landscape content.
  • … and so on

The basic premise was to ask how the Overlords were able to distill the truth from the complexity of their players’ actions, give proper weight to each aspect of their actions, and determine their proper intent.

Unfortunately, this thread seems to have disappeared, so I cannot give Sapience’s exact reply, but it was basically to the effect that they have people that evaluate these things and that their numbers were accurate and constant throughout the history of these lands. They knew what their players wanted, and that this new path was taken for that reason.

Back to the reputation items…

It seems to be a reasonable assumption that, of even greater importance to the Overlords than the measuring of their players’ actions and usage, a system to insure that no loopholes were open to allow players to earn more Turbine Points than what the Overlords wished to allow was set in place, no? After all, the latter affects their bottom line, directly. This is also a much simpler system to devise and evaluate, of course. It would merely consist of keeping record when players earned Turbine Points, how much they did, and how did, with no concern over the complexities that make navigating the nuances of player usage the much greater challenge it surely must be.

So, regarding the reputation item issue…

While Frelorn stated that an investigation of the Overlords found that too many Turbine Points were being given as a result of their usage, it is almost a certainty that the Overlords’ measures did not catch this on their own. For one, I saw open discussion of this in the World channel on Landroval weeks before the attempted change to the items, including the precise number of items required to bring one’s reputation level with a faction from neutral to kindred.

Beyond even this, however, this use of reputation items, and the use of Marks to acquire them, has been engaged in for years, well before Helm’s Deep, and almost certainly from the first day the items were made available for barter in the skirmish camps.

That it was only discovered now, and likely only from being reported rather than through the systems the Overlords have in place to safeguard against too many Turbine points being earned from in-game activities, is remarkable.

This is a wonderful example of just one aspect of why it is not very wise to be dismissive of a group of people that share a similar outlook on a topic, as seen above. A group-oriented player could have told Turbine ages ago that they were creating a perfect storm regarding these items, and a circumstance that all but demanded we use our Marks in this way:

  • Marks and Medallions given for all endeavors have been increasing over time, while…
  • No additional things to use them for in the skirmish camps have been added in ages. In fact…
  • The removal of endgame armor sets, since there is no longer endgame content, further exasperated the issue, in addition to…
  • The promise of Imbuing, which should largely eliminate the need for the one last thing players were buying in the camps (Legendary item scrolls and such)

Players were sitting upon piles of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of Marks and Medallions, like dragons in their lairs. It is not at all surprising that some would look for a way to make use of them. What is surprising is that it has been happening for years without the systems Turbine must have in place to catch things of this nature noticing it. I also believe that what I wrote of earlier, regarding some deciding to no longer support Lotro financially due to the issues above, most certainly served as catalyst and an inspiration to find other ways to earn Turbine Points as well.

But to finally bring this all into focus, I have to believe that one should consider the following…

If the Overlords have systems in place to discover loopholes and unintended ways for their players to earn an excess of Turbine Points, one that is completely unambiguous and need not concern itself with any level of interpretation or nuance, one that even gives a line-by-line accounting, to the minute, of when these events happen, like this:

And this system has failed to notice players earning excess Turbine Points, for years

Is it not at least possible that the methods used to gather and evaluate player usage might also be flawed?

It is my opinion that it is more than just possible, unfortunately. I believe the percentage of players that engage in group content was underestimated by a factor of ten, if not more, and the new path taken this past year was based upon information that was flawed, both in its method of gathering, and perhaps by a skewed perspective that was more determined to see what it wanted to see than what was truth. And I think we all, Overlord and citizen alike, are paying for that now.

However, there is cause for encouragement, even now. From what Frelorn has said about the upcoming Producer’s letter, there is hope for something to come that will please those who enjoy traditional group content, even though the number who engage in it now has shrunk to almost nil rather than grown, as the previous condition for new content of this type once demanded. Perhaps the Overlords, themselves, have begun to question this new path as well.

As we move forward, I wish for the recognition that it is absolutely vital that the Overlords have a proper gauge on what it is that will please its citizens. Perhaps a player-wide survey is in order, one linked in the launcher and that rewards some Turbine points to encourage everyone to complete it.

~A chair at the table, for all~

Lastly, and very briefly, I wish for something for each one of us in the coming new year. May the Overlords find a way to gift us all something in the new year, as we move forward along the path. We all deserve a little something in our Yule stockings, after all 🙂

Make a wish

What are your Lotro wishes for this coming year? 🙂

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Scout’s Honor (Part 2) – A Burglar’s Guide to the Mischief-maker

A playful trick to raise the spirit…

Oh, hello again! I was just practicing one of the tricks I play to bring cheer to friends in safer times. Not all mischief is ill-natured, and a bit of fun can turn a cloudy day into a much brighter one for all involved.

Today, we will discuss how best to make mischief amongst foes in times that are not so safe, while still bringing cheer to the friends on our side! But first, a quick recap of the three different Scouting techniques and my belief on where they each are best applied:

  • The Quiet Knife: All on-level landscape tasks, quests and Tier 1 – 2 skirmishes, Tier 1 (and some T2) instances and Tier 1 raids (The greatest amount of instant damage)
  • The Mischief-maker: Tier 2 Raids and some instances and skirmishes (Tier 3) (Crowd control, Debuffing, Fellowship-wide healing and power restoring)
  • The Gambler: Soloing over-level quests and group instances or just to try something fun! (A bit of everything, with an emphasis on Damage over time)

The Mischief-maker

As we did with the Quiet Knife technique, let us first go over the unique benefits that come with being a Mischief-maker (the line bonus on the side of the Trait Window):

A Small Snag is the Mischief-maker’s critical chain finisher

Disable is one of the four Tricks that Mischief-makers employ to weaken their foes (and the only one completely exclusive to the Mischief-maker technique)

All three Scouting techniques allow Scouts to reveal weaknesses in a foe. The Mischief-maker also weakens the foe’s Resistance, thereby making it easier for the Scout and allies to land conditions and tricks on the foe!

With this bonus and a legendary legacy, Mischief-maker’s can play tricks on their foes from quite a distance! Also, the reduction in cooldown to the Mischief-maker’s ability to tell Riddles allows them to renew their Riddle continuously, keeping the targeted foe out of the fight indefinitely.

These are trick removal skills that allow the Mischief-maker to conjure certain effects depending upon the circumstance.

Quiet a Snag is the improved version of A Small Snag, and this ability allows Quite a Snag to be used outside of the critical chain

Trickster is the Mischief-maker’s capstone skill, greatly empowering and enhancing the ability to play tricks for a limited time























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Scout’s Honor (Part 1) – A Burglar’s Guide to the Quiet Knife

Just a few steps more and it is lights out for this creep…

Oh, hey everyone! You all caught me while being sneaky, something we Burglars very much enjoy being. I am not sure why everyone insists on calling us Burglars, though. I have never stolen a thing in my life, honest!

So, you want to know what it is we do and how we go about doing it, you say? Well, we Scouts have three different techniques for Scouting, though all three overlap a fair amount.

There are general skills and guidelines that apply to all three techniques, but first let me list the three of them, where I feel they are best applied, and the main benefits of using that technique:

  • The Quiet Knife: All on-level landscape tasks, quests and Tier 1 – 2 skirmishes, Tier 1 (and some T2) instances and Tier 1 raids (The greatest amount of instant damage)
  • The Mischief-maker: Tier 2 Raids and some instances and skirmishes (Tier 3) (Crowd control, Debuffing, Fellowship-wide healing and power restoring)
  • The Gambler: Soloing over-level quests and group instances or just to try something fun! (A bit of everything, with an emphasis on Damage over time)

The Quiet Knife

Since most endeavors call for the Quiet Knife technique, I will discuss that first. As most know, with each technique comes benefits associated only with that technique, benefits unavailable to the other styles. These benefits are the defining aspects that make each technique what it is. Here are the benefits that come with being a Quiet Knife (these are the ‘line’ bonuses at the side of the Trait Window):

Knives Out is the Scout’s only direct area of effect damage skill

Criticals…

Critical Defense reduces how much damage critical hits end up doing

The Quiet Knife’s only self-heal… (crticals!)

Criticals…

Criticals… (is anyone noticing a pattern here?)

So, you likely noticed that nearly every benefit to the Quiet Knife technique involves critical hits. The Quiet Knife line is largely devoted to two things: critical strikes and attacking from stealth. Notice that last benefit? It guarantees a critical strike when attacking from stealth with either of our two best skills for doing so: Surprise Strike and Cunning Attack.

Let’s go through some of the Quiet Knife’s main skills. For now, I will mainly focus on skills either devoted or largely influenced by the Quiet Knife technique, leaving the more general skills for later…


One of the Quiet Knife’s two best options from stealth


The second of the two stealth options


Notice all the benefits that come from striking from the shadows!


This skill guarantees a critical hit on your next attack


The Quiet Knife’s only area of effect attack. It can be used both offensively and defensively


All three techniques allow a Scout to reveal weaknesses of a foe. The Quiet Knife also makes the foe more vulnerable to critical strikes


A way to incapacitate a foe, in order to gain time and position on him!


A very quick attack that will not slow you down in any way!


This is meant to be a finishing blow, one which will give a brief window to attack the next foe from stealth


The beginning of the Scout’s ‘critical chain’. Critical chain skills are skills that only become available after a critical strike is made. There are two stages to the chain: Openers (like Double-edged Strike), and Finishers (to be seen shortly!)


The Quiet Knife’s main critical chain finisher


Feint Attack is part of the Quiet Knife’s critical chain. Once Improved Feint Attack is learned (the 6th of the 7 Quiet Knife line bonuses), it is no longer restricted to the chain but can be used at any time. Feint Attack allows the Quiet Knife to use many skills normally available only while sneaking and boosts many attacks that strike harder while sneaking. It also gives a +10% Melee Damage boost until one of those stealth-related attacks is used (up to 10 seconds)


All Scouts know how to Exploit Openings (a fellowship maneuver starter). Quiet Knives have an extra method for doing so while sneaking

If you are feeling overwhelmed, do not lose heart! So far this is mainly listing things for easy reference once we get to the heart of the matter. At the end of this essay, I will give tips for scouting in the field that will bring all of this together [with any luck! :)]

As can be seen, the emphasis on critical strikes we saw in the Quiet Knife line bonuses is furthered even more within their skills. We have a skill to guarantee a critical strike, a critical chain of skills only useable once a critical strike is achieved (and which are more powerful than most other skills), and a skill that improves all damage against a foe and weakens them even further to critical strikes. In the stealth department, we have skills that strike harder when in stealth, an extra fellowship maneuver starter only available while in stealth, and a skill that lets us feign stealth to a degree.

Many of the skills listed above come from the Quiet Knife tree, so I will not list them again here. However, let me cover a few of the benefits to be gained from the tree itself. As you will see, the thematic continuity of the Quiet Knife technique continues to be preserved:







Positional damage is something new (though astute readers will have already seen its mention before!). All Scouts, no matter what technique they employ, want to be striking at their foes from behind. It would be more accurate to say that all attackers should strike from behind where they can, but it is even more important that Scouts do so, and this extra Positional damage is only a very slight reason for doing so.

One last thing before we pull this all together. Higher level Scouts will have access to Legendary Items (where is that booing coming from?). Let’s have a quick look at what legacies are available to our weapons and scouting kits to see if we can draw any more ideas for how best to perform the Quiet Knife technique (legacies appropriate for Quiet Knives bolded):

  • Burglar Weapon Legacies (Major)
    • Burglar Bleed Damage (+1% – +15%)
    • Critical Response Skill Damage (+1% – +10%)
    • Cunning Attack Bleed Stack Chance (+3% – +66%)
    • Position Surprise Strike from Stealth (+3% – +25%)
    • Feint Attack Damage (+3% – +25%)
    • Snag Damage Bonus (+3% – +25%)
    • Subtle Stab Damage Multiplier (+1% – +10%)
    • Surprise Strike Critical Rating (varies depending on level and quality of the weapon)

 

  • Burglar Weapon Legacies (Minor)
    • Coup de Grace Damage (+3% – +25%)
    • Critical Chain Skills Critical Multiplier (+3% – +25%)
    • Harmful Gamble Damage (+4% – +40%)
    • Lucky Strike Damage (+3% – +25%)
    • Riddle Range (+1 meter – +20 meters)
    • Trick Range (+1 meter – +9 meters)
    • Trick and Trick Removal Damage (+1% – +25%)
    • Subtle Stab Critical Multiplier (+3% – +25%)
    • Stat Legacies (Agility/Fate/Vitality) (varies, depending on level and quality)

Well, as you can see, no Quiet Knife would complain if they were to find a weapon with four, five, or even six Major legacies. Some quick explanation on these:

  • Critical Response Skill Damage applies to all 3 Critical Chain skills listed above, and any others you might acquire
  • The Cunning Attack Stack Chance applies only to non-critical, non-stealth attacks. Still, the extra damage adds up very well!
  • Ideally, our critical rating will already be at or near cap, so we can avoid Surprise Strike Critical Rating for one of the other legacies
  • Critical Chain Skills Critical Multiplier adds 25% extra damage to all critical hits when using the critical chain skills. Normally, a critical hit does 150% damage and a devastating critical hit 200%. With this legacy at full, those change to 175% and 225%, respectively.
  • For all classes, changing a minor legacy to your main attribute (Agility for Scouts) is something to consider. With no legacy points spent at all, this will give a First Age 100th level weapon +149 Agility, which equates to +149 Crit Rating, +1,192 Physical Mastery, +447 Evade and +298 Parry, all while freeing up your points for legacies with a more linear progression

 

  • Burglar Kit Legacies (Major)
    • Critical Chain Skills Critical Chance (+1% – +15%)
    • Devastating Critical Buff Duration (+3 seconds – +30 seconds)
    • Off-hand Critical Rating (varies, depending on level and quality of the kit)
    • Mischievous Glee Healing (+5% – +50%)
    • Hedge Your Bet Damage (+3% – +25%)
    • Gamble Chance (+5% – +20%)
    • Positional Damage (+1% – +15%)
    • Skills Critical Multiplier (+1% – +15%)
    • Tricks Duration (+1 second – +15 seconds)

 

  • Burglar Kit Legacies (Minor)
    • All In Buff Duration (+1 second – +15 seconds)
    • Coup de Grace Stealth Window (+1 second – +10 seconds)
    • Increased Range for Reveal Weakness (+1 meter – +20 meters)
    • Clever Retort Damage and Healing (+4% – +40%)
    • Addle Induction Multiplier (+7% – +50%)
    • Sneak Movement Speed (+1% – +10%)
    • Pulse Modifier for Glee (+1 pulse – +9 pulses)
    • Stealth Level (+1 level – +3 levels)
    • Stat Legacies (Agility/Fate/Vitality) (varies, depending on level and quality)

Some explanations:

  • Critical Chain Skills Critical Chance is not to be missed! (more on this later)
  • You may have noticed that Feint Attack has the additional benefit of granting +10% Positional damage and a +20% Skills Critical Multiplier when it does a critical or devastating critical hit. Each Quiet Knife technique has a capstone skill that grants bonuses with a critical strike. What those benefits are varies with the capstone. Normally this bonus lasts for 15 seconds only, but the Devastating Critical Buff Duration increases the duration
  • Off-hand Critical Rating (like Surprise Strike above) should be one of the first legacies we can set aside, since we should be able to get near the Critical Rating cap through other means
  • Once Coup de Grace is used, if the foe falls in the next 4 seconds, the Quiet Knife will enter stealth briefly. The Coup de Grace Stealth Window legacy gives additional time to slay the foe before the opportunity to gain stealth is lost
  • Quiet Knives move at 90% of their normal speed when sneaking. The Sneak Movement Speed legacy can boost that so that you sneak at your full running speed!

All right then! We have covered our skills, the powers we draw from the Quiet Knife technique and skill tree, and how our legendary items compliment them. Now it is time to put it to use in the field!

Pulling it all together

  • The best way to open a combat is from stealth. A Surprise Strike (for foes with lesser morale) or a Cunning Attack (for foes with larger morale to take advantage of the bleed) is a great way to begin. However, it always pays to think outside the kit, so to speak. Using Aim and then Coup de Grace guarantees each of Coup de Grace’s three attacks will strike critically, dealing a great amount of damage. If the fight will be a longer one (over 1 minute) this also allows Coup de Grace to be ready again sooner. Finally, Coup de Grace does not seem to break stealth immediately, so a quick follow up with Surprise Strike, or ideally Cunning Attack (since the foe will be turning toward us now and the bleed amount is independent of facing), will pile on more damage to the creep
  • Once you have done all you can from stealth, Feint Attack/Improved Feint Attack is a good way to continue. Each subsequent attack afterward (for up to 10 seconds) will get the +10% melee damage bonus Feint Attack gives
  • Hopefully by now you have opened up your critical chain with a critical hit. At this point, you mostly want to keep to the critical chain skills if you can. Let me briefly summarize all the benefits that apply only to the critical chain skills that can be earned from the Quiet Knife line, fruit from its tree, and legendary items:
    • All critical chain skills bypass 10% of the foe’s mitigation
    • +20% damage to all critical chain skills (10% from Dance of Blades from the tree and 10% from the legacy), +45% to Feint Attack (from its additional +25% damage legacy)
    • Every critical chain skill has a 45% chance to lower the foe’s Critical Defense by 5% for 8 seconds. While this is not a cumulative effect (it will not go lower than 5%), the timer is renewed every time the chance is met thereafter. With the ease of critical striking for Quiet Knife scouts, this is effectively a +5% Skills Critical Multiplier for every person striking that foe
    • +25% Critical Magnitude to all critical chain skills (from the legacy)
    • +15% chance to strike critically with critical chain skills (from the amazing legacy)
    • +10 Positional Damage and +20% Skills Critical Multiplier for 15 seconds (longer with the legacy) from striking critically with Feint Attack
  • If only there were more than our three critical chain skills (Feint Attack, Double-edged Strike, and Flashing Blades) to take advantage of all these critical chain benefits… and there is! A dip of 12 points into the Gambler line will grant:

  • With Gambler’s Advantage, we now have four critical chain skills, each of which has only a 5 second cooldown. As long as we are continually landing critical strikes, these skills will be available to us to wreak havoc on the Enemy’s forces
  • I might cover what sort of equipment to look for in a later installment but, before we finally leave critical chain skills behind, let me mention one more thing. There is a set of jewelry, attainable only in the Epic Battles [where is that booing coming from? :)], that grants the following set bonus:

    • The highest chance for a Quiet Knife to strike with a critical hit with normal scouting skills is: +25% (from a capped Critical Rating) + 5% (from Deft Strikes in the Quiet Knife tree) + 10% (from the Epic Battle jewelry, if the 10% chance is met) = 40%. With the Critical Chain Skills Critical Chance legacy, the chance for a critical hit with the critical chain skills is 55%.
    • As for skills outside the critical chain skills, Improved Feint attack gives its +10% Melee Damage bonus for 10 seconds (or until a stealth-enhanced skill is used), but the skill itself only has a 5 second cooldown. With the legacies boosting its damage, we want to be using Feint Attack whenever we can. So, just before Feint Attack is ready to be used again, a Surprise Strike (for foes with lower morale) or a Cunning Attack (for foes with higher morale) will give us full benefit of Feint Attack’s stealth enhancement, just in time to regain it with another Feint Attack!
    • Remember, however, that only non-stealth, non-critical attacks can be stacked with the Cunning Attack Bleed Stack Chance legacy. Therefore, after a Surprise Strike from stealth, before using Feint Attack to regain the stealth enhancement, a quick non-stealthed Cunning Attack will have its full chance to put an additional bleed on the foe. In longer fights, it is a good idea to alternate between Surprise Strike (10 second cooldown) and Cunning Attack (5 second cooldown), being sure to follow up any Surprise Strike with a Cunning Attack out of stealth, before using Feint Attack to regain its bonuses
    • Lastly, you will have likely noticed that every single attack we Scouts have is a ‘Fast’ attack. When it comes to fast-paced combat and striking quickly, we Quiet Knives have few equals. Even so, there are fast attacks and there are fast attacks, with Flashing Blades and Subtle Stab at the slow and fast ends of the spectrum, respectively. A Subtle Stab is virtually instantaneous and, as such, should be used whenever it is ready (3 second cooldown). The Quiet Knife that is able to deftly mix Subtle Stab into their dance of war is a true force to be reckoned with!

A possible point allocation…

Scout

I hope this guide to the Quiet Knife Scouting technique has been useful! Scouting is no easy task, so try not to let things overwhelm you. Learning a bit here and a bit there will add up, and those new to the craft will find themselves well along the path to mastery before they know it!

The Quiet Knife technique is the technique most applicable to the everyday situations in which we Scouts will find ourselves, though personal taste and preference should always come first, of course! In our next installment, we will discuss the Mischief-maker, and why it is more fun to be surrounded by friends to witness any Mischief you create! See you soon!

(dedicated to all Papa Hobbits, Mama Hobbits, and Baby Hobbits, everywhere)

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On Par with Radiance? What Has the Pursuit of Group Content Cost Us?

Greetings, everyone! 🙂

From its very beginning, the path to Mordor was fraught with peril for those of the Fellowship of the Ring. Likewise, the path toward Mordor taken by Turbine also has its risks and perils. How much development to put toward one aspect of gameplay over another cannot be an easy decision to make!

There have always been some who have asserted that the creation of what would be considered ‘traditional’ group content (Instances and Raids) was a waste of precious development time, money, and other resources.

Recently, some very concrete details regarding this issue, along with a concise statement by Sapience that there will be no more development of this type of content, were given during one of the latest Shield runs through Moria.

Have those who have argued against this type of content been right all along? Has a mistake, on par with that of the Radiance system, been committed by the LOTRO team with the creation of this content?

Let’s have a look 🙂

So, what was this ‘Radiance’, anyway? 🙂

Radiance was a mechanic solely devoted to raiding. The idea was that, in the most dangerous places of Middle-earth, you would need armor forged in such a way that the Dread that would otherwise overwhelm you, from being so near to the great evils of the world and within their lairs, could be held at bay. Radiance armor let you stay standing, and in control of yourself, as you forged ahead into battle against those great evils.

In essence, Radiance was a gating mechanism that guided the player through the storyline of the Instances meant to come before these great battles (Raids). Players were awarded Radiance armor, piece by piece, by working through the various Instances, until they had earned enough of it to try the Raids themselves.

Radiance was not a very popular system amongst the players, and Turbine eventually issued a Radiance Removal Developer Diary that was essentially an unprecedented level of apology to the players for the instituting of the system. Some excerpts from the diary:

The request for Radiance was also made late enough in the Moria cycle that we left no time to respond appropriately to what was delivered. Quickly, we began to slap-patch the system into something that resembled what we originally desired.
We thought we could salvage the work we put into Radiance and have the system gain acceptance. As it turns out, we were wrong –very wrong.
You, the players, hated Radiance. In fact, there has never been such a polarizing and definitively poorly received implementation as Radiance.
At that point we resigned ourselves to pulling out Radiance. We knew it was a failure and we wanted to no longer keep it in the game.
I am happy to report, finally, that Radiance has been removed from the game.
However, this is a point where we need to admit that we made a mistake. And with that mistake in mind we shall forge ahead, mindful of the error that we made and fueled by a desire to never repeat it again.

Clearly, many of these statements closely parallel the decision to no longer continue the production of traditional group content. Was an error in judgement made in pursuing this content? Is an admitting to an error in the choice of creating and maintaining traditional group content also warranted?

To my mind, it comes down to the matter of scale…

So, what sort of scale are we talking? 🙂

In one of the threads that developed as part of a discussion of this matter, Sapience gave some details from which I feel we can determine the exact proportion, to the percentage point, of the player base that partakes in this type of content:

Raiders comprise the smallest, by far, group in our game. PvMP players are far larger and even they are small. in fact together the two groups wouldn’t comprise 10% of the total player base and never have (this is important. it’s not a new thing, it’s a long standing historical fact).

So, we know that the sum of all raiders and PvMP players can be no more than 9% of the player base. In addition to this, we know that the PvMP players make up a ‘far larger’ proportion than the raiders. A 5/4 split would not account for being far larger. We could say it is 6/3, but given the fact that the sum might be less than 9%, and the strong wording regarding how much lower the raider count is than the PvMP count, I think we can safely use 2% as our number. It is likely even lower than that, but we will use that for now 🙂

Now, I am not really a ‘numbers’ person, and many reading this may not be as well. It is one thing to ‘know’ that only 2% of the players partake in traditional group content, but it is another to understand what that really means, to really have a proper perspective on that number. So, I came up with some thought experiments to help me, and anyone reading this, to have a better appreciation for what this means.

1. First, think of someone you know that engages in group content. It may be you, or someone you know. Now…

…name 49 other players who never have engaged in group content. Obviously, it will be harder to ‘name’ them, both due to the number being that much greater, but also because, since they do not engage in as much group activity, they are likely not as widely known. By ‘name’ I more mean to recognize that they are here in these lands with us. When you go to the festivals, for the one person you know (maybe yourself) that engages in group content, you will see 49 other players, on average, that do not.

When you or the person you know who engages in group content may be crafting away at a crafting hall, you will (over time and average) see 49 other crafters there with you who do not. Of course, if you know an additional person who is a grouper, there are another 49 additional players who are not as well. This ratio has been consistent over the whole history of these precious lands, and so these numbers apply at all times throughout that history as well.

2. Think of a time when you took part in a 12-person endeavor…

Maybe it was the Giant Turtle in Moria, a run through one of the wings of Helegrod to fetch tokens for armor, or perhaps in taking part in one of the LOTRO Players Adventures. Now, consider…

…for the 12 of you that were a part of this endeavor, there are 588 other players who never take part in this sort of content. It is difficult to imagine that kind of scale, but that is how the numbers work out. And, of course, that means that, for every other group of 12 players that does so, there are another 588 players who do not. Hard to imagine, no? 🙂

As difficult as it is, however, it is the case given these numbers.

One final one, and the one that really did it for me, I think because it involves another aspect of the game.

3. Imagine those 12 players that took part in that one 12-person endeavor all have houses in the same housing neighborhood…

Not as a kinship in a kinhall, but separate houses, one for each of the 12. This is certainly not unimaginable as I know more than one kinship who, between their members, owns all or nearly all of the housing in their neighborhood as well. For ease of thought, let us assume their district is the first one on the alphabetical listing.

  • If we assume that every single house is occupied by a different player in all of the districts, and…
  • You were to send someone to look at every single house, both their lawn and inside of each home…

…in the rest of that first district, and in more than the next 22 districts on the housing list, you would not see a single housing item earned through group content play. This one blew me away, especially when you consider it would actually be a far greater number than 22, due to the following:

  • Housing items from group content are quite rare. Very few instances have them, only one person per group endeavor can get them, and many of the items are very, very rare
  • Some may have won such trophies but choose not to display them for a variety of reasons. I am in this group. Who wants some nasty thing in their house, right? 🙂

So, we know that only 2% of the player base engages in this type of content and have an appreciation for that number. But there is still one more thing to consider before we can come to our final analysis.

What percentage of that 2% is here for group content solely and remain only due to that content? How many of these players would have left these lands if the creation of traditional group content had ended years ago? How many will leave now that it has?

Take me, for example 🙂

This is a snapshot of my barter wallet from nearly a year ago…

I also am co-founder and leader of the Skirmish Repertory Company, which performed a full season of all the raid-skirmish theatricals (even Icy Crevasse!), finishing the year with many encore performances of Why Hoarding a Horde of Coins is a Drag on the Economy – The Draigoch Story 🙂

Clearly, I belong in the 2% who engage in group content 🙂

Yet, at the same time, I also:

  • am a member of one of Landroval’s oldest bands, the Green Hill Music Society, winner of Weatherstock’s Crowd Favorite title in past years and which celebrated its 5 year anniversary last year 🙂
  • while I do not compose or arrange music myself, I write lyrics for the songs composed by others to sing at our concerts and other gatherings
  • keep a journal of my travels in these lands and many other aspects of my time here as well 🙂
  • am currently running The Spirit Gauntlet, a solo perma-death campaign told by way of a pictorial journal [Maybe 900 pictures and 60,000 words so far? I do not have the current count 🙂 ]
  • was awarded the Fashionista’s Choice award for 2012, have contributed numerous outfits to the Show Your Outfits thread on the forums, and also have a Fashion page with my journal as well
  • have participated in many of Turbine’s Screenshot Contests and even won a few 🙂
  • am a heavy role-player as well, ever trying to unite the Sun and the Moon, the two aspects of these lands most often seen as diametrically opposed
  • contribute to the Free Peoples’ side in the Ettenmores (though the state of my looking-glass precludes this for now)
  • write Guides to aid the community, Tales to share with others, attend festivals, gatherings, fishing contests, and I had best stop now or this list will go on forever 🙂

My days are filled to here with so many things to do that it is forever a struggle to even see to half of them. While I am certainly a ‘grouper’, part of that 2%, I certainly cannot be defined by that alone.

It is the same with most every person I know who participates in group content as well. They are also musicians, role-players, attendees of social gatherings and festivals, hosts and hostesses of parties, contests, and so much more.

While I am sure there are some who care only for group content and, sadly, will leave, I cannot imagine that very many will. If we use a very conservative estimate, saying that only 50% of the group content audience would/will remain in these lands now that no more ‘traditional’ group content will be developed, we can come to the conclusion that…

…less than 1% of the entire player base would have been lost if this content was never developed. 1 out of 100, 10 out of 1,000, 5,000 out of 500,000.

It is a sad day when even a single person leaves because they are not fulfilled in these lands, of course. Neither the developers, nor the players, should be happy for it. At the same time, what was the cost for producing 7+ years of this type of content in order to retain less than 1% of the player base?

In the Final Analysis…

Radiance…

  • Affected, at most, only 2% of the player base, and likely much fewer than that, as it only came into play during the most difficult raids
  • Affected only three small areas out the entire landscape of Middle-earth: the Watcher’s Lair, Dar Narbugud, and Barad Guldur
  • Was in existence from the launch of Moria (November 18, 2008) until March 18, 2011, so only 2 years and 4 months out of 7+ years so far 🙂
  • The in-game effect of Radiance was very, very slight. The development time was greater, of course, but all in all, it was a very minor system
  • Not everyone in the 2% who were affected by Radiance hated it. I thought it was a good measuring stick to determine how prepared you were to face tougher challenges. A good many went to battle with the Watcher straightaway once Radiance was removed and did not fare very well

When you consider that there were, at least, 588 other players for every 12 who ever ventured into places where Radiance was a factor, and account for the time taken for the battles in those three lairs (maybe 30 minutes, 3 hours and 3 hours, respectively), the cumulative effect on player-time from Radiance has to be so small that it could hardly be measured. Maybe something like .000001% of all the seconds spent by all of the players in LOTRO have been affected by Radiance [that is a wild guess, but you see my point 🙂 ]

Looking back on it now, given all of this, it is difficult to imagine that the complaints against Radiance even measured highly enough to be noticed by Turbine, really. It would be only small percentages combined who would have complained at all: at most 2% of the player base, then the percentage that actually disliked it, then the percentage of those whom actually took the time to complain about it at all, and so on.

To remove Radiance and write a developer diary of an apologetic nature regarding it, under these circumstances, cannot be termed anything but extraordinary.

The Development of Group Content…

I do not think it is a stretch of the imagination, in any way, to say that the development of group content has affected every single second, of every single player, from the very first day of these lands. The time spent developing this content was time not spent developing content for the other 99% of players who would enjoy it. And that development time has always been considerable.

Consider the comments of Sapience and HoarseDev when the question of what it takes to create and test a raid came up in the same Shield run:

“A huge amount of time and resources. It takes animators, it takes artists, it takes QA, it takes play teams, it takes repeated play testing, it takes huge and massive amounts of tech to get all hooked up and tested out. It is incredibly time consuming, most people would be shocked at how time consuming it really is.” — Sapience

 

“Raids are an order of magnitude larger and are vastly more risky than anything else. They are definitely on a level all their own.” — HoarseDev

I realize he may have just been using ‘order of magnitude’ as a figure of speech, but it is likely true that the development of traditional group content takes ten times as much of an effort, more or less, than any of the other systems developed for these lands. The question is, knowing this and knowing that, at most, 2% of the players were using it, consistently over time, why did Turbine continue to pursue it?

That is not all, however. It is very likely true that the development of group content affected virtually every single second of time even before the first day the servers opened. From the initial idea to create a world based on this story, and to the very last day of development before time began in Middle-earth, the developers’ mindset, time and actions were affected by group content and how to bring it about.

How many more regions of Middle-earth would have come to life if the time to produce traditional group content pre-launch had been used for that instead? How many additional hobbies might there have been? How many more musical instruments, quests, story-lines, and,cosmetics? Well, around ten times as much for every moment spent on developing group content, it would seem. But that is not all.

Even though no more new content of this type will be developed, how much time will be spent to maintain it, time spent that could have gone to other things? But that is not all, either.

What has been the cost of gating the best armor and items to wear behind this content, alienating at least some of the other 98% of the player base that does not take part in group content at all? What has been the cost of having currencies like Marks, Medallions and Seals be earned at either a far greater pace or outright exclusively from this content that less than 2% of the player base uses? That is not all either, but it is enough to give an idea of the cost.

In fairness, you cannot blame Turbine for trying this, of course. After all, other games have developed ‘traditional’ group content, and done so successfully. It would not be termed as ‘traditional’ if that were not the case, right? 🙂

But, given what we know, regarding the tiny amount of players who actually used the content, and that it was known that so few used it even back then, why did its production continue for so long? While the developers were wrestling with the relatively small issue of Radiance, an issue infinitely larger had surrounded them that they either could not or would not see. Sadly, it was a costly one for us all.

We are at a crossroads. Looking back we can see what might have been. But, looking forward, now that this difficult decision has finally been made, we can see a brighter future as well. Sadly, some will leave us, and something that a very small percentage of us enjoyed will no longer continue to be renewed.

But, with that time devoted to things that the great majority wish to see, we can look forward to a great increase in those things to come! More regions developed, more quests and stories to be told. More systems that we can all share in as we continue on our path toward Mordor and beyond!

Onwards, to Gondor!

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‘Legendary’ Items – Tips, Tricks, and a Guide to the ‘Grind’

Songbook

Greetings, everyone! 🙂

The idea to write a guide for the Legendary Items system came to mind after listening to Episode 48 of LOTRO Players News, where there was some lamenting over the Legendary Item system and the ‘grind’ involved.

Later that day, while with others defending Helm’s Dike, the Rohirrim saw fit to award me an ancient symbol of old…

A shiny thing…

So I thought I might keep a written record of the steps taken to turn this Symbol into a new Scouting kit for myself, one with all the bells and whistles. I will go step by step, to help illustrate what all is involved in the process, and discuss some tips and tricks that you may or may not know that might help cut down on costs and ‘grind’. Hopefully, some of the unpleasant parts will be diminished for you, and more fun can be had as you work with your own legendary items! 🙂

Please, please, please feel free to leave comments if you know of different or better ways to do things than I mention!

A. Shards – The Currency of Legendary Items

Before we truly begin on our item, let us talk about currencies. When it comes to Legendary Items, there are four different currencies that can be used to barter for things regarding them: Turbine Points, Gold, Marks and Medallions, and Shards. Of those four, Shards are the only currency that deal with Legendary Items in exclusivity. What this means is, since the other three currencies have value outside of the Legendary Item system, we first want to look toward Shards as the currency we spend toward them.

Well, how can you earn shards, you ask? There are a few ways:

  • Shards can sometimes be found in Hobbit Presents (those hobbits are so kind!)
  • Shards can sometimes be granted when combining relics and a critical success combine happens. There is a Scroll of Combination, purchasable in the Store and once found in the Lotteries, that greatly improves the chance of this occurring. I do not believe they can be found as treasure, but please mention it below if so!
  • Relic-masters can convert relics into Shards, through the process of refining (the last tab in their menu). The higher tier the relic is, the more shards can be earned from them.

That last process is one I want to discuss, particularly with regard to crafting. Most everyone knows that those who are skilled in a craft, and who are also in good with their guild, can learn how to craft relics able to be placed upon legendary items. What may not be as well known is that those relics can be refined into shards, the same as any other relics.

What this means is that there is a way to convert any of the excess resources you may have stored away into the currency of legendary items! And it can add up if you do so regularly. What I do is keep on hand the materials to make the ‘lesser’ crafted relics (the ones in purple text) for the last three crafting tiers (Currently: Westfold, Eastemnet, and Westemnet). You can craft one of each of these every 2 days and 18 hours, but I just do so twice a week. I also run to the mine in Hytbold once per week, to fetch a Compendium of Middle-earth, Volume IV as well. This enables me to craft the ‘highest’ Eastemnet relic (the one in the golden text) once per week as well. At 95 trainings, this can be done very quickly.

So, what does all this add up to? Let us go to the Relic-Master!

  • Each Westfold ‘lesser’ relic is worth 258 shards
  • Each Eastemnet ‘lesser’ relic is worth 358 shards
  • Each Eastemnet ‘greater’ relic is worth 1,074 shards
  • Each Westemnet ‘lesser’ relic is worth 458 shards

So, (258 x 2) + (358 x 2) + 1,074 + (458 x 2) equals… *counts on her fingers*… 3,222 shards per week, using piles of resources you likely have just sitting around! Over the course of a year, it will add up to over 150,000 shards, taking maybe 5 minutes per week, including the time to fetch that Compendium, maybe 1 minute only without that step.

But isn’t that a ton of resources that you need, you ask? Not really! Each of the lesser relics takes 2 of the Highest Grade resources for that tier, and 1 of the lower. 2 stacks of the highest (100 per stack) and 1 stack of the lowest will get you just about through the year 🙂

But that is not the end. Shards are shared by all of the smialmates on that account. If you have some crafters who belong to a crafting guild, but who do not really adventure much, they can also craft these relics and refine them into Shards to be used by your more adventure-minded smialmates as well, even while they progress toward Proficiency and Mastery at their craft! 7 Smialmates doing this over a year would earn over one million shards, to be used however you like!

B. Envision your Legendary Item in advance and prepare for the day when it comes to you

So, having stitched my Scouting kit, I take it over to the Forge-master to have it appraised…

“Please, appraise this bundle, sir! Mmm…385 silver? Can I pay you in another currency, maybe? Oh, you take Shards as well? Very nice!”

(Remember, you can make most any Legendary Item related purchase in shards! Most merchants prefer coins, though, so they will try to get those from you first. Do not let them unless you wish it!)

The Forge-master has a look…

An inauspicious beginning…

Not the best, unfortunately. In fact, with all of the legacies being Tier 2, the same tier at which replacing a legacy with a scroll begins (more on this later!), this item will require the largest ‘grind’ possible within the Legendary Item system to get it to where we want it to go. I am working on this as I write, so I did not know this would happen! I guess we will see how much of a grind is really possible 🙂

At any rate, two of the three legacies are keepers, while Hedge Your Bet will have to go. I know this because, before I put the very first stitch into this bundle, I knew exactly which legacies I would have it end up with, and I have been preparing to have them ready, in the event that I did not get the ones I wanted by random chance. How is this?

By deconstructing items at Level 31 or higher, we not only get some relics for the item, but we may also choose one of the legacies of that item to be scribed into a scroll.

*holds up a scroll*

Conquering the RNG… 🙂

With so many of the rewards in Middle-earth moving away from a system of merit and toward purely random chance, it is nice to have something toward which we can make solid and steady progress! We can overcome our initial misfortune and still end up with the exact item we want. It will just take a little more effort is all 🙂

Usually, you will find yourself exploring new lands, performing new quests, and earning new levels far before you will even start to think about working on a new Legendary Item. Why not start preparing for one then, while things are not yet a grind? As you are questing, exploring, even visiting the festivals, have some items on hand that will progress as you go. Then, when it is time to deconstruct them, choose scrolls with the legacies you will want later and keep them in storage. That way, when the time does come to work on your new item, the ‘grind’ of preparing scrolls is already done! 🙂

Legendary Items earn experience in a number of ways. That experience gets them to where we can deconstruct them for relics, the scrolls from above, and other useful things. How can Legendary Item XP best be earned?

I am glad you asked… 🙂

C. Multitasking with Legendary Items – The More, The Merrier!

We can earn experience for our legendary items in many ways. Every foe we dispatch earns us some. Every quest or task we perform earns some as well. Even quests at the festivals make our items better! Running off the shrews in the gardens of Duillond and poking fun at ‘Tweens in the Hedge Maze north of Bree-town will make your items grow!

You can do just about anything but sneeze and earn some progress toward cycling through your legendary items. They progress at a fairly quick rate, provided you are actively doing things.

But would twice that rate be better? Of course!

Did you know that, for each legendary item beyond just one that is currently progressing, you earn 20% more Item XP than what is displayed? That bonus is not mentioned anywhere that I am aware of, but it is there! The more items you are currently working on, the greater the overall gain.

Most everyone will have one legendary weapon they wield and some other legendary item, depending upon the Class they took at the Academy. Also, most will have a bridle for their steed. Since we all start with 6 available slots for legendary items, that means most will likely have 3 spots open for items to cycle through. You can purchase more slots (up to 10 total) in the Store as well, which I recently did when they were on sale.

In my case, I keep two stickers and two Scouting bundles, one pairing for each of the Scouting disciplines that I use, depending upon the circumstances I find myself in. With one bridle as well, that leaves five slots open for items to work through. For every 1,000 Item XP I earn, I am really getting 1,800. This is an invaluable aid for lessening the ‘grind’ toward earning relics, replacement scrolls and so on. Take advantage of multitasking as best as you may! 🙂

Five items at a time is too much hassle, you say? What I do is use the Item XP runes to make sure all of my items have nearly the same experience if any get ahead or behind. That way, I can reforge all five at once when they need it, deconstruct all five at once when they are done, and start a new batch of five all at once thereafter.

D. Determining the Initial Legacies for your Item

At this point, we want to raise the item’s level to 30, in order to determine what the item’s initial legacies will be. Legendary Items need to be ‘reforged’ every ten levels. The first three times (at levels 10, 20, and 30), you will be shown two different legacies and may choose one to be granted to your item. Any reforging after 30th level (40, 50, and so on) will instead give you a choice between two of the item’s existing legacies. The legacy you choose will have its tier upgraded one level, instead. The higher the tier of your legacies, the less expensive they cost to give rank to, but we are getting ahead of ourselves 🙂

Off to the Forge-master!

That creep was holding out on me, I know it!

*holds up her scouting bundle with a sigh*

This bag is in dire need of a makeover…

There are two different groupings of legacies for all legendary items: Major Legacies and Minor Legacies. When a Legendary Item is first identified, it will always start with three Major Legacies. The first three times it is reforged (at levels 10, 20, and 30), you will be shown two legacies at random, one of which you may choose to add to your item.

The legacies shown at these reforges are Minor Legacies nearly all of the time, but there is a small chance (maybe 10-15%), that you may have been given the option of adding another Major Legacy instead. Sometime, very rarely, both options will be Major Legacies.

In general, Major Legacies tend to be far and away more powerful than the Minor Legacies. Before the changes to the Trait Trees, it was almost always the best choice to take any Major Legacies offered when reforging, even those that were not specifically wanted. You could then replace that legacy with another major legacy that was more desirable, and have quite an item on your hands! 🙂

Unfortunately, many of the legacies now concern skills that are gated behind the different trait lines, rendering those legacies all but worthless unless you are working within the trait line to which that skill belongs. It is worthwhile to plan out which legacies you would like to have if you end up with the option for an additional Major legacy or two, and also to know in advance if having extra Major legacies is not worth trying for, due to the gating of their relevant skills.

You can identify which legacies are Major, and which are Minor, by the ring that encircles their tier indicator:


Major legacies have a golden ring, while Minor legacies have a dull, silver ring. As you can see, I was not given any options for a Major legacy during my three reforges. But, not only that, none of the options I was given had any legacy that I wanted much at all!

In all of the years that I have been working with legendary items, this will be the first one ever which will have all six legacies at Tier 2 before I begin righting this wayward ship and steering it back on course! But we will, and this is good in a way, as it will be a wonderful example for how to reclaim the worst possible Legendary Item and what is involved in order to turn it into gold 🙂

E. Create a circumstance where random chance is in your favor

So, we know what we are working with now. We will have three more reforges, each of which will allow us a choice between two of its existing legacies to raise one of them by one tier. Remember, the Tier of a legacy dictates how many legendary points have to be spent to raise that legacy’s rank. The higher the tier, the less you need to spend. You can tell what tier a legacy is at by how many lines form its symbol. In the above rendering, the first four legacies are Tier 2, the next Tier 3, and the last Tier 4.

But, as I have mentioned, I do not care much for the legacies that are currently on the item. Now is the time to use the scrolls we have been saving to replace the unwanted legacies on the item, before we start the reforging that will increase the tiers of legacies we may not want! 🙂

First, I will switch out Hedge Your Bet with the Positional Damage scroll I showed above…

And now I will play a special trick…

A Crystal of Remembrance!

These rare and precious crystals can sometimes be found as treasure while adventuring, and can also be purchased in the Overlords’ Store. Breaking it over one of your legendary items will grant it an additional Major legacy, giving it a total of 7 legacies in all. No more than one of these crystals can be used on any given item, so seven is the most any can ever have. It is basically a blank legacy which requires one of the legacy replacement scrolls to switch into something useful. I will do that now and use one that gives a Critical Buff Duration legacy, like so…

Now the Scouting bundle has four Major legacies, the four I had planned on from the beginning. There are eight Major legacies for a Scout’s kit. Unfortunately, four of the eight are worthless while in the Quiet Knife line, so there is no real motivation to try and get more. Aside from having to spend a Crystal of Remembrance, and the lowly tiers of the legacies themselves, this was the best outcome, at least regarding Major legacies.

But what about the Minor ones? I do not like any of those, truth be told. In fact, I do not really care for any in the entire pool, to be honest. They either affect skills gated by different trait lines and are therefore worthless, or they are more legacies that lend only a bit of convenience rather than any potency. If only there was something else to be done with them…

Off to the Relic-master!

Relic-masters have an incredible variety of wares for your legendary items. Through the process of melding (the third tab on their menu), they can use a given number of your shards and create from them a whole host of useful things! One of those things is creating a Minor legacy scroll that will boost one of the wielder’s given attributes (Might, Agility, Vitality, Fate or Will). You can even choose between a Lesser version of the scroll (which grants a Tier 2 Legacy, costing 943 shards) or a Regular version (Tier 4, 1,886 Shards).

Well, as I said, I do not really care for the usual Minor legacies for Scouting kits, and Scouts can always be more Agile, so let’s give that a try. I have enough shards on hand to choose the Regular version, so I will do that in case I want to increase the rank of that legacy later…

Yay! 🙂 Now, instead of having a legacy that was virtually worthless, now I am getting +130 Agility without spending a single point on that legacy! 🙂 How much higher can it go?

Not much higher, it looks like. To gain 8 more points of Agility, I would need to spend 163 points. But, even so, this legacy is tremendously useful! 🙂

F. Use Front-loaded Legacies to your favor

If you were to take a First Age Legendary Item and increase the Tier of every single legacy on it to the highest possible (which is Tier 6), you still would not have enough points to increase them all to their highest rank. Front-loaded legacies are an incredibly valuable tool, because most of their value is gained from just having the legacy at Rank 1 🙂 I can leave this Agility legacy alone, rather than spending 163 points to go from a bonus of +130 Agility to merely +138, and spend those points I saved on legacies that have a more linear progression.

Here is an example of another front-loaded legacy, from a different kit I have with me:

The Critical Rating begins at +1,304, with a maximum potential of +1,368. The very first rank of the legacy holds over 95% of its possible worth! And look at the cost to increase it at Tier 2! 356 points, nearly half of the maximum possible. No thanks! 🙂

When planning for the legacies on your legendary items, be sure to consider where front-loaded legacies can help save you some points, and which ones are most worthwhile for you!

In fact, I think I will exchange the other two Minor legacies on my kit with Fate and Vitality legacies, like so…

G. Collecting on our free Scrolls of Empowerment

Now, it is time to do our three reforges and see which legacies we can tier up, yes? Not quite, and not only three! Before we start those, let us look at two more Legendary Item scrolls that will be of use to us!

The Scroll of Delving will grant our Scouting bundle an additional 10 levels worth of advancement, while the Scroll of Empowerment will allow us to choose one Legacy and raise its Tier by 1. These are the final pieces that will let us bring the item that started so horribly out of the darkness and allow us to make it shine! 🙂

Firstly, since the Delving Scroll increases the item’s maximum level from 60 to 70, it gives us an extra reforge, which is basically a free Scroll of Empowerment, save for the random chance involved. But you see what we have done, yes? By switching all of the legacies on the bundle to ones which we want before starting those reforges, we have insured that we will almost always have a good option available to us! 🙂

We should apply that Scroll of Delving first and then do our reforging, saving any Empowerment scrolls for after we are finally through with all random outcomes. Mmm… those prices, though. I wonder if we can barter for these things more cheaply from someone else…

And we can, or we can with differing currencies, from the Relic-master. Consider…

  • Eorlingas Scrolls of Delving: 4,560 Marks and 552 Medallions from the Skirmish Camp, versus 19,500 Shards from the Relic-master.
  • Eorlingas Scrolls of Empowerment: 1,368 Marks and 173 Medallions from the Skirmish Camp, versus 28,440 Shards from the Relic-master.

Notice how the Relic-masters place more worth on the Empowerment Scrolls than the merchants in the Skirmish Camps, but less on the Delving Scrolls than they do? Just like in Bree-land, it pays to shop around! 🙂

We only need one Delving scroll but likely a slew of Empowerment scrolls… I think I will barter for the Delving scroll with Shards, and use Marks and Medallions for the Empowerment scrolls.

(Important note: There is also an option to barter for these scrolls in the Skirmish Camps using Seals rather than Marks. Never, never, never do this! If you do have Seals, any that are unused will be converted to Medallions down the road, at a ratio of 20 Medallions per 1 Seal, which is far and away a better bargain than using them in this manner!)

And, finally, we are off to our reforging. Here we go! 🙂

Our Level 40 Reforge: Which to choose, which to choose…

Remember, front-loaded legacies have most of their value in just being on the item. Because of that quality, increasing the Tier of those legacies is likely not the most efficient choice, as you will most likely rank up the legacies that progress more linearly first. I should have mentioned that all of the Major legacies I have chosen progress in a linear fashion beforehand, but you all probably knew the answer anyway 🙂

Completing the rest of the reforging with that in mind, we finish up with the item’s leveling like so…

Things are looking up!

Now, the only thing left to do is to decide how many Empowerment Scrolls to use to increase the tiers on the legacies we want to rank up. Well, I do not mess around when it comes to these things 🙂

12 Empowerment Scrolls later…

And we are pretty much done! 🙂

We may as well finish it off for a final rendering, though! What is left?

  • The Ents are far too unhasty with parting with their Legendary Item scrolls, so we will fetch one from those in the Eastemnet. Wildermore is another option as well
  • We can craft a relic to place within the item
  • 3 Eorlingas Star-Crystals would look lovely as an accessory, wouldn’t you say? 🙂
  • Settings, Gems, and Runes! How did we forget those!

Taking care of the first three things brings us to…

Almost there!

Lastly, the relics for our bundle:

I will discuss making choices amongst the relics in more detail a bit later. For now, I can say that the Relic-master has a dizzying variety of relics, and I am going to choose the most potent ones for my kit…

From caterpillar to butterfly…

And the transformation is done! From the worst beginning to a legendary item possible, into something the most dedicated and perseverant raider Scout would adventure with. That is an important thing to note, in my opinion. No longer are the best items gated behind content or restricted from anyone. With enough effort and perseverance, we all can reach for these things 🙂

H. The Reckoning – What was the cost?

But there is a cost. There is always a cost. What was the final cost to craft and work this bundle into what it eventually came to be?

  • We will assume to have been storing enough Item XP runes and Legendary Legacy Replacement scrolls in advance.
  • One Crystal of Remembrance (these are given from pre-ordering Helm’s Deep, can be found in treasure, and can be bought in the Store. For this, we will assume we purchased it for the going rate in the Auction Hall, around 350 gold
  • 1,886 Shards for each of the Stat Legacy Scrolls (Agility, Fate, Vitality), for a total of 5,658
  • 1 Eorlingas Scroll of Delving from the Relic-master – 19,500 Shards
  • 12 Eorlingas Scrolls of Empowerment from the Skirmish Camp – 16,416 Marks, 2,076 Medallions
  • Around 20-30 minutes worth of time for the LI Scroll from Snowbourn, assuming we did not have 50 of their tokens lingering in our wallet 🙂
  • 525 Marks and 69 Medallions for the Compendium of Middle-earth, Volume V for our crafted relic
  • 3 Eorlingas Star-crystals – In actuality, these do virtually nothing for the item, but I had extras, so I threw them in 🙂 They sell very cheaply now, so we will say 60 gold for the three 🙂
  • The Setting, Gem, and Rune I chose were all True Runes of the Eastemnet. The total cost for all three: 29,952 Shards and 12 Tier 9 relics of any kind.

So, the final cost:

  • 410 gold coins
  • 55,110 Shards
  • 16,941 Marks and 2,145 Medallions
  • 20-30 minutes of effort in the Eastemnet for our LI Scroll 🙂
  • 12 Tier 9 relics

You know, for the best possible Legendary item in the game, that is not bad, in my opinion. Especially when you consider:

  • You will likely find enough Star-lit Crystals during your normal adventuring, or you can just skip them. You can skip the Crystal of Remembrance easily as well, especially if you get an extra Major legacy from reforging.
  • Using the crafted relics to earn shards, and assuming no other shards of any sort, this is about 18 weeks worth of crafting relics, and maybe 30 minutes to an hour of time, once you have the resources ready to go! 🙂
  • The marks and medallions… If you had a committed group to earn these with, and used a few of the +100% Mark Acquisition scrolls, you could probably earn this many Marks and Medallions in about…4 hours or so, give or take? 400 Marks per Sambrog run, doubled is 800, assuming 10 minutes per run, which is very slow, is 4,800 Marks per hour. But if that is not for you, just normal and unhurried adventure will do! You can earn 993 Marks and 211 Medallions or so – per side objective – in the… *covers Draculetta’s ears* Deeping Wall Epic Battle raid 🙂 The side quests in Fornost give 80 Medallions each! Just clicking on three catapults to break them gets you 80 Medallions, and another 100 come from finishing the instance. There are so many choices, and that is what it is all about in the end! Do what you enjoy and let them come 🙂

I. One Final Project – A Butterfly Facsimile on a Shoestring Budget

So, let us say that you have drawn a line in the sand. You have decided, for whatever reason, that you simply do not wish to put anything more than the most nominal effort toward your legendary items. What then?

I still believe you can work toward a very nice legendary item, one that will be closer to the butterfly above than the caterpillar it began as 🙂 Let us see what we can do!

The first thing to recognize is that we have an advantage toward ensuring that we get off to a good start versus dealing with the First Age kit. Why?

Rarity. We are not likely to have multiple First Age kits, from which we can choose the one with the best legacies from the start. But 3rd Age kits are commonplace. We can ask kinmates to send us any they might find, buy them cheaply at the Auction Hall, and find many on our own!

I took the five or six kits that I had stowed away to claim relics from and had them appraised. This one seemed to be the best of the lot:

All three legacies are ones I would want and, while the tiers of the legacies are not stellar, they are not so bad, either. On to the first three reforges!

Again, not amazing, but not awful, either 🙂 We did get an extra Major legacy, and the two Minor legacies deal with the Quiet Knife line. Unfortunately Tricks Duration is useless as a Quiet Knife Scout, and we just will not have the points to rank up those Minor legacies, either. Let’s replace the Minor legacies with Stat Legacies, and we will swap out Tricks Duration with a front-loaded Major legacy to save even more points, like so…

Now, we work through our remaining reforges, each acting like a Scroll of Empowerment. Remember not to raise the tiers of front-loaded legacies! 🙂

Well, we were unlucky on the last reforge and had to choose between the two Stat legacies. Still, we have 3 front-loaded legacies, and three others just shy of being ranked fully.

Now, regarding relics. Most of the relics, save for the True relics which I used earlier, are front-loaded like some of the legacies are. We will choose 3 Tier 1 relics, while also adding the same crafted relic and LI Scroll that we did for the first kit, like so:

A side-by-side comparison…

All in all, not bad, even compared to the Butterfly! The crafted relics and LI Scroll are identical. The two Stat legacies are nearly identical, as are the three legacies shared by both (Positional Damage, Skills Critical Multiplier, and Specialization Skill Critical Buff). In exchange for the Butterfly’s extra linear legacy, we have a front-loaded one giving us near its full worth. Basically, the only things we are down on at all really are the extra Stat legacy on the Butterfly and the quality of the relics. But wait until you see how much we saved! 🙂

Total Cost of the Facsimile:

  • 3 Shards
  • 20-30 Minutes for the LI Scroll
  • 525 Marks and 69 Medallions
  • 3 Tier 1 Relics

That is it! We can approximate quite well the best Scouting kit possible in the game for so little effort that it is difficult to imagine anyone not wishing to do so! 🙂

But we all have that choice, and Choice is what makes for an inclusive game, one that is welcoming to most everyone 🙂

J. Conclusion

In the end, the Legendary Item system, like everything we do in these lands, is all about choice. A clear vision of what the Legendary Item system entails and a clear understanding of what is possible within that system,relative to the amount of effort required, simply helps us make better choices. I hope this long script has demystified some of all that is involved with the Legendary Item system and what the possibilities within it are! Comments, questions, critiques? Please, scribe them below! 🙂

Salute

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Passages

Passages

After seeing to the immediate concerns of those who had survived the day’s battle, and getting everyone settled in for the night as best as we could, we met once again with Lord Mathi.

“Lasses, thank you again for coming to our aid when you did. We needed every last hand we had to turn them away,” he said.

His gaze then went distant, as he looked about the settlement, at crumbled walls and the many places that yet smoldered. The woolly mask of his beard could not hide the sorrow that lined his eyes, nor that which touched his heart and his next words from whence they came.

“If only there had been more of us, to stop them in their tracks. Would that there were more goblins and Dourhands lying still in the cold of the night than we who merely defended our home.”

From his heart to mine his words traveled, and they lent strength to that which held it in its icy grasp…

Deverell and I merely nodded, for there was nothing more we could do in that moment.

Mathi continued, “We will get them buried, though. Before the ground becomes too frozen to take them in.”

“Does it normally become so cold this early in the Autumn?” asked Deverell. “I cannot imagine what it must be like in the heart of winter.”

Mathi shook his head. “No, lass. This coming winter will be a trying one, for sure. It’s those blasted cold winds blowing down from the mountains and the frozen land north of them that is the cause.”

“Those winds are never so long-reaching, nor as bitter this early though.” I agreed. “At least I do not remember them to be.

“We should stay, Kaleigh, and help bury the dead. At least for a day,” said Deverell.

“Of course we will,” I said, squeezing her hand.

Lord Mathi thanked us, and we went to find our rest, eager to put the sorrows of the day behind us.

We spent the next day in toil, with the others who had survived the siege and the battle thereafter, seeking to give rest to those who had fallen. As with the toil we shared in upturning the soil, our sharing with one another the burden of our hearts made that burden lighter for us all…

And, when it was finally time for us to take our leave, the well-wishes we received from those who yet remained and had dedicated themselves toward rebuilding their home made it lighter still…

From Gondamon we then traveled further up the Vale, seeking the counsel of others regarding the cold, and the chill of the winds that blew from the North.  And, as we ventured further northward, the consensus of those with whom we spoke told of an unnatural cold, one that pierced both reason and bone.

We reached the northern edge of the Ered Luin and then headed eastward, skirting the southern edge of the Forodwaith, and into the lands of Evendim, north of the great lake.

It was in these lands, within the settlement of Ost Forod, where we encountered some who had fled the Forodwaith, in the wake of a force moving southward.  They told of an Angmarrim sorcerer, one of terrible power, heading toward Evendim with his war-band, coercing all they came across into joining them, and slaughtering any who dared to refuse…

That is how we came to find ourselves overlooking a frozen land, seeking to meet this force before it reached the lands it sought to destroy…

We met with those I had befriended in Kauppa-kohta in prior days, who pointed us to the Ja-kuru, where they believed the Angmarrim’s force had encamped within a canyon of ice.  We left Dandi and Dancer with them, to stay warm under blankets and near to the fires of these friends, borrowing steeds that were better suited to the tundra that awaited us…

We had barely reached the southern edge of the canyon, when we spotted a scout patrolling its icy floor…

We hid ourselves against the canyon wall and made our plans…

“We are going to have to be cautious, yet sweep through the encampment quickly,” I said. “We cannot allow any foe to escape and give word of our approach, else we bring the whole encampment down upon us.”

“How will be keep them from fleeing from us?” asked Deverell. She gestured to the javelins I had strapped to my pack. “Is that what those are for?”

I shook my head. “I have not the strength to throw them far. I mean to drive these into the snow as we go, to help keep us from losing our way.”

She nodded and then asked, “So how will be keep any from escaping?”

I smiled at her. “We will have to rely on their overconfidence. Those in larger groups, anyway. I can bind at least one that tries to get away. We should be able to cut down any in smaller numbers before they can flee.”

Deverell nodded silently.

“I can tell something is troubling you,” I said. “Out with it.”

She sighed. “It is just that we know so little about this foe, and what we will face. To just storm in seems…” she trailed off.

“Overconfident?” I asked, finishing her thought.

She smiled and nodded. “If only we had more time, we could…” she began to say more, but I cut her off.

“If only we had more time.” I repeated, squeezing her hand. “We could scout our foe from atop the canyon and learn many things, true. But that would take more time than we have, and they may decide to continue southward at any moment.”

She nodded again.

“I just do not see another choice,” I said softly.

“Let us be about it, then, so that we can flee this cold,” she replied with a smile.

We crept down the embankment, choosing our steps carefully to avoid slipping on the ice and giving ourselves away, while letting the cold and the falling snow conceal our approach for as long as we could…

We took the first encampment by surprise…

We battled the Angarrim, and the influence they sought over the lands west of their wicked domain…

...and we fought the Dourhands that had joined that evil cause, allying themselves with those of blackened hearts and poisoned minds…

Spirits of the dead rose from the frozen ground to challenge our passage…

…hurling curses and crying out their laments, trying to drive fear into our hearts and turn us away…

But we stood firm, shielding ourselves from their attacks, and we fought them down…

I took one of my javelins and drove it into the frozen ground to mark our passage…

Our plan was working. We took a moment to rest after the battle before pressing onward…

The next encampment was more heavily occupied.  We battled a good many of the Angarrim, while also having to deal with Frost Grims, elemental spirits of Ice lured into the service of the sorcerer we meant to find…

They battled us fiercely, but we struck them down.  I drove another javelin into the ground before we pressed on, further into the winding canyon…

We hurried onward, knowing we could not allow ourselves to become trapped without shelter when night came. Droplets of melted water falling from icy overhangs stung our faces, seeming to mock our transience and the passage of precious time…

We came to a wide clearing in the canyon…

A Gauradan-shaman leapt down upon us from atop a massive snowdrift as we entered the clearing.  He channeled dark power from an unseen source that he then cast upon us…

I staggered under its weight while he called out for the aid of others in order to finish us.  Thankfully, no others were near enough to lend him that aid…

With Deverell’s help, I cast off his channeling and engaged him with my stickers.  Between the two of us, we slowly wore him down…

He was near to his end when I noticed his gaze move toward to something over my shoulder.  He chanted dark words and struggled against me with his last strength…

“Kaleigh, more are coming!” cried Deverell.

I tried to finish off the Gauradan as quickly as I could, but the hope of deliverance had given him a second wind, and he gave his all to remain standing…

“Kaleigh!

I finally struck him down and twirled away…

…just in time to escape the charge of a massive orc and the host of Gauredain he led toward us.  Our eyes and skin stung from the cloud of snow and mist raised into the air by their passage…

They turned to meet us and, in that cloud, we bested them, driving them to the ground where the ice and mist slowly settled upon them once again…

We then crept back to the entrance of the clearing and around a bend to conceal ourselves and catch our breath…

“What do you think?” I asked Deverell, once I was able to speak again.

She looked out into the clearing before answering.  “I think that shaman was channeling power from something…”

“Or someone, nearby?” I finished her thought.

She nodded.  “Who then sent those others out after us.”

“The sorcerer,” I said gravely.  “We are very fortunate there were not any closer to us than they at the time, else we would have been overrun.”

“They came from the northwest, it appeared.  There may be a cave or lair hidden from view by the drifts in the clearing.” Deverell mused.

I smiled solemnly.  “That is our next task, then.  We best be off.”

As if to prove our theory, we now found danger with every step we took in the clearing…

Vents of hot steam would appear beneath us suddenly, sending us into the air only to land upon jagged rock and ice…

The icy winds began to howl even louder, buffeting us with their chill and their force, sending us scurrying to the ground on our own terms, rather than allow ourselves to be upturned by them…

The snow and the wet seeped through our layers, soaking us to the bone, and the winds swept right through us.  The steam from the vents caught in our chests, and the hot and cold were sure to make us fall ill soon.  We needed to find shelter quickly…

It was then that the Angmarrim came…

We battled them amidst the ice storms, fighting our way closer to the cave from which they came for us…

Finally, the moment came when we had slain the last of them, and no more appeared.  We hurried into the cave to take shelter…

We crept further into the icy passage, fearing an ambush at every turn…

There was a warmth emanating from further inside the cavern, one hidden by the twists and bends that lie before us. Droplets of water fell from the mouth of the cave and the low ceiling of ice near to it, drenching us further and obscuring our vision…

…but they could not hide the form of the Watcher that lurked near to the cave opening.  It stood, motionless, appearing almost to be… asleep.

I motioned to Deverell to back away and advanced upon the creature quietly, hoping not to disturb it…

…but when I came too close, it began to awaken. I drove my sticker into its wooden flesh with all my strength…

It was a wood troll, and likely an ancient one, from an earlier age when these lands did not suffer the chill of severe winter year around as they now do, with the passage of time.  The sorcerer had bound it to sleep, only releasing the binding when we approached…

The sounds of our battle, though muffled by the cold and snow, surely traveled deeply into the cavern.  There was little we could do for that, however.  We bested the troll and warily moved on…

Further into the cavern, my footing gave way, and I nearly stumbled into a hollow within what we discovered to be a saber-tooth den. From the snow rose the massive saber-tooth pack leader…

His lightning-quick lunge at me missed by the smallest of margins and had my heart in my throat…

Neither Deverell nor I wished to battle this creature, but once disturbed, he would not let us be free of him…

Once we had incapacitated him, and given him as merciful an end as we could, I could not help but wonder if this was another of the Sorcerer’s minions, or was it simply a creature that merely wished to live its own life, but found itself caught between opposing forces warring within its own domain…

Deverell walked up alongside me, to look at the creature and then lay her hand on my arm…

“Come, Kaleigh.  We should away.”

I nodded and, together, we silently made our way further into the cavern…

We felt more warmth as we delved further, until we finally came to an ending chamber. At the far end stood a man and, beside him, a mammoth that must have been thirty feet tall…

“The winds of Forochel will sweep onto the shores of Evendim and freeze the lake solid!” the man shouted, his voice filling the whole of the chamber…

I quickly looked behind us, to be sure there was no ambush coming, and then stepped further into the chamber, with Deverell behind me…

He brandished his staff before us with an arrogant flair as we came closer.  What he said next brought a chill to my heart more deeply that any degree of weather or clime…

“The last refuge of the Rangers shall fall before my frozen blade!”

And it all finally made sense…

The cold, northern winds blowing, the early signs of Winter…

It was all due to a dark sorcerer of near-limitless power, who would summon the icy chill of the Forodwaith unto himself and cast it southward toward the great lake of Evendim, thus freezing the lake and creating a pathway for his minions to assault the stronghold of the Way-watchers in Tinnudir…

“You will be a suitable exercise. Prepare yourselves!”

Before he gathered any more to him, before he made his way any further southward, he needed to be stopped…

He needed to be stopped this very day…

I drew my stickers and sprinted toward him, Deverell following behind…

He shielded himself behind his magic as I neared, and the mammoth reared up at me…

“Mammoth! Awaken and destroy them!” the sorcerer demanded…

The sorcerer’s shield was absolute.  No strike I inflicted upon it pierced it in any way.  There was naught we could do, save for to battle the mammoth and hope the sorcerer’s strength might fade…

We stood our ground and, after a time, the mammoth began to shy way from my blades.  I saw the sorcerer drop his shield and lit out toward him…

With the utterance of a dark word, and a thrust of his staff, he sent me into the rocks at the far end of the cavern…

“Kaleigh!”

I turned to see that some of the sorcerer’s minions had come to the cavern.  Deverell ran to me and helped free me from the rocks.  We battled the sorcerer’s minions as he looked on, his laughter filling the chamber…

Once we ended the last of his minions, I engaged the sorcerer once again…

His curses, his hexes, and the strikes from his staff were withering.  It was only due to Deverell’s presence that I was able to stand up to him…

When he realized we would not fall as easily as he would have liked, he summoned his mammoth to the fight once again, shielding himself within his magic, as he did before…

The mammoth attempted to stomp us into the snow, but we proved too quick for it.  Its wounds from before had sapped its fighting spirit, and we inflicted new ones now, causing it to flee from us far more quickly this time…

The sorcerer cursed and lowered his shield.  He summoned more minions that appeared at the mouth of the cavern…

We fought through the lot of them and then turned once more toward the sorcerer…

“You will pay for breaking my concentration!” he screamed…

…but neither his words nor his voice conveyed the same overflow of confidence that they had earlier.  I kept as close to him as I was able, staying inside the space where he could better swing his staff…

He quickly glanced over his shoulder and cried, “Mammoth, awaken and join me in their destruction!”

But I had been waiting for that moment.  When he lowered his shield, I spoke the word of binding I had prepared…

…and Deverell and I cut the mammoth to the ground while its master was still bound…

We advanced upon the sorcerer…

Though we had the upper hand, I was careful not to let overconfidence become our undoing.  But no more minions came, and all he spewed at us now was filth, powerless but vile…

We should have been lost, pure and simple.  All I could think of, as we brought this man to his end, was how powerful a force for good he might have been, had he not given himself over to something else…

For there comes a point when there is no turning back…

…and for him, that time had come…

The sorcerer fell to the ground and breathed his last…

[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that fall are forever lost from these lands]

[The Icy Crevasse.  Size:  Duo.  Tier:  3]

“Kaleigh, I cannot believe…” Deverell said, before trailing off.

I gave her a quick smile before turning away, to hide the pain I bore in my chest…

We took shelter within the cavern of the Ja-kuru that night, and then made for Kauppa-Kohta the next day. Its people could scarcely believe us at first, when we told them that the sorcerer was no more. We sat, wrapped in blankets and near to the fire, with mugs in hand filled with a special brew of the Icepeople’s that brought warmth to body and spirit, and we told them of our ordeal, and how it came to end…

They gifted us in so many ways that evening. Furs and charms and jewelry made of the things they held precious, so many things that we had to turn most of it away, for we could never hope to bring it all with us when we were to away…

But it was their smiles, and the look of peace they now shared that brought us the most warmth of all, and that warmth did much to help us recover.  For two days we rested, to shake the chills and the fever we had brought back with us…

And then it was time to away…

We traveled dark places on dark roads. War was in the air, and it had begun to be battled on many fronts. We watched for signs and looked for ways in which we might turn the tide in those places, to make a difference…

But the greatest enemy was that of time, and its passage saw most of those opportunities lost before we came to realize them…

We quickened our pace, heading south and east toward Bree-land, where we hoped to hear word of places we might go and lend our aid.  Little did we know that we would find one so soon…

…for while war raged in the South and the Rangers of the North were absent, brigands and ruffians had taken the opportunity to wrest control of Bree-town and the lands that surrounded it.  The Watch had been driven out of town and held only the land to the south.

We walked through their encampment, raised upon the snow-covered ground of an early Winter, hearing tale of how the brigands had made their assault.  It had been a focused, disciplined attack, and it was believed that someone had rallied the many bands of brigands together into a more sizable and more threatening force…

Second-watcher Heathstraw had led the last attempt to retake the town and been wounded.  Stubborn as he was, he refused to leave the front line.  We went to meet with him at his tent not far from the town’s southern gate…

He looked up at us and smiled wearily as we approached. “Ah, good.  The reinforcements have arrived. It is good to see the Free Peoples rising up to support Bree.”

“Greetings, Second-watcher,” I said to him. “You are wounded. Why do you not come off the line and let others like us do their part?”

“Because I wish I could help. I stormed the gate thirty minutes ago and got this wound for my trouble,” he winced, clutching at his shoulder.

I looked to Deverell and, when she nodded, I said, “Why not let us have a go at them?  At the very least, we can give you and the Watchmen some time to rest and recover.

He did not wish to let us go on our own, but we finally convinced him it was for the best…

“The enemy is greatly entrenched. Their defences extend from the South-gate back to the Town Hall,” he told us.  “And they have made pacts with sinister things, and brought them into town.”

“Have you any more idea of who it is that leads these brigands?” asked Deverell.

“None,” sighed the Watcher.  “The few we have captured will not speak of it.”

“Perhaps the two of us can loosen their tongues,” I said.

We made ready for battle and set off toward the southern gate…

From over our shoulder Watcher Heathstraw called to us…

“It is up to you now. Reclaim Bree for the Free Peoples!”

We saw firsthand what the Watcher had spoken of, when he had mentioned pacts and bargains that had been struck amongst the bandits and fouler things, for not only was there a band of brigands guarding the southern gate, but a wood troll stood with them, peacefully…

We advanced upon the gate.  I used a word of power to bind the troll while we dealt with the others, leaving only him to combat once the binding gave way…

That such things could stand without resistance upon the very threshold of Bree-town in these days…

It was a perilous dance in which we partook, the seeking of opportunity within the heart and strongholds of the Enemy, as they surely sought the same in ours…

We bested the troll and gained the Southern gate…

The commotion we made had been heard by others, and we were met by more brigands as soon as we stepped foot inside town…

They battled fiercely and would not surrender to us, even when we proved to have the upper hand.  We were forced to end them…

Seeing no other sign of the bandits, we continued on, approaching the auction hall…

…where I was greeted by the hammer of a giant and sent flying back the way we had came…

We battled the giant out in the streets, choking from the dust raised by his hammer-strikes and tripping on the broken cobblestone that took the punishment meant for us…

Finally, he fell to the ground, shaking the lampposts and ratting the doors of every building nearby. What little hope there was to continue on in stealth had surely become lost to us…

…and from behind us not a moment later, we heard a door open…

“Knock it off with the ruckus!” bellowed a man on the step of the house nearest the auction hall…

It was Ned Ashleaf, one of Bill Ferny’s cronies and a likely conspirator in the events leading up to Bree-town’s capture…

“Who is that?” whispered Deverell to me.

“Someone with some answers,” I whispered to her…

Ashleaf turned and saw us watching him.  He spit on the ground and drew his stickers…

He whistled at us.  “So you want a fight?” he mocked, in a cat-calling tone…

“We need to capture this creep,” I told Deverell and then lit out for the stairs…

Ned and I battled atop the stoop of the house he had been looting. We maneuvered back and forth, while trying to avoid the others’ attacks and slipping off the stoop toward a tumble into the snow…

I slowly steered him toward the edge of the stoop, away from the house, and then feinted a charge.  He stepped back with one foot and slipped, causing him to fall forward.  I caught him under the chin with my knee and then kicked his stickers away once he had fallen, twisting himself onto his back…

I gave him a moment and then told him to stand…

When he did, I poked him in the belly with my sticker to keep him still…

“Hands out and away from you,” I said, beckoning toward Deverell to join us and keep an eye on him.

He held his hands out and grinned.  “If ya wanted me to hug ya, all ya had to do was ask,” he smirked.

I rapped him across the forehead with the flat of my sticker before poking him in the gut with it once more.  His smirk disappeared…

“Who is behind all of this?” I asked him.

“The new mayor, no doubt,” he scoffed.  “He’s cleanin’ things up in town.”

“So who is the new mayor, then?  Ferny?” I asked, playing along…

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he scoffed and looked away.

“I bet it is,” I said, nodding toward Deverell.  “And I bet Ferny has you slaving for him like a dog.”

“Bah!  Ferny ain’t no better than me!  It’s that Shar…” he stopped himself.

I gave Deverell a quick look and then turned to regard Ashleaf with a smug smile. But, when I saw a fear in his eyes that had not been there the moment before, I stopped myself…

“Who is this person?” I asked him.

“I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ else.  Besides, you’re gonna be late for the round-up,” he chided.

“What do you mean, creep?” asked Deverell.

“They’re roundin’ up folk for questionin’ at town hall.  And the ones that don’t answer so good…”  He started to make a gesture with his hand, until I stopped him with another poke in his gut.

“This is happening now?” I asked him while pushing a bit on my sticker.

“Yeah, yeah!  You best get goin’ now!”

Deverell looked at me and said, “We better go, in case he’s not lying.”

“I ain’t lying, I swear!”

“What do we do with him, though?” I asked.

Ned started to give his opinion on the matter, but another rap on the forehead quieted him…

We stood silently for a moment while thinking, but we had no time to lose…

“Let’s run him to the gate and give him to the Watch quickly,” I suggested, to which Deverell nodded.

“No, no, no, you ain’t got the time, lasses,” Ashleaf suggested.  “I’ll turn myself in.  You both go and save the townsfolk, before it’s too late!”

Deverell and I shook our heads and dragged him toward the southern gate.  I called out to Watcher Heathstraw and waved, before placing my boot on Ashleaf’s backside and kicking him out of Bree-town…

I then turned toward Deverell…

“We have to fly.”

We turned and lit out toward town once again…

The brigands had barricaded most of the streets, forcing us to take the long way toward town hall, and we encountered more monstrosities as we made our way further into town…

We met a troll near the crypt in the back alley leading toward the Hunting Lodge…

I made my attacks with all speed, abandoning any pretense of protecting myself, with the hope that Deverell could keep the two of us fighting on…

We found more brigands further down the alley, near to the Hunting Lodge…

We struck them down, but not before they had called out our presence. More appeared through the gate leading toward the jailhouse…

We fought through their counterattack and bested them, but the effort took too much time…

I began to see our foes not as living beings, but merely as obstacles. Obstacles to our passage…

“Deverell!” I cried…

…and I lit off into the alley leading to the jailhouse, with Deverell right behind me…

We charged into the square and met with an orc…

It lurched toward me and lunged, like the drunken passes that the patty-cakers in the Pony often make. I spun myself away and ended him…

The brigands in the square called for aid and then set upon us…

Together, men and half-orcs fought against us, in order to keep hold of Bree-town for themselves and their master.  It made my heart run cold…

…but they were all obstacles in our path.  Every one of them had to be struck down…

We passed through the barricade and into the town hall square, where we were met by more brigand guards…

Snow drifts and a barricade prevented us from seeing what was happening directly outside town hall, but we began to hear cries for aid and the screams of those in agony…

I battled to strike the brigands down with all that I had in me, that we might come to the aid of the townsfolk before it was too late…

We sprinted for town hall once free of the bandits.  Another giant lay in our path…

I charged him, knowing his strike would come too slowly, and that he would make himself vulnerable…

…and I drove my stickers into him as I sped past.  I did not slow…

“Kaleigh, the giant!” Deverell cried, but I beckoned for her to leave it and follow…

I ran to a gap in the barricade, and I spied a large half-orc standing before a man pleading for his life. Another orc looked on with glee…

Beckham…

“No!”

I hurled myself over the barricade toward them…

The half-orc turned toward me…

“Bree belongs to us now!”

And then he turned back toward the man and swung his sword completely through him.  I came to a halt merely inches away…

I had failed once more…

The half-orc watched the man crumple to the ground and then turned toward me…

“Looks like some more meat for the slaughter!”

I backed away and readied a word of binding as the orc and the half-orc advanced…

I bound the leader with a word of power and turned to battle the half-orc…

We struggled against one another for a long while.  I continued to bind the leader by word whenever he began to free himself, hoping that he would not find a way to resist, else we be lost…

After a long battle, I finally created the opening that I had worked for, and I plunged my sticker deep into the orc’s chest, piercing armor, flesh and bone…

The leader came to as the orc fell at my feet…

“You shall be torn asunder!” he shouted…

We battled back and forth across the courtyard, each looking to find a weakness in the other…

The bodies of the slain lying in the snow reminded me of the plight of Gondamon and its people…

We could not fail.  We had to stand, and stand together…

I knocked away the half-orc’s sword, leaving him open to attack…

…and I drove my sticker into him, ending our battle…

“Sharkey, forgive me…” breathed the creep with his last…

But I knew these would not be the last to fall, on either side of the fight.  We had recaptured the southern part of town, but the brigands still held parts as well…

We left the courtyard, finished off the giant, and went to fetch the Watch…

Second-watcher Heathstraw marveled at what we had accomplished…

“You did it! The south of Bree is free once more! Thank you.”

[Thievery and Mischief.  Size: Small Fellowship.  Tier: 3]

“We have more to do yet,” I said.

The Watcher nodded.  “The brigands will surely mount a counterattack soon.  I think we should round up all the citizens we can and bring them to the Pony.  There we can keep watch over them as we drive the brigands the rest of the way out of town.”

“We will do everything we can to assist you,” said Deverell, and I nodded my assent.

The Watcher pulled his eyes away from the dead lying in the snow.

“Let us see to it, then.”

Later that evening, during a quiet moment before rest, I recorded our passage from Gondamon to this point. We had traveled far to find the enemy, only to meet him on our doorstep…

[Now that you have read this entry here, you can find the entire saga, with nearly full-sized renderings, over at the Overlords’ forums here!]

Posted in The Spirit Gauntlet | 3 Comments

Siege of Gondamon

Siege of Gondamon

Amidst the falling snow that obscured our vision, and the beating of the drums of war that shook the stone upon which we stood, I remembered Hithlim’s warning…

“Kaleigh, the foes you go to meet are not the sort that fill legions upon the battlefield. They are of the highest Tier one can imagine dwelling in this realm. And with most of us scattered in distant places, you will not likely find any to aid you, nor to run to should things go badly. If you should fall, there is no retreat.”

[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that fall are forever lost from these lands.]

…the gauntlet had begun…

[Siege of Gondamon. Size: Duo. Tier: 3]

Mathi’s words brought me back to the present…

“Gondamon has been a free city so long as I have ever known.  The Dourhand wish to take that from you.  To take your homes, and slaughter your families!  But I say not today. I say we stand.  I say we fight!”

We cheered, rousing our spirits for the battle to come…

“Now to the walls! We defend Gondamon to our last breath!”

As the defenders moved to the gates they each were assigned to defend, Deverell and I took our place in the central courtyard. Lord Mathi had tasked us with assessing the threats the Dourhand presented at each of the three gates, and to strengthen the defending line of each as needed.

That need was swift and sudden…

The Dourhand had forged an alliance with the Blue Crag goblins entrapped within Rath Teraig. The barricade that had held them fast was overrun…

Together, they had laid siege to Gondamon for nearly two weeks before we arrived, and they now launched their final assault…

Under the bleak light of an early Autumnal day, they meant to wrest control of the settlement from the Longbeards’ hands, forevermore…

We raced over cobblestone slick with melting snow, from Northern gate, to Eastern, to Southern, and back again, filling the line as needed…

A call went up…

“To the north! The enemy has nearly broken through!”

At the Northern gate, we met a horde of goblins with the wolves they had bred for war…

I did not see the evil spirit with them, until it laced the stone beneath us with a spectral light…

I twirled to face the spirit and what was left of the goblins, Deverell aiding Master Mergeth and I with her cries…

When the spirit came for me, I looked to Mergeth, who circled behind…

…and his mighty strike nearly clove the wicked thing in twain…

“Another falls!” he cried.

“Like the flakes of snow that dust the ground!” answered Deverell.

“We best look to the other gates,” I smiled. “Call out if you need aid once more!”

But our spirits fell soon after, as upon our return we found enemies within the central courtyard. The line guarding the Southern gate had been routed…

“Reinforcements to the Southern Gate!” I cried out, as Deverell and I tried to stem the tide that threatened to sweep inside…

We held fast until aid arrived, but there were not enough sent to fully defend the gate…

I endeavored to strike down the crebain spies that threatened to carry word of our weakness to their masters…

“Let us know if you need aid,” I told those just arrived, before we ran off once again to answer a call from the West…

The Dourhand had lured a wood troll down from the mountains to aid in their fight…

We helped to bring it down, but calls were now coming from all sides of the courtyard…

The Enemy was closing in…

To the South…

…and then the West, where we met a force led by one of the Dourhands’ lieutenants…

With the terraces of Gondamon reaching skyward in view, I twirled behind the enemy leader to strike him down…

…and, when he turned toward me, the others that held the line brought him down, instead…

We heard a call from the North as we finished the rest, and we ran to meet the new foe that pressed inward upon us…

…before returning to the Western gate once more, where the Dourhand had unleashed a pack of wolves to harry those charged with its defense…

As we struck down the last of the pack, the sound of war horns blaring outside the walls gave us pause. We rushed to the Southern gate fearing the worst…

…only to find the enemy retreating into the vale. A cheer went up from those upon the walls of Gondamon and those within…

“Surely, they are not driven off so easily?” asked Deverell.

“I wish it were so,” I sighed wearily. “I fear some of their spies have escaped to give word of where our weaknesses lie, and they pause only to regroup and realign their attack, to strike at us where their surges have the best chance of breaking the line.”

She nodded, and we both looked off into the distance where the enemy swarmed and massed, preparing for another assault…

“We best stay near the Southern gate as long as we are able,” I whispered…

It was soon as I had feared, for the enemy surged toward the Southern gate. Enemy lieutenants led charge after charge into the line…

We endeavored to hold, fighting furiously to keep the enemy from breaking through into the courtyard…

Deverell’s cries kept us from falling and made us able to fight on when, otherwise, we would have been lost…

A swarm of goblins, led by an orcish shaman, threatened to sweep past us and into the keep. I bound the shaman with a word of power, and we struck down its minions before it could act…

I felt a rage take hold of me.  I stood before my foe, taunting him with my presence, while seeing the fear in his eyes as he found himself alone, powerless to save those who had walked with him…

I cut him down, unaware of the commotion about me…

…and the cries going up from the walls…

“Kaleigh!”

“To Lord Mathi! Lord Mathi is under attack!”

I finally looked up to see a swarm of goblins, led by one of the Angmarrim, climbing the stair to where Lord Mathi’s command stood.

The Dourhand spies had reported our weakness at the Southern gate, but their general had used it as a diversion…

Deverell beckoned to me.

“To Lord Mathi!”

We took the stair as quickly as we could and came to a frightful sight…

Lord Mathi battled the remaining foes, alone…

Deverell and I entered the fray, and the three of us fought to keep the battle from ending, then and there…

We battled through the goblin horde, until the Angmarrim advanced upon me…

He spoke a word of dark power, freezing me in time before I could ready myself…

…and then delivered a frightful blow, sending me to a knee and into a fog…

He raised his hammer, as I slowly rose to my feet…

Were it not for Deverell lending me courage and strength, his next strike would have been my end…

Mathi jumped to my defense, and both he and Deverell kept me safe as I gathered my wits before rejoining the fight…

The battle raged below us in the courtyard, the defenders keeping the enemy from joining our fight on the upper tier…

…while we struggled against the Angarrim, whose might was strengthened by a dark and frightening power…

Finally, while I kept his attention, Mathi circled behind our foe…

..and he was able to knock him to the ground. Once, we we had finished him, Deverell and I made for the courtyard, while Mathi tried to regain order amongst his garrison…

Gondamon’s soldiers rallied, and we drove the enemy from the courtyard back to the gates, as we attempted to make one final stand…

Wave after wave of the Dourhand rushed the Northern gate, trying to break the line…

…though we held fast, cutting down those that did not retreat to safer ground…

But we had not a moment to catch our breath before a call for aid rang out to the West…

“Go on, lasses! I will hold them!” bellowed Mergeth.

“Holler if you need aid,” I called out over my shoulder, as Deverell and I made for the Western gate…

At the Western gate, we found a great craban scout spying upon what remained of Gondamon’s defenses…

As we tried to lure it to our knives, I heard the sound of another surge of foes approaching from the West…

We were forced to leave the craban scout on its own, as we turned to stem the new surge…

We held fast and turned them away,  finding no more enemies approaching us .  We looked down into the vale and saw that many of the Dourhand and their allies were making for the northern and southern walls…

A cry went up…

“The walls! They are scaling the walls!”

While the others left to battle the foes outside, Deverell and I flew to Lord Mathi to confer…

“I’ve sent forces outside to tear down their ladders, and more onto the walls to meet those that make the climb,” growled Mathi, as he drew his sword.

“What about the gates?” I asked.

“We hope for the best and deal with what gets through ourselves, lass.”

I nodded, gripping my stickers and trying to summon the energy for one last stand.  I looked over to Deverell, who favored me with a weary smile, while holding her staff before her…

We kept watch, over the courtyard below and the walls above, waiting to engage any enemy that broke through our last defence…

And they came swiftly…

Another of the Angmarrim, and his force of goblins and Dourhand, broke through the gates and into the courtyard, gaining the platform upon which we stood…

Lord Mathi dealt with the others, while Deverell and I held the Angmarrim away…

…before we then surrounded him, crushing him between the force of our attack…

More foes broke through the lines, either scaling the wall and dropping onto the platform we held, or by fighting through the defense at the gates…

The battle turned to chaos, each of us beset upon by many foes…

In the moments that we were able, we fought to aid one another…

…and those moments helped keep us standing, as we held the platform against foe after foe that entered the fray…

Lieutenants led their charges, sending their minions to divide us from one another, to leave us weak and vulnerable…

We gave ground, collapsing upon one another, fighting back-to-back…

And we clung to hope, as the light of the fading sun yet clung to the heights of Gondamon’s walls…

It was then, as we fought off a swarm of goblins that had dropped down upon us from above, that we noticed a shadow circling the courtyard…

…and we heard a sound upon the air, like a banner rippling in a mighty breeze…

As if leather was fighting the wind...

“Mathi, today is the day you and Gondamon fall to the Dourhands!”

We turned to see the Dourhand General, Ingithor Blackhand, had scaled the northern wall…

Mathi spit upon the ground…

“Blackhand! The Dourhands will never rule Gondamon!”

“Gondamon will be mine!” answered Blackhand. “Drake! Come to me!”

…and a drake of fire appeared, soaring above the Northern wall and circling above the courtyard.  It thrashed its leathery wings upon the air…

…before coming to land upon the northwestern corner of the platform, shaking the stone upon which we stood…

“Gondamon will belong to the Dourhands! To battle!” shouted Blackhand.

I watched as Lord Mathi and Blackhand advanced upon one another. I knew that the hatred between the two dwarven clans ran too deeply to allow either one of them to suffer another foe before each other…

And I also knew that, were we to face both the general and the drake at once, we had no chance to prevail…

I readied my words of binding and prayed that they would hold…

I bound the drake as it began to approach and we then engaged Blackhand…

Every blow he struck was staggering, even those we managed to parry away…

The battle wore on, as I kept the drake bound with words of power, fearing each time that the last might not hold…

Blackhand realized this and began to play for time, deftly dodging or parrying away our attacks, while calling out to his drake to awaken…

And his dual-shafted, double-sided hammer forced us to keep our distance…

But, with the drake bound, we had the advantage of numbers…

Mathi was able to land a vicious blow, dazing the general, and we made the most of the moment… 

Blackhand fought on, but we had wounded him grievously…

…and, soon after, Mathi and I closed in upon him.  Mathi dealt him one last strike…

Blackhand staggered from the blow, twisting toward Mathi…

“I spit my last breath at you, Mathi!” he wheezed, before falling to his knees…

I kept an eye on the drake, while Mathi saw justice done for Gondamon.  And the Dourhand forces, seeing their general felled, began to retreat…

But we were not going to allow the drake to flee, only to be a threat once more on a future day…

We engaged the creature, finding the warmth that it emanated welcome for but a brief moment, before it became scorching…

It roared at us, spitting smoke and fire, while clawing at us with its talons…

…but, between the three of us,  we were able to wear it down…

The drake began to teeter and wobble before us…

“Careful! It is going to fall!” I cried out…

It spit its fire one last time upon us, before crashing to the ground…

…and, there in a heap, lay the last of Gondamon’s assailants.  We had slain or beaten back every last one.

Those who yet lived cheered our victory and began to gather near Lord Mathi, aiding those who had been injured up the stair to lie before him…

“Gondamon stands a free city, a damaged and beaten city, but a free one,” said Lord Mathi.

“Gondamon is saved!  Gondamon is saved!”

“We held out for as long as we had strength,” continued Lord Mathi.

“Today will be remembered as a great victory!”

He then turned to Deverell and I.

“I fear if you hadn’t come when you did, the city would have fallen. The Longbeards owe you a great debt,” Lord Mathi said.

And the people of Gondamon cheered for us.  But they also cheered for one another, as each one of us had a hand in the victory that was won that day…

[Now that you have read this entry here, you can find the entire saga, with nearly full-sized renderings, over at the Overlords’ forums here!]

Posted in The Spirit Gauntlet | 1 Comment

Obstacles

Obstacles

Candaith was the first to recover his breath and finally speak.

“Well done, both of you. There were a good many more in that war-band than I had suspected,” he said.

“We are fortunate to have escaped with our lives,” said Deverell, still trembling from all that was involved in the battle.

Candaith looked to her. “Fortunate? Very much so, yet fortune was not all that stood here with us this past night.”

He looked around the weathered summit, at those lying on the ground who had met their end, before continuing, “While I wish I could say that we had met under a better circumstance, Lady Deverell, the truth is that meeting would never have been, save for your presence here this day. Scout Kaleigh and I, we owe you our lives.”

I turned to smile at Deverell and witness her flustering, both with such praise and the fatigue that wore upon us all.

“Thank you, my lord,” she managed.

I squeezed her hand. “He is right, you know. We would be lost without you here with us.”

Candaith then turned to me. “Saeradan would be proud, Scout Kaleigh. You took to your lessons well.

I smiled at him…

…yet the grip upon my heart remained…

“Come, let us see to the horses, and if they have been spared.”

Once Deverell had treated our more pressing wounds, we began our descent down from Weathertop and toward Candaith’s camp.

“Where now will you go, Candaith?” I asked. “Perhaps the three of us should share the same path for a time.”

He shook his head. “I fear that time has ended, for the Enemy has seen the same opportunity that Halbarad envisioned, and has acted upon it. We have been forced to move more quickly that we would have liked.”

“The others Halbarad sent, you mean. The others sent with you?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Yes. We were to make for western lands and sweep eastward, looking for opportunities to hinder enemy efforts and spoil their plans. But word has reached us that the Enemy is already on the move, and that we are needed in southern lands. I am likely the last of us in these parts, save for those in the haven. And I, too, must now make for distant lands.

We silently made our way toward camp for some minutes before he spoke again.

“If you mean to continue on this path, you would act more as obstacles to the enemy rather than the quiet knife striking from the shadows. And neither Halbarad, nor I, nor any other amongst us would ask you to act as such.”

I was still considering this new course, and how different the path might be for us, when Deverell said, “We made a good showing of it today, at least.”

“That we did.” I nodded and looked to Candaith.

Candaith grinned wearily, “I should have known better than to expect those who had henpecked me into resting upon arriving at my camp to give up so easily.”

Deverell and I put our arms around each others’ shoulders and made a show of mock defiance, before the effort became too much to bear.

We had survived, to see another day, and we celebrated life and the bonds we had forged through blood and sacrifice…

Candaith looked westward and said, “In the Ered Luin, the Dourhand have a stronghold. Do you know of it?”

I reached for the map in my pack. “Sarnur, it is called, yes?” I asked.

He nodded. “It is believed that they lie in wait, growing stronger as each season passes. On my way through the mountains, I witnessed signs that the time they will be unleashed grows near. But I did not have time to be sure.”

I looked to Deverell and, when she nodded, I said, “We will journey there and see.”

Candaith nodded, “Good. You may find yourselves following our path, finding signs we have overlooked and seeing to troubles that have sprung up in the time since my brothers and I had first passed through.”

“We will begin the journey tomorrow, once we have each taken rest and treated our ailments,” I said.

We reached Candaith’s camp and found the horses safe.  We brought them to water and a better place to graze.

We each took turns at watch, allowing the others much needed rest, and Deverell’s poultices and remedies worked well to ease the wounds we carried away from battle. We rested through the remainder of the day and the night that followed.

The next morning we gathered ourselves for the long road ahead, bidding one another a safe journey. until the fortunate day when we might meet again.

We had mounted up and begun easing Dandi and Dancer southward, when we heard Candaith call out.

“Scout Kaleigh, a word.”

Deverell and I looked to each other a moment. She then urged Dancer to keep walking, while I turned Dandi back toward the camp.

“Your friend, Deverell, is very brave,” Candaith said, once I had returned.

I smiled. “I had no idea how much before this, but you speak truly.”

Candaith raised an eyebrow, “Never in battle before this?”

“Only during a fight or two we had in the Weather Hills on the way here, at least to my knowledge,” I replied.

“I see.”

He said no more for some time, and I was just about ready to turn Dandi about and rejoin Deverell, when he spoke once more.

“The road you both are undertaking has become much more perilous than the one you meant to take,” he said.

I sighed and nodded. “I know, but we will take care while traversing it, I promise.”

“See that you do,” he replied. “Remember that the Enemy is now actively working toward their plan, and you are likely to come upon obstacles too great for the two of you to tear down. Your friend, being new to battle, will not be able to advise you in this, so you will be your greatest counsel. When in doubt, find a way to circumvent challenges too great for the two of you, and move on to other things you can manage.”

“We will,” I assured him.

He looked at me sternly for a few moments before finally nodding.

I nodded and waved my farewell to him before turning Dandi back toward the south and walking her away.

From over my shoulder I heard Candaith say, “I am most grateful you both found me here.”

I sighed and smiled, while keeping to the southward path.

As am I, my friend…

I trotted Dandi to catch up to Deverell on the hills leading southward, toward the Great East Road.  Weathertop loomed over our shoulder, a monument to the narrow victory we had won there.

We spied some goblin camps in the valley below and decided to skirt them by going westward, letting the peaks of the hills we traversed give us cover.

Deverell brought Dancer to a halt and waited, so that we could ride together for a bit.

“So what did Candaith wish to tell you that was not meant for my ears to hear?” she asked, with a smile.

I looked away, toward the road we were nearing.

“He said you look pretty when you are flustered,” I replied, with all the solemnity I could muster.

She smacked me on the shoulder that the skeleton has raked with its decaying nails, and I winced.

“You do not want to have to treat this again, do you?” I smiled at her while rubbing my shoulder.

“Out with it, then! Unless, it really was meant to be private…” she trailed off.

“It was nothing like that, I promise you. He said much the same as Lord Gildor, really. And how lucky I was, to have you with me.”

She lowered her hand, and her expression eased a bit. “That is all? Not the part about being flustered?”

I lay my hand on her arm. “Had he said that, I would have been forced to correct him by saying you look that way all of the time.  Save for when you are smacking me, that is.”

We both laughed, and our laughter helped to chase away the horror of that terrible night…

We reached the Great East Road and turned onto it, heading westward.

Our road would be a long one, I knew, and we were still recovering from the ordeal just past.

“There is an inn not far off down the road, where we can take some rest,” I said. “It lies near the border of Bree-land.”

“A rest would be welcome,” Deverell said.

We reached the Forsaken Inn in the late afternoon and stopped, deciding that more rest now would leave us stronger for what might come in the days ahead.

“Tomorrow is a new day, girl. We will be off when daylight breaks,” I whispered to Dandi.

I had not had reason to come this way for some time, but the Inn was still quite a sight, though a welcome one for the weary.

“Let us hope that it does not rain this night,” said Deverell.

“Oh, not to fear.” I smiled. “Rain is quite rare in these parts.”

We went inside, and I made to fetch us a room while Deverell saw to our things. There was a man standing at the bar, so I waited patiently for a few moments.

When he saw me, he said, “I am just waiting for more swill, lass. Go on ahead.”

I smiled at him. “Thank you, sir.”

I then turned to the innkeep and said, “I would like a room, with a roof, please?”

Both Deverell and I were most grateful for that discretion later, as a storm began to bluster in the early morning and was still at it when we meant to leave the next day.

The two of us stared glumly into the clouded and darkened sky.

“We really should cover some ground today,” I said.

“I suppose we should,” Deverell sighed.

When I saw her gaze move back to the door of the inn, however, I took hold of her wrist and pulled her toward the stables.

“Come on,” I said. “It is not like we will get any more wet now.”

We made for the stables, though we dreaded the reception we would receive from the horses regarding what promised to be a rain-filled day of travel.

I stroked Dancer behind her ears. “I am sorry, girl, but we dearly need to take to the road today.”

She cast a baleful look my way as I whistled for Dandi, who was braving the rain to graze a bit on the sparse grasses near the stables.

I hugged her about her neck. “I am so sorry, girl. I will make it up to you, someday. I promise.”

She pawed at the ground and nodded her head in agreement, as if to make sure I would remember that last bit.  Most everything she did found its way to my heart.

We set off into the rain and the wind, heading westward and into Bree-land.

Our journey together seemed already to be a long one, but the true storm was only just beginning, I knew…

…yet I looked forward, with hope for the opportunity to make my atonement, and to shed the burden that I have carried, for good…

The only opportunity the storm afforded us at the moment, however, was a means to catch our death.

I beckoned toward Deverell and pointed down the road leading toward the homesteads, south and east of Bree-town.

When she had caught up to me, I said, “There is no use fighting this storm any more today. We can take rest at my home and gather things for the coming journey.”

“That sounds like a wonderful plan to me!” cried Deverell, as she swept some of the rainwater from her face and flicked it at me.

We turned southward, onto the homestead road, and made for shelter.

We gained the rise that overlooked the Graventry district, to which my home belonged. I turned to look back at Deverell and smiled.

“We are nearly there.  You can see my home from here.”

Once we had reached my home, we brought the horses to the stables and brushed them dry.

Having gotten them settled in for the night, we brought our packs back to the house, to set by the hearth so they might dry out overnight.

“You have a lovely home, Kaleigh. I can tell even through all the rain,” Deverell said. “You should have had me over long ago.”

“I know, and I am sorry for that,” I said, looking back to smile at her. “I do not often have people over, I suppose. But, for now, let us get out of the rain.”

I began walking toward the house.

“Why is that?” I could hear her ask over my shoulder, but I continued on, wanting to get inside and out of the cold.

After I had opened the door and let Deverell in, I stepped back for a moment, for another look…

…would this be the last time I would see my home?

Once we had gotten out of our wet things and set everything near the hearth to dry, I let Deverell have free rein over my wardrobe, to be prepared for any climes into which our journey might bring us.

As I worked on some letters, an idea began to come to me…

I let my mind wander, over the roads and paths that we had taken together, and what we had seen and had done…

…then, my mind went back to darker times and darker roads, and I felt a chill come over me. Icy tendrils woven and clinging…

“Kaleigh?”

“Kaleigh!”

I jumped, startled by Deverell’s voice and her presence before me.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Oh, I had an idea is all, to make a record of our journey.”

I took up the map lying before me on my writing desk and one of my quills, and I began to make notations upon it.

“This is an art that my dear friend, Madaelin, taught to me.  It is something she learned while on her journeys into southern lands while visiting family,” I said, with a smile.

“If only you had arrived a day early when we met in Bree-town,” I chided her.  “You could have met her, and many others. She was there for the ‘revelry’, as you term it.”

When I reached for another quill lying in a phial of differently colored ink, I noticed Deverell edging around my writing desk.

“No, no, no! Not before it is ready!” I laughed, swatting at the air before her, to keep her away.

She laughed and went back to the other side of the desk, before beginning to wander about the drawing room, looking over my things. I went back to work on my map, while keeping a watchful eye out for any more mischief.

“You really do have a lovely home,” Deverell said, after a time. “You should let others visit and see it more often.”

“Thank you,” I said softly, as I looked up to reach for another quill.

“Oh, my dress!”

Deverell stopped, looking alarmed. “Do you mind? It is so lovely, I could not help…”

I smiled at her.  “I did not mean it that way at all, truly. What I meant to say was that you wear it so well, and far better than I.  And that I should just gift it to you, which I think I will, as the small payment toward the very large debt that I owe you for joining me on this endeavor.”

“Kaleigh, you needn’t feel that you owe a debt to me,” she said.

“But I do, and I will atone for it,” I replied.

She looked at me for a moment, before she smiled once again. “Fine. This dress then, and nothing else!”

“We shall see,” I said, smiling at her.

After a few more minutes, I beckoned Deverell over to me.

“I think it is done. What you you think?” I asked, holding the map for her to view.

[Remember, all renderings can be pressed to be viewed in more detail!]

“I wonder where our road might eventually lead, and where you will mark the ways we will have taken,” she mused, tracing our path thus far upon the map with her finger.

“I guess we will find out beginning tomorrow,” I said.  “But enough of this for now.  Let us go to the sitting room and take our ease for the night.”

I set the map down on the desk and took Deverell by the hand, leading her to the sitting room.

We chatted into the late evening about other things, setting aside all that was involved with our endeavor for the night. We knew that our road must move inevitably forward on the morrow but, for the remainder of the evening, we dwelled in the past, under the light of more pleasant moments and memories…

When sleep began to finally claim us, I led Deverell to my bedroom.

“You can sleep in here. I will rest by the hearth,” I told her.

She began to protest. “Kaleigh…”

“Here,” I said, firmly, before breaking into a smile. “Do not make me turn you out into the cold.”

I had my way, of course, and finally went to sleep in the sitting room by the fire.

I slept soundly and did not wake until the morning.

We awoke the next day and went outside to find that the storm had finally passed, while an early Autumn morning was waiting to greet us. We took hold of each others’ hand, while also taking in the morning’s beauty for a moment.

Deverell squeezed my hand. “It looks to be quite a day,” she said with a smile.

I hugged her to me for a moment before setting off for the stables.

“We best make for the road, before the temptation to leave it for another day grows too strong,” I laughed.

We fetched the horses, settled our packs upon them, and made ready for the road.  As we began to set off,  I turned to take one last look at my home, before turning Dandi onto the road leading away from the homesteads.

We soon joined up with the Great East Road and turned westward upon it, making for Bree-town.

We approached the southern gate of Bree-town mid-morning. “We can stop for some supplies for the road while here and check the post,” I offered.

“Very well,” said Deverell.

“But no delaying our journey like the last time we were here,” I smiled at her. “That will not fly today!”

I rode off into town before she could respond.

We stopped by the town vault, where I found that a parcel awaited me. I brought it outside, into the sunlight, and began to open it as Deverell looked on.

“What is it? What is inside?” she asked, pretending to be nosy and a bother, all on purpose.

“Never you mind,” I laughed, while peeking inside so that she could not see. “Oh!”

“What? What is it?” she persisted, as I withdrew a piece of parchment from the box and read it.

“How very nice,” I mused loudly once I was done, smiling at her and folding the parchment before tucking it into my pocket to Deverell’s dismay. I put the parcel into the pack I had brought with me.

“What was in it?” she asked once again, teasing me.

“Never you mind! A surprise for later, perhaps, if you behave better,” I grinned. “We should go to the market and fetch what we need for the road ahead.”

“Of course,” she nodded.

As I turned and began to head toward the market square, I felt someone open my pack and begin rummaging through it…

I twirled and smacked Deverell’s hand away while laughing. “Enough! To the market now with you!”

At the market we fetched some rations for the road and other supplies for the journey.

It was mid-day when we left Bree-town behind us and took to the road again.  We left by the Western gate, going westward on the Great East Road.

We came upon Adso’s camp in the late afternoon and decided to remain there, having earned our rest for the day.

“Greetings, lasses!” called out one of the workers, as we approached a small stable.

“Good day, sir!” I said. “Might we leave our horses with you for the evening?”

“Most certainly!” he replied. “I will take care of them for you, do not worry.”

I brought Dandi over and dismounted from her, handing some coin over to the stable hand. “For both of ours, please,” I said, gesturing toward Deverell and Dancer as well.

“Of course,” he smiled, taking the coin.

“We will be off early in the morning on the morrow.” I said.

After the stable hand had walked the horses off to water, Deverell asked me, “What is this place? I have never been this far west of Bree-town.”

“Oh, this is a merchant and traveling camp, run by one of the Shire,” I said. “Unless it has changed hands by now, but I do not think so.”

I looked around for any I might recognize, while Deverell watched quietly.

“Yes, there is Master Adso,” I said, gesturing toward a hobbit who had spied us and beckoned us over. I waved back to him and nodded.

“I did some Scouting for him, a long while ago. Come, let us go give him our regards,” I smiled.

“Master Adso, it is wonderful to see you once again!” I greeted him, as we approached.

“Good day, Kaleigh!” he said, “And good day to you, too… Miss…”

“Deverell,” both Deverell and I said at once, causing the three of us to break into a laughing spell.

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Master Adso,” Deverell finally said when she was able.

“How are things,” I asked Adso, while looking about. “Business seems to be going well for you all here.”

“Not bad. Not bad at all!” he smiled. He then looked to me with a bit of eagerness and said, “Still, there may be some work for you both here, if you still have an interest in such things?”

I looked at Deverell quickly and then said, “Oh, I am sorry, but our days are accounted for now, at least for a good while. We are traveling westward, and into the Shire, in fact.”

“Mmm… the Shire. I wish I had the time to go back more often, but obstacles have a way of rising up and getting into the way.” he mused, more to himself than to us.

Deverell and I looked on quietly until he came to notice us once again.  “Oh, no matter then, but I thought I might ask, just in case,” he smiled.

“Perhaps upon our return,” I offered, wishing I had more to offer in the moment.

He held up his hand and said, “Think no more of it. The run of the camp is yours, and know you both are welcome here, anytime.”

We offered him our thanks and parted, heading back toward the stable.

I fetched the pack into which I had secreted the parcel from the post in Bree, while Deverell looked on.

“It is time, then, I think,” I smiled at Deverell.

“Time for what?” she asked.

“For a little something to celebrate how far we have come thus far on our journey,” I replied. “Follow me.”

I led us away from the camp, to a place more quiet and hidden.

Once we had found a place somewhat secluded, I went about gathering kindling for a fire.

“All right, then,” I smiled, as I stood before the fire I had created. “I am going to turn my back and get some things ready. No peeking now!”

“Oh, very well,” laughed Deverell, though I could tell she was eager to see what I was cooking up for her.

I turned around and fetched my pack, settling down with my back toward the fire.

From my pack, I took the plates, forks, and knives I had secreted there from Adso’s camp while no one was looking. I also brought out the pie that Gennyrose had gifted me from the Chief while back in Bree-town and cut a slice for each us.

Lastly, I fetched two of the six bottles of Honeybrew that Master Dannigan had gifted me, from the parcel I found in Bree that morning, all while keeping an eye out for Deverell trying to sneak a peek at what I was doing.

Finally, I stood and brought her a plate and a bottle of Honeybrew.  She took it in hand silently, while looking to me as I went back to the other side of the fire and sat down opposite of her.

“We can set these near the fire to warm them up a little,” I said, setting my plate with a slice of pie near to the fire.  “It is not much, I know, but I just wanted to show how grateful I am to you by gifting you some of what has been gifted to me.”

Deverell smiled at me from across the fire. “Kaleigh, there is not a greater gift that you could give in this moment that would have more meaning for me. Thank you.”

Soon after the smell of warming pie overcame us, and we gave ourselves over to our supper.  Neither of us wanted to take even a moment for anything else.

Deverell was the first to finally speak. “Kaleigh, this has to be the most delicious pie I have ever had. And the honeybrew goes with it wonderfully.”

I finished my last bite before responding, “The Chief and Dannigan are both masters of their respective crafts, to be sure. There will be more opportunities for us to have meals such as this once we reach the Shire, but they may not quite reach this level.”

She laughed. “A bit lesser I could still handle, I daresay.”

We ate in silence for a while afterward, each of us taking another slice of pie and bottle of Honeybrew.

“Your mother was a wonderful cook, as I recall,” Deverell said, as she was finishing her most recent slice of pie.

I nodded, finishing my current bite before laughing. “She was, yes. It was one of the things in her that did not take, sadly.”

“It might have, had you not lost her so early,” Deverell said softly. “But so many things have. She was always so kind to me, I remember.”

I smiled at her and said, “I remember. She used to hold you up as an example to me as to how I should behave.”

We were quiet for a moment. Memories of the terror of a child I once was came to me, and I shook my head at the sight of those visions, as if I might somehow shrug myself free of them…

I opened my eyes and looked at Deverell. “She was right, of course. She always was, though I oftentimes did not realize it until it was too late.”

“She would be so proud, so very proud, were she to see you now,” Deverell said softly.

“Were she to see me now,” I repeated, “had I not run her ragged and worn her out with my silliness, so that the Fever might not have claimed her as easily as it did.”

Deverell set her fork down on her plate and looked at me. “Kaleigh, there were many who were lost to us that summer due to the Fever, not just your mother.”

I sighed. “I know. It is just that I want to do right by her, you know?”

She came over to sit with me and embraced me. “I doubt that there is a woman in all these lands who would not be proud to have you as her daughter. You know it is true.”

“No,” I replied, “but it is nice to hear, nonetheless.”

We had finished supper and were gathering up our things, when Deverell noticed there was one slice of pie left.

“What should we do with this last piece, do you think?” she asked me.

“Oh, I think we should gift it to Master Adso, and give him a little slice of the Shire he is missing, don’t you?” I asked.

We put out the fire and gathered up our things. Master Adso was very pleased with our gift, and the giving meant as much to the two of us as the supper we had shared together.

We took our rest beside one of the campfires and slept through the night.

We awoke the next morning and made ready to resume our journey. The stable hand went to fetch Dandi and Dancer for us.

“Here they are, ready and raring to go!” he said with a laugh.

“Thank you kindly!” I said, offering him some more coins.

“Thank you, miss! Safe travels to you both.”

We returned to the Great East Road, turning westward, heading toward the Brandywine and the Shire.

The road wound back and forth, but always onward.

I slowed Dandi to allow Deverell and Dancer to catch up to us, and we rose alongside each other for a spell.

“So, you have never seen the Shire before, yes?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “No, but I have heard nice things about it.”

I smiled at her, “Every time I return, it happens to me all over again. You will know what I mean when we get there.”

“Do not build it up so much that it cannot live up to the expectations you are creating!” she exclaimed with a laugh.

I lay my hand on her arm as we rode down the path. “Trust me, that could never happen.”

Her eyes widened, but she said no more.

“Oh, one last thing,” I mentioned. “The Bounders patrol the Shire and keep the peace. They can be a bit wary of strangers in their lands, and rightly so, I am afraid. You will understand better when we arrive. Just be honest and forthcoming with them, and all will be well.”

“That will be easy enough,” she said. “We have nothing to hide, do we?”

“Not a thing in the world,” I smiled.

We passed by the Old Forest and Buckland along their northern boundaries. Not long after, the Brandywine Bridge came into view, spanning the river and leading into the Shire.

A Bounder was stationed at the Bree-land side of the bridge and waved us over to him.

“Good day to you both!” he exclaimed. “A lovely day, isn’t it?”

“Greetings, Master Bounder!” I replied. “It is a gorgeous day, indeed. My name is Kaleigh, and this is my friend, Deverell.”

“Good day to you!” said Deverell to the Bounder, favoring him with a smile.

“Passing over into the Shire today? What brings you this way, if I may ask?” inquired the Bounder.

“Oh, we are just passing through on our way into the mountains further west,” I said. “We mean to travel to the elven settlements, near the river Lune.

He seemed rather pleased with that answer.

“Good, good.” he replied. “Just be on your Shire-like behavior while here, if you would, please.”

He gestured for us to come closer, and we did.

He looked around, to be sure no one else was listening, before he made a show of saying, “We don’t care much for that patty-caking and lookie-loos that go on in Bree-land places, like the Prancing Pony.” And then he gave us a wink.

He reminded me so much of someone, someone very dear to me. And, in a way, I was home again…

“You can count on our discretion, Master Bounder. I can assure you of it.” I said with a smile.

“Have you both been to the Shire before?” he asked.

“I have, many times,” I said.

“This will be my first time, but I can already see from here how lovely it promises to be,” replied Deverell.

“Oh, let me have a quick word with you about things here, my dear,” he said, gesturing for Deverell to dismount and go to speak with him.

When she did, I took hold of Dancer’s reins and made a face at her before leading Dancer and Dandi away.

We waited, as patiently as we could bear it, while the Bounder laid down the law of the Shire for Deverell.  I wanted us to be on our way, however, and Dandi did as well, I could tell.

Finally, the Bounder waved us onward, and Deverell came over to fetch Dancer.

“What did he have to tell you?” I asked her, as she mounted up.

“Oh, inns to stay at on the road, and which ales and pies to choose at the various taverns,” she said, with a laugh. “But it came from the heart, I could tell. I see what you mean by this being a special place.”

“It is long past time for you to find that out first-hand,” I replied, with a smile.

With a final wave to the Bounder, we guided the horses onto the Brandywine Bridge and began to cross the river.

The slow cadence of the horses’ hooves upon the stone, and the gentle, flowing sound of the Brandywine winding its way past lulled me into a state of wistful solemnity. We had only just arrived, but I knew our time here was fleeting…

…this land, and its people, have ever been as a balm to my spirit, from the time I first came to find myself here…

…and a light shines upon these lands…

…like no other that I have ever known…

We found our pace slowing soon after we crossed into the Shire, but neither of us made mention of it.

Though our pathway was cobbled and smooth, the journey that our senses took was over slower ground, yet far more lovely to travel.

I looked back more than once to see that Deverell and Dancer had come to stop in the middle of the road, having become lost upon other pathways, ones that neither foot nor hoof could travel, at least for that day.

We traveled the Great East Road, going westward into the Eastfarthing of the Shire.

The beauty of the land we traveled formed an obstacle to haste and urgency that we could not go around.

It is the way things were meant to be in this place.

Oftentimes, Deverell would ride beside me, and I would point out landmarks that others had shown me in past times. It was getting late in the day as we were nearing Bywater, and I pointed out the Three Farthing Stone to her.

“There are the four farthings of the Shire, you know. North, South, East and West. And this stone is said to sit upon the meeting place of three of them. All save the Northfarthing meet right up here.”

I watched Deverell look about, wondering if I shared the same look of wonder during my first visit to these lands.

“Where does the Northfarthing begin?” she asked.

“Well, north of here, of course.” I said. I pretended to ignore the face she made at me and continued, “Up near Bindbole Wood and the Greenfields.”

“These lands must have some wonderful stories to tell,” she said softly, as she looked around.

I laughed, “The curator of the Bounder Museum of Antiquities would be very happy to get a hold of your ear for a few hours and fill it with such tales. Perhaps, one day, we will return and can spend more time exploring.”

“I would like that,” she replied.

We stopped in Bywater for the night and enjoyed the company of those who shared the evening at the Green Dragon with us.

The next morning we continued our journey westward.  The new day promised to be as glorious as the one before.

I had my hands full with keeping Dandi from bolting down the road, into the sunshine and the early autumn breeze that graced us that day…

…while keeping the others from coming to rest in the middle of the road and continuing onward.

We stopped to rest under the shade of a Great Shire Oak at mid-day and had a bit to eat before pressing on.

The merchants of Waymeet beckoned to us, and the temptation to stop and browse their wares and visit was nearly too much to overcome.

But we pressed onward, toward Michel Delving, where we planned to take our rest for the day.

I laughed as I spied Deverell and Dancer stopped in the road again.

“Come along!” I beckoned. “We are nearly there, and then we can look around as much as you like!”

Deverell waved and slowly urged Dancer forward.

“This must be what it is like for fishes swimming upstream,” I mused with a sigh.

We finally arrived in Michel Delving late in the day, where we were greeted by the sound of hammer and saw, and the sight of a good many around the Founders’ statue, just south of Town Hole.

I waited for Deverell to come up alongside me.

“I wonder what they are up to,” I whispered.

“Why not stop and ask?” replied Deverell.

“The Bird is just down the road.  We can stay there for the evening, but why not have a look at what they are doing with the statue first, if you would like?” I asked her.

She laughed. “No need to ask me twice to stop for a look around here.”

We brought the horses to the fence that bounded the Founders’ Square.

“We will just be a moment, Dandi,” I said to her, scratching her behind her ears before making for the statue.

We walked up to the rise upon which the statue lay…

…and we beheld the renewing of a symbol, a rededication to a way of life and the principles upon which this precious land was founded, long ago…

…it was a boon, not only to Shire-folk, but to all willing to rededicate themselves to pursuits right and noble…

“It is quite a marvel you all are working here,” I said to the workers nearest us.

A few of them looked up from their work to smile and wave to us.

The nearest one said, “Thank you, miss! It should be ready before the winter, so come by then and see it finished!”

“We certainly will!” said Deverell, and I nodded my agreement. I noticed a donation cup nearby, and I fished out some coins from my purse to put inside.

“A round for you all at the Bird this evening, and the rest for building!” I said, to which Deverell quickly followed suit. A cheer went up.

“Thank you, tall lasses!” cried the worker. “Bounders’ Luck to you both!”

We found that the importance of our endeavor had been reframed for us…

I turned to Deverell.

“Tomorrow, we began anew.”

But haste does not suit those of the Shire, and we found obstacles lying in the way of our progress in that regard…

…obstacles of all manner and type…

…but, in these lands like no other…

…such things are welcome…

…and there is quite a chance that what one finds lying in the way of what they might first have desired to be even more to their liking…

I waved to Deverell from across the stream and laughed.

“Hurry, before the day gets away from us!”

We wound our way down the hills to Rushock Bog, skirting it toward the west as we could, when a familiar sight gave me the chance to tease my dear friend…

“Deverell, look!” I cried, pointing in the distance.

“More rocks!” I laughed.

“Enough!” she grouched, smacking me across the shoulder before she laughed as well.

“These rocks only like certain climates and being near waters, so we many not see many more for a while,” I said.

She sighed and shook her head at me before urging Dancer forward.

We pressed on northward, skirting the bog, until Needlehole came into view.

As we gained the bridge leading into the settlement, many cast wary eyes upon us. Most outsiders came from the western side of town, I surmised:  the elves, and the dwarves, and those that dwelled in the mountains beyond.

Most of the hobbit-children here had not likely seen many big-folk and were curious about us, though their parents keep them safely nearby.

I could see that they liked Dandi, however, and she was more than willing to put on a show for everyone. The children laughed and returned our wave of greeting.

And, maybe, a small obstacle was felled that day.

The next morning, we crossed the bridges leading into Falathorn and to the Ered Luin beyond.

The sight of the hedgewall, and the gate bounding the Shire, was not an easy one to bear, but I took comfort knowing that the elven lands beyond were possessed of great beauty as well, though of a different sort.

We left the Shire behind, heading north and west, where we would cross the river Lune and hopefully reach Duillond by end of day.

Deverell marveled at the sight of the elven lands.

“Oh, Kaleigh…” she trailed off.

“Mmm… a bit like going from the kettle into the fire, is it not?” I said, smiling at her.

We wove our way across Falathorn that day…

…reaching the high, Eastern bank of the river late in the afternoon.

A chill wind, one seemingly too early for the start of the Autumn, flowed eastward against us, over the river.

It could not take way from the feeling of being near to our destination, however, nor the beauty of the lands that it sped through.

Deverell and I got the horses settled and then hurried across the settlement, toward its Western edge.

We arrived just in time…

“Haste sometimes come in handy, at least outside of the Shire,” said Deverell, as we watched the remainder of the sunset together.

“We best keep that between us, though,” I smiled.

The chill of the mountain air rushing downward upon us the next morning was even stronger that the day before, and we begrudgingly packed away our lighter garments for warmer fare.

We ventured north from Duillond, having resumed our path upon the Great East Road, leading toward the Vale of Thrain.

I set a good pace, hoping that we might reach Gondamon by light’s end that day.

The road carved through hill and stone, meandering like a dry riverbed.

We passed by Thrasi’s Lodge, still determined to make it to Gondamon that day.

Not long after, the road forked to the west and east. We took the westward path, upward into the mountains, away from the river.

A light snow began to fall as we ascended further into the highlands.  There was a shadowy tinge upon the air, and a smell, both familiar yet elusive, was carried past us briskly by the mountain breeze.

I halted in the path, letting Deverell ride up alongside me.

“Do you smell that?” I asked.

She took in a breath of the air, wincing with the cold.

“I cannot really say. Something faint, like a cooking fire, perhaps,” she finally said.

We reached the final rise before the descent into the Vale. The smell of burning was now stronger upon the air, and its murkiness persisted.

“We best be ready for trouble,” I said to Deverell. She nodded her agreement and made ready her staff.

We eased up the rise, fearing what we might see.

Once we had gained the rise, we were able to see campfires strewn all throughout the Vale and around the walls of Gondamon.  Many beings were milling about outsides its walls.

We backed down the rise to avoid being seen.

“I fear the signs Candaith spoke of were true,” I said to Deverell sorrowfully.

“The Dourhand?” she asked.

“Yes, and whatever minions they have lured to their side,” I said with distaste.  “We had best make sure, though.  We can circle about and scout the rest of the southern and eastern walls, at least.  Follow me.”

We took cover in the Low Lands and rode eastward at intervals, riding up to the ridge now and then for another look before continuing on…

After a time, we had traveled as far eastward as we were able…

…still finding Dourhand at every spot we scouted along the southern wall…

We then rode northward, only to find the same…

…Dourhand surrounding not only the eastern wall but the northern as well, as far across as our eyes could see…

There was no cover to the west, nor to the north for us to scout further, but we knew what lie in wait there just the same…

Gondamon was under siege…

“What can we do to aid them?” Deverell asked. “Could we bring word of this someplace else and ask for aid?”

“Sarnur lies higher in the mountains,” I replied, gesturing toward the West. “I am sure Gondamon’s Scouts saw the Dourhand coming and have already sent word to any they think might lend aid.”

We were silent for a spell, while trying to form some sort of plan to bring aid to those within the settlement.

I heard Deverell whisper, “There is nothing to be done, is there?”

I looked to her and shook my head, before glancing down into the vale once again…

Within my mind, I tried to envision both the whole of the settlement, and the pathways that gave access to it…

Wide roads from the North, the West, and the South led into the central courtyard.  Those gates would be difficult to defend, requiring a good many on foot, and archers above on the higher levels and ramparts.  They would also make for a quick escape from the walls, but those would tried risked being swarmed and surrounded by the enemy on either side of each road…

They surely meant to attack from each of those sides, to spread out and separate Gondamon’s defenders.  Most of the Dourhand forces must lie near those pathways, I surmised…

…and then my mind’s eye came to the southeastern corner of the settlement, where a steep and narrow path led up the rise upon which Gondamon was built.  From there, a narrow stair gave access to the second tier of the settlement…

I knew the stair could be held by just a few soldiers, and archers would rain death upon any foe who tried to climb the rise and met with resistance.  It was the most easily defended position of the settlement, without question… yet it could offer no escape.   Not only would the narrow stair slow any sizable number who made for safety, but once free of the walls and into the open, any who fled that way would find themselves surrounded, swarmed from either side by the Dourhand that lay in wait…

Still, most of the Dourhand force would be on the other three walls.  Even if it was not to be a way out, might it still be a way in, I mused…

“I have an idea, but it is a risky one,” I said.

Deverell looked at me, “One of those, is it? What is your idea?”

“We make camp in the Low Lands, keeping cover so as not to be seen,”  I replied. “Then, at the dawn tomorrow, we storm through the eastern line of the Dourhand and into the settlement.”

She laughed, thinking I spoke in jest for a moment. When I did not respond, she said, “You are serious. That is your plan?”

“The morning sun will be at our backs, making us difficult to make out for those looking into it. They may mistake us for many more than we are,” I said.

I looked out at the force surrounding Gondamon for a moment before turning back to her.  “Deverell, I cannot think of anything else we can do, can you?  We either do this or we watch and hope for the best.”

She took in a deep breath. “Kaleigh, we are only two. And this is an obstacle beyond our means…”


I winced, as the grip upon my heart tightened…

“Amon Sul was held by only three, and you and I made up two of that number,” I said softly.

She nodded.  “Yes, but…”

I smiled, “And we two are too many for most anyone.”

“Most everyone as well, I hope, if we are to do this,” she replied, with a faint smile of her own.

“There is not much else we can do today,” I said. “We can make camp and sleep on it, and decide then.”

We found a dry place, above the snow blanketing the Low Lands, where the rise leading to the Vale would give us cover.  We made camp and discussed our plans before taking rest.

At the dawn of the next morning, we gathered our things and made ready for our charge.

I took in a deep breath and whispered wishes for our success upon the frozen air, watching them cling together for a moment in a mist, before they were taken by the wind and hurried away…

I looked to Deverell and, when she nodded, we set out…

We charged toward the rise before the Vale, keeping to snow-covered ground to muffle signs of our approach…

…the dawning sun rose behind us, its light gleaming over our shoulder…

We rode over the rise, keeping behind the monuments and whatever cover we could, before riding into open ground…

…the Dourhand rose, still waking from their slumber.  Their eyes were pierced by the morning sun, and their ears were beset upon by the sound of hooves striking stone, charging…

Deverell and I cried out, as the walls of Gondamon rose before us, hoping to give a moment’s pause to the foe before us…

The Dourhand near us clustered together, meaning to cut off both our advance and our escape…

“Jump us over, girl,” I whispered. “Carry us through…”

Dandi leapt into the fading night, shooting past those taking aim at us from either side, and over any who dared stand before her…

…she cleared the last embankment, slowing any who thought to pursue us…

I urged Dandi up the steep pathway leading to the stair, keeping her head low while also leaning forward as arrow and bolt sped past, from the ramparts and walls of Gondamon, into the Dourhand horde behind us…

The Dourhand ceased their pursuit once we started our climb, settling for hurling curses our way, rather than their axes and hammers…

We gained the hill upon which the stair leading to safety beckoned…

…but not before we took one last look at the teeming masses that we had infuriated, and I feared their wrath would come soon…

But, for that moment, the walls of Gondamon rang with the cries of joy and triumph.  Our small victory had given Gondamon’s defenders something to cheer for, and a moment to rally themselves before what was to come…

I waited until Deverell came alongside me…

…and, together, we made our way to the stables, greeting the throngs who had barricaded themselves within the settlement walls, forced into making a prison of what should have been their home…

As wonderful as it was to see spirits lifted and hopes rekindled within the eyes and the hearts of Gondamon’s people…

…my heart was heavy with the knowledge that we did not herald the arrival of a greater force, nor had we aught to offer but ourselves, merely two more to add to the line…

We were brought to meet with Lord Mathi, who took the news in true dwarven fashion…

“You lasses are daft!” he grumbled, and Deverell and I could do naught but agree…

“Still,” his voice softened, “we be glad to have you both.”

Mathi summoned his garrison’s generals. They explained their plan to defend their home, and what our part in it was to be…

“They will strike soon,” Lord Mathi warned us. “Be ready!”

There was naught to do but wait for the attack to begin. I found a place in the library alcove to record our journey, warming the phials of inks I had brought along within my hands to make them fluid…

It was at mid-day, while searching for a map of the northern lands to show Deverell, when we first heard the drums of battle…

“The Dourhand are marching for the gates!”

“To arms! To battle!”

Neither closed eye, nor covered ear, could turn away the sights and sounds of what promised to come…

Deverell and I made for the command square that had been prepared, from where Lord Mathi would direct his defense of Gondamon…

[Now that you have read this entry here, you can find the entire saga, with nearly full-sized renderings, over at the Overlords’ forums here!]

Posted in The Spirit Gauntlet | 3 Comments

Stand at Amon Sul

Stand at Amon Sul

Amidst the burning embers of the fire, and the great evil that lurked just outside the safety of the firelight, I remembered Hithlim’s warning…

“Kaleigh, the foes you go to meet are not the sort that fill legions upon the battlefield. They are of the highest Tier one can imagine dwelling in this realm. And with most of us scattered in distant places, you will not likely find any to aid you, nor to run to should things go badly. If you should fall, there is no retreat.”

[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that fall are forever lost from these lands.]

…the gauntlet had begun…

[Stand at Amon Sul.  Size: Small Fellowship.  Tier: 3]

Candaith’s words brought me back to the present…

“The darkness has encroached far, can you not feel it deadening your limbs?”

Deverell and I looked to each other and nodded, for there was a chill on the air that pierced us to the bone. Every movement took an effort, as if we swam through frigid waters.

“I have added herbs to these campfires. If you light them, it will fight back against the darkness and return some of your battle prowess,” Candaith continued.  “Grab a torch and  light the fires.  Keep them from going out, and we may yet win this battle.”

“I will see to that,” I offered.

“How many are they?” asked Deverell, as she looked about nervously.

Candaith took in a deep breath.  “Dozens,” he finally said.

…my heart went cold…

“Dozens! We will be overrun!” I lamented.

“Nay, for the lesser dead are mindless and will not keep to the others without their guidance,” said Candaith. “They will come in small groups.  My traps should see to that.  Their lieutenants will find themselves… delayed.”

Candaith scanned our perimeter of firelight until his eyes came to me, looking to him with wonder.

He grinned at me. “Do not think you are the first to employ such tricks, nor the best at doing so, Scout Kaleigh. We have not taught you all our secrets just yet.”

I leapt to embrace my wise and noble friend…

“I pray you will, if we are gifted the time,” I whispered, kissing his cheek.

Candaith’s brilliance had given us our chance.  It was now upon us to make the most of it…

Candaith spied them first, “Here they come!”

“We fight!” cried Deverell.

I took the Star-glass that I had been saving from my belt, lifting it high into the air.

We are as the stars amongst a stygian sky, fighting to pierce this night of darkness.  May the light of the stars shine upon us and others who do battle in their name this night…

I ran to the fire we had raised in the center of the remains of the ruined watchtower and reached for a firebrand…

…but not even the fires would turn away the dead.  Battle was upon us…

The dark enchantments that gifted these beings with the mockery of life was very strong…

…turning aside blade and arrow like the strongest of scales, and the finest of mail…

…but pierce them we did, in haste, for fear of being overrun by the next band that gained the hill…

The words of power that the way-watchers taught me I saved for the strongest of the horde, those that had been gifted great and terrible power by the Enemy…

Whether through dark sorcery or great strength they wrought their ruin, my words would bind them for a short while, gifting us the time we needed to break the rest…

The lieutenants of the Enemy possessed strength beyond any one of the three of us…

“Kaleigh! The fires!”

I hurried to fetch another firebrand, as the darkness threatened to overcome us…

Deverell turned her attention toward me while I ran the circle, to be sure I was safe…

“Hurry, Kaleigh!”

As the battle wore on, as wave after wave of the dead threatened to drown us within their turgid tide, I began to realize…

…to understand that we were fighting a battle on two fronts opposed to one another…

We were already beginning to tire…

…and, though we broke many, we would remain outnumbered to the very end…

Yet the effort we expended to bring down our enemies with haste only hastened the moment we would find ourselves all but spent…

Our dance of war was being danced along the edge of a knife, a razor’s edge…

We could afford no movement, nor any action that was not precise and to our best advantage, even as we stared into the heart of an enemy bound by nothing but abandon, and hate, and wanton depravity…

..but we fought on, even as hope dimmed, like the last rays of sunlight one can see at the horizon’s edge before the moment has passed…

I feared our window was that narrow…

…the fires dimmed…

We were losing ground. We were no longer able to clear the battlefield of the living dead before more began to appear…

“Hurry, Kaleigh!”

I made to relight the fires with all the speed I could muster…

“Deverell! Do not lose heart!”

But my words rang hollow when a Gorthorog, clad in steel and armed with mace and hammer, gained the summit…

…we brought him down, but doing so took great effort and far too much time…

The enemy was gaining ground…

Archers began to appear, fighting us from a distance…

…I hurried to meet them as I could, but I knew each extra step came at the cost of time and our resolve…

I made to return to the others, my eyes growing dim from the fatigue of battle…

An apparition began to coalesce from the darkness around me, one that I did not see…

“Kaleigh!”

Candaith swung his blade in a mighty arc before me…

…I had jumped away just in time…

Lightning crashed around us, and the rains grew heavier. It seemed there was no end to the enemy, nor any manner of creature that was beholden to them…

…still, we fought on, even as the fires dimmed…

I hurried to fetch another firebrand to relight the fires…

…but in the darkness, and with my vision dimmed with fatigue, I did not see the grave threat lurking in the shadows…

“Kaleigh!”

I looked up just in time to see the warg pouncing from atop the ruined wall. Its claws brushed my leathers as I dove away….

…I scarcely had time to gain my feet and turn before it was upon me once again, its rider urging the beast forward while readying a strike with its wicked spear…

Candaith lured the other foes to him, leaving me free of them so that I could face the goblin rider alone…

We battled with one another, and we each found our mark more than once. I wearied from the struggle and the pain I bore…

…and I noticed the warg did as well. I saw its rider was losing its hold over the beast, screeching at it with dark words and curses, trying to regain control…

I leaned in toward the warg, baring my shoulder…

…it raised its paw to strike at me, leaving the opening I was hoping for…

As it rose upon its hind legs, I lit out towards it, driving my stickers into its exposed underside. I leaned in with my shoulder and pushed into it with all my might…

…and the creature toppled over, pinning its rider beneath it. I finished them both and went to aid the others…

The fires were burning dangerously low as I returned, yet the advance of the enemy left us no time to see to them…

We quickened our pace, hoping for a moment’s respite to gather ourselves and relight the fires…

I left the others to advance upon an orcish shaman, spewing curses and dark magics upon us…

I spun behind him, finishing him off as the others brought down the rest. For a precious moment, the battlefield was clear…

But it was not to last. In the few moments it took me to reach the fire, another Gorthorog appeared at the edge of the ruined wall…

I spoke a word to bind it as it neared the others, then fetched a firebrand and lit out toward the fires while watching the others do battle…

The binding still held as I finished with the fires and entered the fray…

“We have to bring these others down before it awakens!” I shouted, hoping to be heard over the din of battle…

We fought fiercely…

…furiously…

…but there were too many. The Gorthorog became free of the binding and turned to face me…

He brought mace and hammer down upon me, scarcely missing his mark between the two. The two weapons struck the stone, deafening and dazing me within their clamor…

I staggered, finding my balance by reaching out to steady myself with the enemy’s own weapons…

I knew we could not afford the time to bring this one down as we did the other, felling it through cuts and scratches near to its roots, as one would fell a tree…

I saw the Gorthorog rear back for another strike, and I made myself a ready target…

“Kaleigh!”

…at the last moment I twisted myself sideways, avoiding the massive weapons while covering my ears to keep my wits safe from the clamor. Then, I drove my sticker into the maw of the beast with every last bit of my strength…

I trembled with the closeness of the creature, and the closeness with which I had eluded its ending me…

The Gorthorog roared, rearing back in pain and for another strike. I endeavored to steady myself once again…

My strike buckled the creature, and it fell over on its side. I ran to it and finished him before joining the others to battle the enemy that remained…

“The fires! The fires are low!”

The others met the new enemy while I hurried to relight the fires…

Another wave of the dead washed over us. The night seemed endless, and I began to lose heart…

…but it was then that I heard Candaith cry out in the darkness…

“The shadows grow dark. This will be their final push! To arms!”

Hope… was their yet hope?

Deverell’s cry of anguish roused me from the thought…

All upon the ruined hill turned to her, both living and dead. Sensing weakness, the dead reached for her…

I threw myself between them, swatting away a blade meant for her. But, in my haste, my strike was not true, and the skeleton caught my arm with the crosspiece of its sword…

I cried out in pain, and with despair…

Deverell staggered behind me, clutching her side.

“Oh, Kaleigh. I fear this is a grievous wound…”

I struggled to keep the dead at bay, away from her…

“Do whatever you need to do to bind it! I will keep you safe!”

My shame…

…my shame…

…my shame upon the fields of Archet clutches at me. It has never eased, nor will it likely fade until I make atonement for it…

My life for hers…

…my life before any other…

If I could only go back…

I writhed, and I twisted, like the grip upon the heart beating within my chest, to keep Deverell safe…

She saw to her wounds and then to mine as best she could…

We fought as one…

I dodged an enemy strike and saw an opening…

…I lashed out with my sticker…

I caught the skeleton behind its leg, as it was still unbalanced from its violent swing, and I yanked it toward me forcefully, upending it onto the stone…

…we fought on…

Another wave of the dead gained the hill, led by a shaman of the Palefolk. I bound him and then turned to aid the others in dealing with the rest…

The air grew cold and heavy with the rain and the din of battle. My stickers grew heavy, as though I swung about long-hafted axes, with blades carved from stone…

My thoughts were dark and consuming, and I did not hear it in time…

“Kaleigh!”

I twirled to meet the shaman, now free of the binding and spewing foul and twisted utterances into the air…

…but it was too late…

Aaaaaaaaaah!

My heart was rent by the cries of anguish from my friends, even as I cried out with them. The Darkfire burst within our midst, enveloping us, searing the places where our skin was exposed…

Our weapons burned in our hands, and every breath we took in was a nightmare…

Yet, even so, we had to fight on. The shaman and its minions would not leave the Darkfire, and we were sure more were on their way…

The Darkfire soon consumed itself, but it had taken a heavy toll. We were past the brink of exhaustion, and now every movement we made, and every action we took, was also met with pain. Our eyes still burned with darkflame, and we feared loosening our grip upon the implements we wielded for even a moment, for fear we might have neither the strength, nor the ability, to make firm our grasp once again…

The margin by which the enemies’ swings now missed us thinned to a razor’s edge. We were slipping from the edge of the blade upon which we danced…

It was then that the air grew heavier still, and cold…

And silent…

I struck down the wasted being I was battling with and turned to the others. They were looking about as well…

And then Candaith cried out in a voice shredded by flame and burden, terrible yet strong…

“Let the foulness that leads this assault come forth and meet its end!”

The fires dimmed, nearly consumed by an approaching aura of darkness…

A wraith, cloaked in red, gained the hill and advanced upon us…

Deverell shuddered, sinking to her knees…

Candaith was to her side in a moment. Together, we brought her to her feet, and I held her close while he drew his bow…

He looked to me…

“Kaleigh, see to the fires and then join us.”

He then looked to Deverell, placing his hand upon her shoulder…

“Deverell, you’re with me.”

She looked up at him and nodded wearily, gifting him with a faint smile.  Whatever end we met, we would meet it together…

I searched for a firebrand to bring with me, sweeping away burning embers as Deverell kept watch over us both…

“Hurry, Kaleigh!”

I lit out toward the fires with all speed and then rushed back to join the others…

Within the downfall of the rain and the shroud of darkness, we met the wraith in battle. It wielded a blade as tall as a man and half again, and he swung it in a wide arc, with the strength of a cavalry charge…

Advancing upon it would have been folly…

Candaith held up his arm, spinning his hand in a circle…

We made to surround the wraith…

We battled with it for a long while, the one it had engaged merely keeping it at bay, while the other would strike it from behind…

We were holding our own, and we took heart. If we could but keep our strength…

The wraith halted its attacks and began chanting dark words. The earth and stone beneath us began to swell and tremble…

“What is it calling upon us?!” I cried.

“Stop it! Stop its desecration!” shouted Candaith.

We struck at the wraith with all the strength we could muster, but we could not turn it from its incantation…

Beings began to surface from the swelling earth, like worms during a storm…

Candaith looked ashen…

“No…”

The dead of the watchtower of old, men who had long ago lived their lives and rested peacefully since their ending, they now rose to heed their new master’s call, doing battle with us…

Deverell fought to speak her words of lifting for us between her sobs…

Tears streamed from my eyes, blurring a heinous vision…

Alongside Candaith, we turned toward his kin of old, to strike them down while still battling the great evil that meant to see us undone…

The endless night and the endless darkness wore on…

...and we were teetering upon the razor’s edge. At times, we were nearly lost…

…but we found a way to rally ourselves, and we fought on…

The terrible wraith summoned more dead to him, even as we broke the others down…

It swung its blade with a palpable malevolence, which we felt sweep over us even when the blade itself did not find its mark…

It spit dark words and dark magics upon us, visible upon its fetid breath…

…yet we fought on…

The fires began to falter as I was surrounded…

“Kaleigh, see to the fires! I will lure them from you,” Candaith rasped, with the remaining shreds of his voice.

I fought my way over to him, nearer the central fire…

The wraith turned toward me. It reared back and let out a screech that nearly knocked me to the ground…

“Kaleigh, behind you!” Candaith shouted.

I turned in time to meet a skeleton’s axe with my sticker, steering it away.  The fires had nearly burnt themselves out in the time it took for me to send the skeleton back to its rest…

I twirled back toward the fire to fetch a firebrand…

“Kaleigh!”

Something grappled me from behind, and I cried out with pain as I felt something rake across my shoulder.  I was lifted off my feet and spun back toward the battle…

A hand of bone reached for my face, clawing at the air before me.  Another skeleton had kept me from the fire, punching a hole through my tunic in the attempt…

I shook myself free, fending off the skeleton while bunching my torn leathers under my strapping to help bind my shoulder…

But the fires were dying, and I knew there was little chance of us lasting were they to fail. I stole a glance at the others, hoping one of them might intercede for me…

…but they were nearly overrun…

I maneuvered toward the fire, trying to find a firebrand with one hand, while keeping the skeleton at bay…

…but the dead one fought through the will of its master, and it found the firebrand an easy target to knock from my hands…

“Kaleigh! The fires!”

I cried out in despair, for I no longer had the strength to bind it by word.  My other tricks were all but gone, spent at desperate times, when our lives hung in the balance…

Our light was fading…

…and the portal loomed before me…

I trembled with fright and with grief, as I endeavored to find a way. But fatigue dulled my thoughts, even as the pain pierced through them.  The thought of our ending, and making it count for as much as it possibly could, began to surface.  My gaze turned downward in despair…

My eye caught the glimmer of the dying fire reflected by my boot-knife…

…and it was then that an old remembrance returned to me, an off-hand comment during a day of training with the way-watchers, and a desperate ploy that I had rarely found a reason to use…

After dodging the next swing of the skeleton’s axe, I quickly threw my sticker into the earth and drew my boot-knife. I raised myself up as high as I was able, lowering my guard…

At the moment when the skeleton began its upward swing, I threw my other sticker into the earth, taking my boot-knife in both hands. I felt the swing of the skeleton’s axe above me, as I dropped to the ground, aiming for the skeleton’s foot and twisting my knife so that the crosspiece would cover its entire width…

I drove the knife through the bones of its foot and into the earth below with all my strength, hoping to bind it to the spot. I then reached for my stickers and wrapped my arms over my head, flinging myself backwards…

The axe-blade brushed my wristguards as I dove away, landing on my backside. I scrambled to my feet and backed toward the fire…

The skeleton struggled to free its foot from the earth for a few moments, before peering at me with unseeing eyes…

I became lost in its struggle…

“The fires! Kaleigh, the fires!

I turned to find a firebrand from the fire, replacing my boot-knife with one of my stickers…

…and I ran the circle once more, while Candaith saw to the rest, and Deverell kept watch over us both…

We battled on, drawing upon each other for strength.  But we were fading. Our time was counted in minutes, by the fingers of one hand, and not every one of them…

…but we were not the only ones…

The darkness had eased, ever so slightly. The wraith had ceased its spewing of curses, nor had it called for more dead in a long while. We sensed its end was near, as it surely did ours…

And now it danced upon the razor’s edge with us. One mistake, one misstep…

The wraith lunged at me…

I ducked away just in time…

…and in that brief moment, while it was open to attack, I pierced its garments with my sticker, driving it into its being as deeply as I was able…

It fell away and, for a moment, all was silent…

Then the air about us rushed past, and into the space where the wraith once stood. Its robes billowed and swelled, the arms flung into the air by the rushing wind, which then exploded like the cracking of a whip…

The robe began to lightly settle, falling to the earth…

“It is slain! It is slain!” cried Deverell with joy.

Candaith spun in place. “The others! See to the others!”

My hand went numb, and my heart raced. I followed Candaith, stumbling toward the remaining dead, and we finished them…

We then fell to the ground, breathless and worn beyond reckoning…

The darkness faded quickly.  When we finally had the strength to stand once again, we saw that it was mid-morning of the next day. We had fought through the night.

We three remained, standing, upon the weathered peak.

Posted in The Spirit Gauntlet | 3 Comments

Discretion

Discretion

I found Deverell waiting for me outside the encampment, watching the horses graze on the grassy hill nearby.  She stood as she saw me approaching and gathered up her things.

“What word from the way-watchers?” she asked. “What have they planned for us?”

I unfurled the map that I had been given, showing her the areas that Hithlim had pointed out. “We have much to do,” I said gravely, “and little time in which to do it.”

Deverell whistled, “There is so much ground to cover.  Did the way-watchers say where we should begin?”

I shook my head, “No. I suspect, with so few of them still in these parts, there are no others with whom to coordinate. We are on our own.”

When she did not say anything, I looked to her and put my free arm around her shoulders, smiling at her. “You know, we did quite well against the watchers back in Archet, and that was when we were young. Think of all the tricks we have learned since then to employ.”

She nodded, smiling a little, and moved closer to study the map. “Where should be begin, do you think?”

As I poured over the map, my eyes were drawn to the south and east, to a weathered peak where a watchtower once stood.

“Here,” I poked at the map, where a lonely hill rose over the level lands surrounding it.  “Weathertop.  We will have a good look about from there and be able to spy anything moving toward the east.

Deverell pointed to the map, “What about this marshland to the south? Will we be able to skirt it safely?”

“Lin Giliath lies on its northern border. From there, the marsh may be a safer road than what lies on either side of it,” I said softly.

We looked at either other silently for a moment. I drew her close to me and asked, “Are you ready?”

She looked to me and nodded, a tear spilling down her cheek. I pressed my cheek to hers, to share the burden with her, as we would together in the days to come.

“Two troublemakers, off to make trouble one last time,” I whispered, holding her close.

“Two mistrals, that will scatter and divide every foe before them, until their last breath is finally spent,” Deverell replied.

…our path lay before us, and her words lit the way more brightly than a thousand torches. We were away…

We left Esteldin behind us and rode westward, seeking the north-south road that would lead us to Lin Giliath.

The downs rose in the south, before dropping away toward the marshland once again.

The path rose, as did our spirits, knowing that the true journey had finally begun. Our path was lit before us.

Once we gained the peak, we began our descent into the lowlands.

The beauty of the lands before us betrayed nothing of the turmoil brewing upon them.

“May that always be so,” I whispered…

Finally, Meluinen and the elven settlement of Lin Giliath lie before us.

I walked Dandi down the slope leading to the refuge on the marshland’s border and the ruins that lay nearby.

I looked over my shoulder to Deverell and beckoned she and Dancer forward, toward the western side of the marshes, where I had spied an elf-maiden tending to some horses.

She waved to us, and we made our way over to where she stood, near the water’s edge.

The elf-maiden told us she would watch our horses while we took rest in their settlement, so I guided Dandi over to her.

As I was about to dismount, I noticed Dandi pawing at the wet earth near the water’s edge.  Thinking she did not want to be left alone, I leaned forward and whispered in her ear, “Do not worry, girl.  We will away again early tomorrow.”

She looked out over the water to the east…

…and before I could do anything, she twirled in place so quickly, I was nearly thrown.

“Dandi!” I cried. “What are you…” I looked back to Deverell and the elf-maiden, “What is she doing?!”

The two of them just shrugged and laughed, as Dandi carried me out further into the water.

“What are you up to, girl?” I asked, as she carried us into deeper waters. She seemed to be looking for something.

I looked back to the shore and beckoned to Deverell. “Come on out here!” I called out to her.

She held up her hand in protest. “You two are on your own!” she laughed.

Dandi took a drink of the water she stood in, while still peering into its depths, so it seemed.

No urging of mine could get her to the shore. She kept on wandering about, until her eye caught something. She began to turn about and then eased backward…

She had found a depression at the bottom of the water and was backing into it. The water touched my boots and began to climb.

“Oh, no you don’t!” I laughed, strengthening my grip on her. as she continued to try to get me in the water.

She straightened up, and I felt myself sliding backwards. I looked back to ready myself for the plunge…

…but it never came, thankfully. She stopped just before I was about to become drenched, and had a good laugh at me to boot.

Finally, Dandi eyed the shore and began to make her way back for us. “You have had enough fun now,” I pretended to chide her, though we both knew it was only for show.  It was her spirit above all else that made her so dear to me.

I took one last look at the water where we nearly went in and shivered.

Deverell and the elf-maiden beckoned to us as we neared the shore, both of them trying not so hard to suppress their laughter.

Once we were on shore and finally settled, Dandi nudged me with her muzzle, her way of being playful and showing her affection.  I was not sore one bit, though, and I hugged her about her neck for a long while before finally turning to the others.

“Welcome to Lin Giliath,” said the elven maiden with a smile. “My name is Dilath. Most visitors do not honor us with such a show upon their arrival, though few visit us at all.”

I flushed a bit, but before I could introduce myself, she continued, “Deverell has told me why you have come. You may not remember me from your visit before, Kaleigh, but you are known to us. Please, take your ease while you are here, though I know you mean to leave us on the morrow. Until then, you both are our honored guests.”

I lay my hand on her arm and smiled at her, “You are very kind, Dilath. Thank you. I think I will lie out on the grass and dry out for a bit before anything else.”

With a grateful curtsey she laughed and said, “As you wish.”

I turned to Deverell, and we gazed out over the wetlands. “The beauty of the water is very alluring, is it not?” she teased.

“That beauty is better appreciated from afar,” I grumbled, feigning irritation as I took off my boots to let them and my feet dry.

She grinned, nudging me with her shoulder, “No, really. It is lovely here.”

I turned to her and nodded, smiling at her. “Wait until the evening comes. It will not be easy to leave come morning.”

Evening did come, and the moonlit beauty of Lin Giliath was revealed.

One of the elven lords, Medlichen, offered to show us about, and we gladly accepted.

As we neared the Library of Tham Giliath, Medlichen said, “Lord Gildor is visiting us here, and he has heard of your arrival. He would like a word, with each of you, privately.”

He meant Gildor Inglorion, the elven lord who took part in the Council of Esteldin and who advised the elves who remained in this refuge.

“We would be honored, of course.” I smiled and nodded to him.

“Yes… yes, of course,” added Deverell haltingly.  I felt her clutch at my arm, so I stopped to speak with her.  Medlichen waited for us on the far side of the bridge patiently.

“Kaleigh, I’ve hardly ever spoken to elves, much less met with an elven lord.  What do I say?”  She was very nervous, I could tell.

“Deverell, I think they know what we are up to already, and Lord Gildor is amongst the wisest of all who walk these lands. Just be candid and forthcoming, and all will be more than fine.”

She nodded, still nervous, but a bit calmer.

I returned from my meeting with Lord Gildor, nearly bumping into Deverell, who was awaiting her time with him. I wished her luck before rushing to fetch my map and quill, in order to put Lord Gildor’s insights onto parchment before they were lost to me.

I visited with the elves for a while, before finding a spot near the waters within the refuge to reflect on things and await Deverell.

After a time, I heard footsteps, and she came to stand behind me, upon the rock I had settled myself upon.

“How did your meeting fare?” I asked her. She lay her hand on my shoulder, and I reached up to place my hand over hers.

“It was wonderful, Kaleigh. To speak with someone of such wisdom and splendor…”

I craned my neck to look up at her and smiled at her beaming face looking down to me.

She blushed, “…not that you aren’t either of those…”

I laughed and held up my hand, “Say no more, my friend. I know what you mean.”

We looked out over the water quietly for a moment until she asked, “What did you two discuss together?”

“Oh, mainly places for us to consider scouting for foes,” I replied. “His ideas on when and where the minions of the Enemy might show themselves and things of that sort.”

She nodded. “Knowing you to be a first-rate Scout, I would imagine so. Did he have any insights?”

I flushed, both at the compliment and out of embarrassment, “More in the few minutes he looked over our map than in the entire time I have done so, since it was given to us.”

She gave my shoulder a squeeze and laughed, “Oh, for the wisdom of the ages, yes?”

“Indeed,” I replied. “So, what did you two discuss?”

The mirth left her voice, “He spoke about the nature of our endeavor, and that it would be our discretion that would ultimately decide its fate and ours.”

I turned to look up at her. “In what way did he mean?”

She paused for a moment, as if she were deciding what to say, before she finally replied. “He said that there would be two different types of foes that we would face. Some, like the orcs and the goblins, are beings born to evil. These serve it, and it alone, knowing no other way.”

I nodded. “And the other?”

“The others are like the Dourhand and the Blackwold brigands, those whose hearts are their own but, whether through malice, or greed, or any number of things, give themselves over to something else,” she said. “For those, it is only a lack of discretion that changes them from friend to foe, both toward others, and to themselves as well.”

I rose to my feet and studied her for a moment.  “Why did he tell you these things?” I asked.

She drew in a deep breath and released it before replying, “I think he just wanted us to remember that why we act can be as important, and even moreso, than the acts themselves.”

She lay her hand on my arm, saying softly, “We act to change the future, not the past.”

I smiled at her, putting my hand over hers. “I know we do.”

For the rest of the evening, before we saw to our rest, we took in some of the beauty that we endeavored to save.  And we wished for ourselves wise discretion, to know how best to serve in that role…

We awoke early the next morning and gathered our things for the journey ahead.  We consulted with Dilath over the best path to take through the wetlands.

“There is drier land to the east than on this side of the marsh,” she said. “But there are more creatures that way as well. There are even some trolls rumored to live in the caves near the glade to the southeast.

I looked over the map for a moment. “I am not sure we will be able to take the western side without swimming, though. I think we had best head eastward.”

Deverell agreed, so we made ready for the journey and said our farewells to the everyone in the refuge.  It was not easy to leave, but the time had come.

We headed eastward, skirting the northern edge of the water, with the hope of finding passage southward on the other side.

We came across more solid footing as we crossed over, and trees began to mingle with the marsh grasses and flora.

After mid-day, the grove Dilath spoke of came into view.

I brought Dandi to a halt behind an outcropping of rock near the shore of the marsh and waited for Deverell to join me. “We had best go cautiously here,” I told her. “Let me go first and scout around a bit.”

That discretion was proven quite useful not long after…

I slowly and cautiously eased Dandi away.

I returned to Deverell. “There are trolls wandering the glade to the south and east. The canopy of leaves gifts them safe passage away from the sunlight, no matter the time of day.”

“How will we get past them?” asked Deverell. “Surely, we cannot fight them with just the two of us.”

“No, and they are not our fight. Not this day, at least,” I mused, while pondering our options.

“Will they rest at night and allow us to safely pass, do you think?” she wondered.

“Perhaps, but those hours spent idle might cost us down the road.  If we can save them, it would be better for us.”

…I quieted myself, letting the wilds speak over my thoughts… I heard the waters quietly lapping against dry land, and the calls of marsh creatures in the distance… I heard the wind in the leaves above… The smells of the wetlands were still strong near to the glade…

“I have an idea,” I said.

We ducked behind one of the trees closest to the water. I took one of my stickers and began scraping off some of its bark and handed it to Deverell. “Rub this in your hands, until it is broken down. We will rub it on our skin to lessen our scent.”

“Do trolls have a strong sense of smell?” Deverell asked, with a feint wince.

I smiled at her, “I have never asked one, but the creatures here in the glade and the wetlands likely do. Their attention to us may draw the trolls’ attention to them, and from them to us. We will walk the horses through the water here as well, to hide their scent, before we are stuck to dry land. Then, we will skirt the glade as best we can and hope we are not seen.”

We took the crumbled bark and coated each other with it as best we could. “We are a mess!” laughed Deverell, “but if this works, I will not grouse about it.”

I rubbed a bit on her nose for that and laughed. “Nen Harn will be a balm for all this, once we make it there. I am going to go about seeing to a diversion, to keep the trolls looking the other way, if I can. I will return soon.”

She squeezed my hand. “Be careful, Kaleigh.”

I nodded and skulked away. A few pebbles and a stone’s throw later, the trolls I had found were looking for something toward the East.  I hurried back to the others…

“Slow and easy, Dandi,” I whispered. “Slow and easy, girl.”

We took the horses through the waters near the edge of the glade, as quietly as we could.

I kept watch to make sure that Deverell was with me and close at hand, in case we were spotted.

We held our breath as we skirted the glade, taking what cover we could find…

…but fortune was on our side, and we made it to the rise that marked the southern edge of the glade safely.

We paused at a small waterhole on the southern side of the ridge to gather ourselves for a few moments.

Deverell rode up alongside me, and the two of us silently surveyed the lowlands heading down toward Nen Harn.

“You came up with a good plan, Kaleigh,” she said, after a time.

“Thank you,” I smiled at her.

She looked off into the distance, “The moments when I am reminded why I brought you along are always nice.”

She had Dancer off before I could even smirk at her. I chased her all the way to the high banks of the lake.

We made our truce on the bank of Nen Harn, and we shared in its beauty and that of the lands surrounding it.

“It is gorgeous, Kaleigh. Simply breathtaking,” she said, and I had to agree.

…there is so much beauty within the lands that we all share, that we all should share…

We crept down closer to the water’s edge. “We best wait for the twilight for a swim,” I suggested.

We made our camp between the high bank and a large tree growing nearer the shore and waited impatiently for dusk to fall.

When dusk finally came, we made for the water with glee and abandon.  “The water is perfect!” I said to her.

…we dove into the lake and freed ourselves of the bark, and the grime and, for that perfect moment, the concerns of the day and the days to come…

We swam until the fatigue of the day left us with only the strength to make it back to the shore.

There we built a fire, within the shelter of the depression between the bank and the tree that sheltered us, and laid out to dry and rest for the new day.

Early the next morning, before we were ready to depart, I went out and looked over the lake and the path we might take.

Once we were mounted up, I told Deverell, “We will follow the eastern shore of Nen Harn and then into the Weather Hills. There will not be much cover, so keep an eye out for anything moving.”

“I may not be able to wrest my eyes from the lake,” she said with a smile.

I sighed, “Well, if we each keep one eye on the lake, that leaves another to spy for trouble. I guess two eyes will have to do, then.”

We made our way down the eastern shoreline of Nen Harn.

… and the beauty of the wilds and the landscape happened to me all over again once more…

Elsewhere, at that moment, there were surely quarrels, and fighting, and war over snips and parcels, while the two of us alone roamed over mile after mile of bounty gifted to us, that we all could share in peace…

I heard Deverell call out, “Let us take rest for a bit.” I looked back and nodded to her.

We let the horses graze, while we had a bit to eat and looked around. Deverell spied something by the shore.

“What a peculiar looking rock!” she said. “Do you think the lake flooded in the past and give it its colors?”

“Mmm… let us see about that,” I smiled. I reached down to find a pebble, which I tossed near the rock.

After she had jumped three feet in the air I said, “No, I do not think so.  But I do think the ‘rocks’ will leave us alone, if we do the same for them.”

She sighed. “How long did you know?”

“A Scout never tells,” I replied. “Come, we best be off again.”

We continued following the shoreline, until the steep hills to the east began to recede, and a slim corridor of wood and brush bridged the two.

“This cover will serve us well,” I told Deverell, as we left the shoreline to enter the wood. “Lord Gildor said that there has been word of evil in the hills to the south, minions searching through the ruins of old.”

“For what do they search, did he say?” Deverell asked.

I shook my head, “I am not sure, but he suggested we stay clear of them, if we can. They are not our fight.”

She nodded, and we continued on.

We pressed on through the wood and brush, moving south and east.

We took one last wistful look over the body of the lake, before the visage was lost to us as we pressed onward.

Both the Weather Hills, and the ruins Lord Gildor spoke of, came into view as we reached the southern tip of the lake. I took cover behind some tall brush and beckoned to Deverell to join me.

We consulted our map. I pointed to the hills, “There is far too much open land for us to stay hidden, if we go directly through the hills. They will likely have lookouts upon the rises, keeping watch over the valleys.”

Deverell looked over my shoulder. “How do you suggest we go, then?”

I studied the map for a few moments, before pointing to the southwest, “It is a bit out of our way, but we can try to keep to the edge of the Chetwood for cover, without going so far in as to rouse…”

She stopped me with an exclamation, “The Chetwood! And those Blackwolds?!”

I lay my hand on her arm.

“Not our fight,” I said softly. “At least not this day.”

“They had best not make it ours, if they know what is good for them,” she steamed. I smiled at her before looking to the map once more.

I pointed to the map, “There is a gap between the woods here, and once we go as far south as we can, we will have to cut back to the east, and with no cover at all. But this way we avoid the central hills, where most of the ruins lie. With luck, we will pass through unseen.”

“With luck,” she repeated.

I squeezed her hand for a moment before we set off once again.

We skirted the hills, while staying as close to the edge of the Chetwood as we could, moving south and west.

As we reached the edge of the Far Chetwood, we had no choice but to enter the open and find what other cover we could.

As we neared the hills, we saw many minions roaming outward from the ruins, keeping watch that none should trespass near their treasures.

We skirted those we could…

…and ended those that we needed to, risking much to keep our presence hidden. But it was our only choice, if we wished to make progress.

We pressed on, as swiftly as we dared, and as cautiously as we could.

The southern wood afforded us more cover, and we passed safely within its shelter before cutting back toward the east.

The dusk came upon us as we neared the Weatherway. I beckoned Deverell close.

…our goal was finally within sight…

We met with some mercenaries on the ridge overlooking the Weatherway, whom had been hired to keep watch over the hills to the north. They let us share their camp and assured us that the half-orcs, and whatever else may be roaming within the hills, kept to their place and did not wander further than that.

I made a note upon the map by the firelight, so that I would be reminded to report their presence to the way-watchers before I could forget.

The next morning we wished each other well before Deverell and I took our leave, making toward Weathertop once more.

“We should reach the foot of Amon Sul before dark,” I told her.  “And from there, we will see what we will see.”

We passed down from the Weather Hills and over the Weatherway into the Lone-lands.

A way across the Midgewater Pass was our next obstacle to best.

We went against the waters’ flow, pressing northeast, with the hope of finding a shallows nearer to its source.

And, as the visage of the ruined watchtower loomed over us, we found a ford that afforded us safe crossing.

Dandi looked about as we came to the water’s edge. I leaned forward and hugged her neck, whispering in her ear, “Sorry, girl. These waters are too shallow for your games today.”

She shook her head and whinnied before making her way into the water…

We crossed the waters safely and made our way into the foothills. As we were about to gain the peak of one of the few hills near to Weathertop, I began to smell smoke upon the air.  I made a sign to Deverell, pointing down over the ridge and then beckoned her forward.

As she slowly crept up to me, I whispered, “I think something is below making camp.”

“Something, or some things?” she whispered with a bit of alarm.

I dismounted from Dandi, as quietly as I could and whispered, “I am going to go have a look. Take yourselves back a ways and be ready.”

I handed her Dandi’s reins and waited for them to move back down the hill a bit before turning toward the ridge.

I skulked up to the ridge’s edge and peered down below…

“No… it cannot be…”

But it was true. I beheld one of the way-watchers making camp at the foot of Amon Sul.  He sat alone, save for the company of his steed.

After watching for a few minutes, it seemed he was making great effort to keep himself awake. He would slump forward before catching himself, only to do the same not long after.

I beckoned to Deverell, and we slowly walked the horses down the hill and toward the camp.

The way-watcher stood in alarm once he heard us approaching. I held my hands out to my side, nodding to Deverell to do the same. Once he had turned toward us and we reached the camp, I could see it was noble Candaith who stood before us. He looked to be past the brink of exhaustion.

“Kaleigh, what are you doing here?” he asked wearily, as we moved into the camp and freed our horses of their burden.

I looked at him with concern. “Right now, we are going to keep watch while you get some rest,” I said.

He began to argue, but I shushed him. “Unless there is a war-band headed our way that will reach us within the next few hours, the best thing for us all is for you to rest,” I said firmly.

“It is nearly so,” he sighed, as I pushed him toward the small tent he had crafted nearby.

“Then we are nearly ready to deal with them, once you rest.” I smiled.

Candaith allowed himself a few hours of rest before speaking with us. “These lands are very dangerous in these days, Kaleigh. You and your friend should not have come.” He looked at Deverell for a few moments before turning back toward me.

“It is precisely for that reason that we have come,” I said. I searched my pack for Halbarad’s note and handed it over for him to read.

After reading over the note, he looked toward us. “What was your reason for coming here, then?”

Deverell spoke up, “We are arrived from… from the Northern downs, and we made our way here to look over these lands, that we might spy any movements of the Enemy nearby.”

Candaith looked between the two of us knowingly, before speaking to Deverell. “Forgive my being a bit harsh earlier, Deverell. It was out of weariness and a concern for you both is all. It is a concern that yet remains, however.”

He then looked to me and said, “As far as what you might spy from atop Amon Sul, I can spare you the climb. A band of the dead and other evils, led by a wraith of Angmar, is making its way across the plain. It will likely be here on the morrow.”

His words left us cold and silent for a time.

“They mean to make war in the South?” I asked finally.

“Yes. Halbarad has sent a few of us back to these lands, to act in the same manner he wrote of to you. We are desperately needed in the South, but we will not let that which was in our care for so long fall so easily, either.”

Hope yet remained for us, for us all. I knew, deep within my heart that still fought to be free, that we had not been left to our fate, alone…

I took his hand and held it within my own.  “What can we do to aid you?” I asked.

“You both have done enough, truly,” Candaith said. “Go on your way, and aid others in any manner that you may, while the opportunity still remains.”

I looked to Deverell, and when she nodded, I said to Candaith, “We mean to, and we mean to begin today, here with you. Discretion demands no less.”

…after a time, he saw that he could not sway us and, though he was careful to hide it, I think our presence was welcome to him and he was thankful for it… No one should have to brave such terrors alone…

Candaith said, “My lures and traps have hindered the band and lessened their number these past few days, but we cannot let them any nearer to those we must keep safe . I will set out in the morning to set more lures and lead them here. They will only move in the darkness, so you will have to leave the horses here and gain the peak at dusk tomorrow. I will meet you there, with the war-party not far behind.”

Deverell and I looked to each other. The time had finally come.

“To we three, they will seem numberless,” Candaith warned. “And they are strong.”

“We will be stronger,” replied Deverell.

The two of us took turns keeping watch through the night, to allow Candaith more rest. He left us the next morning, to brave luring a host of wickedness into our very midst.

Deverell and I kept watch over each other throughout the day, while taking more rest in turns, so that we would be ready for what the evening would bring.

At the first sign of twilight, we began our climb toward the weathered peak.

…the twilight sun cast shadows, long and finger-like, over landscapes both within and without…

…my atonement was nigh…

…we gained the peak, keeping watch for Candaith, and whatever else might come…

…darkness fell and, with it, the rain.  Deverell and I held each others’ hand and waited…

Candaith burst through the darkness into the firelight…

“They are minutes behind. Be ready.”

Soon after, the light of the fire dimmed, and a coldness permeated the air…

…I squeezed Deverell’s hand, as we began to see movement at the edge of our vision…

“They are here.”

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