The rest of the evening, which turned out to be shorter than Caethir had expected, they spent in generally amicable small-talk. The Elf had eaten enough to be deemed polite by Lobbo Lovelight, but had enjoyed the ale and pipe-weed that had followed much more.
“‘course pipe-weed supplies are getting lower since the Brigands moved in. We’ve even ‘ad problems gettin’ it from Evendim up North”, Lobbo lamented
“The Brigands were already and issue over a year ago when I first visited the Shire, I presume that has not improved?”, Caethir ventured.
Ruby snorted, “Ha! Improved? Gotten worse if ya’ask me.”
Lamuna nodded sadly, looking sideways at the Elf. “Still no idea who this Sharkey person who seems to be their leader is, either.”
“I reckon they made ‘im up. Never seen nor ‘eard of his visitin’ the Shire ‘imself.” Lobbo stated confidently.
“Real or imaginary, Sharkey gives the Brigands purpose. I came across more of his followers in Dwaling. Had to free the Hobbits there of their influence,” Caethir recalled, “though I don’t think Sharkey is involved elsewhere in Evendim, Angmar however is a different issue altogether.”
The Elf seemed lost in his thoughts and missed Rubybella and Lamuna staring aghast. After a few seconds of silence, Lobbo gave an uncomfortable chuckle.
“Angmar’s jus’ a story we tell t’ kids to scare ’em into behaving. Don’t steal those taters or we’ll send ya to Angmar!”
Caethir shook his head and took a deep puff of pipe-weed. “Sorry, but Angmar is very real. I fought, and lost, some battles against it’s followers in Annùminas. By my reckoning, that’s not exactly far from the bounds of the Shire.”
“So yer runnin’ away from Evendim?”, Ruby asked pointedly.
The Elf looked up at the inquisitive Hobbit. Was he running away from further defeats? Was it shame?
“Not quite, at least I hope not. I have promised the Rangers I will return, so I have a promise to keep.” he carefully explained.
“Pah, Rangers. Another group o’ nosey folks who cause naught but trouble,” Lobbo growled.
“Where are you actually going, Caethir?” Lamuna asked, eager to turn the conversation away from Lobbo’s divisive but not uncommon opinions.
“Rivendell, in the North East of the Trollshaws. Home to some of my kindred.”
“Alone?”, Lamuna pressed. “That’s a very long journey without friends to help.”
And Elves are supposed to be wise, Caethir lamented, We would do well to listen more to folks such as these.
“Yes, alone. At least for now. I don’t know who else would join me on this trek”.
It was mostly true, Caethir knew, but there was at least one other who would drop everything to join him, possibly two.
“Can I join you for some of it?” Lamuna asked.
“Cuz, you just got messy from some Spider in Bindbole!”, Ruby giggled.
“Yes but if you help me get better at defending myself…” Lamuna protested, “Look you’re happy defending the Bounds of the Shire. That’s good and it’s desperately needed. But I want to visit some of the places I’ve read about.”
Caethir thought for a moment while the two cousins continued their exchange. Pride was fighting common sense and he knew of some of the dangers beyond the Brandywine. The words of one of the Evendim Rangers was echo-ing in his mind.
“Do you know of Bree, Lamuna?”, Caethir asked, unsure quite how long he had been deep in his own thoughts.
“The large Town to the East of the Shire? It’s a fair trek but yes I do know of it,” Lamuna replied
“Spend a few days training with Ruby here. Get a shield for your own protection too. Then meet me at Bree in, say, one week.”
Lamuna clasped her hands to her mouth in surprise then leapt up and gave the Elf a huge hug around his shoulders before suddenly stepping back.
“Sorry, I didn’t know if you…well that’s to say that, I…” Lamuna attempted to explain.
“What me cuz is tryin’ ta say is ‘thanks’ an’ sorry for ‘ugging you if that’s somethin’ you don’t normally like!”, Ruby chuckled.
He didn’t normally like close proximity to others, but once he recovered from the initial shock and discomfort, he understood.
“It’s not glamorous and rarely is it exciting, depending how you define that word. But there is plenty to see and learn, when you travel around. But I would be glad of the company for some of the journey.”
And that was that. Lobbo clicked his tongue in disgust and excused himself for the night.
“There won’t be any Lovelights’ left the way these two singleton Lassies are goin’ about things” he muttered down the passage way to his room.
Rubybella and Lamuna quickly began drawing up plans for the week ahead and the Elf silently made his way to the guest room. He still wasn’t sure whether allowing Lamuna to join him was wise. But he was sure that is was unwise to journey too deep into his pilgrimage unaided. He pulled out some parchment and a quill from his pack, noting his ink would need replacing soon. He began writing, his thoughts meandering to conversations present and past, contacts and friends across the regions of Eriador.
“I choose to sleep tonight. My mind won’t turn off any other way. I just hope it stays turned off.” he mumbled.
Tomorrow he would set off for the Brandywine Bridge, the gateway to Bree-land. He already knew of some of the challenges that lay between him and the relative safety of Bree to the East. But beyond the Brandywine Bridge, his journey would truly get started.
An Elf, choosing to travel East and not West. There’s something for the records, he smiled before finally dozing off, a vision of the famous Brandywine Bridge appearing in his dreams with only shadows and uncertainty of what lay waiting for him beyond the bounds of The Shire.
Elsewhere a storm was gathering over the forest, the rain already falling heavily, the droplets creating a cacophony of sounds whether they fell on leaves, bark, or ground. A cloaked figure gazed over the tree-tops from his vantage point staring intently into the dense gloom of the oncoming thunder. He was already drenched, but knew he had to maintain his watch and not forsake it for the welcoming shelter of his tent.
A sudden flash of lightening illuminated the dark woodland for a second, but a second was all he needed to see the silhouette he sought. Pursing his mouth he gave a soft whistle, a note that was not present in the anger of the storm and the Raven flew steadily in and onto the figure’s outstretched left hand. Bringing the hand to his ear, he listened to the creature, before returning his gaze to his companion’s.
Things were going to plan, though slower than he had hoped. Crouching down he and the Raven retreated into the tent to dry off as best as they could. The next message would have to wait until morning.
The bird herself was already distracted by the grubs and worms that had been foraged her.
Tomorrow will be interesting, the figure thought.