- Setting the Stage
- Sowing Confusion
- The Battle of the South Gate
As the group bade farewell to Barliman Butterbur, they stepped out once more into the nearly-silent streets of Bree. The town felt like it was in complete lockdown – either by force or fear. People were not being allowed in – or out – at least that’s how it seemed. Knowing that the last large group to have departed had done so with rumours of a disappearing Hobbit, a maligned Ranger and a crazy Wizard did little to improve their chances.
“Either way, Da,” Hanawen replied, “We can’t protect Bree-land while stuck in Bree.”
Caethir stretched and repositioned his sword and bow for accessibility. Gwathruin had already been summoned back to his Mother and hovered at the ready. Rubybella had managed to calm herself also, so that her tendency to become excitable during stressful events was somewhat stifled. She already had a spear in one hand, which she was unsubtly using as a walking stick. Her shield she had entrusted to Reggie, deciding it would attract far more attention than she needed.
“Well, we have our plan,” Herynglas pointed out, steeling herself, “We are categorically not a group until we hit the actual southern gate of Bree. It’s time we went our separate ways.”
“Valar protect you all,” Faeladar said, more formally than he had intended, “just remember though, we aim to cause no deaths. Incapacitate or evade your foe and keep pressing on.”
Setting the Stage
Near the Combe Gate
Half-concealed by a wooden pillar of one of the houses, Rubybella craned her neck to see the Staddle Gate. A few locals had ventured out to hang laundry, but most disappeared as quickly as they could.
T’was a long shot, the Hobbit silently acknowledged, now it’s time ta check tha’ Staddle gate.
Not that that would be any different, but she had to rule out the possibility there was an easier way out of Bree than by the back door. She headed South through some buildings.
“This is the long route, isn’t it?” Reggie quietly asked, to which Hanawen chuckled.
“Oh, very much so, yes,” she replied, “the question is Da, why South and not West?” she asked, without giving a hint of their purpose to any who might be listening.
“It is both, is it not?” Faeladar replied in kind, “to reach one is to reach the other.”
“By the long route?” Hanawen asked, laughing.
“Exactly,” her father responded, with a smirk.
Near the Town Hall
“That way’s the poor people’s district isn’t it?” she asked, not averting her gaze.
“I’m afraid so. Not far from a proud crest of the Dúnedain, either,” her son replied.
“I wonder what Bree’s founders would think of the place now if they were to visit,” Herynglas said softly.
“The past always looks better from the future than while it’s the present,” Herynglas sighed.
It was then that a familiar shadow covered them and Gwathruin rejoined them.
“Where’s the Tundra Cub?” Caethir asked, briefly averting his gaze.
“He’ll be fine. As we make our way through, I try to keep him hidden. He’s too young to risk him getting hurt in the attempt.”
“Fair enough,” Caethir acknowledged.
Ah, well, it were worth a shot, she thought, her shoulders sagging, now it’s time ta try ‘n’ rejoin the others.
As she turned, she hit the legs of someone much taller than her. As she looked up at the angry man glaring down at her, she hoped all Hobbits hadn’t been tainted with the rumour-spreading of the last few days.
“Oh! I’m terribly sorry, I think I took a wrong turning!” she giggled.
“Darn right you did, squirt. Now get back into town before I make you get back into town,” he growled, waving his hammer in front of her face.
“Not sure if that was a spear or a walkin’ stick,” a female voice grumbled.
“Nah, it’s just a large knitting needle,” a man retorted with a gruff laugh.
The Hobbit paused to catch the end of the exchange.
“People carryin’ weapons is normal anyroad. So long as they’re not aimed at us, they can live.”
Rubybella turned back westward and continued on, shaking her head.
That were a tad too close for me likin’, she anxiously thought.
She decided winding around a couple of larger buildings before slipping between others was her best bet at not attracting more attention. Thus, she carefully picked her way through towards Bree Hunting Lodge.
Bree Hunting Lodge
“Well that was the fastest walk, in the most ridiculous loop, to get here,” she despaired, wiping her brow.
“But we’re here now, so we have to wait for word from the others,” Reggie pointed out.
“I know, but we shouldn’t have to do all this sneaking around,” Hanawen complained bitterly.
Speaking of sneaking, the girl thought, it’s time to use a skill I’ve never told Da about.
When their backs were turned, Hanawen closed her eyes, invoked camouflage, and slowly climbed over a wall behind the lodge, knowing that she could not use this partial-hiding ability for long – and it did little to help her if she made a noise.
Once safely over and on the ground, she shook her head and was no longer translucent. Knowing where Caethir and Herynglas were supposed to have been, she started moving in that direction, moving from shadow-to-shadow.
The Stables near the Auction House
An’ mebbee another in green too, he thought through his muddled mind.
“And what ‘av we ‘ere?” he said gruffly with his hands on his hips, “a pair o’ wand’ring Elves tha’s what.”
“I don’t think walking – really obviously – down the streets to the stables really counts as ‘wandering’, do you?” she asked, sounding more confident than she felt.
The Elf sighed.
“Look behind you. How many of your…associates…are guarding that gate, hmm? I don’t think ‘sneaking’ would do any favours.”
Rykan turned and counted, smugly grinning at the fact numbers were very much on his side.
“I reckon we got eight, an’ there’s only two o’ you?” he laughed, before glancing around, “wait, where’s t’other one?”
“What other one?” Herynglas asked innocently, “I can see you’ve been enjoying some local ale while on, erm, ‘duty’. You do know strong drink can make you see double, yes?
“But there were two o’ you, I swear.”
“Well, that matters not, does it? For now I am just one ‘wandering Elf’ and surely stand no chance of ‘sneaking’.”
“You should get back inside, before my men take an interest in the pretty Elf-woman,” he sneered.
Herynglas shook her head in disgust.
“One of ‘your men’ is a woman, or had you not noticed?” she grimaced, “Anyway, I’ll go check on the horses – animals are more my thing anyway.”
The guard rubbed his temples and decided maybe he should lay off the ale for a few hours, just to be sure.
Stood on the far side roof of Bill Ferny’s house, Caethir thanked the Valar – and his mother’s quick wit. One he saw the guard return to the gate, he crouched, readied his bow and a few arrows. And waited. Spying that from above hills South of Bree, Gwathruin flew higher until he could see his master for her signal.
Bree Hunting Lodge
“Thankee Reggie,” she said, forcing a smile.
“Are you okay?” he replied.
“Me? Yeah I am, now. No surprise that the two ‘oles yous asked me ta scope out ‘ad bin closed, one way or ‘nother,” she reported.
“Thanks for your efforts though. Everyone’s in position – or so we think.”
Ruby jumped down from the fence, once more and gave Reggie a loose salute.
“Jus’ means I ‘av one more thing ta do – I gotta get me ta Caethir. Wish me luck!”
Where’s Hana?, he thought, slightly worried.
After a few moments of consideration, he decided that it was likely she would either attempt to aid Caethir in the distraction or sneak out in the chaos they hoped to cause.
Two people approaching the gate is one thing, three is a threat, he reasoned, she’ll get out and can handle herself.
He only hoped Faeladar would not notice, else he would be too distracted to effectively fight at the gate, rendering the entire plan futile.
On Top of Bill Ferny’s House
The Elf smiled, while keeping his eyes fixed on the gate.
“I take it this means the others are ready?” he asked.
“Aye, they’re in position. What about you three?” she enquired, which was met with a nod.
“I’ll signal to mother in a moment. But first, retrieve the small shield out of my backpack. It’s nothing exciting, but I realised you had no way of getting yours. You can have it – I…found it, let’s say.”
“Maybe,” the Elf replied in kind.
Once she had the shield and had climbed down to behind the stables, Ruby whispered from behind the wall.
“Look for Caethir’s signal.”
Herynglas who was, as she had said, “tending to the horses”, heard the message and unhooked her staff from her back. She stretched until the sunlight glinted on its tip and gave a yawn, and glanced to the roof where Caethir was slowly getting to his feet. He caught her eye and nodded.
The Battle of the South Gate
The Guarded Bree South Gate
“What were that?” Rykan asked spinning around, just in time to see another arrow fly into the lower leg of one of his “associates”, making him cry out loud in pain and anger.
The other raggedly dressed men and women all pulled out their weapons, trying to find the source of the arrows.
“I swear it came from Bill Ferny’s, but that makes no sense, boss,” one called out.
“An’ none o’ you thought an archer’d be ‘andy to ‘av around?” Rykan asked, angrily, “yer all ‘opeless!”
Zip, fizz, thud, went another arrow from a completely different direction, this time with fire. Seeing it lodge into the closed gate, Rykan ordered his guard crew to put it out as fast as they could.
“But we don’ ‘av water, Ryken,” one protested, “an’ you know what ‘appened las’ time we tried usin’ mead!”
That was a drunken experience they had all learned from. This time, one ran out Bree South-gate towards the pond to retrieve some water, where Gwathruin swooped, scooped him up in his claws and unceremoniously dumped him in the nearby Midgewater Marsh.
Feeling panicked, Rykan looked back to where the “pretty Elf-lady” had been, only in time to see her cast a ball of light and throw it over all of their heads, stinging their eyes.
“Argh, what in tha’ name o’ … was that?” he shouted, covering his eyes with his hands.
While the guards were disorientated, the group had a chance of breaching the gate, but six of the original eight where still physically present there, even if one was injured. That one, at least, was busy wrapping cloths around his wound so was out the equation.
“Now!” Caethir shouted.
At that, Faeladar and Reggie charged, swords swinging. While they had an agreement that they would not kill anyone in this endeavour, splitting weapons and causing bruises were still very much on the cards. Two of Ferny’s men had regained enough of their sight to mount some opposition and were engaging with Reggie and his Captain.
Zip, zip! went two more of Caethir’s arrows, knocking a hat off one of the guards and brushing close to Rykan’s face, making him catch his breath.
“Someone is on Ferny’s ‘ouse!” he yelled pointing.
While he and two others tried to find the assailant, Herynglas gave his associates such a hit on the backs of their heads with her staff, that they fell forward unconscious onto the floor. Just as Rykan turned to attack the Elf, he found his feet pulled out from under him by the charging Rubybella who had run at him shield-first, with all her strength.
“Argh, me back!” he winced, “Me ruddy back!”
But no one was listening. Ruby and Herynglas exited Bree in the chaos and sprinted up the gentle slope North-East of the town. Gwathruin spied them and flew down to greet them, his head tilted to one side to show he was listening.
“The others still need your help, friend,” Herynglas called up to him, to which he appeared to nod and flew back to Bree-pond.
“That’s the opposite direction,” Herynglas despaired, “why of all times?”
“Yer fine me lady,” Ruby grinned and pointed, as the Ember Eagle began to return, a bucket dangling in its claws.
Back in Bree, Caethir had noticed Reggie begin to tire. The remaining thugs were strong, but while one had a steel-looking great-sword, the other was attacking with a huge club. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a little oil, tipping some onto one of his few remaining arrows.
“I guess that was Hanawen the first time,” he mumbled out loud, “well, I think it’s my turn.”
Rubbing the metal-tipped arrow against his dagger, he caused enough friction to make a spark, setting the arrow alight. Nodding with satisfaction he jumped down to behind the stable and took aim.
“You Rangers,” one assailant wheezed, “nothing but trouble.”
“Things were fine…” he panted, “until you let yourselves be paid off.”
He was just about to do one of his “in-action lectures” when his opponent’s partner squeeled and dropped her club, holding her hands with tears of pain running down her face. Faeladar, holding his attacker back with nothing now but brute force, glanced down to see the club was burning up. He locked eyes once more with the last remaining active guard.
“This is not the end,” he said through gritted teeth, before kicking the flames onto the man’s feet and jumping back a few paces.
“Argh!” he screamed, also dropping his weapon, trying to stamp out the flames, “It hurts, put it out!”
As if on cue, Gwathruin dropped the some of the bucket of water over his head, soaking him to the skin and he sat down clutching his feet and tried to remove his boots. Once he had tipped the rest of the water onto the burning gate, the Ember Eagle dropped the actual bucket on the man’s head, knocking him out cold.
With a satisfied smile, Faeladar looked up at the Eagle and nodded his thanks, before striding out of the gate to meet the others.
Beyond the South Gate
“Am I ‘appy to see yous safe!” Ruby smiled, “from ‘ere it’s nearly impossible ta know ‘oo’s shoutin’ fer battle an’ ‘oo’s screamin’ in pain.”
Faeladar and Reggie ran to their position and stood gasping for air after the struggle.
“Where’s Caethir?” Herynglas asked, concerned.
“I’m here, Mother,” came a voice from just outside her field of vision, “I decided to retrieve my arrows – those that weren’t burned up anyway,” he complained, joining the circle of companions, “the heads were made by a metalsmith and I can’t recreate them, but I managed to recover some of them, at least.”
As she smiled, she also noticed Faeladar turning this way and that and looking up and down. Her expression faded to one of worry.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Where in the name of the Valar is Hana?” Faeladar asked, the anxiety clear in his voice, “I thought she was right behind us.”
Everyone looked to everyone else. No one knew what had become of the girl.