Quenta Roqueni, Book One

THE THIEVES OF METRAITH

An Adventure in Middle-earth*

By Vincent Roiron and Lowell R. Matthews

With Gavin Carey, Woodrow H. Kroll III, George Photopoulos,

Trevor Sanders, and Christian Wirtnik

Copyright © 1999

Chapter I: Meeting in Tharbad

Even in the busy streets of Tharbad, the huge, hairy man was an uncommon sight. He had been going around in circles for a long time when one of the street urchins, to whom he had given a wooden figure, led him to a decrepit shop. Inside, he saw a very diminutive and burly, bearded person that asked him in a not-so-polite tone what his business was.

Startled by the manís bullying tone, the giant was on the brink of some well-weighted birdís name when the boy slipped behind his leg and ran to a small shelf beside the door.

"Is that bear with you?" the stocky man asked the boy.

"Yes, yes, and he even gave me a new toy," said the boy, bringing the beautifully carved figure of a horse into view.

"Ha, then perhaps you are worth some air, after all. What are you looking for?"

The giant wondered what to answer, but the boy spoke once more. "He wants a casket to carry herbs! Wow, those are nice," said the boy, looking at glistening things on the shelf.

"A casket to carry herbs.... I suppose you want something waterproof, compartmented, with many drawers and pockets, is that right?"

"Ah, well, I suppose," mumbled the giant of a man.

"I will make that for you, but go fetch some cloth, some cotton and some silk. Not much, mind, something worth, say, one golden crown, one-third cotton and two-thirds silk. Iíll need them to protect your precious herbs. The rest Iíll fetch myself. And you pay two gold crowns in advance, two more on completion!"

Berek, for so was the name of the half-giant, half-bear of a man, looked baffled at the price, and nearly on the point of turning back, when the boy spoke again. "No need to rob him, Filur, he was a nice giant, for a giant. He gave us those beautiful toys!"

"All the more reasons to have him pay dearly! What do you think? That I can make those toys for free?" Filur gestured to the shelves behind him. "Thatís not because some hairy giant comes into town to starve me to death that I need to surrender!"

"But I donít want to starve you," said Berek, noticing that the shiny things on the small shelves looked like little toys, made of metal and stone.

"I know you donít. Iíve seen your kind before. You donít know the value of money. Anyhow, letís drop it to one more gold crown on completion. Have we a deal?"

A little startled by the way Filur, the cask maker, obviously wanted to rip him off, Berek put on his slickest poker faceójust the one he always used when trading rabbit furs against jam pots when the travelling merchant came into his home village at the Gladdor shore.

"Filur, I see you are a good craftsman, and understood my demand instantly. For the price...." He pulled two gold coins out of his pouch and placed them in front of the merchant. "How about these two now and eight silver upon completion?" With a broad grin on his face he turned to the boy, nodding and smiling at not letting this merchant treat him as a complete man-outta-nowhere. The boy, however, looked a little puzzled about the deal proposed.

"Strike! We have a deal!" burst Filur. He grabbed Berekís hand, shaking it and sealing the bargain. Quickly the craftsman grabbed the coins, storing them in a pocket. "Now, for the silk and cotton, let me describe the way for you...."

After a brief instruction, Berek knew where to get the cloths, as well as what to expect to pay for them, for here again the boy intervened.

"Hey, boy," said Berek, once again outside of the shop, "whatís your name, anyhow? Will you help me find that shop and deal with the owner? Come on, the sooner we finish that the sooner I can start carving, well, another puppet for you. How would you like a fat merchant?"

Back at his inn, Berek thanked Tellan for his help. "Tellan, ya know, back home we never had these filthy merchants, valuing everything in coins.... I donít really like these things, donít do ya any good in the woods." He grabbed a wooden log leaning against the stove and sat down at a table. "What shall it be then, maybe a...."

"A dog," interrupted Tellan. "And why donít you like these coins? My Mom and Dad seem to love them; most people can't get enough of them."

Berek shrugged, readying his carving knife. "Can you buy a wooden dog? Maybe, but not this one, since this one was especially for you. Coin will only get you a wooden dog for everyone.... Never forget lad, freely given was truly given, as the saying goes!" And so he resumed his carving, until Tellan fell asleep at his side.

* * *

Waking up in the morning, Tellan found a dog placed next to himótogether with two little puppets, one brown and one carved out of a black piece of wood. Rushing out of his sleeping room, he found Berek sitting over breakfast. "Thank you," he squeaked, shying away from hugging the guest.

"Hmmm," Berek mumbled over his porridge, a merry grin on his face.

* * *

After breakfast, Berek returned into Tharbad. Searching for a jeweller to whom he could sell two of his precious gems, he sought out the more wealthy parts of town. Three shops seemed to fit his demand, one dealing with jewellery, one being a handicraftsman who fashioned bracelets and amulets, and finally a very elegant store with a sign indicating that the proprietor worked on special requests only. Berek decided to try out the handicraftsman first and entered his store.

"Hello, Goodman," he told the person working in an alcove behind a desk.

"Hello, sir," the man replied, interrupting his work and getting up. "What may I do for you?"

"Well, hmmm, I have something to sell.... Do you purchase precious stones?"

* * *

The Royal Oak Place Inn was very cosy, and rather expensive, but its guests were quite happy with the food and rooms. A warm fire crackled in the hearth, and the well-closed windows and shutters kept the cold outside. There were a dozen guests, most of whom were colourless merchants, traders on their way to or from Fornost, some even on their way to faraway Gondor. Though the winter was lingering, the spring would soon show up, and travel north was already possible again. The snow had left the nearby roads weeks ago, though southbound travellers still spoke of white landscape near Fornost.

One of the guests was a real bear of a man, as hairy as the animal he looked like. His dark red hair and his coppery beard were real wonders; though he was tall, the word that came to mind was big. His legs were as big as a log, his arms thick as most menís thighs. He ate like three men! Most people in the dining room could not resist staring at him while he gobbled down a whole stuffed boaróa small one, granted, but most men would have surrendered while this giant actually asked for cheese to finish the whole wine keg he drunk during the meal!

Wonder rose to another level when the man not only managed to survive the meal, but rather than collapse to the floor snoring noisily, he passed to the taproom where he ordered some dark beer! There he took out a large knife and put it on the table beside his mug. The innkeeperís children, far from being afraid, ran to his table and the smallest girl crept into his lap. The giant looked at her fondly and stretched out his right hand, from which the eldest child collected a small wooden figure, the semblance of some forest animal. Afterward, while the little girl was still in his lap, the giant took a new piece of wood from a pile at his feet, and began to carve new figures. The eldest children left him and disappeared to play with the toys the giant had already carved. The young girl stayed to contemplate the work, but soon she fell asleep. The giant moved her with the same care he showed carving the wooden figures and resumed his work, but his brow betrayed that he was brooding....

* * *

The young Dúnadan knight (his position quite obvious from his noble bearing and the long sword he wore at all times) who entered the taproom then had been sent to Tharbad on a courier mission. Túrin, the captain of the guard of House Orrómenya of Arthedain, had ordered him to deliver important mail to various noble acquaintances of his liege. He had been happy to travel to Cardolan, where the winter was far less bitter than it was in House Orrómenyaís fief. Besides, he had been given a fat purse that allowed him to stay in a fine inn while waiting for answers from some of his lordís correspondents. He had nearly wintered here, and had enjoyed the activity of Tharbad, whose busy merchants and merry people seemed unaware of the dangers faced in Arthedain.

The young knight looked around and saw a bear of a man, one of those fabled Beijabar he had heard of only in childrenís tales before. The man stood as tall as him and certainly seemed heavier; but the knight certainly would not have believed a man could be so hairy before he saw one. The Dúnadan was as tall as the Beijabar but lighter in build. He carried himself with assurance and was elegantly dressed in dark colours that set off his jet-black hair and black eyes. Unlike the giant of a man, he had eaten a sober mealósome would even say meagre considering the wealth of most clients of the inn. The device he wore on the pin that kept his cloak in place betrayed his northern origins. He sat at a table and asked for a small pitcher of Calenardhon wineónot as expensive and tasty as those from Ithilien, but compared to the meal he had enjoyed, an expensive drink. He looked around, amazed by the bear-man, but remained otherwise silent.

Some merchants also enjoyed drinks while talking of business, and the giant sculpted more figures. A timid youth, almost boyish, came to his table with a smug air. He was a young, wiry-looking man who stood about five and a half feet tall. He had brown hair and eyes, but no features to make him stand out in a crowd. He held two mugs of beer and was smiling at the Beijabar.

"Hello. My name is Jiff, Jiff Breetdawn. Can I get you a drink?" Jiff placed the mug on the table. "I believe dark beer is your drink of choice? Sorry to bother you, but I hear that you intend to travel to Fornost soon? I am also headed in that direction and wonder if youíd like a travelling companion? I can handle myself in scrap if the need arises, so wonít be a burden if we are attacked along the way and maybe conversation would be a good diversion for the journey? Do you mind if I sit down?" He motioned towards an empty seat.

As the giant looked a little startled, his carving knife that had stopped for some time slipped and scratched along the wood, barely missing a huge and hairy hand. The quick movement also revealed a bandage on his right forearm. Looking up into the young manís face, the stern and thoughtful look on the bulky man disappeared quickly. "Jiff, hmmm," grunted the man, as he placed the piece of wood on the table. He then put away his knife while looking at the wiry man and judging him.... It was the eye of a hunter, not looking for prey but having difficulties in reading people.

After a few seconds, Jiffís warm smile won him over. "Sure, have a seat... and thank you for the drink, nothing better after light meal... hmmm... Berek, Berekís me." He took the mug, which nearly disappeared in his hand, and quaffed it quickly. "Hmmm, Fornost, thatís where I go to..." he silently caressed one of the passing childrenís heads, "...and company is the pleasure of the road, as the saying goes. Hmmm...." Berek's clothes, mostly leather and wool, showed clear sign of having been on the road and in the woods for some time. A little worn and very practical, they told of travelling a long way away from home.

"Well, I intend to leave in a day or two, and I travel lightly.... If you are willing to go a good pace, you are welcome to join." Here the giant paused, took another sip, and waited for the wiry manís reaction.

"I will be glad to travel a good paceóthe less time spent in the dangerous wilds the better, I say! I will, though, need to get provisions and equipment for the journey. Could you recommend somewhere that I could obtain these for a decent price?"

The hairy man grunted. "Hmpf. Donít know. Ask the kids...."

The young Dúnadan knight approached the table. "Pardon me for overhearing, Sir, but may I ask the purpose of your visit to Fornost? If you have no other engagements, I could use a man like you. But first let me introduce myself. I am Elenárion Aerthoron. I am looking for brave and determined men to fight for the cause of Arthedain against the foul hordes of the Yrch-Engmair."

Jiff looked at this newcomer with an enquiring smile, and asked, "Please, tell more of this battle of which you speak. I am not an outright fighting man by any means, though the gent sitting opposite surely is, but I may be able to aid you still if the cause is just...."

"You, able to help the Dagorwaith Orrómenya? Well, that will be the day. This is a mission for men, not boys. But you, Sir," he said looking at the huge man, "you can indeed help us."

Laying his hand on Jiffís shoulder, Berek prevented the blushing man both from getting up and from making a swift reply. "Hmmm.... Boys will become men, as the saying goes, and will grow by their tasks...." Making an inviting gesture to the free place at the table, Berek continued, "Please, tell us more about Dagorwaith Orrómenya and the help he is in need of. Let us judge the young fellowís capabilities after we hear the task to be accomplished."

Seeing Elenárion still hesitated, Berek added, "Be assured that nothing we hear will be passed to the enemy. No matter what you think of young fellow Jiffís age, he does not look nor smell like an Orc to me."

The young Dúnadan sat down at the table. "Pardon me, Sir, but I forget that the Elven-tongue is not spoken by everyone I meet. Dagorwaith Orrómenya is not a person; it is the army of House Orrómenya, one of the noble Houses of the Kingdom of Arthedain, my homeland. My house, House Aerthoron, is oathsworn to the Orrómenyar. It is the duty of the noble houses to provide troops for the war, for the King maintains only a small elite force. We have been fighting the Yrch and the barbarians of Angmar for the last century. Countless times we have prevailed on the field and yet their hordes return with fire and slaughter in their eyes. The Kingdom of Rhudaur has already fallenóand from what I have seen here, I fear that Cardolan will be next, for here there is only the thought of profit. It is not so in Arthedain. I cannot promise you wealth and conquest. Should you decide to join us, you will receive pay of course, but the main reward will be the honour of fighting for a just cause. Men like you are needed in Arthedain. As for the boy, none may judge the spirit by the vessel that contains it, or so the Firstborn say, and I will not; still, he will not stand a chance against the Angmarim. If you vouch for him, however, we can take him along and maybe weíll find a use for him."

"Hmmm...." started Berek, listening intensely to Elenárionís story. "I heard that the Yrch have become even more aggressive since the fall of Rhudaur. We Beijabar, too, have trouble in keeping our mountain areas free of the evil hordes.... Back in my hometown at Gladdor ... hmmm...." Berek paused, then shrugged. "Anyhow, I will fight the Yrch wherever I find them, and if there are some to be found on the road to Fornost, thatís just another reason to go there. But I am no mercenary, no sell-sword who makes killing his living. So if you are looking for new recruits hiring into, what did you call it, Dagorwaith Orrómenya, I guess you got the wrong man." Pausing, Berek stroked his beard. But, Berek reasoned, that person could be the one to tell me where to find the healers with the best reputations, maybe even get access to them. And, at least, he could be a worthy source of information for the region and where to travel... hmmm. "But you are right, I am determined to go to Fornost, and I think young Jiff at my side is willing to join. I would be glad to learn more about the house of Orrómenya. If you are considering returning to Fornost, please join us and we might find a suitable way to serve Orrómenyaís needs. I would gladly share all information about the Yrch movements I can see on my road with the people fighting these evil hordes. And in case we meet some of the foul hordes on the road, we will hunt them down instantly."

Turning his head to Jiff, Berek added, "I think if we head into town tomorrow and get provisions we might be on the road the day after, what do you think?" And I still have that loaf of Hesgaratu bread and the herb cask waiting for me in town, thought Berek.

"Sir, I am not looking for mercenaries. We do not believe that warcraft is a business, but we are forced to fight to protect our land and our lives. The reason I asked you to join us is that you seem a man of honour as well as skill in arms. To fight for Arthedain is to fight for freedom, for if Arthedain falls, then who knows where the Angmarean hordes will set their sights next. Still, I will respect your decision. One thing puzzles me, however: you say you are no warrior and you certainly do not seem a scholar; what is then your business in the fortress of the Dúnedain? Are you perhaps a merchant or artisan, for we also have need of those in the North."

"Hrrmmm," Berek grunted, definitively pleased by the Elenárionís response. The Dúnedain, he reasoned, really do have a problem at hand when the enemy has loosed its minions against them. And they are a worthy people, proud and noble.

"I apologise for my blunt reply, hmmm, Sir. I know the sorrow the enemy wreaks upon us too well, along with the grief felt at the loss of friends who got involved in a battle too many. I am no warrior by profession, like most of us Beijabar. We prefer the woods, and acquire our skill at arms hunting, tracking, and in the petty little border fights with Yrch and Wargs. Anyhow, none of us will stand apart when the Free People are endangered. We did it once, and still carry this burden the very day." Along with its blessing granted after our returning to the rightful path. "Hrrmmm.... I got a personal quest I pursue, and I want to meet some people in Fornost, hmmm.... It is its healers in fact I want to visit, since I heard about their reputation here in Tharbad." Berek could not help but feel the curious look of Jiff, whereas Elenárionís face did not show a hint of digging deeper into that topic at the moment. "If the house Orrómenya could help me in that quest and introduce me to the healers at Fornost, I would gladly travel there... and offer my assistance during the fight against the Yrch... not so much as a warrior but as a ranger and skilled tracker. I could inform you about the movements of the enemy as well as any fighting when needs arise."

Turning to young Jiff, Berek added, "And if you still want to give me company on our way to Fornost, even if we have to do some tracking during our way, I will do my best to teach you a trick or two and help you stay out of trouble, if I can."

The young Dúnadan seemed particularly satisfied by the Beijabarís reply. "A skilled tracker who has fought Yrch and Wargs, you say? But this is wonderful! You might prove invaluable to us, Sir, I knew it from the first moment I saw you. As for introducing you to the healers, why the herb gardens of House Orrómenya are among the finest in the kingdom and many of the Orrómenya ladies, including my own mother, are members of the Selli Niennava, the Sisters of Nienna."

"Hmmm, though I havenít heard the name of Selli Niennava before I am looking forward to meeting them. They sure must be an order of significant knowledge." Turning to young Jiff, Berek added, "And for you, adventurous young fellow, how does it sound to run through the woods some time, tracking some rabbits and maybe bigger game?"

"The Sisters of Nienna are an order of female healers renowned for their skill in leechcraft. Our people have been taught the secrets of herb lore from the Firstborn in ages past and there is no ailment for which we have no cure. I am sure that among them you will find what you seek. And now, if you will excuse me, I will retire for we have a journey ahead of us tomorrow. Goodnight."

"Well, Jiff, it seems we are heading to Fornost. As do you, I have still some, hhhmmm, open accounts to settle in town.... I would suggest to take tomorrowís day to prepare for the road, meet here in the evening and leave the morning after." Nodding, Berek got up from the table. "If thatís fine for you we shall meet tomorrow.... Now have a good night, young master, and for your shopping... well, I guess we should both try to get a horse as well.... Donít forget to bring something for the kids if they help you make a bargain!"

Jiff turned his head upwards to the large bear-man and responded, "Indeed it would be fun to run through the woodlands tracking rabbits. I would appreciate learning such arts... and I too would be interested to meet the Selli Niennava, I am the sort who loves to learn anything about anything, knowledge is the spice of life! ... But you are right, I should sleep also...."

Bidding goodnight to the two other men, Jiff headed off to bed, followed by a yawning Berek who turned to the stairs and left the room. Mentally he already made his own shopping list. A stout horse should be worth some coin, as well as my herb box and the loaf of Hesgaratu bread I saw in one of those shops.

On the stairs, Elenárion suddenly turned himself toward Berek and told him, "Sir, it has just occurred to me that you have never been to Arthedain before. I would advise against carrying too much, as this will slow us down. The road goes through settled country and so we can get what we need from the towns and inns along the road. If we leave early in the morning and make good time, we will be able to reach the village of Dinach just before nightfall. Goodnight."

Chapter II: Bad Night in Metraith

The next morning was rainy, and the dining room was cold and humid despite the fire that crackled in the innís main hearth. Berek, who had woken up before anyone but the innkeeper, was already wolfing down huge chunks of a smelly and tasty cheese when Elenárion climbed down the stairs. The young Dúnadan fixed himself a more human-sized breakfast, and spoke once Berek had finished:

"What do you intend to do, will you go with me to fetch two horses, or do you think you will have too many things to collect in Tharbad already?"

"Hmmm.... I am not sure Iíll be able to do both, so if you would be kind enough to buy the horses...."

Jiff chose that very moment to enter the room, his cloak wet from the morning dew. Both men noticed immediately that the shoes he wore would not be the best things to wear if they had to walk. The young man wore an inadequate cloak that would be soaked by the first rain, but his bag seemed good enough. Berek sighed, for he had already guessed what would come next.

"Well, concerning the horse... could one of you lend me the money? Iím afraid my purse is not what she used to be!"

"Good morning, hmmm... Jiff," said Berek, who had guessed right. The hairy man looked Jiff straight in the eyes: "Iíll pay for your horse, since our friend seems eager to reach his home soon. And, hmmm... Iím not sure you really could walk all the way north... youíll pay me back as soon as you can...."

Of Elenárion Berek asked, "Do you know how much I must give you?"

"You are strong and bulky, so weíll need a big, tough horse.... Jiff is lighter.... I think weíll need some fifteen gold crowns for the two horses if we are unlucky."

"Fifteen! Are you sure those people are not plain thieves! Thatís thrice the price I would pay in Rhovanion!"

"I am afraid the prices are much higher here, Sir. There are no wild horses here, and Tharbad is a city. Unless we try our luck in a noble estate, Iím quite sure all the prices offered us would be the same."

Berek took the golden crowns from his purse, and made a mental note to go back to that jeweller to sell some more gemstones. His funds were diminishing rapidly and he still had some things to collect in town. "Use these well, and I hope the horses of Cardolan are good indeed!" Hmmm... thought the bear of a man, these people must really be rich! I could have bought five horses with those crowns back home....

While Elenárion went to a nearby stable to buy the horses, Berek and Jiff went back to Tharbad. Jiffís cloak was indeed inadequate, and so they made their first stop a weaverís shop where they bought a heavier one, which also offered some protection from the rain. At Jiffís scowl when the man asked for his price, Berek anticipated more parting from the coins he kept in his own purse.

They went to a bizarre shop afterward, owned by a diminutive figure which Jiff recognised to be a Dwarf, where Berek collected a small casket in which to put some medicinal herbs. Berek parted with some more gold, and then went to a jewellerís shop. He showed him some gems and, thanks to Jiffís trained eyes, was not too heavily taken in. They then visited an armoury, where Berek inquired after a set of leather armour. The things he tried were really bulky and hampered his movements. The armourer had few better offers to make, except for a set made from very well worked leather, which was much more expensive, but definitely seemed better as far as the protection it offered went.

Jiff couldnít help a smile as he saw the huge man twisting in each of the different armours, rapidly sweating like a packhorse. Berekís mood, however, did not change, accepting the laborious changing. Finally he grunted, "Heck, why canít they make anything that fits... hmmm... well, Master Armourer, I will take one I am at least able to walk in." With a side-look, assuring himself he didnít pay too much for the leather armouróbut Jiff actually shrugged as he ignored the right price but thought the current one was fair enough since the armour appeared really superioróBerek counted two gold crowns and handed them over to the merchant.

The morning was at its end when they went back to the inn. Elenárion had bought two good horses and some preserved food, but he knew that there were many inns and villages on the way to Fornost. They departed quickly, and the young Dúnadan was soon able to see that neither of the men were real riders. Whatever use they could be to House Orros, they would not be cavalrymen. He was quite sure that the big man was a real fighter; however, these thoughts helped prevent him thinking about the rain that fell continuously. Jiff looked really miserable, but Berek appeared indifferent to the elements. The evening found them in a small village where a peasant gave them some room in his hayloft and stable in exchange for some copper pieces. They shared some heavy soup with him, along with a dark bread and some strong wine that the man drank in the soup. Berek soon did the same, and invited his companions with a great smile. Jiff seemed content with a watered goblet of the wine, and Elenárion was not in the mood to be drinking such a strong wine. He offered some good brandy from his saddlebags before they went to bed, however.

The next day was cloudy but the rain was only intermittent. The weather was typical for an early Gwirith, and Jiff wasnít that happy when he learned that perhaps they would see some snow again in northern Arthedain. But for now, the better weather was a real comfort compared to the day before, and they rode through Dinach around midday, but chose to eat further along the road. After a night in a welcoming farmerís common room, they resumed their trip toward Metraith. The day was rainy again, and Jiff felt miserable again. Seeing the smoke of Metraithís fires Jiff cheered up and, despite his diminishing supply of coins he didnít mind that the inn was expensive: it was a dry place. (He was a city-dweller compared to his two companions, who were used to the hardships of travel.) Metraith was a double town: a Dúnadan town had grown around the Thalion, the now decrepit summer palace of the lords of Dol Tinarë; and a Dunnish town to the north loomed above the Dúnadan one. It was built on the top of a knoll, its natural defences reinforced by an earthen wall and a tower.

The only inn with available rooms was the Fattened Ewe, a dirty place with a strong greasy odour. Elenárion and Berek exchanged a significant look, but Jiff was too tired and wet to care about the odour. The meal was infamous and expensive, and the common room uninviting. The only visible animation in town came from a house they had crossed on the road from which some womenís laughter could be heard from the road.

The beds were uncomfortable and dusty, but free of fleas. The three men soon fell asleep. In the middle of the night, Jiff thought he heard a sound, but he was so tired that he couldnít stay awake long enough to investigate. In the morning, they all awoke because of the cold, and dressed silently, when Berek took a sharp breath: "Iíve been robbed! I cannot find my purse!"

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