Here, for fun, I thought I'd post the chronicle I'm writing for our Middle Earth-Harnmaster Rhovanion campaign. It's gotten quite long so far, so I'll post it in sections. Hope you enjoy.
EAST OF MIRKWOOD, WEST OF RHÛN
A bird of prey sailed leisurely across the silent sky. Most likely an eagle, judging by the wing span, Nilufar mused. It was uncommon to spot such large birds this far from the mountains. He turned his gaze back to the grassy path he and his companions were following. Ahead, the tall Elorik swept a dangling branch out if his path as they made their way through the leafy copse of young oaks. Behind, he could hear Gierd mutter under his breath. The wiry trader had a tendency to do that when he became absorbed in himself, as often happened when they were out on a long excursion such as this. He had always been that way - aloof. As long as Nilufar had known him, which was a long time indeed, since they had both grown up in the trading town of Buhr Chep, situated on a ridge overlooking the swift River Running, Gierd had been a man apart, with thoughts that ran along paths where few others would go. Often there seemed to be a wall between his mind and those of their fellow Lakemen, and to Nilufar it seemed that only he was able to see beyond it. As a result, their peers tended to avoid Gierds’ company. Even Gierds’ family seemed not to know what to do with the boy as he grew more and more distant to them. And Gierd had turned more and more to Nilufar as an audience for his rambling, intricate, abstracted ideas. At the same time Gierd had become a valuable ally against the other children who often taunted Nilufar for being interested in herbs and stories rather than stone throwing, swimming, running and all the other common interests of the common children. Gierd had always been able to throw a nasty punch, and possessed a fearlessness that frightened even the toughest bully in town. The friendship had cemented over the years as the two odd-boys-out grew to manhood.
Elorik, the tall, burly plainsman with uncannily dexterous, double jointed limbs, was both similar and different to the two childhood companions. He too had been at odds with his family and their way of life. He had grown up on a farmstead, in a hard working Gramuz family of the Frithas clan. He had never quite fit the bill as a herdsman and farmer. While getting used to winning recurring competitions of physical prowess, as he was exceptionally strong and agile, he lacked the discipline and ability to hold ones' head down to the grind that made a household function. His family was not rich, and having been plagued with child mortality over several generations had never managed to eke out more than a meager living on their herds of sheep and goats. So when it became apparent that Elorik had fallen under the influence of his somewhat wayward uncle Bodilof, his parents shook their heads and sighed. Bodilof had for a long time travelled in the retinue of the famous head of the Frithas clan, Brogdin, and had spent his youth campaigning with him against Easterlings rather than helping out at the farm. He had returned with some fine jewelry, a couple of disabling old wounds, and a taste and capacity for somewhat excessive drinking. Him the young Elorik had chosen as his role model, and the aging warrior had taken the lad under his wing, seeing in his nephew much of his own younger self. Elorik listened avidly to Bodilof’s tales, and learned much from his teaching of the art of swordsmanship. Elorik practiced with such obsession that he eventually became known as one of the best swordsmen in the region. This, of course, even further contributed to his lack of focus on his chores. Gradually his mind had begun to seek itself toward some daring goal beyond the endlessly even horizon of the oak savannah.
Then the plague had struck. Five years ago, without warning, it had swept through Rhovanion as well as other parts of northwestern Middle Earth. Man and beast had succumbed in bloody fits of coughing to a menace that would wind up extinguishing almost a third of the living creatures in this region. There had been nowhere to escape, except into the wilds, where one could never survive for long if alone. Whole communities had collapsed or been wiped out, and wolves could be seen picking through the remains of the fallen at abandoned homesteads. A harsh winter followed, forcing everyone inside, thus spreading the germs and causing even more death. The plague had scythed through the people like wheat, passing in waves along the settlements, culling all except the hardiest. No one was left untouched, and the wailing of orphans, and subdued pleading of impoverished folk forced into begging, became an all too common sound. For two long years the plague harrowed the region, and then abated. In the spring of 1637 the last of the plague victims were buried, and the Northmen of Rhovanion hesitatingly lifted their gaze to survey the ruins, and start trying to rebuild what had once been their lives.
Nilufar and Gierd had both lost their parents by the time things began to return to normal. This of course had made the bond between them stronger, as they lost much of the support structure that had shielded them thus far. It also made it apparent to them that they now had to learn to fend for themselves, even though they were still cared for by their extended clans. Nilufar, horrified by the ravages of the plague he had seen, sought out the seer and healer woman Ricole and asked to apprentice to her. She reluctantly accepted the gangly and awkward youth. Gierd had found a place with his relative, the prominent merchant Bealdwin, and set himself the task of learning all the complicated aspects of trading along the River Running. It was around this time they met Elorik.
It had happened in that spring of hopes in 1637. The plague all but subsided. The Sawing Halideg, the ‘Sacred Day of Planting’, that was traditionally celebrated to herald the coming of spring, had arrived. It was taken as an opportunity to call a general aldarthing in Buhr Chep, addressing the town dwellers as well as their neighbours, the Gramuz of the Frithas Clan and the Eothraim of the Anthars Tribe. Nilufar and Gierd watched with curiousity as the quaint looking plainsfolk and horse-riding people filed into the wic, where usually market was held on the third quarter of each moon. This time no farm produce or horses were brought in. Instead, the ragged survivors of the worst calamity to strike Rhovanion in a thousand years or more were gathering to share their tales, along with some food and comfort, and take stock and plan for a future that could not come too soon. It turned into a two day celebration of hope in the reinvigorating power of the earth. Rituals from the various religious cults in the region were performed, speeches held, gifts exchanged, and on the second day competitions of martial and bardic prowess were held. The tall Elorik had shone as a brawler and swordsman, and after being toasted for his victories got into a conversation with the two young Lakemen. They found they had much in common, and spent the rest of the evening drinking and talking.
In the months following the celebration, Elorik often trekked into town, ostensibly to purchase farming tools and supplies, but really to be able to meet his two friends. Over mugs of gramuz-brewed Nog ale the three would discuss their future plans. Elorik wanted to find suitable employment for his strong sword arm. Nilufar longed for deeper learning about herbs, and the history of his people. And Gierd had dreams of one day starting his own trading business, maybe joining an edfreahir of merchants, or even to found his own. Among the sunny, budding trees and flowers of the season nothing seemed to be too far out of grasp. They had come out of a nightmare that nothing could have prepared them for, and now could feel their own strength in surviving.
But everything dragged on. The struggle to piece together the remains of life in the river valley was hard indeed, with too few people left alive to properly take care of daily needs and chores. Gradually. Buhr Chep was bolstered with survivors from decimated towns that had collapsed, and became a kind of magnet for local folk who had fled into the wilderness to avoid the plague. But for the time being, Nilufar and Gierd found themselves employed to the full extent of their ability, and had no time to further their dreams. Elorik had to work hard at the homestead to help raise the surviving stock of sheep and goats, and spent long weeks on end herding them on distant pastures. The three didn’t have much time to get together, and winter approached without much changing in their lives. The year grew old and changed into 1638. Another spring came, and during the Sawing Halideg the three once more met up, and confirmed their friendship and common dreams. But again the year moved ahead with no time left for them to spare for anything but day to day living.
Another winter came, and as they each sat huddled around the fires in the sunken rooms of their families’ langhuidan, they swore inwardly that the next year would be the one when they would finally strike out on their own, or for ever resign themselves to staying on in the place of their birth. Finally 1640 arrived. They weathered the winter as best they could, each of them making what inner and outer preparations they could. When Sawing came round, Elorik once more joined his friends in Buhr Chep. They enjoyed the festivities to their fullest, and when evening settled, they gathered under the shady trees in the Wic. The time had come, they agreed, to see if they could make their plans come to fruition. Elorik knew that he couldn’t leave the homestead before Throsel-day, the Day of the Thrush, which was the Gramuz’ celebration of the first day of Thrimilce, the fifth month of the year. Gierd and Nilufar decided to try to come visit him and help with the herding that he had to take care of immediately after that day. Next morning, as Elorik left with his family, the three shook hands and wished each other good fortune until they once more would meet.
Throsel-day had come. Gierd and Nilufar had made their way to the homestead of Elorik’s family, on the outskirts of Frithas territory. They had been greeted by the old grandfather himself, as the rest of the family gathered round - women both young and old, some with babies on their arms, a handful of children of various ages, and Eloriks’ two brothers. Bodilof was also there, and nodded humorously at the two Lakemen. They helped to the family get everything together for the feast, and when evening fell, they stood by as the bonfire was lit. A song to the Thrush was chanted all around the crackling conflagration. Nilufar tried to make out the words of the strange Gramuz dialect as he watched the sparks sail up into the stars. Red chunks of freshly slaughtered mutton were roasted, and consumed heartily along with the special Bock ale that was brewed solely for this day. Tales were told, tales regarding the ancient past of the Gramuz, legends of how their ancestors had crossed into Wilderland and settled the vast oak savannah they found. More recent tales were told too, and as the Bock flowed, Bodilof started to relate his various adventures in the service of the Thyn Brogdin.
Eventually they had all fallen asleep. Elorik had vacated his usual place in the main langhuidan to accommodate a cousin and his pregnant wife. Instead, the three friends stumbled drunkenly into the spare outbuilding and collapsed in the hay. Their dreams were all of the meandering, adventurous and mystical kind.
Next morning they had got up late, like everyone else, and with throbbing heads helped themselves to the porridge that was being doled out in the main house. Grandmother was stirring the pot and smiled toothlessly at them as they ate. By early afternoon the household and their guests gathered around the burned out embers and were led in a ceremony by grandfather Rimorin. The rest of the day was spent in leisure, everyone recharging themselves for the season of hard work that lay ahead. For Elorik, this meant the last day before taking the sheep out to pastures a days’ march off, and laying out there for two weeks. Gierd and Nilufar were to accompany him for the first few days. They made some preparations, including packing a lot of bread, some dried mutton (a luxury) and filling large skins with Nog ale. This had been yesterday.
In the morning they rose with the sun and the crowing of the cock. Blinking and rubbing their eyes, they had their breakfast, and then, checking their weapons and equipment, said their goodbyes and took off. At first they crossed the fields and exhausted pastures of the family lands. As they passed the withy fence they entered the more rolling and wooded terrain most of the plains consisted of. The climbed a long wavy ridge and crossed into a long, shallow valley dotted with copses and small forests of mostly oak, elm and ash.
The sheep dog ran around the bleating herd, wagging his tail and barking with authority. The sheep followed Eloriks’ lead without questioning, used to the way things were done and confident their needs would be seen to. Gierd did his best not to stumble over the woolly creatures, bumping into them occasionally as his mind took him on a train of thought involving boats, valuable cargo, cities and lots of intense haggling.
Several hours into the journey they spied a chipmunk scuttling across the path. Nilufar sent an arrow after it, and soon they were sitting in a small glade, roasting the small unfortunate creature and tearing chunks off the loaves they had brought along. It was a welcome rest for the two Lakemen who after all seldomly went outside their home town, except when Nilufar gathered herbs for his mentor Ricole. After a good hour they gathered themselves up and got the little caravan going again.
They wandered deeper into the valley until they came to a low rise. This they climbed, and on the far side of the summit descended into a shallow, grassy bowl. This was the spot where their base would be. A couple of huge oaks offered shade, and near the place where a brook bubbled out of the hillside Elorik uncovered the store of firewood that was there. They all set to work and soon had made a rudimentary camp. As the other two leaned back against a great treetrunk and rubbed their sore feet, Elorik herded the sheep toward the nearest field of waving grass. Soon they were munching happily, and the dog lay watching them, wagging his tail.
The evening passed quietly. As dusk approached a bird took up a position in a tree nearby and started spouting long, trilling cadences that filled the still air. A few stars became visible between the clouds that drifted above. They all sat around silently for a while.
“How about some food?” Elorik said suddenly.
“Sure”, they replied. They reached for their packs and rummaged until they had produced bread, some carrots, and a few strips of dried mutton.
“That has got to last”, Elorik said, indicating the meat. Gierd shrugged and put some of it back.
“Don’t you think we’ll be able to hunt something?" he asked.
“You never can tell out here. We might not see anything bigger than that chipmunk for a week" Elorik replied. They all chuckled, and set to eating.
After having rinsed their frugal meal down with some gulps of Nog, Nilufar and Gierd began preparing for sleep, while Elorik got up and started practicing swings with his broadsword. They watched him, both amused and a little awed, as he moved around, executing a series of swings that fully took advantage of his unusual double-jointed limbs, combinations of blows that would be hard for most people to match. The Lakemen nodded to each other and smiled. At least they should be safe from bandits, if such would appear.