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Durelin 10-22-2009 02:55 PM

Wight Fright: "Fog on the Barrow-Downs" RPG
Bree, 2939 TA

They had first talked about going at night - sneaking out of their beds, climbing out their windows, and sneaking back in an hour or so before dawn...they all had talked that way, but none of them was about to say, "let's go tonight!" They had all heard the stories - who hadn't? It was the last mistake anyone made, to end up in the Barrow-Downs when the light of the world went out.

So it was that a small group started down the East Road in the late morning - they were just keeping to the road for now, of course - toward the East and toward the gloomy mounds on the edge of the Old Forest.

It had been Edwin's suggestion, that morning when they all had nothing better to do than chores (and yeah, sure, they'd be back in time to finish those before supper, he reassured those concerned), that they should enter the Barrow-Downs like they had talked about. They all wanted to know if the stories were true, if the mounds were really even tombs like people said. And how many Breelanders could say they had been that far from town, much less into the Downs themselves?

Well, Edwin was going, and if he went alone, all the better perhaps. He could tell them whatever he liked about the place when he got back, and they would have to believe him.

Needless to say, Edwin did not go alone. He and his friends told their plan to anyone they passed on the way whom they could trust (meaning no adults and no snitches), and soon a few party members became several, and so forth.

Soon they wandered off the road, Edwin leading them - but only ever allowing himself to walk slightly out front of the others - toward the ominous green mounds and lonely stones, and the dark and tangled mass of the Old Forest beyond.

For now the sky was clear and the sun shown comfortably above them...

Join the fun! Anyone may post - just try to follow the basic RPing rules. This is an informal RP just in time for Halloween - see the discussion thread for some details.

Bęthberry 10-28-2009 12:08 AM

Stooped and favouring her left leg, the old woman wrapped pulled her shawl tighter around her narrow, boney shoulders as she dragged a small cart behind her. She snuffled as she limped along, as if the autumn wind had chilled her breath and stiffened her legs and hips despite the shining sun. Her hands bore traces of her endeavour, her nails filled with dirt, for Meg Rushlight was harvesting peat. There was a good market for it if she could find the richest patches and if it didn't rain and dampen the peat.

And the best peat was found near the old barrows, so there she was headed, even though she'd never tell anyone where she found her peat as she would never then get a pretty price for it.

Startled, she heard voices and turned around. "Who would be coming out ta th'barrows?" she thought. Then she saw them, a rag tag group of childerns with that Edwin in the lead. She didn't fancy meeting them, not at all, so she searched for a hill or stone to cover her presence.

Mithalwen 10-31-2009 05:36 PM

Jessamy Woodseaves was one of those who joined Edwin's party. She hadn't exactly been invited but having four elder brothers made a girl adept at finding ways of joining in with things that hadn't been intended to include her. Tall for her age (which was ten) even by the standards of the Big Folk, her long legs meant she could easily keep up with the older children and there was absolutely no point in telling her she couldn't or shouldn't do things because she was a girl.

That was a battle that her mother fought with her on a regular basis. Jessamy had been born a full fifteen years after her eldest brother and perhaps no child could fulfil the hopes of so long a wait, certainly not one whose from her earliest years had preferred trailing after her brothers around the family's farm near Staddle, to playing with dolls and wearing the pretty dresses her mother lovingly made her.

It wasn't that Jessamy wanted to deceive her parents but it was the only way to get any freedom. And so it was that Mrs Woodseaves waved her daughter off from the kitchen door in the belief that Jess would complete her errands in Bree and then spend the rest of the day with her friend Calendula Boffin. She never suspected that Jessamy knew full well that the Boffins had gone to spend the Dame school's Autumn break with family in the Shire and that though she would pass the South Gate wearing a new blue wool dress and her hair in beribboned bunches of ringlets, she would leave by the West Gate in some of her brother's cast offs and her hair in a messy and truth be told somewhat gingery plait. She had managed to slip enough food from the larder for a decent picnic and this she carried in a little oil cloth knapsack along with her cloak.

She wasn't expected back for hours and so really there would be no harm done...

Estelyn Telcontar 11-01-2009 03:42 PM

Ouch! Oh dear, she’s trying to pull my laces tighter. Looks like she had too many birthday parties, afternoon teas and second breakfasts in the past year. Even here, away from the Shire, there are enough Hobbits to provide an active social life, and for them, that means meals.

I always know it’s autumn when she pulls me out of the drawer. I guess a Hobbit doesn’t have opportunities to wear a black bodice for the rest of the year. That’s why I spend most of my existence crushed under bright yellows, cheerful greens, and earthy browns – ugh! That’s more depressing than the colour of my fabric.

Ouch again! I don’t know which will tear first, my laces or the eyelets. Something’s gotta give when she attempts to press her ample shape into my svelte form.

Sigh... I suppose that means she’s off to do something adventurous on this day of deathly hallows. You’d think she would have outgrown such pranks by now, almost at the end of her tweens. We could have had a comfortable evening at the Green Dragon, checking out the “Biggest Pumpkin” contest to see if a Great Pumpkin shows up. But no, that would have meant food and drink; the strain would have been too much for me.

I can only hope she’s not going out to collect treats! :eek:

On the other hand, if she lets herself get scared like she did last year, the sudden intake of breath could wreak havoc with my seams.

It seems I am doomed no matter what happens today – or tonight. This could well be the last day of my existence. Now that’s scary!

Durelin 11-01-2009 07:46 PM

As soon as he was convinced that his feet had stepped over whatever border there was between the quiet hills of western Bree-land and the even quieter hills of the Barrow-downs, Edwin felt a chill come over him and hoped dearly that no one would see the goosebumps on his arms. He thought about unrolling his sleeves, but that would be too obvious. They passed the first barrow a little ways off to their right, as Edwin could not quite bring his feet to veer in that direction. He stared up at the stone, which looked like it was being swallowed up by the barrow, as it was half grown over with green. It really was a bit chilly... No, no fidgeting, he told himself. Too awkward.

He turned around to walk backwards pretend-casually. As he turned, though, he thought he caught a glimpse of movement behind the barrow, but when he turned his head to look directly at the barrow again, there was nothing there. His stomach tied itself into a knot, and for a moment all of his being was focused on that barrow.

Edwin found himself tripping backward, barely catching himself from falling, as someone bumped straight into him. Apparently he had stopped walking, as well. barrows and wights all but forgotten, Edwin did his best to recover. "Watch where you're going! Is this just an afternoon stroll, or do you actually want to check out one of these barrows?" He was still looking at the barrow they had just passed, not sure if he wanted to know if he really did see anything or not.

Mithalwen 11-02-2009 07:03 AM

Jessamy who had found her clothing a little too warm on the walk was now grateful for the hairy wool sweater. It's mustardy coulour was not the best complement to rusty hair but its hem fell near to her knees and having forgotten to bring gloves she allowed the too long sleeves to slip over her hands. Even so she too shivered a little but would not think of getting her cloak from her bag while there were boys still in shirtsleeves.

The Downs did not seem such an enticing place now. She had seen them before but only from the road - her father had taken her along on a short trip to the Shire a few years ago when he had been looking in to growing pipeweed, and in the early light of a clear midsummer morning they had seemed ripe for exploration and quite unthreatening. But now she was not safely tucked in the back of the little farm waggon with the reassuring presence of her father and eldest brother on the boxseat. She only had the company of some other children scarce older or larger than herself and suddenly she felt a little scared. she had never been so far without adults or at least one of the big brothers, who, much as they had grumbled at times at having their pesky little sister tag along, had succesfully protected her from any peril of the world greater than bramble scratches or grazed knees.

But they were all grown now or nearly - the eldest Silas was married and living in Archet where he worked with his father-in-law, a woodman, Seth worked with his father on the farm and the younger two, Bryn and Filbert apprentices in Bree-town and so not free to join the expedition even if they knew about it.

Her nerves made her answer to Edwin more scornful than she really intended.

"Of course we do! You aren't scared are you". The sun seemed to have faded from the sky and she silently chanted to herself "I am not scared, I am not scared"...

Durelin 11-02-2009 06:49 PM

Edwin turned his attention from the oaf of a boy who had bumped into him toward the girl. She wasn't that much shorter than him, he realized, which made him feel even more self-conscious. Where did she come from? He didn't remember seeing her join the group. He had seen her before, though, always hanging around, pestering the older kids rather than spending time with those closer to her age and in the sight of her parents.

"That's what I want to know of you all! Are you too scared?" he spoke half to the hobbit girl, and half to the rest of the party, hoping he would not have to go near that barrow by himself. "It's alright if you are - it's brave enough that you came all the way out here without your mother."

Edwin turned his back to the others a bit dramatically, and began strolling toward the barrow as casually as he could manage, listening for following footsteps. His eyes were again locked on the barrow. He tried to tell himself that he had not seen anything, but he could picture in his mind the glimpse he had of the figure all too easily.

Mithalwen 11-03-2009 12:42 PM

Jessamy bristled. Her blue eyes flashed with anger, "I go lots of places without my mother!" she pronounced. She did not elaborate, having the wit to realise that School, her brother's place and other routine errands round Breeland, where just about everyone knew everyone else and watched out for each others' children, weren't in the same league as wandering the downs amongst these strange stones and mounds. She remembered that her father had said that they were tombs of the ancient kings, that they were many strange tales about them and the old forest beyond but though Jessamy was a great one for stories of the old days she pushed them to the back of her mind now.

She squared her shoulders, and marched determinedly towards the barrow's entrance, her pace enough to overtake Edwin, hissing "I am not scared" defiantly as she did so. Yet she too saw a flicker of something as she reached the stone portal. Just a shadow she told herself knowing full well that the sun was still too high to cast a shadow so long and too pale for one so strong. She could not flinch in front of Edwin now. It would be as bad as showing fear in front of Filbert. The youngest of her brothers, for so long the youngest child, felt less responsibility for her than his elders and bore perhaps a lingering slight resentment towards his usurper which meant he would lead her wilfully into mischief at times.

Jessamy walked on, only pausing under the stone lintel to turn and enquire of Edwin with deliberate insouciance - "I don't suppose you thought to bring a lamp?"

Bęthberry 11-05-2009 08:07 PM

Meg held her wheezy breath, feeling her hip ache from the effort of fast movement towards the barrow. Luckily she was able to push her cart ahead of her into the barrow, but she held the line at entering too far into it herself.

That drated Edwin, she thought to herself. Why would he venture out here? And bring a pack of boys full of tomfoolery. She'd been tormented enough lately around Bree with the bratty boys who felt so lordly threatening an old woman. And why that girl was so fond of following after them she couldn't fathom. Slowly Meg's breath calmed down and she took a quick peek out towards the entrance in the hopes the childern would walk past the barrow.

A noise at her back made her start and she gulped air, stale and foul tasting air.

Mithalwen 11-06-2009 05:25 PM

Jessamy was annoyed with herself for not thinking about light but she had been so preoccupied with getting away to join the expedition that she hadn't really thought about what they would do when they got there. It would have been hard to explain why she was taking a lantern to visit a school friend but she could easily have smuggled a candle or two from the kitchen. It was too late to worry about it now..if none of the others were better prepared then they would have to do without. Light or no light she couldn't see a way of backing out of this with dignity.

Waiting for an answer she thought she heard something but from inside the barrow not from the boys outside. Her heart froze and instinctively she flattened herself against the stone of the portal. Jessamy could feel its cold through her clothes but it seemed less than the chill within.

Now she heard one of the boys' voices "What's the matter ? Lost your nerve?"

"Shhh I think I can hear something!", replied the girl turning towards the others. Her boots seemed disproportionately noisy as they ground on the small loose stones on the entrance floor. "It was like a creak and a sigh"

"Probably just the wind"

But Jessamy was sure it wasn't the wind . The day was still and this sound had definitely come from inside the barrow.

Durelin 11-07-2009 11:58 PM

Edwin grinned at the girl's reply. 'Lots of places!' Like where? His grin, to his own surprise, lingered as he approached the barrow behind Jessamy. But at her question, Edwin's grin disappeared. No, he had not thought to bring any source of light. His hand slipped into his shirt pocket, where he had a flint and steel - it was for some reason just the sort of thing he carried with him - but that would do him little good with nothing to light. He was trying to think of a response that might rescue him from looking like a fool when suddenly a noise came from the barrow.

Edwin fought with himself frantically over whether it had come from inside the barrow or not. The suggestion that it was the wind did not settle his mind. If it was the wind, how could the sound be from inside the barrow?

"Does anyone have anything we can light?" he asked, trying vainly to make his voice even. "Anything at all?" He was not sure why he still felt it necessary to follow through with investigating this barrow, but part of him wanted to now more than ever.

One of the boys stepped forward enough to produce a few long wicks. Edwin lit one and held it in front of him and over Jessamy's shoulder. He was not sure how long it would take him to get himself to take even a step into the barrow, so after watching the flame flicker for a moment, it barely denting the shadows on the edge of which it hovered, he tossed the burning wick through the doorway of stones.

Bęthberry 11-08-2009 09:51 PM

Drat those childerns, Meg said to herself as she stumbled backwards against the cold, damp stone. She struggled to control her shock and surprise at the noise behind her and at the scent of sulphur coming from outside the barrow and all she could do was move sideways. She wondered if maybe it would be best just to walk out openly and surprise them, maybe giving them a fright. Would they think she was an old witch come from the back of the barrow to turn their flesh clammy and cold? Could she do something that wouldn't identify her but would send them running away scared?

The she caught it and almost laughed aloud as she identified the foul, rank air she had inhaled. The flare that the boy threw into the entrance to the barrow illuminated the cause of her fright. She clearly saw it: a black underbelly with a glowing white stripe atop its body. And it was even more angered now than when she had run her cart into it inadvertently. Yes, it was poised to strike again. And she was well away from it, just as she had been for its first salvo. But the burning wick and the boy who threw it were directly in its range.

Mithalwen 11-09-2009 07:28 AM

The flame gave Jessamy all the confirmation she needed - she did not know what she saw but she definitely saw something..

"There IS something in there and it's alive" she cried. As she spoke she stepped backwards cannoning into Edwin and then losing her footing tumbled over. The gravel grazed her outstretched hands but she knew that to show any pain would only add to the shame of having backed away from the entrance. She started to scramble to her knees, wiping her bloodied hands on her breeches as she did so then steeled herself to turn and look back at the barrow's mouth.

Bęthberry 11-13-2009 09:37 PM

Meg, thankful for the sudden appearance of a distraction, slunk back against the wall of the barrow as much as she could to avoid the noxious spray of the skunk. She watched the proceedings while her mind considered options. She wasn't sure if the skunk had hit anyone, but she watched as the girl careened back into Edwin and the two went tumbling just after Edwin had thrown the flaming wick. The other children shrieked and ran off, scrambling to get as far away as possible from whatever it was that Jessamy had seen. And from the scent.

That girl has poise and courage, Meg thought; she didn't cry out when the gravel scraped her hand. Meg contemplated trying to win the girl over as an ally but finally decided against it. She didn't know the girl well enough, had only seen her on market days in Bree. No, something else was needed.

Watching the flaming wick gave her an idea. It might not work, but was her best chance. Meg stepped sideways towards her cart. The wood was smelling now; it had caught a direct salvo from the skunk. Maybe that will keep it safe; who would want a stinking cart? she thought. Coming closer she was able to dig her hands into the pile of peat she had collected. Deep into the dirt her fingers dug, filling her nails and wrinkled skin with dirt. She grabbed a piece of peat without much time to take a good aim and threw it towards the entrance. Would it land before the wick?

Yes, yes it did. And seconds later the flames buried themselves into the dry mound of peat, sputtering at first and then suddenly bursting into glowing red embers, like an evil red eye come to spy on intruders. Some of the children screamed for real this time.

Meg saw her chance; while the children were watching the sudden appearance of burning embers she slunk out the far side of the barrow, rounded the corner, and hobbled away as fast as her aged hips would carry her. Another barrow, she thought. Let me find another barrow. Or better yet, a standing stone to hide behind. She tripped in the dark and rolled over, coming up against a stone. It would have to do. She pulled herself behind it, gasping for breath, feeling the gritty dirt in her nails as she ran her hands over the stone.

Durelin 11-18-2009 04:04 PM

As the small flame flashed through the darkness of the barrow, a shape shifted and eyes glinted in the light. Edwin went to take a step back, but not as quickly as Jessamy did. She slipped, falling onto the stones in front of the barrow, and taking him with her. He fell on his fear, and scrambled backward and up onto his feet again.

"What was that?" The words came out of his mouth practically before he could form them in his mind, crying out almost simultaneously with the girl. He heard a strange scratching in the barrow, and then he was hit by an awful stench.

"What is that?" he echoed himself.

Suddenly the flame disappeared, only to reappear as a deep and eerie glow. Some of the others cried out, but Edwin couldn't find the breath to do so. The scratching he had heard turned into heavy shuffling.

A low, guttural noise came from the barrow, and Edwin took another step back. The shape shifted around the smoldering light, part of it glowing red like the fire. Someone took off running behind him, and he was not sure why he didn't follow. In moments the creature crawled slowly into the afternoon light outside the barrow, growling and eyeing the humans.

Edwin felt his face redden, forgetting about the barrow and about the transforming flame. That was all it was...some big rodent. "Get," he yelled at it, prepared to chase it off. He looked for a stone nearby to toss at it.

Mithalwen 11-20-2009 10:59 AM

Jessamy's freckled nose wrinkled at the smell and her eyes provided mere confirmation of the nature of the beast. "Oh it's only a skunk!" she said and laughed with relief at the all too natural horror. She hoped that she hadn't caught the smell on her clothes - she was going to have to change back into her dress anyway before she got home but that wouldn't help her get the smell from her skin.

Back on her feet now she drifted away from the barrow's mouth so she could tell if she carried the stench with her - seems like she was lucky but there still would be her grazed hands to explain. Jessamy remembered seeing a little rivulet over the way, she would only be a moment and the others were scattered but not far away. And though she spent only a couple of minutes rinsing the blood and dust from her palms when she stood back up she could not see the others and though she heard voices it was hard to decide where they came from. Jessamy tried to retrace her steps but there was something strange about this place and she began to feel quite disorientated - and alone.

Durelin 11-26-2009 06:05 PM

"Oh it's only a skunk!" Edwin heard the girl say. Oh yes, he knew about skunks (or at least thought he did), though this was actually his first encounter with one. This was the farthest he'd been from the town himself, as it was for most with him. So he threw a good sized stone at the animal, foolishly not prepared for more of its stench. As soon as it triggered its defense mechanism all over him, Edwin cried out in disgust and took off, trying to escape the awful smell. Of course it only followed him, as it seeped into his clothes.

When he stopped, trying not to breathe through his nose, he looked around him. It seemed to have gotten darker, though they could not have been here in the Downs that long. He felt like he could not see as far as normally, as he could not see any of his companions. Even the barrow that he swore was the one the skunk had emerged from looked different.

Turning around, Edwin found himself looking at the edges of the Old Forest only meters away. How had he gotten here? Surely he had not run that far. He shuddered as he gazed into the trees, and into what was already darkness even though it was still in the afternoon. Or at least he thought it was. He looked up at the sky, but all he saw was a hazy glow low on the horizon.

Oh he'd better beat his father home. He had to head back. So he picked a direction, and called out nervously to his friends whom he expected to still be nearby at least. "Hey! Where'd you all go? I'm heading home to wash up!" "Ick," he added to himself.

A barrow seemed to suddenly rise up in front of him. He started to step around it, and found himself nearly standing under the stone lintel of its entrance. He scrambled away from it, only to find himself looking again into the wild shadows of the Old Forest. And he thought a pair of eyes were looking back at him.

Mithalwen 11-28-2009 01:28 PM

Jessamy really wasn't sure where she was now. The voices seemed to have led her deeper into the downs - she was sure she was now a long way from the road. Though it wasn't late in the afternoon, the days were short at this time of the year and already it seemed the light was fading. Maybe it was just the shadows cast by the mounds and standing stones. She started to feel scared and fought off the sudden urge to cry.

She shivered. It was really getting quite chilly now and she drew her hands up the sleeves of her jersey before remembering she had a cloak in her knapsack. And some food. She was too anxious to be really hungry even though it was a long time since breakfast but she felt she might just have a bit of the parkin Mrs Butterbur had given her at the Pony that morning. It's sweetness and the warmth of its ginger spice lifted her energy and spirits and she decided to climb one of the barrows to better spot her companions from a high vantage point.

Brushing away the crumbs and drawing the soft grey woollen folds of her cloak closer about her she made her way carefully up the steep sides of the nearest barrow.

Durelin 12-07-2009 03:19 PM

A howl came from the woods, and Edwin tore his eyes away from those orbs shining in the darkness of the Old Forest. He ran, and hesitated a few moments in front of a barrow, staring at the darkness of the stone-framed opening. A man had been buried in there, a long time ago. And they say he later walked again, that he was filled with an evil spirit... But there had been no one who knew anything but stories for generations.

There was another howl that could be heard across the Downs, and Edwin thought he heard from somewhere nearby the scratching of claws on hard, cold earth. He shuddered, and ducked into the barrow, holding his breath as he pressed himself against the wall of the barrow near the doorway. He would not go any further into the mound. But how could he escape the nose of a wolf smelling like he did? The boy was completely torn between two fears, one very real and the other unknown, but both clutching strongly at his heart.

Mithalwen 12-08-2009 12:44 PM

Meanwhile back at the farm...
The life of a farmer’s wife was always busy but now that three of her children were no longer living at home there was a reduction in Sukebind Woodseaves' workload that almost disconcerted her. She had spent years cooking for a family of seven and now there were only four of them. Less food to prepare, less laundry to do and the house seemed to stay a lot tidier even though Jessamy was one of those still living in it. Things had almost seemed normal during harvest when all the boys had returned to the farm to help - as was the custom in Breeland. The welfare of all depended on a successful crop gathering so many were diverted from their usual occupations. But Harvest had finished some weeks ago and Bryn had returned to the forge and Filbert to the Pony and the farm seemed very quiet again.

It seemed particularly quiet today - Seth and Erling were ploughing and had taken food with them so not to waste any of the short day and dry weather and she didn’t really expect to see Jessamy much before nightfall. She had made quick work of preparing a stew for supper and it was already simmering gently on the range. Dough was proving in a covered bowl by the hearth and she decided there were enough eggs to use up the old loaves in a bread and butter pudding. but this too was the work of few minutes for a skilled cook. She thought of the the skein of fine white wool she had bought at market a couple of months ago and had put aside fearing that she would tempt fate if she crafted too soon for her first grandchild due in early spring. Maybe it was not too soon now. She smiled at the thought and went out side to rinse her hands under the pump. Returning she admired the winter jessamine that flowered by the kitchen door its flowers like yellow stars against the green. A welcome bit of colour in the darker days she always thought and like many Breelanders, Sukebind had named her daughter for a favourite flower. As she passed into the parlour to dig out her needles and patterns she thought of Jessamy and hoped she was having a nice time.

Mithalwen 12-09-2009 06:28 AM

At that moment Jessamy was not having a nice time at all. Shrouded in her cloak, ghostlike save for the bright tangle of her hair as she stood on the top of the barrow the folly of the venture was beginning to hit home.

Although the downs started only a few miles from Bree she knew that they spanned about ten miles at their widest, from the Greenway to the Old Forest and from her vantage point she saw that the shadows of the trees were much closer than she thought they should be. How could they possibley have wandered so far... there wasn't the time. Yet she could see the trees but neither the Greenway nor the Shire Road. Then she remembered one of the stories she had heard... that the trees of the Old Forest were said to move. She had dismissed it at the time as just one of those things elder brothers tell you to scare you but now she recalled her father saying there were legends in the South of trees that walked. As the light dimmed it seemed all more plausible.

Jessamy could not decide which possibility was worse - either they were too far away to have any hope of getting home before night or she was far too close to a living moving forest.

Then she heard the howl and courage failing she added her own wail to the air.

Mithalwen 12-22-2009 12:29 PM

"This is no good" thought Jessamy. If she could climb up here on two legs she was pretty sure whatever was howling could make it on four and she was just making herself conspicuous. The sensible thing to do would be to set her back to the fading sun and try to bear left a little - that way she should hit either the East Road or the Greenway sooner or later. She wouldn't get home on time but she would get home. She had her cloak she had food she would be alright.

"But what about the others ..." she thought. They wouldn't know she had gone and they might be looking for her, she reasoned. Part of her mind argued that they had probably gone already.. and even if they hadn't she could get help as soon as she got back to the town. Another part reminded her that she had wandered away. Jessamy was torn, the longer she delayed the less likely she was to get back on familiar terrain before dark but she couldn't just abandon the others without trying to find them.

She slid down the barrow and started to call the others' names:

"Edwin... where are you?"

Durelin 12-23-2009 07:24 PM

Karl caught up with the dog to find it staring and sniffing in the direction of one of the barrows in the Downs. It had caught the scent of something, and Karl now could smell it as well.

"Duke," he called, "shut up and get away from there. I'm not bringing you home again if you go after a skunk."

With one more urging, the dog gave up its sniffing. Karl grumbled under his breath about Duke being "worthless" as the dog attempted to follow him from ahead rather than behind. He had a single rabbit in the sack over his shoulder. He had almost had a bird...

Since the cur had broken the edge of the forest into the Downs, Karl decided one rabbit was enough to last him. He was comfortable in the Old Forest -- though obviously he avoided it at night -- but the Barrow-downs made him shake and feel like a hundred eyes were on him.

So he stopped dead in his tracks when he thought he heard a voice. Duke gave a short bark in response and Karl hastily shushed him. The man scanned around him, focusing especially on the barrows, but saw nothing. While he was straining to find whatever it was that was causing goosebumps to rise on his skin, Duke took off toward one of the barrows a good way off.

"Duke! Get back here! Duke!"


Edwin heard Karl berating his dog, and breathed a little easier for the moment. Part of him wished to leap out of the barrow and beg the man to take him back to town, but the rest of him was more concerned with what the man might think of a boy in the middle of the Barrow-downs smelling like a skunk...and what the others might think when the man brought him home.

He steeled himself, trying not to inhale too much and keeping his eyes on his feet until he was sure Karl and Duke had moved on. He rushed out of the mound, kicking up dust and stone. Perhaps he could find somewhere to wash up...though he dared not enter the Old Forest. If he managed to get lost in the Downs, he could only imagine how long he might find himself wandering that tangled, unfriendly mess of trees.

Mithalwen 12-30-2009 11:03 AM

At Woodseaves Farm

"Mum? Where are you?"

"In here Seth.... I mean Silas". Sukey had seen the tall figure looming in the shadow of the kitchen doorway and not unreasonably had assumed it was her resident son not her first born. The two eldest were fairly alike having their father's height and lean build but their mother's hair.

"Can't you tell us apart yet, Mother?"

"Of course, I can dear - I just wasn't expecting you. What brings you here?" She left her wool and returned to the kitchen to put the kettle on the stove, correctly anticipating that tea was unlikely to be refused.

"We broke a haul chain this morning - I have been in the workshop trying to mend it but it's no good. I'll have to take it to the forge and get Bryn to fix it properly - I have to take a load of firewood to the Pony anyway later and I thought Seth might lend me a hand in return for a pint" .

"I think you can take that as a given - he is up in top field ploughing at the moment but they shouldn't be long now... why don't you bring Fern with you and she can stay with me while you go into town and tell me what she wants me to do with that wool. Then you can both stay to supper.. I have made too much again" she added ruefully.

"That sound's like a plan... what have you done with Jessie?"

"Oh she has gone to see Cal Boffin - you can round her up for me if she isn't back by the time you go". This information stirred something in Silas' memory but it was only later, back in his own cottage, when he relayed the invitation to his wife that he remembered that the Boffins had gone away to the Shire and that it would be odd if Jessamy hadn't known that full well.

On the Downs

Jessamy's imagination was too full of wolves to pass off the faint regular thudding noise as merely the sound of her own blood pounding as her heart rate increased with her fear. She knew the sound of a dog running well enough but now was convinced that this faint beat belonged to a larger fiercer version. She started to run full pelt no longer heeding the direction of woods or fading sun only caring to get as far away as possible from the beast that followed her. She hurtled along seeking a route between the mounds having dismissed the idea of sheltering in one... the skunk incident hadn't dismissed the notion that things more sinister might lurk within. She'd take her chances in the open.

However quick she was, two feet were never going to outpace four. The footfalls got closer and closer; she did not dare to look round yet even so, in her haste, she tripped and fell for the second time that day and as she fell she knew that the beast had caught her up. She closed her eyes and steeled her self for whatever was to come, curling into a ball her arms over her face.

The lick to her hand was not what she expected at all she uncovered her face and opened her eyes to see a dog, large and dark and a bit rough looking but still a perfectly ordinary dog. And one she thought she knew.... Prince was it? No.....

"Hullo Duke" she murmured stroking his ears, "you did scare me, you silly thing, what are you doing up here?"

Durelin 01-09-2010 08:20 PM

As Karl went after Duke, jogging a bit but not really rushing to catch the dog, he thought he heard a voice -- a female voice. Soon he discovered the source of it, as he came upon Duke and what he had found.

"Jessamy!" Karl could not help by cry out. "What...what are you doing out here?" he asked with great concern. "And alone, that's even worse..." he continued, rambling a bit in his surprise.


Edwin wandered in what he believed to be the general direction of home. He was surprised when he came across a small pool of water, really a puddle, though it had been several days since it last rained. He eyed it for a moment -- it was not the most pleasant looking water -- but shortly he bent down and splashed some of the water on his face to feel at least a little less...disgusting.

Drops of the water unavoidably passed his lips, and when he found himself licking them off the inside of his lips by habit, he discovered he was quite thirsty and the water did not seem so bad after all. It tasted almost...sweet. So he cupped his hands in the pool and put them up to his mouth. Feeling refreshed and, strangely, far less afraid, Edwin went to stand from his crouched position, and instead only wobbled a bit before he fell over beside the pool, the world suddenly lost to him.


Meanwhile... There was a crispness and coolness about the air, and the whole world had turned a bit grey even as evening approached. It always snuck up on you around this time of year, the approach of darkness and supper time. Soon pieces of heaven began to fall from the sky, white flakes fluttering down to stick tentatively to the cold grass.

Mithalwen 01-28-2010 12:42 PM

On the Downs

"Hullo Karl" , answered Jessamy. She didn't know Karl well - noone seemed to really - but so relieved was she to see someone that wasn't a spectre or a werewolf that she couldn't care less that most Breelanders thought that he was a queer fish. Besides she remembered her father's words when he had chided the youngest of her brothers for some derogatory comment about him "He walks to the beat of a different drum but that doesn't mean there is any harm in him". Erling Woodseaves had been an outsider himself, having migrated up the Greenway after the floods that followed the Fell Winter destroyed Tharbad. Nearly thirty years on this was seldom remembered save by the few who bore a lingering resentment that he had acquired by marriage a fine farm as well as a fair wife. He had become a part of the community but he would not tolerate narrowmindedness in his children.

"It was meant to be an adventure...but it has turned out quite horribly ... and I didn't come alone ...Edwin and some others were here but we got separated and I didn't like to go home without them... and now it is getting dark and I am going to be in so much trouble... " her voice tailed of and she was trying hard not to cry with the relief of no longer being alone.


Knowing Jessamy could not possibly be where she was placed her eldest brother on the horns of a dilemma. Silas was torn between sibling loyalty and the fear that something bad might have happened to his sister which would be exacerbated by his silence. Their mother’s heedless request that they fetch her home with them now filled him with guilt.

He hoped in vain that Jessamy would be already home when he returned to the farm and it was only when Fern was safely installed in the cosy parlour with Sukey and the knitting wool that he confided his fears to Seth as they set off.

Seth had laughed at his worries teasing him that it was impending fatherhood that had made him overly concerned and rather enjoying the opportunity to lecture his elder brother. “No, I don’t think we should tell Dad. We skived off enough when we were her age and no harm done. Jessie won’t thank you for getting her into trouble for nothing. Chances are we will find her in the snug of the Pony, pestering hapless travellers for stories and drinking Mrs Butterbur’s hot chocolate - besides Dad’s done in, he was asleep in his chair more or less as soon as we got in. And mum would be frantic... no need to worry them until we know there is something to worry about”.

Silas nodded but his mood did not lighten. Maybe Seth was right and he was going soft but he was particularly fond of his baby sister - after a succession of brothers she had been a novelty, like a foxcub, with her russet hair and bright blue eyes, and when she had curled her tiny fist around his finger she had set a grip on his heart that had not weakened a decade later. And nothing Seth could say would dispel the fear that he might not see her again. It was as well the sturdy ponies that drew the waggon knew the road for they got little guidance from their fretful master.

Soon the waggon reached Bree’s South gate. They stopped first at the forge, dropped off the chain that needed mending and learnt from Bryn some news of their sister. Jessamy had passed by first thing in the morning but he hadn’t seen her since - though he was of a mind with Seth that she was probably fine. Shorter and stockier than his elder brothers he had an easygoing nature that wasn’t prone to flights of imagination. “I’ll just finish off here” he said wiping his hands on his leather apron, and I’ll join you at the inn - if she’s not there I’ll help you look and if she is you can buy me a pint”.

Durelin 02-08-2010 07:49 PM

Karl shook his head again as he tried to control Duke. The dog at least was staying relatively still, though he shook slightly with excitement, and would not heed any indication to sit. As the man looked up into the sky and saw the white flurries drifting down around him, for the moment sparse, he realized why the dog had been so antsy this afternoon. He was still particularly impressed by snow. He had fur.

"An adventure? You should have more sense than to follow that boy Edwin. He hasn't got a decent head on his shoulders, not yet anyway. And at his rate he won't live to grow one. Now what did you think you would find out here, other than a lot of mounds and stones. Has some fool gone and started rumors about treasure again? Whether or not you believe that nonsense about the barrow-men you're a fool to think there's still anything in those graves that hasn't been taken by some scoundrel before our grandfathers were born."

Karl rambled slightly, which was typical for someone who did not consistently talk to another human. He talked to Duke as if he were another man -- though really more as if he was a child -- and was quite accustomed to such speechless if not quiet company. He did not notice any sign of distress in Jessamy's face or voice as he continued to talk half to himself.

"Duke is no good at finding any creatures, but he does seem pretty good at finding kids out here. Not that that's a common find. Should we go look for that blockhead Edwin?" he asked, but then almost immediately furrowed his brow and shook his head to himself. "No, no, maybe we should get you home first, and I can find the boy. And let his folks know..."

Mithalwen 02-09-2010 12:42 PM

On the downs

Jessamy hadn't immediately noticed the snow her gaze had been downcast through a mixture of shyness and shame at her folly and weakness but she followed Karl's gaze upwards and saw the flakes pale against the fading sky. They already started to settle on her hair and chilled her upturned face... she shivered and drew her cloak around her, grateful that she had brought it despite the bright promise of the morning - winter sun had no heat in it and a bright day often was followed by a very cold night. She so wanted to be home, safe by the fire with her family near that she nearly agreed with Karl ...but then she remembered Edwin standing at the barrow entrance in his shirtsleeves....

"No Karl we can't , it is too far... by the time you get me home it will be dark and Edwin hasn't got a cloak or anything... if he is stuck out here he will freeze."

In Bree
Jessamy was not at the Pony and at that point, Seth conceded that maybe Silas had not been worrying unnecessarily. Especially since Filbert, the youngest of the brothers was decidedly shifty when asked if he knew where she was. His brothers knew of old ways to extract the truth; resistance was futile - and potentially painful - in the face of the united front presented by his elders.

“Ow Seth, get off me... I think she’s gone to the Barrow Downs”.

Seth’s grip released through shock rather than mercy and all looked at Filbert aghast. It was not a place any off them would chose to venture save perhaps in the warmth and light of a midsummer day.

“What do you mean you think she’s gone?”

Filbert’s words now came in a rush “A group of lads have been planning to go for ages ... its been an open secret for weeks...Edwin and his crowd - and they went this morning - I think Jessamy tagged along.. she was here earlier.. Mum sent some stuff to Mrs Butterbur - then I think Jess changed clothes in the barn. Her basket is hidden in there with her dress.. When I saw her going towards the West gate she was wearing breeches and one of your old jerseys...”

He eyed nervously his brothers who were regarding him with something near digust

“You let her go? She’s ten Fil... didn’t you think you should stop her? Or at least tell someone?”

“I knew you were jealous of her, but I didn’t realise you actually hated her” , Seth’s accusation was painfully close to the truth.

“I ..I don’t hate her...” but Filbert had to admit to himself that he had hoped the sister he regarded as a spoilt brat would get into trouble for once.

“Well you better hope she gets back alright then”, Seth snarled and his fist clenched. Silas laid his had on his brother’s arm "I thought I was the over protective one" he observed drily.

Ever practical, it was Bryn who pointed out that recriminations wouldn’t help them find Jessamy.

Bryn and Silas unloaded the cart as quickly as possible while Seth ran to the East Gatehouse for news and Filbert was sent in to find if any new comers to the inn had travelled that road. Seth was back first and gasped his message as his brothers stacked the last of the logs. Jessamy had definitely followed the group but there had been no sight of any of them since the morning. But from the look of the clouds to the East he guessed there would be snow on the Downs ere night fall.

Durelin 02-14-2010 04:23 PM

Karl twisted his lips in consternation. The girl was right, but he felt terribly irresponsible to let her stay out here in the Downs even a moment longer. What would her parents think, if they came out to find her, and saw that she was with him, but he had done nothing to take her back home? Oh, he thought to himself, since when have I cared what anyone sees me as. I am a bit of a fool like they say, anyhow.

"Oh," he voiced his worry, "you're right, you're right. The fool boy, not even prepared for his great journey, of course. And if any others are out... Here, it may not be dark yet, but let me get out my lantern, and hopefully anyone out here will see it and come to us, unless of course there's some stories about deathly lights or some such..." Karl finished with a mutter, and pulled a lantern from a hook on his pack and lit it.

"Let's see if Duke can track another one of you kids. There's little else alive out here, at least that he's interested in. Though there was that skunk he got hung up on...let's hope he doesn't just pick that scent up again..."

"Go, Duke!" he called a command, and the dog did at least stop his happy shaking and started sniffing the ground.

Mithalwen 04-13-2010 11:37 AM

On the Downs

At first Jessamy tried to keep pace with the dog but his four legs had more energy left in them now than her two and after a short while she stopped running, let Duke go ahead and paused to waiting for the man to catch up.

Though the snow seemed to slow the fading of the light the Downs was still an eerie and greying world and looking back the glow of the lantern, small in the vastness of the landscape, made Karl’s talk of willow the wisps seem plausible.

“It don’t know what I expected to find here... I didn’t really think the stories were true ... until I was up here on my own” she added trying to convince herself and chosing to ignore the fact that she had had nightmares for a week after Seth had responded to her demand for a bedtime story with a particularly gruesome version of the legend of the old kings. After all she had only been seven at the time.

“Though treasure would have been nice ...” her voice tailed off as her mind wandered to the old story of the fairy princess and the magic necklace and Jessamy imagined what it would be like to have such a thing. Then she remembered that that story had wolves in it too. But it also had a brave and loyal hound and she turned her gaze back to Duke lest she lose sight of him as the snow fell thicker. The large soft flakes were settling on her cloak hood and she wrapped the ends of her sleeves around her hands. She hoped that Duke would find the others soon or if he found nothing maybe that was a sign that the others had already gone back to town and they could head back with a clearer conscience.

Karl might be an unlikely representative of her normal world but having been found by him she was no longer strictly speaking lost - though her relief was tempered by the certainty she wouuld face punishment on her return. She knew the later she was back the more severe it would be but it couldn't be helped. She couldn't have let Karl see her safe home without a thought for Edwin and the others.

She briefly wrapped her small cold hand around Karl's. "I am sorry to be a nuisance - but I am so glad you found me"

Then before he could react Jessamy remembered something he had said earlier and added "Did you say Duke found a skunk... we did too in one of the Barrows - that was how we got separated running away from the smell - I didn't get squirted 'cos I had alreday fallen over out of the way... but the others might have... and unless there are lots of skunks up there we might not be so far away after all. I don't think I went so far but it seems hard to keep people in sight up here" she added.

Durelin 05-01-2010 10:22 PM

Karl smiled at Jessamy when she took his hand and thanked him. She was a good and nice lass, and he was sorry she had been lead out here by some dim-witted boys. Her hands were so cold -- he wondered if this day might put her in bed for a while with a chill. Poor girl. Her only consolation he thought now would be that her family would be so relieved to get her home that they wouldn't think too much on what she had done wrong.

At her remark about the skunk he nodded thoughtfully, looking up at the sky, staring into nothing. "Yes, this place does tend to play tricks on you at times...and the weather is turning grey which doesn't help..." He shook his head and chuckled. "I wonder now if Duke found a skunk or found one of your friends. Though I doubt it. He was growling like mad at the opening of a barrow -- I doubt any of them would want to venture in there. Spooky, wights or no."

He turned his gaze back down at Jessamy as he held tightly to Duke's lead as the dog strained at it, sniffing constantly. "Sorry about Duke, he's always in a rush whenever I don't want him to be."

The dog started straining harder at his lead and Karl, distracted by trying to keep from practically dragging the poor girl along found the lead slip through his fingers. "Duke!" he yelled, afraid that the dog would just take off into the woods. The dog disappeared behind a mound and let out a few barks.

"Well, unless he's messing with me, he seems to have found something. But those aren't excited barks..."

Karl kept a pace Jessamy could manage and then went around the back of the barrow. There Duke stood over the still form of Edwin, licking at the side of his face. The other side was in the edge of a small pool of water.

"Oh no..." Karl rushed to the boy and picked him up to place him on the ground away from the pool. Perhaps he was the skunk, he thought, feeling guilt rush over him. I should have checked what it was...

"Edwin!" he called to the boy as he looked him over. He seemed untouched, no injury on his head. And he was breathing. But his eyes did not open. "What on earth..."

Mithalwen 07-03-2010 06:57 AM

In Bree-town

On most evenings the brothers would have been happy to install themselves in the Pony for a few hours of drinking ale and catching up the local news but the weather was such tonight that even Seth would have forgone Butterbur’s finest brew and flirting with the comely serving maids to be back at the farm with no need to go out again that day.

Seeing the Woodeaves enter, the landlord had reached for their pewter tankards,which hung like those of other regulars from hooks along the bar shelves. The boys’ mugs were next to their father’s - now dark in colour and worn after nigh on thirty years use- Bryn’s was still shiny since only one full year had passed since he had been allowed this coveted badge of adulthood. Seth grinned momentarily as he remembered how Jessamy had horrified their mother by asking when she would be old enough to have one too. But it was only a moment’s respite from the the anxiety that he could not dispell. "I don't think we have time today - we need to get looking for that silly sister of ours" said Seth.

"So I've heard but I've mulled some ale - you'll need something warm inside you on a night like this" replied the Landlord and Seth let him fill the three tankards with the brew which he took across to the table where Silas was studying the framed map of the Downs which he had taken from the wall.

While he tried to work out how far they might have gone and in which direction and ever practical Bryn was back and forth organising everything they might need , Seth fretted resenting now each moments delay. The warmth and welcome of the inn served now only to remind him that Jessamy was out there somewhere freezing to death if she weren’t scared there first. He looked around the bar - quieter than usual - and muttered about how there was never a ranger around when they might be useful. The wandering folk were subject of a certain amount of mistrust in Bree but they were nevertheless known to possess the tracking skill of bloodhounds.

“Seth, what has got into you? Not an hour ago you were saying that we used to get up to all sorts of mischief and never came to any harm..” Silas pointed out.
“That was when I thought she was just hanging around Bree.. we never did anything so daft as to go off on the Downs on our own ...and well I blame myself”

“How do you work that one out” asked Silas looking up from the map, intrigued and amazed in equal measure.

Well you and Bryn were both so much more patient with her when you were at home and even when Filbert was still there - well they argued like cat and dog but it kept them occupied but now it is just us - Jessie always wants to helpout on the farm but she is too little to do somethings and a lot of other stuff it is quicker to do yourself than show her how ... so mostly I tell her to buzz off and help Mum if she wants to make her self useful..”

“Well she has got to get used to that - she will have to start pulling her weight in the house whether she likes it or not... “ Silas pointed out.

“But that is it ..she doesn’t like it at all - she loves being outside, she never grumbles about helping Mum with the chickens or the bees or the garden but she hates housework and she knows that is pretty much what her future holds. We all got more freedom as we got older and were able to chose work that suited us .. but it is different for girls. Jessie isn’t knows that she will have a couple more years at the Dame school and then she will be kept on a tight rein until she is wed. No wonder she went for an adventure when she had the chance. Maybe if I had let her help me during the holiday she wouldn’t have felt the need.” Seth added mournfully.

“I think you are taking this a bit too personally”said Bryn “ I think she would have gone no matter what - I mean she looks like she was prepared to go - it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, she had brought a change of clothes and if she did that she probably took food as well. Did she ask to help you today?”

"No she did her chores early and was off - but I just thought she was keen to see her friend ..”

"Well there you go then.. and now I think we are ready. Fil knows what he has to do." The brother's drained their mugs taking up their cloaks left the warmth of the bar, trotted down the steps and back into the courtyard where Silas's ponies waited with a sturdy saddle horse that Bryn had borrowed. All that was needed was to light the lamps on the cart and they were off. Bryn leading the way to the Westgate and on into to the East Road. They had not gone so very far when they began to discern several small figures trailing along the road towards them. In hope they urged the horses faster into the gloom.

On the Downs

Jessamy followed after Karl as swiftly as her tired limbs would allow and her heart filled sucessively with relief when she realised that the dog really had found Edwin and then horror when she saw his seemingly lifeless body.

"Is he ....dead?" she whispered hanging back a little in fear. Karl shook his head "No, he breathes" but it was clear that something was very wrong.
"Exposure?" asked Jessamy, remembering how they sometimes lost lambs on the farm when the weather changed suddenly, and how they looked and how the ewes mourned . Although she was far from warm herself she took off her cloak and tried to put it around Edwin.
There seemed to be no rousing him... what on earth was wrong with him? She bit her lip and trying not to cry she asked Karl "What are we going to do?" She was used to her elders having all the answers but had a feeling that this was out of the ordinary.

Durelin 07-27-2010 07:12 PM

Karl and Jessamy both tried to wake Edwin, but he did not stir. Even Duke gave the boy a little nudge, and sitting back down gave a little whine to show he was not comfortable with the situation. His nose twitched frantically, and he leaned toward Edwin again, sniffing confusedly. It was a boy, but it smelled like a skunk!

"Exposure?" Karl repeated absently. "I...I don't know, might be. He might have caught a chill out here, I suppose. He seemed to be thirsty at least, maybe he just needs some warm food and drink..." He sounded like he was trying to convince himself. It was foolish but he felt his skin prickling as every one of his hairs stood on end, and not from the cold.

At Jessamy's question, which she asked in a bit of a choked voice, Karl smiled at her. He couldn't just stand around and fret, he had to take care of these two. Putting his thoughts into easing Jessamy's worry kept him from worrying too much himself.

"It will be alright; he's breathing fine. We'll get him may be slow going but I can carry him."

It was not the most comfortable way to travel, but Karl picked up Edwin's limp body to put him over his shoulder, letting out an "oomph" as he did so. It might be slow going indeed...

"You mind carrying the lantern now Jessamy?" he asked, hoping she would not mind being given something to do, something to focus on...and hopefully just having the light with her would make her feel a little more secure in this place, especially as twilight was fading into night. The days were not long enough this time of year.

"Let's try to cut straight to the road and get back to town to see if everyone else has made it home already. I wouldn't be surprised if there are already some out looking for you kids, especially with it getting dark. Hopefully if there are people searching we'll run into them along the road."

Karl looked around him. He knew what direction the Old Forest was in even if he could not make out any of the trees on its edge. It was strange; it was not so dark yet, but everything already seemed to be a little hazy. He got his bearings and headed in what he determined to be south toward the East Road.

Mithalwen 02-07-2011 08:09 PM

On the road

Bryn would reach the straggled out group first there would be no doubt - he could ride quicker along the grass verge than even an anxious Silas would drive his ponies on an increasingly icy road. But even before their brother reached the returning children, Seth and Silas' hope that Jessamy were among them had dwindled – though the figures were too distant to distinguish face or form clearly but there was nothing familiar in gait or stance that gave them hope that one of the hoods raised against the weather concealed their sister’s distinctive hair.
“She isn’t there is she?” Seth’s words were more statement than question. His brother shook his head.
“I don’t think so, no.”
Now they could see Bryn was among the children and a gesture from him confirmed their suspicions.
“What if we can’t find her Si? I’ll finish mum off”
“It would be worse for Dad” Silas responded grimly with a flash of insight combined with memory,” but we can’t think like that. We have to find her. Come on they have to have told Bryn something that will help.” And before Seth could get him to explain they had reached the others.
It the ensuing dialogue the Woodseaves learnt of the barrow, the skunk and the groups dispersal and that only Edwin and their sister were missing of their number.
The younger boys learnt that it was wise not to make jokes about a girl in the presence of her anxious brothers and that there were limits to even Bryn’s good nature. Offers to help look for the two they had assumed already returned home was rejected and they were instructed to leave word at the Prancing Pony on their way home.

Mithalwen 02-16-2011 06:36 PM

On the Downs

Jessamy had shouldered her knapsack and taken the proffered lamp, Lantern holding was something she could do. In fact it was almost an area of expertise. So often if there was a minor emergency on the farm - a difficult lambing or a injured beast, she had been told "If you want to make yourself useful you can hold the lantern". In the byre or barn the lamp would create a comforting pool of light but here its glimmer seemed merely to show how vast and gloomy the Downs were. Even Duke seemed to have lost his exuberance and stayed close by; Jessamy found his presence as comforting as the light.

She really wanted to believe Karl but it was hard. She was accustomed to seeing death - you couldn't be raised a farmer's child and not be - but this was different. She had known old folk who had died at the fullness of their years and of babes that had been born to soon and failed to thrive. However usually the Breelanders were a healthy enough lot and if you survived your first year or two you were considered good for sixty or seventy more, barring accident. She had never known a young person sicken and die and she didn't want to. Edwin's stillness unnerved her and she could not believe all would be well. Nor did she believe that they would be met by a search party on the road. Not for her anyway. Noone knew she was here but there was no point in telling Karl that. He probably hoped that there would be someone to help him with his burden. But she had lied and her family thought her safe at the Boffins' . So it would be a long and dismal walk home and at journeys end what then. Even if by some lucky chance Edwin revived that wouldn't be the end of her troubles. Would her parents be furious or perhaps worse saddened by her deceit? She scarce had the energy to wonder anymore. At least it was easier to match Karl's pace now he was carrying Edwin but she had to concentrate to keep her cold, weary feet from stumbling.

Envinyatar 02-18-2011 03:46 PM

Willem was a wanderer. That’s just how he thought of himself. Wherever the wind blew him, that’s where he fared. There were no kin as he’d lay claim to; no piece of earth in which he’d sunk roots, deep or shallow. ‘Just Willem,’ he’d say, if you asked his name. ‘Got no people waitin’ back nor forward for me.’ ‘Just Willem,’ he’d say with a twitch of his thin shoulders, as if to shrug off any further inquiries.

And now this particular cold wind had urged him up the Greenway toward Bree-land. With a short side trip along the edge of the Barrow-downs where it nudged up against The Old Forest – to the Withywindle. There were stones hidden in those dark old waters, stones in whose depths lay shimmers of dark blues and deep greens waiting to be teased out with careful polishing.

He was one of those jacks-of-all-trades. He could sharpen knives, shears, pitchforks, shovels; mend pots and pans; repair shoes and boots, mend bridles. All of which services he traded for food and other needed supplies. His heart, though, was in the fine metal-working he liked to do. Silver, mostly, engraved with intricate designs and often set with little, pretty stones. Necklaces, bracelets, clasps for the hair, buckles for belts…..

It had been a good two days he spent along the banks of the old river. He’d replenished his store of rough pebbles and larger stones, talking all the while to the lazy waters to keep the ripples and eddies distracted from his ‘borrowings’. When he’d taken all that he gauged river would tolerate, Willem packed up his little caravan and hitched his horse to it, continuing his way northward.

Darkness was falling fast and the snow which had begun earlier as a light dusting, now fell with more heavily. Willem had lit the little lantern that hung from the van’s eaves nearest his seat at the front. More for a bit of cheer for himself in the bleak evening than for any real light to shed on his way. Catkin picked her way slowly along beneath the trees, snorting and huffing every so often as if to comment on the trip in general.

‘There, now, lady,’ Willem murmured softly to Catkin’s chuffed commentary. ‘We’ll stop soon enough when we get to an open place.’

A break in the clouds let some late evening’s light settle almost to the forest floor. Willem pulled his heavy woolen cloak more closely about him as he peered at the passing trees. ‘Hmmmm….. Looks like one of the Old Men has been moving his flock about a bit…..don’t you think, my dove?’ Catkin twitched her ears at this question, but made no answer.

Willem's little ginger haired dog, Jumble, tucked himself more snugly inside the warm blue cloak and leaned heavily against his human's side. As long as he was warm and comfortable, Jumble had no care concerning where the trees and bushes chose to roost. He could lift his leg in one spot as well as another.

The wheels of the little caravan crunched noisily over the fallen needles, branches, old leaves. ‘I’ll trust you to find our way,’ he called out as he flicked the reins lightly against the horse’s flanks. Catkin, for her part, shook her mane and snorted a final comment as she picked up the pace just barely.

Mithalwen 02-21-2011 08:13 PM

At Woodseaves Farm

Erling Woodseaves woke and yawned. The house was quiet, only the sound of the fire in the range and the faint murmuring of the women in the parlour next door. He half grinned to himself as he remembered none of his brood was in - there was seldom silence where his youngest child was. He smiled at the thought of her, the long awaited daughter had been expected to be her mother's pet lamb but she had turned out to be his, determined to help around the farm even when she was scarce bigger than the buckets she was trying to carry. And then she was the one who really resembled him, at least in looks. She was a living reminder of the kin he had lost in the Fell Winter, and enough time had passed for that to be a joyful remembrance. He attributed the child’s stubbornness, however, entirely to her mother.

A cold draught caught him and rising from his chair with a stretch and a sigh, feeling his years catch up with him as stiffened joints protested at fresh use after so long a day. He crossed to the window and pulled the shutter ajar. It was snowing - the hedges and outbuildings already had alight coating and it had even begun to settle in the yard. It was too early in the year for this he thought. He looked for a glimmer of waggon lamps guiding his children safely home and hoped they would not be long. Erling was no less happy than Sukebind to have them under their roof - no matter how noisy they were. He found a bit of rag to stop the draught and closed the shutter; he’d make a proper repair in the morning.

Erling went through to the parlour where he was informed his announcement that it was snowing wasn’t news to those of them who hadn’t been asleep for the past hour. But he continued beginning to fret though he knew it wasn’t really so late yet.

“They should be back… not a night to be out unless you have to … you and Silas better stay here tonight Fern…. Jessie will be frozen – did she even take a cloak this morning? “

“She won’t be frozen at the Boffin’s - that smial of theirs is cozier than any house ..”
Erling noticed Fern flinch - “What ails you lass? The child…?”

“No, I’m fine..” Fern could keep her secret no longer .. “It is Jessamy..she's not at the Boffins'” .
Within five minutes Erling was on his way into Bree-town.

On the Downs

Jessamy was frozen. She had given her cloak to cover Edwin - not that it was doing him much good and though the old sweater she wore had felted when it shrank in the wash, it wasn't enough to keep the out the snow's damp. She could scarcely feel her feet or fingers and there was a dull ache behind her forehead - the only part of her that had any heat in it.

Jessamy stumbled on, still beside Karl. The mounds and menhirs seemed even more sinister under their snowcovering and she was beginning to think they had passed them more than once. The fading light and fast falling snow were so swiftly obscuring their tracks. It was so hard to keep one's head here..even if it weren't swimming. It also seemed to be getting a bit foggy.

Neither she nor Karl had the inclination to talk. It would waste energy and since their predicament, specially Edwin's were the only likely subjects it wasn't going to be cheering. All she could hear was her own footsteps, Karl's heavier tread and the softer, quicker sound of Duke's paws dipping into the snow. But after a while she fancied she heard something else. Distant but definitely there. A rhythmic thud accompanied by random creaks and rattles. She was beyond reminding herself that twice today she had been scared by sounds that had turned out to be nothing more sinister than a skunk and a dog.

All she could remember was Seth's bedtime story, still vivid three years after it was first told with its clanking chains and pale swords and evil spirits, thralls of an undead king, who would come to find her if she weren't good and would trap her in his barrow. And she hadn't been good. Now she could hear what her mind, all reason fled, told her was a barrow wight plodding relentlessly towards her, rattling his sword and dragging chains to bind her. She had turned to face the sounds and now backing away from them, she bumped against a standing stone. Its touch might as well have been a wraith's embrace for the effect it had on her. Terrified out of her wits and with no strength and nowhere to run she screamed as if her soul were being torn from her body, and struggled to get away from the monstrous stone. For the third time that day she fell. But this time there was pain. And darkness.

Envinyatar 02-24-2011 05:28 PM

From the beneath Willem’s cloak, Jumble’s ears snapped to attention. His left ear swiveled forward, the right to the side, the better to pinpoint where the horrid scream was coming from. There! he thought with a small woof. He poked his head out from the thick folds of wool, lifting his long snout to the winter night’s air.

‘You heard it, then, too?’ Willem said, tucking the dog up onto his lap. The awful, high-pitched howl had stopped abruptly, leaving only the blanket of the normal forest sounds to fall around them once again.

‘Wotcher think, m’lady? Over there?’ he said tugging on the right rein. ‘And a bit ahead of us, too, eh?’ Catkin nodded her head and shook her mane, sending a little dusting of snowflakes flying. For his part, Jumble danced from paw to paw, making his own statement of accord.

Catkin picked up her pace, veering right through the trees. The lantern which hung from the forward eave of the caravan swung wildly with the increased speed. Hanging from hooks beneath the eaves, the tools and chains and pots waiting to be mended clanked and rattled even more loudly against the wooden sides.

There in the distance, flickering from opening to opening between the trees as the trio made their way toward the scream’s source, was a small light.

‘Who’s there?’ Willem called out as loudly as he could. But against the distance and the wind and snow and thickets of trees, he doubted he would be heard at all.

Mithalwen 03-01-2011 07:44 PM

In Bree-Town

"Filbert, maybe you can explain to me exactly what is going on?"

Erling Woodseaves walked to the town reasoning that by the time he had saddled the cob he would be half way there and believed that he would arrive to find that Jessamy would have already been rounded up by her brothers and they would all be back before they knew it. Thus he had tried to reassure his wife and daughter-in-law. But real or feigned his confidence had dwindled as he progressed to the Inn. The keeper of the South Gate had been unusually taciturn and it seemed that rumours murmured about Bree, which fell silent as he passed. Now he had finally caught up with his youngest son and demanded explanation of the few fragments that had reached his ears, of the Downs and missing children, some returned some not.

Erling loved all his children and had more than a little sympathy for Filbert. It wasn't his fault he had been born a boy when a girl had been hoped for, that he had neither the privileges of eldest or youngest child, that he had neither Seth’s striking good looks nor Bryn’s easy nature, that he had struggled to find his niche. But he had to concede that the lad didn’t always make things easy for himself and there was something shifty about the lad’s demeanour that suggested that this might be one of those occasions.

“Where is Jessamy? Where are your brothers?”. No reaction that Filbert might have feared to his answer was as horrible as his father’s silence as he absorbed the news .

On the road

Jessamy's brothers had reached the point on the road, as far as they could judge from the boys' garbled and confused reports of their adventures, where Edwin's group had left it to head towards the mounds and stones.

Night was not now far off and the landmarks, so obvious in the day were now little more than shadows in the murk.

"They say the trees of the Forest walk and now I believe it - I did not think it so close" remarked Seth noting the deeper shade on the horizon.

"I think it is in part a trick of the light - or lack of it -and the lie of the land... but it does seem to have spread since that map in the Pony was drawn," answered Silas not wanting to think about walking trees as well as the evil spirits that were meant to haunt the barrows. What could be regarded as fairy stories from the safety of one's own hearth seemed a lot more plausible here.

"How are we going to find her in this? It'd take a blood hound" Seth despaired

"Which is about the one thing we haven't brought with us. But we have to try - because if we wait for light chances are we will be looking for her body". Bryn might not be troubled by imagination but was quite aware of the more mundane but very real dangers of the cold. Before his brothers could reproach him for saying what they were all thinking, they heard in the distance a horrible but not unfamiliar sound. They might have done so with less malice than their brother but all three had teased Jessamy beyond the limit of her endurance.

On the Downs

Jessamy came round to Karl calling her name, offering her his free hand to help her up but her mind was so mazed she scarcely registered him let alone the pain in her ankle. She cowered against the stone, still clasping the lantern, gibbering about a wight coming to get her and completely unable to hold back the sobs that had threatened for so long.

Still there was that terrible noise getting ever louder and closer. Surely Karl must hear it? The dog, Duke, heard something seemingly for he pricked up his ears, inexplicably barked as if for joy and belted off towards the approaching clatter.

Durelin 03-02-2011 04:30 PM

Karl tried to tell himself to consider all the possibilities for the source of these noises. He tried to remind himself that he had been on these Downs numerous times, and even into the edges of the Old Forest. But all his mind choes to recall was that he always did so in the daytime...and the dark was starting to come quite early this time of year.

He was so caught up in straining to hear every sound around him and see every stone and shadow around him, while keeping Edwin's sleeping form balanced as best he could -- he was so caught up in this that he rather lost track of Jessamy for a moment. When he heard the scream his heart and breath stopped in his chest.

He whirled around to find her and rushed to help her up and still keep a hold on Edwin who was feeling heavier and heavier. "What happened? Did you hurt yourself?"

Once she was fairly standing, though looking pale with fear and cold, he turned from her to the direction of the sounds and back again. Then Duke's bark reminded him of his familiar companion's presence and he watched as the dog bolted off -- again -- toward whatever he found interesting.

Karl's breathing relaxed a little. He should have payed more attention to the dog from the start. "Well Duke doesn't seem to think whatever it is is a problem...I think we're alright, Jess." He may not be the best trained hunting dog because Karl failed to ever be stern enough, but his instincts were usually in the right place.

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