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Completed From the Barren Lands (Tolkien CYOA)

Discussion in 'Choose Your Own Adventure Land' started by MercantileInterest, Oct 20, 2016.

  1. Usury Arcane

    Usury
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    Persistence, then.

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    [​IMG]

    After handing the horses over to a stable boy, Culann reflected on returning to his master. The old scholar would be displeased by his failure. Certainly, he would not have sought the aid of the wisdom without good cause but if he had previously failed to win her over himself, how was his apprentice to succeed? The young clerk wound his way back to the fissure and paused with his hand at the gong.

    "Hoi, Culann!" A rolling voice called out. "Why aren't these foreigners sleeping outside the walls?" Dairwick Half-Axe approached. Only three or four other men in the settlement could hope to best him in a contest of arms, and none with a javelin. He had killed a bear once with six sure blows of his axe. The man had a quick smile for all his murky eyes and scowling face. "What do you want with the crone?"

    "It's a delicate matter. I'm trying to find the right words."

    "Well, then think quickly." Dairwick struck the bronze disc and the deep tone resonated down the tunnel.

    [​IMG]

    Culann moved to cuff his head but the other man caught his wrist and delivered a blow to his chest. The clerk kicked, twisted loose, feigned to the right and then struck hard to the left. The Half-Axe snagged his opponent's knee with his foot but Culann grabbed his collar and both men fell. They rolled through the mud, punching and laughing.

    "My mistress refuses you, so you come back with your friend?" The wisdom's novice stood in the cave's mouth with her arms crossed.

    "Llewyn!" Dairwick laughed again. "This scribbling half-sorceror thinks he can scrap with me. Look how I've trounced him."

    Culann tottered upright. "Writing isn't sorcery. Anyway, gave a better account of myself than last time. Listen, Llewyn, is it? Why don't you join us in the mead hall? The rhysmun will feast the strangers within the hour. Come with us and you can offer your mistress a full account."

    The woman looked at him, at the bailey and at the blood red setting sun. She nodded and set out on the steps. The two men followed, keeping two paces between them. For all her fair face and unblemished skin, she lived under the law of chastity. If broken, both she and her lover would be fated to perish before twilight. Besides the certainty of death, something about her eyes unsettled the men. They shone a little too brightly in the falling darkness.

    The drums began halfway up the steps to the bailey, a steady bass. Then the long horns joined in, echoing a mournful blast. The little party stared at each other. Apparently, the rhysmun had ordered the welcoming song for the strangers. The whole town peered out of its windows. Travelers never received honors.

    The mead hall took up roughly half the bailey, with the rest of the area consisting of small rooms. After the welcoming song ceased, the three slipped inside. Grey eyed Beregond sat at the high table with Mablung and the rhysmun. The other men of Gondor sat together at the end of a long table. The only place left for the newcomers was right beside them. The Gondorians spoke in low voices.

    "Come on, Damrod. You can persuade the captain to go a bit out of the way. None of us like passing so near Dol Guldur."

    An easy muscled man with golden hair and a trimmed beard replied. "Neither does he but we must make haste. Winter comes speedily in the high northern mountains. We'll want to be gone before the heavy snows set in."

    "Pity this Mablung fellow couldn't find our route sooner. So many years looking. Hmmm..."

    Dairwick knew no Westron and if Llewyn did, she appeared more concerned with devouring beef ribs than eavesdropping. Culann, of course, tried not to make it look as if that was what he was doing. When feast and song were done, and thralls had cleared away the mess, folk pushed the tables to the center of the hall and set up their beds. The rhysmun and some others kept their own quarters but most of the rhysmungard slept in the hall by ancient tradition. The thralls kept a fire burning late into the night, which left the warmer than any house. The strangers set up their own bed rolls on the floor. The novice, without any explanation, pulled up a few blankets and stretched herself over one of the tables instead of going back to the cave. Sleep fell swiftly.

    Culann woke. All was dark. The great fire had dwindled to embers. The cold air nipped his nose. His eyes drifted shut and then rolled open again. In all the mass of shadows, something was amiss. He blinked but nothing grew clearer. Sitting up, he stared into the blackness. Was some slightly darker shape hunched just out a pace away? Slowly, his fingertips stretched out. At full length, they trembled, touching nothing. The shape neither altered nor moved. Long minutes ticked away. Nothing. He settled back into the blankets.

    A scratching and a gasp woke him. A dark blot stood between his cot and Dairwick's. His friend shook slightly and became still. A very faint waft of blood trickled up to his nose. The upper portion of the blot swiveled, right about where the head would be, close enough to scrape with his elbow.

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    (a) Scream like a little girl. You might be next.
    (b) Wait for it to move away. Then raise the alarm.
    (c) Attack it. If you rouse the others, the darkness might bewilder them into fighting each other.
    (d) Question it. Perhaps, it's just one of the thralls shuffling around in the dark.
    (e) Something else_____.
     
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  2. Grimgravy Augur Patron

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  8. Usury Arcane

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    (D)

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    "Who are you?" Culann's voice creaked. The blot remained still. He cleared his throat. "I see you there."

    With only the tiniest scrape of its foot off the ground, the shape spun and fell. By instinct, the raised his arms. His left hand clamped a clammy wrist as a sharp pain pierced his upper shoulder. Without even a growl, the creature began to punch his chest and head. He caught its other hand and strained against it. A very faint smell, as of sour milk, oozed into the thick air. Against its frantic writhing, he began to slowly push it back. The stab wound to his shoulder turned numb. Suddenly, the shape swooped low and a mouthful of sharp teeth sank into his forearm. He cried out and darkness took him.

    Somewhere, in a world without sight, a voice rang out. "This one's bloodied up proper."

    "Stand aside. Let me examine him." Master Mablung's voice rang like a chime in the darkness. "This knife merely scratched. Poison, of course, even now working its way to the heart..."

    Culann's left eyelid rolled open and sunlight streamed in. A puffy swelling irritated the other half of the face. The left arm lay limp and senseless. The rhysmungard stood about with their spears in hand. They spoke but little and that in whispers. The novice wisdom sat before him.

    "The stone man drew all the poison out. I thought he must surely miss some but you still breathe."

    Beregond of Gondor took the clerk and hoisted him up. "On your feet, boy. Help my uncle gather his affects. We're leaving within the hour."

    "You've decided not to fight my accompanying you?" The old man nodded. "Can't leave your own blood here to suffer slaughter at the hand of Mordor?"

    "Indeed, although we don't know Mordor sent these two. As much as it hates us, it can't suspect our errand. Perhaps it wonders."

    "Then haste is all the more fitting." Master Mablung walked over to his apprentice and lowered his voice. "I would rather your company on our journey than to bear it alone. I shall never return to the Scorched Hills. Please, hasten to bundle up my garments, my instruments and, most importantly, my box of Umbar cedar."

    Culann glanced around the mead hall. Four dead men lay upon the tables, with the old wisdom fluttering about, anointing them for the flames. A red gash cut across each of their throats. Dairwick numbered among them, eyes open yet empty, his jaw frozen in a final grimace. On the paving stones near the door stretched two wiry corpses, thin as starved children but dark in hue whose nose and mouth blended with skin. Spread slain over the ground, they bore some small resemblance to crushed spiders.

    The rhysmun pushed the double doors open and halted on the threshold. His eyes flashed and his voice trembled. "And still the strangers remain, after bringing death to my table. Get out now from under my roof and behind my walls. Leave us! Not you, old man." He pointed to Mablung. "You will remain."

    "I am a free man of Gondor. I came when I wished and leave as I please, unless bound by some vow."

    The rhysmun unlooped the axe from his belt. The guard lowered their spears. The foreigners put their hands at their sword hilts. The knight Damrod donned his helmet. All were silent.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    (a) Run after Master Mablung's possessions.
    (x) Steal his cedar box and then claim it was already missing. (y) Gather as much as you can carry and bring it back. (z) At least try to look inside the box before fetching it.

    (b)
    Try to calm everyone down.
    (x) Appeal to the rhysmun. (y) Appeal to the wisdom. (z) Appeal to the Gondorim.

    (c) Keep your head down. Join up with whoever wins.

    (d) Dash down to the stables and gather the horses. A quick escape may be the best way to avoid bloodshed.

    (e) Something else_____.

    If fighting breaks out:

    (1) Stand with Master Mablung. The old man has been a worthy patron.
    (2) Stand with the rhysmun. Blood speaks true.

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    Commentary
    The rhysmungard wear crudely forged armor similar to this:
    [​IMG]
    They don't carry crossbows but the basic design of full face helmets and iron squares sewn onto a thick leather coat applies.
     
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  14. hello friend Arcane

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  16. Usury Arcane

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    (b)(x)(1)

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    "Stop!" Culann hoisted a blackened shadow corpse by the neck. His shoulder groaned under the weight. "These vermin, these gullet-biters, crept in here to slay all of us. You see the dead men with arms folded upon the table? Last night, Bearach rested his head here. Nisein slept here by Aife. Here, an arm's length from the strangers, this was Dairwick, my friend. The skulkers pried the doors ajar and slipped ever closer to our guests. It was them they wished lifeless and rent, but they first had to cross the whole hall." He dropped the body and tottered onto a bench. His words had been half in the burnt speech and half in the common tongue but they had drawn every ear.

    The Gondorim's hands fell from their sword hilts. The knight took off his helmet and all beheld his mournful face. The guards looked to the rhysmun. Beregond advanced, eye-to-eye, bowed slightly and strode out the great doors. His countrymen followed. One guard laughed while the others removed their helmets. The old wisdom hiked up her skirts and skittered over to the doorway.

    "The stone man isn't with them. Find him!"

    Every warrior darted about in confusion, one towards the door, another towards the inner chambers. At the threshold, each turned about uncertainly and ran to where another had already looked. The apprentice forced himself to his feet and raised his voice over the others.

    "I'll search the old man's quarters."

    He sprinted into the room to find Master Mablung cramming tunics into a sack. Culann slammed the door, closed lock and latch, and pushed the wardrobe against the frame. Some years past, the old master had bought broad glass windows from a wandering tinker, which now swung open. The young man went through first and then helped the other. Someone knocked the door. They began descending the bailey, when the white haired elder lost his footing and tumbled downwards. The apprentice caught up and helped him to his feet.

    "Don't fret about me." Mablung said. "Nothing broken."

    "Such a fall would have killed one of the Burnt Men with as many years as you."

    "No Burnt Man has ever lived as many years as I."

    They found the stables with two rhysmungard unconscious upon the floor. The strangers galloped down the street on their mighty southern steeds. Culann helped lifted his master into the saddle and then hopped onto another horse, barebacked. Llewyn ran into the stable and called out in Westron.

    "Wait. Take me with you."

    "Go back to your mistress." The clerk shouted.

    "I hate her! Listen to me, stone man, if your fool will not. She taught me the ancient secrets, the same you seek."

    Mablung nodded. "Take the dapple."

    She led the horse over to a mounting block and clambered onto its back. A contingent of rhysmungard knocked the main door open. The old man's horse reared back, lunged forward and galloped through the opening. One of the guards moved to slowly and the animal thrust him aside with the speed of its passage. Culann trotted out the same way, with the novice, not yet having gotten her leg over her horse's haunch, trailing after him.

    A good ten yards ahead, and widening the gap, the master's chestnut thundered down the street, kicking up great clumps of mud. Children screamed and leaped aside. His thin laugh tore the air.

    "Glory to the great eye! To be young one last time. One side! One side!"

    The gate guards only stared while he shot through like an arrow. Culann and Llewyn followed. In the open countryside, all three slowed to a trot. Horses cannot gallop long. The woman swayed with a distinct green tinge to her cheeks. Master Mablung sighed and slouched in his saddle. Before long, a dozen mounted rhysmungard sallied through the town gates, not four hundred yards behind. The road continued west, with thickets to the south and marsh to the north. The Gondorim were a good five hundred paces ahead and showing no sign of slowing.

    The chase continued for the better part of the day.. The steeds of the guards were off the same stock as the stolen three. Neither could outrun the other, so neither side attempted another gallop. The men of Gondor rode lofty and healthful horses which gradually pulled ahead. Nevertheless, while the rhysmungard matched the speed of those who fled, they would not allow the three to graze, drink or rest. A few of their own dropped out to do so but nine still pursued. All day, the clouds gathered. A light drizzle built to a drenching autumn rain. Culann could no longer see the pursuit.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Beregond of Ithilien
    [​IMG]

    Sir Damrod the Dispossessed
    [​IMG]

    Master Mablung
    [​IMG]
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    (a) Stop to rest. The horses can't continue forever.
    (b) Press on. If you can catch the Gondorim, there will be nine of you.
    (c) Head south (x) or north (y). What better way to lose the rhysmungard? Of course, there is a chance the rain might not erase the hoofmarks quickly enough.
    (d) Abandon the horses and continue on foot. The rhysmungard may not need Master Mablung if they can retrieve the stolen property.
    (e) Something else_____.
     
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  17. Gauldur's Bait Learned

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  18. hello friend Arcane

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  22. Usury Arcane

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    Unanimously (b)

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    "Press on." Culann said. "If we catch the others, we'll be too numerous for the rhysmungard to trouble."

    "We might easily pass them," Llewyn remarked, "between this rain and the crescent moon. In a few nights, it will vanish altogether, all ill time to be abroad."

    The horses clopped along. Rain splattered on their head and trickled down their faces but little wind stirred the downpour. The three had, of course, not had any opportunity to pack oil cloaks, so they were thoroughly soaked. The woman sniffled as the damp plastered bedraggled locks to her face. The clerk shivered and coughed. Nor had they brought any provisions. A cold day on an empty stomach brings no comfort.

    The faint gurgling of running water sounded out. The rainfall faded into a grey mist. A dim and distant blossomed in the distance. As they approached, it took on the merry flickering cast of torchlight. A few buildings with grassy roofs half buried in the hills stood by the road but a quarter of a mile ahead.

    [​IMG]

    They had forgotten the last guest house on the western edge of the Scorched Hills, perhaps because none of them had ever been there. To make the distance in a day, travelers usually set out from Hwairfyn before dawn. The low whinny of horses issued from the stable. The last guest house boasted a good well and had, in years, a number of fine trees, all since cut down. There was no sign of a nomad tribe.

    "Perhaps your friends stopped here." Llewyn suggested.

    "They would not." Master Mablung said. "They've the strength to go farther."

    "We do not." Culann said. "Let's halt here. I'm bitter hungry."

    "Bitterly hungry, boy, not bitter hungry. Don't stable the horses. If the rhysmungard catch up, they'll look there first. Peg them behind the rocky outcrop."

    They stumbled in to find the last guest house in some disarray.
    [​IMG]
    The crisp nut aroma of brown ale emanated from the bar, from the stains in the table and from most of the patrons. Fire pits and ember beds heated the house to a fever pitch, which perhaps explained why most of the patrons were in various states of undress. The serving women (without a familiar face among them) tended towards young and appealing but the newcomers recognized many men from Hwairfyn. A pug nosed fellow diligently plucked a lute but the tortured cords barely pierced the din. Brawls broke out as fast as mugs filled and vanished with each swallow.

    "Barbarians." Mablung muttered.

    "No wisdom and no rhysmun on the edge of the land." Llewyn nodded.

    "Keep your eyes down." The master said. "We need to buy a room and stay out of sight. Do either of you have a few coins?"

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    You resort to bartering:
    (a)
    Master Mablung's knife of Gondorian steel, better than any blade of the Burnt Men. Your only weapon.
    (b) The master's fur coat. Of course, you're heading to northern mountains as the days shorten.
    (c) Llewyn's golden locket. She claims it wards against the evil eye.

    In any case, you'll get a meal and a few extra coins from the exchange.​

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    As the three went to their room, Culann noticed a dark green cloaked figure sipping at a bottle. Its hood tracked them across the room. A brown haired maid with a speckled face winked at him. At the end of a table, ignoring two serving girls, a bulging bare chested man rubbed his forehead and kept trying to drain an empty cup. His skin gleamed with brands indicating his skill at battle.

    Master Mablung fell asleep at once, while Llewyn tried to clean herself. Culann thought he ought to try speaking to one of the other guests. If the warrior could be persuaded to join them, they would have much less to fear. The maid might have some news worth knowing. The figure in dark green did not look like a Burnt Man. How had he even gotten into the last guest house?

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    You speak to:
    (a)
    The hooded figure in green.
    (b) The speckled maid.
    (c) The warrior.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2016
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  23. Storyfag Arcane

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