Part 3: The Road to Adso.
Mericc rode over the West Bree Bridge and into the countryside surrounding Bree. To his right, the slow rolling hills of the south fields spread on for miles and miles, occupied by various farmsteads and landholders who made up the major suppliers of foodstuffs and other raw goods for the area. If one were to travel farther north up the Greenway, he would find himself up into the North Downs, once a prosperous land, it was now hotly contested between the last of the northern rangers and the orcs who came down from Angmar. To his left, jagged, rocky slopes rose up, a boundary separating the dread of the Barrows from simple people who would much rather forget the horrors that laid in wait for those foolish enough to go seeking the treasures that were hidden there. A constant mist and fog hung over the Barrows, seeping down the heights and hanging ominously over the ruins of ancient fortification walls doomed to protect nothing. Mericc wrapped his cloak a little tighter, covering his armour to ward off the chill and continued on.
It was some miles to Adso’s camp so as he rode, the experienced warrior occupied himself by surveying the lands he passed in a military fashion. If he was an army, where would he camp? What were the natural chokepoints and defensive positions and how would he take them if he were the attacker. In his youth, he had shown a particular aptitude for ambushes, a skill that he had put to good use as he got older, and as he rode up on some fortification works he thought how they seemed a perfect place for just such an ambush. No sooner had the thought entered his head than half a dozen brigands jumped out, crude spears and clubs in hand, surrounded his horse and closed in on him sneering and guffawing.
The lead brigand, a sallow looking fellow with a cut across his cheek, strode up to Mericc’s horse with a pleased-as-can-be look on his face. "Wha have we here boys? A traveler on our road an don’t even have the courtesy to stop by and give us even a how do ye do".
The other brigands laughed while doing their best to look menacing, though Mericc found it difficult not to laugh, they were a sad lot that decided to accost him this day and he wished he had the time to teach them better manners. The leader went on, "Maybe he doesn’t know that there is a toll for using this here road and that maybe he had better get to paying or we’ll have to have ourselves a little sport at his expense". Behind him, his friends raised their weapons threateningly and advanced on the Guardian.
"I am afraid you have your days mixed up friend", Mericc said unconcernedly, "I don’t kill you yet. Come back tomorrow when my business for today is done and I’ll be glad to oblige you". He watched as unsure looks passed between the brigand leader’s companions, they were used to frightening farmers and peasant travelers, families who just wanted to be on their way without being harmed. Mericc’s response had taken them aback. The leader of the brigands was not daunted though.
"Oh Ho! A brave one we ave here. Well me haughty one, I say that there are six of us and one of you and tha we’ll be doing the killing if ye don’t mind. What is one lonely vagabond to us?"
The brigand leader took a step forward, a wicked looking broadsword in one hand, his fellows a few tentative steps behind, scowled at Mericc and prepared to attack. They stopped short when they saw Mericc unloosen his cloak and let it fall behind him, showing the intricate plate armour and sword that hung by his side. He unsheathed his sword and pointed it at them, a steely determined look in his eyes.
"I have no time for the likes of you", Mericc snarled. "Now, get out of my path or I will strike you all down where you stand and if I ever see any of you again, this blade will be the last thing you ever see."
The brigands now found themselves completely out of their reckoning, a couple dropped their weapons immediately and ran and the rest followed suit once they saw that the odds were no longer nearly as much in their favor as they liked. The leader with the scar looked left and right nervously as he found himself without his entourage and therefore without his courage, looked at the fully armed and dangerous warrior before him, and then decided that ‘here’ was not a very good place to be and that he should find someplace else to be right away. Mericc watched as he took off to rejoin his gang, re-sheathed his sword and continued on towards his destination.
In a few hours Mericc came upon the worksite, it looked like a ghost town. Some temporary work tents and half constructed buildings were all that Mericc could see of what had been an apparently thriving construction project a couple of days before. At first it looked as if nobody was there but as Mericc approached he could hear sounds coming from the main tent. The warrior dismounted from his horse, unstrapped his shield from the back of his horse and unsheathed his sword again, no sense in taking chances. Sounds of someone talking frantically came from the tent flap but stopped when they heard Mericc approach, the flap opened and a lone hobbit came out. Mericc put his weapon away and lifted his hands palm out in a sign of peace.
"Hullo! Who are you? What do you want?" The hobbit asked suspiciously. He was an aged red-headed hobbit with bags under his eyes and lines of worry etched across his face, he held a mace in one hand that he waved at Mericc threateningly.
"Mericc Angadraug at your’ service" the guardian nodded, "I hear you have a missing boy, lost in the Old Forest, I am here to help".
Adso let down his guard, for who else could it be but the foreman of the camp. "Terrible, Terrible business", Adso shook his head, "Whole timetables, schedules ruined, supplies run short, workers all sent home."
"Not to mention a boy missing", Mericc added in a bit annoyed.
The hobbit pointed an angry finger up at the fully armed warrior, "Don’t get pert with me!" Adso retorted. "You think I don’t feel bad for Graham’s kid? Well I do, but I have to think also of all the other families who might not have money to eat this coming winter if we don’t get this project back on track. Dratted brigands and short supplies and now a person lost in that dreaded forest. It’s enough to make a grown hobbit weep". Adso ran his fingers through disheveled hair, it was clear he had had a rough time of it the past couple days.
Mericc nodded, "That is why I am here, I was planning on heading into the forest to see if I could find Graham’s kid or at the least confirm that he is dead."
"Well you certainly don’t need my permission!" Adso retorted and waved his hand in the direction of the forest, "It’s right there, go on in if it pleases you, you look the sort who can handle himself. There is a path nearby that leads right in, clear as day. But don’t go raising any hopes, Graham’s son Tom has, like as not, come to a very bad end." Adso shook his head regrettably.
Mericc tied his horse up to a post nearby. "Like as not, but if he’s alive I promise to bring him back out." Mericc headed towards the forest, looking for the path that Adso had mentioned. He found it some time later, a cut between two hills leading into the dark wood. Two large tree’s, like sentinels, guarded the entrance and beyond The Old Forest, menacing and dangerous. Mericc took a deep breath and plunged in.
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