How Eiadric Met The Grey Guard

It was dusk and the grey, brooding sky was turning even darker. Howling winds whipped the rain across the green, wooded landscape and the road had turned into a muddy strip a long time ago. Neither bird nor beast could be seen stirring. It was as if everything and everyone was waiting for the storm to pass. Everyone except a lone rider on the muddy rode. His horse moving forward with wet heavy steps. “Its getting worse!” thought Éiadric, “How long can it possibly rain in this godforsaken country”. He had not seen the sun for a week since he had crossed the Greyflood River going north and was getting very fed up. He shivered and tugged his heavy leather cloak tighter around him and pulled his hood down lower.

Listening to the howling wind and rhythmic clops of his horse’s hoofs he drifted away in deep thought, eventually nodding off in a half slumbering state. Hours passed as he trudged along.

Suddenly he started with a jerk and noticed that he was back in the dark rain and that his horse had tugged at the reins to wake him up. He looked around and saw that he had reached a big wooden gate. To his left and right was a ditch running along a great big hedge.

“Are ye deaf man!?” asked an old man in front of him, holding his hand over his eyes against the heavy rain. “I said, what’s yer business in Bree?”

Éiadric quickly gathered his wits and replied “My business is my own. I have travelled long. And I seek shelter, a warm fire and hot food”.

“Alright… alright... Business is your own.” Muttered the gate keeper to himself “Each one touchier than the next these days.” He stepped closer, seeming more at ease and pointed up the hill behind him. ” You’ll be wantin’ to head to the Pony. The Prancin’ Pony that is. Just follow the road right up the hill. Ye can’t miss it. Fire and food they’ll have… and ale if you’re thirsty. Though a room would be hard to come by these days. Seein’ as how many strangers’re about”.

Éiadric thanked the old man with a forced smile and a tug of his hood and then beckoned his horse forwards. He trudged slowly up the hill and found that it didn’t take long to reach the bend at the top where the inn lay. He could see the warm light from the windows and could hear the muffled sounds of cheering and singing from within the inn and sighed a deep sigh of relief.

He swung stiffly off his horse and started moving towards the door when a rosy cheeked hobbit came out. Éiadric was just about to tell the halfling what he wanted but was interrupted before he had a chance “You’ll be wantin’ to stable your horse sir?”

Éiadric went to answer but once again the hobbit was too quick “And you’re after a good hot meal sir, and a fire to dry yourself I’ll wager.”

Éiadric nodded and stuttered “A-a-aye”

“Just you get inside sir, and out of this wet rain.” said the hobbit grabbing the reins of Éiadric’s horse. “Not that there’s any other kind I suppose.” he added with a hobbity smile. “I’ll make sure this here beauty’ll find herself a roof over her head and some fresh hay. You go on in sir.”

After watching the hobbit walk off with his horse Éiadric opened the door.

At once, warm, smoke-laden air, and loud music hit him like a wall. Some patrons looked up and complained about the open door letting the rain in, but by and large his entrance went by unnoticed. Laughter and merriment was heard from all corners of the tavern and the smell of ale and fine pipe-weed made Éiadric genuinely happy. Happier than he had been for a long time.

As if out of nowhere, another rosy-cheeked hobbit came up and showed him to a chair not far from one of the warm crackling fires. He swung his wet heavy pack off his shoulders and set it down with a thump as he glanced around and nodded his greetings to the patrons next to him. Some comments and laments about the nasty weather were exchanged and soon the hobbit came back with a nice hot meal and a big mug off cold, frothy ale.

After his meal Éiadric rummaged through his sodden pack, and from the bottom he dug out a small worn leather pouch. It was his weed pouch which he had carefully placed in the deepest, driest reaches of his pack. He took out his pipe, prepared it, lit it and leaned back with a content smile on his face. The other patrons around him had long ago returned to their conversations and were now largely ignoring him. He stared into the fire. It crackled and sparked. The flames danced their mesmerising dance and soon Éiadric drifted away. His thoughts once again, wandering far, far away…

By the time he snapped back, the crowd in the tavern had thinned considerably. He sat there staring into the fire when he heard boisterous laughter coming from a long table at the other side of the room. As he looked over he saw a rowdy bunch of the most peculiar mix of people. There were men, dwarves and hobbits and even a couple of elves. It struck him how they sat there talking and laughing without a care in the world.

As he sat there watching the table, a heavy set, balding man with a dirty apron came over from the bar counter.

“Enjoying the fire sir?” he asked with a friendly smile.

Éiadric nodded.

“I’m Butterbur.” he announced as if Éiadric had asked.

“Proud owner of this here fine establishment” he added in answer to Éiadric’s slightly puzzled look. “Nob told me you was looking te lodge with us tonight.”

Éiadric nodded again and smiled “I was hoping to”.

“Well I’m afraid we’re out of rooms to let. But you’re welcome to stay out here in the common room as long as you’d like. It looks like it’s goin’ te be a long night with this lot about” he said looking over at the full table across the room and sighed.

Just as he said that a drunken dwarf stood up and looked over in their direction. “Leave the poor man alone Barleyman” he bellowed as he waved his finger about.. “He don’t want to hear none of yer borin’ ramblin”.

The others at the table laughed loudly as if the dwarf had just cracked a funny joke. He hiccupped and gestured vigorously to Éiadric. “Come here man! Ye look like you could use another ale”

Éiadric hesitated for a moment and looked at Butterbur who shrugged and turned around to clear some tables. Then he picked up his pack and moved to the big table.

“Move over ye fat oaf” said a hobbit-lass to one of the dwarves in a playful tone.

With that Éiadric managed to squeeze in and had a mug of ale shoved in front of him. He thanked whoever it was and took a big chug, realizing that he had to drink a lot if he was to reach, let alone keep up, with these strangers when it came to drink.

“Ye look like a good lad” said the dwarf who had beckoned him over. “Let me tell ye ’bout the time I single-handedly took on a whole orc camp with nothin’ but me bare ’ands and a….”

“Awww not again!!” sang the others in chorus.

“It’s boring! And not even true” said one of the hobbits. He was sitting behind a mug so big Éiadric could hardly see him. “I was there. You were knocked out before we had begun swinging and woke up when all the orcs were gone, ye fat lout!”

They all guffawed and Éiadric couldn’t help but to be drawn in to their merry and easy going mood.

“Don’t worry about him” whispered a slightly less drunk hobbit next to him. “He’s a fine dwarf by all measures. But when he’s drunk…” He rolled his eyes and took a swig of his ale. “Once you get him started he’ll talk your ears off.”

The random chattering continued and Éiadric looked around the table. There must have been about twenty people sitting there. They were all completely different yet they all seemed to have something in common. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. But it was there. He had felt it amongst his fellow Riders in the Westmark. The cockiness, the apparent confidence in their own ability, and above all, the unconditional comradery. All of them were scarred in some place or another. They looked rough and rugged. Some people might not have noticed it but to Éiadric it was clear. They had gone through a lot together. They were fighters of some sort. Maybe not soldiers but fighters for sure.

“So who are you people? I mean… what do you do?” he asked during a lull in the conversation.

They all looked at each other for a moment and laughed. “Well I’m a farmer” slurred the hobbit behind the huge mug of ale and hiccupped. “And I’m a metal smith” said a man next to him. ”And she’s a book worm” he added pointing to woman across the table. “I’m a trader by profession.” said a dwarf proudly. “Mostly fine jewellery, but around these parts you can sell any shite you want and people wouldn’t know the difference“. And so they went round the table. Metal-smiths, horse-traders, bards, teachers, farmers, book salesmen, artisans or merchants of this product or that.

Éiadric looked at them sceptically and decided to push them for more information. “Not the kind of scars I’d expect a minstrel to have” he said looking at one of the dwarves.

“Well you ain’t heard him sing” said the hobbit lass. “It’s not only rotten tomatoes they throw you know”

Roarous laughter erupted and the dwarf threw his lit pipe at her which she avoided with a quick duck without spilling a drop of her wine.

“But aye…” she said as the laughter simmered down and leaned forward as if to show that she was about to say something more serious. Éiadric suddenly noticed the great depth and strength in her eyes. Everyone seemed to have great respect for her and there was now complete silence as she spoke.

Almost in a whisper she continued. “We are what we said we are, my friend. But, yes, maybe that’s not why we’re all here. Here in Bree. These are troubled times as I’m sure you know.”

Éiadric nodded and took a deep swig of his ale.

“The truth of the matter is that we’d all probably still want to carry on about our business as if nothing was amiss. But that’s not possible any more” She looked around the table to grim, nodding faces. “Everyone here can speak for himself but this, I can say. There is a dark force rising to the north. Only to be matched by an even greater force to the south. Or so we’ve heard. It jeopardises all that we do and stand for. It has taken away our livelihood. It has taken away everything we hold dear.”

The half-empty tavern was now completely silent and all ears and eyes were fixed on the strong hobbit lass.

“We’ve all lost something… or some one. And I couldn’t begin to tell you everyone’s story here. But there’s one thing I’m sure of. We’re all here to make a stand. We’re here to make a difference. To rise up against this darkness. To avenge what has been taken from us or simply do what we feel must be done. Each one has his or her own reason to fight, and that reason will never be questioned. And as long as you can pick up a sword, staff, dagger or axe, you can do something. And that my friend, to finally answer your question, is who we are! That… is what we do! We… are The Grey Guard.”

The table erupted with “Arrr’s!” and “Hear Hear’s!” and everyone cheered, thrusting their ale mugs into the middle of the table with a cling and a clang. The hobbit lass sat back with a cryptic smile and looked at Éiadric with an intelligent twinkle in her eyes that showed him why they had chosen this most peculiar and unexpected person to be their leader.

Éiadric sat there speechless. It was as if his own feelings and desires had been pulled out of him and served to him on a platter in front of him. He just nodded and sank back slowly in his chair.

It was as clear as day. He had found the people he would explore these northern lands with. He decided then and there that these were the people he would spend his time with. These were the people he would call his brothers and sisters in arms.

They sat there and talked and laughed all night. Dawn came and Éiadric noticed that the storm had passed. The sun now shone in through the windows and Éiadric caught a glimpse of Bree’s rooftops and the green rolling hills beyond in a beautiful golden light. It was a beautiful sight that lifted his spirits.

By now it was clearly time to go to bed and he thought of what one of the dwarves had said during the night. “The Grey Guard never rests. We battle evil every day.” He had said proudly.

Éiadric chuckled as he looked at the table covered with empty beer mugs “Well maybe not today…” he thought

“And maybe not tomorrow either” he thought as he saw the hobbit who had slipped off his stool and fallen asleep where he lay on the floor.

The End... 

...Or The Beginning actually :D...

P.S. f you all like it I thought maybe we can post it on the official forums as a kind of recruitment advert. I think it could give the general public an idea of what we're like as a kinship.

Tell me what you think.

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