"Why won't you die?" Gariath spat harshly at the decaying, bile-spewing Wight. He lifted his heavy shied to avoid being sprayed by a mixture of bile and blood that the undead creature vomited at him. The shield had been a splendid gift given to him by the Skirmish Trainers near Ost Guruth, he noted. This Wight was definitely making a mess of things.
Lifting his axe, Gariath's sturdy arm slammed down and the head of his weapon sank several inches into the Wight's right shoulder. Peering from behind the heavy shied nearly as large as he was, Gariath saw the Wight's eyes glimmer. For a split second, Gariath had supposed that he had rid the world of the evil thing. But he was wrong. With an earsplitting scream, the Wight reeled backwards, retreating from the Guardsman's sharp stinger. It eyed him cruelly with a type of wild ambition that only the Valar and Illuvitar himself could distinguish. The beast lurched at him, foaming at the mouth and claws extended. Gariath braced himself and shrank back, raising his shield to protect him.
It wasn't that Gariath was not able to defeat the Wight. The Guardian had been ridding Haragmar of Wights for far over what was expected. The toll of his kills had wound up in the triple digits, and the Man was tired from so much death.
Swiftly muttering the Guardian's Pledge in the Common Tongue, he once again felt a surge of strength flow through his veins. He cursed at the Wight as he executed a roll, but not completely evading the zombie's right talon. Diseased sharpness tore into Gariath's flesh, leaving an infection almost instantly. Gariath growled. He couldn't end like this. His morale was low, and his power was faltering and leaving him. He rebuked himself for working himself so hard like this, and now having to come to a cease from his reign. He hastily and sloppily swung his ax, feebly trying unsuccessfully to slaughter his undead combatant. It sank into the Wight's hip, but the pain-wrenched creature ignored the swing. Gariath tore the ax out, and rose for a second strike; one that he knew would not hit and that the Wight would surely reach him before his arms fell.
But, before the Wight could strike, or his ax could fall, a string of three arrows, faster than even the eyes of Elves could spot, struck the Wight critically with all three shots. The Wight recoiled in shock and Gariath even more so. Gariath lowered his ax and stared with a mixture of confusion and thankfulness at the now-dying Wight. A small, dwarfed woman with bow in hand and a quiver on her back full of barbed arrows, gracefully pulled back the string of her bow and let loose a hell of bullets, each striking the Wight. It reeled and let out a glass breaking scream before it crumpled into a ball onto the dead soil floor of Haragmar. A questionably large crawler emerged from the inside of the Wight. Gariath had seen this many times. With his ax, using perhaps the last ounces of his strength, slammed his axe down, splitting the insect in two. The small girl bounded closer and inspected the Wight with seeable experience, and then she turned up to Gariath.
"How long?" she asked him in a clear voice, peering up at him, kneeling to look at the remnant.
"Since this morning," he rasped coarsely, feeling drenched with sweat and stuffy in his large, ceremonial armor of Barrow-Warriors. He couldn't help but feel a familiar knowing of the girl. When he tried to take a closer look, his legs gave away, and his eyes tolled into the back of his head. He blacked out from fatigue, crashing onto the ground with an audible clanging of metal as his armor chaffed against his skin.
He awoke to find himself on his back at the foot of Radagast the Brown's wizard tower in Ost Guruth. He found the Healer, Hana, peering over him. He was sprawled out and his armor had been carefully placed against the circular wall that loomed around them.
"Again, Gariath?" she asked expectantly.
"Ugh," he groaned, trying unsuccessfully to rise to a sitting position. A wave of agony swept over his back and shoulders. He coughed unhealthily and sank back to his back. "What do you mean again?" he rasped at her. Hana always had a tendency to hold grudges, and to aggravate people until she was over it, or unless she forgot.
"I recall a familiar situation, very much like this one. A little more fatal, perhaps, if you remember."
Gariath did remember. A few years back, a very similar situation had happened. Except it had been in the Red Pass, and over a dozen of Dreadwaters had overwhelmed him and, even switching to his lethal two-handed sword, could not overcome them. Even constantly summoning the Guardian's Ward, he could not defeat the enemies. He had fallen, when Radagast and Frideric the Elder had rushed. According to them, a mad surge of the Eye from Isengard had made all of the creatures in the Lone-lands more dangerous.
"Right, Hana," Gariath wheezed. "There was a girl, a very familiar-looking girl, too. Where'd she go?"
"Imagining things, Gariath?" Hana sighed, she took a case of assorted ointments with celebrant salves; she took several out and began to soak Gariath's side with the eerie green oil. Gariath was injured enough to understand the importance of the stinging medicine. He didn't argue.
The word came to his mind like a distant echo that had just reached his ears. "Sappira," he said softly. He chuckled.
"Excuse me?" Hana said absently.
"Nothing." He said quickly.
Several years ago, during his whereabouts and being in the Shire, adding to his knowledge of Hobbit-lore, he discovered a young girl Hobbit, resolving the issue of farm-raiding from local animals by attacking a den filled with wolves. Gariath helped her with the task and they became quick friends. He trained her as well as he could, only having a little proficiency with the crossbow, and led her to Ered Luin and into Kheledul, to assassinate several Dwarf Dourhands for good sport. Gariath never saw her again. Yet there she was, helping him as he had helped her.
"Is Refr about?" Gariath asked, not trying to conceal his smile.
"He's at the forge, of course," Hana replied, "but whatever do you need him for?"
"I need a new sword," he said with a smirk, "something critically proficient for a Hunter. Can you send someone to fetch him?"
"Whatever you say, Gar. Your actions are your own – Slade!" she shouted coarsely, letting a few strands of her hair fall from the bun on the back of her head. A young man emerged into the circular wall.
"Hana, Gariath," Slade bowed, glancing at both of them. He exchanged a glance with Gariath, almost a demand for an explanation for the inexplicable damage tolled on his body. Gariath rolled his eyes.
"Go fetch the blacksmith," Hana barked at him.
"Is there any other?"
"At once, Hana."
Hana spent the next few moments applying a few bandages around Gariath's entire left side and shoulder. Gariath was then able to rise to his feet with little trouble, but his shoulder and arm still wavered uneasily.
The young man Slade led Refr Quicksilver, garmented in weaponcrafting attire and a blacksmith's apron, into the foot of Radagast's tower, the grassy plain below.
"Gariath!" Refr's gruff voice exclaimed. "What'cha been doin' to yerself? Jus' look at ye! Wrapped up like a bug in a web, you are. What'd happene'd to ye?"
"It'd be best you didn't know," Gariath murmured, exchanging a secretive glance with Hana. Knowing Refr, the old blacksmith would lose his temper and flip out if he learned that Gariath had broken several ribs and had gotten a flattened lung by landing on his armor awkwardly.
"Well, yer not tellin' meh that ye call'd Slade here to ge' me outta meh forge for nothin', are yeh?"
"How about we get somewhere more private?" suggested Gariath, eyeing his heavy armor and shield lying behind Hana. "I've got a favor to ask. And Slade, could you get my armor? I was going to go hang out around the Workbench, I have some plans I need to carry out."
Slade reluctantly threw a hasty look at the large, ceremonial armor lying elegantly in the corner. He sighed and walked over to try and pick up the breastplate. He struggled and wheezed, the breastplate slung down onto the ground. He spun around and shot a look at Gariath. "How do you wear this stuff, Gar?"
"You get used to it. Can you handle it or should we get someone else? Tortwil and Stanrac, maybe?"
"Why not?" he walked over to the doorway and stuck his head out. "Tortwil! Stanrac! Get your hides over here! We need some help!"
Two more men walked to the foot of Radagast's tower, looking almost identical. From a glance, one could suppose that they were brothers. But they weren't, just an unlikely sort of a friends. "What's the matter?" Tortwil asked Slade.
"The armor," said Slade, jerking a thumb towards the weighty formed metal, "Gariath can't wear it so he needs someone to carry it."
"Not a problem, not a problem at all, my friend," Stanrac grinned, pushing Tortwil behind him, "this sounds like a good time for negotiating price, eh?"
"Stuff it, Stan," Hana warned with a glare. "The price is nothing. You'll do it for free – that's right, manual labor, Stanrac."
"Yeah? And what if I decline?" Stanrac stuck his tongue out in a childish manner.
Tortwil made a weak effort to excuse his friends. "You'll have to forgive my friend," he stammered quickly, tripping over himself, "he woke up a little early. See, he woke to find that pickpocket Galar trying to get into his wallet, he—"
"Shut up, Tortwil, I—" Stanrac began, but stopped short when the door to Radagast's tower opened with a creak.
The Istrali Radagast the Brown, one of the Lesser Maiar sent by the Valar to assist the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, the Children of Illuvitar, stood cloaked in garments of white and brown. A wooden staff almost rapped against the top of the doorway. His beard draped across his chest. He looked at the lot of the six people standing in front of his tower. He looked at each one of them with uncaring eyes. "Whatever is happening out here?" he inquired, peering at the mound of heavy armor in the corner. Rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals crawled out of his tower and seemed to encircle around him with grace and beauty. Rays of light and hope appeared to shine down onto them from the entryway of his tower.
Hana shot Stanrac a sharp look.
"Nothin' out o' the ordinary, Radagast." Refr growled threateningly, also giving Stanrac a look that could have pierced clean through glass. "Jus' a lil' friendly reconciliation, ain't that right, Stan?"
Stanrac, being as stubborn as he was, glared at the blacksmith. "Of course, Radagast. Nothing out of the ordinary in the least. Can we help you with something?"
The Brown Wizard seemed to completely ignore the comment and stumbled back into his tower, closing the door behind him. The wizard was known quite well for his reputation of being easily angered and difficult to settle. Troubling with wizard from his tasks, or at least distracting or drawing his attention elsewhere, would end only with fire and brimstone.
"Just get the stupid armor, Stanrac," Slade said, picking up the gauntlets in one hand and slinging a boot across his shoulder with the other. "It's not like it's going to be the end of your reputation or anything. Here," he thrust the iron boot into Stanrac's arms, knocking the breath out of him, "you can start with that."
"Good man ye are, Slade," Refr said after Tortwil and Stanrac had gotten a majority of Gariath's armor and had left towards the workbench, "bossin' 'em aroun' like that. You gonna get a darn good life if you keep on like that, you will."
"Thanks, sir," Slade grinned, "I'll keep that in mind." He picked up the helmet and walked out with the gauntlets, also.
"Well, we'd bes' be gettin' ye settled, eh, Gar?" Refr heaved, picking up Gariath's breastplate and the last few ceremonial intricate items. "We can talk about them swords ye're wantin'."
Gariath nodded. "Thank you, Refr. I'll be right there." Refr left, and Hana and Gariath were left standing at the foot of Radagast's Tower.
"Thanks," Gariath told her, "but I do have a question."
"And what is that?"
"If that girl didn't bring me here, then who did?"
"Radagast, of course, silly," she told him with a degrading look. "Who else? He's saved your hide twice now, to my knowledge. You'd do good to thank him properly once. He's not necessarily as senile as he seems. He is, after all, of Maiar descendant. It's only natural he'd sense something abrupt."
"I'll keep to that," Gariath reassured her, limping towards the entryway with his arm and shoulder bandaged, "thank you for the medicine."
"And bandages," she corrected.
Gariath strode out of the foot of Radagast's Tower. He saw Frideric the Elder, the ruler of Ost Guruth, lounging at his familiar place at the ancient stone gates of Ost Guruth. He stood there waiting patiently. For what, Gariath could not see. It seemed almost as if he waited for something, or someone, greater than others were aware of. Gariath shrugged it off and went on his way to the workbench.
Refr and Slade were the only ones waiting for him when he got at the profession venders. Geniuses and Masters of all crafts crowded around in a circle, discussing their education and proficiency. The workbench – used for some woodworking crafts, or planning – stood at the back of the stone encasement, filled with the Expert Craft Venders. Refr and Slade leant against the wall on either side of it, a rather sour expression on their faces.
"What happened to your arm, Gariath?" Slade asked him very seriously.
"An accident in Haragmar," he said bluntly. He spotted his pile of armor underneath the workbench. He ignored the mistreating of his ceremonial metals.
"You don't flatten your lung over an "accident in Haragmar," Slade pushed, "what happened exactly?"
"It was an accident, Slade, that's all you need to know."
"For a Guardsman, you sure are rather sour, aren't you?"
"That's all I am, Slade. A Guardian. What should happen outside Ost Guruth are mine and my brother's affairs. Things outside these borders are not your business. My duty is to protect these crumbling walls and to be rest assured that the Lone-lands are free of the Enemy. You need not trouble yourself with the affairs outside your work, Slade. Do your job and do it well, as should we all. Do you understand?"
Slade glared at him. Refr spoke up.
"Slade here's got a point, boy," Refr growled, "when you'd be gettin' injured and the like—it's bes' te know what we're lookin' at, eh?"
"It was a Wight, if you have to know," Gariath growled, pushing the blacksmith out of the way and clearing the cluttered workbench. Slade rose his eyebrows.
"A Wight?" he laughed. "The Might Protector, felled by a Bile-spewer? You're kidding, right?"
"Why don't you try it sometime?" Gariath shot back hotly.
"Bes' be settlin' down, boys," Refr said, attempting to calm them, "now what'd you be needin' so importantly, Gar? And what're these plans you're havin'?"
"I'm leaving Ost Guruth for a while," he told them, "a vacation."
"What'd you need meh fer, then?" Refr snorted.
"You," he said, turning to Slade. "I need a sword. Something light and incredibly proficient. It's going to be a gift for someone, so please do the best you can. We're talking about a Hunter—one that's proficient with bow and blade. I'll need it by tomorrow."
"Do you have any idea what you're asking?"
Gariath crammed his unarmed hand into his pocket and took out a sparkling piece of pure gold.
The economy as far as Ered Luin to the Trollshaws had changed dramatically in the last months. Gold was as rare as it was valuable. Anything was purchasable with just the smallest sliver of gold. Gariath palmed the valuable coin, then flipped it towards Refr. "Do whatever's necessary," he said, "I want that blade, sheath and all, in my hands in twenty four hours. Do you understand?"
Slade's eyes turned as round as cans when he saw the large blacksmith waddle out of the crafting area. He turned to Gariath. "Is there anything I can do?" he asked excitedly.
Gariath rose his vision to meet his. "Precisely, how proficient are you with battle?"