September 18, 2001 - A Winter's Tale by Eldarion Starshine
Today's tale is one I heard a very long ago from a good friend and kindred, Eldarion Starshine. I will repeat it here with his exact words, as he is a great storyteller, which match one might seek long to find. You may have heard this story elsewhere, but I see it fit to be placed here for those who may not have heard it. Happy reading and Good luck on your future adventures!
As told by Eldarion Starshine, Defender of the Crown:
Now gather 'round, my young friends, and make yourself comfortable, for you are about to hear a long and, at times, frightening tale. You three dwarves over there, you might want to get yourselves an extra keg of beer, because it will take an hour or more for this ancient half-elf to tell the tale of when the first dreaded wolf-pack of the Shire appeared. And shut the door close, will you please, mr. hobbit? The streets of Bree are noisy tonight, and cold too. Of course, not nearly as cold as it could get in the days of years ago, when I first came upon the silverbacks. I call the great pack-leaders that, but I'll return to those later.
I had just stepped out from my room after a good and long rest at the always delightful Arnor Inn of Fornost, and came down into "The Crown". It was early morning on one of those days of winter where everyone wanted to stay inside. Not like today, where most of you youngsters snivel at the sight of an inch of snow or slight frost covering the water puddles. No, believe me when I say that back then, when it snowed, it poured. Thick, heavy flakes were falling silently without end and piled up in the streets, and the poor few shoppers out there rushed back and forth, shaking with cold.
Dwarves tore their beards and cursed "ye blasted white mud" louder than I ever heard before or after, hobbits were fainting in their brave attempts to throd through the heaps, the noble men of Fornost Erain were fighting a desperate fight to keep the alleys rideable (as well as digging free quite a few frozen, unfortunate hobbits). Blimey, even the nimble elves had a hard time finding their footings (much to their dislike, I can tell you).
At first, I too felt most like sitting down and have a warm toddy with my old friend, Tundur the Lamp-Lighter, and indeed that's exactly what I did. He told me that "well the street he may be hell today, Starshine, but the air she sure is blessed". I knew what he meant. If there's anything refreshing in the world, it's the still air on a hard winter's day without a wind moving. Crisp and almost piercingly clean, there's nothing healthier to a healthy half-elf.
So I finished the sweet, warm toddy and had the usual debate with my friend about whose turn it really was to pay this time. As usual, we both tipped the waiter to put the bill on our accounts ("The Crown" sure never lost any money on the two of us). Having wrapped my warm cloak around me and strapped on my old, well-worn snowshoes, I stepped out into the bright whiteness. The frost hit me in the face like a hammer after the warmth of the fire inside, but I was prepared and drew a deep breath. A group of small children, busy building a snowman, giggled at my odd shoes and started singing "old Starshine on his clumsy feet went stumbling down the snowy street". I chuckled politely at their cheerful mood, blessed their pure spirits and made it to the stables without slipping (unlike an extremely angry, and more than just slightly over-fed, dwarf who fell flat on his nose, spluttering with fury as I passed him).
In the distance I heard a horrified cry of despair, unmistakenly the sound of a hobbit in need. Now, many of you may think of the halflings as lesser people, people who get scared of anything and wince at the first sign of danger. But being one who travelled the Shire for many a year, and studied the dear little people thoroughly, I can assure you that's not their way. There's none more faithful to you than a hobbit who calls you his friend, and I never met anyone braver either. Take their General, Zim Salabim, if you need an example. But his is another tale, let's get back to ours now. And Nob, could you ask old Butterbur to bring me another half bottle of his best wine, please? All this talk is getting me quite thirsty.
Now, where was I?
Ah yes, well, after helping the shirriffs and bounders with some impudent and terrible criminals in the past, I was indeed a friend of the Shire and shouted at the top of my longues that I was on my way. I sped Shadowstar to gallop and rushed west from the old crossroads outside Bree. I heard some mocking shouts behind me from some ignorant people who were delighted to hear the hobbits be in trouble, but there was no time to educate them now. Only two others offered their help, namely my old friend, the lovely elven maid Katarina, and a young dwarf named Goud who I'd never heard of before. I decided to speed ahead and try to find the desperate hobbit I had heard, and hoped the two heroes would follow me fast. As I came to the good old bridge over the Brandywine, everything appeared normal. The brave hobbits who stood guard there had heard the shouting too, but could only tell that someone had yelled about wolves roaming around at Scary. They hadn't seen any though, and were, like me, a bit puzzled that some wolves could cause such a commotion.
Though wolves were common in and around the Shire those days, and though they might be able to trouble a small child, even a single adult hobbit could fight off one without having to awaken the entire Shire during "snap" time (that's what they call the snack & nap they have after lunch, in case you didn't know). And we agreed that never before had a wolf bothered to attack a hobbit without provocation, so whole thing sounded fishy. But then we heard the noise. It was almost deafening in the clear and quiet early afternoon. Thundering roars and a frantic gnashing of teeth, and howls, barks and slobberings, and the patting of a hundred feet filled the air. I shuddered with the bounders, and having hunted quite a few wolves in my time, both living and undead ones, I knew that these were no ordinary wolves. I offered the shirriffs to go have a look while they remained guard at the bridge, and went along with a bounder after me. He quickly got tired in the snow though, there was no way he could keep up with my strong horse. Having an unpleasent feeling, I continued alone and stopped to look for tracks in the hills of Scary.
I suddenly heard the voice of the Ainulindale whisper in my ear that I was being watched from the skies, and my heart filled with hope.
The snow was flattened by many paws, and I noticed a distinct set of footprint that I'd never seen before. Just like I feared, a whole new, and incredibly large, species of wolf seemed to have evolved. It's foot was larger and much broader than those of the werewolf, and the print was deeper too, indicating its owner's size to be enormous. I received word from Katarina that she was still out east, being kept busy by a particularly nasty olog, and I noticed that indeed the sun had already gone down. It never ceases to amaze me how the day just suddenly ends in the winter. There was no report from Goud the dwarf, so I knew that I was on my own for now. Following the tracks south (which even a blind man could have done, so many were they), I came upon the corpse of a little hobbit child, he couldn't have been more than 15 years young the poor boy. I made a note to come back and bury him later, clenched my fists, cursed the wolves and moved on along the wide path that runs there. Here I met a bounder and asked him about the wolves, but he hadn't seen any either. And then, just I was about to move on, the wolves came. And they came in hordes, rushing towards us with their viscious teeth bared in blood-filled grins as they snapped ferociously at everything that moved. Twenty at least I counted as they approached, and drew my trusted dunadan longsword (in my youth I was quite strong for a half-elven priest, and I was known for wielding even the mightiest dwarven axes). This was a case for the parrying sword though, I knew I couldn't cleave my way out of this. There came black wolves, there came grey wolves, there came those we used to call huge, black wolves, as well as the starved, rabid grey ones. But with them came the silverbacks.
They were a most frightful sight indeed. Living terrors on four legs they were, with silvery streaks running down their backs, and heads the size of a horse. Their leader was a story of his own, at least a foot higher than the other silverbacks his formidable shoulders arose, and his razorsharp, yellow teeth were gleaming as he howled his defiance into the night. He was the greatest beast of a wolf ever spawned outside the pits of Angband, be sure of that. And in case you never heard about Angband that was the great dungeon-fortress far off in the northwest of ages ago, beneath which the evil One bred his beasts of fire and sulfur (but the tales of Carcharoth and his kind are not to be told here, my friends). One of the "good old" huge, black wolves leapt for my throat, but I knew the way it fought and parried its blow. Then the silverbacks attacked. They were so big and furious and jumped so high, I just couldn't fend them off. Their horrible teeth sank deeply into my mithril-clad arms, and my blood started gushing out on the ground, colouring the snow as red as the hobbits' mailboxes. I tried to blind one with my magic, but there was no way I could get enough time to finish my incantations. Within seconds I was severely wounded and fled the battle.
The wolves then lunged themselves at the bounder with whom I had conferred, and I never saw him again, the brave hobbit. He died faster than I could heal myself and rush back to assist him, and I decided to flee towards a small farm I knew nearby, knowing that fighting the wolves alone would be futile, and fatal too. In Scary I came upon a dreadful sight. Piles of mutilated corpses of hobbits, shirriffs, bounders and children lying stone dead among a few wolf corpses. The poor little people of Scary had bravely fought the wolf-pack, but they had lost against the desperate odds. One grey wolf they had killed, and one of the black ones they had mortally wounded, but the rest of the wolves were, as I'd just seen minutes ago, very alive and threatening to kill many more of those lovely little townships of the Shire that I'd come to care so deeply for. With tears running down my face I said a short prayer and torched village (there was no time now for a proper burial ceremony) and swore an oath on my life to revenge them.
Closing myself inside a toolshed with a terrified farmer and his crying family, I rested up and tried to come up with some kind of plan, while the rampaging of the wolves was heard to the north. I sent out for Katarina and Goud for immediate help and bade them come with all possible speed. Less than two hours went by, until I was delighted to hear the familiar cheerful singing of my old friend Katarina nearby. Along with her she had brought that dwarf, Goud, and another elf who went by the most strange name of AncaRuin, and whom I didn't know either. But desperate times form strong alliances, and we set out to save the small folk of the Shire. I rode at the front, since I knew about where the wolves were, but the stout Goud rode by my side, completely covered up in heavy metal armour. We didn't have to search for long. More molested corpses were lying scattered around and convinced my fellow heroes that the situation was indeed as serious as I had depicted, and we prepared for battle. Then we heard the noise.
For a second we hesitated, shivering, and immediately they came running. Goud grabbed his axe and swung it at the first wolf, chopping its head clean off, and a dozen more hit him back. I tried to stay behind the battle-crazed dwarf and blind the silverbacks, but soon we found ourselves surrounded by their numbers. Katarina started hurling magic balls of pure flame at any wolf that dared to attack her, but I was hit hard and only managed to blind one until I was forced to retrieve. I gathered my senses and entered the battlefield once more, only to find Goud in a very bad shape, while AncaRuin too had fled for now. I could find no peace to complete a heal spell for neither Goud nor myself, so I sprang to assist him with my sword brandished. Katarina kept spewing the lethal fire from her delicate fingers, and we managed to kill about half of the wolves. But their teeth had taken their toll on Goud. He had to flee and did so, which caused all the remaining wolves to turn and jump at me and my horse. Those who couldn't reach me started gnawing at Shadowstar's volnurable legs, and even though he kicked his hooves at any wolf he could, his brave fight was hopeless and he sunk to his knees.
My left leg got stuck beneath him as he fell to the side, dead, and then I saw the silverback leader approach. I tried to flee but couldn't get away from under my dead horse, and I knew my time had come. Already more dead than alive, I stared decisively into his burning mad, red eyes of hatred and evil, yelled out a curse and raised my hand for one last stroke. With my last strength I thrust my beautiful longsword into his left shoulder, until it was buried to the hilt in the great wolf. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw Katarina direct a ball of fire towards us, and then everything went black.
How much time then passed I do not know, but when I came to, I found myself in the strangest place I have ever seen (and I've been around quite a bit, I dare say). Everything was silent, apart from some distant chanting and mourning, and I felt more at peace than ever before. I cannot remember much from these halls, but I know that I was summoned to stand before the council of the Ainur, in the halls upon fabled Oiolosse, to tell my story, and that they voted it was not yet my time to leave the mortal lands forever.
I prayed my humble thanks, and in an explotion of rhymes and light I was back at the well in Fornost. I got word from Katarina (who was quite shocked at my return, much like myself and everyone else) that they were still fighting the wolves to revenge me. I stumbled to Bree on my old feet, in the dark (actually I was grateful for the darkness, all naked as I was), and made it there just in time to greet the victorious party who returned with the black and silvery furs of the accursed great black wolves.
It turned out that my last and desperate thrust had wounded the leader of the silverbacks mortally, and without him the others had quickly lost faith and scattered. After that they had been slain one by one, and Katarina proudly handed me the enormous fur of the leader, while the people of Bree gazed at us in awe and terror.
And who could blame them? Goud, leaving a red trail of blood behind him, being covered with gushing wounds as he was, and barely able to stay upright in his saddle, Katarina still had smoke and sparks of fire flashing back and forth between her fingers, while AncaRuin was glowing brightly with the light of a thousand stars. All three of them were still panting heavily and tried to calm down after the glorious battle, and then there was myself. People in Bree were cringing in terror as I stood there, covered only with the amazing fur from my terrible bane. I was later told that I looked more than a savage than a priest, except from the light of Aman still burning in my bright, blue eyes.
The hobbits were overcome with joy as they heard of our success, and agreed to honour us as citizens of the Shire - a gesture which was incredibly rare back then - in return for the silverback furs. However, already being a citizen, I kept my fur as a trophy, and still keep it at my fireplace as a memory of the greatest wolf that ever walked the known world. His spawn can still be found roaming the Shire in great wolf-packs during hard winters, and even though they are not quite his size or might, they still threaten the peace of the little people. In fact, they are quite capable of killing off many a township, and therefore rumour has it that you may still become an honorary citizen of the Shire, if you help slay the silverbacks and bring their silver-streaked furs to the mayor as proof of your noble deed.
Now, that was a long and tiring story, and I think I'll retire again and get some rest and enjoy a good pipe of "Toby's Best" in my old chair on the fur in front of my fireplace. You better run along too my friends, it's getting late and tomorrow there's another day and, who knows, maybe another story!
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