[LotR: War in the North] That Time I Tried to Tell Tolkien Tales

 

So I’d like it on record that I thought of the dwarf-elf romance before Peter Jackson did. I guess we’ll never know if I’d have done it better, but I find it hard to believe I would have done worse, even if mine had even less basis in Tolkien’s epic.

 Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a sub-par video game I bought as part of a package deal a while ago.  It had some interesting ideas and put a new “realist” sort of twist on Jackson’s interpretation, which helped.  But ultimately the gameplay was stale and the story non-engaging–the dialogue at times transposed lines straight from Tolkien, which worked less well than it should have.  But it was Tolkien’s world, so I played it as far as I could.

In the game, you switch off between three characters–Farim the champion of Erebor, Eradan the Ranger, and Andriel the “Lore-Master” of Rivendell (basically a wizard, but of course Tolkien only ever had five wizards). They tried to give these people special “tracking” abilities, but the characters ended up seeming pretty interchangeable.  Eventually, I started to wonder how these three had ended up together in the first place, and what their likely interaction would be.

Which, of course, means I eventually had to write it out.

                “False alarm, Halbarad,” Nindolel laughed.  “Just another load of mangy dwarves.”

                “Mangy?”  The merchant glowered.

                “Forgive my comrade.  The wilds have a way of… roughening a man’s manners.”  Eradan saw Halbarad stride forward, his arms wide in greeting.  “Halbarad of Arnor, at your service.” 

                The dwarf appeared little mollified.  “So when will your rabble move on so my lot can actually get moving?”  He barked, crossing his arms.

                “Unfortunately, sir dwarf, the road is out.”

                “Out?”

                “Out.  Entirely.”  Halbarad smiled again.  “My friends and I are here to ward off travelers.  Please, take the south road to…”

                “Bugger that,” snorted the merchant.  The other dwarves in his company made various noises of agreement.  “This is the quickest way through the Shire.  There ain’t no bridges on this road… what’s the trouble?  A fallen tree?  An avalanche?  My lads and I will sort it out right quick.”

                Halbarad winced.  “That is very kind, but as I said, the road is out.”

                “This is fruitless.”  Andriel muttered beside him, and before Eradan could stop her, she strode forward.  “You and your friends cannot pass here, sir dwarf.  We are bidden to hold this road, and will not stop merely for the pleasure of a few money-grubbing dwarves.”

                Eradan closed his eyes.

                “Well, so much for negotiations.”  He heard Nindolel mutter.

                “An elf!”  Azaghal recoiled, amid shouts of alarm from his countrymen.  “And it’s by her trickeries that you’re ‘holding’ this pass, is it?”  He asked, rounding on Halbarad.  “So now they’re even stepping on our trade?  And she hires you ruffians to do her dirty work, eh?”

                Halbarad’s face was unreadable.  “Sir dwarf, I apologize for the inconvenience, but we are bound in duty to let none pass this way but the friends of the Rangers.”

                “Oooooohhh.”  Azaghal held up his hands in mock horror.  “Save me from the wrath of the hobo king.”  He turned back to the caravan.  “Farim!  Get up here!”  He looked back to Halbarad in scorn.  “You are not the only one to play at hard knocks, master mudhole.  You would do well to leave the elf to work her tricks alone, and not seek to match blades with Durin’s folk.”

                Andriel said nothing, but her lips had just the slightest turn of scorn to them.

                Eradan stepped forward, beside his chieftain.  “We cannot afford this, Halbarad.”  He whispered, watching as a heavily-armored dwarf with a fearsome battleaxe shouldered his way to the front.  The glint of other weapons could already be seen among the other dwarves in the darkness.

                “Your men could hold off this rabble with ease.” Andriel murmured, her eyes fixed on the lead dwarves. 

                “Loth am I to spill the blood of other free folk here.”  Halbarad shook his head.

                “And yet they might be agents of the enemy in disguise.”

                Eradan was not sure, but he thought he could see his captain’s mouth twitch.  “No servant of the enemy would be so intentionally disagreeable.”  He answered.

                “There is truth in that.”  Andriel admitted.

                “Leave off your whisperings, master mudhole.”  The dwarf-merchant interrupted their conference.  “Now will you give us leave to pass?”

                The armored dwarf at his elbow hefted his axe meaningfully.  “Or shall I teach you some better manners at the point of my blade?”

                Halbarad turned and smiled.  “Not ours alone would the learning be. But if you are so determined, assuredly you may…”

                And then the Black Riders attacked.

 

This was based off a sequence in the game.  I disliked writing fights, so I skipped straight to the aftermath.

                A loud wail made all the rangers start and reach for their weapons, but Halbarad motioned them down.  The armored dwarf, apparently the only survivor of the caravan, was bent low over a body on the ground.  “Azaghal!  Grimtol!  Oh my kinsfolk!”

                Eradan hurried forward.  “Still yourself, master dwarf, the enemy may yet be near.”

                The dwarf looked up at him, dark eyes flashing.  “Let them come!  Let them bring their black hearts to my axe!  The blade of Farim Furinbar shall return to them the blood they have spilt from my kinsmen a thousandfold!”

                “These riders had no blood to spill.”  Andriel put in.  “And if they had, your axe alone were not sufficient to do the letting.”

This was basically backstory to the game.  The game itself started with the three meeting Aragorn in the Prancing Pony, where he told them to investigate Fornost.

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                Eradan waited until his comrades were out of hearing distance before leaning forward.  “Milord Aragorn…”  He whispered.  “…are you sure?  Loremaster Andriel has proven herself to the Rangers again and again, but should the enemy be at Fornost, this hotheaded dwarf…”

                “That hotheaded dwarf is no merchant’s mercenary.”  Aragorn replied, lips playing about the stem of his pipe.  “Did you not note the crest on his helmet?  That dwarf is one of the six champions of Erebor, and a mightier warrior you could not find amongst all the Rangers of the North.”

                Eradan hesitated and looked at the dwarf, who seemed to speaking with a man by the fire.  “He is rash.  The death of his kinsfolk propels him down roads without foresight.”

                “All the more need he should have the guidance of wise heads such as yours and the Lore-master.”  Aragorn shrugged.  “It is not discretion that I ask for at Fornost, but violence.”

I must confess most of my impetus for writing out these selections was exploring Farim’s character.  I found him more interesting than the others, and his outsider status, as well as his traumatic entry to the group, made for some interesting exchanges.

                “So who are the other champions of Erebor?”

                “Their names would mean nothing to you.  Gimli, son of Gloin, is the newest, though he is fresh and untrained in many weapons.”  Farim grunted, polishing the edge of his sword.  “He has replaced Dwalin son of Hundin, who left to help his brother in Moria.”

                “And what precious cargo was in Azaghal’s caravan, that merited the presence of one of the six champions?”  Andriel asked.  “Jewels?  Mithril?  Weapons?”

                Farim paused, ever so slightly.  “No such cargo,” he answered softly.  “I was sent to guard the life of Nandin, Dain’s son, who Azaghal was to conduct to the  Blue Mountains in safety.”

                Eradan and Andriel stopped and looked at him.

                “I know not what my king will say when I tell him his son is dead.”  Farim stared at his reflection in the blade.

 

After Fornost they went to the Barrow-Downs.  Farim would toy with the idea of staying to die, in payment for his comrades, but ultimately he would accompany the others to Rivendell.

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                “Gimli!  Lord Gloin!”  Farim stooped to the floor.  “I did not look to meet you here.”

                “What?  Farim?  This is unlooked-for cheer!”  Gimli slapped the older dwarf on the shoulder.  “Now I need fear no elf!”

                “Aye!”  Farim laughed, standing.  “With you and I here together, all Rivendell might fall first!”

                Andriel and Eradan exchanged glances as the two dwarves laughed. 

                “Ye do not introduce us to your companions,” noted the white-bearded Gloin, studying the two.

                “Andriel, Loremaster of Rivendell.”  Andriel inclined her head.

                “Eradan, Ranger of the North, at your service.”  The ranger offered a salute.

                “At yours and at your family’s.”  Gloin bowed in return.  Completely ignoring Andriel, he turned back to Farim.  “I am glad to find you here, Farim, for it seems there is no need for you to defend the Shire at all.”

                “Defend the Shire?”  Eradan looked at the champion.  “But you told us…”

                “I was to attend Azaghal as far as the Shire.”  Farim answered.  “But once we arrived, I had… other instructions.”  His expression was guarded.  “An old friend of Erebor who was believed to be in danger.  More than that I cannot say.”

                “I, however, can.”  Gloin smiled, putting a hand on Farim’s shoulder.  “Bilbo is here in Rivendell, as is Frodo, and it seems there is more involved than even King Dain knew.  But we may leave the ordering of that to others.  Tell me, how is Azaghal?  And Nandin?”

                There was a short, horrible silence.

                “Comrades, I must ask you to leave my lord and I for a space.”  Farim said, closing his eyes.  “I have news to impart.”

#

                It was some time before Eradan saw the dwarves return.  Gloin’s face was grim, Gimli’s ashen.  Farim had the look of a man doomed to the gallows.  At the entrance to the garden they stopped, said a few words to each other, and then parted ways.

                Eradan said nothing as the dwarf champion approached him, but simply continuing stuffing supplies into his knapsack.  Without a word, Farim walked right past him to the low stone shelf and picked up a long gleaming sword.

                “A fine blade.”  He noted distantly.

                “It is the Troll-Bane of Istar.”  Eradan answered.  “A gift from Elladan and Elrohir, for the service we rendered at Fornost.”

                Farim grunted.  “Well-sprung steel, a keen edge, and a firm grip.”  He gave a few experimental swings.  “Well-balanced, also.”  He nodded and held the sword up to the light, noting how the sun glinted on its edge.  “A masterwork.”

                “Truly,” answered Eradan, watching him.  “But it is of no use to me, I fear.”

                Farim blinked, as if startled from thought.  “What do you mean?”  He asked, turning to the Ranger.  “And why are you packing?”

                Without turning, Eradan shrugged his shoulders.  “An expedition heads east from Rivendell.”  He answered.  “An expedition that must not fail.  Andriel and I are being sent to the Ettenmoors as scouts.”

                “Scouts?”  Farim echoed in disbelief.  “You destroy an entire orc garrison, survive the wights of the barrows, and they send you out to scout?”

                “The Ettenmoors are a hazardous land.”  Eradan shrugged.  “Many trolls live there, and orcs.  Stone-giants too, or so it is said.”  He noted the light of interest rising in Farim’s eyes.  “Lord Elrond would, in fact, send more with us, but that he has no people to spare.  His sons gave us that blade…” here he nodded toward Farim’s weapon, “…in hopes it might help us survive the wild.  Alas…”  A rueful smile lit up his face.  “Andriel wields no blade, and such weapons are too large for my liking.”  Shrugging again, he turned away.  “It seems the twins’ generosity shall avail nothing.”

                Farim was quiet.

Eradan, of course, succeeded in convincing Farim to accompany them to the Ettenmoors and fight trolls, where they eventually found signs of Agandaur, the Black Numenorean who had ordered the attack on the Rangers encampment.

                “Agandaur is in Mount Gundabad?”

                “So the signs would indicate.”  Elrond nodded, still studying the cloth.

                “Then I go to Gundabad.”  Farim turned around immediately.

                The statement was so simply said, and was so unbelievable, that for a moment all, including Lord Elrond, gaped at the dwarf as he strode toward the door.

                Shaking himself from his stupor, Eradan interposed himself.  “Stay, master dwarf, the one who seeks his own death does no good to any.”

                “Save for leaving the world about one or two hundred fewer orcs than before he left it.”  Farim glared at the man.  “Stand aside, Ranger.”

                “Mount Gundabad is a fearsome fortress of Mordor containing some tens of thousands of orcs.”  Andriel spoke, coming forward.  “To attempt any sort of assault without an army would be suicidal and, more importantly, ultimately useless.”

                “Listen to the Lore-master.”  Eradan advised.  “You would not get within spitting distance of the main gate.”

                “Why would I go there?”  Farim regarded them with disgust.  “Gundabad was once a dwarvish fortress, and all such fortresses have back doors.”

                “Even so, you could hardly hope to achieve any lasting damage on that fortress.”  Elrond pointed out.  “Not unless you were to go through and kill each orc, one by one, a process likely to reach longer than a year or more.   And by that time the war would be long over, and our cities burnt.”

                “I don’t CARE.”  Farim sighed, looking over his shoulder at the elf.  “I don’t care about the Shire, or Rivendell, or any of your blasted matchstick cities.  I only care that my lord’s son is dead, and that in my charge.”  He elbowed Eradan aside.  “Vengeance must be paid for this, with I as treasurer.”

Please recall that I wrote this a while ago.  I was trying to emulate Tolkien’s style, and not surprisingly it didn’t really work.

                “There are fell beasts encircling the mountain.”  Beleram observed.  “We can fly no further, unless we would risk their wrath.”

                “You’ve gotten me more than far enough.”  Farim grunted, gazing down at the ground.  “Put me down on the mountain.”

                “Agreed.  My companions and I shall shadow you from above and distract the beasts.”

                “No need.”  Farim shook his head as the eagle began to lower in a circle.  “You have more than aided me enough in bringing me thus far.  It were better you make haste from this area, lest you be caught in my folly.”

                “I do not understand.”  Beleram frowned, landing on the ground.

                Farim slid off the eagle.   “I journey to meet my young lord.”  He answered, looking up at the great eagle.  “I shall not return.”  With one armored hand he ruffled the bird’s feathers.  “You have been a faithful companion, Beleram.  Fly well wherever you fare.”

                “Let us not say goodbye just yet, friend dwarf.”  Beleram’s beak did not permit a smile, but his eyes were dancing.  “Your quest is not as solitary as you seem to think.”

                Farim’s forehead wrinkled.  “What mean you by…”  He stopped as Beleram’s two partner eagles also landed, depositing their passengers.  “Mahal below!”  He swore.  “Are you mad?”

                “Nay,” grinned Eradan, shrugging  his quiver up on his shoulders.  “Though I am passing discontented, to be scouting such a mountain in such foul weather.  But Imladris must know of the muster of orcs, and if they are making plans to march.  And so…”  He shrugged.  “Here I am.”

                “I make no plans to return with news.”  Farim answered.

                “Clearly, else I should not be here to do so.”  Eradan returned.

                Shaking his head, Farim turned to the elf, who stood lightly upon the knee-deep snow.  “And you, lore-master?  Also here to scout?”

                “I,” answered Andriel, eyes flickering imperiously, “ am here in pursuit of the Cult of the Lidless Eye, whose practices are a taint to the magical arts and an affront to Eru himself.  It were a poor thing if I did not exert myself to the utmost in pursuit of their abolition.”

 

You get the idea.  Group of adventurers that hates each other slowly grows bonds forged by combat yadda yadda yadda.  Because I liked Farim so much, I toyed with the idea of having him and Andriel slowly grow close.  Again, I want to point out that I came up with this BEFORE The Hobbit was a thing.

Romance was never my specialty.  I ended up discarding the fic out of disinterest, and the only Farim/Andriel scene I ever wrote ended up as a one-shot about the three harmlessly joking with each other.

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“So Farim, about dwarf women…”

“Oh, not you TOO.” Farim, dwarven champion of Erebor, threw his ranger friend Eradan a long-suffering glare. “Why is it that everyone always wants to know about dwarf women?”

“You can’t blame a fellow for being curious,” answered Eradan, his face full of earnestness. He glanced off to the side at their companion, Andriel the elven lore-master of Rivendell, but she was crafting a potion and appeared uninterested. “What’re they like? How come we never see them? What lusty beauties do you longbeards have locked up beneath your mountain halls, eh?”

“Mahal below…” Farim moaned, drawing a hand across his face. “Firstly, we don’t lock our women up. They’re just… even less fond of outsiders than we are. And secondly, you probably have seen them, you just never realized it because your man’s eyes are too dull to realize what you were seeing.”

“You amaze me!” Eradan’s face took on a look of befuddlement. “Are your women chameleons, able to change shape at will? What form do they assume in their native land? Or in your chambers?”

“Look here, you thick-skulled, stone-brained, horned son-of-a…”

“Eradan knows fully well the form of a dwarf woman,” interrupted Andriel, her eyes fixed on her work “One does not get to be a ranger of three-and-sixty years without learning such things.”

“He… you…” Farim glanced from the impassive elf to the now-grinning ranger. He shook his head. “Of all the…”

“Dwarves pass through the Shire all the time.” Eradan grinned. “If the Rangers ever end up entertaining a party, we always ask them about their women, just to see them get all hot and bothered.”

“Men, it seems, are the same across Middle-Earth,” noted Andriel drily.

Eradan glanced at her. “Really? You elves play pranks like that too? I would have thought…”

“No. Not pranks.” Andriel shook her head, still gazing very decidedly at her potion. “But the… lack of understanding between our races has… rather magnified the… nature of the speculation regarding dwarven ladies.” It was hard to tell, since her head was purposely obscured, but the tips of her long ears were turning a reddish tint to match her hair.

A slow smile spread across Eradan’s face. “By Numenor, Andriel, I think YOU’RE starting to get a little bothered yourself!”

“The stories are… very… fanciful.” Andriel answered stiffly.

“You have piqued my interest, lady.”

“Mine too, I fear.” Farim had a look of faint wonder and suspicion on his face. “What, dare I ask, are the elven stories regarding our womenfolk?”

“Such as are not to be repeated,” replied Andriel, even more stiffly. “And all the more ridiculous when the truth is so simply and readily available. Accordingly, to ensure their swifter death, I shall speak no more of them.”

Eradan grinned but dropped the matter and turned back to Farim. “But is it true that all dwarf women have beards?”

Though he rolled his eyes, Farim shook his head. “Not all.”

Clearly Eradan was not satisfied. “So… among dwarves, what is considered more lovely? A lass with a fine thick beard? Or a smooth-cheeked maiden?”

Farim put down his axe and looked straight at Eradan. “Let me return your question onto you in kind: among men, what is more lovely, a woman with hair of gold or hair of night?”

A chuckle burst loose from Andriel. Eradan had the grace to look vaguely bemused. “I take your meaning, friend.” He nodded. Still unsatisfied, though, he asked, “Then which do you prefer, friend Farim?”

“Oh, without a beard, to be sure,” nodded Farim, returning to polishing his axe. “It just makes kissing so much simpler.” He cocked an eye at Eradan. “What think you, Ranger?”

“I think I am glad I am not a dwarf,” grinned Eradan. “For assuredly I should not kiss a woman with any hint of a beard upon her chin.”

“No?”

“No.” Eradan leant back and stared at the cave ceiling. “No, my intended shall be a small woman, with dark hair and alabaster skin, and eyes of flashing blue.”

“She does not sound like the type to share a life in the wild with.” Farim pointed out.

“No, she shall be a lady of the town.” Eradan shook his head. “For all fates are now one, and when Lord Aragorn comes into his own, he shall want his kinsmen about him in the White City. My wife shall be a noble lady of that city, who can manage the house and teach refined manners to my roughened state.”

“There is great need of that.”

Eradan glanced over. “What of you, master Dwarf?”

“Oh, I cannot say much,” laughed Farim, still polishing his axe. “I cannot say I ever took much interest in the subject.” He missed the disbelieving look Eradan shot at him. “There is too much work to spend on such frivolities.” For a moment he paused in thought. “Red hair.” He mused, after a moment, stroking his thick black beard. “But not too much of it, and straight, not tangled. A tall, slim lass of fire and beauty, who can match me blow for blow in the ring, whose eyes are full of life and magic.”

“What color?”

Farim blinked. “What?”

Rolling his eyes, Eradan repeated. “What color are her eyes?”

“Oh… I care not. Green, I suppose.” Farim shrugged and went back to polishing. “It is a matter of no consequence. I cannot say I ever thought any of the womenfolk of my acquaintance particularly attractive.” Holding up his axe critically, he nodded in satisfaction. “I have little time for such matters.”

“Then it seems at least that tale is true.” Both men looked up at Andriel’s sudden comment. There was a light smile on her lips. “That dwarves are only truly married to their work.”

Eradan roared with laughter, and Farim gave a hearty chuckle. “What think you, Lore-Master?” He challenged. “What fair-haired elven princeling would you fancy?”

“Why does everyone assume the elven race is made of nothing but princes and ladies?” Andriel rolled her eyes.

“So not a prince, then.”

“A shame.” Farim shook his head. “I have to say, lass, I rather thought that Elrohir fellow fancied you.”

“I-” Andriel rounded on her two grinning companions. “This entire question is ridiculous.”

“Perhaps she is enamored of smiths,” suggested Eradan, looking to the dwarf. “I have heard that some women are drawn to the musky scent and the hardened skin of a man who works with metal. And she seemed particularly insistent we help that elven smith Angmir with his little gems.”

Farim shook his head. “No, I think not.” he answered, stroking his beard contemplatively. “No, I believe the fair loremaster has her eye on one of the wizards. Gandalf, I wager.”

Eradan, who was in the middle of drinking from his canteen, choked on his water and broke into a coughing fit. The face of Andriel was a study in astounded fury. “Mithrandir… the Istari cannot… I would never… for the love of Earendil, you two, will you cease this infantile little game!” fumed she. “Our quest is of the most dire and immediate importance, and you are…” Words failed her entirely.

“…perhaps… Radagast…” Eradan managed, in between coughs.

“Oh, Valar…” Andriel hid her head in her hands. Finally she looked up. “A warrior.” She said at last. “Not a prince, or a smith, or a wizard, Eru forbid.”

The two others subsided a little, disappointed at the end of their fun. “What kind of warrior?” Eradan asked at length.

“Oh, I know not…” Andriel brushed a strand of red hair out of her face. “A strong, doughty warrior, I suppose. One with courage, bravery, and skill.” She seemed to consider. “Brown eyes. And… dark hair.” She finally admitted. “Of a texture such that I can run my fingers through it. But one who is practical, and used to fighting with his hands.”

The blonde Eradan seemed a little saddened by Andriel’s interest in dark hair, but he nodded nonetheless. “Anything else?” He asked.

“Well, I…” A peculiar look crossed Andriel’s face. She started to say something, stopped, started again, looked down, looked away. “I’ve always been curious about beards.” She confessed at length.

“Beards?”questioned both men, in faint disbelief.

“Can elvish men even grow beards?” Farim looked to Eradan.

Andriel gave a mysterious little smile. “Whoever said I was speaking of elves?”

“Oho!” The men looked at each other significantly.

“Then I have it!” Farim snapped his thick fingers. “What was the name of that Ranger captain of yours, Eradan…”

“Halbarad?”

“Yes! Halbarad! He had a beard, did he not? And dark hair?”

“Pah, Andriel has never paid my kinsman any heed.” Eradan waved the idea away. Leaning closer, he whispered in a clearly audible whisper. “I think our fair loremaster is fascinated with your own beard, comrade.”

“It is a fine specimen.” Farim shrugged modestly, gesturing grandiosely at his chin.

Andriel shook her head. “You two are impossible.” She muttered, rising. “I will keep watch outside the cave until you are ready to make sense.” Seizing her staff, she strode out the rock entrance, red hair waving in her hurry.

Farim nudged Eradan significantly. “Marked you her face? Methinks you ought to let your gallant captain know of the lore-master’s intentions toward him.”

“Perhaps…” Eradan was staring after Andriel with a curious expression. “…Farim, you said a red-headed, tall woman, correct?”

“Without a beard,” nodded Farim sagely, leaning back. “I cannot say I share the lore-master’s fascination with them. Why? What of it?”

After a moments hesitation, Eradan shook his head. “It is of no importance.” He smiled. ” Who can truly guess the intentions of the lore-master? Although…” He pretended to think. “…perhaps you should look more to your dwarven women.”

Farim’s dark head roared with laughter.


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