Baldor had hoped that the three guards he’d hired would work out, and to his great relief they certainly had. After being hassled by a group the day before, and turning away some who obviously were not up to the task, he went with his gut and accepted their admittedly thin resumes and hired them for the full price. The only snag, however minor, was the older man’s odd insistence on bringing so many books, which he simply could not allow. How someone traveled from the South with such luggage was beyond him.
Their first day out had been uneventful, and even pleasant, given the weather and conversation. and he and Belgo had fallen asleep well, confident that the night would pass without event.
Unfortunately, it did not. That Tristall, or whatever his name was, had decided to try to ambush him after he’d refused the work offer – the very pushy work offer – of him and his band of road-weary slobs, was insulting. These days since Smaug’s death were both full of hope and sadness: so many opportunities were there to build and grow and do good, and yet some saw only a change to get ahead by breaking and taking.
But his new guards proved themselves not only far more capable than he’d hoped, but also decent and merciful, and in a way that honored the justice the thugs deserved. Chasing one off and capturing the other two, the determined to hand them over to the Elves, whose name and favor the scum had deceptively, and stupidly, invoked in an attempt to save themselves.
Lindar, as Baldor knew, did not recognize them and had never heard of them. Their punishment would not be cruel, but it would be long, and it was unlikely that those three would ever trouble anyone on the roads again.
His guards also made a good impression on the elves, who surprised Baldor by offering more than the basic food and water they did for visitors of humble standing. And while they were not offered entry into the inner halls, where Baldor and Belgo were again welcomed, that they were given such freedom around the grotto was impressive. Baldor again felt grateful to have hired this crew.
Two nights later, after excellent rest ensured by Elven protection, the band of five was delivered to a forest grove, wherefrom they could start on their way westward, taking the Elf Path through northern Mirkwood. Some 120 miles distant was the Forest Gate, and beyond it settlements, customers, and profit. And for the Beorning, a chance to see home.
“Stay on the path, no matter what you see or hear,” was Lindar’s parting statement, given with a curt nod. He had impressed upon Beldar the importance of this rule the night before, and reminded him and the rest of them of it now, as they began their long journey. The sun shined brightly through the boughs, breaking through the morning chill and giving all present a sense of hope and optimism as they started, slowly, down the ancient path, trundling over ruts and bumps that had felt the wheels, hooves, and feet of so many, for so many years.