I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but this duology is padded as fuck. It has one novel's worth of plot, spread thin over two novels. And this chapter shows why - it's a whole chapter of people talking about the Wobbits leaving. They don't even get ready for it or anything. They just TALK ABOUT IT.
"But Tip," protested Beau, "didn't you hear what I said back at the mill? It's much too dangerous to travel east. Drearwood lies that way . . . and the Grimwall."
"And they have giant spiders and hostile wood-elves and a dragon in a lonely mountain… wait, wrong book."
So Tip brushes aside Beau's protests, pointing out that if all these people died fighting over the damn coin, it means that the mission was probably important. Beau thinks it wasn't, and insists that hey, they're almost certainly gonna die if they go.
"Even well-armed caravans have problems getting through Drearwood. But a lone Warrow . .. ?"
"Well, duh, Beau. Haven't you seen Lord of the Rings?"
"I mean, you've got to sleep sometime, and then what?"
… then he'd be asleep? You haven't mentioned how the Drearwood is actually dangerous, you know. Or should we just assume that it's exactly like Mirkwood?
He also is scared of going near the Grimwall which is apparently a mountain range, but it's not specified. Also, apparently you can't travel through the Grimwall during the winter… which seems like an odd thing for the main characters to know, since allegedly they don't go anywhere near the damn things.
But Tip will not be dissuaded! So what if they're going all by themselves with no actual idea where they're going? So what if they are heading into dangerous territory during a WAR? So what if they have absolutely no chance of getting through the mountains until spring? He's gonna deliver that coin to Agron, dammit, whoever or whatever that is!
"Our duty lies there. We can't forgo the muster here in Twoforks and the march to that far hill."
"Oh yeah? You just watch me!"
"TIP, COME BACK!"
"Look, Beau, if six Kingsmen died trying to deliver this coin to Agron, then it must be something that desperately needs doing. It's not that I don't want to join the muster, but"
"I'm a bleeder. And I can't stand pain. I mean, this coin totally needs to be delivered!"
"one more archer among many will mean little."
Tell that to Legolas and Hawkeye.
Tip points out that on the other hand, they'll need Beau's medical skills. I'm not fooled. He's already been established as the sidekick, so he's coming with Tip.
"But the coin may not mean a thing at all, except to the dead man," objected Beau. "And besides, we don't even know who or what an Agron is. I mean, to what or whom are you going to deliver it?"
This is one of the biggest facepalmers of this plot.
The entire quest is completely unfocused. Our heroes don't know where they're going, who they're supposed to meet, how they can get this information, or even whether the vaguely ringlike coin is even important. In fact, does it even count as a quest when the heroes don't have anything more concrete to do than "go east"?
Tip asks the mayor if anyone knows about Agron, and is told that nobody in this tiny village has a clue. Tip's brilliant plan: "I'll just have to find someone in the east who does know." YOU ARE A DUMBASS. And your poor decision-making skills are making Frodo cry!
Tessa looked toward Beau—"You have the right of it, wee one: traveling eastward is dangerous"—and then she turned to Tip—"Yet, as you say, Tipperton, this mission, it may desperately need doing."
You are not helping, lady. Agreeing with everybody just makes you look like a fence-sitter.
She also wants to see the coin, so Tip lets everybody see it. And then the mayor announces that "But as far as letting you miss the muster ... well now, I've been thinking it over and I'm going to need runners in my Twoforks army—"
… uh, what's a runner?
Beau's ego gets a nasty blow when Prell announces that he's got two other people who can handle the injuries, meaning that Beau is kind of superfluous and can be dispatched as the official sidekick now. They're just starting to get into an argument when Arth comes running in after being delayed for hours. The reason? The horse slipped on an icy rock. Wow. That was lame.
And what news does Arth have?
"Wilderhill is taken and Beacontor destroyed, Father—"
Uh… didn't we just see the signal fire there earlier in the day?! The forces of evil are efficient!
So the Rucks and Hloks have wrecked the entire area, which for some reason enrages the locals more than a bunch of innocent men being slaughtered.
"Hush, everyone," called Tessa, bung mallet in hand.
That sounds like a kinky sex toy.
"She's right, lad," said Prell, glancing at the 6thers. "Go on. Tell us all. We'll hold our questions till you're done."
"No, no," called Tessa, now at the blazing hearth, pulling a glowing poker from the coals and flame, "not yet, Arth. You wait till I'm there."
Moments later, wreathed in spicy aroma, Tessa came to the table, bearing a trayful of mugs of mulled wine. Passing the mugs about, Tessa sat and took a cup for herself, then fixed Arth with an eye and said, "Now. Tell us."
Arth took a deep breath. "Two nights past, a band of Foul Folk crept upon Beacontor. There were only two watchmen at the time—a man and his nephew . .."—Arth frowned in concentration—"yes. Jorn and Aulf, those were their names, Aulf a year or two younger than me—sixteen summers or so. They were alone, there on the hill, them and a single mule, waiting for others to come all the way from Stonehill.
"Regardless, in the night, in the hours before dawn, the Spawn came sneaking, a great lot of them, forty or so. But the nephew heard them coming and he and the uncle—a veteran, they say, of the Jillians—they got away unscathed.
"They made their way across to Northtor and to the top and watched to see what the Foul Folk were up to. And in the moonlight the Rucks and such took sledgehammers and iron rods to the watchtower and began to break the walls. By mid-morn they brought it crashing down. Then they started on the cotes, ripping off thatch and breaking those walls as well, ' though they set three aside for their barracks and these they spared." Arth turned to his sire. "That's all that's left, Father: three cotes and the stables, and the low ringwall all 'round."
Prell shook his head and glanced at the others, resignation and rue in his gaze. "Go on, son."
Arth paused to take a pull on his mulled wine, but none else at the table said aught. Setting his mug down, Arth continued:
"Jorn and Aulf then discovered that a beacon fire north was burning—not the next one at Wilderhill, but the one beyond that—the one on the Weiuncrest.
"They knew that none of us down here could see the muster call, and they knew that they needed somehow to recapture Beacontor and light the balefire—"
Beau's eyes flew wide. "Two against forty?" he blurted, then clapped his hand across his mouth.
Arth nodded. "Aye. Two against forty. They waited until nightfall and beyond, coming back to Beacontor and lying low until the wee hours. And then they slew the ones they found on watch, and crept into the cotes where the weary Rucks and Hloks now slept, and in the dark and in silence they began cutting throats, their hands held tight across mouths that might scream."
Shuddering, Tip looked at grimacing Beau as Arth paused for another drink of spiced wine, and no one spoke a word.
Again Arth set his mug down. "But before they were done with the slaughter, they were discovered by a sentry they had missed, and the few remaining Spawn came awake.
"The nephew was killed, as were the Spawn, but the man survived and lit the fire—a funeral pyre for Aulf, a balefire for us." Arth looked at his sire. "And, Father, war has come, and we're all to report to Stonehill, and then march to aid the High King."
"Oh, my," breathed Tessa.
"War?" barked Gaman. "With who? Who's behind this bloody mess?"
"They didn't say," replied Arth. "Foul Folk, I suppose. Oh, they did find a standard of red on black."
"Like this?" said Beau, fishing out the banner from 'neath his jerkin.
"Aye," said Arth, his eyes wide. "Where did you get it?"
"Took it from beneath a dead Ruck," replied Beau, passing the flag into Tessa's outstretched hands. As the elders and Arth examined the banner, Beau turned to Tip. "Well, I think this sets one problem to rights: I mean, given that they found one of these standards at Beacontor, I would think it wasn't the dead Kingsman's out at the mill but a device of the Spawn instead."
Tip nodded. "I don't suppose it belonged to those standing ward atop Beacontor—Jorn and Aulf. No, not likely."
As Arth examined the banner, he looked at his sire. "Whose sigil is it, Father?"
Prell shook his head. "I don't know, but surely we'll find out when we get to Stonehill."
"Stonehill!" exclaimed Trake, taking up the scroll and unbinding it and rolling it out and placing the stone weights at the four corners to hold it open. It was a map, and he measured distances using his thumb. "W,hy, that's a hundred miles or more to the west—thirty-five leagues at least. I don't like this one bit, this going off to fight in foreign parts. Going to Beacontor is bad enough, but now all the way to Stonehill?"
Handing the flag back to Beau, Arth nodded, then added, "And then beyond."
"To wherever the High King—" began Prell, but Gaman broke in:
"Say, just how do you know we're to report to Stonehill?"
"Huah!" Tessa barked. "What do you mean we, Gaman? Like me and the rest of us ancients, you're not going to report anywhere. Your fighting days are long past, and neither you nor I nor Trake here nor anyone else of our age should get in the way and be a burden to those able to do the fighting."
Gaman bristled at her words, yet said nothing in return. But Trake held up a finger. "What you say is true, Tessa, yet Gaman's question nonetheless needs answering." The oldster turned to Arth. "Tell me, lad, just how do you know we, er, rather, the muster needs to march off to Stonehill?"
"Because, Mr. Trake, just after dawn a squad of men came to stand duty on Beacontor, and they carried the word."
"Just after dawn?" said Beau. "This morning, you mean?"
At Arth's nod, Beau's face fell. "Oh, my. If they'd just been a day or two sooner, they could have helped Jorn and his nephew, and perhaps Aulf would still be alive."
' "Then again, perhaps not," said Prell. "I mean, had the others been there, likely they would have stood and fought. And a small squad against forty Spawn in open combat. . . well, who knows what might have happened."
Beau shrugged. "Who can say, since it didn't happen? Regardless, what now?"
Prell's eyes narrowed. "Tonight we rest, and tomorrow we'll set off for Stonehill."
Tipperton shook his head. "You are forgetting one thing, Mayor."
"Oh? And what's that?"
"At my mill the tracks of a large force of Foul Folk headed west over the Wilder and toward the Dellin Downs." Tip stood in his chair and pointed at the map. "If their tactics hold true, I suspect that they've gone to the hills to capture one of the beacon knolls to stop the signal from going on down into Harth and beyond."
"Adon, but you're right," gritted Prell, gazing at the chart. "And if they break the chain of balefires—"
"Then no one south will be warned—" interjected Tessa, stabbing her finger down to the parchment.
"And they'll be taken unawares if the fighting comes south," added Gaman.
Prell looked at Tipperton, surprise in his eye, for clearly he did not expect someone no bigger than a five- or six-year-old child to think of it. "You've put your finger on a problem, all right, yet I reck' we can do something about it." He turned to Arth and clapped him on the shoulder. "Well done, lad, well done. But even though you're tired, I've another task for you. The men are mustering at the stables. I want you to go there and tell them what you found out—they'll want to know. Then bid the squad leaders to come back to the Fox—we've some planning to do. Then go home and get a good meal and some rest, for tomorrow we march."
Arth grinned and said, "Yes sir," and stood and swigged the last of his wine. Snatching up his cloak, he nodded to the others and stepped to the door and out.
"What about the Spawn in the Dellins?" asked Beau, that Warrow also standing in his chair to see the map.
"That's why I've asked the squad leaders to come back to the Fox," replied Prell, '"cause if the miller is right and the Spawn have taken one of the beacon hills in the downs, well then, it's got to be taken back. And so"—his finger traced a route across the map—"I'm thinking we'll follow their track into the downs and deal with whatever we find, and make certain the signal gets through so that other musters take place. Then and only then will we press on to Stonehill."
"Not me," said Tip stubbornly, his eyes fixed on the map. "I'm heading east."
"Oh, my." Beau shook his head.
"Look, Beau, I intend to carry out the Kingsman's last wish and find this Agron—whoever or whatever he or she or it may be—and deliver the coin." "But the muster—" "Don't you see, Beau, there's more to it now than just the Twoforks muster? I mean, you heard it right here: war has started and the High King is calling for all to aid." Tip turned to Prell. "You said it yourself, Mayor: it's vital that the war signals get through, the warning sounded, and other musters take place, not only south along the Dellins but everywhere else as well—and that includes the east. And that's what the dead man told me: 'Go east, warn all.' I mean, if war has begun, then all must be set on alert."
As Prell frowned, Beau's face fell, and he said, "But, Tip, there's nothing to the east but peril."
"Not true, wee one," said Tessa. "To the east, somewhere beyond Arden Ford they say Elves live"—her forefinger stabbed the map—"somewhere here between Drearwood and the Grimwall."
Tip's eyes widened. "I say, that's right, Miss Tessa. And someone out at the mill said Agron does sound like an Elvish name. Perhaps that's who the coin is intended for."
Beau held up a hand. "But someone also said that to his ear Agron sounded Dwarvish, and I know of no Dwarves living to the east—"
" 'Cept those they say what live beyond the Grimwall," interjected Gaman. "South, now, that's a different matter, what with the Black Hole and the Red Hills and all. Are you certain, Tipperton, the man who gave you the coin and told you to warn all said to go east?"
At Tip's confirming nod, Tessa said, "Regardless, even if half of what I hear of Elves is true—what with their knowledge and all—if you do reach them with the warning ' and tell them of the call to arms, they in turn should be able to tell you just who or what or where an Agron is as well as who flies a black banner bearing a ring of fire."
At her words, Prell seemed to come to a conclusion. He turned to Tipperton. "As you pointed out, miller, I said it myself: the warning must go through. And since none of the Kingsmen themselves survived to carry the tidings on eastward, it's a task someone else must take on. But just who should go in their stead—"
"Huah!" Tessa burst out. "Come, come, Prell, I can think of no one who can move as quietly, as stealthily as a Warrow; and so I ask you, who better to sneak past the foe?"