- How many are in your party?
- 'There are eight of us... well, seven of us, now. In the beginning it was me, and Hestil, and Cúfaron our hunter, and Cuilinn our minstrel. We sought fame and glory and riches, and took on modest quests for even more modest treasure. But the treasures dried up as war approached, and it seemed there were fewer people looking for adventurers-for-hire and more people looking out for their own skins.
- 'Before any of us knew what had happened, we had a lore-master who couldn't stay focused on any single thing for more than ten minutes, a guardian with more bravery than sense, and a warden extolling the virtues of some long-since-fallen city and decrying us our comparative lack of such virtue. And no one to pay us.'
- I see.
- How did you first meet?
- 'There is not much to tell about how we all fell together. I am sure you would not find it interesting.
- 'I saved Hestil's life when we were young. Let us just say she was in over her head and I came to her rescue. I should not have even been on that island, but you cannot see where life will take you. Hestil did not! That whole business with the unpleasant corsair and the leaking ship... I have not thought about it in years. Cuilinn vowed to write a song about it, but he never did, and... well, now he never will. We met Cúfaron that year, I believe, in Ithilien, and he followed us first because he lost a game of knives, if you believe it. After a time he came to respect Hestil, and now he would die for her.
- 'I cannot remember what life was like before I started journeying with these people. Less exciting, I think. But even that memory is hazy now.'
- What happened to Cuilinn?
- 'We were a day north of Cair Andros when we saw our first sign that something was wrong. Orcs were beginning to cross the river in small parties, but there seemed no end to these groups. We tried to move both stealthily and quickly, and paid the price for it: Cúfaron twisted his ankle fiercely, and cried out. Luckily, no Orcs heard the cry. Our minstrel Cuilinn wanted to tend to his friend's hurts. 'No!' we told him, 'wait until we are safe!'
- 'But his concern was so great that he could not wait! It would be his very last song.
- 'We fought off the Orcs, but it was unanimously decided that perhaps Cuilinn should try something less dangerous. He was going to see if the life of a farmer suited him better than that of an adventurer-for-hire. Certainly we may live longer, though we miss him every day.'
- I am sorry.
- Why can't you keep moving north?
- 'Have you seen how many Orcs patrol this land now? They seem to be looking for something, but what it might be I could not say. Perhaps we could sneak our way north, if fortune smiled, but... we cannot go anywhere until we have rescued our guardian.'
- I understand.
- I met Isteron in a cave.
- 'In a cave? You're telling me the truth? Oh, Isteron. I am starting to believe we are never going to leave this place! Should I start building a house right here on the shore of the river?'
- I would not.
- Maedal works to free your guardian.
- 'Well, that's something, at least. I was beginning to think she had vanished too.'
- She has not.