The sounds of flipped pages echoed through the cold library of the Wisebeard home. Through narrow aisles of books, past the glass panels shielding precious tomes and scriptures; sat the small hobbit figure of Balamor. He was a stocky man, wearing brown robes which draped from his shoulders to the tips of his furry feet. His short frame sat hunched over an open book lying amongst others – scattered across a small wooden table – as it had been for hours.
Balamor stared intensely at the leather bound book below him, his finger tracing each line as he read on. Frequently he would turn to a thin notebook and write his findings down. Everything but the pages he turned stood motionless; the stale smell of paper filled the air, lingering along with the dust.
Under curly locks of brown hair his eyes were a steel blue sunken below a bushy brow. A short round nose fell between them. The line of his mouth was drawn between thick mutton chops outlining his square jaw. He paused and gazed into thought, rubbing his chin for a moment, his surroundings blurred out of focus. Quickly snapping back, he began rummaging through various texts on the table, plucking out an old parchment scroll, he started to unroll it carefully.
The light from the lantern beside him revealed a large map as Balamor began to scan the lines of roads and rivers mentioned in the book. The book was worn with time and use. The leather faded and ripped in spots, rings of coffee or tea stained its pages. The text was ornate in style, but smudged in spots, sometimes causing Balamor to fill in the blanks. The author labeled himself as The Fourth Valorhorn he traveled the lands of the south documenting his experiences in this book. There was one in particular that interested Balamor the most, the wanderer traveled to a place he called “Nature's Graveyard".
From his experiences, he described the land as a tormented forest which he would dread to revisit, writing that anything within its bounds would be swallowed up by the earth if left alone for too long. As Balamor traced the map, the details faded into a large blank spot. Although the Valorhorn went into great detail of the events that took place during his travel, his documents of directions fell short once he entered a place called the “Forest of Nim". The only clue he gave to Balamor was that within this forest there was a tree which guided the unknown wanderer to his destination - the Mog Brush.
Within moments his finger retraced a wide road and thudded, pinning the map to the table; a map he hoped he could add to on his journey. He pointed to the only place he knew he must travel, the Greatstone Pass. The pass was traveled by many merchants of the southern kingdoms. But many others came to the pass for its legend.
It was famous for its gigantic stones inlaid into the Earth. Some claimed giants laid these enormous cobble stones in ancient times. But nowadays the route was one of the busiest in the south for it led to the Great kingdom of Anstia. A good deal of valuables came through this pass, and Balamor knew anywhere coin traveled, highwaymen were one step ahead.
This of course meant trouble if he were by himself on such a road in the nighttime. He wouldn't stand a chance against more than one of them by himself, and they never traveled alone. Any chances of him finding another hobbit who would travel far beyond the Raehl were dim. The hobbits lived in solitude amongst the other races of man.
They had their own way of doing everything, especially because of their small size. But the one thing hobbits avoided the most was traveling outside their villages. He had no choice, if he wanted to complete his map, he would have to do it alone and carefully as possible. Travel at night would be avoided at all costs.
With that he shut the old leather book which now read Sacred Lands, By the Fourth Valorhorn as he stacked it beside several other books. He looked at the map once more, nodding quickly and rolling it back to its original state. Turning to fetch his bag from his back, he stuffed the scroll into a cylinder case and beside it his notebook. He tied off his pack and returned it amongst his shoulders and carried the stack of books to their places on the shelves.
As he filled the gaps in the bookcases, he came to the last book when its neighbor caught his attention. It was a thick leather bound book labeled on its spine Runes and Rune Words. Balamor flipped through its pages, when something strange caught his attention. The page had on it a familiar symbol, three dots in the shape of a triangle. Without further investigation, the book was put into his leather pack as he started for the door.
The heavy door stood ajar before crashing against the stone wall as Balamor walked into the warmth of the kitchen. His father Barris was standing at a pot belly stove cooking a meal for the two of them. His body was slightly taller and much sturdier than Balamor. He wore an apron over his red shirt rolled at the elbows, below it he had thick black pants which tapered off at his ankles. His face was hardened and strict, wrinkled with age. Beneath his thick brow were deep green eyes. Most of his face was covered by a dark red beard which hung to his collar.
Their relationship was strong even though they come from different blood. Balamor’s biological father was a fine bridge builder. However, he was unlucky one day while constructing the rope bridge which led to the Raehl. He lost his footing and fell into the waters of the Faric along with two other men.
Balamor was only a baby when Barris Oakfoot took him and his mother under his wing. Growing up, Barris was his father, even after the death of his mother Liya. Barris took care of him as if he were his own child. Although his demeanor appeared to be intimidating at times, his voice was humble and comforting as he spoke.
“Done with your studies for the night I see?” Balamor nodded as he stretched his small frame. “What is it that had you down there so long?” His father added. Balamor yawned and replied
“I was looking through some old history books is all.”
He and his father had talked a few days before about Balamor’s trade as a map maker. They agreed that he must travel to learn more about the lands if he wanted to craft accurate maps. Although Barris would rather have his only son follow his own trade of carpentry, he was convinced by Balamor’s grandfather Farjadis to let Balamor find his own trade.
It was when he reached his adult years that his interest in cartography grew from a hobby to a passion. It was an odd trade to take up as a hobbit, but it spawned from his time in the library as a child. Before his mother Liya had passed she would take him down to the library sometimes for hours, and teach him about the books and scriptures. He learned to read and write at the age of four, and began drawing maps of his village the Raehl. His interest in the trade eventually led him to making a map of the entire Southland.
His father wasn’t pleased with the idea of a hobbit traveling further than a few miles outside the Raehl. But he knew it would happen eventually whether he agreed to it or not, and Farjadis would have changed his mind on the whole matter anyway. As good of a father Barris was to Balamor, the judgment of Balamor’s only remaining blood far surpassed his own. The tense eyes of Barris studied Balamor a moment, trying to find anything beneath his vague response. He turned to the stove and continued cooking as Balamor left the kitchen silently, walking only a few feet before his father yelled out to him.
“Supper will be ready soon Balamor, you should eat. An empty stomach won’t do you any good."
Balamor replied down the hallway “I will join you shortly!"
He proceeded down a wide tunnel-like hallway, the supports bowed to the round structure of the hobbit home. The doors he passed were of heavy oak cut into circles, each fastened to the wall by a large metal hinge. As he neared the end of the hallway he drifted to the left and reached for the door to his room.
His hand came from beneath the long sleeves of his robes and wrenched the door open. Stepping in quickly, Balamor shoved the door closed. He stood within his small bedroom, its walls studded with wooden lathe which met a polished oak floor. Its surface was covered by a green throw rug, which lay pinned under various furniture. His small bed was up against the only flat wall in his room. The others were angled to fit the shape of the hillside the home dug into.
Adjacent to his bed a hole cut for a window poked through the slats of wood, faintly revealing his village the Raehl. A crack of thunder jolted through the air, muffled by the glass and the sound of rain crashing against his window. Balamor threw his pack onto his bed, and searched its contents for the book he had taken from the library. Snatching it from the leather bag, the book was thick, its hard cover upholstered with red cloth which shimmered in the light.
Its label was stamped into a leather spine, Runes and Rune Words. He flipped through the pages until he found the symbol from before. He moved to his feet with the book nestled in his right arm and walked to the desk which stood by the window. Pulling back the drawer he revealed a random assortment of stones, a silver flask, and various writing utensils. He started to browse through the stones; each had a symbol etched into its surface. His hands shifted through the stones, glancing back at the symbol in the book each time.
Ten of them nearly filled his drawer. Finally he held the matching stone in his palm, referring to the book for more information. He concluded that the symbol was unknown to the author of the book as well. The only information he could draw from the text was that this symbol was a rune word, which belonged to an ancient language. He learned that this symbol – as well as many others unknown to him – was transferred onto different objects. They were called “runes”, Balamor recognized the terminology, but nothing more, and so he read on.
These runes were said to be tools used to channel energy into different forms. It was unknown how this was done, the book claimed. Using common tongue to activate these runewords has proven to be unsuccessful. He flipped the pages of book, passing by pictures of other symbols contained within different shapes and materials. The book stated that they seemed to play a role in its function.
He found himself reading over different stories of where the runes had been discovered. For the most part these ancient items resided within the treacherous mountains of the north, somewhere he would not yet venture. As he learned more about runes he began to question the ten he had in front of him. In fact, he had more than the book itself, which left him with more questions unanswered. His mind fell back to the journey he prepared for; he began to wonder if these runes were somehow connected to the Mog Brush.
Before he could contemplate his thoughts further, the voice of his father caught his ear, “Come eat before it's cold!” Balamor returned the rune to his drawer, shutting it softly. The book was closed and set atop the desk before he left to join his father. His hairy feet thudded against the floorboards as he advanced down the hall. Barris was seated at a small table in the center of the dining room consuming his food. Balamor gathered his robes and plopped himself on the chair across from him.
Drifting up to his nose was the smell of the meal his father prepared. He looked down at his plate, two pork chops sat amongst a baked potato surrounded by an assortment of steamed vegetables. He reached for the cup of tea to his left, now realizing he hadn't had a drink for hours. The cup returned to the table quickly and Balamor grabbed his fork and knife. Within minutes he was finished the delicious meal and helping himself to a second plate.
Barris had become quite good at cooking over the years. It wasn’t a very big interest of his, but a duty nonetheless. Chances of Balamor cooking a palatable meal were frightening enough to have Barris hone his own skill. The two ate their food in silence for the most part. His father wasn’t one to talk in any case, only saying what he did when the time demanded it. Balamor shared this trait with his father, but he was much less charismatic when he did choose to speak. He was a thinker, and on his mind now, was he plan to leave the Raehl.
It was something his father knew nothing about, and for his sake Balamor wanted to keep it that way. If he were to find out where he was traveling to, his father would insist he not go alone, delaying his travel further, which wasn't an option. It was a risky decision to leave without telling his father before, rather than after. But he knew that risks needed to be taken, even as a hobbit. As his fork jabbed at the greens on his plate he wondered when he would return home, when he would eat another home cooked meal. He would have to wait for answers to such questions, right now what mattered was how he would evade his father.
He would have to leave at sunrise before his father awoke to work at the mill. If he could leave by then, he could be making his way down the Faric during the early day. He wanted to speak with his grandfather about the runes before he left the Raehl, hoping he could provide the answers which the red book could not. He finished his second helping quietly and began cleaning up when his father looked up at him.
"Make sure you're up early, I need your help at the mill."
He handed Balamor his dishes after pushing in his chair before vanishing beyond the light of the lantern on the table. Balamor washed the dishes, quickly snuffed the flame of the lantern and made his way to his room. He grabbed his pack from his bed and fetched his notebook. Sitting down before opening his drawer slowly, he copied the symbols of his runes into his notebook one by one.
After finishing his sketches he shut the drawer and returned the notebook to his pack, placing it on the desk. He knew there wasn’t a chance he would leave tonight as he shook his head in disappointment. He stood his back straight as he gave out a sigh and lunged himself to his bed, asleep within minutes.
The sun pierced Balamor’s sleepy eyes as he fixed himself a cup of tea the next morning. He started for the front door, trying to keep his tea from spilling as he walked. The short circular door swung open as Balamor stepped out to breathe the morning air.
He stood atop a wooden porch which rose a foot off the ground. It covered the front of the Wisebeard home; thick floorboards were cut to make a semi-circle. A roof stood five feet high posted on oak beams, each one carved by the hands of Barris Oakfoot. He took pride in his work, but his modesty kept him from boasting.
He stood quietly on the porch front beside his son. His brow lowered in anger, his nostrils flared with heavy breaths. The storm the night before caused him to change his plans to teach his son. His patience broke in a fit of rage.
"It's always something! Now the town needs to be rebuilt and the saw mill is destroyed! Great, just great!" He rambled on as Balamor sipped his tea trying to grip with the situation.
"What a storm huh? Surprised I slept through it." was Balamor's reply.
Ignoring his comment, Barris turned to the door and stormed inside.
Balamor observed the Raehl as he wiped the sleep from his eyes. The village was a small but highly organized community. Hobbit holes poked through the small hillsides dotting thin dirt roads. Each hole seemingly the same as the next. Some of them with porches and others with lush gardens. Although the storm had damaged the village structures, the hobbit spirit and sense of the community was strong.
It wasn’t because of the destruction that they were a close-knit people, that trait was there even in the most mundane times. He gazed at his people fixing the village, always in large groups but performing as one. Just off to the left he watched six men who were reconstructing the roof to a porch.
Three of them stacked atop their shoulders from the ground to the rooftop, where a fourth was perched; each of them performing a separate task. The man on the bottom was the heftiest of the three; he held a bucket of nails in his left hand and a small hammer in his right. His job, position the beam correctly and nail it to the foundation of the porch. The man above him was working a chisel into the beam staying with it as it swayed to and fro. Little taps of his hammer carved out a design similar to the one on Balamor’s own porch.
The third man was working with the fourth atop the roof. He too carried a hammer and nails, finishing off the work of the other two as he anchored the roof to its rafters. As the four men worked systematically from stud to stud, two others off to the left were sizing and cutting lumber. Barris swung the front door open and quickly joined the two men pointing out mistakes and taking new measurements. He mumbled orders to the two men as he began checking the quality of the wood.
Balamor soon realized just about every hobbit in the village spare himself had been helping. He felt the distance between himself and his people grow, understanding now that he wasn’t leaving solely to finish his map. He didn’t fit in here, not because he lacked the necessary skills, but his purpose was for something bigger than his small town. His tea was almost gone when he walked off his porch and onto the dirt path. He had to see his grandfather, especially when his father was preoccupied.
He guided himself down the dirt road as the morning sun now greeted the entire town with its presence. The sky above was a clear blue, clouds in thin streaks traveled further south. The feeling of freshness was in the air; although the town suffered, the plant life was given its gift of rain, and now the light from the sun. He turned on to a smaller trail which led to his grandfather’s house. He approached the steps of the green porch front when he heard the voice of Farjadis Wisebeard.
“Balamor! Good to see you’re still alive after all this. The men just finished fixing the porch a few moments ago.” He was rocking in his chair on the porch with a book in hand and a pipe at his mouth.
His face was old at its surface, showing the time he had spent on Earth. His eyes were just as Balamor’s, yet squinted with age. And a long nose hung from his brow, dipping to the start of a long gray beard. He wore a brown vest above his shirt, and thin trousers flowed to his ankles. He was a jolly old man with more wisdom than anyone Balamor knew. Every time he spoke, it could be taken as advice.
“So your father told me you want to travel outside the Raehl, he wasn’t happy with the idea, but he wouldn’t understand. A Wisebeard is no hermit, even your true father traveled the land, and you must do the same!” He jerked his hand forward as the words escaped his mouth amongst a thick smoke.
Balamor was confused by his words, “But I thought my father was a bridge builder who lived here in the Raehl?” his small frame planted itself across from the old hobbit. “Why would a bridge builder travel the lands anyway?” he added.
He puffed on his pipe, shutting the book in his lap softly. “You’re right; he did live here in the Raehl. And he was a fine bridge builder indeed. But he traveled as well, taking his trade with him across the lands.” His leg moved from his lap to the floorboards as he leaned forward. “Every Wisebeard must travel and learn as much as he can. Our blood is special Balamor, only you can prove that.”
The old Wisebeard believed in the boy, he had too. It was his duty to keep his bloodline alive, and Balamor was the only chance he had. His own son was gone for over a decade now. He never did learn what fated him after being swept away by the Faric. But dwelling on the thought further only saddened him. He was burdened with this responsibility after his time in Delsis, after his last words with the mystic Gantis.
He demanded Farjadis to retreat to the Raehl for there was a chance he would’ve been sought out in his homeland. If he had failed at this, his bloodline would have been lost. Gantis told him more than his own fate depended on hiding the existence of the Wisebeards, and saving the bloodline.
But he was done with hiding, he knew the purpose of being a Wisebeard, and not even he had the chance to live up to it. Balamor was the only option, even if he was far from being as great as his ancestors; time was wasting away at the opportunity. His grandfather nudged Balamor as a child to read books and spend time in the library. Hoping one day he would discover the true purpose of their bloodline.
The young cartographer sat quietly in his chair slightly rocking himself and his thoughts. Farjadis studied him, waiting for something from his grandson. Balamor peeked up as he felt himself being watched. Then suddenly he remembered what he had come for and reached for his pack. Pulling it to his lap, he searched its contents until he found his rune and the red book. He pulled the items from the bag and began to speak.
“I came here to ask you something, do you know anything about runes and rune words?” As he displayed the book and the stone to his grandfather, one eye rose in curiosity, and the old man replied.
“Ah, just what I was hoping you would ask next, let me see here.” He smiled and nodded as he put his glasses on. “So I see you’ve been reading? What is it you would like to know?”
Balamor quickly summarized what he found in the book the day before, explaining how the symbols might be words from an ancient time, how he couldn’t find any source which translated them, and how they might have even been used to do magic. The old man nodded along silently listening to his grandson. Finally the nervous hobbit’s question came forth.
“I was...trying to figure out what this rune is for and if it might be useful to me on my travels” he searched his grandfather’s eyes for any sign of an answer.
“Well, where is it you plan to travel?” Farjadis replied with a half smile on his face.
Balamor was reluctant to tell him, but the old man’s eyes seemed to already know what he was about to say. He fumbled his words trying to piece them together.
“I was...you said a Wisebeard should travel and learn as much as he can.”
He fetched his map from its case and unrolled it slowly.
“Well, I would like to go here.”
His finger landed amongst the uncharted land; a blank spot on the map. Farjadis sat quietly, his wooden pipe hung from his lips down to his boney fingers.
“An interesting place indeed” he paused for a moment, taking a drag of his tobacco.
“Going there by yourself is dangerous, but you understand risks must be taken Balamor. I met a man who traveled there once; he called himself The Fourth Valorhorn. He said the Mog Brush is a very...sacred land”
Balamor sat quietly; an unbroken stare grew wide, and his mouth agape, lost at the sound of the ambiguous name. If Farjadis met the man who wrote the Sacred Lands, then surely that’s how the book found its way amongst the shelves of the Wisebeard library. His eyes drifted to the floor as he began to ask himself where the other texts had come from.
Suddenly he remembered there being very strange books which filled whole sections of the old library. Everything about them seemed out of place, their spines were empty, and some of their covers had symbols on them, which he now realized were runewords. But the pages had all been blank, not a word written on them. His thoughts escaped his mouth almost accidently.
“There’s...something else” he hesitated, “In the library I stumbled upon some...well, some very strange books. I have no clue what they are for. But some of these rune words were on their covers and I don’t—”
The jovial laugh of his grandfather interrupted him. The Wisebeard puffed his pipe once more as the silence hung over them. Their pale eyes met in a plume of smoke, blanketing their familiar features as the old hobbit spoke.
He reached down to the basket beside him, retrieving a thin book. Flipping the 6 pages between the covers as he continued,
“This was one of my own ya know? A favorite you could say. A mystic named Gantis Jacs gave this to me; you were only an infant at the time. I think it’s time you held onto it.”
He handed the old book to his grandson as he smiled.
The book was just as he described the others, but there was a detail he hadn't seen before. He studied the thin book; dark brown leather was stretched around a hardback. On it he found no trace of runewords, but instead six words which resembled common tongue sat at the bottom of the front cover. Each one separated by a dash,
Tyel - Aer - Hels - Theas - Maur - Firos.
Another piece to the puzzle he thought to himself as he flipped through the empty pages, each uneven in size and shape. He didn’t know how this could be used but he didn’t question the gift his grandfather gave him.
Rocking back in his chair, the old man felt a great weight leave his shoulders. It had finally been done; the book was held by the last heir of Wisebeards. What concerned him now was what life had in store for the destined hobbit. He didn’t yet know the truth about his surname, but his grandfather knew it was something only he could figure out. Balamor shoved the book into his pack, thinking deeply about its purpose. He knew it was far more incredible than its size made it out to be. Hopefully his journey would provide him with the answers to unlock the secrets of the runes.
Balamor suddenly realized he never got what he came for in the first place as he glanced at his grandfather. Looking down at his hand, he grasped the square stone rune, a triangle of three dots carved into its surface. Hoping Farjadis might know more about it, he lifted his head quickly, “But what of this rune? How will it help me on my journey to the Mog Brush?”
The old man leaned over to him; his gray beard shrouded the smirk on his face.
“It will guide the way when you need protection.”
The sun towered high above the Raehl now, and the work on the village seemed nearly complete. Balamor and his grandfather sat in silence for a moment before a deep voice yelled out,
“Balamor! Hiding with your grandfather I see!”
The stout figure of Barris Oakfoot was strolling down the dirt path towards the porch. Farjadis glanced over at him before returning to the young hobbit who was studying the rune.
Before the chance was gone he grabbed his attention.
"Before the sunrise.”
Balamor replied with a sharp look into his grandfather’s eyes, no more words were spoken as he stuffed the map and the rune into his pack. Standing to his feet he marched down the porch stairs, saying goodbye to his grandfather. He walked the path until he met Barris who turned away from the house and headed to their own.
The summer sun beat down on their backs as their furry feet thudded the earth below. His father observed without a word said. He watched the young Balamor walking in small strides beside him. His lithe figure partially revealed as gusts of wind splashed against his robes. He wasn’t as sturdy as Barris had hoped, especially if his son were to take up woodworking.
But Balamor was still very young; he turned over twenty years next fall which was nearly half the age of Barris. With time he could become just as good as his father. But time was what concerned Barris. How much longer would his son be here in the Raehl? Shaking the thought away he walked up the stairs to his home exhausted from a day’s work.
The moon slid past the horizon when Balamor was standing at the wooden countertop preparing rations for his journey. He decided he would take what he could without leaving his father with an empty pantry. There wasn’t much to begin with but he crammed his bag with a loaf of bread, cold cuts and various raw vegetables. It wasn’t his father’s cooking, but it would have to suffice.Balamor ran over what his grandfather had told him about the square rune that day as he was lying in his bed, he realized it wasn’t an answer at all, but a riddle which he had no obvious solution. The thought lingered within his mind until his eyes became heavy, and he was fast asleep.