Far ahead of his companions, Joeshan continued to slink through the shadows as he scouted the path ahead. His particular set of skills, as well as his many years of experience, made him the prime candidate for detecting and removing any potential traps.
Though he would rather be sitting in the comfort his his home, resting before a cozy fire and telling stories to his nieces and nephews, he loved the thrill that his ‘hobby’ gave him even more.
Joeshan was a hobbit, proud and true, but he was also a ‘collector’ of unusual things. It was never so much about the value of the item. Nor was it about any unusual properties that said item might or might not have. He didn’t care about the history of the item; it didn’t matter to him if it was blessed or cursed . What he lived for was the acquiring of said item.
Oh yes, Joeshan was a hobbit through and through, but there was something wrong, deep inside of him. Something was broken. Rather than staying home, in the safety of his hole, and enjoying the many meals that his people usually did each day, he found himself becoming obsessed with the next big hunt.
He was as dedicated as a warrior to his studies. Each morning, he went through a regiment of exercises, which he had designed himself, that kept him fast and fit. Once he had finished his third meal, he studied with many different locks that he had found in his travels. He practiced picking them. He took them apart and categorized their mechanical designs within a special book that he carried with him at all times. There wasn’t a lock that had bested him, and when the rare occasion presented itself that he found a lock he couldn’t pick, he used a special ring that had been given to him by a wizard, to get the job done.
The very same wizard tutored him in trap designs; how to set, as well as disarm them. Though this was a trickier subject for him, he had done fairly well over the years with only the loss of but one toe. In that case, he’d had little knowledge of the traps used by the wood elves. He spent several weeks on the mend, and the loss of the small toe on his right foot hadn’t hampered him much afterward, but he had never made that mistake again.
His stomach grumbled angrily and the sound brought him back to the present. His lips curved upward at the irony; the sorcerer had silenced the second loudest part of his body! His smile was short lived, however, as he discovered yet another trap blocking their path.
He moved quickly. Because there was no proper way for them to communicate, not to mention the fact that he had been magically silenced, he had very little time to act. Elladuer was only a few minutes behind him, which gave him precious little time to remove it before he arrived.
He knelt before the trigger line, admiring its quality. If he hadn’t been actively searching, he would have easily missed it. Slowly, he placed his finger upon the spider silk as his eyes followed it to each side of the corridor. It looked innocent enough and could have been set by one of the many species of cave spider, but he knew better. Each end of the line was fastened securely to a small magical box that, when triggered, would activate several hidden crossbows. In most cases, the bolts were poisoned. Rarely, they were magically infused to cause some form of greater damage.
“Better not to think of such things,” he thought to himself as his fingers began to work on the device. This trap only required him to trick the device into thinking it was still set. It was just a matter of keeping enough pressure on the trigger.
He chuckled at the thought of such a primitive device being able to think, and as he did, he was suddenly reminded of the reason he had agreed to come on this quest.
The Gryphon Rider stood at the entrance to his hole, looking absolutely miserable in the pouring rain. He had removed his helmet in introducing himself, and his golden hair hung matted to his head, doing little to hide the pointed ears that identified him as elf.
“What is it that I can do for you, Sir Elladuer of King Altherak’s army,” he had asked.
“Please allow me shelter from the storm. I will not require much and have food of my own to sup. I only ask for a few minutes before your fire.”
“Don’t be silly, dear elf. My home is always open to the Riders. Come in, come in! As for eating your own cold rations, I shall hear nothing of it. I have a nice rabbit stew simmering over the fire now. By the time you’ve made yourself comfortable, it will be ready. Please, make yourself at home!”
“I am grateful for your kindness…”
“Joeshan Bunce of Brockenborings, at your service.” He had placed his forearm against his midsection and bowed gracefully, which earned a nod and the respect of his guest, as he spoke.
“Joeshan, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
It had taken the better part of an hour for the elf to remove and carefully dry each piece of his armor and by that time the stew was ready. Joeshan, ever the gracious host, had also brought some rolls from the pantry, prepared some greens to cleanse the pallet and brought up two bottles of his finest wine. While they weren’t the fine elvish wines his guest might be used to, he was confident that Elladuer’s palette would approve.
“It’s not by coincidence that I find myself in your home tonight,” Elladuer finally said. They were each sipping their wine from the crystal goblets that Joeshan kept for such occasions.
“Do tell. What brings one of the gryphon riders to my humble abode?”
Over the next two hours, the two finished the bottles of wine as the elf told him his story. He spoke solemnly of the fate of his friends, during which time he came as close to tears as he had ever seen from an elf.
When he had awakened, the Death Knight was gone and he was the sole survivor of his company. The evil being had slain them all, along with every one of their mounts. The only thing that had saved him had been the rubble from the building which had collapsed upon him, thus obscuring him from view.
After returning with the news of his defeat, King Altherak had fallen into a deep state of despair, for Diona had been his daughter. It would be many weeks before the kingdom had finished grieving and by that time, Elladuer had begun to formulate a plan.
“So… Where do I come in,” Joeshan asked inquisitively.
“Many have heard the name of Joeshan. In these parts, many hold a deep admiration for the hobbit who studies the arcane arts,” he began slowly. “I have need for someone like you.”
Joeshan finished his wine as the elf was speaking, careful not to accidentally reveal his excitement. An elf, asking for HIS services? It was unheard of!
“I really just help the old man clean his tower,” he answered sheepishly.
“I care not for what you do, so much as I do that you are renowned for having an uncanny way of finding things.”
“Okay,” he answered thoughtfully, “so what is it that you wish to ‘find’, my pointy eared friend?”
“I cannot say the name of that which I am seeking. However, I have full authority to allow you to keep everything else, to the extent of what you can naturally carry.”
Now THIS was interesting! Where could they possibly be going that he would find such treasures?! He quickly echoed his thoughts aloud, but the answer would offer him no comfort whatsoever.
“A red dragon,” he murmured as he disarmed the trap. “Joeshan? What have you gotten myself into?”