After waiting a short while for other search parties to be sent on various other routes, Arnulf and Burin were finally called forward to set off themselves. Burin was dreading the thought of an endless trek down the long marshes between the forest and the lake, but they were thankfully given a document with Glóin’s seal that would allow them to borrow a decent boat for their journey.
They found themselves grouped up with two other volunteers. One was a young man of the Laketown watch by the name of Lifstan. Arnulf was sure he had heard of the man before for some reason, but decided to leave the conversation until they were on their way. The other companion that joined them was named Runa, a woman of middle age who Arnulf knew was part of one of the noble families once linked to the town council. Today it seemed she was a member of the bowman’s guild.
After the four of them introduced themselves, it didn’t take long for them to find their way to the jetties used for official town business and acquire a boat. Lifstan appeared to have the most experience with boating on the lake, and especially with the use of a sail boat like this one, but Arnulf and Runa, having grown up in Laketown, were still of use. Burin wasn’t very helpful, but sailing continued smoothly southwards.
It would take them a whole day to cover the fifteen miles that separate Laketown from the southern end of the lake, close to where its waters pour out over high waterfalls. During the day they mostly kept watch for any signs of trouble on the western shores, and occasionally passed the time with conversation. Arnulf, being an inquisitive sort and an aspiring weaponsmith brought up the strange looking sword on Lifstan’s belt. It was fairly well decorated and more curved than what he’d seen of any blade made by Man, Elf or Dwarf. Lifstan handed the weapon over, allowing Arnulf to examine it, not seeming to mind his curiosity.
‘They call it a scimitar where it’s from, more specifically a serpent scimitar for the snake’s head decoration on the hilt. It’s actually been in my family for a couple of generations since my great uncle Nefstan, a merchant, brought it back from the lands to the East. Usually watchmen wouldn’t carry such a serious weapon, as there’s no real need for them, but since it was used by my father in the Battle of Five Armies I wouldn’t dare leave it to collect dust on the mantelpiece now’
‘So your father passed it to you after the battle? Or-‘ Arnulf began to ask.
‘No, no it was ah, found on the field. Still in his grasp’ Lifstan interrupted.
‘I see, I’m sorry to hear that my friend, mine is a similar story’
‘I’m sure many of our stories are these days, but it’s ok, I’m proud of his bravery, which is why I carry the blade now. It’s also why I’m here, my father proved that a man from a long line of watchmen can do more than simply watch, I feel I need to live up to that’
Arnulf nodded slowly, thinking about what the man said. ‘That’s very admirable, I think I understand your feeling’.
Arnulf then tried to learn more about Runa, but couldn’t get much out of her about her reasons for being on this quest, or much about her past. He did definitely recall her being related to one of the council members of the old Laketown some years ago however. He considered that she would still be reticent on the subject, so gave up his polite probing and decided to finally ask her about her own equipment. She was clearly a member of the Bowman’s Guild with her exquisite longbow taller than her, but he was more interested in the strange armour adorning her upper body. It had the appearance of golden scales, probably made of some form of copper or brass as far as he could tell. It reminded him of the dragon’s own armour, and he wasn’t sure if that was deliberate or not.
‘Not unlike the watchman’s sword, it also came to my family by way of trade with folk from the East. Many coats of mail like this one hung in the great hall of the old town until…’ She paused for a moment, cleared her throat then carried on. ‘I acquired it then, and have decided to make use of it where I can, and today seemed appropriate time for it, as… Lifstan, said things like this probably should be left to collect dust’ She finished as she gave a slight nod to the watchman manning the tiller.
Soon enough the sky was beginning to darken and they could hear the distant rushing of the falls, so they knew it would soon be time to stop. Travellers heading south usually disembarked on the western shore of the lake, where several wooden piers would jut out from the shingles. There were a number of huts huddled close to the lake and they could see fires twinkling in the dim light. These were the homes of the Lake-men that seved as porters for the Stair of Girion.
The Stair of Girion was a paved portage trackway, built long ago by the Lake-men with the help of Dwarven masons, allowing for the swift transport of boats and their contents from the lake down to where the Running River resumes its course beyond the falls (or up to the lake from the river, for boats coming from the south). Entire boats could be loaded on wheeled carts, that were then pulled along grooves dug into the paved trackway.
The stair of Girion hadn’t seen a lot of traffic in the past few centuries. Not even the death of Smaug had provided the chance to put it to much use, as only well armed and courageous merchants (a rare breed…) dared to approach the lake directly by boat. Fearing to enter the darkest parts of the Long Marshes, they would usually prefer to unload their wares ninety miles south of the lake, where the Running River enters Mirkwood and the marshes, and then continue their journey overland along the eastern borders of the wood.
The group arrived at the Stair at the end of this first day and proceeded to load their light boat on the trackway to proceed the next morning.