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I spent most of yesterday in the reeking swamp of Frogmorton. I did a couple of jobs there but was driven away by the smell and lack of work. After that I continued my general eastward push and found myself a spot by the river where I proceeded to spend the next several hours washing myself, my clothes, and my pie collection. I don’t know that I’ve actually gotten the stench out, but it’s at least mild enough that I’m willing to start breathing on a regular basis again.

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The underwear is really odd in this game. Being set in the super-tame Tolkien universe, they couldn’t very well put the guys in boxers and the ladies in thongs like they do in most fantasy games. So the underwear is actually really elaborate and colorful and not at all revealing. You’ll have to play the game yourself if you want to see it, though. I’ll bet I’m not the only person to strips down in fantasy games just to see how they handled the undergarments.

Once clean, I march eastward some more and find myself in the town of Budgeford, which should be named “Why the Hell Don’t We Build a Bridge”-ville.

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The river is a bit annoying here. It’s mostly ankle or knee deep, but there are a couple of “soft spots” where it jumps to shoulder height for Hobbits. That’s an insta-fail gotcha if you’re delivering mail or pies. Best to hop over the water even if it looks shallow.

And the river? This river is actually named “The Water.” Hobbits have such interesting names for everything else. I think Tolkien was a brilliant world builder, but that one kind of annoys me. Dude! Deepwater? Slowwater? Briskwater? No? Just “Water”? Okay, then. Be that way. But if your book ever gets turned into a movie I’m totally going to make fun of it.

I meet Wilimar Bolger.

Wilimar looks frightened. “Look what I found in my front door this morning!” he says in a shaky voice. He points to an arrow lodged in his front door.

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“It’s an arrow,” I observe after a few quiet moments. “Is that the job or… ?”

“It’s quite strange, though. The head is of Hobbit-make, but very old. However, the shaft looks like the kind the Big People use.”

“It’s an arrow,” I say again. After a few moments I add, “So what?”

“Who would shoot an arrow into my door?”

“A nearsighted hunter? Who had too much to drink?”

“Please go and find out for me!”

I’m not sure what he’s worried about. His door looks just fine. Maybe after a hundred or so such arrows he might need to think about putting a fresh coat of paint on the thing. Until then, I’m just not seeing a problem. But whatever. His 90 coppers aren’t going to just jump into my pocket. Let’s see what we can find.

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To the north I find a torn journal. Well, I find a lot of things. There’s a bow, which seems sort of incriminating in an arrow-based investigation like this one. There’s also a backpack which could contain any number of clues or (thinking ahead, here) crap I could fence at the nearest shop. But for some reason I leave all that stuff where it is and just take the journal.

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I take the journal back to Wilimar.

Yeah. You can’t look in the backpack. You can’t take the bow. The only thing you can do is swipe the torn and completely unreadable book.

Wilimar is encouraged. “Ah! A journal. Perhaps it contains some clues as to who loosed that arrow at my front door!”

I am having a hard time picturing this. If someone was trying to assassinate Wilimar, would they really keep a journal?

Dear Diary,

Today I went to kill my next target, but was foiled on account of him having his front door closed. Should have waited until he opened it. Stupidstupidstupid.

Arrow supplies depleted. Retreating to get another one. I’m going to leave my journal, my weapon, and all my supplies here so nobody takes my spot. The other assassins are such jerks. Always hogging the good spots.

Wilimar thumbs through the book and shakes his head. “This isn’t good. Not good at all. Many pages are missing and torn, as if gnawed at by some beast. See the teeth marks on this page? Perhaps this was done by a wolf?”

“I was not aware that wolves ate books,” I tell him. “I’ll be careful next time I visit the library.”

“If you could, please slay a few of the wolves east of here and see if they have any of the missing pages?”

I blink.

“I seem to be missing about three pages.”

“The wolves just happened to eat the most important three pages in this assassin diary? And you want me to go and recover them?”

They might not have eaten them,” Wilimar says defensively. “Maybe they… took the pages… to, uh…,” he trails off.

“For what? To line their dens?” I snort.

“Oh! Good one!” he says. “Yes! I’ll bet they took them to line their dens.”

I’d put up more of a fuss, but as nuts as this job is I’m really just glad I’m not going to smell like swamp water at the end.

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Well, perhaps I spoke too soon. Now that I’m out and fighting the wolves I realize that I’m here to “recover” pieces of paper. These wolves aren’t carrying around clipboards for holding all of the crazed assassin diaries they find. They ate them. Which means I need to go in and get them. I’m not sure how much value there is in a lump of chewed, partially digested pages from a madman’s diary, but-

Uh. Pardon me for a second…

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Where was I? Oh, right. The quest. Well, I have three “pages.” Which are actually three wads of ink-stained tree pulp and bile. But if Wilimar wants to pay me 90 coppers for these than that’s his problem. This is still better than working in the swamp.

Unrelated to the current adventure, but while I was turning in the quest two other Hobbits ran up to do the same. Seriously, this was not a staged shot.

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Do you people MIND? I’m trying to roleplay here and you guys just…

Hey. Blue. Purple. Green. We’re just a couple of Hobbits short of being able to make our own Power Rangers team. Either of you two know someone in yellow or red that could join us?

I deliver the handfuls of goo to Wilimar, who… reads them?

“My goodness,” he says as he hands me my pay. “This is both interesting and distressing.”

“You have no idea,” I tell him.

“It seems this was written by a fellow named Callum. Apparently a distant ancestor of mine slew one of his, and he means to revenge himself on me. The arrow he shot into my door is that one that my ancestor used to kill his!”

I glance at the arrow. “Judging from his aim, I’m not sure you’re in all that much danger, even if he manages to get his hands on another arrow.”

“I think I know where to find him. It says here that he set up his camp in the Frogmoors.”

“The what?”

“It’s just west of here.”

So Wilimar sends me to confront his cross-eyed nemesis. Just west of here? Hm. Isn’t that where I-

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Oh, damn it. He’s sending me into the swamp, isn’t he? Yes, he is.

Not just a little ways, either. I trek a good ways west and eventually pass the town of Frogmorton. Callum is actually on the far western edge of the swamp. I’m in the mood to draw some blood by the time I get there, which is unfortunate because Callum is nearly out.

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“So the rat-man sent you to end my life, did he?” Callum coughs at me. He doesn’t get up. He’s leaning against a tree and nursing a grievous wound in his side.

I shrug. “He just said to stop you. I think the killing bit was just wishful thinking on my part. But now that I’m here I’m betting you’re going to-“

“Let me tell you my tale…,” he begins.

“Yeah. Just so you know, I saw this coming.”

“When the rat-man found the arrow in his door he raised the alarm. I was afraid of being found out before I was ready…”

“Why were you shooting arrows before you were ready?” I ask him. I can’t believe I’m giving this advice. Poor Callum must be new to killing. I found it takes a while to get the hang of it, although I was never foolish enough to attack someone in a populated area when they were inside a building and I wasn’t ready for a fight. It’s a rookie mistake of legendary proportions. Assassins for years will be telling the story of the guy who left his weapon and ran away after he attacked a door with his only arrow.

Callum coughs up a little more blood and continues, “I retreated from the town, but in my flight I startled a boar, and it gored me.”

I guess I should point out that there are a lot of dangerous creatures around here. Wolves. Marsh flies. Rabid hops-crazed toads. Crazy quest-giving Hobbits. But no boars.

Callum sticks out his lower lip. “I guess I’m not going to get my revenge now. I’ll probably succumb to my wound soon.”

Is he giving me the puppy dog eyes? Creepy.

“Well, at least you had the good sense to come here and soak your wound in the bog water,” I observe.

“I cannot defend myself so… do whatever you will.”

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Well, I might be dead inside from all of my murder, greed, and my insatiable appetite for silk clothing, but even I don’t have the heart to just off this guy. I guess I’m going to have to walk all the way back to Budgeford. Through the swamp. Again.

“It’s a sad tale,” Wilimar observes when I give him the news.

“I don’t want to rush you or anything,” I tell him, “But it’s probably safe for you to pull the arrow out of your front door now. I know you’re busy and all, but you might want to put that on your to-do list.”

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“I’m of the mind to help the man, if you’re willing,” Wilimar says.

Wilimar wants to make some sort of salve for the man’s wounds, but (and I hope you can see this coming) he’s fresh out of ingredients. He needs prickly broom leaves. That doesn’t sound like anything I would want near an open wound, but what do I know? I’m just a lute for hire.

I have to find a prickly broom bush. Like this one:

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Wilimar wants four of these things. I guess he’s trying to make enough medicine to submerge Callum entirely?

I return to Wilimar with enough greenery for him to construct his own hedge maze. In return he uses it to whip up some nasty, smelly stuff to rub on the wound. He gives me some bandages and sends me back across the swamp. Again again.

Callum is humbled by this small gesture, and pledges to leave Wilimar alone.

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Callum you’re down
’cause Wil’s dad killed your sire.
So you came to this town
with one arrow to fire.

Tried to even the score,
but sadly you missed.
Then were gored by a boar
that doesn’t exist.

So I’ve come along.
I’ve got just what you need.
A satirical song,
and some prickly weed.

So now I head back to Budgeford. Across the swamp. For the fourth time today. I will never be clean again.

I let Wilimar know that Callum no longer wants him dead, but now I do. So it’s kind of a wash for him, really.

Well, let’s walk around town and see who else needs what and for how much.

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“Hullo,” Odovacar Bolger greets me. “I’m having some real trouble.”

“Given that I haven’t killed a single spider in almost three days, I’m going to bet it’s a spider problem.”

“My farm hands have reported seeing a black-cloaked rider on my lands.”

“Cripes. You actually do have a problem. Like, a real one.”

Odo leans in and sniffs at me, “Ugh. What’s that horrible smell?”

Next Time: Return of the Black Riders?

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Shamus Young is the guy behind Reset Button, Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels.

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