War and the threat of invasion can do remarkable things to a country. It can bring people together, and be the setting for acts of great kindness and solidarity. It can also sow suspicion and distrust.
At Harwick the refugees from Langhold are kept without the walls out of fear there are too many to accommodate in the town. The Lord of Harwick, Harding, Reeve of The Wold, views my character as a trespasser. While he does not quite blame me for what befall Langhold it is unspoken. If it were not for the good word of Langhold’s remaining folk I have no doubt I would be locked up in prison very swiftly.
We begin a series of quests to demonstrate that we not enemies of Rohan. At first we are sent to Feldburg – an armed camp a bit to the south of Harwick. There are no facilities there, just the captain whose orders we must heed. After clearing out some wargs and a few other chores, he sends us onto one of his sergeants at a small outpost called Wakenflood to the east of Harwick. There we battle some Easterlings. They have already established a small fort across the Anduin. War is coming to Harwick as it came to Langhold, but we do what we can to disrupt this first group.
The Sergeant is a kindly man however, and after settling matters to his satisfaction he gives us leave to return to the Langhold refugees. Their situation is dire – outwith Harwick’s walls they are vulnerable indeed. So it is time to sneak into Harwick to see if a place can be bought for them to stay.
You see, after one speaks to Harding that first time one becomes persona non grata in Harwick (Turbine does telegraph this very clearly for those who wish to avoid it so they can go through this purgatory at a point of their own convenience). This means that if one of Harwick’s patrolling guards spots you they summarily eject you from the town. In a way this reminds me back of those Nosey and Hungry Hobbits back in The Shire – and they are fairly easy to avoid. There is also a little sidequest here where various folk of Harwick demonstrate their friendliness despite Harding’s prohibitions.
After finding a property for sale – for an outrageous price – Cillan (widow the Thane of Langhold) sends us back to their own homes to find any valuables we can that might help pay the price. Langhold is a wreck, with bandits looting some of the houses still standing. After our return Cillan, clearly exasperated by the lack of welcome that Harding has given, basically calls him to account. To be fair to the Reeve, Harding is gracious in accepting his poor behaviour, and to make some amends proclaims us a Knight of the Wold, and then asks if we might see to the safety of Twickenburg, a small settlement further south.
So it is time (for the moment) to turn my back on Harwick, though somehow I feel I shall return.
The whole episode with Harding and the banning us from Harwick sounds like it might be really annoying – but actually I found it a great storytelling move. It feels perfectly reasonable given the situation Harding finds himself in. His people are under attack, one of the local lords has been slain by a strange evil, he suspects treachery at King Theoden’s court (he implies one is spy of Wormtongue at one point) – with all this taken into account his suspicions suddenly ring true. It helps make Harding seem more like a real character than just a regular faceless npc.
Harwick itself sprawls over a hillside. Larger than Langhold it reminds me more of Stangard in its size – though it feels a good deal more ‘civilian’ than the colonial outpost. It is quite a sizeable town with rambling streets. It also has the full range of amenities – and even when one is banned from Harwick one can outwit the patrolling guards with a little patience.
The whole series of quests around Harwick, Feldburg, and Wakenflood flow naturally. They are not part of the epic quest line (which is directing us onto the town of Floodwend) but form a complete story in and of themselves. A story of suspicion on the one hand that sits alongside the plight of the Langhold refugees. Ultimately though these are just the opening chapters still on the war that has just begun.