There are other Middle-Earths, other Eriadors, Rhovanions, Morias. Some of them are named as such, others have another name, another context, and belong to other games. But no other world is quite like this.
Brandywine Bridge and the Shire
Somewhere in the Great Forest, inside the booming and clanging and howling of the soundtrack there, past a den of scurvy angry bears, you spot torches lined up on the ground. They are lit and burning steadily, and you follow them down the slope. Who has set up torches in the dark and unfriendly forest?
Suddenly you are out in daylight, the blue sky and the green grass and the warming sun. You have reached the edge of The Shire, which lies on the other side of the brown and winding Baranduin River. There, green hills and golden fields await, like the memory of a distant, yet happy childhood.
As you cross the Brandywine Bridge, a brief melody plays, lifting your heart with joy. To listen to it again and make the sensation last longer, you run back and forth across the bridge several times, until you finally decide to enter The Shire.
You know that players here start on a dark and foggy night, as a guardian of this land, brave and strong enough for its small dangers. This introductory adventure is fun and heart-warming, but you’ve left it for later. Maybe some day when the game no longer feels as fun as it does now and you need a warm incentive to stay, you will play more in The Shire. But for now you are just passing through.
Thus, you storm across the golden fields and cozy villages, leap over fences and streams, and run on the roofs of the low houses, because you know no fall here is high enough to kill you.
Lone-lands and Annunlos
Past The Shire and Bree-land the road is long and winding, the soft grass and cooling forest exchanged for sharp scrub and burning sun. Above it all towers Amon Sûl, Weathertop.
The Forsaken Inn has a broken roof, but it is far from lonely. Impatient adventurers stand on the tables, jump in the corners, and run in and out the doors. Some of them even drag pets after them, a bear or a raven, or player friends. When the adventurers are not jumping up and down, dancing, or drinking, they are shouting for others to join their adventures, or begging to be allowed come along on someone else’s.
You join these groups of adventurers, completing the same tasks over and over with them. There is so much to do and so many fun people to meet. You didn’t know it was possible to play together with strangers like this. You meet a lot of people, from all over Europe, but stay with none. Most players vanish from the area after only a few days, and you don’t run into many of them again.
When you return to the Forsaken Inn years later, all the quests in the area that used to require a group can now be done alone, due to the shrinking server population and aging of the game. Now the Lone-lands are truly abandoned and the Forsaken Inn empty. But even then, the talk and the shouts and the laughter from those early days remain in the walls and the air, like ghosts.
Berit Ellingsen’s novel Not Dark Yet was published by Two Dollar Radio in November 2015. Berit is the author of the short story collection Beneath the Liquid Skin (firthFORTH Books) and the novel Une Ville Vide (PublieMonde), with work in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, SmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck, Litro, and other places. Berit’s stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. The author divides time between Norway and Svalbard in the Arctic, and is a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union.