Six, they were. Six brave, stalwart souls marched through the shadows of the Mirkwood. Six folk who knew the dangers there before them – yet still they went. The woodsmen of Rhosgobel were in a dire way, and they knew no others would rise up to the task. Six, they were.
Khorum and Bifur, brothers and dwarfs alike. Brodomir, the gallant. Leaf, the young and wild. There was Eladrin – an Elf, no less. And at their lead was their captain. A brave and selfless man from Dale – the pride of the watch, enemy of the Enemy, and a Man amongst men. Galman.
The company set out to help the woodsmen, as so many had gone missing – lured off the safer paths of the Great Wood by fell voices and the dark allure of tainted treasures. The rivers were being overrun by monstrous spiders – the like of which few men have seen and survived to tell of it! The waters, so carefully watched over by the strange and beautiful waterwives* had been so tainted that it had even driven those poor, pure creatures mad – and set them murdering those who once they had protected.
Through many dangerous encounters, the company finally set foot within the cursed halls of some ancient evil. The burial chamber of some dark and ill-fated king of Numenor – the very stones vibrated with the stench of wickedness. There in the first chamber lurked an awful altar – draped in the skin of some man whose skin had been carved with some sinful skill as a map of the dreaded place they explored. Only Bifur, that most curious and lore-minded dwarf, was brave or foolish enough to approach the altar and procure the map – though it was in doing so that he started a chain of events that would reverberate through the company’s very souls.
Curious is the trap-maker’s art, that some should craft something that they will never witness the fruits of their labor. And devious was the minds at work in the construction of that tomb. The very walls seemed to watch those brave six – and viciously mock them by echoing loudly their every wail and scream as their resolve was tested. Again and again the tomb tried to claim the company amongst its dead. Again and again, they persevered.
Then came they to a chamber – ornate in its décor, holding fast six doors that opened into sepulchers. From them outpoured the undead host – one by one the dead were returned to rest, but the last went hard. Tooth and nail, blood and sweat – the battle was hard won, and even though the shadow’s servants were dispersed, their foul traces lingered in the souls of our heroes. Were it not for Galman’s guidance, surely the party would have turned then – seeking respite from their toils. But no, press on!
And they did. They pressed on deeper into the very belly of the tomb. Opening wide now into the final chambers – the last resting place of an evil so dark that I will leave it unnamed, dare I wake it once more onto Middle Earth.
Brave Khorum, so steeped in his hatred of the shadow that at times you’d think it was his only fuel, saw the evil resting there and met it face to face – a loud crack, ancient magics awakening, and a mattock furiously wielded into those red eyes in the darkness… the battle was joined!
The evil thing. The undead thing. That blasted wight, so terrible it’s red eyes – they seemed like burning stars. It’s wicked crown. It’s thirsting black blade. A terrible foe! With only a lifting of its grotesque hand, Leaf came tumbling to the floor as if it were Autumn – and Brodomir’s brave form slid to the ground without his usual dignity. Two fell, and four remained – urged on, always urging was the Captain.
Blades clashed, the brothers battled bravely – drawing the ire of the thing – they played such dangerous games. Time and again, the only thing between that wicked black blade and certain death was the Captain’s shield. Time and again, Bifur and Khorum whittled away at the ghostly thing while Eladrin, dearest bravest elf, sang elvish tunes of battle and hope – the only thing that kept the weariness of combat from dragging the company down.
Then, disaster – ever competitive, the brothers quarreled – and Bifur drew up his lordly face and began barking orders at his friends and ken, “Worthless, skill-less, utter fools and lackwits! Unworthy of my aid!” There was a fear in his voice, a terrible sadness, a horrible rage – the shadow had gripped his heart just when the company needed him most.
The ghastly thing cackled loudly then, knowing it was turning the tide – and even then it struck at the haughty dwarf, who would not lift an arm to save himself.
Know one thing about our Captain, if nothing else is true, he was a true friend. He saw the evil blade coming, arcing down towards his friend of years – even though that friend had turned their backs on him, he would not let his friend die. With a heroic surge, Galman through himself in the way of the strike – but this time it was not his shield that took it, but his neck.
Khorum, enraged by the death of his cherished friend and companion – found the strength for one more blow before he took the beast down, himself falling in the process – badly beaten, but still alive.
Treasures? Yes. There were many treasures there – but at what price, gold? The captain was dead – and so shaken by his shameful actions, Bifur saw fit to depart from the company – a broken dwarf, resigned to solitude, a self-proclaimed exile to walk the depths of Mirkwood alone.
So listen, friends and patrons of this fine inn. Listen and raise a glass to toast the life and death of the man that saw his friends leave that tomb alive. Learn from the bravery of that man of Dale and pray hope that you will have a friend as true as him when you need it the most.