Attack The Darkness

The Call of the Road

Falco – 2948 TA – Spring

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It was a pretty subdued winter after we made our way back from the high pass. Fortunately we didn’t have more troubles with Orc warbands, on the trip back or for the rest of the season, but our heart were heavy with failure once again, and Dog had been hit hardest of all.

We settled him in as best we could at the Inn, and tried to lighten up his mood as best we could – but whatever darkness had fallen over him had left him less than he once was, and it was all we could do to make him comfortable. Only sitting out by the porch with his dog seemed to bring back a faint spark in his eyes. Sometimes we would see him perk up and try to make words, but all that came out of his lips were strange sounds and gibberish, and our own words didn’t seem to register with him.

Winter turned into spring, and still we waited for him to come back to his senses. Khorum pounded away at the forge until there was hardly any piece of metal around the Inn he hadn’t straightened up or somehow tinkered with. Our new companion, Heva, took to ranging further and further around the Inn, looking for bandits, Orcs or other dangers. Even I, though I kept myself busy with my new crops and the thousand things that need doing around an Inn, started to feel that familiar itch – time was a wastin’, as my Da would have said.

If we couldn’t bring Dog back to normal for now, we could at least honor his promise to the Eagles for him, and go scout that place they warned us about, in the Marshes southwest of Trader’s Island. It was about time to resupply the Inn anyway, so we set off South by boat, stopping first at Trader’s Island for a bit of trading and gossip – and also to start building some contacts to distribute my new crop of pipe leaf, once it would be nice and dry in the Autumn.

The trading was fruitful, and I happened onto an old woman who was brewing what seemed like a very fine elexir indeed. Just one sip of it, and the sores I’d gotten from helping row the boat vanished in an instant. We could definitely use that on the road so I bought as many flasks as she could fill. We also heard an interesting rumor that some wild Hobbits lived further down the Anduin valley – although they tended to avoid the Big Folk and keep to themselves. I couldn’t quite reconcile the words “wild” and “hobbit” together, but this was worth investigating – I had thought Me and Dody’s family were the only ones of our folk around the Anduin.

We got ourselves ready to range further South but as we were packing our bags to leave, we were surprised to see Bill – the dog seemed to have tracked us down all the way downriver – and managed to catch up with us on an island, no less! He seemed rather pleased with himself too, and he was bearing a cryptic message to us. Through drawing a crude map with twigs and a few pointed barks, he made us understand that we needed to go Southeast to one of the woodsmen settlements lying that way. It might not be Rhosgobel he meant, but given that a Wizard who talks to animals is reputed to live there, it seemed a fairly safe bet.

We made our way there without too much trouble, and were surprised to find that the village was surrounded by no more than an average sized hedge in guise of defenses. Yet somehow we could not seem to get a glimpse over or through it, and the branches seemed to get thicker as we tried to peer in. We walked around it for a while before we found a way into the town.

Our first attempt to meet Radagast was… strange. We’d walked most of the way around the village and it didn’t seem that big even to me. Yet when we tried to venture into the smal clump of trees where his home was, we got lost for several hours and could only find our way out after nightfall. Apparently this is standard fare whenever he’s not ready to receive visitors. The next evening, a candle was lit to guide us inside the trees and we found our way without incident.

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Radagast was… strange. Although there was a clever light shining in these brown eyes, they always seemed ever so slightly out of focus and he kept losing track of the conversation. He seemed wary, often looking over his shoulder especially upon mention of the Enemy. He explained to us that some evil was rising out of Gladden Fields, some piece in the Enemy’s plans out of an old fortress named Dwemerhorn. He intimated that we should investigate, but stealthily so as not to alert our foe. Khorum shrugged at that, but Radagast reiterated his warning and gifted us with small enchanted twigs, that he said would help us move unnoticed if we pinned them to our cloaks. He also recommended that we seek allies on our journey, especially at Mountain Hall, where the local woodsmen would sometimes range into the marshes.

So we ventured back out – another long journey but travel along that part of the Anduin vale is not especially arduous in the Spring. We we accompanied back to Trader’s Island by a young and exceedingly keen Woodswoman by the name of Banna. Apparently she shared Radagast’s gift of talking to animals. But she also talked to humans. A lot.

Back at Trader’s Island, we bade our farewells to Banna and headed West onto the mountain trail. The woodsmen in these parts were a different breed altogether from their eastern brothers – living on fish and goats, surrounding themselves in stone buildings and busy with mining and quarrying. In fact our Dwarf companion felt right at home. We were to speak to Hartfast, the chieftain of Mountain Hall, and although he seemed guarded at first, he was quick to realized what a boon an experienced Dwarf miner could be to advise his teams. In fact it seems he had a Dwarf adviser – the previous one had been none other than Vidor, Khorum and Bifur’s own father! Khorum of course perked up at that, and relentlessly questioned our host, but he had little new to tell us – Vidor had worked here for some months – then been captured in a goblin raid and taken in some dark tunnels.

Still, Khorum did his best to continue his father’s work, and for a few days he advised the city’s miners and guards – on how to reinforce their tunnels, but more importantly on how to prepare against new goblin raids. And sure enough, a raid came. One night, we had just settled down when a cry of alarm was heard. The goblins had attacked one of the gates – stabbing the guard and spoiling some supplies before retreating back into the night. The damage to the city was not substantial, but the poor guard had fallen into the river and was bleeding profusely from a goblin’s blade. Fortunately I was able to get rescue to him, and with a big gulp of that most useful brew I had acquired, the man’s bleeding soon stopped.

This finally let us earn Hartfast’s favor, and I had the privilege to being shown the town’s most guarded treasure – the Horn of Mountain Hall, which it was told, had the power to summon all friends of Mountain Hall, however far they may be, when the town was in grave danger. Hatrfast agreed to help us in our mission, by securing us the service of a guide – a man by the name of Marick the Trapper, who had often scouted the Gladden Fields and knew of that Dwemerhorn place we were looking for.

So once again, we set off for another journey, this time more arduous as we reached the outer edge of the swamps. Traveling through a swam was bad enough in normal time – but we soon started to feel the first sign of the Enemy’s presence, now familiar to us. The swamp turned darker – and we could feel many eyes upon us from within the cloying mists.

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The nightmare of Dol Guldur
Loss to the Shadow

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The words of Khorum, son of Vidor, reflecting on the darkest of experiences – a nightmare of shadow.

Supposedly trapped hundreds of years in the past in one of Irime’s memories, the fellowship bravely defended the town and villagers of Hayquo against the bandits intent upon wholesale slaughter. It was foolhardy and suicidal to take on the odds that we did, especially since all those villagers and, indeed, the bandits, were centuries in their graves by our reckoning but heroes do as heroes do. We fought nobly and we fell. Perhaps our actions had some positive influence on the history to be… who’s the say?

Myself, Bifur and Dog awoke after the slaughter in chains. Bill had been eaten by the bandits and Falco, Hunter and Merrick were nowhere to be seen. Dead as well, I assumed. This began our descent into shadow and madness and things only got worse. The remnants of our fellowship along with some of the surviving villagers (Aldor the innkeeper, the kid Halif and the bard) were ruthlessly marched for weeks south. Hour after hour, day after day, bearing the weight of heavy chains and heavier hearts. The days blended into one as we lost all sense of time. Who knows how long we marched south but my best guess put it at 3 or 4 weeks until we came to the shadowy fortress of despair, Dol Guldur.

We were given no explanation why were there or what the orc guardians of that keep intended to do with us. Instead, we were thrown into the dankest of dungeons deep in the bowels of the mountain which was already occupied by a very sad lot of emaciated humans. A more hopeless bunch of people I have never seen. The orcs kept us locked up there for days and days which turned into weeks and weeks. Time became meaningless.

They fed us some horrid slop maybe once every 2 or 3 days… just enough to keep us alive. Aldor the innkeeper from Hayquo was in bad shape from long march and the inhumane conditions in the dungeon we were kept in. His life faded slowly, his coughs and wheezes annoying the other prisoners. I heard them whispering about putting him out of his misery so they could get some sleep. Dog and I did our best to tend to Aldor and keep him alive. Dog used his extensive knowledge of anatomy and medicine while I stayed near the other prisoners and made sure that they knew that Aldor was off limits.

As time went on, hopelessness and despair set in. It seemed that the orcs would keep us there until we died of old age. I began to lose myself… lose my memories and forget that this was just a dream (well, a nightmare, really). I forgot that Irime was out there somewhere needing our protection. Some nights I would awake holding on to the vaguest of dreams… dreams calling to me and telling me to hold on and to not give in to the despair. I tried but, ultimately, failed.

One day, instead of bringing in the usual slop into a trough to feed us with, the orcs accompanied by a human male (a servant of the Shadow called Anathas) brought in a table full of aromatic and delicious food. A banquet to our starving eyes and stomachs. Anathas said that we needed to only kneel to his Master and eat. We would be released from the hell we were in and raised high in the service of the Master. The taint of the Shadow emanated from that man; it was foul to look upon him.

I cannot say why but Dog’s mind broke at that point. He flew into a rage but did not direct it at Anathas. Instead, Dog attacked the weakest and most helpless person possible – the near death Aldor. Dog wrapped his hands around Aldor’s neck and squeezed with a ferocity only a man wrapped in madness could muster. The injustice of it all… the fact that Dog spent all his days in the dungeon tending to Aldor only to turn around and try to kill him enraged me. I lost control and charged Dog. Unfortunately, by the time I got to Dog, Aldor was already dead and that made me furious. I grabbed Dog’s head in my hands and bashed his head into the hard floor until he went limp. It was only pure luck that I had not killed him.

Anathas, as all shadow-serving cowards are, fled from the dungeon during that outburst of insanity but he did return another day with the same offering of food and bent knee. Dog was conscious but sullen by now. Actually, even to the present day, after we got out of that nightmare and it was revealed to be just that, Dog isn’t the same. He lost something of himself in the dungeons of Dol Guldur and it doesn’t appear that he will ever recover to his positive happy-go-lucky (though widely annoying) ways.

Anathas’s offer was accepted by the bard and he smugly bent the knee and left the cell. By now, this dream state had become reality and I vowed to see him dead. Bifur, Dog and myself stoutly refused. We would rather die than serve the Shadow. Some days later saw the end of the sons of Vidor. Bifur was taken out of the dungeon but I did not know why. Some part of my mind told me to resist, not give in to the obvious response of fighting and needlessly dying to try and prevent Bifur’s removal from the cell. I did nothing… just watched him leave. Irime’s voice was in my head…. “Don’t give up.”

Bifur was taken and thrown into a pit to single-handedly battle a troll. They tossed Bifur broken body and mashed skull back into the cell after the fight. Irime’s voice was lost and I fell fully into despair and loss. It was real and my brother was dead. Died for orcish amusement. The next time the door to the dungeon opened and they wanted to take the kid Halif for troll food, I just wanted an end to it all. I ran into the closest guard with fists pumping and only got off one punch before I was skewered dead on their spears.

I awoke. All of the Fellowship aside from Dog were stirring out of our slumber. Bifur was there, waking up too. Hope and relief flooding into me. But where was Dog? We heard his voice outside of the shelter we were sleeping in in song. Then the song apparently ended with Dog’s voice cracking as he was reduced to tears. We went outside to see Dog cradling the body of Irime on a nearby hill. Only Dog did not give into the despair of Dol Guldur so only he was awake to save Irime’s soul from the Shadow. He failed. Nay, we failed. The Fellowship failed as a whole but the burden was put squarely on Dog’s shoulders to save Irime. His failure and the experience of strangling Aldor to death turned Dog into a shell of a man today. You can see the void in his eyes now. The Shadow has much to answer for.

The elven cavalry arrived and examined Irime. She was not dead but her soul was entrapped by some foul Shadow magic. Perhaps, hopefully, the good magic of the elves can reverse her fate and her purity can return to the land once more. Middle Earth is weakened by her loss and the Shadow gets stronger for it. With Irime lost, the orcs retreated from the land as their misson was accomplished. Ours was not and failure is becoming much too common in our Fellowship. We returned to the inn… to reflect and weather out the rest of the winter.

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Heva's Introduction
How the Five meet the Beorning Heva and make a new friend

  
  
  The winter felt especially harsh this season. The sting of the failures at Stony Ford and the passing of Irime the elf maiden into shadow bit harder with the miserable snow and wind. The worsening weather did little to encourage visitors to the Easterly Inn – and those few that did make their custom there were ill-inclined towards merriment or stayed much longer than it took for the conditions to abate long enough that they might continue their journeys.
  
  Khorum, that noted dwarf, took his evening meal in the commons as was his habit – a bowl of hearty stew, heavy with salted beef and broth, and a flagon of warm cider – powerful stuff to those without dwarven stomachs. Dog and Bill had taken up their seats near the hearth – Dog whittling absent-mindedly at a piece of wood, Bill snoozing noisily at his feet. Neither man nor dwarf spoke – the mood had been a dolorous one – leaving each to their own thoughts – and those had not been particularly good company, either.
  
  The night threatened to continue in such a manner until there came a thunderous pounding at the Inn’s door. The knocking was loud enough to wake even Dog from his mental wanderings – and the paintings on the walls shook with each hammering. Falco, who had just been on his way down the stairs, skittered towards the door in a flurry. “Is that a guest or an army with a ram?” The flustered hobbit reached the door and was about to turn the handle at the very moment when the portal slammed open with a final, powerful knock. Were Falco not Falco – and one of the most nimble dodgers this side of the mountains – he’d have become part of the wall decor, flattened by the heavy oaken door. As he recovered his wits, the small hobbit drew up a breath to half-welcome and half-reprimand this brutish newcomer to his inn.
  
  Standing there, half-covered in snow and draped in a heavy coat of wolf furs, loomed a giant figure. So tall, they had to stoop nearly bent double to enter the modest door of the Easterly Inn. Falco took three steps backwards so as to be able to take in the entirety of his newest guest. “Welcome to the Easterly Inn – I am Falco, formerly of the Shire – full partner to this establishment. Forgive the door – it thought you were an invading army.” The hobbit turned a nervous, but good-natured laugh at his own joke as a way of polite introduction. But such niceties were lost on his new guest, who doffed her heavy coats in an unceremonious and – notably to Falco – highly discourteous pile there at the door. A woman (for girls are so rarely nigh seven feet tall) with handsome features and all of the bearing of some tribal princess – her fair skin turned a rosy red with a mixture of frostbite and anger. Her form spoke of Beorning blood – ropey muscles and shoulders that could carry the weight of the world – but her hair was fair like that of some of the Woodsmen further to the north. She turned to the hobbit, her movements slow and deliberate as if some great predator that didn’t want to frighten a rabbit.
  
  “I come for the dwarf – Khorum – I hear he is called. He stays here at this inn, so it was told to me.”
  “Master Khorum? Oh! Yes, well – that’s him over there but why….” but the woman didn’t wait to hear what more Falco had to say. All in all, considered the hobbit, it seemed that it hadn’t been worth the effort of coming down the stairs in the first place. He busied himself trying to gather up the discarded furs – but when they proved to be too big to practically move, he gave up and went behind the bar.
  
  The giantess strode over to the small round table where Khorum was taking his quiet meal, in three strides she covered the distance – deliberate and sure. Her hands clinched in tight, ham-sized fists at her sides. She towered over the seated dwarf as he slowly masticated the stringy beef of the stew. “You are Khorum,” asked the woman.
  “Aye,” answered Khorum – not looking up from his meal.
  “Brother to Bifur, Son of Vidar? Sometimes friend to Beorn?”
  “Aye. And Aye again, lass.”
  “And you were there, at Stony Ford?”
  A moment of tense silence passed as the words hung heavily in the air. Bill whimpered from under Dog’s chair. Falco stopped polishing the mug he’d been cleaning behind the bar. Khorum’s face turned a deeper shade of somber – but he gave no answer.
  “You were all there,” the wild woman threw accusatory looks around the room at the three, but came again to focus on the dwarf, “But you were the one that swung the last blow. Admit it! You were the one that killed the King of the Forest! Answer me!”
  “Aye,” whispered Khorum in a voice free of boast or pride.

  The blow came out of nowhere and carried the impact of a charging bull. A great ham-fisted uppercut took the dwarf from his seat and sent him sprawling backwards out of his chair. In that moment Falco had produced a club from behind the bar and Dog was already reaching for the axe by the fireplace when the dwarf, rubbing his jaw shouted for them to stop.
  “None of that lads… I can fight my own battles,” Khorum drew himself up and looked at the large woman for the first time. His jaw ached – and fiercely – but not so much as his pride hurt for being caught by such a cheap blow.
  “Now listen here, Miss, I’ve never had need to strike a woman. But I reckon I could learn. Aye, I killed that bastard – and I spit on his crow-feasted corpse. What’s it to you? One of his murderous lot come for revenge, have ye? Well it’ll be hard earned!”
  And that’s when the hobnailed boot of Khorum crunched right into the shin of the giant woman’s right leg, sending her wobbling long enough for the crafty dwarf to deal a knife-handed blow to the back of her left knee. Dwarves have long fought foes taller than them – and the saying amongst them goes ‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall.’ As she crashed to the floor, though, she proved not to be just some dumb brute – and angled herself into a roll that had her back on her feet and charging down at the dwarf again. Scooping Khorum up as the heavy dwarf lord was little more than a child’s doll, the woman pressed the dwarf in a giant bear-hug. Khorum kicked and struggled but found his arms bound tightly in her steely grip, “I’m not one of the King’s folk -” she grumbled angrily but was stopped short in her speech by the dwarf applying his forehead to her nose.
  With an almighty clatter, the pair tumbled once more to the ground – the dwarf finding himself fortuitously on top of the pile. He shuddered at the though of being pinned beneath the angry woman – with all of her furious strength. “If yer not one of them – then why in the blazes did you come hunting me down for?” The dwarf poised, straddling the fallen giant – ready to strike should she struggle further.
  “The King of the Forest was mine,” snorted Heva – which was her name, though she hadn’t introduced herself as such just yet. The blood streamed readily from her nose, which was surely broken, stifling the speech somewhat.
  “What do you mean ‘yours’? Surely you’re not his widow!” the thought scared Khorum, for if she was his widow then he might have to fight for his life. He had heard of the rage of someone who had lost their love – and he had no want to taste any of that. His fears abated as she actually laughed, then coughed – the weight of the dwarf sitting on your chest will do that to even the strongest of lungs.
  “Married? Hah! No, you damned fool – he was mine – to kill! I should have avenged my family that night at Stony Ford, but YOU – you stole what was mine by right – the head of the King of the Forest!”
  “You’re from Stony Ford?” and with that Khorum understood – and quickly stood, composing himself and as the adrenaline of the rumble faded, his somber mood quickly took over his face once more. “I … we … I’m sorry, lass.”
  “Yes, I’ve heard of what happened – the fellowship of ‘The Five’ that was meant to help my people. Some have it in their minds that you failed – I have heard even Beorn himself was none too pleased with your doings…” She gave an overlong stare at Dog – who seemed to shrink at the look.
  “Some believe that we were better off without the help of your little company,” she drew herself up a little unsteadily – head still spinning from the encounter with the dwarf’s thick skull.
  “Oh yes, there’s even some that say that we ought to run you lot back to the Mirkwood and beyond…” she dabbed at her nose with a grimace.
  “Good luck there, Missy,” grumbled the dwarf – for though he was abashed from painful memories of that terrible night, dwarves are not known for ever giving up and running away from a fight.
  “I said some. But those that think so are fools, says I. And I am Heva, daughter of Belarn the Elder… first of the fallen of Stony Ford that night,” said Heva – finally introduced. “I say thank you – for those that walked away from Stony Ford alive have you lot to thank. But the head of the King of the Forest was mine – for he killed my father, and it was my right to avenge him. But now, that’s impossible.”
  The woman named Heva sat heavily on a large chair, the legs creaking noisily as she did. She seemed deflated, and somehow smaller than before. A girl, lost, alone. Khorum, still rubbing his jaw, approached.
  “I didn’t have much choice, lass. It was him or my friends that night. But, if you’ve a mind to rid the world of evil – why not turn those fierce arms of yours to protecting folk … instead of walloping people just trying to finish supper in peace?”
  She laughed, “No company is forming out of Stony Ford. My people are broken – and I have no friends there that I’d trust with my life who still live. And it’s fools work to go alone against the evil of the world.”
  The dwarf came up next to her, his mug in hand, “Who said ye had to do it alone?”

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Second letter to Kazim
"In the event of my death, please deliver to Kasim son of Vidor, Dwarven Scholar, Clan Vidor."

Dear Kasim,

There comes a time in every Dwarf’s life where the breath of mortality draws ever less shallow, and we wonder if we are made of what we are. The Elves, if you believe their kind, are made of something not this earth; the men of either mud or beast; and the dwarves well, we all know, of stone. As unyielding as the mountains are our people. When the forest burns and all are laid to waste, the mountains shall still stand, high, and yet into the earth also burrow. Perhaps, as children of the stone, we’re the only ones who do see, the roots of a mountains even more sturdy than any great tower or castle that those who dwell under the open skies may claim.

No rest for the adventurous dwarf, as I say. Last time, I’d written, I’d been chained to shed wall, awaiting execution or slavery, not knowing whether I’d survive the night. I’m happy to report that my companions did not fail to rescue me. Though they did not manage to prevent the slaughter of the village, the fellowship prevailed, and we made our journey back to the Easterly Inn. As you can imagine, I was neither in the constitutional nor cordial aspect to attend to guests nor travelers, or even worse, the bereft survivors of the thieves’ massacre. Rarely did I venture into inn nor was seen about the settlement that season but neither did I remain idle. Perhaps, my desire natural desire to remain alone or reflections upon future possible escape plans, colored my decision, but I decided the spend the winter learning a further spell of our people. Not to sound bad-tempered, but I did enjoy seeing people being flabbergasted whenever they suddenly couldn’t open a previously unlocked door, no matter what they tried. While not learning the new runes and incantations, I spent my time at the smithy, reforging my axe. A new shipment of dwarven steel helped sharpen the blade though I’ve yet to think up a name. So many possibilities.

Towards the middle of fall, I came out of my isolation and finally decided to come to the inn once again. As luck would have it, the first few creatures I meet there were Elves. A whole host of them surrounding a lady of obviously high birth. Perhaps it was the months alone with only the books, the rune, the forge, and the cantankerous smith for company, or perhaps it is that the right adventure tends to find the right adventurers all of its own (strange, yes, but when you take to the road one day, you might understand), but I decided to join them. Brother Korum swiftly warned me to not immediate evoke our old enmities.

“They are, after all, paying the bill,” he said. That line of reasoning did work for me. After all, in any culture, a gracious host is a gracious host, and in any case, the success of the inn bodes well for the success of the settlement as a whole.

I listened to their tale for a while trying to determine the rationale for their journey. Obviously, they were well armed with bows except for the noble lady, Irimei, who, if she may be believed has been alive for almost a millennium. The leader, Legolas, claimed their mission was to escort the lady to the High Pass. And here, much to my chagrin, began the contest to fellowship to gain the lady’s, and by extension, the elves’ favor. They were looking for adventurers and the adventure has found us. Surprisingly or perhaps fittingly, given Dog (The Dog and Bill) and Falco’s (Falco Strangefoot) obvious love for all things pointy-eared, fared the worst. After a bout of bad singing and some rather inappropriate offers of pipe-weed, the lady absolutely refused to talk to the two for the rest of the journey. My brother and I, and a new human fellow whom I’ve yet to meet, fared better. For all one knows, given her supposed age, those rhymes of lore I’d learned working in the quarries in the realms of Men, were more real to her than the current scrap of an inn we were in right now.

Seemingly satisfied with the interview, Lady Irimei and the Elf Legolas tasked us with bringing her to the High Pass. Orcs had been chasing them, and they had need of local guides to get them through the valley. Too bad our best wayfinder had taken to one of his sullen moods and refused to join the conversation; nevertheless, I had all trust in Khorum to find us a suitable path through the wilderness. Truth be told, though, I’d a desire to test my new axe upon the head of foul globins, but as always the mission came first.

In the morning, we set off, traveling towards a river where our new companion proved his worth with the boats. At the Old Ford, a couple of Beorning guardsmen told us that bands of roving orcs abound, seemingly, in search for something. The Lady Irimei entertained us with a tall of an ancient bridge that used the span the river. Yet, alas, such was not to be found now, and we had to chance the ferry across. A few days away from the High Pass, our lookouts spotted black smoke rising from across the hills. The Orcs were on our trail and gaining fast. Lady Irimei confirm that these were not normal orcs but the most foul: the Orcs of Mordor. Though he tried our best, our scout party could find no quick path to reach the pass without confrontation. Heavy, knee (or waist high to our folk) impeded our progress. Thus, we resolved for battle, and a hilltop defendable upon three sides was found for our last stand.

Counting the flags, we were outmatched; 5 to 50 with more reinforcements pouring in to join them. Our new companion seemed shaken, perhaps his first encounter with armies of these foul creatures, while the rest of the fellowship remained strong. Standing next to Khorum, our vastly outnumbered band prepared as best we could to repel our enemies. As always, a big burly orc, burden with a broken scimitar approached us and offered: “The Elf for your lives.”

To which my brother responded,colloquially, “Come get a taste of Dwarven manhood first.”
Taken aback, the creature retreated into amassed hordes, deciding to send in his lieutenants first. Seeing battle inevitable, I glanced back at Lady Irimei and asked her for her blessing. Her eyes seeming to revert back from whatever memory she had been in, she agreed and began singing, though singing would put what happened to shame. An bluish inner glow, as best as I could put it, like the finest of sapphires or even the Arkenstone itself, gathered within her and shown bright, blinding our enemies. Into the fray, Falco and Khorum charged, while Dog, the archer let loose, and our new companion and I stood our ground, determined to not let a single orc pass through our lines.

The battle went back and forth. From behind, I heard a cry of pain as an arrow sank deep into Dog’s thigh. Yet he managed to give as much as he got, and no fewer than 3 orcs fell to his arrow shots. For my part, the new axe proved its worth; every blow felled an orc instantly. A little further ahead, the battle was not going so well for Khorum and Falco. A combination of larger orcs and archers were slowing down my brother, yet he felled them quick and advanced upon the coward leader of the host. Scimitar and Mattock clashed and fell upon armor slash grievous wounds. Finally, overcome with his injuries Khorum fell to the ground unconscious. I rushed up to attacked the creature, hoping to distract him, but it was no use. The foul creature lifted its scimitar high over it’s head ready to deliver a death blow, a look—I’ll never forget—of malice and triumph on its broke visage, when suddenly, it broke into sudden surprise and fear as large talons wrapped around its body and lifted it straight into the air. A clang of an ownerless scimitar, screams of horror, and the sound of tearing flesh were the last we ever heard from the creature.

Talons also picked us and the Lady up, but unlike any of the orcs the eagle-lords gathered, we were lifted into safety. As we were to learn, resting up on their perch, the Lady Iremi had called them when all seemed lost, and they responded to the call. These, however, we no regular giant eagles, the King of Eagles himself (…) answered the call to assist in the Lady’s noble quest, which I gathered was more important than we all suspected. Dog made himself useful, as well as impressed the King by tending one of their most injured, (…). About a week past, with Lady Iremi talking to the King, and Dog tending to both Khorum, the most injured among us, and …, the most injured among them. Meanwhile, each of us, in our own way, solicited the help of the King of Eagles. He was willing to help us, but, after our brave, but ultimately futile defense, I could understand his suspicions. Finally, it was agreed that they would deliver us back towards we were were before the orc attack.

True to their word, we were lifted back to our path before we attempted to evade the orcs. The Lady Irimei suggested that we traveled to the ruins old human settlement called to await her companions, soon to be for her. We all agreed and set off towards it. Lo and behold! It was the same settlement once we were attacked by a spirit whose rock, confirmed by Lady Irimei herself was 300 years old. The tale of the town, she told us, was one of tragedy. Half the populace moved south under the sway of a man named …, while the rest were slaughtered to the last man as a result of treachery. Towards night we determined that the two most defendable ruins in town were the remains of the old inn, and the watchtower to the edge of town. It was agreed that the stealthiest among us, Hunter (Hunter), Falco, and myself, would sneak out to the watchtower to determine its suitableness for camp.

Upon our approach, we noticed a crow perched upon the remains of the second story watchtower window eagerly eat a snail. Fearing it to be a servant of some evil, we snuck into the tower and approached it from behind. As it turned out, it was only a false omen, as the crow flew away, disrupted of its meal. The three of us agreed that the watchtower would make a suitable defensive position, and returned for the rest of the companions. Before we began watch, I put up my wards around the area just in case.

As Hunter would later claim to me, that night he saw the Lady Iremi on an outcropping of rock beyond the watchtower, singing as it seems, a haunting song to the sky. Her light, that same inner light that had dazed our enemies at the hillstone, seemed to shimmer and was fading against a shroud of darkness.

When we finally all awoke, the watchtower had been completely restored. From where there were piles of rock and debris, it was now a well kept room with a real wooden door. Unfortunately, the guards found us and forced us to leave. Feeling completely flummoxed, we could only assume that the town, no longer a ruin, before us was the same town Lady Iremi had spoken of 300 years ago before its fall. A market was in full swing, and many carts were about. Talking to anyone and everyone we knew, and Hunter even going to explore the area where he claimed Iremei had been, we established that the people who would follow … south had already left, and a man name … who had been assigned to investigate some disturbing event in Mirkwood months ago and has not returned weighed heavily upon the local citizenry’s minds.

While the rest decided to go to the tavern in town for more clues, I decided to investigate the market. If this was the town of 300 years ago, I reasoned, investigating the ways of older humans could yield clues or at least contribute to further scholarship. This was why I happened to the one who witness the host of … who returned amidst the cheers of the citizenry. Their horses barded and wearing red cloaks, they paused right in the middle of their town square, when their leader, the assumed … ordered: “Kill them all.”

The sound of blades being drawn from scabbards were the only warning the citizens of .. had before the horses ran them down. They spared no one. Men, women, children were slaughtered. After seeing a child cut in half in front of me, I could not stand by, knowing full well that history mandated this town be destroyed, and do nothing. I unslung my axe and tried to rally the people, but it was enough. Fear and carnage surrounding us, and probably unfamiliar with dwarves, they did not rally around me and were cut down fleeing. Once I saw my efforts were useless, I charged the leader instead and managed to land a hard blow of the axe on him before the coward fled and ordered his minions after me.

By this time, I saw that my companions had been alerted to massacre outside. I saw Hunter and Dog briefly at the edge of the square. Dog running to find higher ground, and Hunter warning off the attackers and defending the fleeing citizens with his longsword. Finally, realising the battle, at least for the town square, was loss, we retreated to the tavern. I must have caught several arrows and blows on my armor, but dwarven steel prevailed and I was only mildly injured before I entered the safety of the inn.

The scene was one of chaos. All manner of people, most of them useless as warriors, had gathered in the main room. Noticeable was a bard who seemed to be more interested in still making coin than the suffering around him, and an equally aloof elf in the corner brooding on some matter I had no time for. Turning around, I quickly drew the wards I’d learn after my capture on the door, sealing it, as long as the door held. Then, the sound of that same evil that lead the massacre at the square came: “It is lost, surrender the tavern.”

I answered right back through the barred gate: “Shall it be my last day to surrender to the evil I saw today.” Though I cannot be sure of the effect, the hammering on the doors and windows seemed to lighten. I also heard a distinct twang and thud of a straight arrow impact, of which I would learn later, Dog pierced the armor of the leader and coward, who once ran again.

We only had a brief respite; however, as Dog and Hunter called down from above: “Archers and… undead… carrying barrels of oil.” Reversing my runes quickly, our new human companion was the first to face a hail of arrows (which somehow remarkably missed him all), as Falco, Khorum and I charged out to save the tavern from being burned. While the others hacked at the undead, severing face and limb, I attacked at the barrels, though clumsily at first, spilling the contents on myself. My friends here from finest as they put themselves in harm’s way rather than see me burn. In quick order, we smashed the barrels with bow, swords, and axes until one were left. Feeling confident, I yelled at the archers: “Now back off!” Surprisingly, they obeyed.

We were given brief respite; however, as ahead we spotted 20 horsemen galloping our way. I believed, here, I heard sounds of fighting from the tavern, but I for one was tired of retreat today and decided to charge the horsemen straight on, with brother Khorum and brave little Falco with me. I managed to fell one horseman before we were all cut down… or so I thought.

When finally consciousness returned to me, there I was: again, captured; again weaponless; again armorless; again, chained. But this time, at least I am chained with my friends, and that gives me a measure of hope. Again, I’m writing you before what I do not know will come, and our mortality draws shallow. All I know right now is that, we’re being marched towards some worksite. If our luck prevails, I may have more adventures to tell you. If not, know that your brothers have brought no shame to the clan of Vidor, and to our last, we never gave up our quest for our father.
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A Strange Winter Night
Unexpected guests at the Inn

Falco – 2947 TA, Winter

It had been a busy autumn at the Inn. The goblin menace in the high pass had abated, at least for now, and people were hurrying up to do what trading they could then head back home before winter. The Inn was just about the only place one could get a good bed and a better meal before heading East to the Dale, or to rest after a rough journey through the Mirkwood.

We’d gotten some river-bound traders as well. I didn’t know there was anyone to trade with up north, but they’d just got back from there. Vilgundings, they called the northerners, kin to the Beornings, but rougher and with strange customs. I didn’t ask how strange back then, and didn’t know I was going to find out very soon.

Unbeknownst to me, word of my little project with pipe weed had gotten out, and potential customers were lining up already. Apparently, creating a market for the product wouldn’t be as much work as I’d feared. Now if only I could get the things to grow to the proper size – with the poorer soil and colder weather up here, the leaves were growing much smaller. I wouldn’t know the taste of the final product until it had time to dry properly over the winter. If it didn’t pan out, I’d have to try and find better soil next spring – or maybe make a trip back to the Shire and get some different varieties to experiment with.

That’s what I was thinking about one night a bit after the first snows, when the door to the inn banged open. I thought it was Khorum in one of his moods again, but he was right there by the fireplace already, a mug of beer next to him. In came five big, I mean big rough looking fellows. They stood there for a moment, shaking the sleet of their coat and looking everyone up and down, but mostly down, with cold, hard eyes that matched the assortment of swords and axes and knives about them. From the corner of my eye, I saw Wenverra taking in a quick breath and hurrying back to the kitchen. Dody looked at me, unsure.

Right, better if I took it from there… “Customers! Welcome to our humble inn! We certainly didn’t expect visitors at this time of the night but I’m sure we can…”

“Ale. And whatever stew you got. Double portions. And be quick about it!”

The welcoming speech I had prepared died in my throat. As I hurried back to the kitchens to get things moving, I gave Khorum a look. I’m not too sure what I meant by it but he seemed to understand, and shifted his position ever so slightly so his mattock would be within easy reach. The strangers took notice and I heard some words being exchanged while I was in the kitchen. They didn’t sound kind. By now Bifur and Dog had taken notice as well.

I came back in with five ales and tried to defuse the situation. As I moved closer to these folks i noticed a familiar, earthy smell about them but couldn’t quite place it. As I took another look at the arsenal of weapons bristling about them, I was reminded of Stony Ford. Would this place be be next? Not if I could do something about it.

“Right sirs, the stew is coming in a minute, that’ll be one silver and… seven coppers.” I don’t normally ask guests to pay in advance but I was starting to doubt they planned to pay at all.

The leader towered over me. Where was my sword? Right, in the back room with my shield… damn. I heard Khorum get up behind me. He reached down to his belt. “You’re not being very neighbourly, little half-man.” His hand came back, with a full gold coin. “Keep the change, in case we want more. And have some scraps thrown outside for our servant”

-“Servant?” Dog came back in, he must have snuck out at some point. He whispered to me. -“There’s a goblin outside, tied to the tree!”
-“A goblin? Is that your servant? What kind of person keeps a goblin for a servant?
-The we kind. Got a problem with that little man? Now before you choke on that pipe of yours how about you bring us some of that weed we heard about?
- Oh, the weed, is that what you’re here about?
- We’re here for a meal and some ale before we travel back up North, bu we heard you was trying to grow some weed around these parts. Making a right mess of it too, I reckon.
- A mess? And why would that be?
- Cos’ you don’t know shite about growing stuff round these parts. Get it? Don’t know shite at all.
- Oh!” It clicked where that smell of theirs came from. “And you, sir, would have some shite to spare?”
- Could be. We en’t living soft on honey like those southerners are. Good fatty bacon is what keeps a man strong. So yea, we might have some shite that’s make your weed grow fat and strong, if you want to trade.
- Trade? I do think we can do that… let’s talk about it over some hot stew shall we?"

So eventually we haggled and they told me they’d be back in the spring with some cartloads of “brown gold” as my da used to call it. I tried to bring the Goblin question back up, but something in their eyes told me that wouldn’t be a good idea.

Eventually, after they’d all but emptied the great pot of stew we’d prepared for the week, they took their leave. I still didn’t fully trust them – I mean who travels at night and with a goblin in tow? – but they were still of the free folk and I suppose we all have to stick together in these hard times. Still, I asked Dog to keep a lookout in case they came back later that night, with more friends.

About an hour later, the door opened again and a group of hooded figures came in. (Note to self, never ask Dog to keep watch, on anything, ever again.) Obviously, those were different visitors – much lither of build and wearing bows rather than axes. Then their leader took his hood down and confirmed my suspicion. These were elves visiting us.

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The leader intruduces himself as Legolas, from King Thranduil’s halls and explained he was escorting an elven noblewoman named Irimei on her journey West through the High Pass. The lady took down her hood as well, and she looked youthful as her kind do, but those eye, those eyes! These were eyes that had for sure seen the passage of millienia, seen the kingdoms of men and even dwarves grow and fall. Even my Dwarf friends seemed to sense it, and rose up to make formal introductions.

It was strange really – there we were, a group of clumsy, beginner adventurers with really more failings and narrow escapes than real accomplishments to our name, trying to impress this lady who had seen countless legends through her life, and no doubt been part of a few. And she and Legolas would politely prod us on to tell more about ourselves.

Eventually, once we had gone on talking about ourselves for entirely longer than would be reasonable, Legolas started explaining the purpose of his visit. Lady Irimei was being hunted by Orcs on her journey – nasty creatures out of Mordor, too, stronger and meaner than the normal breed. They had hounded the party along their journey through Mirkwood, and now they seemed to be all over the Anduin vale, looking for her.

So that was where we came in. Legolas explained we were to escort the lady to the High Pass as quickly and discreetly as possible, while he and his rangers would try and draw the Orcs away from us. Surprisingly, there were no arguments about that plan, and even the stiff necked Dwarf brothers started readying their gear straight away. There were Orcs about and free folk in danger, and that was all they needed to know. They might grumble a lot about many things, but their heart is in the right place.

The journey started well enough – we made good time downriver despite choppy waters, our new companion is a deft hand with boats and sailing. During the trip, I noticed some lines of smoke coming on the West bank – there must be folks dwelling about these parts that we hadn’t encountered before.

At the Old Ford, the local Beorning garrison warned us the country was thick with Orcs. But it was only three days to the high pass, and these nasty beasts didn’t travel by day so if we were fast enough, we should be able to make it.

On the first day we made good progress and thought we were in the clear. But during the morning of the second day Dog noticed a column of black shapes making their way through the snow, far away but heading towards us. Irimei confirmed our fears: “These are Uruks from Mordor, and they have come for me”.

We went off the path and tried to lose them, but when we’d lost sight of one column another came into view. We wouldn’t get out of this without a fight. Khorum started planning for it. “Right, if we gonna fight ‘em basterds better do it while the sun is up – and get ’em where we want ’em too! That hillock looks about right – they’ll have to do all the running and the slope will put them on our level.”

So we dug in and waited. It didn’t take long. A first column showed up – but they stopped three bowshots away. Then another, and yet another. There must have been a hundred of the beasts down there, and we had trapped ourselves on that hill. This wasn’t looking good. Irimei started singing, in a mournful voice. Great, now I’d go to my death feeling inadequate about my own singing.

A great lumbering beast of an Orc, clad in black armor, urged his minions forwards. Khorum yelled at him something so obscene even the beast seemed taken aback – while it tried to process what had just been said (I mean, is that even physically possible?), Dog started letting loose with arrows. He hit a couple targets but in the return volley, a lucky shot clipped him in return. He groaned, took a moment to catch his breath and he deemed about to drop his bow for a moment, but then he grunted, snapped the shaft embedded in his leg, and went back to work raining arrows.

They sent the goblins at us first – nasty little creatures, but enough of them would wear us down eventually. But the Dwarf brothers didn’t see it that way! “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!” they roared in unison and goblins went down by axe and mattock faster than they could crawl up the hill. I jumped in too – shield up, stabbing down at passing knees and legs.

Then the bigger Orcs started shoving the goblins aside and coming up the hill and we had a dire fight on our hands. They were focusing their efforts on Khorum, and although he’s as sturdy as they come, he couldn’t hold for very long against three great Uruks.

Then irimei said something in Elvish, and a bliding light came shining from the ring at her finger. The uruks were stunned for a moment, and we had an instant to regroup and take down a couple of them. But then the war chief was on Khorum, accepting a hit from the mattock just so he could land one of his own. Already battered, the brave Dwarf went down under a jagged black scimitar. The uruk lifted his sword again to finish the job, and we all started to run to our friend’s help, but we knew we couldn’t make it in time.

Then there was a great burst of snow being scattered by a mighty wind. The Orc leader was sill lifting his sword, only he was being lifted up himself, by a giant pair of talons that threw him over the cliff side!

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From the Ashes
The Aftermath of Stony Ford

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Falco, Summer of 2946, Third Age

There were no songs on the road, as we made our way back to the Easterly Inn. The ashes of Stony Ford laid heavy on our hearts. We had defeated the bandits in the end, but there had been no winners on that day, there would be no boasting or tall tales when we came back. My tobacco pouch hung from my belt, untouched.

Dody and his family greeted us at the inn, but the cheers died on their lips when they got a good look at us: Bloodied, battered and downcast. Bifur in particular was the worst off, shaved and full of bruises all over, dressed in our spare clothing. He wouldn’t meet anyone’s eyes, and headed to his room without a word. His brother gave an apologetic shrug, and followed in.

The Dog and I were still recovering from our injuries as well, but we exchanged hugs with Dody and set about telling our story and making introductions with our new traveling companion.

But you can’t keep a Hobbit down for very long, and we had after all brought back several kegs of rather fine ale, as well a fresh ham and supplies from Trader’s island, so by the evening a semblance of good cheer had returned. It was good to put my feet under a table.

There was much to do around the Inn that summer – as the place was turning out to be our main abode, we started to expand it for our use. Khorum had taken over the local forge and set about pounding at it day in and day out – we had an interesting quid pro quo when I came in saying I needed him to get me a nice little hoe. Otherwise, I immersed myself in the running of the place, expanding the garden and even trying to brew a batch of beer with Dody – clearly we had much to learn but there was some potential there, perfuming it with some local herbs that Dog and I had found.

In the weeks that followed, some drifters and families made their way to the Inn, from Stony Ford – mostly women and children who had managed to hide or flee into the woods before the bandits took the town. Still feeling guilty over our lack of judgement and failure to save the village back then, I offered to sponsor out of my own pocket those of them who wanted to settle in the area.

Two families took up the offer and were given tasks around the Inn to make them feel at home, rather than refugees. Wenvera and her 2 young girls were soon hard at work, the girls really too young to see this more than a grand adventure. Maerbyn and her teenage son Skolsorn, fit in less easily, Skolsorn fell to brooding, has taken to long ranging walks, as if hunting trouble. While Maerbyn constantly fusses over her son and probably does more harm than good by doing so.

I also had my little pet “project” to take care of. I’d found a nice, secluded hollow by a stream that reminded me a bit of the Shire, and planted my two saplings there after the thaw. The soil was not as rich as back home, and they seemed to be struggling a bit – the leaves still too small to be used as proper pipe weed – but hopefully by Autumn they’d give some seeds for the next year. They probably needed something more to really prosper, something to give them a boost.

I burst inside the inn, lodged my thumbs inside my suspenders and did my best impersonation of my da: "Dody! Oi know what we be missen! We need tah get us some pegs! Ye got plenty o’ trash an’ leftovers to feed ‘em, an’ tha manure will sweeten yer garden like nothing else! "

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The slaughter of Stony Ford
The words of Khorum, son of Vidor, Summer and Autumn 2947, Third Age

This is an account of the tragic events that lead to the destruction of Stony Ford and the wholesale slaughter of its people. The Five Companions were (quite shamefully) unable to prevent that tragedy from happening though we were involved in the vengeful justice mete out to the bandits responsible.

The show began with the Five Companions on the trail of Odderick the murderer, escapee from Beorn’s justice. We tracked him down to the small town of Stony Ford and questioned several people in town as to his potential whereabouts. It turns out that Odderick killed Raffick in a rage when Raffick hit his wife, Brundhild. Raffick deserved a good kicking for abusing his wife but not to be killed for it. Or, at least, the case should have been brought before Beorn if Brundhild was seeking recompense from Raffick. Instead, Odderick killed him in cold blood.

Brundhild was kind enough to let the Five Companions know that Odderick had indeed recently returned (in secret) to Stony Ford and he had since fled southwest from Stony Ford towards the forest. We tracked him there and discovered signs of a fight and it appeared that Odderick had been attacked and captured by someone in the forest.

The Five Companions entered the forest and soon enough came across a couple of small groups of bandits. They were hastily defeated in combat and we took one bandit (who called himself “Joe”) captive and forced him to lead us towards the bandit camp as well as questioning him about the bandit group.

Joe told us that the bandits were lead by someone himself Valtar the Bloody, King of the Woods and Odderick was among the bandits now; apparently pressed into service. The bandit group numbered more than one hundred so it was more than we could handle so the stealthy numbers among us (Bifur, Falco and Dog) went ahead to try to sneak into the camp and rescue / re-capture Odderick while I (reluctantly) stayed behind with Joe as my heavy armor would have destroyed any chance of approaching unheard.

Several hours later, Falco and Dog returned without Bifur. I was greatly alarmed that Bifur was in trouble so the guys quickly explained what had happened. The three of them successfully snuck up to the camp and Falco wouldn’t shut up about the delicious bacon he was able to pilfer from the cooking pit. I wasn’t interested In the food and wanted to know what happened to Bifur. It turns out that Bifur got very close to the bandits and there was some great debate going on but Dog and Falco were not close enough to hear what was being said. Bifur forgot himself and spoke out which lead to his discovery and then capture.

Falco and Dog needed to flee for their lives but they saw Bifur being de-bearded and having his head shaved in disgrace. I vowed to kill Valtar when I heard such a horrid action. Bifur was not killed but captured and shamed.

We deduced that the bandits were mobilizing to attack the nearest town which was Stony Ford. A difficult decision needed to be made but we chose the greater good (instead of mounting a rescue mission for Bifur) and fled ahead and north of the bandit group towards the Old Ford to alert the Beornings, send for reinforcements and shore up defenses at the Old Ford so that we could harass and slow them down before they could return Stony Ford. Additionally, one of the Beornings went south to Stony Ford to alert them.

We prepared for battle at the Old Ford and figured we were a day ahead of the bandit group. After the first day, the bandits did not show. Nor on the second day. On the third day, disaster! They were not going the way towards the Old Ford but most have an alternate route. The Beornings arrived at this point and we all rushed two days south to the Stony Ford. We were too late.

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Stony Ford was in the hands of the bandits when we arrived and the folkspeople had been put to the sword. The bandit army had constructed makeshift boats and crossed the river without the need of going to the Old Ford. The Five Companions and Beorn with his Beronings only had one option – revenge. The bandits held the town and had not yet left.

We charged into the burnt out Stony Ford with its people hanging off the walls with cold murder in our hearts. Glorious battle ensured and the Five Companions personally slew Valtar the Bloody, his Huntsman and Odderrick as well. That last one was a bit of an error as Beorn wanted him alive. After the battle, the bandits were destroyed and the Beornings’ sense of justice and vengeance satisfied. Beorn was mightily put out by our failure to capture Odderrick alive as well as the failure to protect Stony Ford. That failure will haunt the Five Companions till the end of our fellowship.

We returned to the remains of the bandit camp in the forest with Valtar’s bloody head and scared them into returning Bifur to us in return for their lives. We returned to the Inn of ended the season in the peace and tranquilty of the hearth. I personally hit the forge and hammered out my frustrations over our failure at Stony Ford on the anvil and created new armor for myself and Falco.

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Orcs, Beornings and Justice to come

The words of Khorum, son of Vidor, Spring 2947, Third Age

After wintering at the Easterly Inn and enjoying the food and beer of our host, Master Hobbit Dody, he asked our fellowship to travel down to a river island one week south of the inn to check on product prices and to purchase ale and beer to restock the inn after the long winter.

Duty-bound to our host, we readily agreed. Falco was eager to make some profit on the pipe weed he purchased in Bree anyway. My brother Bifur, having injured his leg decided to sit this one out and rest up in the comforts of the inn. Myself, Falco, Hunter, Dog and Bill set off.

It was cursed journey downstream on some elven-made (of course) hellish craft (called a boat, I believe). The rocking and motion of the water kept my stomach ill at ease and only the nautical knowledge of Hunter and his advice kept me from losing my dignity and lunch over the side of the craft. The motion of the boat on the river threw off our rhythm and our music to start the journey was quite unacceptable. Hunter clapped politely at our song but I know he was just humoring us. The journey took a week to reach the river isle.

Happy to be on solid ground again, the fellowship did some exploring of the isle. After selling his pipe weed for a nice profit, Falco and I spent the day gambling and drinking with the locals and had a thoroughly fun time and have been welcomed back. Hunter and Dog had found several bottles of fine Southern Wine when we met up later to purchase Master Dody’s beer.

Back on the boat and back up the river. However, after 3 days heading north, adventure found us. We saw another boat beached on the western bank. Two dead men, Beornings, with orcish arrows sticking out of their chests were in the craft. Upon searching the area, we discovered that the two dead men were men of standing with Beorn. They were marshals transporting a prisoner back to Beorn for judgment but the prisoner was gone. Bounds having been cut and a sword missing. The two men did not die without taking a couple of orcs with them though. A mighty throw of a spear skewered two of the filthy creatures together not far from the boat. The Beornings died in battle, as it should be.

Hunter tracked the orcs a full day but the tracks went into Mirkwood. We decided to return to the boats and travel back up river to bring the bodies home to Beorn for a proper burial. Even that last leg of our journey was not uneventful.

A couple of nights later, just as we stopped to camp for the night, we heard the quiet but rushed footfalls of more than a half dozen creatures coming towards us. The fellowship quickly moved into battle positions to ambush them as I stood under the moon and waited for them to come. The orcs saw me as I saw them. “Flithy dwarf”, one of them growled as my companions let loose a volley of arrows dropping two of the smaller orcs because combat was joined.

My blood up, I charged into the fray and planted my mattock into one of the bigger orcs chest but he moved at the last moment, making it a brutal wound, but not a lethal one. I took a return hit from his spear as a second orc moved in to flank me.

Luck was on our side that evening. The gods curse the foulness of the orcs and their inferior weapons broke against dwarven mail. Each of the fellowship fought well and killed an orc or two a piece. Even little Falco finished off one of the bigger orcs with a surprising vicious slash of his sword while Dog decapitated one orc with his long-hafted axe (though I suspect it was a lucky blow as he really doesn’t know how to use an axe properly. He really needs to ask Bifur for pointers). Hunter took out the last orc with an arrow through the eye. Best place for them.

That little fight done, we settled down for the night and the rest of the journey back to Beorn’s was without incident. We arrived onshore and I expertly fashioned a litter to drag the bodies of the two Beornings back home. It took the better part of the day to reach Beorn’s House.

Fierce looking men, the Beornings. The look like Durin’s Folk… only much taller. I can respect a human with a beard, a taste for red meat off the bone and a thirst for strong ale. Beorn welcomed us into his hall as Hunter explained what had happened to his men and why we had returned with them.

Beorn offered his hospitality of drink and food as we entertained him with song and riddle and Southern wine. To be honest, the Southern wine was the best of the three as my riddle hit a nerve with the one of the womanfolk and wasn’t well received. Regardless, Beorn was a good host and asked us to stay for the funeral of the two dead men whom were called Meeravek and Odo. Beorn asked us to speak at the funeral as we found their bodies and returned them home.

I am not much for speeches and prefer to lead by example and action, not through words. However, I did give a rousing speech that promised one thing – vengeance for Meeravek and Odo. The Beornings, much like the Dwarves, understand that concept so I hit a chord with them.

Beorn asked us to look into matter of their deaths. Return to the scene and find out more information about the prisoner they had. Likely, the marshals were returning from Stony Ford so that is a probable place for the prisoner to return.

Naturally, we agreed to help, to cement our new friendship with the Beornings. Beorn said that he considers our fellowship family now and no dwarf lets down family. Some of his men headed back to the Easterly Inn with Master Dody’s beer (and word to my brother, Bifur, that we are headed to Stony Ford and he should meet us there) while the fellowship set off south again.

Reaching the scene of the killing again, the keen eye of Hunter noticed something on the opposite bank of the river. It seems that the prisoner escaped from the orcs, swam across the river with a sword and headed south. Hunter followed the tracks for a day and more but eventually lost them. The tracks were two weeks old, after all, so it is remarkable that he found them in the first place. The prisoner was heading south in the direction of Stony Ford.

A chance encounter a few days later with some Woodmen travelers gave us the identity of the prisoner as his story is being told in the river isle. Apparently, he is a rapist and a murderer; a kin-slayer – the vilest of sorts. The kind of thing that only orcs would do. He is called Odderick and he killed his kinsmen after raping that man’s wife. Meeravek and Odo rightfully arrested the man and were returning him to face justice when the orcs attacked and killed them.

Odderick thinks he is free and clear now. He is wrong. The Fellowship of Five is on his trail and justice will be served.

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Back from the Mountains

Falco Strangefoot, Summer 2946, Third Age

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- “Ouch! That stings!” I winced as Dog applied his pungent smelling ointment to the nasty gash that goblin had left me with. “Am I going to die?”
- “Ye sure will if ye keep prancing around goblins without proper armor”, Khorum rumbled.
- “Sir Dwarf, while I respect your taste for drums as a noble instrument, surely dressing yourself in cymbals and a whole array of clattering bits of metal is taking the love of percussion instruments a bit far. I don’t think you’ll catch any civilized Hobbit doing that!”
- “Pah! Have it yer way. I’ll take clattering bits against a hole in me hide any day”. But his heart was not in it. His fight with the Ork chieftain had taken the wind out of his sails – and the brains out of the Ork, to be fair.
- “Has anybody seen the Hobbit?”, one of the caravan guards asked as he approached the fire.
- “I’m right under your nose you lumbering oaf!” – seriously, did Dog really have to make those bandages so tight?
– “Oh, um, not you, the other one. Dindy. He ain’t in his box any more.”

The visions I’d been entertaining of a hero’s welcome, warm meal and proper bed came clattering to the ground, in a fracas of Dwarven music. Giving my bandages a final tug, (ouch!) the Dog was already on his feet and looking for tracks, looking entirely too full of energy. Khorum and I could only share a shrug as we began the painful process of extirpating our bottoms from their place of rest. It is maybe fortunate that getting “up” isn’t very far at all for us. But it was Khorum who first picked up the trail.

- “Only one of yer folk would be daft enough to run down a hill barefoot in the dark. Aye, and those are goblins right ’ere. Whole band of the filthy buggers dragged him away, at least that should make for an easy track”

So off we went, following the trail into a cavern, then deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth. I didn’t much fancy another run-in with the goblins, or whatever else might dwell here, but we had to give it a try.

- "Dog, are you sure this is even the right trail? What if…

… Elves are stringy and taste weird
Dwarves full of hair and too hard
Only humans taste just right

- “Uh, never mind. Khorum, would you mind not clanking so loudly? We don’t want to wake up the whole mountain.”
- “Yer babbling is louder than my clanking, fool Hobbit.” * Thunk *
- “Thunk?”

Was that a tree trunk we’d walked into? Do tree trunks normally have toes?
- “Cave Troll!” Dog shrieked, pulling off a rather nice falsetto, for once.

The troll was big, but slow and hampered by the cavern walls. We soon had a good number of cuts and arrows in him, but it didn’t seem to do much good, and it was quickly wearing us down. Khorum attempted to get right in it’s face to either scare it off or score a fatal blow, but the troll merely seemed annoyed by that, and tried to swat away the now exposed Dwarf.
- “Khorum, watch out!” I cried as I rushed to his aid.

Then a gnarled fist the size of a barn filled my whole vision – and everything went black.

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Two weeks later

- “So, how are you going to cook me?” I ask, and instantly regret it.
- “Roast the Hobbit! Roast him on a spit!”
- “Eat him raw! Cut him bit by bit!”
- “Boil him!”
- “Boil me? But that would take away all the taste! And if you roast me, you’ll waste all the fatty bits. Really after all this running I’m afraid I would taste bitter and sour.”
- “So how would you cook the Hobbit, Hobbit?”
- “Well, if you really have to do it, I suppose a stew would do nicely. With tubers and carrots, cooked nice and slow to take away the bitterness and make everything tender.”
- “No slow! Goblins hungry, eat Hobbit now!”
- “Shut your face Grishnak, or I’ll be eating it next” said the ugliest one.

It was Dindy’s fourth time telling his tale, and he kept embellishing it every time. None of the patrons seemed to mind, especially since Dody kept the ale flowing. The story had spread by word of mouth and drawn in a merry crowd. I settled back in my chair and took a good long pull off my pipe.

- “So there I was, peeling potatoes for my own stew, and trying to come up with a way to get out of this bind, when I feel a big hairy hand slap on my mouth, so I think that’s it, they’ve got too hungry and come to spit me, but instead it’s this here fellow.” The crowd looks at Dog, who isn’t particularly big or hairy – Bill takes advantage of the attention to beg around for treats.

- "He says he’s come to help me, and I’m mighty glad, but them goblins are cunning, and they’ve set this great big chain on my foot, and only the big ugly one has the key. So the Dog here, he goes back where he came from, then he comes around again all dressed up as a goblin! Almost fooled me! Then down the tunnel he goes, and I get back to peeling more potatoes, seeing as they might have some extra meat to cook now.

“I’m not too sure how he managed to make away with that key, but apparently there was a lot of belching involved, I could hear it all the way through the tunnels. Then a bell rings and suddenly the whole lot of them come barging into the room and I think they’re going to eat me for sure, but they just go out the other side. Then I hear a click and next thing I know Dog is dragging me back the way they all came from. We go up some stairs and find a big shield and a real fancy mirror on the wall, but we got to keep going so we go up again and then whoa! I kid you not, a roomful of gold and jewels that would make even Smaug green with envy! But it was a dead end so I led Dog back before all the gold could get to his head. We had no other way out so we ran the way we came from past a couple goblins and then straight into the big one, and I thought we’d go well with parsley, and maybe a bit of sage but then Dog drew his bow and cthunk!, nailed the big guy right between the eyes!

“After that it was a lot of running and clawing and screaming in the dark. We ran and we ran and we ran until we couldn’t run no more, then Dog kept dragging me on anyway. Maybe two days later we finally made it out of the caves, with gobbers still on our heels. As we got our first glimpse of daylight we ran into this Dwarf and Hobbit there, looking about as haggard as I felt. But finally the goblins gave up the chase and we were free to go…

“Then they all started singing and I wished I were back with the goblins.”


Some time later that night, after Dog and Khorum had been called to tell their part of the tale, and to prove that the rumors about their singing were not, in fact, exaggerated, I stumbled back outside for a bit of fresh air. I’d had a few pints and so had Dindy. After we’d both relieved ourselves we settled down for a smoke.

“- Still, that whole trip over the mountain was one right mess. Lost three ponies and most of our goods.
- Aye, messy business them goblins are. And the Trolls are worse.”. Dindy started playing idly with some kind of jeweled bauble.
- “Fancy bit you got there mate. Some family heirloom?”
- “Oh, no, nicked it from the goblins when we were on the run. You reckon it’s worth something? Maybe enough to recoup from this trip?”
- “I dunno, probably. It glitters all fancy like. But not elvish like, too rough and heavy. Maybe you could ask the Dwarves? They know their rocks.”
- “Aye, I might do that, too.”

Khorum had been matching each of us pint for pint and he was looking pretty ruddy at this stage. But when Dindy showed him his bauble, it was like you’d told him his ma was a cave troll and dunked him in ice water all at the same time.

- “Thorin’s beard! That… that’s me da’s woggle” he stammered.

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From the Mirkwood to the Easterly Inn
As told by The Dog to Dody one night at the Inn

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Well, there we were then – the old man trussed up like a pig and tied to my friend Khorum – see we tied him there because we couldn’t find a rock big enough near the path in the darkness to make sure that the old coot – bless his soul – wouldn’t run off half-cocked again. Well, as I see it, nothing makes a more solid replacement for a rock than Khorum. He’s a true friend and I’ve often remarked that he’s got the soul of the mountain in him.

Well it proved to be true, because through the night the only thing that moved that mountainous dwarf was his own lengthy nasal rumblings. And wouldn’t you know it? When the merchant woke up, he was right as rain.

Well with our employer up and moving we were able to head on down the trail a bit more – and mostly without incident – I’ll tell you something though, the Mirkwood isn’t a place I’d like to call home – bless those beautiful elves for their tenacity, calling a place like that their home… you can see why they get on edge at times, I think everything in those woods was trying to poison, bite, stab, snatch, or otherwise inconvenience me and my friends. In fact the only good things in those foul woods were our new elf friends. Don’t you pay any heed to what Khorum and Bifur say, they’re just sour grapes because of some old score between the dwarves and elves… but I say, they helped us out a great deal on our journey, so elves are ok in my book.

Where was I? Oh, right the Mirkwood was trying to get us all. I heard that Radagast and his talk a big deal about the woods being alive, and in my time near the East Blight, I believe it… but the Mirkwood, she’s something else. I remember we were all there, camped one night out on the trail after a particularly grueling slog – and I mean we’re exhausted – and I was having this great dream about running alongside Bill and going on this wild hunt, right? And what wakes me up out of it but my good dwarf causing all sorts of commotion.

Khorum had gotten it into his head that there was some great big pile of treasure there in the Mirkwood – I told him it was just in his dream, but his eyes had this green glaze to ‘em. Never seen it before – like he was still there in his dream. There was this big stone well just off the path a ways – and you know Hunter (yeah the grim fellow with the hood that’s the one), he told us “NEVER go off the path.” And I trust him, you know – sure, he can be a bit of an asshole at times – but he is OUR asshole, and more often than not, he’s also correct – which is a trait you like to see in a friend and a guide.

Well I told Khorum it’s best to stay well away from any old well that just happened to be alongside this pathway – you see, anything else that we came across (that wasn’t obviously there from the elves) had really tried its level best to kill us dead. He wasn’t having any of it though.

“Dog, there’s gold down there in the bottom of that well – and if you don’t move out of the way, I’ll strike you down for it!” That’s what he said, so help me.

Well, that’s no way for a friend to talk to another, and I was about to let that raggedy dwarf get what was coming to him – but how would my mother think of me if I just let my friend get eaten up by some wild well there in the Mirkwood? So I wrestled with him a while, but don’t let anyone tell you that dwarfs are slow – because they ain’t slow at all when they think gold is nearby.

Well he gave me the slip and he hopped right down into the bottom of that well – splashing around in the dead leaves and muck as happy as a hog, talking about what riches he had found. I didn’t have the heart – or the time – to tell him he was just mucking around in a bunch of dead leaves because right then, that well – it came right to life.

I hadn’t seen anything like that before – and I hope I never do again – it’s enough to make me want to stick to stream water from now on. That well came a sprouting out all sorts of roots and tentacles and all sorts of things that just don’t happen outside of Mirkwood. Well, it was a real big ruckus – and Khorum and his brother, they got whooped up a bit by that beast of a thing … but finally we were able to put that critter down and save our friend, despite the rocks in his head.

That wasn’t even the end of the troubles that we saw on our way home – I don’t know if you lot here at the Inn got a taste of that big storm that passed through a few weeks ago, but we sure did. And I tell you one thing, in the middle of the elf path through Mirkwood is the last place you want to be when the bottom falls out of those big rain clouds. It came down in buckets, without a care in the world for the canopy above us. It was miserable – and I ain’t ashamed to say that I was one poor wet Dog in the rain. The only one of us with any sort of joy in their hearts that day was Bill – Bill loves the right, see? Happy as a pig in shit when he gets to run and swim. But the rest of us? Well, it was hard going. And our old man was really running on his last leg – well we couldn’t keep going forward, but we couldn’t stay there (unless one of us learned how to breath underwater real quick).

Well, lucky for us, Hunter has the sharpest pair of eyes I ever saw on a man. And he calls out to us that he’s spotted a big old tree that we could use for shelter. Only, when we get to that tree, it turns out it has a door and everything. Well, we didn’t see a welcome mat… but we didn’t see an un-welcome mat either, so we took our chances and got out of the rain.

And inside wouldn’t you know it? There was a fresh fire with meat on the spit above it. That was enough to convince us to stay. Now we knew that this place was probably someone’s home because trees very rarely have meat cooking inside of them most days. So we did our best to be good guests and Khorum even laid out some gold for the meat we took.

Well we hardly had any time to enjoy the vittles before the owner of the house returned none-too-pleased about his newfound guests. Well, that’s understandable since Bill was the best smelling one of us at the time – and we had just eaten his dinner and trapsed a bunch of rain water all over his floor. But I think he liked me, he had the look of Woodsman himself, and he calmed down after a while and he even gave me that axe head that I showed you earlier – called it “Wolf Biter” and told me to keep it. Well, that was a thing.

We said our goodbyes because I think we had worn out our welcome and then we made our way out to the other end of the Mirkwood without too much more trouble. Hunter said he saw the elves watching us as we left the Forest Gate – and I didn’t see any elves, but I trust him. And that’s how we made our way here!

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