Attack The Darkness

The Galman Letters
To his nephew, Garth Dandywine of Laketown

To my most treasured nephew Garth,

I hope this letter finds you in good fortune and good health. You won’t believe how far afield I have found myself travelling ever since I have taken up with this merry band of wanderers that call themselves “The Seven.” In truth, I wonder at times where the name of the group has come from – in my travels and travails we’ve numbered as few as two and only on some rare occasion do we ever number more than five. It wasn’t until the first time I was invited back to their headquarters, the Easterly Inn, where I met the woodsman they called “Dog” and his shaggy beast named “Bill” that I even met the remaining members.

I tell you this, the Woodsmen are a hardy folk – prone to a sudden cheer and much bravado at times – but this Dog, he is a man changed by what he has seen. He smiles, sure enough, when the weather is fine and the music plays at the inn, his loyal hound curled up by his feet – ever faithful and watchful. But I’ve never seen another man with such a far-away look in his eyes – and such a sadness within.

The dwarf, Khorum, confided in me that Dog had never been the same ever since he witnessed some dark business that resulted in the near death of one of their allies, an elf maiden of ancient age and untold beauty. The darkness claimed some part of his will, some part of his heart that day. Said that the poor man – who was once the keenest eye in the party, would wander off on his own when he should have been keeping watch. Said that he retired to the inn, to linger close to friends and far from shadows – and to spare his party any danger he might lead them into.

Khorum, and his brother Bifur, are the very heart of our company. A dour bunch, at times to be sure, but a pair of more loyal, more steadfast friends and fearsome foes you’ll never meet anywhere on that Lake of yours. The three of us have endured so many trials together, I sometimes wonder if my beard will grow out and others will mistake me for one of their own – so tight is the bond of friendship we now share.

Their father, a stout dwarf named Vidor, had been taken captive by some foul orcish host and the brothers had been seeking out signs and clues as to where he had been taken ever since the end of the battle of the five armies. Dwarves might not move fast, but I tell you this much my dear nephew – if a pair of dwarfs seek you out, they will surely find you in due time. So it was, the brothers heard tale that their father yet lived – but as a slave deep in some mountain holdfast, being kept as a gladiator for the amusement of evil men and orcs alike.

Did they balk at the news? Did they run to recruit some army to assail the mountain? Nay, my nephew… they set to work, clever as anything, conspiring with their friend Falco (a hobbit, if you would believe) to pretend to be enslaved themselves – with yours truly and the halfling to pose as their erstwhile captors! You’d not credit it if you weren’t there – your uncle, playing the part of some northern slaver! But the guise worked and we were able to free that ungrateful dwarf after a harrowing series of close calls that I will not disturb you with in these missives, just be thankful that you will never know that sort of hardship in your life amongst the guild of Laketown.

It grows late and we dare not light a fire out here in the blasted wastes of the Withered Heath, so I shall continue when next I have the chance. Give Herrik and your mother my love and do me proud – when I next return I’ll want to hear that you’ve done well by them.

Wishing you all the comforts that I’m missing,
Your favorite uncle

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Treachery at the Dale
or the hunt for Khorum's gold

Autumn 2950, Third Age. From the journal of the hobbit Falco, after several torn pages followed by the inscription “What happens in Gundabad stays in Gundabad”

It was a time for celebration and merriment, as the veterans of the Five Armies (the three on the winning side at least), sat down after the melee to soothe their bruises with some strong ale, and rather excellent pipe weed. I was doing a brisk business on the sidelines.

For once however, the Dwarf Khorum didn’t seem interested in either drink or food, a much different glint in his eye as the stewards brought up a heavy chest. I had a full purse myself from my various trade endeavors, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a twinge of envy as the Dwarf stepped up to claim his prize for winning the Great Melee. Both of us were so intent on the image of glittering gold coins in our mind that it took a moment to register when the lid popped open and a knot of writhing snakes emerged instead!

It was Bifur who was fastest to react, leaping to knock the steward out of the way and slam the lid on the chest. There was treachery afoot it and seemed the snakes were just the venomous cherry on top of a larger poisonous cake, for as if on cue the assembled guests at the feast started retching, moaning and clutching their throats in agony! I’m no great healer but I’ve spent a fair bit of time with Dog, who was – and I recognized the symptoms of Hemlock poisoning – not too often fatal, but those affected would be incapacitated for two weeks, or more if they weren’t treated with the proper herbs.

We questioned the steward and it turned out that the supervisor Lockstone had excused himself under pretext of unpacking things, while I went out to rouse a healer, the rest of the group tracked him down to the docks, and caught a glimpse of a boat leaving down the river. We quickly gave chase, with Galman at the helm, without lights of our own but trusting in our in his knowledge of his native lands and waterways.

Our captain was a skillful one indeed for we quickly caught up with the fleeing boat and sided up alongside. Three guards on board started aiming arrows at us the but the rapids made it hard to aim, and soon we were boarding their ship – that is to say, Khorum and Bifur were boarding and I was miscalculating the motion of the ship and just barely catching myself on the outside of their boat’s railing.

Implacable as ever, Khorum shrugged off a strike from a guard and quickly proceeded to aerate the man’s head. But the other guard pounced upon Khorum from behind and I had to throw myself forward to intercept the blow. After that, between two angry Dwarfs and Hunter’s bow, the fight was over in seconds, leaving Lockstone alone with his stolen chest.

The man’s eyes were feral, and there was some spidery countenance about him as he draped himself over his stolen riches. He tensed to spring off the boat but an angry warning from Bifur made him shrink back. Then the moonlight hit him from the right angle, and we recognized him as another shadowy figure, one we’d seen long before, at the Dwimmerhorn, conversing with that undead spirit that’s been pulling the strings from the shadows. Birgol, I think the scoundrel’s name was. If we caught him alive maybe we could unravel some of the mysteries shrouding the Enemy’s plans, as well as figure out what kind of threat exactly the Dale was under – but Khorum didn’t see it that way: The Dwarf had been stolen from and intended to get his due, and that thief’s head was now part of it!

With a roar of vengeance, Khorum swung his mattock at the thief, a tremendous blow! But fast on his feet again, his brother Bifur interposed himself and took the hit instead – the swing so powerful it catapulted him straight over the edge and into the water! I grabbed some rope and dove after the poor dwarf, to try and stop this from becoming a fratricide, while on the boat the scuffle degenerated into fisticuffs between the angry Dwarf and the thief, and not a terribly effectual one on either side.

Fortunately, Galman had the presence to steer us towards dry land, and once we had regained our footing I was able to rope in Lockstone and put an end to the struggle. Once he had access to his chest of gold, Khorum quickly lost interest in anything else. Questioning the scoundrel confirmed our fears: An army was marching from Dol Guldur onto the Dale, led by some figure called the Gibbet King. We quickly made our way back to town to report to King Bard.

When we arrived in town, Chaos gripped the streets, seeping from conflicting rumors about the poisoning and an oncoming army. Bard’s hall was quiet, and the Bowman King was grim – somehow of all the assembled heroes, only him, King Dain and our own group seemed to have avoided the poison. Our warning of an oncoming army did little to cheer him up, but he took out some maps and we set to study the situation.

If an army was marching from Dol Guldur, they’d either need to cross King Thranduil’s forest to the Southwest, or cross the Running River to our South. There were few fords through the river, and unpredictable at that but two hundred miles downriver, lay Stonecutter’s Bridge, of ancient construction and the only reliable passage for a large force. The Dale needed time, for its heroes to recover and for help to be dispatched from the Lonely Mountain, and from the Iron Hills further out. If a small force could somehow deny this bridge to the oncoming army or even just delay them for a time, this could make all the difference.

We were maybe not the great heroes the Dale needed in this desperate hour, but we were the only ones it had so we quickly set off aboard another boat. Before leaving the Dale however, I prepared a letter and package to be sent back to the Inn if I didn’t return.

Again trusting our Captain to guide us down the rapids, we made good time to Stonecutter’s Bridge, and reached the village just six days. As we approached the clump of stone houses, we were stricken with how similar it looked to a Beorning village we’d been though four years before. The dwarves and I shared a look – no words were needed – we didn’t know yet the people of this village, but we were determined that they wouldn’t share the same fate as the folks of Stony Ford, not while we still drew breath.

We made ourselves known to the village head a near-blind old man. He was no friend of King Bard, but we managed to convince him of the danger and he agreed to send his womenfolk and children upriver, while he and fifteen of his men stayed behind. Then Hunter and I snuck south of the river to scout, while Bifur took charge of organizing the city’s defenses – and covertly, of undermining the bridge’s central pillar as well.

Hunter and I quickly ran into the army’s own scouts – warg riders – just half a day out, although they didn’t engage us. To make our situation worse, we also found a very crossable ford just thirty miles downriver – probably not the army’s first choice, but if we just collapsed the bridge straight away it wouldn’t take them very long to circle around – we had to bait them in, then delay them as much as we could to buy time for the Dale. Worse, we’d soon have to worry about some of their faster troops circling around and attacking from the back while we were trying to hold the bridge. Still, we tried to make the best preparations possible in what little time we had.

The next morning, a group of goblins and wargs was massing on the other side of the river. A larger Orc advanced across the bridge, demanding we yield to his army. We asked him, none too politely, to come forward an pay the toll, but instead he raised his arm to order his minions to advance – then there was a thunk! and the Orc toppled forward – Hunter’s arrow had gone straight through his shield, upraised arm, and finally his face.

“You shall not pass!” muttered the tight-lipped ranger. But undeterred or perhaps not realizing yet what had happened, the goblin horde rushed forward. The Battle of the Bridge had begun.

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In remembrance of a Heva
The First to fall

Carried high through the successes against the ancient evil that corrupted the Dimmerhorn – the heroes from the Easterly Inn (accompanied by the savage swamp hobbit, Flea and the man known as Lifstan) had to toil to bring home the treasures from that forsaken place. The fight against that dark wight was hard-fought, but knowing that the evil was – it not purged completely – definitely set back, helped lighten the mood as they had to creep back through swamp and field back to their homes.

Soon Autumn turned Winter – and the fellowship occupied itself in their own pursuits. Of note, Heva made quick friends with that swamp-footed hobbit, Flea, and the other newest member of the fellowship through their combined efforts at the Woodsmen’s games. The trio made their impression – for better or worse – in the games, but more importantly a bond was grown between them for their struggles.

Meanwhile work continued at the Inn, growing its base – expanding the fields around it – and making trade flow like the stories told by Falco by the fire with his pipe a piping.

But heroes may never be so rested or idle, it seemed, and soon enough dire news reached them of increasing aggression by oversized arachnids in the Mirkwood, this time attacking across a river that had previously been something of a border for them. Never ones to shy from lending a hand – the fellowship mounted an expedition to take the fight to the spiders of the Mirkwood, fighting a child of Shelob in the process!

The journey was long and full of perils – as were the fellowships previous treks through this toughest of woods – and took its toll on the spirit of the fellowship. So much so that when the battle against the spiders was finally joined, it was a task just to chase off the biggest of the threats.

Sadly, the bravest of the fellows – the warrioress known to her friends as Heva of Stony Ford – fell to the foul toxins of the spiderfoe as she bravely gave her life to save those of her friends. With the giant princess’ final gasping breath she was still cursing at the darkness that consumed her.

In the woods, miserable, weary, and surrounded by foes – our heroes have little time to mourn the loss of their companion…

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Reconnaissance of Dwimmerhorn and the Folkmoot of the Woodsmen
The words of Khorum, son of Vidor, writing in the fortress of Dwimmerhorn as Bifur labors to destroy the stonework and trap some ancient evil below.

We talked with the escaped slave who had fled from the orcs of Dwimmerhorn and learned some very interesting information. It seems that our guide to Dwimmerhorn, Magrick, is actually tainted by the Shadow and he has been guiding people into the wilderness and delivering them into the hands of the enemy. Slave labor, or perhaps a food source, for the orcs.

The escaped slave, Lefstan, was keen to exact his revenge on his captors and Magrick so he equipped himself with some orcish weaponry and showed us a goat path up the mountain which he had used to escape. He said that it would lead us into the fortress of Dwimmerhorn safely and undetected.

It was not an easy climb though. Several times, members of the Fellowship, even the nimble Falco, slipped and fell dangerously back down the path, twisting ankles, bruising muscles and, most importantly, injuring their pride. After many hours, we reached the top of the trail to a small breach in the walls of the fortress upon Dwimmerhorn.

We needed our wits about us to remain undetected inside the fortress as we soon discovered that it was heavily populated with both orcs and humans working together. Humans are such weak-willed people and easily subverted to the Shadow. I was disheartened to see the alliance of Man and Orc on the mountain top.

Luckily, we had magical charms given to us by Radagast the Brown which aided us mightily in our reconnaissance mission. Any time that an enemy would get too close to us, birds and other animals would distract them so that we remained unseen.

We sneaked around the courtyard of fortress, keeping to the shadows of the walls. Tremendous noise was coming from the central building in the courtyard and we went over to have a listen. Foul orcs filled the building and they were complaining about the boredom of their posting here, how much they wanted to eat a hobbit, and other standard Orcish nonsense. If it weren’t for the critical nature of our secret reconnaissance, I would have enjoying feeding those Orcs to Mornrukh, my mattock. Alas, the mission required stealth and secrecy so I held down my bloodlust.

There were also three pits in the center of the courtyard where the orcs were keeping human slaves. Lefstan let us know that was where he had escaped from. We discussed the possibility of trying to free them but given their general ill health and the dangers to both us and the mission, we decided that returning for them later with an army was the best option.

We searched out two buildings before we declared the mission a success and we left the mountain top. The first was a building next to a temple. It was that building where I write these words now. There is a passageway leading down into the mountain and as we started our descent, I was overcome with a sense of dread and doom from some ancient evil within. Knowing that this foe was beyond us, I cautioned the fellowship to withdraw from that building lest we awaken whatever lay below. Realizing that I would not recommend withdrawal from an enemy lightly, the Fellowship heeded my warning and we left.

We then stealthily approached the temple, with both Bifur and Falco expertly leading the group from blind spot to nook and cranny. It was almost as if they were invisible, such was their skill in evading detection from the enemy. It was an evil looking black temple with large brass doors. The doors so big that Falco was convinced that oliphants must be inside. Of course, there were not and I suspect Falco was a bit disappointed.

We snuck into the temple and kept to the shadows. On the far end of it, we saw a shrine near a casket with green glowing chains in it. A Man and Orc were talking to each other and a long dead corpse in robes was between them on the floor. We approached silently; close enough to hear their words.

The Orc mentioned that the goblin tribes they had summoned to Dwimmerhorn were getting restless and needed battle. Any nearby villages are in imminent danger. Then, a shock; doubly so. The corpse itself started talking. Not only that but it was in the voice that was in my head during the ordeal of Dol Guldur. The voice that drove me to despair.

It said that the chains were a weapon of immense power but they were currently useless to them until they mastered the secrets of the chains. We would find out later from Radagast the Brown that the chains the corpse was referring to were the Chains of Fangorodin; an ancient artifact dating back to the First Wars which were used to chain and control dragons. If we had known that at the time, we probably would have tried to escape with them to keep them out of the Enemy’s hands but alas, we did not.

The Man and Orc were the only two people in the temple besides us and we were sorely tempted to butcher the two of them then and there but, again, the nature of the mission stayed our hands. We hid as they exited the temple after the corpse stopped talking. We approached the chains and they were difficult to get close to. A pain in my chest, as if my heart was ready to implode, grew the closer I got to it. Ancient artifact evil, indeed.

We left it behind and made a stealthy retreat from Dwimmerhorn. The reconnaissance mission perfectly executed, we traveled back to the Mountain Hall and told Hartfast what we discovered. Magrick was with the Mountain Men and whispering poison into Hartfast’s ears; no doubt telling him that us in the Fellowship were his enemies and not to be trusted. However, after a convincing speech from Falco, Hartfast saw the truth of Magrick’s darkness, threw him into the river and ordered his archers to shoot him dead. We grimly watched Magrick’s corpse, full of arrows, float away down the river. A deserved end for those who betray their own.

We feasted at the Mountain Hall with Hartfast and his Mountain Men that night. We explained the urgency of the danger of the orcs from Dwimmerhorn and he invited us to travel with him to the Folkmoot of the Woodsmen at Rhosgobel. There the Council of Woodsmen would decide what action was needed against Dwimmerhorn.

At the Folkmoot, we met many distinguished and lordly people, such as Ingermer, Head of the Woodlands, Firtwald the Runner, Amarleoad, Shield Maiden of the Black Tarn, Cywin the Generous and Boffry, son of Boffer. Bifur and myself fit right in. Radagast the Brown and Hartfast also in attendance, of course.

There were several proposals discussed at the Folkmoot with an additional surprise proposal which happened after uninvited guests on horseback arrived at the Moot. The riders were led by one called Mokdread of Tyrant’s Hill. He has another name and it shocked the Council. He is Ingold, the long last son of Ingermer, having at last returned. He brought “gifts” of decapitated orc heads to present to the Council. That increased his worth in my eyes immensely. Mokdread said that he and his riders have been battling orcs and keeping the lands of the Black Tarn safe and he demanded a seat on the Council for his efforts.

The other less surprising proposals included an attack on Dwimmerhorn that Mokdread insisted that he lead, a trade alliance proposed by Cywin the Generous with his people, an expansion of the villages around the Black Tarn proposed by Amarleoad and a survey of the Old Forest Road proposed by Boffry, sent by Dain II Ironfoot, the King under the Mountain.

This last proposal interested myself and Bifur the most as it was from one of our own and the intention of the survey is to see if the Old Forest Road can be reopened and trade allowed on that road thereby avoiding passage through the lands of the Elves of Mirkwood. Any chance to stick it to the elves needs to be explored and, of course, our father is still being held captive in Gundabad so the opportunity to increase our standing with Durin’s Folk and potentially raise an army to wipe out the Orcs of Gundabad and rescue our beloved father is essential.

All proposals passed with the Council though the inclusion of Mokdread on the Council wasn’t a sure thing but I added my voice in support of him. Wisely, the Council heeded my advice and the vote passed.

After the Moot, we wasted no time and the Fellowship returned to Dwimmerhorn with a small army of Mokdread’s riders. We were all eager to destroy orcish scum but, alas, in the time since we were there, the orcs had moved on. Dwimmerhorn was deserted. The human slaves in the pits were all dead and all signs of the Enemy gone. It is almost as if they knew we were coming and fled their inevitable destruction. A traitor amongst the members of the Folkmoot who tipped off the orcs, perhaps?

Mokdread declared the mission a success – “We came to clear out the orcs and they are cleared out so job done,” he said. I have yet to see him battle so he is still untested in my opinion. Mokdread and his riders then left Dwimmerhorn. The Fellowship remained and spent the time to search through the courtyard and buildings. In particular, the sense of Ancient Evil from below still persisted and Bifur insisted that he collapse the entrance to whatever lies below. So I’ve been writing these notes while Bifur is hard at work.

Wait. That feeling… it is getting stronger. It approaches……

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Swamps and swampy Hobbits

Though all of me wanted to pursue those goblins down the mines, and, if not find him alive, at least avenge him. Perhaps had it been a season or two ago, I could imagine a younger, less experienced dwarf would have done just very that. Yet, two adventuring seasons in a row of being made a captive, starved, and, at least in my own mind, slaughtered for sport, tends to wizen even people as stubborn as ours into caution. Though small goblins tend to live in large packs, and though our fellowship is battle hardened, we’re likely to be more capable in effecting a rescue rather than committing a suicide with the provision and assistance of a pack of guides and warriors into the mines.

Moreover, we had given our word to both the Great Eagle and the insane wizard, Radagast the Brown, that we’d look into this matter. Yet if they think we—or at least I—will only scout when the chance to end some orcs, goblins, and other vile creatures is afoot, then they don’t know very well the civic duties of being a Dwarf.

As we got closer to the marshes something seemed to be bothering our guide, Marrick. I’d noticed him rubbing his wrists nervously whenever talk inevitably arose around about what we would encounter in the foggy cursed swamp. A sign of some buried shame or guilt no doubt—and a habit I myself am not unfamiliar to. I decided to tell Falco, our resident jolly Hobbit and people-person, in the hopes that perhaps something could be done to ease the man’s conscience. As Heva, our newest companion, an oafishly big Beorning warrior-woman, would later scream something approximating this piece of wisdom at the poor guide: It is hard to trust someone to guide you through danger when it frightens him more than you do.

Falco sat with him a while smoking his infamous ‘last bit’ of pipe weep to calm the man down. He would later report to the party that Marrick had gotten taken prisoner once in the marshes. He’d luckily escape the clutches of whatever ‘things’ (he refused to speak of them) that had tortured him and killed several other rangers to boot. Thus began the antics of each member of the fellowship to fortify our guide’s courage. The unusually un-dour Hunter went fishing with him. Though that part of finding food had been successful, the resulting meal seemed not to sit right with the trapper, nevertheless, appetites all around seemed to be in the wane that night. (Note: While a fish’s scale may share the appearance of silver, they bear no resemblance in reactance to fire and hot coals.) As mentioned before, the oafishly big Beorning tried yelling at the poor man from her almost 7 foot vantage, which probably resulted in scarring the man even further. Finally, as all other methods seemed to move his spirit, I tried simply to talk to talk to the man upfront as a would a young Dwarf before his first battle. I promised that he would be under my protection, and he seemed to take heart in that and renewed the march to the marshes.

Personally, the episode brought memories back of those—still to this day I do not know if they truly existed or were part of the Lady Ireime’s nightmarish battle with the evil spirit—I had promised the same protection to at Dol Guldur; promised and failed.

Perhaps it was those bitter memories, or the thoughts of what the goblins could now be doing to father, the bitterness of two failed campaigns back to back, or even the depressing and monotonous country, but I had unusual trouble sleeping and nightmare of Elves singing, and for the first time since leaving Erebor, difficulty traveling to a place. Conditions worsen, and as, Marrick had warned us, the fog grew so thick that it was difficult to even see our own feet as we plodded through. Heva, given her considerable height, had the hardest time of it, almost falling into a hive of snakes face-first before her natural athleticism allowed her to twist mid-air and safely land a ways away. Misfortune morphed into luck; however, as in going after her, we noticed a strange opening set into the hill behind the concealment of vines and the snakes. Safely going around the obstacles, we entered a flooded tunnel, myself in the lead carrying young torch-bearing Master Falco as the waters rose above his stature.

A little distance in we turned left and came to a small pantry which settled the matter: this was the abandoned home of the Hobbits we had heard about who had settled in this area outside of the Shire. Certainly, a goblin would hang such a congenial sign as ‘Welcome Home’. Faded as it was, the place had certainly been abandoned for long enough that the residents were either dead or had no use for their possessions. We searched the place for useful items, and were certainly surprised to find enough treasure (and gold) for each of us. Falco, being the party expert on all things Hobbit, even found a special new pipe for his tobacco.

Our next significant encounter in the swamp came when we managed, somehow, through the blinding fog to spot a small creature sitting atop a hill alone. Hardly being able to see anything in front of us, it was all we could do to stay together without getting lost or stabbing each other by mistake. Falco climbed the small hill and made conversation with the creature, who, as we would later find out was a fellow Hobbit. From him we learned that some Evil had come and with it the corruption of these parts, driving vile creatures to capture a nearby tower.

Before we could, however, head over to investigate, we were attacked by a basilisk! Local folklore alluded to the existence of this mighty creature in these parts, but to actually see one was a dreadful sight. Nevertheless, the fellowship proved true, as all of us quickly landed solid blows with axe, sword, bow and spear! The beast fell; within mere minutes.

Alas, I caught its poisonous spittle that seeped through my shield while blocking for Hunter to get his shot. Luckily, the clever Falco used his knowledge of Herb Lore to find the right ingredients for an antidote, or I would have been a further liability to the party; something I’m more loath and loath to do to the fellowship.

Sufficiently recovered, we continued towards the Orc-blighted tower until we encountered figures in the distance. As we readied for battle, it was only through Hunter’s sharp eyes spotting mangled feet and arms that we avoided landing misplace blows upon escaping prisoners! Letting them pass to safety, we engaged the dreaded Orcs and Goblins, familiar enemies now to our battle-test company. Cutting, shooting, slashing, we defeated them all, soundly.

Now, we stand a distance away from the tower; weary of the certain Evil that lay within.

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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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