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.
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!