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.