The Darkening of Mirkwood

Over Hill and into the Dark

There are those that say fear comes from the not knowing. Perhaps, but it also comes from the knowing. For following the blow of a distant horn and the beat of drums, marches a horde of goblins driven from behind by foul orc bosses.  Wolves yammer of a coming feast. And so the wise should fear at what they know.
Too many shrug off goblin and orc only to be fooled or tricked or outnumbered in the end. To many stories of friends and family have ended thus. Men are strong and brave and cunning, but it is the sheer numbers that mount wave after wave that have overcome so many good men.
I said it is the wise who fear and this of course precludes the orc and goblin. It is the Freefolk that drop their great blades, wrought with good steel and ancient spells, into countless goblins, rending tainted flesh, killing in swaths like reaping wheat… yet they persist. We remove head and arm and limb, and they push. We kill their brothers, their wives and children and they show no sorrow. We fight these raging storms in all seasons. 
Broken and battered we hobble to safety just to do it all again. When will you reveal yourself, Dark Lord? When shall I have my turn at thee?


April 28th, Evening
We stand and listen and squint at a hill between the mighty Anduin and the Misty Mountains. We hear the drums and the harsh clamor of orc and goblin and now wolves all round.

I spy a trail in the fading light that heads to switchbacks up the hill. At her summit we believe are the merchant halfling, Dindy and his protectors.  Survivors from a caravan raid. Knowing there is scant little time, we rush through and up the scrabble path to their sides. We meet well those we thought it would be but only names are exchanged and a quick plan to take up arms at the two most likely lanes of attack.

On the other side, the Beorning called Long-Leg, Bill the Bowman, Tom LumpyFace, Andy Blackthorn and of course Dindy who himself was taking cover at the base of great boulder to watch for any who might come up from the unlikely steeper sides.

As we all stood ready, each company could see and hear shadow and sniggering and slobbering curses and promises of death. Above and at the tail of this ruckus we hear a strong hoarse shouting, “Drop yer weapons! Surrender to great Uggburs and we might let you live!”
The promise of a chance from the one leading from the rear found no reply from us or our neighbors but the sounds of snapping bow strings! A few of our arrows find marks, felling an Orc and his boot licking goblin lackey.

They reply in kind and it is like a swarm of diving insects upon us! Non were hurt seriously as our good armor and fast shield arms honor us well.

Brünhild opens the melee removing the shield and hand from a goblin aiming for her legs! This, as Elryn, plants his good foot upon a low rock wall thrusting a hand towards the stars. He begins singing a song of courage and strength in his native elven tongue.

As a crawling goblin almost latches onto Elryn’s leg with an ugly hooked tool, Hannar pops up and sweeps his axe up and over a low wall! And like trimming an errant hedge row, the goblin’s head is clipped from its shoulders. 

Three goblins scramble up towards me, one ahead of the other two. I have already drawn Guinà Dagnir which glows like magic from captured moonlight all along its ancient edge. The lead goblin flinches at the sight, stalling.  I drop the storied blade hard into its forehead, its gloopy eyes now separated by fisher of gore. The two behind gulp with instinctive fear but are then hopelessly shoved forward by crowding allies.

Meanwhile, Sassafras, from a keen position, sends an arrow into a staggering goblin who was licking its wounds brought on by Brünhild, dropping it instantly.

Goblins whack and screech and stab, scoring few hits with no serious wounds. I look behind me at the Dindy's mercenaries who seem to be fairing well. The Beorning yelling threats easily heard above the raucous melee. 

At the foot of the hill, the goblin numbers swell like a flood making us feel as though we are the last sailors on a sinking ship. A sneaking goblin from the grass, reaches out it’s spidery arm and skewers Brünhild's foot, the pain being so acute as to foil her swing at another goblin.

Elryn’s song reaches a dramatic note as Hannar sends another goblin flying with anvil force. Such was his swing that I had to check my swing to dodge . To our left an arrow whistles between Hannar and a lucky goblin  and sinks into a already dazed goblin.  The sound of a lanced melon is punctuated by a swirling spray of syrupy blood from struck goblin's head. Sassafras squeaks with glee as the thing finally drops after its odd little dirge.

As Elryn begins a new song, he wholly steps up onto the low wall with eyes upward and one arm to his breast. At that step, Sassafras hones in on a skulking goblin who just missed the bards ankle with its cruel saw-knife. She aims and hits! The snot-nosed retch yowls as if ran through by a Rohirrim’s pike but refuses to die.

Brünhild shouts a word of thanks to Elryn as his songs quench the exhaustion brought on by battle and she drives her blade straight downward, pinning for a moment the goblin at her feet. 

I wait this time for the Dwarf’s great swing, as he finishes one foe I nod approval and take my swing in turn finishing another. We approve each other’s work and brace for the next trade of blows.

The goblins keep swinging and stabbing and cursing and slipping on their dead but their weak and untrained blows are again turned by parry’s or armor.

Elryn, at the sound of the crying goblin at his feet stops his song, leaps down opposite of the pathetic assaying and knifes the thing, graciously shutting it up for good. There’s a shout of thanks from our party and the other.

The rest of us land and kill more goblins as they crest to fill the ranks. Brünhild shouts in pain as very fat goblin charges between others and sticks her hard in the leg. Then from the other side of the hill we hear a collective gasp and a pause in their fighting.

Brünhild, now favoring one leg, hits the fat goblin but its protective flab’s keep the blow from hitting vital organs. Elryn steps over the wall as his chest swells and he begins anew his song of healing coming straight at Brünhild shoring her up and readying a knife for the fat goblin should it dare another attack.

Hannar and I politely kill our quarry’s with bows and nods before and after. Then we hear an arrow whiz through the night air and straight into the fat goblins wattle who then rolls over grabbing hopelessly for the shaft with arms too fat and short to reach. After that I am struck by another hiding sneaker. But for my well crafted Anorian armor this may well have ended me as its cruel blade was driven hard at my spine! I loath goblins! 

We then hear from the other side in a collective yell, “For Lumpy Face!!!” We now know what the gasp was about.

As the goblins pile up at our feet the orcs in the rear are closing. Brünhild, with renewed strength steps away from Elryn over the choking fat goblin and hacks deep into the first Orc slogging over their dead cousins, adding more flesh to the ground. 

With a laugh, Elryn finds high ground again and sings high and valorous into the night. The orcs wince and complain at the stream of lilting elven words. 

Hannar frees another head. I turn on the would-be assassin as he was retreating but I could not stay my swing. He died with his back to me. “I am better than this.” I find myself whispering. My back to the path, two orcs found my inattentiveness to alluring and two jagged chops rent my side and back. I jerked round, yelling in anger and pain as a heavy black fretted arrow showed me it could get worse as it drove deep into my ribs and garbled my words into just a grunt!
As Brünhild too, was awarded that same fell gift we heard a cry of victory from the other side and something about the last of them are on the hill.

From the corner of my eye, a tall shadow looms, cresting the hill where Brünhild stands still wrestling her blade free from the orc at her feet. The monstrous thing  steps to close the gap, slippery corpses slowing its pace. Pulling her blade free Brünhild clamors atop an adjacent block from the ruins.
 
What turns out to be an orc of giant proportions finds its footing. At the same time Brünhild stands tall and starts beating her wondrous shield with her blade causing great clashes of sound like a massive anvil being struck by a giant’s hammer. With this she begins shouting and her voice to is great and full of power and the remaining orcs pause as if troubled.

Elryn from an even higher perch begins another welcome sonnet akin to fresh rain upon broad leafy bows.  Hannar takes full advantage and hews an orc like a willow. For me what should have been an easy hit was a miss as my footing was betrayed by rolling goblin limbs beneath.

A familiar pint sized arrow sticks in the arm of giant orc. The thing acts like nothing hit it. It stomps hard, cracking bones and squishing goblin parts between it's toes. The monster orc swings for Brünhild's legs, smashing one into the other.  Now teetering on one knee she lifts her head and finds herself looking straight into a horrible horrible face.

Seeing this, I begin to move toward the two but am caught by two blades wielded by a pair of waiting orcs! The move is like giant shears across my midsection and I gasp, doubling over.

Hannar shouts, “Chin up!” And removes the face one of those that cut me deep. Sassafras shoots an arrow into the fudgey ear of another orc, who grabs it, pulls it free, regards it and dies. I force my frame to unbend from its pain and swing up and around cutting clean through the other with Guinà Dagnir.  The top half moves off with the force of the swing! The lower half stands alone for an instant before falling on it's former self.

Elryn’s song hit another high point as Brünhild, on a knee extends her arm and sword straight through the giant orc’s chest where it’s heart would be then bashes the head open like an egg, the yokey brain uncoiling like a ball of worms across the party who then let up a shout of victory as the remaining orcs flee at the prospect of their shrunken numbers and the colorful end of their leader.

Our parties then came together in subdued joy while remembering Lumpy Face and then at a complete loss when none knew what had become of Dindy! In a flurry we found that at the base of the rock from where he hid was a tunnel of sorts! Not a new hole but certainly unsettled as if recently touched!

We called down the hole and found no reply. I turned and started down the hillside saying we’ve got to find him. Others fell in behind and we found the other end and a clear swath of downed foliage heading west towards the mountains.

We parted with Dindy’s mercenaries so they could mourn and bury their comrade and we went west easily following the wide destructive swath. In a few hours we came to their cave. Entering cautiously we hear the ugly sounds of singing and marching retreating within. We do comprehension some of the dreadful meaning which included boiling a halfling for an impending feast!

We are forced to light torches in black black as we follow a singular route deeper in and down. After hours of stumbling and the deepening cold wet air, these factors begin to take their toll on Sas and Elryn who we have to stop for more often. 

As we are near lighting our last torch and all of us beginning to loose hope that these merciless creatures would never come to rest or to a lair of some kind, the sounds of their march suddenly dampens as does their chatter. 

She stop and send Sas to investigate who learns of two drunk sentries at a bulge in the cave before continuing on. She hears greater numbers of orcs and the clatter of crocks and revelry beyond in what may be a larger chamber judging by the sounds. 

We execute a perfect plan in taking out the sentries and move beyond. Before reaching what will be a grand orc feast hall, we find Dindy! He is shackled to the wall in a mid sized chamber surrounded by all his stolen goods; crates of food stuffs, boxed herbs, dishes, blankets, lard, ale and wine and more!

Dindy says he is cooking their feast and the orcs are getting restless and will be back to retrieve the roast he’s been turning. After some talk we decide turning in extra lard into the upcoming soup could well make most of the host sleepy and compromised in surprise fight.

Worth noting is we find Sassafrases’s missing father’s legendary cookbook among other stolen loot. We then all hide as two orcs come for the roast then the soup a little later.

We spy up the passage finding offshoot passages and the feast hall with a throne but no chief. We begin looking through adjoining caverns and chambers all having nothing of note or sleeping orcs or goblins. Sas takes on the grizzly work of killing many as they sleep, a dark business that begins to take its toll. 

We find another guard post to the hall but decide to circle back to kitchen and that entrance to the hall. 

We all move in along the walls dressed as orcs and Sas as goblin dressed in halfling attire since many goblins here have done the same from loot taken from the caravan.

We pass into what turns out to be an anti-chamber to the Chief’s sleeping quarters. We dispatch the guards there and move on the chief who is sleeping. We quickly tie him to his bed then question him as he wakes. He is stubborn and makes us deal. Info on Sas’s beau and captured father for leaving him be, albeit tied up.

Most egregiously, he relished telling us they ate her lover. Of her father, the old cook was traded to a tribe that lairs at Mount Gundabad. 

In the end we took what we could before leaving the caves for the Inn. Of greatest interest was a pearl broach of dwarven craft and an exquisite elven crafted travel pack. 

Back at the inn Dody has given us four letters of recommendation, a prize worth more than coin to be sure. Time for a much needed safe nights rest. 

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Out of the Woods and Into the Fire

April 15th – We estimate we are about a week away from the western edge of Mirkwood. Technically we still travel in North Mirkwood near the foot of the Gray Hills, traveling along the Elf Path, and I must say (without any bias) that it is truly a far superior trail compared to the Old Forest Road, a true testament to Thranduil's power. And though we still face regular elevation changes over hills and gullies both large and small, I can definitely sense a gentle thinning of the trees around us as well as a thinning of the gloom, confirming that we are indeed closing in on the western edge of my beloved homeland. Hunting proves fruitful, and it is good to have fresh meat in addition to our dried travel rations. We come across signs of ancient wood-cutting, and even spy the sun directly above us through the thinning canopy. I can not deny the beauty of my homeland, but I will be glad to see the sun again.

 

Mid-afternoon on April 17th, while we are taking a breather, we are boldly approached by some of the local woodland creatures. Both squirrels and hedgehogs come closer to us, as if we were friends. Some of us offer bits of bread-crumbs (or in Hanar's case, bits of cram, which the creatures avoid in good conscience). I search what I had learned of the Old Tongue, and try speaking to one of the squirrels, and am joyful when it responds! I ask it if it has seen 'two-legs' recently, meaning other people or humanoids, and it responds to me, “No, it has been a long time, but he wants us to…” but before it could finish, one of the creature's compatriots suddenly leaps at the young Belgo, snatches the boat-necklace from about his neck, and dashes away! The rest of the woodland creatures follow, and in his panic, Belgo gives chase! Apparently the lad still doesn't understand how dangerous it is to leave the path! Being good folk, Dorion, Brunhild, Sass and myself give chase, leaving Hanar and Baldor to guard the pack animals. We give chase to the young boy, and just as we are near to reaching him, he suddenly disappears, the victim of a covered pit-trap. Are these mere squirrels and hedgehogs such tactical geniuses?

 

Coming to a halt at the edge of the pit, we look down and see a troubling sight. Belgo has fallen down to a ledge in the pit, a distance from us of bout two Dorions lying head-to-toe. The boy is unconscious, apparently, which is good – for the sight we see beyond him would surely have caused him great panic. Deeper in the pit we see a writhing mass of… something… as it rises upward, no doubt seeking to do the boy harm. Dorion shivers visibly for a moment, and I take that as a fell-sign, and moments later, great tentacles burst upward toward us, a great terror rising from the depths! The tentacles whip frantically back and forth, slashing at all of us. Brunhild does not hesitate, acting as a true hero as she leaps into the pit, landing hard next to Belgo's unmoving form. She quickly draws forth her horn, and before I can suggest that now is not the time for music, she blasts a single, woeful note upon it, and I realize she is attempting to summon aid. I quickly lower a rope, thinking that she might tie the child to it so that we might pull him to safety, but the Creature In The Pit has different ideas. Tentacles begin lashing at her, as well, and soon we are all busy defending ourselves, fighting for our lives. Blades are swung, arrows are loosed, shields bash, yet it seems to have little effect on the beast. We are slashed, and some of us grasped by the tentacles. Suddenly, Hanar appears in a blur of motion, answering the horn's call! Using his fancy rope, he loops it over one of the tentacles mid-stride and slides down it, into the pit, down to land on the creature's head! The dwarf's axe is quickly in hand, and like a great lumberjack he begins to hack!

 

Brunhild targets the tentacle that has taken a hold of me, and sets me free. I, in turn, pay it forward and hack at the limb that holds my comrade Dorion fast, freeing him. Sass is not so lucky as she falls unconscious to a tentacle's fierce grip, and is slowly dragged downward, toward the beast's maw! A hobbit for a meal? 'I think not!', says Hanar, as he raises his mighty axe on high and lowers it, severing the tentacle that draws the helpless hobbit forth. The broken appendage wriggles and writhes as Sass goes still. Dorion calls to us, using his knowledge of Shadow to tell us that we need to strike deeper blows, and so as a team we focus on doing so. Brunhild joins Hanar and Sass down upon the beast's head, and I begin to sing songs of inspiration to urge my comrades forward. Dorion brandishes his bow and nocks one of this mighty Numenorian arrows. Sass stirs, my song able to pull her back to the land of the living, yet she is once again entangled by a tentacle and resumes her journey towards the beast's maw! We seek a vulnerable spot, some place where we can land a deciding blow, and it is Hanar who finds it, locating the creature's great eye. It's maw widens, ready to receive the plump hobbit morsel as it's first meal of the day, but once again Hanar will not suffer such madness as his axe slams downward into the beast's eye with a single mighty blow. The creature quivers in its death throes, but it is too late for it, and not soon enough the Creature In The Pit is dead. The tentacles lie still, and the body begins to slowly sag and sink downward whence it came. As it fades, we begin to notice the sparkle of trinkets around its 'lair', no doubt the result of previous victims who were not so fortunate as we were. We collect these trinkets, and among them Sass locates a finely-wrought hobbit-sized hauberk. Alas, there is no sign of young Belgo's stolen necklace, and we eventually accept that it has been lost to the great woodland realm. Later, Hanar would try to carve a replacement for the young boy, but instead, his carving ended up looking like an evil-eye. Hanar did not see it this way, but the boy looked positively petrified. Still, the boy accepted it, if for no other reason than to not hurt Hanar's feelings.

 

April 18th, 19th, and 20th are peaceful and quiet days of travel. I mentally prepare myself to once again leave the woodland realm behind me, and look forward with anticipation at the unknown ahead.

 

Early on the 21st, we arrive at the Elf Gate, the official end of the Elf Path. We are at the western edge of Mirkwood, and we journey on. Later that evening, we come across a homely inn, seemingly out of nowhere. We learn that it is the Easterly Inn, owned and operated by a hobbit named Dody Brandybuck and his wife, Agatha. At the door, a large wolfhound sat guard, and we learn that his name is Shadrach, who soon departs to go play with some children – or more likely watching over them. Inside the inn, we find a trio of Beornings sitting at a table to themselves, and a group of four dwarves sitting at another table. We introduce ourselves to Dody and Baldor offers to buy us all food and drink in celebration of making it safely through the woods. We heartily accept the offer, and strike up a conversation with Dody as food and drink are prepared for us.

 

Soon, Dody confesses his concerns for his brother, Dindy, who had departed for the Shire on a supply-run. Dindy was supposed to then stop in Bree on the return trip to hire mercenaries for an escort back to the Easterly Inn. Dody is extra-worried because Dindy had sent a letter previously, informing Dody that he was departing the Shire to return to the Inn, but no Dindy is a month over-due! One of the dwarves at the nearby table chimes-in, informing us that during their last trip through the High Pass, they had been ambushed by orcs! It was very likely that Dindy and his mercenary retinue would have come through the same place, and I could sense the despair that Dody suddenly felt. Quickly, it seems that my comrades and I are contemplating a search for the lost hobbit and his cargo, and we decide in the morning that we would head toward the High Pass, and beyond, if need be.

 

That evening we will rest, though, and as we sit in the comfortable common area for awhile, I inquire with Dorion to see if he planned to write his beloved Belinda. At first he is grouchy over my nosiness, but I quickly explain that I am simply concerned for his well-being. Soon, he is penning a letter to her, and it becomes something of a 'group effort' as several of us offer him ideas about what words to include. As the night grows darker, eventually everyone departs to rest.

 

April 22nd – We gather early and depart south, still keeping company with Belgo and Baldor for a bit longer. He and his son are bound for the Woodland Hall, which is of course familiar to us, but we have plans to head west at the Old Ford, so we decide to accompany them a bit further on their journey to their destination. On the 23rd, we encounter a terrible rainstorm, but Hanar and Sass find us some shelter quickly where we take refuge until it has time to pass. They make a great team and look so cute together!

 

April 26th – We reach the Old Ford, and I inquire as to whether our acquaintance Merovech is present, but we are told he is on an important errand for Beorn, seeking some kind of fugitive in the area. The Beornings have seen no sign of Dindy.

 

Belgo and his father Baldor plan to continue south from that point, and we say a fond farewell to one another. Novaer galu, Baldor. Novaer galu, Belgo. I hope that the remainder of your journey is a safe one. We then cross the river on a ferry boat, and soon we are headed west once more.

 

Heading west, soon the road leads into a somewhat boggy area, and we must be more careful as the continue forward. The path twists and turns, and we all agree that the Beornings are apparently not overly skilled at road maintenance. That evening we make camp on a dry hillside, and I hunt for a bit, finding a hare that I share with my comrades. As we eat and relax, we are suddenly approached by a man, a stranger who calmly walks right into our camp. He appears as a battle-hardened human with a pock-marked face. He casually takes a seat on a nearby stump and proceeds to pull his boots off to prop up his nasty feet that smell like a mix between rotted cheese and goblin feces. He introduces himself simply as 'Shanker', which is not an ominous name at all. I await a sign that Dorion or Hanar are prepared to pounce the vagrant, but instead, he is treated with friendly suspicion. He claims to be a weary traveler, and produces a pipe and some tobacco, which Dorion, Brunhild and Hanar immediately recognize as Longbottom leaf. When pressed about it, Shanker claims he previously saw Dindy, ten men, and several loaded-down ponies in his travels two days previously. For this news, Dorion offers the man some food, which Shanker gladly accepts. After quickly consuming it, the man then produces a blanket, rolls himself into it, and is quickly snoring beside the fire.

 

April 27th – We rise in the morning pack up and prepare to depart. Shanker goes his way while we go ours. As soon as we set off, the wind picks up quite strongly, yet we trudge forward against it as we must. We travel through the day and as the sun is lowering toward the horizon we spy a ruin ahead, a ruin of a city of some kind. As we get closer, Brunhild remarks that she believes that this is an old ruin of men of the Third Age. Cities and towns in this area did not last long because the reach of the Necromancer brought about their fall. We spy signs of previous campsites made by other travelers no doubt, but several of us have an eerie feeling about the place, as if something terrible had once happened here in the past, or perhaps that some evil still lurks here.

 

Still, it is nightfall, so we find the best place we can to set up a camp. Needing less rest than my comrades, I offer to take first watch, and soon my companions are each sound asleep. I begin to mentally compose a new song, and quietly pace about putting words together in my mind. Some time later, when I turn to pace back toward the other side of our campsite, I see an odd thing: Sass, still sleeping, is floating in the air a few feet above the ground! What manner of witchery is this, I wonder? Slowly she begins to float away from our camp, and I quickly wake Dorion. He rises to his feet, sees what I am pointing at, and immediately gives chase to the airborn halfling. Meanwhile, I begin to rouse the others. Dorion reaches Sass and reaches out to grab her, at which point she falls to the ground, awake. At that moment we all hear a terrible, otherworldly scream, and a ghostly apparition appears and begins to move toward Sass! Dorion and Sass flee back to the camp, joining the rest of us, and the poltergeist follows on their heels!

 

Arrows are fired and axes are flung, and the spirit disappears. But before we can assume we were victoriously so easily, it reappears behind our lines – right next to Sass, intent on its original prey! We surround it and strike at it again and again, and are able to avoid its touch. Soon, the best seems almost torn in half as it fades from view, screaming all the way. Silence falls upon us except for the sounds of our heavy breathing, and we decide now that we are awake, we would follow the path in which it was headed with our hobbit. Soon we find a small brook and a marsh-like place, and in the marshy substance we see several long-dead corpses – victims of the ghostly being, no doubt. Searching amongst the corpses we recognize none of them, and none of them matches Dindy's description. We do locate some coins, though, and collect them as we come across them.

 

We return to camp and finish out the night uneventfully.

 

April 28th – We wake and prepare, and set-off on our way once more. The day is uneventful, but that late afternoon as the sun is setting, we come across a lone, frightened pony. With Dorion speaking soft words to soothe the beast, we approach, and Sass uses her healing skills to remove an arrow from its flank. This pony very likely belonged to Dindy and his troupe, but where were the rest of them? Where were the men, the other ponies, and Dindy himelf? I try speaking to the pony but it is quite shaken and does not have much to share. Night is quickly falling and someone spies a bright fire burning in the distance atop a hill in the distance, far more visible now that night was falling. Around the base of the hill, crawling like hungry ants we see figures moving and massing – obviously planning to move up the hill to whomever started that fire. To confirm our fears, we hear drums and an ominous horn – a battle is about to begin, and we each have the sinking feeling that Dindy and his troupe are atop that hill.

 

Looking about at my comrades, I get the distinct feeling that we are about to make ourselves apart of that battle – and it won't be for the first time…

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Itsy Bitsy Spiders

Spring, April 5th, 2947: After a wonderful visit in the Kingdom of Thranduil where I acquired a wonderful silk sleeping bag insert, we are escorted to the old Elf Road from the murky river that winds through Mirkwood. As we leave the river, the elves help us load our ponies with our supplies and give us parting advice, a warning really, not to drink the water.

Though this way through Mirkwood it is better than the first path we took through the woods on the dwarven road, still it’s eerie. Dark and strange. We have 160 miles ahead of us and we expect it will take a couple of weeks., and though this is just a “trail,” there is no growth that dares grow across it, no weeds or sprouts to hide any parts of the path.

April 7th: It’s getting so dark, we almost never see the sun now two days into the trip, it's like we are walking into a long dark tunnel made of tight tree branches.

Elrynn ribs Dorion over whether he is engaged to Beleenda and Dorion retorts that Elrynn is eating the tainted plants of Mirkwood. I think the darkness of Mirkwood would dampen the spirits of my companions but the the banter between Elrynn and Dorian is amusing and keeps the mood light.

10th of April. Midway through Mirkwood, and it gets even darker here. There is less good water to find and fewer animal s to hunt so we are starting to eat into our rations.

12th of April . Elrynn went looking for animals to hunt for food and found a track on the side of the road, close to the path, a gigantic paw print, perhaps an incredibly large wolf, perhaps the size of a bear. He is sure this isn’t a warg, but that it might be the Werewolf of Mirkwood! shiver

Brunhild wants to investigate these tracks as her brother disappeared and rumor is that it had to do with the werewolf, but I am afraid especially after Elrynn says it could likely kill even Beorn.

The kid with us, Belgo, is very mature and knows just what to do with the ponies and helps his dad. They seem quite close, the father and son. The boy wears a pendant of a boat and when he is scared I can see him grab his little amulet. He tells us it is a present from his mom and it’s all he has left of her so it’s very important to him. The noises in the night are frightening.

April 14th: reaching end of day. Baldor is tired too to continue. We find a pleasant grassy clearing that Elrynn says was once used by the elves for festivals but has not been used for years so we decide it is a good place to make camp. There is fresh water which is also a welcomed sight and we all refill our depleted skins.

We start a nice fire. Eat. Make camp. We get ready to get rest, Hanar places his rune to help keep us safe and we begin our turns at taking watch. I get a pleasant early evening of sleep in my oh-so-soft silk sleeping bag insert until I am awoken for my turn at watch around 2 am. The moonlight is very pretty. We have seen the sky so seldom on this trip through such dense forest, I really do enjoy the sight of the moonlight and so many stars.

Baldor suddenly wakes up with a sweaty brow, clearly shaken, and he says he's had a nightmare. He washes his face with the water we collected here and drinks some of it. Suddenly he’s shouting and thinking he is reliving the destruction of Lake Town, waking everyone as he’s yelling and runs. His son yells DAD COME BACK but it doesn't stop Baldor and he disappears at a dead run into the dark forest in the dead of night.

We quickly suit up, light torches, Belgo, the kid, pumps up the campfire and stays behind to guard the ponies as we go out to hunt for his father. Hanar does something that gives him a vision and in it he sees two elves in the moonlight and one goes to drink in the brook and the other pulls him back. A warning? Was it drinking the water here under the moonlight that made Baldor crazed?

We hunt for 20 minutes and still haven’t found him, though Dorion is sure of his path. Eventually we find that Baldor's trail suddenly stops and it appears that Baldor has disappeared into thin air. We look up further and see strands of webbing. Ten feet away Dorion finds where something, possibly Baldor, was dragged away by one of the giant spiders until we arrive into another clearing. A ruin of a castle with a broken wall near it is ahead and it is bridged by thick webs from which Baldor is hanging cocooned. We don’t see spiders as yet.

We decide Brunhild is going to go up into the tower, the plan is for her to get to the top and once up there cut loose the bridge of webbing that is holding Bagor up so he will drop low enough for us to reach him. Dorion goes into the tower with Brunhild and determines there are no spiders inside so she goes up inside and climbs the stairs in there. Hanar wants to climb the ruined wall on the outside. Elrynn and I ready ourselves with our bows.

Baldor is 30-40 feet up. Hanar climbs the first 10 feet easily. Brunhild is halfway up. When Hanar is twenty feet up Elrynn “speaks” to the wall and asks how many spiders live here but gets no answer.

Brun reaches the top of the tower which is covered in cobwebs. Part of the roof is missing. She can see Baldor moving, twitching in the cocoon. We decide that cutting this side of the web-bridge may not be as good an idea as we had planned. It might drop Baldor too quickly and he'd smash against the wall on the other side.

Brun sheathes her weapon and begins to crawl across the bridge of webs towards Baldor. Hanar easily reaches to top of the wall. Hanar tests his weight on the cobweb bridge so now the two of them are both up there, each side with Baldor between them. The webbing starts to bounce with their movement.

So much movement and bouncing, surely the spiders have been alerted but none yet are seen. Brunhild and Hanar reach Baldor, each on a side and finish deciding how they will release him, just as we start hearing the skittering of spiders. We can’t see them but we can hear them.

Hanar ties a rope around Brun and lowers her down and she cuts enough webbing to free Baldor’s face and hands. She warns him that they are 40 feet up. She ties the rope around Baldor and they lower him down. Once Baldor reaches the ground, Brun prepares to slide down the rope.

A spider slides down onto the top of the tower and starts its way to Brun. More spiders drop down as Brun makes it to the ground, Poor Hanar is still on the wall as one drops down onto it with him. An awful sound roars from the tower.

Hanar ties the rope off and lowers himself down but with all the tension they’ve put on the bridge, it snaps and Hanar falls. He falls 30 feet. He rolls like a cannon ball and leaps up. I barely hit a spider with my arrow though Elrynn easily hits the target first.

Our battle begins with the spiders and they seem to be going down easily, but my experience in battle tells me there is something large still awaiting us, especially considering that awful noise.

My next arrows lands between its eyes. Though the first group goes down easily, more spiders slide down their silk threads down to fight us. I skewer another one! The ground shakes as more hit the ground, along with THREE GIANT ONES.

Brun takes out the first big one. Hanar makes a stellar hit but the second large one still stands as one of the large ones rears on it’s back feet and screeches at us but we are unafraid.

I hear Elrynn as he is hit and I quickly turn and strike one attacking him. Four more large spiders appear and we are feeling we may be overwhelmed soon. Hanar takes out a large one. I take out the threat of the leaper quickly so I can return to focusing on those attacking my friends.

Strangely the little ones back up and the large ones seem to be communicating with them. We consider slipping past them in case they are backing up to as a sign to let us pass and stop killing off their babies who had been attacking us.

They allow us to leave though they follow us, as though escorting us off their property. We get Baldor back to the camp, but Baldor doesn’t recognize his own son. He’s stuck in his delusion and believes that Lake Town is just now being destroyed and that his son is still a young(er). Belgo is distressed as Baldor thinks his son is 5 and that this boy could not possibly be him. I wonder if the spell will be broken when the moonlight is no longer on him.

We tie the dad up and catch our breath.. Hanar helps the son understand and reassures him.

The next day with the morning light, he has his memory back and we untie him.

A new day, it is now April 15th, and we are three-quarters of the way through Mirkwood. We expect we have five or six more days to go.

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In the homes of cave dwellers
Brünhild's journal

Perhaps I should not be so eager to engage in battle when I have weary companions.  I was determined to find that boy's murderer, and these goblins were a nuisance.  Our greatest foe in this battle was not orcs or goblins, but of darkness.  We cannot see in the dark, and our foes could.

We drew the goblins into a wider space in the chasm.  Our melee team did not manage to keep in the shadows, and the goblins knew we were there.  Elrynn and Sassafras were not detected at first, so they let their arrows fly, piercing the smelly imps.

They had a warg with them.  That mangy beast attacked me, grabbed onto my Shield of the Dead, and wouldn't let go.  Not my shield!  It made me aware how much my courage depends on it.  Fortunately for us, the warg and goblins fell quickly.  The big orc we heard earlier was not with them, so we knew there were more ahead of us.

Slowly we advanced into darkness.  I would not have been able to see were it not for the torch Hanar held.  We expected an ambush, and that is exactly what we got.  A tall orc and eight goblins attacked us.  One by one they fell, not quite as easily as the ones in the first large chamber.  The battle was going well for us.  Elrynn sang, keeping us on our feet. 

Further back in the shadows, a creature slipped out from a crevice in the wall.  It was pale and pathetic with big, sad eyes.  Sad and evil.  It wore only a loin cloth, and in each hand it held an eel.  This was our culprit!  At this point, I was desperate to chase and capture the murderer. 

Several years ago my brother, Finn, just disappeared.  This was before Smaug destroyed Lake-town.  I was only 15 years old at the time.  That night Finn and his friend Domarr were out for a night of drunken revelry.  Finn was never seen again.  Domarr had no memory beyond arriving at the local pub with Finn.  I still wonder what happened that night.  When Egwin came begging for help to find his missing son, I was flooded with memories of Finn's disappearance.  Perhaps if a posse went after Finn when he first disappeared, he would still be with us.

As much as I wanted to pursue that twisted soul, the darkness held me back.  I could not chase him into the black.  If I took the torch, Hanar and Dorian would be left in the dark, and we still had an orc and goblins to fell. 

Then something large came walking towards us.  We could not see it at first, but with each step, its footfalls thundered through the cavern.  I could feel the ground beneath my feet shaking with each stride it took.  As the troll came towards us, the last living goblin ran off.

We landed many well placed blows and arrows.  With each attack, the troll was able to shift his position slightly, taking the hit where his hide was especially tough.  He was able to minimize the damage he took, and it seemed as though he never would fall.  The troll stomped Hanar nearly to death before we managed to kill it. 

Not far from there we discovered the troll's lair.  It was smelly and disgusting, much worse than the lair of any natural beast.  It was worth the effort, as we found many items of value.  Sassafras tended to Dorion's wound, a piercing blow from the ragged dagger of a goblin.

Still searching for the little killer, we continued through the 'scar.'  When we finally reached sunlight, we had lost the strange barefoot tracks.  Backtracking, we found a hole in the wall, big enough for it to have crawled through.  Sassafras was the only one small enough to fit.  She wanted to go in and explore and hunt this creature.  Dorion told her not to.  Hah!  I helped her up and she crawled in six feet.  The hole continued for some ways, then turned upward.  Bravely, Sassafras went in another six feet.  Now even I was getting nervous for her safety.  She backed out and rejoined us. 

We finally exited the 'scar' and breathed fresh air.  We were able to pick up the tracks of our barefoot killer, only to lose them again.  He had travelled across the rocky crags, and there was no way for us to continue to track him.  With heavy hearts we decided to return to Dale.  On the way there we picked up Dorion's bow and buckler he had left at the barrows.

Once in Dale, we told the watch guards about the creature we believe murdered Edor.  They would tell the boy's father.  I hope I get the chance to hunt this creature again.

Finally we were able to settle in for a long rest.  Elrynn, a trickster at heart, brought Beleenda to visit the wounded Dorion.  His injuries were on the mend, but Elrynn really played it up.  Somehow in the retelling, it was the fifteen foot troll that injured Dorion, not the halfing-sized goblin.

Dorion seemed uncomfortable with the attention.  Does he worry about 'leading her on?'  The way I see it, he should be completely honest about his plans and intentions, and let the young lady decide what she wants to do.  She may still want his affections.

Winter came and we were discussing our plans when a huge, fat raven landed on Hanar's shoulders.  It came with a note.  The bird's name was Frak, and it was a gift from an anonymous friend.  We pressed Hanar for more details, but he plead ignorance.

I returned to Esgaroth alone and was warmly greeted at home.  There is a sense of wellbeing that I can only get at home.  While there, I ordered a custom corslet.  It is just as sturdy, but lighter and with a decorative style.  I also spent some time gathering herbs in the marshes.  Most were suitable additions to breads and meats, but I was also lucky enough to find White Water Lily, an herb well known for its rejuvenation qualities.

Elrynn went home to Mirkwood to increase his standing, and he took time to write a song of battle.  Sassafras returned to the Anduin Vale to increase her standing and to name her heir, a cousin named Daisy.  Hanar tried to solve the mystery of Frak, who sent him and why.  He suspects a great dwarf has passed.  Dorion served us all by going to our holding in Strandberg to tend to business.  He did a fine job, improving the land.  He also visited me in Esgaroth and bought a lovely flute at the Lake-town market.

*

In the spring, my friends returned to me to continue our adventure.  We had no client or sponsor, so we looked for opportunities to do good on our own volition.  Hearing rumors of orc sightings near the old Lake-town, we investigated. 

At this location on the Long Lake, the ribs of Smaug still jut out of the water.  We were on the shore, looking for orc tracks when we heard a boy yelling, "Help!"  What is it with boys and trouble?  We headed in that direction, and soon a boy came running up to us.  He was perhaps ten years old.  His father was there, a merchant I vaguely recognized.  Three men stood menacingly in front of him.

"I know these men!" I told our band.  Jonar, Kilmund and Finar.  Thugs, every one of them.  They worked for the old master, and now they made a living by mugging innocents.  We tell them to leave their swords and go.  They acted as if it were a discussion and not an order.  I nudged Hanar, and he flipped the visor down on his helmet and commanded them to leave.  This convinced the highway robbers of the wisdom of this plan, and they left.

The merchant and his son were Baldor and Belgo.  They and their ponies were carrying tools and toys to Woodland Hall.  Baldor had hired these three men to escort him, only to have them turn on him.  He asked us to escort him, and as we had no other commitments, we agreed to help him.  At twilight, raft Elves arrived and greeted Baldor.  Both Elrynn and the raft captain whispered into the ponies' ears, which calmed them and encouraged the animals to step onto the rafts.

We travelled for days by raft on the Forest River.  The terrain on each side became rockier, and the canopy of the trees enveloped the river.  Eventually we entered a tunnel and docked at the Elven King's Halls.  It is entirely underground with no sunlight, not even the tiniest beam leaking through the rock. 

Lindar, the Captain of the King's Cellars yelled out a greeting to Baldor.  It seems our merchant friend enjoys a high standing with the Elves of Mirkwood.  We introduced ourselves with mixed results.

For two days we were guests of the Elves.  It felt almost as if we were prisoners, as we could not go anywhere without an escort.  Perhaps they improved security after that incident with the dwarves.  The time spent there was dull, but restful.  Sassafras stole a pillowcase and seemed quite pleased with herself.  Elrynn gave Dorian a hairbrush to give to Beleenda.  Hanar was probably in his quarters reading a book.  He kept a low profile.  It seems it takes a war for the Dwarves and Elves to get along.  In peacetime they often clash.

At the end of our short rest, we were taken out of the caves by a secret route.  After two days in the dark, the forest was lovely.  The Elf Road now lays before us.  As we parted ways Lindar called out to warn us, "Do not leave the path."

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Hanar's Journal of Travel Entry 11
A Journey for Knowledge

So the Festival for the Battle of the Five Armies is coming to a close, and I was certain that most of the festivities were done for me. I've tasted some nasty brew, ate some over-sweet pies, wrestled in some mud, got heckled for my riddles, rode a horse, rowed a boat, jumped a barrel, shot a bow, and got some quizzical looks about my songs. While they were all good fun, I'm not sure they were really that competitive. After all, none of the contests were won by a dwarf, Bombur even losing the drinking contest (which seems like an impossibility)! Elrynn must have been on to what the dwarfs were planning as well, as later on in the contests he began to throw them as well. So maybe it was a competition after all, just not the one anyone expected.

 

Still, it was a pleasant time of myself utterly failing everything, to probably no suprise of anyone, and I was ready to sit in and record all the festivities within my tome when Brunhild and Dorian come to drag me away to the Grand Melee. I told them that it was humorous that they wanted me to enter, not being a warrior and all, and that I would rather get back to recording, but they wouldn't take no for an answer and had apparently already signed me in. A little unfair since Elrynn and Sassafrass got to sit it out.

 

The field was moist and covered with a thick mud that sucked onto, and filled my boots. The slosh of mud in my toes was unpleasant and reminded me a bit too much of Mirkwood. How does Sassafrass walk barefoot all the time? They let us keep our gear, but not our weapons and instead hand us some blunt, poorly cared for equipment in an attempt to keep injuries to an absolute minimum. Then we are told the rules, like how you can back out of the contest by putting your hand on the fence or how falling unconscious in the mud took you out of the competition. Then the true reason I was brought along was to help them get through a few rounds and then be an easy mark to take out themselves, as there could be only one winner.

 

Dorian seemed a bit more encouraged for the contest, with Beleenda granting him her token to wish him good luck. And I also was able to spy Sassafrass and Elrynn watching from the stands and cheering us free from mud. Brunhild was ready for the contest, and they even let her utilize that Dwarven shield she found, quite the advantage.

 

Soon, the announcer called out it was time to start and all the people scattered into what appeared to be smaller groups. Elstan stood with his men, the dwarfs of Erebor, and the men from Esgaroth made their own teams. Gerold stood tall by himself using two axes to cut…um…blunt a path through the other contestants. Then there was us three. Brunhild was truly focused, I don't even think a single blow came close to landing on her the whole time. Dorian and I fared well, but nowhere near as exceptionally as Brunhild. Still we made it through the first round, and regrouped as the poor contestants that had fallen were taken out of the match. Most of them had no group to help them as so they were easier targets to remove. However, there wasn't enough time to catch our breath as the next round started and it all went to chaos again. I really would have like a little bit of time to readjust my tome, it was getting so muddy!

 

Another call went out and the second round came to an end, not to many were left now. Gerold stood still looking strong and itching for more. The dwarfs from Erebor nearly lasting against him as the second round closed and they backed up to reach the stone in the middle to try to get them an advantage in the next one, but were looking awfully tired. Elstan still stood proudly with a majority of his men as well. And there was us. The next round was about to begin and we had to decide what contenders were going to be the next target for us. If we went for the dwarfs, it seemed clear that we would be pinned in by Gerold and Elstan's men and clearly put ourselves in a disadvantageous position. That left Gerold and Elstan, of which Brunhild and Dorian seemed want to tackle Gerold more, leaving the two larger teams to deal with one another.

 

The bell ring and Gerold was the target charged who seemed eager and waiting. By this time, I might as well not have worn boots and I could feel the mud's suction inside and outside of them. I shuttered, and was distracted enough for Gerold to land a good blow on me, oof. I lashed out in retaliation, using the mud to help my wind-up! There was a dramatic sloop sound followed by a vicious cracking of bone as my blunt ax crushed Gerold knee-cap. The crowd let out a sentimental ooh. Gerold still stood however, and I didn't have time to really apologize for swinging a bit too hard (I was a it upset my tome was all muddy…and my poor feet) as Dorian swept in with a nice hit himself. Brunhild went for a blow that looked to mimic mine, but this time Gerold was a bit more ready, keeping his second knee cap safe, but still getting a nasty hit from Brunhild sword.

 

Gerold still had some fight in him and lashed out at Dorian landed another fine blow. Though with his knee injury he had to lean down to make his attack, which put his head right in the way of the face of my ax that I swung like a bat. A vicious broing rang out as Gerold growled, tried to stand and then fell from my attack. The crowd went wild, and a chorus of dwarven cheers filled the air. Dorian began to clap, but Brunhild was in the moment and was riling up the crowd even more with her jumps of excitement and screams for Lake-Town's victory. I just tried to catch my breath…I was very tired. But the round's end is never long enough.

 

In the final bought, it was just us and Elstan with what was left of his men. Brunhild was heated and went right for Elstan while Dorian and I had to deal with the remaining lackeys. Though I didn't really deal with anything as my tired arms barely got the ax anywhere near the guardsmen I opposed. Dorian managed to land a nice blow against his, but Brunhild was looking in peak performance and with a piercing blow that passed through Elstan's shield and made the man lean just enough for Brunhilds own shield to crash against Elstan's skull and the captain was already out of the combat. I gave a breathy congratulation to her when I was crashed into by the other guard's blunt spear and felt all the rest of my air just leave my body and crash into the gross mud…

 

I awoken in a tent that was set up near the area and completely covered in mud… they really spared no expense in ensuring I was dragged out. Ugh, my Tome was covered as well, I would probably been more unhappy had I had the energy to actually expound on it. I spotted Dorian getting up from a bed as well, but Brunhild was no where in sight. Sassafrass and Elrynn arrive soon with Beleenda in tow who immediately begins to fuss about Dorian. We are infromed that Brunhild was the victor of the contest, and apparently even blew Dorian a kiss before taking him out with a single blow. Brunhild certainly has a competitive fire. We were told that there was a celebratory procession carrying Brunhild and we best be off to catch up. So we prepared ourselves and made our ways after Brunhild, noting that Gerald was just getting up as we left…he was still limping.

 

We arrive at the center of Dale again, where a podium had been set up, upon it was the chest that our group had recovered from the Serpent of the Wastes. The people carrying the victorous Brunhild placed her next to the chest and the announcer rewarded the winner of the Grand Melee with the contents of the chest (though it wasn't all the treasure we had recovered) as well as invitations to the coming feast in the Palace's Main hall to all who made it to the Grand Melee's final round (on top of the ones that were given to the winners of the contests). The crowd cheered and celebrations began once again, ones that Gerald didn't make it too, as Brunhild dug through her new treasure, and even passed them out among the whole group. I again refused her generosity, but she insisted that I at least take something and made me dig through the trove to find something I wanted.

 

Now I'm not sure called out is the right word for when an object catches your eye, but it almost seemed like what happened when I was perusing through the chest's contents. This broken mural shard fell into my hands and piqued my curiosity. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be from an elven mural, but even more significant was this almost spectral being that lived within, it seemed to be severed and trapped in time showing me small glimpses into its period and the knowledge within. Curious why an elven artifact would reveal such to me, instead of perhaps Elrynn, I wasn't going to complain at this new font of knowledge and thanks Brunhild for the extremely, if not overly generous, gift.

 

Shard of a Elven Mural- This fragment of a once beauteous mural contains elven ghosts of the past that reveal their truths to their chosen wielder.

 

I wasn't the only one that found a wonderous item left in the chest. Dorian found a pearl-like seeing stone and Brunhild discovered an elvish walking stick! While Sassafrass and Elrynn didn't discover artifacts, they did discover items of extensive value, Sass a belt of pearls and crystals of elvish craft and Elrynn and elvish crafted amulet on a gold chain, its jewel cut in the shape of a leaf the color of the first shoots of Spring.

 

Elvish Walking Stick – a well crafted walking stick tightly wound with elven rhymes that, when read, make travel seem all the faster.

 

Seeing Stone – A smooth stone that when held up at the dawn of battle reveals what may come to pass in the upcoming skirmish.

 

By mid-afternoon most of the celebration were over as those invited to the feast awaited their coming appointment. Well, except for me as I was spending most of my time grumbling as I was scraping the mud off of everything that I had taken into the arena…including my tome. Fortunately, its metal casing kept its contents safe from the mud and moisture, as it was designed to do by Herja, but it was still frightening to see her handiwork covered by uncomplimentary mud. Dorian was eager to see someone about adding additional seats to the feast table, and I assumed it was for our fellow comrades Sassafrass and Elrynn at our table, but instead his mind was on Beleenda. He barely knows the woman and he is acting like Bláin son of Bruni does with my sister. I suppose at least Beleenda seems interested, but Human's seem to go so fast sometimes.

 

Still, Brunhild felt that such affairs of the heart should be assisted and the three of us went of to speak to Elstan to see if such accommodations could be arranged. I figured I could solve the problem immediately by just letting Beleenda take my seat, but Dorian and Brunhild wouldn't hear of it, speaking of contacts one could make at such events. Though I really had little interest, to posh for my liking…not enough books either. Still, Brunhild was able to assist Dorian in not only convincing Elstan to allow Beleenda in, but also to get Elrynn and Sassafrass a seat as well. I was glad the Brunhild got our fellows some seats, as I'm sure this was more their type of thing.

 

The last two hours before the dinner Dorian spent in a haste cleaning himself up, writing poetry with the help of Sassafrass and sending such things to Beleenda as I sort of chuckled to myself as I dug the mud from my boots. Dorian even got Sassafrass to ask Bungo to craft a gift for Beleenda as well.Still, we soon were off to the party in our itchy finery, had to wear this an awful lot lately. The line to get into the palace, however, was quite extensive and we had quite the wait ahead of us. I could spy Dorain scanning across the many festivities that roared throughtout the town hoping to spot Beleenda. Brunhild somehow hears the commotion that was starting near the start of the line. A humbly dressed man was looking rather worried and spoke to one of the door guards. Brunild heard that the man's son had left town earlier and has yet to return, which made her leave line to go investigate as the man was pulled away from the line for being hysterical. She discovers that the man was requesting them to send ot guards to find his son, but the guards told him that due to the festivities they were stretched must too thin. When Brunhild attempts to calm the man to get more information he gets even more hysterical and that's when Elrynn and myself head over. As we are filled in and Brunhild mentions someone going to find the man's, named Egwin, son, named Edor the man calms down a bit and tells us that his son apparently left to go fishing by himself and never came home, a report he apparently got from some of Edor's friends who seemed suspicious and elusive, according to Egwin, when they told him. I asked if he could bring us to these friends as we should probably talk to them and Egwin said he probably could. Two gaurds came with us, all the guard could spare, and Brunhild, Elrynn, and myself went to investigate as Sassafrass and Dorian held our place in line.

 

We eventually find one of Edor's friends who tells us the same story as Egwin did, but I notice that the way they are acting does suggest that they are holding something back. So I use our triumph in the grand melee, hoping the kid saw, to try to awe the answer out of the boy who seemed scared and impressed enough to tell us the truth. Apparently, Edor went off to someplace called the Eeltarn to catch eels to impress a girl, I of course immediately think of Dorian. Apparently, the area used to be dangerous, but is a lot more calm now that Dale was rebuilding. Brunhild inquired why the boys lied, but they said they pinkie swore not to tell. A bit strange, but Egwin knew the path to the Eeltran and said he could take us there, so Elrynn sent word to our comrades that we shall be back soon and that they should enjoy the party, as we gathered our gear and journeyed with the two guards and Egwin to find Edor.

 

It was quite the trip for a young man to take by himself, taking us around two hours to make it to the hills of that held the Eeltarn, and it soon became as dark as a cave requiring torches to continue on. Soon, we see the glimmering of a lake ahead, as we call out for Edor. However, we noticed a still, human shaped silhouette near the lake side, and when we approach it's Edor. It's a tragic scene and Brunhild, Elrynn, and I search around for a hint of what happened. Brunhild notices it looks like the boy's barrel was ransacked for its contents, and Elrynn finds what appear to be the tracks of a barefoot dwarf (what dwarf goes around barefoot!) I note that the boy's body doesn't appear natural, as if his position was staged to look more at rest, and the eel in his hands almost a offering of regret. When Brunhild and Elrynn investigate the body further, they notice that it appears Edor was strangled to death. Egwin informs us that Edor and him were the last of their family that survived the Smaugs attack on Esgaroth, his wife and daughter falling in the attack, and now he has lost his son. He thanked us and prepared to head back to town with his son. We offered to follow the tracks to figure out who had done this, and the guards said they could take Egwin back safely and notify our comrades. I sing them a lamenting deep song, but even I was taken by emotion and it wasn't my best performance.

 

With that we began our trailing of this shoe-less dwarf around the lake and through the hills where we discover a recently abandoned make-shift camp. Embers still glowed within the campfire as well as rat bones, and Elrynn told us that we now had goblin and warg tracks as well, the shoe-less dwarf tracks seemed to be going with them, or at least the following them. And that wasn't the only trouble we'd have, as Elrynn spotted the gleaming eyes of wolves in the distant foliage that seemed to be watching us, reminding me of the wargs in the Wastes. Still, we had to move on while the tracks were still fresh, so we re-lit the fire and Brunhild built an arrow from rock to point our comrades our direction and we continued our journey.

 

We head down the hill and soo nend up in the moorand. Rugged hills decorated with jagged outcroppings of rocks cover our path as we cross stone circles, broken buildings, and horny rams. We continue South along a little trail that provided only slight help on the rough journey and at one of the broken down hovels we build another signal fire before continuing on.

 

Longer along our journey we hear this awkward hoot of I think some kind of owl, and Elrynn lets us know that it is Dorian signaling for us. It was good to see Sassafrass and Droian, both whom seemed relativley pleased about the party they had just enjoyed. Apparently, Dorian was a true gentleman to Beleenda and Sassafrass impressed a crowd of men with her stories. And so many people had attended as well, including King Dain Ironfoot, King Thranduil, Bilbo, Ingomer, Merrovick the Mighty, and Prince Legolas. Sounded like quite the time, but we had to quash the good feelings with the story of little Edor and our investigations so far.

 

As we journey onward, Elrynn pointed out a ancient Barrow that seemed to have smoke rising from its doorway. Based on the swirling symbols on the broken Myniers, I tell everyone that it is an ancient and sacred burial mound where only the dead live, so there shouldn't be a fire. As we debate what to do a old man covered in thick, scruffy fur hides crawls out of the mound with a pot, hurls its contents across the myniers and asks if we were planning on standing outside all night or coming in, and that we were making him uncomfortable. So, after the old man entered the barrow again we decided to go inside. I whisper what I think may be a suitable prayer for entering such a place as we do so.

 

Inside is rather small, just enough room for us all the scrunch together with the fire in the middle. The smoke burns our eyes and lungs as the man puts a pot on the fire and pulls some herbs out of his pocket to make some tea. Dorian introudces us, and the man already predicts why we are there. Saying that he saw the goblins earlier, and they had even attempted to shoot him with their grisly arrows. We inform him of Edor's murder and ask if the old man, who introduced himself as Elifan, had seen a shoe-less dwarf, of which he had not. Elifan offers everyone tea in a skull, of which I accept, but the other do not. It was quite delicious and I have recorded the recipe following this report. Additionally, he offered us the ability to stay in the Barrow with him, but the others wanted to sleep outside instead. To be fair, the smoke was a bit abrasive, but I couldn't pass up the chance to listen to Elifan's stories and so I stay inside with him and we share our tales, similarly recorded following.

 

The next day, I was feeling a bit better but still was tired from the bought in the arena at Dale. Elifan wished me well as we journeyed onwards. This time heading to the craggy mountians, with large twenty foot boulders we had to climb. Luckily, despite my fatigue, I was more than prepared to climb the mountains, and Elrynn and I were able to assist the others before they tripped down the rocks onto a sharp outcrop of stones. As we breach the rocks, we view a large valley that was scarred by a large ravine that at some points were covered by land before falling into a dark abyss again. It was aptly named the Scar. Elrynn and Dorian noted some tracks that had failed to be hidden and we journey down into the depth of the Scar.

 

I am used to many caves, caverns, and tunnels and more often then not explored them on my own. But this was something else, the dark was extra thick here and could almost be felt. The shadows from the torches seemed to jerk instead of flow and each sound seemed intensified. Multitudes of bugs scurried about, even their footsteps echoing down the cavern, and a mountain goat had fallen and was slowly being devoured seemingly by the rocks themselves. I could see Dorian was similarly discomforted, asd we progressed, but still we pushed on. The chocking paths opening to smaller cavern rooms before clustering around us again. Sassafrass said she could sense dark and evil creatures ahead and soon Dorian, Sassafrass, and Elrynn stop us, saying they could hear something speaking ahead. It was apparently some large being telling some smaller ones to surrender their portion of a food item they had taken, or else he'd eat the little one's legs.

 

As we debated what to do, including leave which seemed like a good idea, Elrynn did something I haven't seen him do before. He kneeled down and began to seemingly speak to the ground in elvish. Apparently it also spoke back to him (why can elves speak to stones and not dwarfs who live in it? A new mystery to solve?) Elrynn asked the stones how many creatures had passed and was told a few small ones and a very large one, and that he was told that he shouldn't be here and that if he should stay he would be doomed. We all have different ideas now on what to do, but leaving, my opinion, didn't sound like it was going to be the victorious choice as the others lead us back to the larger chamber and began to set up an ambush. I certainly hope they know what they are doing, as I'm still a tired scholar…not a warrior. Oh dear…

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A Star Doth Shine

A Star Doth Shine 

A shadow lengthens, as winter comes,
footsteps of dread in my ears.
The shadow lengthens, my soul grows numb,
as news from the east fuels my fears.

Tall men sally from Nûmenór,
the island home of Isildur.
Heirs eternal from Nûmenór,
grim-faced Rangers gird for war.

Good folk fell by sword and spell,
in battles bloody ‘cross the North.
A story unravels and doth foretell,
a light to come to Middle Earth.

Tall men sally from Nûmenór,
the island home of Isildur.
Heirs eternal from Nûmenór,
grim-faced Rangers gird for war.

Rest

This poem I have written as a way to capture my dreams since passing over the misty mountains. It is only a piece, and more shall I add to this but first I need to put other thoughts to paper so I might sort them out. 

It is now mid-November of the Third Age Twenty-nine and Forty-six. We have been given much for our efforts by the King of Dale. But is it a kindness or an burdening to grant us Stranford Keep? We will see. For me, it is a burden, and I feel obliged to it as to a companion or child. Its well being weighs on me. These particulars need sorting. I shall have counsel with my companions and the king too if necessary.

I am well rested this day. In the past weeks, myself and my companions have had some time to collect ourselves and regroup on most matters in and around Dale and Laketown. One matter of great import is a visitation from my kindred from the North. They were sent to grant to me a time-honored formality of judicial process and a token of great recognition and honor.

An Unexpected Gift

To me, with Elryn as witness a pace or two away, they gave what is called The Star of the Dùnedain. This is not to say there is only one, but neither are there many. This brooch, shaped like a rayed star, was ceremoniously pinned up on my left shoulder. This was done in recognition of my deeds of import and merit both past and present. I shall pen more of what this means later, for time is precious and more pressing material requires ink.

I shall now account for the last six days. 

Shortbed

The 16th – Dale is crowded with locals and folks from as far away as Hanar’s Blue Mountains to witness the week-long celebration of the Death of Smaug and the end of the Battle of Five Armies as it has become known. This occasion is the fifth year celebrating since that terrible event and is marked also by the solstice.

 All this revelry is more than I had expected or wished for. Much dancing, shouting marketeers, wagons laden with throwaway trinkets, and baubles. Smells from fair to foul and people to match. The others must have been as taken aback as I, for none of us thought to secure a place to stay in the city, only a time a place to meet up again which happens to be the extortionate Kings Rest Inn. 

As they had no rooms to let, Brünhild (whose family’s good name has sway in these parts) managed to secure the innkeeper's children’s quarters for the week. I did note there seemed no change in price for these halfling sized accommodations, but it is better than a faggoty lean-to in these cold times.

It is around noon when we decide to ply the town and take in the sights as a group. We are witness to many curiosities in the market such as jewelry, wines, toys, games, treats, ales, Dwarven spirits, carvings, and even trinkets claiming magical traits. 

Of Masks and Shadows

After passing two men fighting over the so called legendary ‘Black Arrow’, a booth with extraordinary masks and boasting long lines catches our collective eye. Pressing closer I ask one in line why such interest by so many, and I am told of these are the tickets to the ball later as part of the inauguration. 

We all leave with masks that we helped each other choose. Sassafras, the Sunflower, Hanar the Raven, Brünhild the Fox, Elryn the Red Dragon, and myself the Eagle. But then, as we were leaving the market, it was swathed in darkness like twilight but only for a time. The cause was Gwaihïr and Landroval the King of Eagles and his wing commander. They flew over the market and perched themselves upon the high points of the king’s manor.

In the din of the crowds and passers-by we overheard talk that the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain might even bring forth the Arkenstone for all to admire. During our journey to the high place where the king and others would talk, storm clouds lowered and began dripping and grumbling in thunderous tones.

The Bearded Composer

Parading to the high place are King Dane Ironfoot, elves in green and gold, the Master of Lake Town and flanked by archers, King Bard himself. The crowds look on and go quiet. King Bard then speaks with bright eyes and fair words of times hard and good and of the unification after the Battle of Five Armies. As the applause dims, an old man almost unnoticed beside the king drops his grey robes and becomes tall and lordly as he outstretches his staff to the dark clouds. 

Suddenly the whole of the city is bathed in a fiery glow! Sparks and fireworks burst forth into the air from everywhere! From bushes and wagons, barrels and chimneys or tied and whirring from weathervanes all cleverly placed. But then the wizard moves his staff in sweeping motions as Smaug is created in flame and fire to fly ominously over the crowds followed by marching Dwarves and the Great Eagles, bears, and elves all like a stage and story of the Battle just five years past.

Many Meetings

After the great magician’s show, multiple stages are lit and on them the heroes of the balcony each begin playing instruments, wearing masks to signal the start of the mascaraed and the dancing, singing and drink. The crowds dutifully obeyed and the ball was afoot! 

Present too, Bombur himself, wearing a dragon-faced mask. Another noteworthy but unknown man wore a fully obfuscating helmet-mask but for his grey eyes and Dwarven scale armor. Then, one could not miss the fully eight feet tall Beorning, scrawled all over with inked patterns.  He wore no mask and drank mightily from small barrels. Finally, a stand-out of a fair elven woman in a moon mask just stood gazing, regal and tall shouldering a great bow.

In speaking with the giant man, I learned he is called Gerold, and hires out for protection all along  the Mirkwood. Elryn, at this time learns of the elf, that she is called Galia, and of whom is renowned for her skill with her great bow. Also, we meet Bungo Twofoot, a colorful halfling, and well regarded as the best chef in Dale. He is part owner of the Long Road Inn along with a Dwarf named Farin.

Whirling Dervish

Stars are later glimpsed in the night sky as the clouds give way and the evening lengthens. Many couples dance, and many that came alone find willing partners. I did not, however. For the lady I had solicited was too tired for my company. That being quite established, I was rather done with the matter and settled into drink and to my agreeably familiar pipe. 

“I enjoy watching,” I told myself and my captive ale, who agreed by way of a nod and a foamy kiss. 

“Yes, we are good together,” I affirmed, feeling a little more convinced at each encounter with my frothy headed friend.

The dancing was like a sea with great waves made from bobbing masks and sweeping motions. The music was good enough but for the occasional collision of dwarven oboes and elven harps. Over the night, many eyes kept tabs on one fellow in particular. Catching the eyes of many, was a fair elven coryphée who generously entertained many prominent admirers to the floor over the evening. For it was they who asked him and he who would (albeit rarely) feign weariness. 

Elryn is fair of heart and fairer still of build and looks than many of his kind. A good friend thus far and it is ever clearer how fortunate we are to have this noble creature attend us into danger with its harsh climes and lurking shades. 

Star Bright

Later, the moon began to fill the sky and the air began to change, I then noticed Elryn was not not to be seen. 

“Dorion, why do you sit here with that ugly pipe and empty mug? Why aren’t you dancing?” Elryn’s voice came smiling and clever from behind me. Turning I took in the cool fellow with a woman at each elbow.

“Ah the dance is for the young. And besides I made a commitment to my… one-of-a-kind Pipe here and I cannot leave pipe and ale to confinement while I have all the fun.” I quipped as I stood nodding.

“Mmmm well, allow me to introduce someone to you who thinks that is… not befitting a man of stature such as yourself.” He said, nodding to one of the women at his side. 

“Beleenda, this is Dorion,” He said. 

She was older but not old. Her eyes carried wisdom and learning while her skin was taught and fair. Her hair silvered

“Beleenda.” I said taking her offered hand and touching it lightly with my lips as is custom, all while looking into her… very captivating eyes. Her eyes, though shaded by her Thrush Mask, were keen and searching. I could also see her silvering hair of course and it was well kept and smelled of expensive scents.

“Dorion?” She said. I still held her hand.

“Oh yes. I am from over the Misty Mountains. My name is a play on my great great grandfather, Orion,” I rattled out quickly as I let go of her hand which was held too long. Not customary at all.

“What’s wrong here? Why am I acting this way?” I thought to myself. 

“So Dorion, Beleenda here likes dancing so she told me.” Elryn says in the awkward moments of my thoughts.

“Oh yes. Of course. This ale will just have to manage without me I suppose. That is if you care to dance Lady Thrush?”

“Well, Elryn sort of promised you’d ask.” She said taking my hand this time and pulling me into the sea.

We danced. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs and feet had not forgotten the dances of my people long ago when youth was flowing through younger veins. The hours seemed like minutes but also days. We danced and did not stop. We talked about her and her father and their merchant business. We talked some of me and my lighter stories from back home and touched on some here. And also of the conspicuous Star on my cloak and the heirloom at my side.

In the end, when the lamps about the merchant square were being put out by twos we found ourselves away from it all at the corner of a closed bakery. We lifted our masks and talked quieter and closer and we kissed. She gave me her mask and to her I handed mine. 
“Please do stop by father’s shop sometime.” She said. I nodded and we parted.

A day of Riddles and Song

We all met (to early) at the Crown to break fast. Hardly a fast however. I slept little as my mind would not stop dancing under the stars. And now the Crown’s silvered ware hurts my ears and Sass won't stop talking about hair, and masks and trinkets and Elryn and… Elryn. Even hobbits are in to him.

We leave after nibbling at toast and sipping a strained hot pungent liquid which did help but is hard on my insides. We wander the city for the day and my Ranger senses finally return. At the market was poised a stage and a lectern of sorts and the game of Riddles was introduced. I am not keen on this sort of thing, at least the crafting of such and so sat out. Others might have done the same but did not.

Both Hanar and Brunhild were met with little favor, some in attendance having the temerity to even boo at their troubled verses at which point even my light clapping took center stage when I then feigned a nearby buzzing was the cause. No matter though. Our reputations took an upswing as little Sass was graduating through the contests one right after another. But she met a fare opponent in a rather young looking halfling. 

This was not just a youthful halfling, it was The Halfling or better, The Hobbit; Bilbo Baggins! I saw money change hands on this one, sadly more for Bilbo than any other. But I had a feeling he might have a hard go against ole Sass. And he did, in the end the judges favored our flower-headed wonder! Rightly so too. She was bubbly and dramatic while the clever Bilbo might have had craftier riddles but his delivery was distracted. Not the celebrity I had expected.
Next they rearranged for Singing. This I thought I would give a go since I am not making anything up. Well I guess, like Bilbo, celebrity escapes me. I might be good among my fellows at home but here there are far to many that live this way, for here, life is a musical. Fake. Hanar made the stage with great low tones but he sounded more like a story telling bear that a singer. 

A Day of Spirits and Pie

So this day starts later but does get off the floor by noon. Long tables are set at the square and great wagons with barrels and tuns are set about and great mugs and steins are set on the tables all ready to be filled and drained and filled and drained. I was half hearted about this and hadn’t been eating or drinking much lately so it sounded possible. Maybe a bit distracted, I enrolled and sat and waited for my first mug to be filled.

I look down the lengths of the tables and see many competitors doing different odd preparations. Shaking legs, forced yawns, wrenching and the like. I turned the other way and there was Bombur. Great. Oh well, free drinks for awhile anyway. I also see Hanar, Sass and Elryn bellied up to have a go! Wisely, Brunhild stands in the audience shaking her head. I nod back in agreement but I stay seated anyway.

Hanar and Elryn see pink Oliphants at the end of the first rounds and they are out! Who would've thought that? But then who would think Sass would be at my side as we toasted Bombur in the third!! But then in the fourth, I too thought I saw an Oliphant of a different color near the bakery I had quiet moments at a night or two ago. It had a Thrush’s mask. What?! I shook my head as heard thumps to my left and right… Sass is on the floor, glassy faced and red nosed! Left… Bombur, a hill of fat and fur and foam, like walrus caught in a chair! I then looked up through blur of my vision and I was the last man! 

After staggering a distance, navigating between chairs and people to get my Dale Mug trophy (as is their nasty nasty requirement) I staggered back towards the Crown. I must have made it for I woke up later across a few short kiddy beds with a Thrush’s mask in my arms. Beleenda… I need to go see Beleenda! 

Splashing cold water on my face I am found and pulled away and back to the Market (after a few stops to ‘get the ale out’) It’s the pie eating contest. Still out of sorts after the my last big win, I sit. I don’t recall seeing Bomber but I did see that little happy-go-lucky Bungo with a fork in each hand, a knife tucked in his ear and two spoons in each pocket and licking his apple red lips.

Brunhild sits out again but this time with Elryn. Again, probably wise. The rest of us wait for the flag then dig in. Hanar and I, just aren’t that into it and fall out after the first pie and a half. Sass makes the second round… how?! But it is cheekily little pie-faced Bungo who takes the pie and the title of Grand Pie Devourer! 

This does not slow Bungo down though and he moves up on Sass with crumby sideburns and pie filling in his wooly toes. He persists on dinner later and Sass can’t say no. That sly Bungo has the moves.

She and Bungo end up at the Missing Scale after dark. I know because I follow. This blush-cheeked monied cook should be watched. I am not sure Sass would mind me keeping a weather eye but my cover is almost blown when a guard takes a keen interest of why I am lurking in an elm across from the Scale. I am no city bred Ranger that’s clear.

A Day of Slips and Swimming

First there was the Barrel walking and we all think we can do it. Hanar drops in the water like a rock after one heavy step. We were worried but after a few minutes he emerged, gripping post and dock boards on his slow crawl up and out. Next round Brunhild flies off into the cold winter waters! Sass and are running on these things like mad looking at each other egging each other on, I trip on my own boots! She laughs her way in right after! 

And who do you think not only holds his own but wins? Our elf.  Elryn is one of those elves you just wouldn’t be surprised to see running up falling rocks, sliding down Oliphant trunks or shooting three arrows at a time. We have a really amazing wood elf. A lot like those multifunction pocket knives the Lonely Mountain Dwarves had at their cutlery wagon. Very expensive so probably not in my future.

Then there was the boat race. All of us took up oars. One by one we are sent back to land as we just couldn’t manage wake and oar. I pegged Brunhild for this, being native to river life but alas all we all got was wet and cold.

A Day of Brutes and Strings

No tables. No chairs, no food or wine (to start with anyway) This was Folk v Folk. Mostly strength and certainly some wit. I say this mostly because our trim Brunhild held her own, even besting our elven mongoose who by the way must have bumped his head before losing because how he lost was a lapse in judgement over strength.

Lithe Brunhild was put against Gerold in the end and it was rough. Nimble and sure she dodged and weaved and even flew between his legs! As she spun, what felt like Gerold’s leg, but was his arm, met her whole frame like a dropping drawbridge. She went down hard and all believed she was out. He turned and shrugged his shoulders and called for more ale. But then his eyes crossed as Brunhild, clearly with strength renewed and focused, seemed fly double fisted at the side of his head and the giant fell hard and did not get up again by himself!

Half past noon Targets are erected for the big Archery contests and men pace off lengths and plant markers, the wind is tested and folks are entered into the ranks of competitors. We all take up our bows but for Brunhild who is still holding her head, arms and sides. She’s tough and even though she won, she had gotten ‘Draw Bridged’ hard by the giant and wasn’t feeling up to it.

Sadly, the wind took my arrow and I was out in the first as was Hanar. Elryn, out in the second, a big surprise as I have rarely seen him miss. Sass and the elf we saw at the ball, Galia were in the final. Galia took the prized but only by a few points, it was a great show. 

Horse, Sword and Hearts

This day it is a noble contest. It is a contest of skill with horse and weapon. I have had this training but rarely do rangers take to horses. Where I am from we need see and feel the ground and branch and smell the earth and taste the streams. This would be a lot of on and off. No, Rangers are a walking people. But that said, I have had my time with a horse or two and horses are noble beasts that are easy to love.

We all enter the competition. I am being fitted by a young lad from behind when hands belonging not to a boy but to a woman are fitting my arm with a long streamer. I turn and it’s Beleenda! What spell has kept me from her while I oft dream of her. But here she is wishing me well and telling me she will cheer for me. I pull her close and tell her I should have stopped by and she whispers, “I thought maybe you went’ interested.” I was about to reply when my horse and I were pulled away, our hands touching to the last.

Brunhild was out on the field first but could not score as she was very likely still suffering torn muscles and bruises from the day before. The rest of us, Hanar and Sass on Pony’s, make it through the second. In the third, Hanar and Sass are taken out. Sass is quickly greeted by Bungo who holds a basket of still hot Seed Cakes in the shapes of horses. Sass, tickled, awards Bungo with a kiss.

So it finally comes down to Elryn, Elstan, the grey eyed fellow from the ball and myself. Elryn bests Elstan and this competition’s victor lands to he or I. 

We square off and charge. At the last second his arm just crumples as I dash his shield hard with and he goes flying off very awkwardly, like a paper doll. Just as before with his failure on the mat, this would have been avoided with just a different angle. A foolish mistake but I win and this is a grand moment as the only voice I could clearly hear or cared to hear was cheering and shouting my name or was she singing?
 

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A Legend Returned and Laid to Rest

Moments passed by, but for myself it felt like an eternity, unarmed as Dorion and I were in front of Lord Hakon, his captain Oldur, and his ten Easterling mercenaries. I must admit, I wasn't overly familiar with the Easterlings in particular, having only picked-up a few words from their homeland of Rhun, though I can not claim to have travelled quite THAT far in my wanderings. From all I had heard and read, though, Easterling warriors were good fighters, disciplined and not easily rattled. They wore quality mail armor, though, perhaps not quite as sturdy as dwarven-make, but as good as any average human smith might create.

 

And for the moment, it was only Dorion and myself who confronted them, as Hakon demanded the Black Arrow, and Dorion sent Hanar to fetch it. Of course, I felt confident that if hostilities broke out between us, Sassafras, Brunhild, and Hanar would come to our aid – but would it be quickly enough to prevent Dorion and I from becoming little more than skewered meat? And what if Lord Hakon's patience wore too thin, and he announced an attack regardless of his previous words?

 

I try to fill the empty space with words, issuing a warning to Lord Hakon: take the Black Arrow if you must, but DO NOT TOUCH it. It is a wicked artefact cursed by Smaug's death. For his part, Hakon accused me of being a lying elf, even though Dorion also supported my cause. When Dorion spoke, Hakon seemed to take the warning more seriously.

 

Moments later, Hanar returns bearing the bundled artefact, with Brunhild at his side. Hakon demands the item despite her added words of warning, and upon accepting the bundle, Hakon seems pleased, turned his horse to depart… and then ordered his men to kill us all!

 

We can hardly react before Hakon receives a rude 'thank you' in the form of an arrow from Sassafras, who had taken up position on one of the manor's balconies. She plants the arrow square in the man's chest, knocking him from his horse! Could the battle be over before it begins, the enemy leader fallen? Unfortunately, no. This does little to stall Hakon's men, as they charge forth to attack, and we are ready to greet them. Dorion intimidates our foes, Brunhild carves any Easterling who gets too close, and Hanar tumbles like a festival jester and retrieves the Black Arrow where Hakon had dropped it when he was unseated so rudely from his mount. I do some 'dancing' of my own, dodging the two Easterlings who set upon me, I dash inside the manor and slam the door closed behind me, barring it shut before dashing up the stairs to the balcony to lend aid with my bow, as well.

 

The situation looks bleak as Hanar – still not completely healed from our previous encounters – is bloodied, as is Brunhild. After firing an arrow, I believe my own best course is to try to inspire my allies, so I begin to sing a rousing song to urge them on.

 

But soon, fortune favors us as Captain Oldur and six of the Easterlings lay dead or bleeding on the ground, and the four remaining Easterlings back-peddle, effectively retreating. We let them go, and quickly search for Hakon. He never could remount his horse, and instead sits against the wall, bleeding-out. Dorion offers the man a stern lecture while Sass tends to Hakon's wounds.

 

We decide that it would be a better fate for the man to face Bard's justice in person, rather than bleeding-out and dying without a chance to say his piece. Hakon does confess that he had intended to take the Black Arrow back to Bard, claiming that he had found it, thereby winning Bard's respect and any reward that might be given as part of the outcome.

 

After securing Hakon, we next challenge Lord Briony. He seems shaken, and explains that he did not aid us because Hakon had convinced him that he was acting on Bard's orders. The fool! Hakon acting on behalf of Bard with foreign mercenaries at his back?? And what sort of host amongst mankind so readily allows his guests to be treated as we were? Briony seems shamed – he does not dine with us later that evening – nor does he join us for breakfast. Curious, I depart the dining room and head to Briony's chambers, knocking on the door. There is no answer. My companions join me, and Hanar whispers a few words of dwarvish magic and the door opens, revealing an empty room. It seems Briony is gone. Searching the stables, we find a horse is missing.

 

Where could Briony have gone off to? Several ideas float amongst us. I believe he might be headed to King Bard to tell his side of the story before we get there, hoping that his 'initiative' might cause King Bard to be gentle with him. Others suggest he might be headed to Hakon's estate to warn them that their lord has been captured. Or, perhaps Briony – in a fit of shame – simply departed with plans never to return. One of the servants even mentions to us that Briony was courting someone – perhaps it was to her bosom where Briony ran, seeking safety and a comforting embrace?

 

There is little for us to do at that moment except prepare to depart, and we do, horses for us along with a wagon. We travel without incident until evening where we set a camp, and as part of that ritual, Hanar sets a rune of warning to give us some notice should an enemy with ill intent get too close to us. This proves quite beneficial, as in the deep of night during Brunhild's watch, rogues in the darkness approach, setting off the alarm! This gives us the moments we need to prepare for them, and sure enough, from the darkness, arrows are fired at us, and we return fire in kind.

 

Then, seven ruffians assault us in our camp (there were eight, but one had been taken down with arrow fire during their charge). The battle is even shorter than the one back in the keep in Standburg, and once six had fallen, the last two surrender. Hakon, of course, tried to make a getaway during the fight, but Hanar makes sure he does not escape. Dorion speaks to the bandits, offering them a lecture, and one of them confesses that they were hired by Hakon ahead of time, a 'back up plan' should his attempt to steal the Black Arrow fail and he is captured. Say what you will about this old dog without honor, he definitely planned ahead!

 

I quiz Hakon to see if he has any OTHER 'contingency' plans, and he admits his next effort would be to bribe us. In return for such a slight, I gift the man's cheek with the back of my hand! I know he will feel that sting for quite some time to come, and he deserves it. He does not have the power to offer me that which I most desire – and I let him know this in a most direct manner!

 

We return to our watches and after securing our two additional prisoners, we finish the night, and then depart in the morning for Dale, the Lonely Mountain as our landmark in the distance, we eventually reach it and pass by its western flank before arriving in Dale.

 

We are met by a group of guards who view us with odd looks. Some of them recognize Lord Hakon, and seeing him bound like the two bandits gives them cause to be confused. We are escorted to the King's hall, attracting attention from the common folk as we go. As The Company of Free Folk, we represent humans, hobbits, dwarves and elves. Brunhild and Dorion and Sassafras all cut attractive looks for their kind, and Hanar…. well, did I mention Brunhild, Dorion, and Sass are all rather attractive for their kind? Anyway, we continue onward, rag-tag-looking or not.

 

Arriving in King Bard's hall, the court seems nearly full with people of station gathered, and the King himself sitting upon his throne. Brunhild begins to explain our arrival, Hakon and the two bandits are brought forth, and each side is permitted to tell their side. Hakon, even in his current state, tells a very charismatic lie. I can see it on some of the faces around us – some of these people BELIEVE him! Of course, our Company being of mixed races, I am not surprised. Would they be so quick to believe him had we all been human?

 

Briony is given a chance to speak for himself – and his story matches the one that Brunhild details on our behalf. Her silver tongue leaves nothing out, and for a moment, I forget that little girl of less than five summers who asked me several times to repeat some of my stories!

 

King Bard gives great consideration to all that he has heard. In those moments, I realized quite suddenly that if he sided with Hakon, that my companions and I were likely doomed. But, the strength of men is put on display this day as King Bard, in his wisdom, believes our story and decides to pass judgment on the spot. Lord Hakon is banished from the realm of Dale, and with that he loses all of his holdings and titles. Hakon is not pleased, of course, and shouts in anger as he is led away by the guards. Hakon had entered King Bard's hall a Lord, and now he leaves a pauper.

 

Lord Briony is attended to next. King Bard is very disappointed with the man, and though he allows Briony to retain his title, he is stripped of his holding in Standburg. Briony seems stung by this, but at least he retains SOMETHING!

 

And then King Bard turns to us and thanks us. We are each gifted with parcels of treasure, and most surprisingly, our Company is awarded ownership of the keep of Standburg, and the lands around it! While we were not 'lords and ladies' in name, we were being commanded to tend to the keep and the people who dwell there and around it, and it is a task that all of us seem quite prepared to do.

 

Then, Bard asks to see the Black Arrow. Hanar offers it to him, giving him the very same warning that we had given Hakon. Bard looks long at the arrow, and I can only imagine the thoughts going through his mind. The Black Arrow's significance is not lost upon me, an heirloom passed down through Bard's family for generations, and the very weapon that was used to slay Smaug. But it had become corrupted, resting too long in Smaug's corpse, and Bard was able to see that – and after a long moment of silence and reflection, he sighs.

 

The arrow must be reunited with Smaug's corpse, where it will remain for all time. This seems a fitting end to such a fabled relic, and a suitable end to such a legendary relic. Bard asks us to perform this task. Perhaps the sadness is too much for the King to perform this task himself, so we readily agree. He grants us passage on a ship, and we are also supplied with a concoction that would help us 'resist' the gloom of the place where Smaug's corpse rests so that we can safely venture to the area. We do this that very day, getting one last look at the legendary Black Arrow before it is dropped into the waters. The arrow floats upon the surface for several heartbeats, as if trying its best to avoid its watery grave. But moments later it finally sinks beneath the surface, disappearing from sight, likely never to be seen again.

 

At least not in this Age….

 

Feeling our spirits lift somewhat, we then head for Laketown where we meet the current Master of Laketown and return the treasure as we promised the Ghost we would do. The Master is grateful, and we are treated to a fabulous feast, giving us good reason to don our 'pretty clothes' once more.

 

Brunhild seems right at home, rubbing elbows with members of Laketown's upper-crust. Dorion seems relaxed yet ready to pounce, even in this place, as he absorbs the hospitality and gratitude of the locals. Hanar sits at the table, alternately taking notes and taking drinks – I do not have the heart to tell him that some of the chicken he had so vigorously eaten had instead ended up in his beard. And Sassafras was accosted plenty, more than once being accused of 'being up past her bed time' until, eventually, the accuser learned that she was no mere child, and apologized to her repeatedly. For my own part, I offered music and stories, making merry with any who would listen or suggest a song that I knew. These were joyous times, and Laketown especially had reason to celebrate.

 

Guin an a enjoui cuil….

 

We decide that the Company would rest for a time – perhaps a month – before gathering again. It would be time for the celebration of the Battle of Five Armies, and I for one am greatly looking forward to it! We elves are incredibly patient, but even I must admit some anxiousness in waiting for the coming event.

 

Sassafras decides to remain in Laketown. She wants to spend some weeks searching the nearby marshes for more of the potent leaves and weeds that can be found there. She says that such herbs do not exist near Gladden Fields, so we assume she intends to collect as many as possible, just in case she never comes this way again. Each of us are concerned for her safety, of course, but she assures us that like most hobbits, when she does not wish to be seen, she won't be.

 

Brunhild decides to remain in the Laketown area, as well, which makes sense. Her family is there, so she has every reason to want to remain in the area for a time, visiting and catching up, sharing her stories and likely being a bad influence on her younger cousin, Gertrude. Perhaps she might also spend some time with Sassafras, as well. Karl, for certain, will be glad to see her about, and who knows? Maybe after all that we've seen in recent months Brunhild's mind may have softened toward the innkeep's son. Time will tell.

 

Hanar, Son of Veig also decides to remain in Laketown. He speaks of his desire to shop the market there for a time. Denied entry into Erebor, perhaps he hopes to spy some trinkets of Dwarven-make while perusing the stalls of the bazaar? I wish him well in his search. Something tells me that he might even make an attempt to visit Erebor again – this time alone, of course, in hopes of receiving a warmer welcome without the company of a human, elf, hobbit and Dunedain. I do hope his kin eventually allows him entrance – it is a long way from the Blue Mountains, and it would be sad if his brethren in Erebor are too stuffy to allow him at least one visit.

 

Dorion decides to go to Dale for a time, so I travel with him the short way there from Laketown. Along the way, we meet another Ranger from the North – and out of respect, I move some distance away so that they might speak in private of 'Ranger things'. My elf-eyes do not miss an exchange, though, as some sort of trinket is passed from the other man to Dorion, and Dorion examines the necklace with great reverence. Placing it around his neck, the other Ranger departs, and Dorion and I continue on our way to Dale where he plans to relax for a time. Perhaps he seeks an audience with Bard? He quips to me that he might even write a song during this short break, and of course I do not believe him. Or perhaps my singing HAS inspired him in some way? I'd like to think so.

 

After parting ways with Dorion in Dale, I make a stop at the bank of Dale to retrieve my treasure that I had left there for safekeeping. The banker recognized me from the meeting in King Bard's hall and granted me every level of courtesy that he could, offering to store any amount of treasure I might want to leave behind. I smiled and thanked him, and promised to patronize his establishment in the future. I then set off for home – The Elfking's halls, and as soon as I reached the edge of Mirkwood I felt my spirit soar. Though I do love to travel and can not seem to stay in one place for long, I can not deny the inevitable effect that Mirkwood has upon me. Dangerous as she is beautiful, giving yet unforgiving, she is the kind of mistress that young men dream of, and old men warn you about.

 

Reaching home, I am welcomed by my family. I am of course forced to recount all of the adventures that I've been on since my last visit, and my family listens with rapt attention. Of course, it doesn't take long for suggestions of 'settling down' to be bandied about, and with a roll of my eyes and a smile, I take my departure for a few hours to tend to some business.

 

I visit various families – one in particular – and bestow gifts from my journeys from the treasures I had collected. What treasure remains afterward I offer to the King himself – though of course I am not granted an audience. Instead, one of his many seneschals accepts the gift with a nod of thanks, assuring me that the King would be made aware of it. When I walk away, my pack is empty, and once again I feel light on my feet, grateful to be rid of such worldly possessions.

 

I seek out Legolas, but am informed that he is not in the halls, sadly. Some say he has ventured north, perhaps to meet the Dunedain at his father's urging. I know I will see him again one day.

 

So I decided to spend my time in the surrounding woodland, retracing steps and visiting old haunts I might not have seen in decades. I see this land in a different light each time I return, and this time is no different. I pay closer attention to my surroundings, and begin to 'feel' and 'hear' what the environment tells me.

 

Relaxation comes easy… but patience does not as I count down the days until I return to Dale and Laketown, to the Company of Free Folk and the celebration to come!

View
The Cursed Arrow

The orc hunting party left the main camp… ten warriors in their hunting party heading west. We followed them to a ravine west and then went southwest. The wind and dust made visibility 30-40 feet so we wanted to surprise them quickly before traveling too far. They seemed to be heading to the northern Dale lands and we suspected they planned on raiding the farmers there.

We went up on the ravine to get a bit ahead of them with plans on springing an ambush. I found a perfect spot for us to lay in wait. We tied Bruce to a safe spot. We all hit lousy shots except for Elrynn. So much for our surprise ambush.

Brunhild moved down the ravine and stabbed at one and I didn’t think he was going to drop, until Brunhild twisted the knife and down he went. I plink an arrow and missed again! DAMMIT. Elrynn drops one. Dorian got hit hard and I held my breath as he teetered, but he recovered. Whew!

My next arrow hit right in the throat and an orc goes down. An arrows flies past me so close, the fletching tears at my hair. Elrynn started singing and Dorian decapitates one right after Brunhild smashes one down with the shield she borrowed from Dorian (her shield had been damaged early in the battle.) Brunhild starts to sag with weariness as Hanar takes another down, this one right through the knees! Dorian chops off an arm from an orc and it flies as the orc drops.

I shoot down the orc harassing Brunhild. The last one runs and Dorian shoots him down before the orc can warn the rest of the orc camp.

The battle over so we take a long rest.

The next day we get a late start and the sun is getting high. We head back to the orc camp. Brunhild and I sneak up to the camp to spy. Two guards on watch are staggering around but the rest of the camp seems to be asleep, being nocturnal creatures.

Elrynn and I stand watch with arrows ready as Brunhild, Hanar and Dorian stealth down into the camp to attack the largest camp. They sliced down the back of the largest tent and sneak in. Two are silently killed but the third squeals. The guard is suddenly more alert and I pierce him with an arrow in the eye. Elrynn’s arrow hits the other guard in the chest and hurts him but he’s still alive. Hanar runs from the door of the tent and finishes the guard off.

Suddenly the camp is alive as orcs come pouring out of tents! I take out the orc that Hanar injured and Elrynn puts an arrow into the orc that Brunhild wounded. Dorian gets hit hard, square in the chest. Hanar gets back-stabbed brutally. He gets hit again and I ready another arrow to help him.

Brunhild is getting hit hard but Hanar looks to be the worse so I stick with my plan to assist him with my arrows, though from my peripheral vision I see three orc heading around the side and I suspect they are heading towards Elrynn and me. Dorian takes out an orc with one swing! At the last minute I change my mind and send my arrow flying to kill an orc standing in front of Brunhilde. It falls in a bloody mess.

The Serpent has left his tent and joins the battle, brandishing his black arrow and as the enemy is almost upon me, I decide to aim my next arrow at the orc leader. My arrow hits true. Elrynn shoots his bow and hits him too. But now he and I are surrounded.

I’m shaking but I stab at the orc in front of me. Elrynn’s beautiful voice soars and everyone feels re-invigorated though we don’t expect it to last long with how outnumbered we are. DORIAN CHOPS OFF THE SERPENT’S HEAD!!! Brunhild splits an orc’s head open with her the buckler.

A stranger has appeared on the ridge (she’s hot so the men trust her) and she shoots an arrow from her greatbow. She proves to be a great shot and injures an orc easily. I get hit twice and am on the verge of growing weary though Elrynn’s song helps. The helpful stranger fires another arrow and shoots the one standing before me, the arrow piercing the back of his head and flying out of his mouth!!! It swishes my hair as it flies over me!! I'm suddenly grateful for my short height.

Out of nowhere Bruce comes running past us braying in fear. A warg leaps before me and wipes out one of the orcs attacking Elrynn and me!!!

An orc hits Elrynn hard! My love!! The stranger switches to her long spear to attack the orc that’s run up on her. I duck as another orc swings at me and his axe swishes over my head. An orc runs away to join the other cowards that ran when Dorian killed their leader so gloriously. With no foes upon me, I return to my bow and aim to the orcs attacking Brunhild.

Brunhild though weary, continues to fight bravely and wounds the orc before her. My arrow hits the orc attacking her and pierces his throat. Our helpful stranger puts her spear through the orc attacking her and poor Bruce continues to run frantically around the orc camp. Another orc runs. We have but one orc left, the one attacking Brunhild. She lobs off his arm and he goes down in a pool of blood. The battle is over!

I run after Bruce and do my best to calm him. The lady and her warg join us. Now that she has joined us we can see she is a Beorning. She says her name is Erna and she was nearby as she was tracking a drake though it was the same false trail we had seen that had been made by the orcs to cover their tracks.

Dorian reaches for the great black-arrow we'd come so far to retrieve and pulls his hand back, his expression is disturbed. He takes a pelt and wraps the arrow in it and ties it together and ties it to his back. Erna tells us her warg's name is Skrag. I find the treasure that had belonged to Lake Town and load it all up onto Bruce. It weighs him down a great deal so I take some of my gear off him and carry it myself.

Beyond the bounty of Lake Town, Dorian found a dwarven ring with a great shine. Brunhild found a wondrous shield obviously made by the dwarves of the Blue Mountains. It’s GORGEOUS! SHINY! Dorian found a golden torq the gives him a blessing to his gift of song. That will most surely come in handy and he is even more handsome wearing it.

We talk a bit more with Erna and though she does not want to join us, she points the way for us to take that will be easier returning to the Dales than the one we took. Dorian gives his ring to Hanar and we all gasp and joke at their “engagement.”

We gather the orc bodies and burn them. They were terrible creatures but I insist on respect to the dead and we commit their ashes to the foul winds of this land.

We decide we need to rest before continuing with our travels for some of my companions are greatly injured and we make camp. In the morning we pack up and leave and by the end of the day we make it out of the waste.

We return to the Dale-lands and the awful sound of the wind is replaced by the cheerful sounds of birds. The land is rich in farmland and animals to hunt. I brought down a deer with my bow and we enjoyed the first good meal in weeks. Fresh water is easily found as well while we travel and our shadows seem lighter as our spirits rise.

We camp among trees and the next morning we head south again. Brunhild is feeling better, though she still seems a bit achy. By mid-day we see a small village. Elrynn says it is Strandburg and seems to know a lot about the town (but of course, he’s so wise!) He says the Lord of Strandburg fought in the Battle of Five Armies with Bard and that his name is Lord Brynie.

We discuss whether it’s safe to even go near the village with the cursed arrow on Dorian’s back when men from the village approach on horseback. There are five men, four appear to be guards. The fifth is a young human. He’s young and I assume he’s good looking by human standards and he is well dressed. He, in fact, announces he is Lord Brynie and that King Bard sent him to meet us to be sure we arrive safely. Elrynn is pretty confident that he is sincere and that this is not a trick to get the arrow from us.

We follow him to Strandburg but I am concerned what affect the arrow will cause to the common folk there. The manor is lovely as is the town. The hot bath and clean clothes were wonderful and they took our clothing off to clean. Bruce was also taken away for a wipe-down and the best meal he’s had in weeks. The late lunch was rich and sumptuous.

Lord Brynie comes to check on us after a bit and asks that we tell him of our adventure. Stories are shared and then we are left to rest and await the delegation that is coming to meet us. King Bard is not coming but a Lord Hakon is coming to escort us to back to Dale and they are expected tomorrow afternoon to evening.

We decide to all sleep in the same room to protect the arrow from any attention that may be drawn to it with the shadow emanating from it and though we are prepared and take watch, we are undisturbed.

The next morning we re-dress in our now cleaned clothing, have breakfast and await the Delegation which arrives as the sun is setting. Elrynn, Brunhild and I stayed behind with the trunk and Dorian and Hanar go to meet the Delegation,

Dorian and Hanar went out to greet them before the Delegation reached the village. Lord Hakon rode in on a horse and there are a dozen men with him on foot which include his Captain and foot soldiers as such I have never seen but later Dorian tells me they are Eastmen and that they are likely mercenaries.

Lord Hakon is far too suspicious in my mind from what the Dorian, Elrynn and Hanar told us of him. Would King Bard send mercenaries to escort us back? Would he send someone so insistent to leave now and not wait till morning?

I spy out the window and see Lord Brynie and Lord Hakon talking and Lord Brynie is agitated. I have serious concerns. Dorian goes and tells Hakon that we cannot leave yet as Brunhild is still ill and I see Hakon’s man pull a sword and he points it at Dorian while all his mercenaries go to attention with intent to fight when given the word. Hakon tells them they have two minutes to retrieve the arrow or we will all die.

Two minutes….and time is ticking down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Land of Thieves

We used the King's writ to secure the supplies we would need to travel across the accursed land Holgeir told us about.  Nothing to eat, nothing to hunt, poisoned water, death, despair, a lack of infrastructure, not many places to shop, no inns, art or culture.  So we bought a mule to carry every provision we would need. 

September 30

It was early afternoon when we left Dale to start our journey.  The first stage of the journey was thirty miles north to the "Upper Marches."  Recently, herders and farmers have been reclaiming this land.  They must all be masochists.  For the life of me, I could not see the appeal.  Open country with cold winds from the north that carry a deathly chill. 

The first day we traveled ten miles.  Not bad for half a day's journey.  We made camp for the night and managed to sleep undisturbed.  The next day we continued on.  The winds were a bit colder.   My head was bent down by the wind.  At one point I remember looking up and thinking, the land was just a bitterly cold desert.  We hadn't seem a farm or homestead for miles. 

In the late afternoon, we found a location that provided some small reprieve from the wind, so we settled in for the night.  I slept well, although had I known what transpired that night, I would have preferred to stay awake.

In the morning, Dorion told us about a thief who robbed us during the night.  Dorion spotted him at the edge of darkness.  Knowing he was spotted, the brigand ran off, taking Hanar's satchel with him.  Dorion easily caught up to the little man and grabbed him.  He claimed his name was Pug, and he sold Dorion a story about how he was an orphan, boo hoo.  Dorion brought the mangy thief back to camp and made him apologize to Hanar.  Then he made Pug a thin rabbit stew, which the juvenile wolfed down.  They talked more.  His parents moved south, and Pug didn't want to go with them.  He was in Dale, but he didn't want to stay there because of the 'bad people.'  Dorion walked the lad back to his home, which was really just a lean-to and a few stolen items.

We discussed Pug's situation at breakfast.  Elrynn was concerned for the child and suggested we go check up on him.  Dorion said that we could look for him on our way back and take him with us on the return trip.  Elrynn took Sassy with him to look for the thief, but he had already packed his loot and vacated his sad little camp.

We broke camp and moved out.  It was a beautiful sunrise, a nice treat before we travelled into an awful desert.  Huge rocks were melted into strange shapes.  Occasional pillars of natural stone.  The land looked like a quarry where they make prisoners break rocks with hammers.  It was very dry.  The few puddles smelled putrid.  Our mule was very unhappy, and Sassafras tried to sooth the poor animal.  She wrapped a scarf over his eyes to keep the dust out. 

This is the most desolate place I've seen, and my heart is heavy.  Each day is colder, windier, and more lifeless than the day before.  The only vegetation is briars with long thorns.  The wind stirred up dust, which was largely composed of ashes.  A miserable day of travel.  In late afternoon, we searched for a place to camp that was out of the relentless wind.  We found a place in a canyon that provided some barrier to the wind.  Dorion is in a dark mood.  This place wears on the soul, and despite Elrynn's song, Dorion has retreated into his inner world. 

October 3

In the morning, we were ready to continue, but the way was hard to discern.  The sun was obscured by the ash and dust in the wind.  During the moments when the wind died down or swirls just right, we could see a little further on the horizon, usually strangely shaped rocks in the distance.  It's unsettling—when we got another clear moment, the strangely shaped rocks seemed to change location.  I wondered, are we losing our sense of direction or have the landmarks moved?

Sassafras noticed a trail of dust behind us, moving in the same direction.  Someone or something was following us.  The rest of the day was miserable, but mundane and otherwise uneventful.  We made camp, somber and sullen.  I had strange dreams, but I cannot remember then now.

October 4

Our first significant find today.  First we saw partially buried canvas tents.  Investigating the camp, we found rusted weapons and the bones of humans.  Three humans.  It appears they died in combat, and then their bones were gnawed on by wild animals.  Most likely wolves from the look of it. 

We tried to deduce what happened here.  Based on the evidence and the information Holgeir gave us, it appeared men had ganged up on each other.  The remaining survivors ran off.  This was the Old Master's group.  Did they attack him because he was insane or because they coveted the Black Arrow?

We had just finished discussing our findings when we realized we were surrounded by wargs.  Our Company of Freefolk has become a team, and we took our combat roles:  Captain, Champion and Ward.  The alpha wolf growled, which unnerved me.  Dorian and Hanar, our Champion, took on the great beast.  Elrynn aided the mule, which was the Ward for this fight.  Elrynn, Sass and I broke enemy lines to get on a boulder, hoping the higher ground would give us some advantage.  I was bitten four times, but our Captain, Elrynn, used his song to inspire me and kept me in the game.  We triumphed, of course. 

Later, when we made camp, Sassafras cooked up one of the freshly killed wargs.  We had a truly horrible conversation about parasitic worms.  I declined the warg.  I ate cram, which is not enjoyable to eat.  It was more of a chewing exercise.  Why does Hanar rave about this dry, hard biscuit?

October 5

After breakfast, we broke camp.  It took us a while to brush off the sand, ash and dust that settles on everything.  During a lull in the continuous dust storm, we spotted the peak of Zirackembar.  It was hard to make our way, but we kept moving.

We came upon the corpse of a pony.  There was nothing in the saddle bags expect a few flecks of gold.  We moved on and Hanar noticed the occasional coin and gem.  Sass and I picked them up.

Ahead of us we heard what may have been a horn.  Maybe it was a wail.  It was hard to tell, as the sound had to compete with the howl of the wind.  We reached a plateau where the wind was brutal.  Suddenly, the wind stopped completely, and we realized we had stepped into a large circle of stones.  The sound of the wind was replaced with the sound of a man crying. 

At the center of the circle was a cairn of rocks, a tomb fashioned in Beorning style.  Rocks and bones had been disrupted.  Next to the tomb was a puddle of water.  A translucent person sat on the rocks.  He was source of wailing we had heard.  This spectre was pale, gaunt and hollow, dressed in Northmen's clothing.  He starts on a long lament…

“Woooooooe, to the faith-breaker! Woe, to the thief!"

His monologue had lot of opining, self-loathing and self-pity, which I will spare you here.  In a nutshell, our ghostly thief asked us to reclaim Esgaroth's gold from the 'Serpent' and return it to Esgaroth.  We could find the Serpent to the west, in the mountain's shadow.

We repaired the gravesite which had been disturbed.  The tomb had a look of reverence again, and it lightened our hearts.  Sassafras drank a few sips of the puddle near the grave.  It was the first clear and sweet water we found in this land.  After a while passed, Sassy felt fine, so we filled our empty water skins before we left the sacred circle. 

We wondered what had happened to the Old Master's bodyguard, the Beorning named Kody.  Not long after we moved again, we found a site that showed signs of being a recent camp.  It appeared as though 10 or 15 tents had been staked here.  We found a refuse pile and determined this had been an orc camp.  I hate orcs.

That night we made camp again.  Again, no major troubles that night, but that horrid wind wore on us, and Dorion is in a surly mood again.

October 6

None of us were in an especially good mood, so we didn't talk much at breakfast or when we moved out.  Before long we stumbled into a site with dead orcs.  It was hard to determine what happened there.  A fight?  With whom?

There was a strange impression on the ground.  It appeared as though a large snake or a drake had nested there.  Was this mark made by the Serpent the Old Master spoke of?  On further inspection, something very large had been dragged in a coiling pattern to hide the tracks of orcs.  

We continued on, encouraged that we were on the right track.  Sure enough, we spotted a camp fire.  Sass stealthed up to get a closer look.  An orc camp.  About 15 tents.  One in the center was much bigger.  From what she could see, she guessed there were about 40 orcs, 30 male and 10 female. 

These orcs were a little more wild and feral, if such a thing is possible.  It's not like I've ever met a civilized orc.  Sass spotted a smaller orc who walked like a boss.  He held a spear with two prongs, and it very much resembled the tongue of a snake.  In his other hand he held the Black Arrow. 

We debated tactics.  We decided to wait for some of the orcs to leave camp so that we would not have to fight all of them at once.  So Sass watched the orcs from a spot on the ridge overlooking the camp. 

It appeared as if someone was challenging the orc holding the Black Arrow.  Is this an internal dispute between orcs?  Something we could use to our advantage?  How did those orcs die, the ones we found earlier?  Are they killing each other over the Black Arrow?  How many times has the Black Arrow been stolen, its holder murdered?  Perhaps we can escalate the tensions between the orcs.  Infighting makes a group weak.

After a while, a hunting party departed and we decided to follow and kill them.  They were headed out from the far end of the camp compared to us.  We would have to circle wide around to catch up to them without disturbing the orcs remaining in camp.  That is our plan.  We will finish this hunting party, then return to this camp.  With luck, more will be dead, and perhaps a different orc will be holding the Black Arrow and the Serpent's Tongue. 

 

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The Old Master's Lament
Nobody likes a whiner...

“Woooooooe, to the faith-breaker! Woe, to the thief!

Woe, to he who betrayed his kin in their time of most urgent need!

Seduced by greed, overtaken by jealousy, now I lie defiled in this inhospitable land.

A bitter end for one who committed so bitter a deed. Though you owe me nothing, take pity.

I beg thee to do this task for me, for I have no other hope, but that which I will place in you.

Reclaim Esgaroth’s gold from the Serpent that stole it from me, return it to its rightful owners, and see my spirit freed from this sorry existence.

To the west, in the mountain’s shadow, will you find the Serpent and all that I stole.”

 

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