Echoes of the North

A cold light in the marsh
The ruins of the midgewater

Bledoc and Reginina sat in the “Combe and Wattle” to wait out the rain. It was one of those late summer storms that rolls in from time to time, but they felt they deserved some manner of rest I assumed. Off in the corner old Harold Goatleaf was boasting up a storm. He claimed that he saw a massive frog hopping around the midgewater and that it was eating every living thing it encountered. He was clearly in his cups, but Bledoc and Reggi were concerned, such a creature could be a threat.

As they looked about the room for other ears they noticed that another watching Harry with great interest. The woman was dark haired and dark eyed, she wore a green dress. Bledoc took interest in her and sent Reggi to collar old Harry while he confronted the stranger. Reggi was able get right up and into the gaggle of bold marsh frog giggers without much trouble. They immediately pressed a mug of ale into her hands and began outdoing themselves in bragging on the size of their catches. Reggi was enough of a hunter to know that while they were clearly drunk, there were creatures like that in the deeper parts of the world and they were dangerous.

Bledoc approached the woman and introduced himself with great courtesy, taking her hand and kissing it. When he touched her skin he felt a chill as of the grave and knew the woman to be in some distant peril. She put away her pipe and gave him an obviously fake name. He was not concerned as there was no malice behind her lie, more of guarded wariness. She told him her name was “Sage Rosewine” clearly a made up name as she claimed to be from Staddle. Bledoc knew most of those folk by face and name but he kept that to himself. He inquired as to her interest and she told him that she was concerned with the goings on in the marsh herself. The ring on Bledoc’s finger caught her attention immediately and he noticed her taking mental note of him.

Bledoc politely excused himself to recover poor Reggi who by this time was being forced to hear yet again the tale of the 20 lb catfish that got away. Apparently Harry considered himself a master noodle r. She was relieved with Bledoc pulled her away. The crowd was disappointed to lose such an enchanting companion, but Harry again told the tale of “Old Cranky” the snapping turtle. The sound of the conversation faded as Bledoc and Reggi approached Sage in the corner.

The weather had turned from bad to outright foul, but Sage insisted that the closer to midnight it came the more eager she was to get out to a ruin in the marsh. Of course that made Bledoc more suspicious. Reggi caught his cues and made small talk with her while Bledoc contemplated the night. He decided that the daylight was more conducive to scouting the foe, he was both persuasive and charming, Sage was overcome with his argument and they decided to camp out the night first.

Bledoc excused himself to allow Reggi and Sage to have lady’s chatter while he prepared for the next day’s quest. Reggi was able to pry bits and pieces of Sage’s story and concluded that she was indeed a foreigner like her. Sage invited her to share quarters to get away from the rough clientele in the “Combe and Wattle” to which Reggi agreed. Sage was quick to sleep and Reggi was certain it was a great fatigue that brought her down. Reggi waited some time to sleep but when at last it came she was swift to pass into dreams.

Regenina was the first to awaken and she used the time to scout out her companion. Sage was sleeping fitfully and seemed to have been lost to a nightmare, covered in sweat and tossing and turning through the night. Reggi took out her packs and found armor of poor quality despite her boots being fine as well as a good fighting dagger and some strange book. But what caught her eye the most was a strange ball of glass she seemed to value above her coins and other gear. These she would inform Bledoc of at breakfast. Speaking of which she quickly returned Sage’s gear to its original place and went down for hot cakes and coffee.

Bledoc was already eating and considering the foul weather that managed to get even worse as the morning sun rose higher. It would be an uncomfortable jaunt. But it was also close by. They set out shortly after Sage came down to eat. She looked haggard but eager. Bledoc was certain that the giant “hellbender” was not her intended quarry but they were at similar purpose so he formally invited her to his fellowship, even with the haunting voice in his mind repeating over and over “cold be hand and heart and bone….and cold be sleep under the stone”.

They made the trip in silence with Bledoc then Reggi sometime out front casting their gaze far and wide for threats in lands once thought safe and free. They found the tracks easy enough, the creature was agitated but still just an animal (albeit a large and dangerous) Bledoc and Reggi split up to flank it while Sage watched the rear, the creature may have been alone, but no reason to chance it. Reggi moved quick to the attack and placed a arrow shaft into its side, forcing it to bellow in rage. This allowed Bledoc to rush forward and with a flourish behead the creature.

Sage wanted to make sure the beast had not eaten anyone and cut it open while Bledoc and Reggi checked for more tracks. Satisfied the creature was alone, they decided it best to return to Combe for the day to rest up, and then later to attempt the ruins.

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Prelude to the last days of spring
The Marshlight

Part 1: At the Prancing Pony
They had gathered from all over the lands. A fellowship to confront the growing nightmare in the Eryn Vorn. Thom Thistlewool had been haunted by the past now for several weeks, a growing shadow on his mind. He consulted his old friend Sancho, a hobbit of some standing in Bree. They came up with the plan to go south, all they would need is some help. So they had called for some known rogues and some unknown.
The first was Cora Fairbairn, she was a known burglar and ne’er do well in the area, along with her friend Jessica Appledore. The two were noted for robbing barrows and other unsavory acts, they were barely tolerated by the locals due to their outgoing nature and general shiny dispositions. They were joined by a wood elf from the far lands of Cuivinen by the name of Ryusen. He had traveled west with Cora and Jess to see what lands lay beyond the great rivers. The Dwarf Khuzul had come from the Iron Hills and was a slayer of grim renown. Finally an unknown came in through unexpected quarters. A Dunlending called Stephen. He was a tad touched in the head or perhaps he was truly in tune with the spirits of the world.
Sancho was sure these would do nicely. He went to each to press his case and offer employment. Cora and Jess were the easiest as they were making spectacles of themselves by drunkenly dancing on tabletops. Butterbur was getting annoyed but the ladies kept the other guests entertained and drinking. The girls eagerly jumped at the chance to get into more trouble and perhaps to make a bit of coin on the side.
The elf Ryusen agreed as well, with his only two friends on this side of the world having already agreed. He was a man of few words but swift and decisive action. Ryusen was certain that there was more going on than only what the hobbit was aware of, but he kept his own counsel for now.
Khuzul was ready for a fight and the hobbit offered him the potential for just that. Having traveled far over the mountains towards the Blue Mountains he had few opportunities to vent his wrath. Khuzul was more than eager, he was also certain with the hooligans already gathered he would certainly be needed.
Stephen himself was busy seeking the spirits of the place. He had already decided to liberate some pies from the window sill and while his thoughts were scattered his will was strong. He took notice of a great many shenanigans going on in the main bar room. He was especially vigilant of the young hobbit who had gotten herself into the rafters (Cora being an excellent climber) while her companion had gotten rowdier by the drink. The hobbit Cora was busily lifting coin pouches with a bit of fishing line and hook while Jess kept all eyes on her.
The night was going well, or so it seemed. There were some ruffians about who had taken exception to the lady’s entertainments and decided to take matters into their own hands. Khuzul saw this and decided to head it off, Stephen was equally concerned. Sancho had hired his fellowship and now decided to move them towards dinner at the Thistlewool farm. Khuzul followed the ruffians out and a small scrap was initiated. Stephen and Khuzul quickly saw them off, sending them scampering for safety.
After “herding his cats” Sancho finally managed to get the fellowship moving. A minor circumstance caused a bit of a problem as earlier Khuzul’s fiery temper brought the idea to Sancho to try to “calm him down” with a bit of spiked ale. That went poorly as a very drunken and flirtatious Jess took the drink and promptly passed out face first into the table. After all it was meant to fell a mighty dwarven warrior, not a 124 pound woman. So they had to place her in a cart to get her moving. Cora of course could not let her friend get off so easily and decided to fold her hands on her chest with a flower in them, to convince the drunk young woman that she was actually dead. Such pranks were the norm and Ryusen merely shook his head.

Part 2: Thistlewool’s farm and the quest begins.
Thom Thistlewool waited patiently for his guests to arrive. The nights had been growing more hellish as the weeks went on and he was eager to get some resolution. He dreamed of past adventures and that last terrible battle with the marshlight near the abandoned fortress of Minas Thonfalon. It was there his old fellowship was broken, he had lost his true love all those years ago but had at least thought the cold comfort that the wicked spirit was overthrown. This would all these years later prove not to be the case as the old enemy returned to torment his dreams.
When he saw Sancho and his wagon approach there was great relief. At last things could be set in motion and his family could be made safe. Missives from old Cadoc (the brother of his love and his dearest friend) had told him of strange lights in the mist and dark songs on the wind. He prayed that Sancho found stout hearted folk. He was not disappointed in what he saw. The heroes looked very capable.
He met them at the porch of his home and welcomed each of them warmly. Cora and Sancho merely wheeled Jess’s unconscious body into the barn still in the wagon. The heroes walked into his home with grace and poise and were introduced to his family. The Thistlewools are an old and distinguished family after all *(despite Thom’s peculiar habit of going on adventures.) and the dinner was superb. They could all feel the tension in the air though. Thom’s daughters were enthralled by the tales of the heroes exploits and his son was a bit surprised to find Jess in the barn.
The night went quickly and the tale of the marshlight was told. The fellowship listened as he spoke of the battle with the creature on a desolate island near an old watch tower, of the loss of the lantern and the tragedy of his companions. Ryusen was aware of the presence of the spirit even this far away. Stephen as well had a feeling of foreboding, a sleepless malice who gazed upon the Thistlewools. Cora of course could not resist taunting her companions, particularly Stephen, she managed to convince a newly awakened (and painfully hung over) Jess to help her try to scare him. Of course it ended with shenanigans.
As morning dawned the fellowship packed their gear and Thistlewool said his goodbyes and they set off south down the Greenway southward to the crossroads. From there they would travel into the lonely lands of Minhiriath among the ancient and quiet ruins of Cardolan. Ever headed southward they pressed with light hearts and heavy tread as each mile passed after the last. The scouts at last set them off the road and into the wilds.
Ryusen and Stephen flitted like spirits in and out of sight as the fellowship moved deeper into the wild lands. The mood of the fellowship dimmed as they came ever closer to the great cape of the Eryn Vorn. After several days they at last approached the ancient dunlending ruins of Cairc Faergus. The town was abandoned and in ruins save for one resident. Old Cadoc had remained, here in his vigil over the land once haunted by the marshlight. The oppression was felt in the air and Stephen was sure the spirits of the long dead lingered yet beyond the light. Even Cora and Jess found their playful moods dampened by the ever present dread. The proud dwarf and the stern hobbit Sancho merely took note and filled their beer mugs for the bitter times ahead.
Cadoc was heartened to see his old friend once more though the circumstance left something to be desired. The old friends caught up while the fellowship set about making camp and making the boat seaworthy. They would soon set sail for Minas Thonfalon to see what had befallen. Morning came far quicker yet the sky still was overcast and dreary. The song on the wind had become less faint as they arrived and the dread of the place began to set in. Sancho and Thom realized that they needed to press on. Fortunately Khuzul was not afraid of the boat so the trip went faster than could be hoped.
The Journey to Minas Thonfalon went swiftly and the ruins quickly came into view. An ancient fortress of the Dunedain from the age of lost Cardolan it loomed above the trees a silent sentinel. The fellowship steered towards its ancient broken causeway. Cora of course was up to the challenge of climbing and sneaking into the ruin, even with the aura of malice about the place she felt more adrenaline than fear. Of course there was no way Jess would let her go alone. The ladies did their best to quietly climb the rubble. Ryusen made it seem all too easy as his light elven step glided into the ruins unchallenged by rubble or noise. Of course that meant that Sancho had to go as well.
Thom was glad that Cadoc and Stephen remained behind as both would have been vulnerable to the evil of the place. He had left them both to remain watchful in Cairc Faergus. Khuzul came last, armored and eager for battle the grim handed slayer entered the main gate and passed his gaze over ancient stone with the eyes of a master smith. The fellowship sought out the passage into the dungeons that were mentioned by Thom and Cadoc. The first sign of trouble came as Cora became convinced that something or someone was watching.
Never being one to resist a fight, Jessica Appledore did one of the things she does best and bellowed at the top of her lungs in challenge. The silence was shattered (along with the patience of Khuzul) and she was quickly rewarded with the presence of marsh dwellers rising out of the ruins to challenge. The fight was short and sharp, the beasts had no idea how overmatched they were about to be. The fellowship wasted no time bringing their might to bear,. Ryusen kited them from afar as Khuzul and Jess ran head on. Cora slipped unseen behind the attackers and ambushed them herself. The fight was over in moments as both creatures, foul as they were lay dead on the stone.
Of course that was when Cora found the passage leading into the bowels of the fortress. It was narrow and dangerous. Sancho realized he would have to go down into the depths, as he was well aware of what they sought. Of course going alone would not do, Cora and Jess were almost spent emotionally and Ryusen was not willing to leave them alone. So stealing his courage, Sancho headed into the dark. Khuzul went right after him.
In the dark place they walked cautiously. There was a feel of a sleepless malice in this place and the torchlight teased eyes in the shadows. Sancho stepped into some webbing and cursed lightly as Khuzul warily eyed the corners. They were sure footed and quickly came upon the chest where the lantern should have been. As they approached the chest, she arrived. An evil thing in the shape of a great spider. Her eyes glittered in the darkness and she took in the fresh meat that wandered so eagerly into her domain. She eyed them greedily, but was still wise enough to be cautious of the armored dwarf. That was when she was most pleasantly surprised by the polite gentleman with the dwarf.
Sancho was a lady’s man by trade and this was a lady despite all outward appearances, so he turned on that Longholes charm and it worked. She was fawning over each sweet word and turn of phrase. He paid her compliments and gave her nuggets of stories that left her breathless and enraptured. In the end, she decided that such a pleasant fellow should be rewarded and not devoured, after all such courteous guests where a rarity in any event. She offered them a share of her coins (and here her malice reasserted itself, for she knew the treasure was cursed).
Sancho and Khuzul quickly noticed that the lantern was in fact gone, just as the lady had said. She had sent it to the island where the wicked spirit sat and festered in its malice. They quickly rushed out, before the lady changed her mind. They emerged into the grey drizzly sky. The rest of the fellowship was glad to see them and they quickly told their tale. Thom was now certain that they would have to challenge the marshlight before sunrise. As the last time they thought they had defeated it, it merely returned later. Ryusen was by now aware that perhaps the lantern was the key, he discussed that with Sancho and Khuzul as Cora and Jess prepared the boat with Thom.
They set sail immediately, the trip would be hazardous as the weather seemed to respond to the evil spirits call. It was surely aware that they approached and was prepared for the end game. It took several hours but the light of the lantern guided them to the small rain soaked island. The island itself held the ruins of an ancient lighthouse and there the marshlight waited. The fellowship leaped from the boat as soon as they were close enough and went to the attack. The wicked spirit summoned the spirit of Rosabelle and bound her to the area, tormenting Thom into inactivity. Khuzul roared out the dwarven warcry “Baruk Khazad!” and charged with Jess right behind him. Cora moved to get into a better position while Sancho challenged the creature to a battle of wills. Ryusen engaged from afar, sending arrows speeding into the undead appirition.
The marshlight was near impervious to the stings of arrow and blade, but seeing the human woman challenging him, its rage built and lifting its lantern cast a dreadful spell. Jess fell with a gurgling scream as seawater filled her lungs. Cora was enraged and sliced her ancient blade across the back of its knees. As the enchanted blade struck undead flesh it screamed, exposing the lantern for a well placed shot. Ryusen took it, and the lantern shattered into thousands of pieces. As the creature reeled from the loss, Cora cut it down. The spirit of Rosabelle rose into the sky and was set free with the destruction of the evil wraith. Thom was immediately free from the horrible spell and Cora was busy tending her fallen friend.
Sancho and Khuzul gathered the fellowship and reembarked on the boat. They tended as best they could to Jessica’s wound but the spell had injured her deeply, she would not wake until they arrived home safely a week later. Exhausted the fellowship returned to Thistlewool’s home in the Bree land. They had acheived the goal of their quest and set unquiet spirits to rest. They all knew (Ryusen most of all) that now the eye of the enemy was upon them, the defeat unlooked for of the marshlight was a blow he could not ignore.
When they arrived, Thom and his family invited them to stay and rest. After several days the fellowship disbanded to see to their own affairs. Sancho to write the tale of his great adventure. Khuzul to grouse in the Prancing Pony over the weak ale of manfolk. Ryusen kept a vigil on the barrow mounds to the south west of Bree, never dropping his guard against the machinations of the dark lord. Stephen disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived. Cora and Jess went right back to their old tricks and behaviors with hardly a missed step. Ryusen knew to keep an especially close watch on those two.
Thom sat quietly on his porch, deep in though with Sancho idly rocking and dozing nearby. He could not quite place it, but something had changed. Some feeling of future peril growing closer troubled his mind. But for now, he would rest and enjoy his new found freedom, his guilt and dread lifted.

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Into the dead hollows
a meeting with orcs in the dark

We ran hard. South and easterly towards the old burial places we had read about. That had to be the source of the poison that had turned the bear mad with pain. So we ran. Arifal would need us back and it wasn’t that far. Cora and I could make it and I was sure that Jer’ could too, he was a strong lad.
We had passed through the evening when ahead we saw the first signs of smoke. There was a smell of blood in the air and Cora gave me that look. We knew something was off, so too did Jer. We decided it best to investigate even though it took us a mile almost out of our way. We would not like what we found.
Up ahead was a small village. The smoke rose from a fire set in the middle of the small dwellings. It was built by a pond and there were 3 buildings of hide arrayed about it. The villagers were all slain, that was plain even from a few hundred yards off. There were orcs about and they were led by a large fellow with a brutish looking axe. Cora and I decided to press forward while Jeremia rained arrows down into them.
We took off at a fast pace with Cora somehow outpacing me with her little legs. Jer had begun shooting almost immediately and the big orc went down fast. The others looked confused and looked about for where the arrows were coming from. They had no hope, Jeremia was a master of hiding. Cora and I reached the edge of the village quickly, I went right at them (I do not have a death wish, contrary to what my companions think, Cora knows me well enough and I know if I get there attention, they will never see her finish them, we have done this many times before) and sure enough Cora was able to get around and into cover to quickly begin slicing throats and cutting tendons.
The orc that charged me came in too quick and too carelessly. I was able to duck under his clumsy swing and bring my blade around to sweep his leg off. The orc fell dead and all around me arrows were finding their marks. Cora was like a serpent, striking and moving so fast they could barely contain her. One brave or foolish orc tried to spear me, but he nearly tripped over Cora. I grabbed the spear and head butt the fool hard enough to crack his nose, as he staggered back Cora finished him with her dagger into his heart. The fight was nearly over before it started.
We surveyed the area and I felt the need to butcher up and cook some of the dead oxen (no way I was letting good beef go to waste) and I made us a meal while Cora searched the corpses and Jerimia moved the dead villagers to be cremated inside their huts. It cost us some time, but we quickly were able to get back on the trail and head further towards our goal. With any luck we would be back before Arifal really needed us to get the festivals beer ready.

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Arriving in Khurmand
Settling in and making a home

We arrived at Khurmand in the early morning hours and it seemed as if the place was half deserted. It did not matter much, we were glad to be off the road. Cora and I needed a drink and some time off of our tired feet. We walked a bit more, which set me to complaining mightily until a look from Arifal and Jerimia shut me up.

We realized that there was neither inn nor tavern to be found. Cora and I were crushed but Arifal stated simply “We are home” and set us up in a field. I was not sure how this would work exactly but Arifal had a plan, he has never let us down.

Sure enough it took him little time to set us up in a nice building and we set about cleaning it up and making it home. Arifal was going to set up a still and make a wonderful brew, but first he had to go off and visit the local ruler, a man called the “Shah”.

Whatever it was he said, it was enough. We had deed to the place and Set about our tasks. Cora and I cleaned the place up while Jerimia went off to get himself killed. Well that last part is not entirely true, but it did cause us to get into a nasty scrap with the largest bear I had ever seen. There was something wrong though, I was not sure what but it had Jerimia’s attention. He is like Arifal in that way, you know the whole “I know whats going on so trust me” way. I think things are gonna get more interesting the longer we are here.

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Out of the West and a new beginning
A meeting at the "Green Dragon"

Of the companions:

Arifal sat quietly in the “Green Dragon” sipping his ale. It had been a hard year. 2799 T.A. had seen many sorrows for Durin’s folk even with the avenging of Thror. Deep in though he awaited his friends arrival. They had suffered as well and the general feeling was they all needed a long holiday. It had been a week since he last saw Jerimia, the ranger had just lost his family in an orc raid while he was off in far lands and Arifal could see the hurt in the ranger’s face. After Nandhurion, Arifal merely wanted to get away from it all. He was to have company. They were to meet here, in the “Green Dragon”.

Jerimia had finished burying his wife and children, the winter had been cruel, but the orcs were more so. They had fallen upon the hidden refuge in Numeriador while he was patrolling in the north downs, the orcs slew all they could find. Jerimia and his company returned home to cold bones and ashes. After burying their loved ones, they set off in pursuit. They followed the orcs nearly to Rhuduar before catching them and exacting revenge. He had finished burying them when Arifal returned again to the blue mountains. They camped in the ruins of his home among the memory of the dead. Arifal meant to go eastward and start again. Jerimia had to agree it was an appealing thought. He would meet Arifal in about a week, after he had said his goodbyes.

Jessicah was horrified, she was almost 44 years old and now her family wanted her to finally marry and settle down. She could not stomach the thought. Her one hope was also her “partner in crime” so to speak. Cora Fairbarn was her best friend and confidant. The two women were often in trouble together and Cora always knew how to get them out of a tight spot. They had recently managed yet another successful treasure hunt into the barrow downs. Neither of them enjoyed hard work, so plundering the tombs of rich old dead men seemed like a great idea, they did not need their wealth anymore after all. Some folk were getting suspicious and it was time they made a getaway. Cora knew a friend that could get them away and off into distant lands and adventures that did not involve squalling brats.

Cora’s had grown up in the Shire, she was a bit of a wild child and was always getting into trouble. When she was in her late teens a human happened by, Jessicah. It was one of the first humans Cora had really any direct contact with. She had run around the Shire and its surrounding areas, but never adventured much past its borders.

Jessicah and Cora seemed to hit it off right away and Jessicah took Cora to Bree; Cora loved it. From there on out it was hard to separate Jessicah and Cora. They had many a fine adventures over the years. When Jessicah mentioned that they needed to get away and lay low for sometime and asked Cora if she had any ideas.

Cora mentioned one of her cousins had adventured out sometime ago and last she heard she had settled in Thorenhad located somewhere in the Trollshaws. Daisey was her name she assisted Niminiel, an Elf, by mending their armor and clothes. Daisey wrote from time-to-time telling her of the rolling mountains and how pretty it was during the fall when the trees changed their colors. Niminiel had promised Daisey that she would take her to Rivendale someday, oh now that would be a site to see. Cora never heard if Daisey had ever got to go there. It been a few years since Daisey had written. “Oh Jessicah could we go see. Could we go to Thorenhad and see the Elves and see if Daisey is there?”

Epilogue, somewhere in the far east of middle earth

The Shah of Khurmand sat calmly in his throne room, such as it was and listened intently to his visitors. The blue wizard was a friend and Toghrul Bey would hear him out. Many of the wizard’s words were troubling, he spoke of the dark power growing again in the west and coming years of strife. In his counsel he also offered hope. There would be visitors from the far west and they were heroes. All the Shah had wanted after a long youth of adventure was to rest in his elder days and rejoice in his family. It would seem that he would live to see dark days in the realms of the Dalpygi yet again.

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The Greenhand gem
A sordid affair of Ferdinand's missing heirloom
It was a rough outing to be sure. Hvaldi and his companions, those that are left of his old travelers set out to recover a gemstone of some value to at least Ferdinand Greenhand, and by extension Joller. It was one of those things that just had to be done. So Hvaldi stoically kissed his dear wife and gathered hammer and shield then set off to assist.

As said earlier, it was a sordid affair, full of miscues and malfeasance yet Hvaldi was able to acquire the information necessary to find the gem. With the vile Annelzen in tow they managed to get to the treacherous lords hunting lodge, recover the gem and return home. Afterward there was a bit of acrimony, but the company went their ways on somewhat good terms. Ferdinand was sent home with his gem and a spring in his step. Reg’s son went back to Dale to be with family. Regileraen went back to the woodland realm. Annelzen was warned to not show her face east of Mirkwood again.

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My path to redemption
A journal of Hanaf Firebeard

A raven arrives.

Well there we were again in the tavern, I quite like this place. The nights are not so cold here. All that came crashing down with the arrival of a raven of ill mannered look. Not quite the noble birds that we use to spread the word, more so creature of cruel cunning. But it did bring notice to Hvaldi of something that made him near quick with anticipation. Abruptly he told us we were to be off. It seems an old friend was in deep trouble. I owed him my life so I eagerly readied my axe and set at a pace.

Hvaldi seemed in deep thought as we moved at what would be punishing had we not the stout hearts of Durin’s folk.

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The New Journals of Hvaldi: 2
Winter hangs heavy

(This one may come off odd. We tried AIME for one session. Started off a second session with MERP and then swapped back to One Ring for the remainder of the 2nd and then the full 3rd session. Plus I’ve been lazy and not written a log in a bit so bear with me :) )

They don’t make armor for your heart. And courage and tenacity cannot be bought or stockpiled. What is a Dwarf to do when he finds these things under attack? I am a right bear to deal with when I am fully armed and armored, but I fear that my courage or my heart will fail as the days seem to only grow darker and I have nothing but dimming hope to protect me.

It has been a span since I last made an entry as events have been rapid and the mood has not struck me. I am exhausted most of the time and were it not for the fellowship of my friends and the promise of going home to see my family again, I probably would have dug a hole and hidden in it long ago.

I suppose I shall have to start at the beginning of this mess. My stomach turns to relate the events that occurred at the inn. We found a Goblin-made map detailing their hide-out and likely from where they were raiding on one of the bandits. As they awoke we questioned them in turn. It seemed half of them had hope for redemption while the other half were ill-fit for civilized living. We decided to send the irredeemable back to Dale with Sigmund who had shown up that evening. Sadly it was not to be. I found a mass of papers and correspondence from Saruman detailing various schemes and plans he had sent Annelzen the wicked woman who had attempted to stab Laera. Later that evening, after I had fallen asleep, I was awoken by Annelzen talking in her sleep. It seems she was frightened, terrified even. I felt as if the walls of the inn, the very air were closing in on all of us.

I struck out and slapped Ann awake only for the feeling of a soap bubble popping to ripple across our reality. It seemed I had broken some sort of spell and when I looked at the papers, all of them were blank. I loathe schemes and deception but it seems there was to be no end to this sort of thing. What’s more Ann didn’t improve all that much when the spell had been broken. She was still arrogant, preening, selfish and craven. It seems she had little recollection of her previous dealings and at least had the dignity to look partially ashamed when I informed her she had been consorting with goblins and all manner of foulness.

It was right around that time that I heard odd noises outside. What light could be seen seemed to grow darker, shadows moving over it. The sound of skittering legs and whispers on the wind filled me with dread. I called out to my companions to arm themselves. When I pushed open a shutter to call across to the barn where Sigmund and his men were holding the bandit leader, I could see massive spiders moving around the courtyard. I hoped the lad heard me as i had to slam the shutter when one of the spiders tried to dart forward at me. The battle was quickly joined as we all spilled from the Inn and took up arms. Hanaf the Dwarf and Saxund joined us in the fray. I tried to stand guard over the still unconscious Annelzen but it seemed the spiders were not interested in her. Only one of the little ones snuck down the chimney into the Inn proper and I made short work of it with my hammer.

I made up my mind and charged out the front door rushing headlong into a spider that was burying its fangs into Saxund. Sadly the lad did not make it but I avenged him at least three-fold that evening. I also managed to topple the dying spider onto poor Ferdinand. I heard a shriek followed by a groan of pain but I could not stop to check. The battle was tipping back and forth. It seems spiders had snuck into the Stables as well and were pressing Sigmund and his men sorely. What’s more, the foul bandit leader seemed to be escaping. I could hardly believe my eyes but it seemed as if he was being led by one of the Spiders. I could barely hear him muttering about “I am coming my queen” and other such nonsense.

Arafal and I did our best to tear through the Spiders and when we could, we sent Sigmund into the barn to check on his men as we raced after the Bandit captain. We were able to catch and recapture him but he was as a madman. Frothing and raving and refusing to calm himself. Arafal and Sigmund, after informing us that his men were dead, taken by the spiders, counseled that we should execute the Bandit. He was too far gone into the clutches of some foul creature or sorcerer. I reluctantly agreed but I would not take part. I went back into the Inn as they carried out the sentence. When did we, or at least I become a Judge, fit to determine guilt and hand out death as such? I will defend myself and defeat my foes in combat, but the taking of life in such a manner brings me no peace. I know it was needful but I still cannot find any satisfaction in the deed.

When they returned they dropped an amulet with the markings of Dol Guldur on the table. It seems the Bandit had somehow hidden it on his person this entire time. That foul token was sundered by my hammer and we all sat down to plan. Sigmund would rush to a nearby friends house. The man was a healer of sorts and we could sorely use his help if we were going into a Goblin hole. He set off almost immediately. Barely an hour later, a messenger riding a small pony rode up and gave Arafal a missive. He gave me a short bow and said he was needed. I could see little reason to keep him as we were all waiting anyways so he rode off with the messenger.

News was not done with us though. Evening was just falling when a rather brutish Raven arrived with a swath of notes tied to it’s leg. It could not speak but seemed amenable to me taking its burdens. As soon as I did, it plucked at the corn I offered it and flew off with a loud caw. Not the dignified behavior of the Ravens I am used to but needs must I suppose. The notes carried pleas for aid. I am being generous here, they carried outright demands for it. It seems one of Baern’s children was “King” now and he was demanding aid from all and sundry. The tale being told was that some feud had spilled out of control and now what remained of Baern’s folk was holed up, not a day away from us hanging on for dear life. From the sound of it, poor Baern was probably dead, and a good number of his family as well.

He may have been an idiot at times, and a preening peacock but I think he was a good man and did not deserve this fate. I gathered those who remained and pushed at a brutal pace. I won’t stand by to see what remains of my friends or their families slaughtered for some idiotic North-men feud. We ran through the night. Anger and concern pushing us to keep up a ruthless trek. The morning was just dawning as we came upon an old stone tower. Surrounding it was a motley group of North-men while it seemed another group was inside. We quickly began to plan out how we could sneak in, or take them by surprise but I was in no mood. I simply walked up to them and asked to speak to their Chief. Thankfully he did not order his men to rush my stubborn self and we had a chat.

So long story short, the North-men outside of the tower believed that the North-men inside the tower had caused their friends and family’s destruction. After I was allowed to go inside the tower and talk, there was naught but a few old men, a pack of children, one claiming to be a king and one young woman. Grand conspirators and fellers of great holdings these were not. It seems old Baern had been up to some tricks but a great darkness had befell his Kingdom and the surrounding lands. A Dragon and a horde of Orcs had laid waste to the Anduin valley and all who lived there were most likely dead, or refugees like these two bands. To see them at each others necks while their homeland lay in the clutches of the foul shadow made my heart ache. He may have been a pain at times, but I liked Baern and his folk did not deserve this fate.

I resolved myself to seek a peaceful solution for this and went outside to talk to the Chief of the assaulting North-men. I think his name was Einar but truth be told, I am exhausted at this moment and cannot rightly recall. He was a stubborn one but I eventually began whittling away at his band’s conscience. The thought of assaulting Women, Children and the Elderly did not sit well with their warrior pride. I had more than half of them ready to walk away after offering blood-gold to sooth their pride and give them the thought that at least they had walked away with something to show. But as always seems to be the case lately, not all was as it seemed. The day had been cold but it suddenly seemed to grow much colder. A bone-chilling fog began to roll in and great clouds of what looked like debased Ravens began to circle overhead.

It did not take the sharp eyes of an Elf to see that something was very, very wrong. Thankfully the North-men were quick to rise to my calls of alarm. They began to form up around the tower. I was still too worried about violence against my charges so I didn’t demand that we all fall back inside the tower. I feel somewhat silly as that could have been a wonderful defensive point, but I was not yet ready to trust. I seem to be growing more cantankerous and traditional as I get older, much to my chagrin. Anyways, the mist was rolling in and with it came the sounds of approaching enemies. Orcs and Wood-Goblins began to arrive from three directions forming up, or what passes for forming up among their chaotic kind. From the southwest came a single human dressed in a foul looking robe. Something rankled me about this man and I was quickly proven right when the dead began to coalesce around him. A number of wights and even three specters seemed to appear at his command.

I’ll admit that I was feeling more than a little fear at this moment. We were surrounded by all manner of foulness including some form of necromancer who could command the dead. I took a moment to whisper a silent prayer for my family and began to work. I commanded our defense as well as I could only to have the wind taken out of me when two Trolls shambled up, one Wood-Troll from the southeast and a Cave-Troll from the North East. If I had the time to consider our odds at that moment, I probably would have wept but battle was quickly joined and I was not one to sit out a fight while my companions were at risk. Once again, many of the details escape me but I do remember breaking the Wood-Troll’s hip with a shield charge and leaving it for the North-Men to finish off and eventually making my way to the foul Human sorcerer. He seemed surprised that I had gotten to him through his minions and made to do battle against me with his staff. He did not fare well and I have no guilt over felling him quickly.

I would say the rest of this portion was happy but there was still the threat of danger, hurt feelings and lessons to be learned. I took the small party from the inside of the Tower back to Ravenhill and made them welcome. After they were refreshed, most of them chose to move on to Dale or Laketown. It seems the young Woman was one of Charlotte’s first children from back in Breeland. I told her where to find her mother and sent her on with my blessings. The children were all placed in good homes with Baern’s eldest being reminded that without a Kingdom, a person is no longer a King and as such, should not act the part of a spoiled brat with delusions of grandeur. Thankfully I managed to spend a full two days with my family during this period of time. Two blessed days only ruined by an old acquaintance being found. It seems Annelzen, the Tomb Raider, thief and all around distasteful person was caught, surprise surprise, raiding an old tomb to the north of Ravenhill.

I almost hate myself for my willingness to listen as she began quickly trying to save her hide. I was intending to make good on my promise of slaying her if I ever saw her again but she seemed to have knowledge of various events that I needed to know about. Goblins and spiders infested the Tomb to our north and she knew about the Goblins that were holed up in Balthi’s hold as well as the layout of the hold. I hate making devil’s bargains but she was more useful alive than dead. I feel vile even writing this as I know how dangerous courting the shadow can be. I only hope that my Children can live in a world where they do not need to make bargains such as this.

So all of us made our way back to the Inn. We spent a friendly, warm and safe night there before setting out to Balthi’s hold the next day. As an aside, venturing forth in the dead of Winter is a horrid idea. Vexations upon the Goblins for their raiding and upon any who commit evil acts and force me to venture out into the snow and cold. The journey to the hold was quiet though and we made good time. We arrived nearing early evening to Cotter Marsh’s place. He was an old man who offered shelter and warmth to travelers in the area. His property was quiet as the grave though which is rarely a good sign. We crept forward listening and sniffing. It was quiet but a strange, foul scent was on the air.

Ferdinand snuck up to one of the windows and peered inside. When he came back to our fold, he told us of a group of goblins inside the building being directed by a very large orc. As is our way, we sprung into action, instantly going every direction save the same as the others. Some of us snuck up to the door, some of us tried to go around to the other side of the building and some of us were scouting the surrounds to ensure this was not part of a larger ambush. We were all about half set when impatience got the better of us and we launched or own attack. I know it bodes ill for our future but I have all but given up on trying to direct our group or even keep them together. I do what I can to shield whom I can but I know we will lose more members at some point. We are not soldiers and we never act as such. This pains me but I do not know what more I can do.

Arrows flew as doors were kicked in, and battle cries sounded out. I decided to launch myself through the second story snow window with a mighty cry of “Baruk Khazad” and managed to kick one of the goblins into the fireplace. This seemed to dishearten the goblins and it was pure chaos and fighting from there. There had been a few goblins and another orc outside the house but those were quickly dispatched along with the few that had been searching inside. We briefly interrogated the two remaining goblins. They confessed that they were searching for some key that had been lost or taken from “Her Ladyship” which they intimated was a foul giant Spider of some sort. Also they said there was some form of “Screecher” meddling in these areas as well which I have the sinking feeling is either a Khargul or a Nazghul.

With such dark news I was in little mood for anything save preparing to leave but the goblins had mentioned they were looking for a traitor who was in possession of this key. We eventually found a runt of a goblin hiding in the root cellar. I could have encircled his chest with my hands with little difficulty but the creature was cooperative at least. Deformed and reeking of all manner of foulness, he told us everything we asked and more. Apparently the goblin tribe’s chief was dead and something had prompted their recent raiding. Some of the goblins had recently left the hold, presumably to raid and the remaining goblins had discovered something in the deeps of the hold. Beyond that, the creature willingly gave us the key and intimated he had stole it upon Anelzen’s direction. Apparently they had some extraordinarily foul deal that Anelzen at least had the decency to look shocked at.

I gave the creature some warm clothes and sent him on his way. He had done all that we asked and dealt with us as fairly as one can expect from a goblin so I let him go. During our previous search, we had found a blood trail so we finally went out to check on that. There were two dead bodies, both men laying in the snow where the other orcs and goblins had been searching. One was Old Man Cotter and the other was an Easterling man, most likely one of Frar’s mercenaries. The blood trail led beyond this fight though and to the outhouse. When we pried the door open we found an Easterling woman, wounded and passed out. Small miracle too, she was familiar. It was Deyai, whom we had rescued years ago on our journey to Rhubar. We quickly brought her inside and tended to her wounds. I hovered around her room but there was little I could do so I finally decided to see to my last task before turning in for the evening.

Annelzen had done nothing to help during our previous fight. It is becoming obvious that the lass is a coward but whats more she seems to take direction only when it suits her. I invited her to another room for a discussion and we calmly and carefully parlayed. I only had to strike her once or twice to get my point across. There was a time when the thought of striking someone for anything other than mortal combat would have sent me into fits of bluster and rage. Now I simply shrug in a tired exhaustion at what the world seems to delight in making me do.

Deyai finally awoke late in the evening and we talked for a good hour before she needed to sleep again. She is recovering quite quickly but it will take some time before she is fully whole. She told me of her and her husband’s journey over to the lands around Erebor. I guess they were going to join up with Frar but they had stopped by Ravenhill on their way. Thankfully Dumora was the gracious host that always makes me proud and saw them on their way after a pleasant visit. I was away dealing with the goblin raid. When they had made it out to Cotter’s Marsh, it seems the old man was startled and quite raving mad. He had attacked them almost instantly and Deyai’s husband slew the old man, but not before he was struck a mortal blow as well. The goblins had come creeping around later after Deyai had barricaded herself inside the outhouse due to her own wounds. I told her to return to Dale when she recovered and that she was always welcome in Ravenhill. I was sorry for her loss and I really do hope she finds happiness and peace in Dale.

The next day dawned cold and far too quick….

We came upon a blood trail leading to the outhouse wherein we found a survivor from their last ambush. A young lass, and a familiar one as well!

We arrived nearing evening and saw the gate was propped ajar. There were no apparent guards so we crept up to the entrance.

We crept forward, stopping to listen before we finally entered. Inside the gloom of Balthi’s Hold, also known as Khazad Mithrin we came upon the grand entry hall

TBC – Sleepy :) (I’m strugglin with this one so it may take me a while)

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A dark night made darker
As told by Hanaf Firebeard

Heading out of the Stout oak

What a night I tell you. We, that is I was woken from my gentle dreams of bearded maidens and flowing ale most roughly. It would seem our new “friends” wanted a word with us. Well at least I was still alive. I had gone the distance with the Blackfeather and still drew breath (through cracked ribs and much pain, mind you) and that is an accomplishment I tell you.

I was then brought a cold mug and sat at the table, they were going to question me to be sure, and I knew it was going to open old wounds. I don’t know if I loathe myself or my companions more at this moment. Well here goes. I spilled it all, everything I could recall. How I met Agmund in the dark of Greydelve, where Saxulf came to the picture, and Jasper. As well as the harsh meeting with Annelzen in the tombs. My face flushed with shame.

They were far kinder than I could have imagined at my tale. I pleaded for young Saxulf, the boy was in truth mostly simple and blameless. He fell in love with both tales of glory told by a con artist and with a woman of no morals and less honour. It was a sad tale. I took my part of the blame, I may be a “bandit” but I am at least an honest one.

They awoke Agmund next, he was all full of fight and fire. but also he had a bit of…..something more sinister about him. He attempted to get into a verbal sparring match with our “captors” but they were uninterested in any semantic excuses. I tended to just lose interest in the bulk of what was said, but I knew it was not going well. Agmund was determined to deflect and distract. He blamed Annelzen for pretty much everything. I don’t know if it was just me, but he did a good deal of fidgeting.

They woke poor Saxulf next, he was hurting, bad. He had lost a tooth and was immediately reminded of it when he took a deep draw from a cold mug. Hvaldi was kind enough to get him some ice. He looked just bad. He was a tough kid though. He took the questioning with obvious distress. I think what we were doing was starting to become obvious to him now. All the lies and half truths came crashing down and he was being made clear just what Agmund had turned him into. Hearing Agmund talk about Annelzen had him even angrier. In the end though he was crushed in spirit and though Agmund insisted his innocence, all the dark was being brought to light.

They tried to wake Annelzen next, but she was completely unconscious. The elf lass had really “rung her bell”, and it would be hours before she was remotely conscious. So it was to rotten little Jasper that we next heard from. And did the lies flow. I was sickened by it and my shame grew with each new fib told. I walked away to clear my head. It would seem my promise of “good behavior” awarded me some liberties. I sat in the corner contemplating my pipe and a good draft of mead when a tall armored Barding walked in.

I was instantly dismayed to see that this young captain was more than just friend to my captors but also some relation. Here at last was true authority to do us harm, I had to hope and trust into the words of Arifal and Hvaldi. I was relieved that while he was stern, he took the words of the two dwarves as absolute truth. Agmund was very concerned. He was fidgeting more than usual, and the conversation went to strange as they had rooted through Annelzens somewhat meager possessions. The girl was poor and loved to grub around in old tombs but what they were saying just sounded…odd. I helped myself to more ale and went to try to comfort Saxulf a bit. He still trusted me somewhat, though he now I believe truly hated her and Agmund.

The night grows deeper.

I was bleary eyed and near asleep (not sure why) when the cold air came in and two more Barding warriors entered. It would seem there was much goblin activity going about and King Bard was quite concerned. This being outside his realm and all. Well that is when it got really weird to me, Annelzen there just babbling almost incoherently at the dwarves while Sigmund (the young captain) had taken Jasper and Agmund out of the room to hold them in the barn. Agmund had been acting stranger tonight. I had heard him in his mutterings before. At the goblin hole as we called it, and then when he took Annelzen from poor love struck Saxulf. I am sure I am just being a foolish old dwarf. I should get some sleep.

I was awoken to the sound of strife in the tavern. Hvaldi had seen something wrong with Annelzen ( I usually ignore her) and saw that he was getting geared for battle, Arifal of course had already donned his plate hauberk and gathered that grim axe of his. I knew something was truly amiss when Hvaldi told meself and Saxulf to arm up. I then heard what I assume Hvaldi had. The wind and snow had picked up, yet the sound of spiders outside, the big ones, could be heard. I knew then we were truly in the gravest of dangers.

The battle was mostly a blur to me, its onset so swift and fierce. Arifal went out to warn the others and to carry the fight ( there is a reason he is called “the berserk-er” by some) while Hvaldi (ever the valiant) guarded the unconscious Annelzen (she apparently had some sort of seizure or whatnot whilst she slept) and was assumed to be the target of the raid (mayhap due to her gibberish?) in any event Saxulf, Ferdinand (that would be the hobbit from before) Hvaldi and meself were guarding the tavern inside.

Hvaldi had set out a shout of alarm and a warhorn answered from the barn. Arifal was outside bellowin’ like an enraged bull (and makin a mess outta them spiders there) I was getting nervous about the whole thing, and it is a strange thing to see the Blackfeather shootin’ a bow out into a snowstorm. He must have been flustered. Well it did not take em long to realize the true target was in the barn. Hvaldi stood his ground but that crazy hobbit ran outside and promptly got hisself into some real trouble.

This was the chance we needed. I grabbed Saxulf by the shoulder and told him “lad, now is the time we start to redeem ourselfs” and we charged out to aid the little squirt. In hindsight I regret taking such a green warrior out there (yes I know, Saxulf was a veteran of many a fight, but spiders be different) we rushed out to see little Ferdinand all webbed up. Saxulf engaged the spiders and I started to cut the hobbit free. Well I heard Hvaldi talkin’ about the little ones and that set me on edge. The little ones always seem the more poisonous of the bunch.

That distraction cost me, but Saxulf more. A huge bull of a spider lept the wall of the yard and gave him a good bite, I saw my friend go down under the weight of a beast the size of a small horse. I was enraged and me and Ferdinand went at it in our fury. IT was fast apparent that the beast was more than a match for us. We were saved by the cry of “Baruk Khazad” and Hvaldi right flew through the doorway and smashed the spider against the low fence. IT was a beautiful mess. Sadly poor Ferdinand got rolled up under the spider. Well I helped the lad up and back into the fray we went.

The Aftermath.

The battle was short and sharp, we took grievous losses but had the victory. Jasper was slain as was Saxulf and two of the men that came with Sigmund. The spiders were all slain and Agmund taken. He was spitting and frothing mad. There was small semblance of the man that saved my life, though in hindsight, he may have engineered the whole situation. That chanting, that fidgeting, and the simplicity of the ambush.. I question it, I should have questioned him. Arifal and Sigmund took him outside and in the name of King Bard, beheaded him.

A great debate on what now to do commenced. I was determined to aid my “captors” in their quest. I have much to atone for. I buried Saxulf in silence. I swore to him I would make it right. I was not sad to see Sigmund take Annelzen outside and “boot her in the arse” naming her coward and telling her not to be seen again. It was now just me of my original group, but I am fine with that. I look forward to whatever it is that is coming.

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A deep and dark December night
From a raid to a brawl

The events leading up to the night of the 27th by Hanaf Firebeard, a dwarf of Gondamon

Three days ago we had managed to ambush a group of forest goblins wandering too close to the old Miner’s Path. The fight was short and sharp but we managed to kill most of them before my companions captured one of the wounded survivors. I should start with giving you a little bit of information about them.

Jasper Boffin, what to say about him. I have had little dealings with the Shire-folk, and if the rest are anything like this guy I will continue to avoid such dealings. Jasper is a black hearted villain through and through. He does have a few qualities that makes him tolerable, namely his skill at sneaking and his vast library of vulgar jokes. He makes me nervous as his temper is rarely in check and he has a habit of being very secretive.

Saxulf Fastarsson. This young Barding warrior is way out of his element here. He has too good a heart for this line of work. He took up with Agmund and Annelzen and has regretted it ever since. He served as a mercenary in the great host of Frar the Beardless in his war for the Greydelve. Now he is with us, a renegade with no real prospects. He admires (wrongly in my mind) Agmund and follows Annelzen like a lost puppy.

Annelzen. It is hard to say which is worse, her or Agmund. She is vain, petty and manipulative, and those are her good traits. She usually is either conspiring with Jasper or conferring with Agmund when not manipulating or abusing poor Saxulf. I was very uncomfortable with the ease with which she was able to communicate with the goblins, but it came in handy when we snuck into their vaults. I was ashamed that this was once an old hold of my folk, now overrun with filth. I may have to come back one day.

Agmund the Archer. This is the rotten beating heart of our operation. I am ashamed to call him “friend” but I owe him a great debt for saving me in the Greydelve. The fighting there was cruel. Agmund decidedly is no mercenary, he is at heart a bandit. I was most surprised by this, but I have tried to keep both my honor and my hands clean, I believe I have failed at both. Agmund managed to convince poor Saxulf to follow him and now the boy is in too deep. I will try to save him if I can. Agmund is beyond redemption, he is no longer content to rob other mercenaries heading home, he is looking towards Dalesmen now as well.

And lastly there is me, Hanaf of the Firebeards in Gondamon. I am now a renegade and a wretch. I associate with scum and worse. I have some hope of saving at least one of my companions but will not waste words with the rest. We had just left the Greydelve. Agmund, Saxulf, and myself when we met Jasper on the road. He was in some spot of trouble with goblins (had I known what manner of creature he was, I would have strongly considered leaving him to thier tender mercy) It was a short, sharp fight but the goblins were all slain. He joined us at the exhortation of Agmund, yet he feared pursuit. Lastly we found Annelzen, and I rue that day. She had crawled out of a tomb covered in filth and blood. I knew her then for a grave robber. But she knew the tongue of goblins and that made Agmund eye her greedily. Saxulf of course was smitten.

The Goblin-hole

With this motley band we set to robbing and pillaging easterling mercenaries headed home and scattered bands of goblins fleeing the wrath of Frar. It was on the 25th of December when we should have all been enjoying a warm mug and hearth that we, in the dead of night fell upon a pack of goblins. we slew all but one, and that one we spared because it had convinced Annelzen that it had a secret treasure. I guess both of their black hearts thought alike. Well she told Agmund and that was settled. We were off. I took Saxulf with me to hunt food while they tortured the creature for information. Jasper’s laugh still chills me.

When we returned, carrying a good sized buck I may add. The creature was a mewling pile of ruin but they had procured a map. I made dinner in silence as Agmund and Jasper planned out the delve. I was not keen on going into a goblin hole, and told Saxulf of my misgivings. Annelzen had sunk her hooks into that boy too deeply by then and he was determined that an assault against a hold of goblins would be a great deed. I had not the heart to tell him the truth of it.

We set out that night, despite the cold and snow and reached the hole by midnight or thereabouts. I was not sure. I knew I had frost in my beard and rime on my helm. I was surprised to see this was no mere den of orc filth, but a lost hold of Durin’s folk. I can imagine it was a refuge in some older time. In any case we were lucky, the bulk of the inhabitants were out on a raid and we were able to sneak in the front door. Jasper of course insisted on murdering the sentries.

The dark was quiet but we had little light to see by. I trusted well in my vision and guided my companions unsure of what we sought. Agmund and Annelzen wanted to find the gold as soon as possible and get out. Jasper wanted to kill more goblins, but not for the same reasons that Saxulf did. I told my companions to stay close, so of course they scattered and went about their own business with only Saxulf stoutly by my side.

It must have been hours that we wandered about (though later I was told it was merely one) when the rest all returned to where Saxulf and I bravely held the doors. Annelzen had a sinister aspect around her and clutched tightly at a small pouch, whilst Agmund beemed with fistfuls and a sack of gold. I felt a sinking in my stomach to realize it was all dwarf gold he had. But I encouraged us all to move on quickly before the goblins returned and found their kinfolk slain and their realm plundered (though I have heard there is more wealth, and a tomb that Annelzen is dying to rob, damn her)

We headed out at as brisk a pace as we could for so foul a night, we knew we would be safe if we could make the tavern on the Miner’s path. It was too close to the watchful eyes of King Bard’s men for the goblins to risk it. The trip took a terrible amount of time and was tense. Saxulf had a falling out with Annelzen that Agmund had to step in to quiet. Jasper just sat back enjoying the “fight” and telling snide jokes into the mix. By the evening of the 27th we finally came to the tavern, I could see the lights and smell the fire. I was glad to be getting out of this wretched weather and getting some space from my foul “friends”.

The Stout Oak, and our flirting with disaster.

I was first to enter the tavern to the calls from Jasper of “hey, ladies first!..Oh wait the lady did enter first”. I wanted to pop that little pimple but the thought of a warm mug was too tempting. Saxulf was brooding and silent so I thought to cheer the boy up with some fine drinking. The warm fireplace in the back was just the thing for the moment. The tavernkeep was a stout fellow named Balderic and he kept a buxom wench as his server/cleaning assistant, her name was Haddy or something. I told Saxulf that was the kind of lass he needed. Honest and comely. He said little but glared at Agmund. I asked no more questions.

Agmund strode in like the laird o’ the land and demanded ale all around. Balderic tolerated it with the sight of so much flowing coin. My companions and I then went around to the table closest to the fire (the poor place had only two tables and a few stools at the bar) I ordered food and sat in for a nice trencher of mutton and venison and mulled mugs of stout brown. That was when I noticed Mable. The serving wench’s little pet piglet. Mabel “helped” often with keeping the floor clean. She was also quite adorable and fond of guests (particularly ones who were generous with their droppings to the floor)

While playing with Mabel I did not notice that Haddy had gotten too close to an inebriated Agmund and received a none to kind pinch to the bottom, she scampered off to the jeering of Jasper. What ever it was had set Annelzen off and she stormed off into a corner glaring daggers at the poor girl. Annelzen then started playing on her lute (which I learned of course she had stolen from a wealthy man in Bree) and playing badly but it was enough for Jasper to continuously demand bawdy songs and she obliged.

The mood about our little band was about as explosive as one could imagine. I was hoping for about anything to change the atmosphere. Saxulf was brooding, Agmund was being a downright skite about everything, Annelzen was off “pouting” and likely now felt twice misused. Jasper as usual was adding fuel to the fire with his bawdy tales and vulgar jokes not too cleverly veiled as jabs at all of us. I tried mightily to disregard it all by giving my attentions to sweet Mable.

The door opened a bit later letting in the cold that had Annelzen even more surly. I made a quick glance and saw another small hobbit enter. He matched the description of some of the marks in one of Jasper’s tales of “glory” so I felt it best to say nothing. I would later regret not at least being more concerned. But something compelled me to put on my helmet. Agmund thought that a joke and did so as well. Fortuitous it would be.

The door of destiny and migraines.

It was when Annelzen began playing some awful tune that made Jasper wince that the night started going bad. Saxulf was on his 8th mug and finally feeling better (and making eyes at Haddy) I was warm inside and out and Mabel was out scampering for more snacks. Agmund was straight drunk and obnoxious. Jasper was about to launch into another vulgar story when he and Agmund both yelled at Annelzen to stop her awful racket and play something proper, she obliged with a sneer that made me cringe.

That was when he walked in. It was a night that legends came to life. Arifal the berseker walked right into the Stout Oak Tavern and I nearly skat me britches! He trod up just as casually as can be and ordered three mugs, I was hoping we would be beneath his notice, what with everyone in such a foul mood. Balderic was quite plussed to have such a personage patronizing his place he about fell over when the next guest walked in the door.

Hvaldi Blackfeather! the Grimhammer hisself just moseyed on up to the fire. When I saw the look on Agmund’s face it occurred to me that he realized what a stew pot we were really in. I am not too proud to admit that Arifal alone could have shredded our merry band, but add in the Blackfeather and our goose was as good as cooked. I cautioned my companions to be calm and provoke nothing. I made a quick check about the room. Annelzen was eyeing the new arrivals like a butcher looks at a prime cut of meat. I was sure she would be the first of us to make a mistake. Turns out I would be wrong.

In the middle of one of Jasper’s more vulgar tales the living legend did something….not so legendary. Hvaldi let out a fart that could have woken old Smaug hisself had he still lived. That was outright funny to Agmund, and Saxulf let out a bit of a chuckle. He had stopped making poorly thought passes at Haddy a bit a go and was now listening to Jasper’s tales o’ foulness. Jasper felt challenged by Hvaldi’s horn call of flatulence and decided to answer with a trumpet o’ his own from the gut. A mighty belch issued from the wee hobbit that made me cringe a bit. Annelzen from the other side oh the tavern gave both of them a look of disgust. Seemed she was now just eyeing old Arifal. I hope the girl does nothing stupid.

I thought things were going to pass, we might walk outta here with our wealth and hides intact. After all the great and mighty often ignore us rabble. That other hobbit was concerning me though, he was actin’ like he had a bee in his bonnet or somewhat over where he was “hiding”.

Devastation wrought, or .. OOCH! me beard!

As I said, I had thought things would pass and we would be safe, well. I was wrong, and it started so calmly that I should have known of the coming hurricane. Arifal came right up to our table, big grin on his face and scooted Saxulf right out his way. He sat down as comfortable as yeh like and drained his fourth? mug in short order. Grinning the whole time, he took the empty mug and shattered it across Saxulf’s surprised face! the lad went arse over onto his noggin and quick as a fox he was across the table and bustin’ Agmund’s nose.

That was when all bedlam broke loose. I heard a woman scream, may have been Haddy, and miss Mable had scampered off to not get a stomping. Calmly as can be Balderic went into “hiding” and I thought I saw Haddy go under the bar to hide (and cheer her favorites, which obviously wasn’t us)! I was shocked, but not so much as my companions. I thought well, here goes. But I thought it may be not so bad, since Arifal’s mighty axe never left his back, he intended to pummel us.

Only in the face of the hurricane that is Arifal could one forget such as the Blackfeather (likely as not the more dangerous of the two, if only for not being so obvious about it) being in the room. Well I paid for that mightily as he walked up and gave me a scoop o’ burnin’ ash from the fireplace in the face! He even had the gall to say “kinnah ash ye a question” as he scorched me beard good. I was all a flummoxed when he bashed me to the ground with a blow I barely saw (though it was coming in fast enough that I had time just to yalp).

I heard the bells ringing, smelt me beard a burnin’, and me eyes a waterin’ as the chaos erupted all round the tavern. In the midst of the ringing I heard howls of pain and the grunts of close combat. For a moment I thought myself back in the darksome halls of the Greydelve fighting for my life. I was not sure who fell first, Agmund or Saxulf, But there was enough commotion to allow me to my feet.

I found myself somehow staring at Hvaldi’s massive back, he had been using his shield as a “go to sleep” aid. So I took the dishonorable tactic of grappling with him. Bad idea as he had the strength o’a mountain bear. It took him but moments to break my own iron grip. I glimpsed Arifal using Saxulf’s limp body to pummel the villainous Jasper to the ground! I had heard the cry of “weapons out” from one of our adversaries and of course the wee weasel had tried to knife Hvaldi. Stupid twerp got what he deserved for that one.

I looked about to see Agmund was unconscious on the ground with a busted lip and nose. Saxulf in a pile with Jasper, and a thing of beauty. A fair elf maid had somehow slipped in and entered the fray. At the moment she was beating the snot outta Annelzen. Not that the witch didn’t have it coming mind you. Fact is I would have liked to watch how that played out. It was like seeing a graceful swan pummel a fat turkey vulture. I spent far too many precious moments watching Annelzen getting the stuffing knocked out of her to realize my own peril. Hvaldi had decided that enough fun was had and decided to finish me off.

I heard him, barely saw the blur of metal and dwarf flesh that plowed me into the wall. I tried to catch my breathe. Only Annelzen of all my companions was still on her feet, bleeding and battered, she was breathing heavier than I was. The blood around her neck made me fearful that mayhap she had pushed the elf maid too far (and while I would shed no tears over that creature being removed from the world. I would hate for young Saxulf to be so roughly slain, best hope for the best) It was clear that soon I would be the “last dwarf standing” as Annelzen was clearly outmatched.

Sure enough, the sickening crack of wood on skull was heard and Annelzen went face first over a bench. She had been hit so hard she had wet herself. I was now the last of our “fellowship” for what little that was worth still on his feet, I braced for the expected onslaught. I was not expecting the thunderous kick to my chest. Hvaldi’s reputation is woefully short of the truth, he managed to kick the air from me lungs and I felt what may have been me ribs a crackin! I tried to stay on my feet as my eyes started to glaze over. I saw Hvaldi flip back up to his feet in plated armour!! No one would believe that feat had they not seen it. Sadly that was all I seen as I slipped into unconsciousness.

Thus endeth the tale…for now

The accounts of the Hanaf Firebeard on the events of the 27th of December end here. I can say that as a casual observer that he had little to worry about. Ferdinand, son of Joller had no intent on the death of this group, he just wanted his gem back. Well Hanaf’s group did not have it. Arifal took it upon himself to stack the defeated in a corner by the fire, he did so without regard for size and weight. This meant that the villainous Jasper would be doubly sore and that all those unfortunate enough to be underneath Annelzen would be wet.

The fellowship did not “rob” their fallen foes, though they did insist on taking the damages and the next round(s?) of drinks out of their hides. Hvaldi did discover the goblin map on Annelzen which undoubtedly raised more questions than answers. Ferdinand was visibly upset by the encounter but grateful for the arrival of his father’s mighty companions when they did. As he had been snooping about the place for a while. He is his father’s son in many ways, but still young and inexperienced.

Another observation from the tale of Hanaf was that it made scant matter which of the companions would have entered alone for any of these famed heroes of old would have made short work of his motley fellowship. It must also be noted that for a brief moment Hanaf had managed to hold Hvaldi at bay (had it not been a desperate grab from behind, one could imagine it going very, very badly for Hanaf, as Hvaldi has a reputation for “troll baiting” second to none in the third age), only Arifal had taken any meaningful strike (and that merely had annoyed him), a desperate hay maker from Agmund before he too was felled.

As an aside, the night was actually well taken by Mabel as she was able to thoroughly enjoy all the spilled victuals. Balderic now has a great tale to tell of when titans strode in his tavern. Haddy herself had merry time of it being able to sit back and watch the brawl while helping herself to the villain’s next already paid for rounds, they would not be needing them.

Thus ends the tale of the “Battle of the Stout Oak Tavern”

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