Echoes of the North

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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.

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”

The New Journals of Hvaldi: 1
Dec 27th, 2964

Right, so here I am writing journal entries again. Far from home, in danger and wondering how I got here. I know exactly HOW I got here, I’m more wondering why this kind of thing happens in the first place. I know Dumora enjoyed my last series of journals so I shall keep this one in case she wants to read it. Hopefully this will be a short…mission, quest, jaunt? I don’t even know what to call this, so it is a pleasant journey. In the dead of winter. Chasing stinking, raiding Goblins across wild lands.

Did I mention I am not happy about this? Well here goes, about three days ago, I was happily snuggled up in my home. The wind was blowing, there was some snow on the ground and the sky was laden with the promise of much more. I was busily engaged in minor tasks such as nodding off, watching the children chase each other around the main room and giving Dumora’s bottom a surreptitious pinch when I thought I could escape her playful retribution.

Considering how chilly it was outside, the smell of wood smoke was ever present, but it seemed to be particularly thick today. The sounds of screaming and yelling however, were not normal. As soon as I heard it, I raced for my armor. Dumora was already shepherding the children into the back rooms and she had put on her chain shirt. I tossed her the small shield and sword she preferred and hefted my hammer before turning to head outside. Armor may protect you from much, but a bitter wind is not one of them, especially when you forget to put on the heavy padding underneath.

Being cold was the least of my worries it seemed. There were small parties of Goblins among the houses and buildings of Ravenhill. We haven’t quite built the fortress up to her old standard and many of the walls are still open. It seems that the Goblins among the houses were just there to pin us in place as their attacks were haphazard and mostly harassing. I could see behind this screening force, a mass of Goblins were either butchering or leading off most of our cattle. The idiots were also trying to burn the stone barns.

Most of the local lads and lasses of the fighting demeanor were coming out to join me having had time to gather their arms and armor. The goblin screening force did attempt to stop us. I stress the word attempt. From there, it was a running battle to catch and kill the rapidly scattering Goblin raiders. The brave were the first to die, then the stupid. After a brief discussion, many of us broke off into pursuit parties and chased the retreating Goblins. That’s where we started catching the greedy. Too caught up in trying to drive on the cattle as prizes, they were too slow to avoid us catching them. That left the smart ones.

We chased them as best we could but after nearly three days of near constant running, almost no rest and only the wounded Goblins to put out of their misery, a rest was in order. I had been running with my old friend Arafal when we both came to the conclusion this had become less of a chase and more of an exercise in tracking. I was pretty thankful we were near a rather new Inn when we came to that realization. The Stout Oak Tavern was only an hour or two away. Mind you, there seem to be no Oak trees within a days walk of this Tavern and the only other trees that are left around it are anything but stout. I guess it could be a Human planning for a generation or two in the future but who knows.

Arafal and I made good time for the Inn while I mulled over the recent events. Dumora had been thoughtful enough to throw me my travel pack when I ran back to tell her that we were setting off in pursuit. She realized as quickly as I had, that Goblins this far into civilized lands meant something was very wrong. The lands of Dale and the forces of King Bard should have stopped these runts long before they ever reached the Mountain so investigation was the order of the day. All of these things and more were running through my head when we finally entered the Stout Oak. My dear Dumora, you would be proud though. I distractedly remembered to dust off my cloak and kick most of the mud and snow off my boots before I entered the Tavern proper.

I was a little preoccupied so it came as a bit of a surprise to find a Hobbit, looking much like his father, hiding behind a bookshelf while spying on a party of two Humans, a Dwarf and another Hobbit who was telling a bawdy tale. It seemed that there was a lady bard watching Joller’s son, while he was watching the group and now that Arafal and I had entered the Tavern, they were all watching us. I quickly decided to worry about none of this as I spied a fire on the other side of the Tavern and quickly made my way over to it. When I glanced over my shoulder, I could see that most of them were still looking my way so I did what any self respecting, slowly thawing Dwarf would do. I let out a great fart and breathed a sigh of relief as the warmth of the fire loosened up my frozen limbs. I am sure I will get smacked for my poor manners when you read this my dear Dumora, but they were being nosy and I was in no mood for it.

I was in “good” company though as this spawned a few chuckles and a few attempts at competition. My front was finally warm enough so I turned around slowly feeling the cold drain from my body and a little bit of normalcy and relaxation settle in. Imagine my frustration when I saw Ferdinand, Joller’s son, pantomiming some long and convoluted story about how the party near me was bad people and had possibly stolen something. Also, I wasn’t sure but I think Ferdi needed to use the lavatory very badly, I may have misread his hand signals though. I did start listening into their conversation as something other than just background drone and quickly came to the conclusion that they were not the mercenaries they would have others believe, they sounded rather like bandits.

So it seemed this group had something of value to Ferdi and were no strangers to violence. It was a situation requiring tact, diplomacy and a deft touch. I could not have chosen a better person than angry Arafal, occasionally known by the epithet of “The Berserker.” Actually I didn’t choose him at all. After I whispered to him my suspicions, he walked over, sat down at their table and greeted them very cordially before punching one of the two humans in the face with his empty beer mug. I think my sigh was part exasperation and part readiness to get this over with.

As should probably be expected, pandemonium erupted. I had taken my helmet off so I bent down and set my mug of beer carefully down while I scooped up some ashes and embers from the hearth with my helmet. The Firebeard Dwarf was hastily pushing back from the table and preparing to join the fray when I tapped him on the shoulder. And yes, I’ve been thinking about this pun for quite some time but I “ashed” the Firebeard a question. He staggered back and fell, his beard smouldering and his face and eyes burning. I had just spotted Laera walking in through the door, with a look of surprise on her face when I was forced to duck a poorly aimed punch at my head and responded by swinging my helmet at the other Hobbit who was trying to race by to stab Arafal in the back. Who brings real weapons to a bar-fight?!

There was laughing, mostly from Arafal. There was crying, some from the Firebeard and some from the other Hobbit after Arafal literally threw one of his companions at him. There were many haymakers, southpaws, jabs and uppercuts thrown and I even managed to drop-kick the poor Firebeard senseless against a wall. The Innkeep was delightfully understanding and only asked that we help clean up which we did gladly. Arafal piled the knocked out and incapacitated in the corner near the fire “so they wouldn’t get cold” and I searched them for Ferdinand’s gem to no avail. I did, however, find a Goblin map on the bard lass whom Laera had knocked out. Apparently she was quite the vicious one. She had pulled two envenomed blades before Laera had disarmed her and Ferdi had picked them up and thrown them out of the Tavern.

So here I sit, days from home in a poorly named roadhouse, looking at a pile of bandits whom I will need information from when they wake up. I miss my family, I miss my home, I miss my chair and I strongly miss NOT chasing Goblins across wild country in the “about to get terrible” part of Winter. Thankfully enough, Arafal has just bought me another ale and there is stew on the way so I suppose it’s not all terrible.

The last Journal of Hvaldi: 16
2953: Winter descends

It’s been quite a span of time since I last picked up this journal. I’ve seen it looming over my life these past few years with a strange sense of fear. Logically, it makes no sense that a simple book can cast a shadow over an otherwise idyllic life. My young Son spent the better part of this day chasing around the pup, and my daughter seems to do little more than inflate my heart to the point of bursting with love. I have been hand-fasted to Dumora for nearly three years (note to self, our anniversary is in 5 days, do NOT forget!) and she still stokes the flames of my love with every single look and smile.

And yet, like a heavy cloak, this journal has hung upon my shoulders and my mind. At first, I was content to let my updates wait as I was caught up in the dynamism of life. I had met Dumora and rather abruptly asked for her hand. We courted for three months before I made up my mind. After talking to Dumora, she was preparing to knock some sense into me if I did not ask, so I consider that mutual. I still remember the day I laid eyes on her. Winter was clinging on with icy fingernails as spring attempted to drag it off of the land. I had traveled to the Iron Hills seeking to speak with the makers of the fine water clock I had repaired for Juniper. I stopped off at the first decent looking Inn I could find intending to warm myself and hopefully clean up from my journey before trying to introduce myself to these expert craftdwarfs.

She was perched upon a tiny stage near the hearth and surrounded by instruments. She was quietly but expertly plucking at a harp when I entered. I’m not ashamed to admit I was first struck immobile by her beauty. Long, fiery red hair shaded most of her face, cascading in a great curtain of curls as she bent to her playing. I woodenly walked over to a table and apparently ordered food and a beer for when I next noticed my surroundings, they were in front of me. Dumora proceeded from the harp, to the lute, to a hand drum and many other instruments. Sometimes she sang and other times she would dance. I was not her only admirer, as the Inn was strangely silent for a Dwarven tavern. Her voice was a soothing balm upon all that ailed me and when she danced, my pulse kept time with her movements. I have never felt less in control of my own body and emotions than I did at that moment.

Later that evening I introduced myself during one of her breaks. Calling the next two weeks “courtship” would be like calling an Olephant “graceful.” Even when I was making an absolute fool of myself, I cherished every laugh I would get from her. My time to return home came all too quickly and I had completely forgotten my original intent to speak with the watch-makers. I had not but placed two feet on the path home before I was already concocting a reason to return to the Iron Hills. I promised Dumora I would write and I left her my address, or what passed for it at that point. Ravenhill was little more than a ruin with a moderately functional hovel carved out of it, but it was my home and it was coming along nicely.

Fortune favored me though. Almost as soon as I had returned home, a caravan was forming, ready to brave the roads now that Spring was finally asserting itself. I happily signed on to provide it protection. I almost forgot to collect my pay as we arrived at the trade village near the Iron Hills. My flight was rather undignified but I was of a singular purpose. I had to see Dumora again. I made my way through the utilitarian halls of the Iron Hills to the address she had given me. I must have looked quite the fool, nearly out of breath, bouncing from one foot to the other as I eagerly knocked upon the stout door.

The Dwarf that answered was verging on ancient. His gaze was steel and he apparently did not approve of me. I stood there, the very picture of stupid and confused as he looked me up and down. When he spoke, there was command and confidence alloyed into every word. “You must be the beardling that my fool-headed daughter can’t stop babbling about, Holfi, Hardi, Helfi or some such” he inquired. I thought I could detect the slightest hint of a smile in the creasing of his eyes and the movement beneath his beard but I wasn’t sure. “Hvaldi, sir, at your service” I stuttered out. My bow was not graceful but it seemed to suffice. He moved aside and there she was, beaming at me. The fact that she had been talking about me was not lost either, it just took FAR too long to penetrate my love-addled brain.

For the next month and a half I found every reason i could think of to stay in the Iron Hills. I took odd jobs, pretended to consider buying a large shipment of metals, and even tried to wash dishes at the Tavern where Dumora worked. While I can handle a shield and hammer with no small amount of skill, I dropped FAR too many dishes for the Innkeeper to ever consider me anything other than a threat to his profits. The second time I knocked on Dumora’s door, I was slightly more composed and yet ten times more terrified. Her father once again played the role of untrusting door warden but let me in. I did not invite Dumora to leave with me though and I stepped across the threshold. In the presence of her family, I asked for her hand in marriage. I was shaking like a leaf but I knew this was my future, my dearest want and my greatest need and I would not give into fear.

Both of Dumora’s parents proved to be shrewd negotiators and even Dumora herself placed a few demands upon me. I was completely unable to say no though. I have to chuckle these few years on. She even underlined the “Husband shall be responsible for doing the dishes and NOT dropping them” on our marriage contract, which is framed and carefully hung above our hearth, and I have held to my word as best as I am able. Her Father had requested two tasks of me besides the matter of dowry and such. His only son had recently gone missing and was feared captured by slavers to the south and east. Secondly, a precious gem, a family heirloom of sorts had gone missing with his son. I was to rescue his son and track down and find this gem and return it. Upon completion of these tasks, I could spirit my giddy bride away with me to Ravenhill and commence domestic bliss.

At this point, I could have sat down and penned out my journal entries. For some reason, the weight of past deeds, friends lost and memories left dormant seemed to drive me further into living in the moment. I sent out the call for my friends, telling them I had promised to rescue a young lad from a bad situation and recover a gem. I failed to tell them the full story. For some reason I felt shy, protective even of my status as a soon to be married Dwarf. I wanted to do nothing to upset fate so I held this fact close. Ever faithful, my friends were soon arriving at the Leaky Dinghy Inn in Laketown. I laid out my plan to rescue Nori Ravenheart and retrieve the Raven’s Heart gem.

Dumora’s clan was an ancient line. They were few in number but their lineage and history stood in testament to their import. The Raven’s Heart was a white gem that seemed to pulse a sort of black light. It had been gifted to their forefathers in the first age and was of great importance. Nori, the first born of Olvi their current Clanfather and Dumora’s father had been out on an expedition. He was supposed to do some trading with the nomadic bands to the south east and then convey the gem to Erebor for a showing. As an artifact of the first age, it was an heirloom to all Dwarfs and the Ravenhearts were always happy to display it. Somewhere during the first part of Nori’s trip, his party was ambushed and the survivors were taken as slaves to the fortress known as the Wolf’s Jaw.

Summer’s heat was seeping into everything when we set off to the east. That memory brings me a smile. The candle I write by is flickering in the stubborn draft as the storm outside settles in for a good, long grumble. The snow is whipping past the tiny window making me ever more thankful that Dumora helped me turn Ravenhill from a hovel into a home. I digress though, we set out on that fine Summer’s day on our way to the Iron Hills. From there, we would make our way southeast to find son and gem. An easy task I hoped.

Over road and down river we traveled and then into the vast expanse of plains. One thing I can never quite express well enough and something that constantly amazed me when I was traveling is just how vast our world is. We would spend an entire day traveling in the same direction across seas of waving grass and by the end it would seem as if we had not moved. Nothing changed, everything looked the same as the place we had left in the morning. I don’t recall what day it was when we heard and smelled the signs of battle up ahead but we rushed to gain sight of it. A party of Easterlings were engaged with some rather runty looking Orcs and Worgs. Our discussion was brief and we decided to rush to aid the Easterlings.

Hate the deed, not the doer is the best I can say of that party. We helped them drive off the Orcs and then awkwardly looked at each other bereft of all but the most basic of communications. It was easy to see that they were slavers though. I deeply, fundamentally and wholly disapprove of slavery in any form and yet to attack these folk for no reason struck me as wrong as well. We managed to deduce that they were also headed for the Wolf’s Jaw so we walked with them and their paltry group of sad looking slave stock. I imagine the taste of ashes in my mouth to this day over the foul bargains I had to strike during that trip. Traveling, in company of Slavers, to a fortress full of more of their kind.

We managed to pick up some of their language over the next few days and it was apparent the next day we would arrive at Wolf’s Jaw. I was wracking my brain on how we were going to gain entry and free Nori without becoming fodder for the slave pits ourselves when it happened. The odd Easterling, a Shaman of sorts, had been keeping his distance from us for the trip. He seemed the downright unfriendly type as well so we were all content to leave him be. The slaves were all chained to a rock that night and seemed to be quite miserable. I took some of our food and water and walked over to offer some to the slaves. It seems the Shaman took offense to this and slapped the bowl out of my hand while rapidly saying something that did not sound complimentary to me in his language.

I was right on the cusp of my temper getting the best of me when he turned around and slapped one of the slaves that had begun to complain about the lack of food. Out came my hammer and thankfully, my friends were not far behind me in action. Two of the Easterlings were left wounded but alive at the end of the fight. We bandaged them as best we could and left them in a small hut at the campsite, believing that they would be found and cared for by the roving bands of Easterlings that inhabited the area around the Fortress. Serendipity is not always an accident, it seems sometimes your deeds come back to help you, and this would be one of those times.

During any of this traveling, again, I could have written in my journal, but I had found my mood to be foul and getting darker as we journeyed through these alien lands and dealt with these strange customs. We managed to free the slaves though. Most of them gratefully made their way back in the direction of their homelands but Rustam and Chanda decided to help us on our quest. Chanda was a massive Woman of northern stock. Quick with her sword and with her temper she would prove her worth when things got violent. Rustam, on the other hand, seemed to be completely physically incapable of all but the most basic tasks. He LOVED the sound of his own voice though and seemed to know a fair bit about the local culture and language so as long as we could keep him quiet until we needed him to talk, he would prove his worth as well. Sadly, that “keeping him quiet” part never did quite work.

We gained entry into the Wolf’s Jaw fortress and my spirit sank. It was literally a giant market of shackled flesh. All manner of persons were being sold like livestock with little to no care being paid to their situation. I saw slaves, wasting away in the pits given no food or water as they were beyond any hope of a “decent price.” I even saw more than a few dwarfs in the pit and took a letter from one Bori, a Dourhand, for his mother. It seems he did not anticipate leaving that place alive. Even though he is a Dourhand, I would not wish slavery upon the foulest of his kind. I’m pretty sure he made it out alive later on, but true to my word, I took his letter to his Mother north of Othrikar. That was an interesting journey and I got more than a few glares of hatred traveling among the Dourhands but a word given is a word kept.

We eventually discovered that Nori was being held in the prison portion of the fortress. That’s where the Easterling Chieftain known as “The Butcher” kept his most dangerous and valuable “merchandise.” I tried everything I could think of to free Nori, from offering to buy his freedom to challenging the Chieftain to humiliating myself in more ways than one. Nothing worked and we were reduced to a plan that seemed to have little chance of succeeding. Then again, few expect crazy, near suicidal attacks to happen on their watch, in their fortress. I guess no one expects my friends and I.

It seems the two Easterlings that we spared were among those in the Fortress and felt that they owed us a debt for sparing them. I hated using their culture against them but needs must. We co-opted them into our plan. One of them got us Horses while the other helped us break into the fortress Armory. One slave-riot and prison break later found us running and riding for our lives as the Easterlings attempted to muster a response. I don’t know how many slaves escaped or if many of the foul slavers died but I know I managed to defeat the “Butcher” on our way out of the fortress. A world without that creature is a better world in my opinion.

We took Nori back to Iron Hills. He was mostly healthy but could do with a great deal of food, water and rest. We also learned during our preparation in the Fortress that the Gem had been sold to a Ms. Chay of Rhuadar. I was half way done and I was chomping at the bit to complete these adventures. It seems I had developed a taste for peace, and a strong desire for hearth and home. Even telling this tale wearies me and makes me restless. A task begun is worth completing though so I shall persevere.

We booked passage on a ship to head back down the Celduin river to the Sea of Rhun and onward to Rhubar. The men crewing this ship were a tight-lipped bunch and much about it was strange but they seemed willing to carry us so I did not ask many questions. It seems the ship was carrying more than a few extra passengers, some of which exited, with what sounded like horses late one night as we pulled close to shore. It could have been an Orcish caravan laded with poorly protected gold and I would not have cared less. I had a new focus on getting the gem and getting home. Nothing else seemed to matter to me.

This would quickly come to haunt me, the interminable delays and obstacles in our path seemed only to multiply the more I wanted to just get it over with. The next night, I was awoken by a loud crunch and the sounds of shouting. It seemed some of the local nomadic Sagath had set a trap for ships traveling the river. We were holed beneath the waterline but could make it to shore, specifically where there were a group of howling and whooping Sagath raiders heading for us. We were rather unkind to them and gave them quite the surprise. Many of them fled back the way they came and I was just about to return to the boat grumbling when Reg fired an arrow at the last one of them fleeing.

The poor lass looked all of maybe 12 winters old and had been carrying their banner. Mind you, they had been using this same banner to coordinate their assault but she was by no means a threat. I assume Reg fired the arrow as a joke but even joking, he is deadly. He hit the poor lass in the posterior and she went down screaming. This land is full of predators both beast and sentient. I felt my heart sink as my conscience howled. I insisted that we treat the girl and bring her with us as her own folk would not return to this place for a good while considering their losses and their ways. She was quite the sulker and it seems she was slightly older than I had assumed, a teenager. Just my luck.

So now with a young Sagath girl, not quite a prisoner or a slave or anything of the sort tagging along, our ship sailed across the Sea of Rhun only to stop just out of sight of land. When I questioned the Captain he gave me a half sheepish, half annoyed look and said “We sail for Tol Sulareb, a fortress under siege.” It seems the forces of Rhubar had taken offense that a Gondorian outpost existed on their proverbial doorstep and had sent nine ships full of troops to cleanse the rock of said Gondorians. This was not Rhubar, this was not my fight and this was keeping me from my end goal but I could not just stand by. I loathe my own mind at times.

Later, in the dead of night, we crept into the harbor of the Fortress. Muffled oars, darkened lights and a moonless night and a King’s share of luck saw us safely moored. The men of the fortress looked ragged but stern. They welcomed the arms and supplies the ship brought and gave us an apology for the lack of hospitality on their part. It didn’t take us long to realize that there was no easy or peaceful way for us to make our way on to Rhubar through the blockade. At this point, those nine ships full of troops became my obstacle.

Starlight shone dimly off the near placid sea. I could see the ships at anchor holding their blockade. In the courtyard of the fortress stood a great Gondorian trebuchet. I may not be the smartest Dwarf around but I am clever, especially when it comes to solving problems. I asked for some parchment and borrowed a few of their instruments and set to measuring and calculating. It took the better part of two hours to set it all up and convince the Trebuchet crew I knew what I was on about, but I gained a fair amount of satisfaction from seeing the large chunk of masonry split the Easterling ship in two. I could just barely hear the screams of alarm and panic which served to cut my savage joy short rather quickly. The Gondorian Captain thanked me and then promptly informed me that the Easterlings were likely to attack in the morning. We were “invited” to help defend the harbor Tower…what choice did we have?

We set about trying to repair as much as we could and set up a plan for defense. One of the other passengers on the ship, a Dwarf by the name of Arafal came up with a rather clever plan. We set out the fishing nets on the piers and tied them off to a pair of small trebuchets. The plan was to yank a load of the landed Easterlings off their feet and hopefully injure them. It was later to work FAR beyond our expectations. The Sun rose, sparkling across the calm surface of the Sea and showed a mass of landing boats headed our way loaded with armed and armored Easterlings. I had no quarrel with these people and yet very shortly I would be killing them and they would be attempting to kill me. I really had grown to loathe the casual violence and murder that adventuring brings by this point but I ground my teeth and saw it through.

The Easterlings landed on both piers and began to marshal their forces. Our plan involved a few of us at the head of each pier to try and hold off the Easterlings and bunch them up while our archers in the tower tried to pick them off. This was working beautifully as they seemed hesitant to approach us. A motley group of Dwarfs and Humans doesn’t seem all that frightening but it did seem to set them aback. They had gathered in great enough numbers that I gave the signal and Joller and a Gondorian hit the firing plates on the Trebuchets. I actually feel guilty for my participation in this. The Easterlings were not just tripped or injured by the nets being whipped out from under them by the force of the Trebuchets. Legs were torn off and a few of them were flung into the battlements by the force of the war machines. My stomach still turns from the memory.

I had to take a moment and stretch after writing that. Seeing Dumora cradling Geerta, both of them asleep filled me with peace and love. I know what I did, I did for them and was necessary. I still don’t have to like it though. As an aside, Dumora has become fast friends with my sister Geerta, to the point that she INSISTED we name our daughter after her. Like her namesake, my daughter is quite fierce already having done battle with a number of hanging toys and come through victorious. She also gives the best hugs, much like my sister. I do cherish these moments of family and they seem to give purpose to all of the terror and uncertainty of my adventuring life.

Where was I, ahh yes, the piers. So after the grand mess the trebuchets made, the commander of the Easterlings was having no more of our tricks. He came ashore on my pier and began to push his remaining and landing troops towards us. A line of pikes and shields presented towards me and I did my best to wade into them and create havoc. The Easterlings are passable warriors but they have NO idea how to fight a fully armed and armored Dwarf. A number of Gondorians were guarding my back so I was free to strike out and whittle my way through all that were in front of me. it was not long before I had made my way almost to where the last of their boats were landing.

The Easterling commander, whom I later learned was called Rahm Khalsa, pointed at me and said something in his language that I’m fairly sure was unflattering. Some kind of…beast drew itself up from the last boat. The rest of the Easterlings gave it a wide berth and there seemed to be one trying to calm it and direct it towards me. It looked like some foul amalgamation of man and troll. It was clad in a patchwork of armor and was carrying a steel shod club. The press was still too thick around us though so it could not reach me without disrupting many of their own men. This gave me an idea.

I’ve been told, usually by those I love, that I can be rather infuriating when I want to be. I set about taunting and needling this creature. My hope was that it would barrel through the forces between us knocking many of them into the water. Men in full armor do not do well when submerged and this would help ease the press on our scant lines. It worked, much to my surprise and detriment. The beast seemed to grow less and less controllable as I made faces at it and patted my bum when I could turn around without getting stabbed. It launched itself forward, yanking the leash from its controllers hand and knocking aside many of the men between us. It even did us the favor of clubbing one of them down to get me.

I set my shield and dug in as best as I could. I’ve faced much bigger and fiercer enemies but my situation was rather precarious. Much like the men, I would not do well if I fell in the water so I set myself to prevent that. It was a close run thing. The beast hammered on my shield and drove me back near the edge of the pier. I could feel the heels of my boots clipping the precipice. I drove forward a step or two and tried to set up a hammer blow. I had just deflected a foul claw from the creature with my shield which left me open. I was turning my body to strike with my hammer when the club of the beast connected with my chest. Pain blossomed and I staggered back wheezing, almost dropping to a knee.

The battle around me seemed to go silent as eyes fell upon my struggle. The beast stepped forward, bent low to get it’s face at my level and let out a roar that shook the very molars in my jaw. I was deafened but I was struck by inspiration in that moment. I dropped my hammer, grabbed the lower lip of the creature and pulled as hard as I could while turning. Where the lip goes, the beast must follow and over the side he went howling in surprise. I could not let go fast enough so I stood there in the restored silence holding the creatures bloody lower lip. I must have been quite the sight as I turned around and wearily took up my hammer again. Rham Khalsa stood there for a moment looking at me in stunned surprise before he slowly raised his arms in the air, calling for his remaining men to do the same.

When things had calmed, I was able to talk to Rham Khalsa. He was quite agreeable and honorable all things considered. I’m saddened that these Easterlings and the Gondorians are always at each others throats. They could just as easily be solid friends to each other.
As soon as I knew that the fighting was over and my pride was sated, I excused myself for a moment and walked away, fell to a knee and finally let myself feel the pain. I’m pretty sure one of my ribs was out of place and a gentle touch let me know that my entire chest was most likely every shade in the bruise rainbow. Reg was going around tending to the wounded. There was little he could go for a bruise though so he just handed me a mug of ale.

We saw to Rahm’s wounded and extracted a promise that he would no longer attack the Gondorians. He seemed quite defeated in both action and spirit. Once he found out we were headed for Rhubar though he brightened up a tiny bit and offered to sail us the last stretch of the way. I was suspicious but I could see no guile left in the man so we all eventually agreed. We said our goodbyes and sailed with the remaining Easterlings back to Rhubar. Rahm was the very picture of a polite host and I was shocked later on to find that his own people executed him for his failure. What a waste! A good commander, a proud and skilled fighter and an honorable man, killed for one failed attack! I still feel my temper rise at such behavior, but their ways are not ours. I’ve seen first hand that there is good in the Easterlings even if they have strange and sometimes barbaric customs.

By the time we reached Rhubar I was nearly at my wits end. I wanted, needed to find this gem and get home as quickly as possible. Rahm did not know of Ms. Chay but recommended we check the Grand Bazaar and we rashly set off into the city not realizing just how massive or confusing it was. I’m ashamed to admit that I never learned the young Sagath girl’s name but she proved her worth again being able to haltingly talk in a few of the local dialects. She eventually pointed us towards the northern districts, the “foreign quarter” as a good point to get information. We set off going vaguely north, having a vague idea of our vague destination. Human cities seem to be allergic to good, solid grid patterns and this one was an excellent example of such. No street seemed to go where we expected and we must have doubled back almost as often as we were going forward, or so it seemed.

We barely reached the northern quarter before exhaustion overtook us. The Cinnabar Anvil caught my attention for the Dwarfen ruins on it’s sign next to some local script. The proprietor was indeed a Dwarf but one of Thulin’s folk, not of Durin’s great family. Harnfel welcomed us and the young Sagath lass showed us the local custom of picking and cooking your own food in communal ceramic ovens. Harnfel took my story as payment for information. He recommended that we try Wulfric’s guest house and ask him about Ms. Chay’s whereabouts. Again, the compulsion to keep going quickly overtook my fading exhaustion and we were on the roads again. It was not long before we came to the guesthouse and a small, peaceful island in the city’s otherwise chaotic character.

Wulfric was a seemingly ancient man of Northern stock but friendly and jovial. He told us how he had come to these lands raiding and reaving and instead found himself in love with a local girl and married. She had passed 15 summers ago though and Wulfric had stayed on, having been there in Rhubar for close to 40 years. He did know Indira Chay and told us that her Manor was north, outside the city gates in the Taur Romen forest. He gave us an approximate location but the Sun was already in full retreat that evening and it was time for us to rest. We did the social rounds, meeting a few more of Thulin’s folk, eight brothers on an expedition to reclaim some artifacts from old Dwarfen ruins far to the north. They were all much older than me but seemed rather jovial and quarrelsome with each other at the same time. They were kind enough to gift us a map of the northern areas which, rather humorously, only detailed the Taur Romen forest as “dangerous, stay out.”

We traded stories with Wulfric into the evening and I promised to send him a copy of Juniper’s book detailing our exploits when I returned to Erebor. I’m happy to say I kept that promise and even got a note back from him saying that it was a minor hit within the foreign quarter being copied five times and traded among the bibliophiles there. I won’t say that our fellowship is famous but at least our names and deeds are known to a few and that brings a small, quiet smile to me.

The next day saw us all up bright and early and ready to head into the woods to Indira’s manor. We avoided the more treacherous paths and Reg was able to guide us true. We arrived at a manor that seemed both familiar and yet exotic. It had hints of both western and eastern stylings. Its grandeur was somewhat tarnished by age and neglect though. A single man stood outside the front door, seemingly a guard and doorman. As we got closer he resolved into rather more than “just” a doorman though. He was massive. He was a Sothran of some sort and seemed to have a disposition similar to rather angry boar. A gruff “What you want” was his only greeting to us.

I managed to get across that I wished to speak with Lady Chay and he grunted and somehow looked even more suspicious. He eventually commanded us to wait and went inside. She didn’t keep us waiting for too long, only long enough that most of us were kind of kicking at the dust and looking around impatiently. She invited us to the garden around back of the Manor. It seemed this was where any and all of the maintenance efforts were focused as it was magnificent. This seemed to be Indira’s true home as she looked at peace and happy in a tired and defeated sort of way.

We talked for quite some time. I told her my story and those of my friends. We all collaborated to tell our tale over the next few hours as Hasaat, the large Sothran man and bodyguard looked on. She was kind enough to tell us a bit of her own story detailing how a local faction called the “Cult of Silence” had reduced her family to only her. She even seemed to welcome the thought that they would finish the job and kill her eventually. This horrified me and I did my best to offer every brand of assistance I could think of but she would only sadly shake her head and say no. She gave her necklace, with the Raveh’s Heart gem to me for the price of our stories and nothing more.

Indira wished us well and watched us as we departed. I could not help but feel defeated as we left. I dearly wanted to save this woman, to protect her but there was nothing I could do, nothing she would let me do. It was too late in the evening for us to begin our journey home that night so we made our way back to Wulfric’s guest house. He met us as we arrived and handed me a letter that had been delivered for us that day. Creamy white parchment unfolded to reveal the hateful symbol of a lidless eye. It seemed the Cult of Silence had taken notice of our presence and disapproved. After the defeat of Indira’s calm acceptance and the seeming inevitability of the Cult’s actions, I relished the chance to take out my frustrations on them if they were brave enough to face us.

I told both Wulfric and the eight brothers of the Cult’s intentions and they quietly began to pack up in order to be elsewhere for the evening. I then did something I’m good at. I did something to anger, annoy and otherwise infuriate my enemies. I took their creamy white parchment with the hateful symbol and used it to clean myself after some of the local food that had been upsetting my stomach decided to leave. I made sure to wave it around a few times and speak loudly of my intentions before retiring to the privy. I don’t know if that was the final straw that provoked them or if they even noticed, but it did make me feel just a tiny bit better.

We all sat up that night, waiting. We had come up with a plan and were standing on the two bridges just inside the city gate where we believed they would come for us… and they did not disappoint. Just after midnight, they began to arrive, in complete silence. Their numbers continued to grow but they halted their advance when they saw us awake and standing on the bridges ready to face them. I paced back and forth willing them to come just a little closer. Reg was atop the guest house with his great bow and ready to rain death upon them, if they would just get within his range. With some silent command they seemed to all turn and begin to advance on the two bridges. It was then I noticed that not all of the “men” we faced were truly alive. Some of them moved in jerky motions, their eyes back-lit by unhallowed flames. The dead were walking among the Cult of Silence.

Arrows rained down, Arafal threw his two cobbled-together fire-bombs full of lamp oil and battle was joined. These cultists and their dead minions were expecting easy, sleeping prey and instead they got a raging party of very competent and very angry adventurers. I do not feel one shred of pity for them after hearing of some of their deeds. We had been stuck in for a few moments when I had an idea. Many of the cultists and their shambling creatures were crowding near the edges of the bridge trying to get around Arafal and I. Laera and the Sagath girl were holding the other bridge and Laera in particular seemed to be terrifying the cultist and the Undead.

I looked over at Arafal and grinned. “Get behind me and give me a push.” Arafal seemed to read my mind and groaned but he got behind me and he pushed with all of his might. I held up my shield, braced it against my shoulder and began to run as fast as I could. I think I may have briefly lost my mind as I found myself gently singing “Hobnailed boots, Hobnailed boots” over and over again as we slammed, trampled and otherwise barreled our way through our foes. Some went over the side into the river, never to be seen again, and some fell victims to the subject of my little song.

The rest was mostly mopping up and in a moment of pure crass, I found myself saying “I would say leave one alive but being that they’re the Cult of Silence, it’s not like he would take a message back to his master.” I even got a chuckle out of Laera as she finished the last foul cultist off leaving the neighborhood in silence. Arafal and I pitched the bodies over the side and in one last moment of spite, I wrote out a letter and left it with Wulfric in the morning. I basically challenged whatever or whomever was leading the cult to come and find me in either the Iron Hills or Erebor. I included a few poorly chosen insults as well but I was operating more on rage than any sort of intelligence at that point.

With that done, we left that benighted place. I hate to say we ran away but I could not think of anything we could do to save an entire city from it’s own darkness, one that more than enough of them seemed willing to accept. As we headed back towards the Iron Hills and then towards lake town we began to split up and break off. Each headed back to their own lands and homes, all of us seemingly afflicted with the same homesickness that I was feeling.

Reg and his family had finally settled in Lake Town where he has been running a successful business as a Boyer. No great surprise there considering his love of all things stringed, ranged and deadly. Joller made many a great noise about rebuilding his inn bigger and better and happily skipped off on his long journey home to the Shire. The young Sagath girl decided to stay with Wulfric and help him around the guest house. I asked him to do his best to educate her and civilize her. Her tribe left her for dead so I am hoping she looked upon this as a chance to be reborn into some kind of better life. Arafal left us when we returned to the Iron Hills. He was rather tight-lipped about his future plans but I am guessing they involved fire and drinking. He seems to love both. Laera was rather mum as well but she seems to have gotten a bit of a smithing business back in Mirkwood going so I’m hoping she keeps going on that. I’ll never openly admit it, but her work is impressive, almost, ALMOST up to the level of Dwarven craftsmanship.

And finally there is me. The great adventuring, never happy in one place, ever curious and traveling Hvaldi. I’ve turned into a positive homebody. I was married to Dumora deep inside the Mountain. I am told there were many guests, many speeches, a lot of fine food and drink but I remember none of it. I remember seeing Dumora dressed in her bridal gown and being completely unable and better yet, unwilling to look anywhere else that evening.

We have made quite the home here in Ravenhill. It’s gone from a hovel and a smithing shop to a genuine home complete with most of the comforts of a true Dwarven hearth. I’ve still got a chore list longer than my arm but I’ve found that I take comfort and no small amount of pride in slowly checking them off. Both my son Khat and my daughter Geerta are growing like weeds and are the very pictures of ruddy health. My wife is truly my better half and helps me to grow into a better Dwarf and most importantly into a good Father. My friends visit from time to time and I visit them when I am able. I can truly say that I am happy. I even got a wonderful letter from Khattab’s family with a tiny toy scimitar for Khat when I told them I had named my son in Khattab’s honor.

I truly feel connected to a larger, accepting family. My father’s absence in my life and at my wedding does not trouble me. My mother and my Sisters and Brothers were there, all with defiant and proud, looks upon their faces. I realize that this is what I was seeking, this is what I was fighting for, and I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. A hearth full of family and a crowd of true and noble friends are worth more than any amount of gold one could plunder throughout a life of adventure.

The winter storm rages outside my window but I can see a few other windows with lights lit. Our neighbors, hearty folk unwilling to be “confined” in the Mountain just like Dumora and I. The trinkets and mementos of my previous life hang from the rafters and spill across shelves and the mantle. And all I can do is grin, for I do not have to venture into this storm. I only have to venture into my children’s room and kiss them on the brow and ensure they are tucked in. And then I can happily walk to my room and climb into a warm bed, under thick covers next to the woman I adore….dammit. After I do the dishes that is.

Oh, and I think I’ve realized why this journal has filled me with dread for so long. These are the tales of the Hvaldi that was. The Dwarf I used to be. Some of these tales bring me pride, some of these tales bring me sadness. But they are all things I do not wish to be any more. I am a Dwarf of home and hearth, a Husband and Father and a connoisseur of the quiet life. To whomever may read this in the future. May you find such peace as I have found and may the world shed it’s shadow and bring you light and life.


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.