Darkness In Wilderland

Don't Leave The Path
Summer 2946

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Part One – Where Rivers Run with Gold

In high summer, Ulthaine and Polo are walking along the edge of Long Lake when they both hear the cry of a boy.

“Help! Please help! My father – his guards – they’re going to kill him! We’re going to Mirkwood and they’re going to kill him! He told me to run! Find help! Help!”

Running out of the long grasses along the sure comes a boy, the same boy they saw with the old man and three ruffians in Lake Town just a few days before.

Half guessing what must be happening, the fellowship ran towards the trees not far from the shore and discover the older man facing off against Jonar, Kelmund and Finnar. The three thugs are moving in on the old man with blades drawn. He is holding them off with a thick branch, but his breath is ragged and it’s clear that they will not have to wait long before his defences break and they finish him off.

Unbeknownst to the everyone else, the noise as drawn the attention of Logar, a Woodsman that is making his way to Lake Town after travelling with traders through Mirkwood. He watches, his bow drawn and raised.

Ulthaine and Polo’s attempts at intimidation fail and the Jonar turns to attack them, but Logar’s arrow takes him in the shoulder as he raises his dagger to strike. Jonar drops and the other two men flee towards Esgaroth.

The boy comes forward and throws himself in the arms of the man, sobbing and they both sinking to the ground together. Ulthaine turns his bow towards the Woodsman and there is a tense moment as the two bowman measure each other. Slowly they lower their weapons and Logar steps from the trees. He explains that he is but a traveller and was drawn by the sounds of combat.

The old man, whose name is Baldor, is a merchant that is planning on travelling across Mirkwood to the Anduin Vale with his son Belgo. He was once one of the richest merchants in Lake-town but lost a great deal, including his beloved wife, Halla, when Smaug attacked the town. Though others have found prosperity in the years since the death of the Dragon Baldor has not been so lucky, and so his plans are to start a new life on the far side of the great forest. Even with the blessing of the elves, and the darkness of The Necromancer but a horrible memory, Mirkwood can still be dangerous so Baldor hired anyone willing to protect him during the journey. It seems that Jonar, Kelmund and Finnar weren’t even prepared to travel to the eves of the trees before betraying him.

Now Baldor is at a loss, he has sold everything and needs to travel to Woodsman Hall right away, and he doesn’t know what to do…

In an act that would seal their fate more ways that they could possibly know, the companions offer to help Baldor and his son Belgo. They are joined by Logar the Woodsman who says that he is prepared to travel back through the eves to his homeland. Baldor thanks them and promises are coin or two for their help, once they reach the Forest Gate, and the more civilised lands of the Beorning folk.

Part Two – The Edge of the Woodland Realm

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Once the companions are ready the caravan, well stocked with four ponies, makes ready to leave. Baldor explains that he has already arranged transport with the raft-elves to the Woodland Realm of the Elvenking. With that the company makes it’s way to the Forest River and, twilight a trio of rafts emerge from the evening mists. The elves greet the company warmly, they are fascinated by the boy Belgo, welcome their kinsman warmly, but eye the hobbit Polo with suspicion; the tale of Bilbo’s escape from their halls is still a subject of some consternation to the fair folk it seems…

Part Three – The Long Road

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The elves leave the companions where the Enchanted Stream crosses the Elf-path. Even since the Battle of Five Armies and the foul Necromancer being expelled from Mirkwood by the White Council, the forest still remains a dangerous place for travellers. They are advised to stay on the path at all times.
They do, and make good passage through the intimidating darkness of the forest. Around them they see the eyes of the spiders, and their webs.
During the long uncomfortable days they learn more of Belgo and Baldor, of the loss of Baldor’s wife in Smaug’s attack on Lake Town and of their hope for a better life on the far side of the forest.
Mirkwood is hard on the best of travellers and over the days and weeks that follow they begin to lose heart as fatigue takes them.
The forest, with it’s eyes, seems endless.

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Madness of the Wyrm
Summer 2946

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One summer afternoon the fellowship hear of a murder in Lake-Town and soon after they are called to the presence of the Master. Upon arrival at the Town-Hall the fellowship, made up of Polo, Ulthraine, and Brynjarr, are informed that Ash, a merchant with a dark reputation was found dead at his home this very afternoon. Word has got out and the streets of Lake-Town are in uproar.

Ash was not well-liked by the people of Esgaroth, but he was still a citizen and a survivor of Smaug’s attack. The people of Esgaroth have a deep sense of community and anything to disrupt that is not good for trade or the morale of the town. The Master asks the fellowship if hey can track down Jorgun, Ash’s chief man who was seen running from the house at about the time of the murder. Ash was repeatedly stabbed, but there was no sign of forced entry to his home. Jorgun has gone missing, but no one has seen him leave Lake-Town.

It’s important that Ash’s murderer is brought to justice quickly, before the people of Lake-Town start to panic, or before Jorgun attacks again!

Finally the Master tells the fellowship that Ash was known to employ Jonar, Kelmund and Finnar, a trio of small-time mercenaries and body guards that are regularly seen in the mead halls of the town looking for work.

Agreeing to help, the fellowship head to the streets of Esgaroth, and soon find Jonar, Kelmund and Finnar, in The Black Arrow inn, at the edge of Market Square, overlooking Market-Pool. The three men are seen discussing something with an old man and his young son, but the man soon leaves after reaching an agreement with Jonar, the leader of the ruffians.

The fellowship question the three, ignoring their hints for a bribe, and ultimately threatening them if they refuse to admit what they know. Cowed, Kelmund admits he may have inadvertently caused Ash’s death by telling him what about the gem that Jorgun found.

Kelmund tells the fellowship that a few weeks ago, Jorgun and the trio, in a moment of daring and greed, decided to dredge the cursed black waters near the bones of the dragon Smaug, which still sits rotting in the shallows across the lake. There, they found nothing and left before night came and, so they said, the remains would draw the attention of evil spirits. Within a few days they noticed a change in Jorgun, he became sick, and started ranting about his find. He became even more selfish and covetous than normal and they heard that he had started to beat his wife Lana. Finally he admitted to Kelmund that he had found a gem in the waters and had kept it to himself – he would soon be richer than Ash and the Master of Lake-Town put together. Jorgun refused to share the treasure and quickly became violent – attacking Kelmund before he managed to escape.
More in a fit of jealously than anything else, Kelmund told Ash – hoping that Ash would take the gem off Jorgun and give him coin for telling him of it. Kelmund now suspects that Ash challenged Jorgun and was killed by him in a fit of madness – no doubt brought on by Dragon-sickness.

Learning of this tale, the fellowship, head to the home of Lana, fish-wife of Jorgun, but she refuses them entry, telling them to come in the morning when the sun has risen.

The following morning they speak to Lana, and her daughter Elsa, but are initially refused entry. It’s clear that Lana is petrified with fear. Polo manages to convince her to let the fellowship enter her home and help them understand what has happened.

Lana explains that since a trip to the Stairs of Girion (no doubt his excuse for his boating across to the bones of the wyrm), Jorgun has become violent and sick with some madness. Yesterday morning he received a message from Ash telling Jorgun to attend him at his home. Jorgun left then, but returned late last night covered in dried blood. He swept through their home, ignored Lana’s protestations or the crying of Elsa, grabbed his bag and left. All he said was ‘there must be others, there must’. He was mad – his words making no sense to her, and considering the state of him, Lana is concerned that her husband is involved in the death of Ash. She has not seen him since.

Suspecting the worst, the fellowship head to the ruins of Smaugs bones. long considered a cursed place.

There, resisting the darkness which seeks to corrupts the soul of the unwary, they find and confront Jorgun who is sweeping for more dragon gems. The fellowship overcome and capture Jorgun, now completely mad and take from him the large gem which must have been one of the many embedded in the chest of the great wyrm. They themselves are tempted, but the fellowship manage to resist the temptation to take it for themselves and so they cast it back into the black waters where it will hopefully remain hidden until the end of days.

Jorgun returns to Esgaroth where he is found guilty by the Master of the murder of Ash. He is hanged from the gates of Lake-Town for all to see – a warning to others of the threat of Dragon Sickness and the darkness that it brings with it.

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The Marsh Bell
Spring 2946

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Part One – Where Noisome waters Pour

The companions, made up of Fror, Polo Merryhill and Ulthaine become a fellowship of adventurers in Esgaroth, Lake-Town now remade on the edge of Long Lake. They first meet in the mead hall in the centre of the free city where the talk is of Hraf son of Hrabin, a Raven of the Mountain, who has brought to Erebor some sinister tidings. Two Dwarven messengers who left the Lonely Mountain on an errand, are nowhere to be found. The Kingdom under the Mountain is astir, and Glóin the Dwarf himself has spread word that whoever provides news of the missing Dwarves will be richly rewarded…
gloin.png Aware of the opportunity for fortune and glory the fellowship attend Glóin in his richly appointed Manor Lake-Town and, after they are careful to introduce themselves, hear word from him of the missing dwarves.
Glóin provided the fellowship a map and says, "My cousin Balin son of Fundin has left the Lonely Mountain with a companion. He was meant to personally deliver a letter, a formal invitation from King Dáin Ironfoot to the Lord of the Eagles for the coming Gathering of Five Armies, an important meeting to be held at the beginning of summer. He planned to go south along the Running River, to investigate the conditions of the Old Forest Road and possibly traverse it, now that the threat of Goblins has been greatly reduced.” Frowning, the aging dwarf continues, " I don’t know what happened, but unfortunately the possibilities are many in these days of doubt… if the perils of Wilderland were not enough, there are always the suspicious dwellers of the Woodland Realm to consider. They are sworn enemies of the Shadow, but unfortunately they don’t love Dwarves and watch their land jealously. I hope my concerns are ill-placed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Balin had found himself again a guest of the Elvenking’s celebrated hospitality…”.
Glóin promises that, if the two missing dwarves are brought back to him then he will reward the fellowship with gold from Erebor.

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Part Two – A Long and Weary Way

The fellowship travels south along the lake to the Stair of Girion where they meet a number of Lake-men. and old Nerulf, the decrepit Northman, hardly intelligible when he speaks. We warns the fellowship of a old rhyme of lore he learnt as a child – “If you go south in the marshes take heed: tread lightly and fear the gallows- weed…”

The warning of ‘gallow-weed’ reminds Polo of a nonsense poem he heard in the Shire to scare hobbit children.

The Shadows where the Mewlips dwell
Are dark and wet as ink,
And slow and softly rings their bell,
As in the slime you sink.

You sink into the slime, who dare
To knock upon their door,
While down the grinning gargoyles stare
And noisome waters pour.

Beside the rotting river-strand
The drooping willows weep,
And gloomily the gore crows stand
Croaking in their sleep.

Over the Merlock Mountains a long and weary way,
In a mouldy valley where the trees are grey,
By a dark pool’s borders without wind or tide,
Moonless and sunless, the Mewlips hide.

The cellars where the Mewlips sit
Are deep and dank and cold
With single sickly candle lit;
And there they count their gold.

Their walls are wet, their ceilings drip;
Their feet upon the floor
Go softly with a squish-flap-flip,
As they sidle to the door.

They peep out slyly; through a crack
Their feeling fingers creep,
And when they’ve finished, in a sack
Your bones they take to keep.

Beyond the Merlock Mountains, a long and lonely road,
Through the spider-shadows and the marsh of Tode,
And through the wood of hanging trees and gallows-weed,
You go to find the Mewlips – and the Mewlips feed."

elves-encounter.pngWondering what they might find as they head south, the fellowship continue their journey the next morning heading into the Long Marshes – wetlands mostly unexplored and dangerous; shunned even by the most adventurous of lake-men. Later they enter the most eastern eves of Mirkwood and are discovered by a group of Wood Elves led by Galion – the former cupbearer to King Thranduil.

Since the famous escape of Bilbo and his companions of the Halls of the Elven King, caused in part by his drunkeness, Galion is no friend of hobbits or dwarves and questions by Ulthaine would travel with such company. The fellowship manage to convince him that they mean no harm and the elves escort them some way, but warn they saw the two Dwarves, and yet they disappeared from their camp.

The following day the fellowship discover Balin’s camp. at a patch of dry land rising to the west of the river course, a few miles north of where The Rotting River descends from the Mountains of Mirkwood to join the River Running. There they discover, wrapped in Dwarven runes of sorcery designed to hide things of value, a small ivory jewel case, with intricately carven images of regal-looking birds: the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountains. The box contains a letter, rolled and wound about by a fine necklace of twisted gold wire, holding a magnificent precious stone of a snowy colour the size of a small fist. It is a lordly gift, intended to pass from one king to another. Is it possible that the Dwarves were sent to carry this to the Lord of the Eagles himself?

The stone itself is marvellous to behold and for a moment each of the fellowship feel the shadow of temptation fall across them. They manage to resist it and continue their search of the camp.

It is then that a Marsh Ogre rises from the black waters surrounding the camp and attacks! Bravely the fellowship defends themselves against the Ogre. Ulthaine rains arrows at the creatures head whilst both Fror and Polo step forward to hold off the creature. Polo dances around the Ogres legs, slashing with his sword whilst Fror holds the creature off with axe and shield. It is a hard fought fight but the fellowship triumph, cutting down the ogre.

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Part Three – Beside The Rotting River

Beyond the Rotting River, the water course breaks against tangles of hoary willow-trees standing close together and shutting out the light of day even at its brightest. Their drooping branches trail into the water, and their moulding roots sink deep into the grey slime: the river disappears in a vast fen without wind or tide. The fellowship enters this grim and ugly part of the Marshes.

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The fellowship finds the ruins of a wrecked boat, no doubt that used by the Dwarves. Pulling it out the water they discovered that it is slashed with fangs or claws, and there are no signs of the missing Dwarves. The fellowship, watchful because of the warning given to them by Nerulf, manage to avoid the attack of the Gallow-weed, which hangs from the trees above them.

Later they see the Gore crows which sit in the trees in the isolated part of the marshes that the fellowship finds themselves in after a long journey; a place where grim ruins pierce through the waters. The crows croak at the fellowship and seem to lead them to a to a deep pool of dark water. Here the ruins are more prominent, as if this was the place where the main buildings of a sunken town once rose. The remains of a great marble arch can be seen on the distant shore, still holding a massive wooden gate, the other walls of the building now crumbled into the mud. On the treetops around the pool the Gore-crows croak, signalling the presence of the trespassers to something unknown and watchful.

Suddenly a bells tolls and Ulthaine becomes en-spelled by it’s sound. Before his companions can stop him he wades into the black pool and is lost beneath it’s inky depths.

marshdweller.pngPolo and Fror, roused by the dreamlike tolling swim to his aid and find themselves entering a dark wet underground cellar, once part of a proud palace of the men of old. Lying on the wet floor of the cellar, as if in a dream, lies Ulthaine who speaks of grasping claws when he is awoken. The fellowship explorer the chambers of the cellar and discover a bell tower with a rope hanging down to them. Someone, or something had tolled the bell they had heard…
To one side they discovered a locked door and found Balin and Óin within! The two missing Dwarves had locked themselves in and barricaded the door is defence from the dwellers here…
Freeing the Dwarves the fellowship look for a way out but then see hundred tiny mirrors that start to flicker in the darkness; the eyes of a horde of Marsh-dwellers, the dread Mewlips of Polos nightmare poem! With Ulthaine defending their rear, the fellowship and the two Dwarves make the difficult climb up with interior of the bell tower. Ulthaine cuts down two of the horrific creatures, but is wounded and stumbles back before he is helped up the tower away to safety.
Once outside the Fellowship quickly leave the area and make the long journey back to the safety of Esgaroth. Eight days later they find their way to Esgaroth with the two Dwarves, and they are received triumphantly. Glóin meets them aboard the great gilded boat of the Master of the town as they make their way across the lake, ready to award them with their prize…

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