September 5th, 3017
Equiped with three weeks of cram, some ropes, torches and oddments, and Borri's pony, the party sets out for Mirkwood. Thallin counciled a road south to the Old Dwarf Road, where the mysterious horsemen went. But Ardan has already entered Mirkwood before them to see the Woodland King, and they do not desire to leave the elf behind in their quest.
They arrive in the village of Cotsow at dusk, at the edge of the marshes before Mirkwood. There is no inn there, but they sleep on the floor in a small tavern. The taverner warns them not to tarry in the marshes, for there is a malignancy there known as mewlips which come out at night. There is no footpath between Cotsow and Mirkwood, since the elf rafts use the forest river as a road. So in the morning the party decides to skirt the marshes entirely and travel on firmer ground.
On the second day they enter Mirkwood and come to the halls of Thranduil, the Woodland King. They seem to have been expected. They are somewhat dismayed at the prospect of paying a toll for the use of the forest path. But there is no gainsaying a lord in his own kingdom.
They are invited within the halls. The Halls of Thranduil may be delved into stone, but it resembles not the mines of dwarves. It is a natural limestone cavern complex within a great hill, brightly lit with lamps and the singing of fair voices. The party is led to a small inn used for the occasional traveller. There they are given a fine vintage from the Dorwinion vinyards.
Soon they are summoned before Thranduil upon his thrown in a great hall with stone columns carved as great trees supporting the roof. Ardan joins them there. Ardan has already spoken somewhat with the king, for he knows a little of their purpose. A brief history of the rings of power is given to the party. Why a such a ring, if indeed it is such, should be found among the bones of Smaug is mystery. Dwarves keep their lore of rings most secret, and not even Thranduil knows much. But he knew a little of Smaug. Over a millenia ago Smaug first came out of the frigid north and descended upon the Grey Mountain dwarven city of Rhurikdum, scattering the inhabitants and making it his own. Thenceforce it was known as the Dwimordelf, the haunted mine. Centuries later the dragon lusted once more for treasure and descended upon Erebor and common history.
The king cannot offer council, but he does have some words of advice. He tells them somewhat of the hazards of travelling in Mirkwood. Should their path take them to Dol Guldur, then they must not approach it, or even be in its sight, during the hours of night. Along the way they may stop at Rhosgobel and seek the aid of the wizard Radagast there. But if they seek be their best course. The party, particular at the urging of Thallin, decide to continue after the horseman, hoping to stop him before he reaches the Naked Hill known as Dol Guldur and the Mountain of Necromancy.
As they continue through Mirkwood, it becomes ever more close and stuffy, until it seems as if they walk in perpetual dusk. In a few days they come across the enchanted stream that Thranduil warned them of. "Do not drink of its waters or step in it, for it is bespelled." But the boat they find is rotted. Ardan sees no great problem, and suggests they walk across the the tree limbs to the other side. Seeing that the humans and dwarf cannot perform even this simplest of elvish feats, he suggests tying two ropes across and using them to cross. Again this is unacceptable.
They also realize that they can not hope to get the pony across in any manner, lest they build a wide bridge. In the end, Borri cuts down a tree so that it falls across the stream as a bridge. It is nightfall so they cross in the morning, after Gudrid speaks to the pony to send it on its way.
A few nights later, while Gudrid is at watch, she hears the approaching voices of what can only be two grumbling and cursing trolls. She assumes a bear's form, wakes the rest of the party, and goes off into the woods to lure the trolls away. The trolls espy the bear, and thinking it may make a good meal, give chase. She eludes them and the trolls blunder off deeper into the trees. Borri and Thallin thinking that Gudrid is going to combat the trolls, chase after, but Gudrid and the trolls are too fast and they lose them. Fortunately Gudrid and Thallin are excellent woodsmen, and find their way back to the forest path and their encampment.
A few more days of travel and they begin to wonder if they will ever get out of these stiffling woods. They hear no birds and see only small black squirrels of an unsavory look. There is still plenty of cram, but it is starting to stick in their throats.
September 13th, 3017
The next day, Ardan walks into a large web across the trail, and bounces back. Cutting it apart the party continues on. They keep their eyes open, and occasionally spot some eyes following them among the dim tree branches overhead. Ardan shoots one down with his bow, and it is a giant spider. They decide to keep moving at night and not to stop for camp.
The party comes across a fork in the trail, and while they are pondering which is the correct way, several giant spiders drop down among them. They try to entangle the party with sticky webs. But two of the spiders are quickly dispatched, and the rest flee back up into the trees, much battered for their efforts. These spiders are apparently not used to prey with stings of their own. Ardan mentions that spiders are rarely so bold in Mirkwood.
Troll tracks are spotted crossing the trail once, and by the eighteenth of the month, the party leaves the shadows of Mirkwood and gaze upon the Anduin vales.
The party now needs horses to speed their travel south. But the Beornings rarely lend their beasts, and the nearest village that would have some is far out of the way. So Gudrid now confesses to the party her magical ability to change into beast forms, and changes into a horse. She gallops off in search of mounts. She comes across some wild horses, and with a dazzlingly display of persuasion, convinces them to aid the party. Stranger and stranger.
They reach the house of Grimbeorn, now chieftain of the woodmen and Beornings in the area. (Gudrid is a Beorning, and related to Grimbeorn). They tell of their tale and Grimbeorn aids them with waybread to speed them on their journey. He tells of how he keeps the mountain vales clear of orcs, and is distressed to hear of orcs from Mirkwood. He will tell the other chiefs in the area of this new menace at their next moot in a few days. The party seems a bit perturbed that he didn't immediately march with an army into Mirkwood.
Travelling south they run across a small band of woodmen, and soon after a woodman village on the eaves. They don't have much news. There are some rumours of orcs in Mirkwood, and even stranger rumours of foreign men in boats searching the marshes to the west (the Gladden Fields).
The make it to Rhosgobel, the home of the wizard Radagast. They tell him their tale, and he tells them that he has been keeping a watch upon Dol Guldur for many years. He is aware of the orcs, and what's more, even some trolls. A shadow of some kind has crept back into the Naked Hill, and Mirkwood is once again becoming an unwholesome place. He also tells of another Wizard, Saruman, who is on a mission in the Gladden Fields.
Of Dol Guldur he says that there is but one trail in, the Orc Road that runs between Dol Guldur and the Mountains of Mirkwood. They would get lost, or worse, if they tried to travel their from the west.
For some reason, the party gets very disappointed in Radagast. And not merely disappointed, but downright suspicious. There is even a rumbling by Borri that he is in league with the shadow in Mirkwood. Apparently the lack of immediate material support is the cause of this. Since Radagast does not offer up the free use of his birds and beasts as scouts for the party, nor supply them with spells, gear or rations, or even take up a sword, they distrust him. "Why won't you do something?" they demand. "I am not a warrior," he replies, to the party's immense disgust. They leave his doorstep.
There is talk of seeking out Saruman who is nearby, and seeking his aid. "At least he seems to be doing something, whatever it is." But they decide to continue on towards Dol Guldur despite the warnings of Thranduil, Grimbeorn and Radagast.
They ride east to a trail heading into Mirkwood, hoping to find the Orc Road. At the eaves, a raven appears. The bird is from Korak, the chief of ravens in northern Mirkwood who have been trying to find the rider in black, who was last reported to have entered Mirkwood weeks earlier. (It is now September 22nd). A man leading a black horse through the denseness of Mirkwood has occasionally been seen. He was last seen turning south off of the "main" Dwarf Road onto the Orc Road. The raven, Krark, comes with them.
The party is elated at this news. The do not stop even to sleep, and weariness creeps up upon them. The find the Orc Road leading south, just where Radagast said it would be. There they see many old tracks of orcs, and Thallin spots new tracks of a human leading a horse. They race south fearing that they will be too late.
Ardan is stealthily moving several hundred feet ahead of the tired party. In the pitch gloom of the forest, he comes across a tethered horse and the form of a man sleeping under a tree. It is the early black morning of September 24th.
September 24th, 3017
Ardan pounces on the sleeping man in an attempt to subdue him before he awakes. But he finds only a faceful of dirt and leaves. The man and the horse have disappeared. Looking off into the deep gloom of the forest to see if anyone is about, he spies two large trolls arriving on the scene.
The rest of the party hears the commotion and rush forward, but Ardan has to face the trolls alone for awhile. He's much quicker than the trolls, but one does manage a serious hit upon him. By this time the rest of the group runs up. Gudrid "pretends" to cast a spell in an attempt to distract them, to no avail. Borri and Thallin finish off one brute while Ardan nimbly disarms and dances around the other. Soon the combat is over.
Borri thinks he sees something off in the woods, but a search reveals nothing. Gudrid thought she sensed something, but the feeling quickly passed. So they head off down the road in an effort to still catch up with whoever the rider is. A couple of hours later they enter into some rough and hilly but still heavily wooded terrain. Thinking that they have gone in the wrong direction (due to the lack of any but troll tracks), they head back, only to stumble across a log bridge over a gully they definitely had not passed before. They are lost. Apparently they were misdirected by magic, for there is a mist in the air, and even the woodwise Thallin was mistaking east for south. Gudrid confirms this and the group follows her, even though it seems as if she is leading them in the opposite direction. The eventually get back to the correct path where Thallin notices a clear horse print. They surmise that the path they were on led to the troll's lair.
The party is nearing exhaustion. It is daylight (somewhere above the forest canopy) and they decide to press on since they doubt they will be bothered by trolls or orcs until nightfall. Then they spot a horse tied to a tree. Ardan and Thallin quietly sneak up on either side through the woods, but only the horse is there, no rider. They do spot some crows in the trees. Gudrid decides to change into a horse again, this time as a duplicate of the rider's mount. She tells the other horse to take a message back to "headquarters", and eventually the horse agrees, and heads north. Gudrid as horse rides off south down the trail.
Gudrid crosses a ridge and catches a glimpse of Dol Guldur in the distance, rising as a naked hill from the dark green sea of Mirkwood. The rest of the party is far behind, and come to a place where a murder of crows stare down upon them from the trees. Later on Thallin spots a clear print of the rider in a muddy bank of a small stream. They too reach the ridge. Hours later with no other sign of their quarry, Gudrid heads back and the party rejoins. Searching the ground again, Thallin sees no other tracks but that of Gudrid the horse and old orc prints.
Carefully looking for tracks heading back, they realize that that last solitary print was meant to mislead them. Thallin and Ardan follow the stream in both directions. They spot where the rider left the stream and doubled back, and the point where he must have waited watching the path as the party passed on by. The tracks head back to where the horse was tied, but there they disappear. The party is at this point. They start grumbling that Radagast must be behind these misdirections, and plan to report his misdeeds to Saruman.
Then Borri notices that some bark has been scuffed on the tree, and Ardan quickly climbs it. No sign of the rider is found but more scuffs. Did he simply fly away from the tree top? Borri and Ardan cut down the tree in frustration while the rest of the party gets some long overdue sleep. Since Ardan needs no sleep, being an elf, he keeps watches. The fog starts creeping in.
Suddenly Ardan is wondering where he is. He can't remember why he is here, who these people are sleeping about him, or even what his name is! In bewilderment he turns around and sees a man standing behind him smiling. He tells him to hurry up and finish the job. What job? Why to slay these murderous bandits they have tracked! Ardan is confused. Although he has no reason to disbelieve this man (who calls himself "Wiggins"), he cannot bring himself to kill sleeping people, even if they are bandits. He whispers arguments to Wiggins that they should tie them up instead. He agrees.
But the whispering is too loud and Thallin wakes up. Wiggins lunges to attack him with a pair of daggers, but Thallin is too light of a sleeper to catch unaware. He is much quicker than this man. He strikes swiftly wounding him. Ardan disarms him from behind, not wanting to see bloodshed, and still not knowing what side he is on. Gudrid starts to awaken. Thallin feels some prickling at the back of his mind, but another blow with his longknife dispatches this stranger. Borri slept through the whole thing, waking up only when it was over.
Ardan still has amnesia, and questions the party. He begins to piece together what has happened, but it is still too confusing. Why would he be travelling with humans and a dwarf. And why has he never heard of Mirkwood?
Searching the body of "Wiggins", they do not find any rings. They do find a small vial of black paste and an amulet on a necklace. Where is the ring? If this is not the rider they were tracking, then where is he? Did they really see a ring in the distance all the way back at Longlake?
They decide to head back home, or at least out of Mirkwood. But first they make a stop over to the troll's lair. They find it in a cave at the back of a ravine along the path they had been lost on. There are no other trolls, fortunately. They find miscellanous junk, a broken mirror, old mildewy clothes, one set of which appears to have been dwarvish. And a pouch of many coins, mostly copper pennies. And there is the rotten and noxious meat and a pile of gnawed bones in the corner.
But Borri spots a hidden alcove in the back wall. It wasn't terribly well hidden, but quite clever considering the wits of trolls. Inside is a very old crumbling book bound in leather. There is no title. Borri does not open it, but wraps it carefully in cloth. There is also a large horn with silver mouthpiece and tarnished cap on the edge. There appears to be a faint etching of a dragon about the band. The horn itself does not seem to be from cattle or kine, and Borri thinks it is a dragon's horn.
Thus ends this chapter on the morning of the 26th of September.
The party decides to head back to King Thranduil and the Wood Elves to help Ardan in his recovery. Leaving Mirkwood, they avoid Rhosgobel since they distrust Radagast. They also avoid the opportunity to visit Saruman whom they know is nearby. Spending an evening in a Woodmen town, they head north up the vales of the Anduin.
In a few day's travels they reach Grimbeorn's great house. Grimbeorn welcomes them back, but says they he is leaving for the evening and won't be back until late the next day. This is the date that was set for the moot among the Beorning chieftains. He bids the party to make themselves at home.
Ardan decides to follow Grimbeorn stealthily. Heading west they reach the river Anduin and the island Carrock. Grimbeorn changes into bear form and swims to the island. Ardan notices other bears approaching and fording or swimming to the island. Soon there are a dozen bears snuffling and snorting atop the tall rocky island. Swimming the river himself, he climbs the rock and spies the bears dancing a slow ritual. After a few hours, with Ardan's patience wearing thin, they stop dancing and change back into human form. Then the moot proper starts. Ardan cannot understand their speech, and finally steps forward interrupting the council.
The Beornings are shocked and angry, but Grimbeorn is aware of Ardan's amnesia and malady. He apologizes to his fellows, then demands that Ardan leave, which he does reluctantly.
Back at the great house, Borri is cooking up cheese puffs for the rest of the party from what he has found in the larder. Ardan returns but says nothing. At nightfall Grimbeorn returns. He announces that the chieftains have made a decision. Though they have long held the orcs of the Misty Mountains at bay, they have had little problem with the orcs of Mirkwood. This will change. They will coordinate with the woodmen of the forest eaves. Though they are not numerous enough to make war upon the orcs and the power rising in Dol Guldur, they can make the price for any orc raids very costly. Borri promises to send dwarven assistance if he can, in the way of arms or masons for fortifications.
The party leaves the next day, and in a few short days enter back into Mirkwood at the forest path. Thallin is keeping an eye out for the tracks of the two trolls seen earlier. He soon finds them. Tracking them back, the party discovers a cave. It is daytime and they sneak inside with torches. They find a bewildering maze of a natural limestone cavern. Parts of the cavern have been worked by hand as if it were once inhabited by civilized folk. Using their noses to smell the troll stench, they come into a great hall with a throne carven from a stone column. The trolls are there and try to ambush the party with hurled rocks. But the party is too good for them! Thallin is especially deadly against the trolls with his quick two weapon attacks. One troll manages a glancing blow upon Gudrid, but they are soon dispatched. The party murmurs that these must be wood trolls, and not as tough as stone trolls. (The GM murmurs that the stats for trolls are nonsense, and will redo them).
The party finds no treasure within. The cavern was carved from the limestone by an underground stream, but it has now dried up and is dusty. They do not explore far, and head out again. In a few days, with no encounters, they reach Thranduil's halls. He welcomes them back and bids them to tell their tale, and whether their quest was a success.
They tell the tale and the king is interested. Borri gives the ancient book he found into the king's keeping so that elvish craftsmen might be able to restore it and decipher the contents. Looking at the horn, Thranduil remarks that the tarnished silver cap hides a mithril band upon the horn. The dragon design is repeated, but there are also runes. He cannot read them. Borri takes a closer look, and he cannot read them either, but recognizes them as Old Dwarvish in the mode of Nogrod.
Thranduil says they he will increase his patrols, and they he must speak with his southern kindreds. Ardan inquires after his family, and Thranduil says that his cousin is in. Without letting it me known of the amnesia, Ardan discovers that a certain Findul is a loremaster versed in removing curses.
The party is invited to an elvish feast in the evening. It is October 16th.