October 16th, 3017
Attending the feast of the Elves, Thallin and Gudrid notice a subtle hint of racism against humans as they detect traces of insults in the elves' eloquent converstation. Borri notices nothing as he reaches for yet another roast partridge. Ardan goes to see the healer Findal, who his cousin recommended. There he confides in his loss of memory. Findal examines him closer and says that there is a spell of shadow upon him. But this spell will fade over time. Ardan inquires about an item of truthtelling, since he does not yet trust those around him. Findal mentions a "Goblet of Truth" that Thranduil possesses.
The party leaves the next morning for Esgaroth, and reach the village of Cotsow the following day. There they hear the first rumours of the Seamatha, a lake serpent. When they finally get to Esgaroth the next day, they hear the rumour in full. A fishing boat on the north of the Long Lake had capsized and its fishermen lost. There was only one unreliable witness to this, who claimed to have seen something come up out of the water. The innkeeper Hennig discounts the story, since beast Seamatha was slain by a warrior a few centuries earlier. (Earlier they had met the raft elves going to Mirkwood and one of them had remarked that he hadn't seen the lake serpent in over six hundred years, so thought it dead).
At the Barrel Rider Inn, the party receives a letter from Kell, their former companion. He said he had to go to Dale on an errand, but should be back by the first of October. He also said he had news of their "horseman friend", and that they should wait for him if they arriver sooner. Kell is over two weeks late! The party plans to leave for Dale in the morning (since it is also on the way to Erebor and the King Under the Mountain). Borri buys supplies, including cheeses, apples, kidney pies, etc. Gudrid and Thallin inquire after the fishermen Fuster and Krant.
Little happens on the way to Dale other than meeting a group of Dwarven traders and a travelling Easterling family with a wagon. Arriving in Dale, they go first to the stables as they knew Kell had a fine horse. The ostler complains that Kell has not paid for his stabling in over two weeks. For a week after he had arrived he had come every morning to see after his horse, but since around the start of the month he has not come at all. Thallin pays the stabling fees lest the ostler sell the horse.
They then go to the Hop and Bottle, a somewhat seedy inn where the ostler said Kell was staying. There they hear from the innkeeper and an out-of-tune bard that Kell had been there. But he came in one evening about the end of the month with a friend or business associate. They were in a corner booth drinking, when Kell passed out inebriated. His "friend" helped him back up to his room, and the next day he was gone. Applying some coinage to grease the innkeeper's tongue, he seemed to recall that the man's name was "Marston" or something like that.
According to the bard, Kell's passing out was somewhat strange, since he and him had previously engaged in a ot of liquor. He also let it be known that Kell had seen a prostitute by the name of Darilla.
Getting a good description of this other man (lakeman, tall, sword and chainmail, etc), the party goes to the other more upscale inn, the Stag's Rest. The barmaid there recalls this stranger. His name was "Geth", and she remembered him well because he was always making rude suggestions to her. He had said he was waiting for an associate of his, then one evening near the end of the month, he said that he had seen his associate, and that she should take advantage of his last night here in Dale.
Borri goes to see the Captain of the Dale Guard, Vellen. The captain is interesting in the news, but knows nothing more. But he will make inquiries and get back to Borri.
Thallin finds the Darilla girl Kell had been "seeing" that evening in the Hop and Bottle. After paying her for her services, he asks questions instead. She said Kell had told her that he was on the run. For some reason he had left his home at the Sea of Rhûn because he was a wanted man there. He wouldn't say more. After a few more coins, she said she would try to find out more about this "Geth" fellow using some of her own contacts of ill repute.
Ardan and Gudrid go back to the stables, where the ostler remembered the stranger "Geth". He had been with another unsavory sort (not Kell). He had not seen either fellow before. They had come into town with a horse and cart of turnips. A few days later they left early in the morning with the same cart of turnips, at about the time Kell stopped paying his stablage. The ostler remembers this because the two men had pretended to be farmers, but they were obviously nothing of the sort.
The party spends the night in the Hop and Bottle. Borri finally deciphers the runes inscribed on his horn. They read, as near as he can make out:
The kings shall fall when the wolf knocks upon the gates.
Who will dare stand before him? The dragon answers the raging of doom.
The princes shall whither when the day darks before the door.
Who will dare awaken the mountain? The dragon answers with the sound of doom
October 23rd, 3017
The party decides to split up. Ardan, Borri and Gudrid make a visit to the Lonely Mountain, while Thallin stays in Dale to ferret out some more clues.
Inquiring about the person Geth about town, Thallin thinks he stumbles on to something with an old man claiming to know about him. But soon he suspects that the man is merely stringing him along for some more of those silver pennies Thallin keeps flashing around.
Later he meets up with Darilla, who has found out that Geth is a smuggler of some sort working out of Londaroth at the end of Longlake. She doesn't know too much more, but suspects that Geth is competition for the local smugglers, and rarely comes to Dale.
Thallin still has one of the dragon's gems, and he uses it to purchase a fine coat of chainmail. Finally he is free of any potential curse laid upon it.
Of small interest to Thallin is the observation that Dale seems to be bursting at the seams with new immigrants, some of whom are Astrath Easterlings from beyond the Iron Hills.
The rest of the party enter into Erebor and its magnificent stone halls. Borri is glad to have good stone under his feet once more. The make an appointment with the King's chancellor, and then go off to see Snorri. They tell him the tale of their wanderings to date. Snorri tells them in return that he has handed over all 27 gems to the King.
Then they are ushered in to see King Dain. Borri is their spokeman, and he tells of the possible existance of a Dwarven ring of power, the rider in black, their travels through Mirkwood, and their visit with Grimbeorn. He also hands the horn over to the King, who calls in a dwarven loremaster to examine it.
The loremaster Dôrin ponders the words inscribed in the horn, but does not know their meaning. He is also very interested in the ring the rider made away with. To his lore, all seven Great Rings of the Dwarves had been destroyed by dragon fire, save one lost in the far reaches of the burning Harad sands, and another lost in the deeps of Moria. He muses that perhaps the Ring of Belegost was not destroyed in Smaug's sacking of Rhurikdum 1200 years earlier, as was believed.
Gudrid then presents to the King Grimbeorn's request for aid against the orcs in the mid Anduin vales. The King is a shrewd bargainer though, and agrees to send a squad of engineers for a reduction in Grimbeorn's stiff tolls, and a surprisingly fair trade agreement of arms for food. Gudrid is not adept at negotiations (a specialty few Beornings go in for) but thinks this will be acceptable to Grimbeorn.
Afterwards the three attend a meal with Borri's uncle Bombur, who is so fat that he requires four bearers to carry him to the table.
They leave the next morning for Londaroth. On the afternoon of the third day they arrive back to Esgaroth, and spend the rest of the day there.
Talking with Hennig the Innkeeper, so see if by some small chance news had been heard of Kell, the Captain of the City Guard approaches them after overhearing their conversation. His name is Baerod, and he explains that he had had several talks with Kell over rounds of ales. He seemed to have a high opinion of Kell.
He explains that the last he saw Kell was in the Barrel Rider Inn. They were drinking when an easterling entered the establishment. Kell quickly pulled up his hood and tried to avoid the other man. At first Baerod thought that Kell was avoiding a money lender of somesuch, but afterwards Kell explained that he was avoiding the man for personal and embarrassing reasons that he would not discuss.
The man in question was not one of the more common easterling tribesmen, but had black hair, brown skin and green eyes. He was tall and skinny, and wore fine but old and threadbare clothes. Baerod never learned of the man's name.
It was the very next day that Kell left for Dale. The stranger also left later in the same day. Baerod did not witness his departure and thus whether he headed north or south.
The party leaves the next morning, and travel hard, arriving in Londaroth well into the evening. They notice a small merchant ship tied up at the docks. It is dark.
At the south end of Longlake is a great waterfall, so that ships from Rhûn cannot sail all the way to Esgaroth. Consequently, the village of Londaroth sits below the falls and serves as a transfer point and source of porters to ferry cargo a few miles up to Longlake.
The first stop into the tavern for a meal. The taverner welcomes them back (from their previous visit). They ask about Geth, but he knows of no one by that name. After laying a few coins on him, he says that there is a man who runs a warehouse and hires out porters by the name of "Garth".
The party goes to check out his warehouse. They find it locked with a chain and the shuttered windows barred. There are no lights on. Gudrid uses her ability to talk to a couple of river rats, but the rats refuse to enter the warehouse, being in fear of what they call the "big cat". Frustrated, Gudrid meows at the building, hoping to catch the attention of "big cat". He does not succeed, but does manage to catch the attention of two other cats. They don't want to enter into the lair of the bigger tom (who happens to be away at the moment), but a bribe of cold chicken does the trick.
One cat enters the warehouse through the cat door, and returns reporting that there is no one inside, not even tied, bound and gagged. But that there are plenty of boxes and sacks.
Thallin decides to take bold initiative, and walks up the plank onto the docked ship. A couple of sailors stop him. He asks about "special shipments". The sailors know nothing about any special shipments, but that they might be able to arrange something if he has the proper credentials. Jingling his coin purse and patting his swords, they agree that his credentials are in order. They are shipping nothing but crockery and goods from Laketown, and to leave the next morning. One sailor seems to have heard of the warehouser "Garth", but don't know where he is.
Borri and Ardan keep watch over the warehouse (and the ship) while Thallin and Gudrid go back to the tavern. Once there they see that there is a easterling newcomer that remarkably matches the description that Baerod gave them...
October 27th, 3017
Thallin and Gudrid sit down next to the man. After a bit of idle chitchat, they come right out and accuse him of kidnapping Kell. Thallin threatens with his longknife while Gudrid jingles a coin purse. Thus the man begins his tale.
His name is Dhundu, and he is an easterling from the land of Driavos. A little more than a year ago he was the advisor and scribe for Lord Sholon of Tellis Keep, in Northern Rhûn. Kell was a mercenary horseman of the lord. Then the Vûndar easterlings came. They were traditionally a wild and untamed barbarian people, but their scattered tribes have been united under a ruling "Drakhan". One son of the Drakhan invaded the Astrath lands east of the Iron Hills, while the other, Khor Ulkre, invaded Rhûn. The Lord Sholon went out to meet the invaders in the field, and there was a great battle. But Dhundu says that Kell betrayed his lord and killed him, and the battle was lost in the confusion. Only the lord's son Dustev survived by surrendering to the horde. Kell fled the avenging wrath of Dustev.
The conquerors soon controlled all of Northern Rhûn to the edge of Dorwinion. The Vûndar easterlings were not farmers or administrators, so much of the conquered lands were nominally governed by their native lords, and Dustev was allowed to keep his holdings in exchange for oaths of fealty.
At first Dhundu kept working for the new lord Dustev, but was soon dismissed for reasons he doesn't go into. For a while he worked as a bookkeeper for some merchant ships out of Dorwinion, but even that panned out. His wanderings too him to Esgaroth, where he saw Kell. Desiring justice (but not revenge he says) he contacted Garth the bounty hunter, who took him to Tellis Keep. He may still be alive, since the Drakhan's law says that no local lord may execute a prisoner without permission of the governor.
Gudrid goes to fetch the rest of the party. Thallin books passage on the "Vinyard Maid", the ship that was anchored. They persuade (i.e. demand) that Dhundu accompany them. Borri mentions that there may be employment for such a highly educated man in the Lonely Mountain or Dale when they return. They leave the next morning on the small river ship, after Gudrid sends a thrush messenger to the raven Korak.
During the eight day journey, Thallin does some sneaking about on the ship, and discovers an unused set of chains down in the ballast hold, presumably a brig of sorts. Borri repeatedly tries to gain access to the kitchen in order to fry up some bacon, but the grizzled cook stumps him at every turn. The ship stops only once, at a village at the confluence of the Carnen and Celduin rivers. The captain points out once where some foolish orcs have been trying to pirate some river ships. They are foolish because orcs cannot swim!
Finally the Vinyard Maid reaches the Sea of Rhûn after sailing through the green and fertile lands of Dorwinion. There are gulls there, and Ardan gets the faintest stirring of the Elvish sea longing. To the east of the estruary is the city Rhûsar, but they dock on the west side at the village of Marnae. Dhundu explains that the land of Dorwinion ends here, and that Rhûsar is part of Rhûn and ruled by Khor Ulkre, and the true beginning of the Easterling Lands.
It is the afternoon, and the party immediately boards a ferry to Rhûsar. There the party notices that there are many large smelly easterlings with dreadlocked hair and beards. They are giving Ardan evil looks, and Thallin tells him to pull up his hood. Dhundu explains that most easterlings think that elves are demons or unnatural spirits. There are few elves in the east, but he thinks that there are some in the great forest of Rhûn, which starts near Tellis Keep.
They also catch a glimpse of Khor Ulkre, being carried through the city on a palanquin. But they spend no time in the city, and travel on to the next village where they sleep in the inn.
Dhundu tells them of the political climate. The Drakhan rules all of the lands of the Astrath and Rhûnwaith, to Dorwinion, but that the local governor Ulkre has a light hand, extracting tribute but otherwise not molesting the locals. There is also a law that only Vûndar may carry weapons of war, which is anything larger than a short sword, and metal mail. Borri wraps up his battleaxe, and Ardan conceals his sword.
They reach Tellis keep in two days. It is below the great forest of Rhûn a few miles from the sea. Two easterlings collect tribute, and they go on up to the keep itself. Borri recognizes the stonework as similar to that of Gondor. The keep is on a rocky hill. Two other easterlings are there, and the party requests an audience with the lord.
They are admitted, but it turns out that it is not Lord Dustev, but a Lord Chothan instead. He is a Vûndar easterling, messily eating a leg of mutton. He explains that Lord Dustev is away on business, and should return in a week or a month. Chothan spots Borri's armor, and demands he remove it, for it is an insult to be so attired in a lord's hall. (He does not notice Thallin's mail, for he keeps his cloak wrapped about him).
The party openly explains that they are aquaintances of Kell's, and that they only wish to speak with him regarding a common enemy of theirs. Chothan wants to know more about this information, and what it is worth to them. When they mention the name "Janik", Chothan laughs out loud. He explains that "Janik" means "foreigner" in the Vûndar tongue, and that it is a common pseudonym used when travelling. Gudrid puts on her best charm, explains that Janik is most certainly not a Vûndar, and persuades Chothan that there is no harm in it. So he summons a soldier to fetch Kell.
He is brought up, and he does not look so good. He is filthy and has lot a lot of weight. After some stammered greetings, he tells what he learned of Janik. There are two crates in an Esgaroth warehouse that are consigned to someone named "Janik", that arrived a few days after the party left for Mirkwood. "It is a paltry tale to have to travel so far to hear," he apologizes.
When Chothan mentions that Kell is really Dustev's prisoner and not his, Thallin inquires about the possibility of freeing him. The bounty hunter Garth said that they bounty was 500 silver pennies, but that Chothan was only willing to pay 100, and if Garth wished to wait, he might be able to get the rest from Dustev. But Garth wasn't willing to wait, so he took the 100 coins instead. Chothan explains to the party through some bizarre logic, that the remaining 400 silver would be sufficient weregild for Dustev.
Gudrid asks Kell about the events that made him a wanted man. Kell is very nervous, but says that he is innocent. "But what is the truth of it," they ask him. A look of panic comes into his eyes. Thallin asks him again, and when Chothan turns away to talk with Borri (on the matter of dreadlocking beards), Kell urgently whispers "shut up!"
But the party is too persistant, and keep asking him if he wasn't the traitor at that battle, then who was. Subtlety is not one of the party's strong points, and finally Kell blurts out the answer, but in an unknown language. Only Dhundu knows this tongue, and his eyes shoot up in surprise. Chothan's suspicion mounts higher, and as he starts to rise from his chair, Borri asks him again about the proper matting of beards. Thus momentarily distracted, Dhundu whispers to Thallin that Kell said "Dustev is the traitor."
Alas, the party was even more unsubtle than even the gamemaster suspected. They are sitting before a conquering Vûndar lord, but apparently do not realize that the Vûndar were the beneficiaries of the aforementioned betrayal. So Thallin asks Chothan point blank, "So why should we expect Kell to get a fair trial from Dustev if Dustev was the real traitor?"
Chothan immediately loses all of his patience and angrily demands that the party leave. The hem and haw a bit. Some Vûndar guards step forward. They dally some more, the demand is repeated, and the guards lower their spears. "But, but, but..." the party sputters, and Chothan draws his scimitar. "Get out of him hall!" he thunders.
So Thallin draws his own two longknives and battle is about to be enjoined...
The tactical situation is thus: four party members sitting around a table, one of which does not have his armor or axe handy; a bedraggled and unarmed Kell; a towering Vûndar captain with scimitar; three Vûndar guards with spears and shields; and who knows how many other Vûndar within earshot outside.
November 7th, 3017
Thallin cries out, "Lack subtlety, huh?" He engages in a fierce sword fight with the Vûndar before him. The easterling is quickly dispatched. Borri reaches for his axe on his back, but Chothan strikes him a telling blow first. The foe Thallin was fighting falls back against Chothan, spoiling his next strike. Borri sticks the still wrapped axe head in a brazier and joins the fray.
Gudrid and Dhundu rush to the front door and wrench it shut, just as two other guards are arriving. Gudrid bars the door with a torch from a sconch, thrust between the handles. Other guards appear in the only other door, and she slams against it, knocking them back. It has a latch and she jams her dagger in it to wedge it firmly shut.
Meanwhile Thallin engages Chothan. He is a formidable foe, and there is much parrying and blocking of strikes. Thallin takes a wound, but he manages to finish off the easterling lord. Borri and Ardan face off against the two remaining guards, and after a brief battle, all the easterlings in the great hall have been dispatched.
Borri uses his axe to cut through Kell's shackles. Gudrid retreats to a corner and begins changing into a bear. Dhundu does not notice this as he quickly checks another opening, which turns out to be a kitchen and pantry.
But there are still other guards outside, and they will soon gain entrance. Borri and Kell push some tables and benches against the front door, while Thallin watches over the side. Heavy blows can be heard against the doors. The party makes ready. Kell arms himself with a spear from a fallen guard, while Borri quickly dons his armor he so recently removed.
The side door bursts open first. Within are two archers and a guard with a mattock, who had been the one who forced the door open. Borri is their only immediately visible target, and the archers fire upon him, but only one arrow hits him in the leg. Kell and Ardan both fire into the doorway. Then Thallin comes around the edge of the door and engages the three guards.
Ardan drops his bow, and he and Borri leap to the top of the tables just as the front door is forced open. They have an advantageous position, and they strike down upon the heads of two guards. One falls quickly, and the other turns to run, but Borri slays him. Gudrid finally finishes changing into a bear, and charges into the remaining room (an armory). She mauls the two archers and Thallin finishes the third.
The fight is over, but how many more easterlings remain in the keep or outside it? Kell explains the party the layout of the keep, and that it normally housed twenty men at arms. There is only one exit from the keep, and that is the main gate.
November 7th, 3017
While Ardan keeps watch over the keep's doors, the rest of the party go out into the courtyard to secure and bar the main gates. They yell out "surrender or die." A blacksmith comes out of an outbuilding with his hands up in surrender. As the party is talking to him, an arrow is shot at them from an upper story of the keep.
The reenter the keep, and cut the ropes to the porticullis. Ardan and Thallin search the cellar. Nothing is there but some empty cells. The everyone moves up to the second story. They find a maid and scullion hiding. Then as Thallin opens a door into a corridor, two other servants try to tackle him, as an easterling guard at the far end lines up his bow for a shot. Thallin bowls through the two servants and charges the man. The bowshot misses, and Thallin is joined by Gudrid, still in bear form, to finish him off.
Through an arrow slit, another guard is spotted running for the village downhill. Ardan fires his longbow, and amazingly hits at this far distance. But the man does not stumble, and keeps running. A second shot causes him to stumble. But he gets up and keeps moving. He is now out of range, and Ardan and Kell run out and try to catch him before he reaches the village. But the porticullis is down, and by the time they can get out, he has reached the village. They continue anyway.
No more guards, but a couple more servants are found in the keep. Searching chests and hidey-holes, they find a modest amount of coins, but not nearly enough to fund a working keep. Perhaps it has already been looted by the easterlings. Thallin does find a hidden cache, apparently of the former lord, that contains a few gold coins and an heirloom brooch with ruby.
Kell and Ardan return, and say they didn't meet any other resistance, but that the wounded guard, and a few others that were in the village, rode off to the west on horses. The party decides to get horses from the keep's stables and leave as well. Dhundu decides to stay. Before they leave, they write upon the keeps's pallisade, "Dustev is the traitor". They first ride south to the Sea of Rhûn. There is a small port village there, but no ships, only small fishing vessels.
So they head west as well, but take care to skirt populated areas. They even avoid the city of Rhûsar, and flag down a ship on the river Celduin north of the sea. They buy passage for themselves and their horses. After eleven days of uneventful voyage, they finally return to the Long Lake.
Their first stop, even before sating Borri's hunger for fish and chips, is to check out the crates that Kell had seen. They go to the warehouse in question, and try to gain entrance. But the warehousemen there won't let them into the crates without the authority of a city guardsman. But he does show Gudrid that the crates are there.
So they seek out Baerod, the captain of the guard. He promises them tankards of ale in return for their undoubtedly fascinating tale, but first they return to the warehouse. The warehousemen looks up the records and sees that the crates had been delivered in early September, and that two gold pieces had been used to bond them. For such an exorbitant sum, they would be held indefinitely.
The first chest contains fine jars and bottles filled with what turns out to be perfume. There is also a small locked iron box. The second chest contains a wide variety of exotic goods from far off lands, including bronze candlesticks, ivory inkwell, alabaster vases and sundry jewelry. To Kell, the vases appear to be easterling, but no one is sure of the origin of the other items.
They cannot open the small iron box, so they take it to a good locksmith in the town. After a few hours with fine needles and picks, he cannot open it either. It is too good of a lock for him, and he suggests the smiths of Erebor might be able to open it.
As the party is observing the locksmith's progress, Borri suddenly realizes he recognizes the worksmanship of the box, though it is rather plain. He had once before seen a similar style in the courtroom of King Dain of Erebor. It was a chest given to King Durin by the men of Numenor. Could this small box be from Westernesse?
It is November the 23rd.