Inner strife- The Scorpion’s Sting

Haarith and his men had been waiting near Dol Guldur for over a month. It was a wicked place, even by the standards of the Haradrim. an evil was there that could not be shaken. They had not received any word from the South in all this time. Haarith was concerned that no help would come.

He looked at his men often, and was certainly concerned that they would follow another, or would outright kill him. He had to be on his guard. Since the previous battle, he noticed that Abaan was less than agreeable more often than not. Was this a degree of rebellion? Bakr was still loyal to him, he could see, but for how long? Who could Haarith trust now? Certainly not Na’maan, that was clear. His absent-minded archery was proof enough of that. Maybe it was all a plan… a planned coup drummed up by Abaan himself! How dare he! That sniveling snake wouldn’t be in any sort of command if it weren’t for Haarith! “I will deal with that coward soon enough,” he thought.

The men were clearly growing restless. They had not seen battle in some time. Na’maan was healed from his beating, but he was ever more cautious around Haarith. Their leader came around and said, “I am going into the fortress… Again.” Na’maan avoided eye contact, as he knew his true hatred would be seen otherwise.  “But I will return, and when I do, we will discuss our next move. Bakr! You are in charge while I am away!” And with that, he turned and left.  Na’Maan sat alone, fletching his arrows. The others appeared to be moving about and not really doing much else, nor focusing any attention on him.

Before long, though,  he noticed Abaan approaching, as inconspicuous as he could muster. “Greetings, friend,” he spoke in a hushed tone. Na’Maan nodded back silently. “How goes the healing, Na’Maan?”

“Messy,” he replied, pointing to his back. Abaan peered into the inside of his armor and clothes. The once bloody back was healing up, but not quickly. “Even the slightest of moves and the scabbing just starts bleeding again, even with that disgusting poultice those orcs gave me helping some.”

“A nasty bit of business, that beating you took,” Continued Abaan. Na’maan continued is work in silence. “I would say that this was a failure, not on your part, but on the part of Haarith himself. He loves flaunting his power about, but he does not do it in the most efficient way.” Na’Maan continued his work, but was also looking out for others, but none were around, or at the very least were not paying attention. Abaan got really close, and spoke  in a hoarse whisper nearly inches from his face. “I believe that when leading, it is more… encouraging for your inferiors to see what you are willing to do for them should they succeed, rather than what you will do to them should they fail.” He slid a coin purse near to Na’maan. “ Think of that should you ever think to shoot near our illustrious leader again…” Abaan stood up and walked off, smiling as he went.

After some time, Haarith returned. Bakr saw that his face was thoughtful. “What is one your mind, master?” Bakr was hoping to get nearer to Haarith after the previous month’s events. He would not be the one to take a beating for failure, that was to be certain. “You seem like you know not what to do with what you have learned.”

Haarith was lost in thought when he suddenly understood what Bakr had asked him. He smiled. “Yes, indeed, I am, Bakr. There are a few assignments that could be achieved, but I do not know which to take from this point. But I will in due time!”

Suddenly, a single Harad bowman approached the camp the company had setup on the outskirts of Dol Guldur. Yazan, the old veteran of the group, recognized him immediately. “Haashin!” He bowed his head, greeting him with what appeared to be respect, something Yazan showed little of to his current peers.

“Ah! Yazan,”The bowman exclaimed. “It is good to see a familiar face among these juveniles!” The two veterans embraced.

“The last time I saw you were riding away east on the ass of a Mumak! What brings you here?”

“Well, Aqil appears to believe this whole endeavor is too important for the rest of you to ruin. Especially after what we heard of the last encounter with the elves. So he sent me to assist.” He turned to Haarith. “I am at your command, mighty Haarith. I have heard much of your endeavors at home and I pledge myself to your cause.”

Haarith welcomed the new comer. This new arrival lead  him to believe that he could proceed with one specific assignment. He dashed back to Dol Guldur and returned before long.

“We must leave at once,” he declared, beginning to pack his things and load up his horse. “There is a company of Iron Hills brats that need to be stopped. They have a token that could make them a tough foe to deal with in the future, and the Masters of Dol Guldur have signed their death warrant.”

The troupe began legging it and traveled as fast as their feet could carry them.

They made their way through to treacherous and evil wood around Dol Guldur, passing various Orc and warg packs as they went. They soon came to the open plains of Wilderland, and crossed the River Running before long. It was about 100 miles south of the Long Lake and the city of Laketown that the Came upon the stunted enemy.

There, on the top of hill, was posted the retinue of dwarves. These are no ordinary dwarves the ones from before. These were clearly dwarves prepared for a skirmish. Their armor was heavy and they had an air of awareness that the small band of dwarves before seemed to lack.

A few road on beasts that the men of Harad had never seen before… great horns they had. Stout yet nimble horses with gnarled horns and filthy, matted beards. Almost as poorly groomed as the dwarf scum themselves. “A perfect pairing,” thought Haashin.

“We must take the hill in order to take those relics from them,” ordered Haarith.

Yazan and Haashin gave each other a look. They had fought many a battle, and knew an un-winnable one when they saw it. However, being the veterans, they knew their example was to be set In order to keep the men loyal to their cause, and to their leader.

Abaan, however caught the gaze of Na’maan. They were clearly not expecting such a rash move on the part of Haarith. They would follow for now… perhaps this would be the slip up that would swing the party’s favor away from Haarith.

“Archers, form up at that wall and do not stop the barrage,” barked their leader. “Spears with me!”

The spears made their way closer as the archers formed up behind a wall. They slowly made their advance, ever wary of the charge of enemy goats. Haarith wanted to charge the enemy on their terms, but this was not going to come for them. As they advanced, a crossbow bolt struck him in the stomach. I shot clean through out his stomach, but he continued forward. Moments later, he was struck again, and was shot down from his horse and saw and heard no more.

As he woke, Haarith saw that all his men had. Wen struck down by the enemy. They had been defeated, and it was not easy to mistake. They all lay there on the field of battle. The dwarves and left already, carrying their accursed relic.

Haarith stood up and began rallying the men to get out of sight. His horse had left the site of the battle, but had not gone far. He lead the beast back to the men who were setting up a camp as best they could. As they  sat and ate their evening meal, no one spoke a word. Unaar and Haashin would not be ready for combat for some time. Unaar apparently managed to wound one of the War goats, but not long before he had his chest caved in by the captain who’s beast he felled. Haashin also was wounded by the mattock of one of the enemies, a terrible injury that looked rather abhorrent.

As they sat in silence, Haarith was going over what to do next. There was no way to guarantee the loyalty of the warriors now. It would take a true miracle.

But then, it would appear the gods smiled upon Haarith this day, for his opportunity came in the form of a Serpent rider, an elite horse-lancer body guard of Harad. “Greetings, mighty Haarith!” Called the unfamiliar face. “My name is Butaan and I bring a message from Aqil, and supplies for you and your men. And a mighty salve to cure the wounds from the mistakes made by your lessers!” Na’maan was furious at this remark.

When the equipment was all passed about, it was clear that the message sent home was received. Haarith was given a new bow, as well as bits of metal and armor to shore up his defenses. The same type of additions were given to Bakr and Abaan. There was also brought a horse for Abaan as well, and he would now use his spear as a lance as well on the back of the beast.

The supplies also cured the arm wound received from the elves not long ago, and these would clearly help in getting the men all back to their best health to fight again. Haarith quickly spun the whole thing in his favor. He began reminding his men of the message he sent to Aqil and that it was he who sent it and how great a help it was to them.

Abaan thought the defeat would be their focus to get the morale swinging towards hatred of Haarith, but it would not be so for the moment. Abaan had been training in secret on his own to be able to take on Haarith in a traditional challenge known as Haabarth, but things were not quite in his favor yet. For now, they would stay under the leadership of this mood-swinging Mumak. For now…

The Search for Mablung- Brigade of the White City

Ondoher finally awoke from a sleep of many nightmares. His evenings reset had not given him much the next day. He kept having recurring dreams of watching poor Mablung fall, and variations on him being taken hostage. It had been a week since the attack of the Easterlings and Goblins upon the camp with the Dwarves, and only 5 days since the host of Orcs and Haradrim  assaulted the crumbling fortress. Ondoher stood up and walked about the camp, thinking hard on the next move.

Much had occurred as a result of that fortress assault. The assault had come suddenly, and even the many Rangers of the North that were holed up in the fortress had not expected such sudden attack. They decided it would be best to leave as soon as possible with the Relics that had been stowed there.

Ondoher lead a charge of Knights of Minas Tirith that had been brought by his cousin, Ostoher, many times into the fray. He charged many of the large orcs down and trampled them beneath the hoof of his horse, Alagos. In the bustle of the battle, Ondoher also managed to find himself a lance of old make, but still well kept. He took it for his own and would use it from this day forward.

Turgon made an attempt with some of the rangers to take a relic off into the woods, but he was waylaid and he was forced to fight with sword in hand, and he slew many. When the battle finally subsided, Turgon examined the relic they had been given. It was none other than a Numenorean Steel bow. The ancient Numenoreans carried bows of great power. This one was no exception. The same distance as a normal bow, but pack a punch as hard as a dwarves crossbow. He would put it to great use.

Turin single handedly charged with his horse and new lance, both acquired at the fortress, many times, and in the process learned much of the need for swiftness in battle, and being able to aid his brothers when they needed help.

Arveleg showed much valor on the battle field, and has been a loyal follower from even before this grand venture. It was because of this that Ondoher promoted him to the position of a Citadel Guard. Arveleg immediately pledged his loyalty to Ondoher, and now took on the role of his Body Guard, a surprising choice to all, knowing Arveleg’s nature as a trickster.

Hirgon also slew many at his feet, as did the new comers Malbeth and Thorondir. It was because of this great valor that he witnessed that a Minas Tirith Warrior named Bareth pledged his sword to the cause of Ondoher.  He was not able to fight by their side, as he had been injured, but he was able to witness the great things that had been done by The Brigade of the White Tower as they fought their way out of that fortress. “I do not come from a noble family, sir,” said the young man, of age 17 at best guess.  “I have not honors or titles, but I do have a sword. I pledged it once to fight for the Kingdom of Gondor. Now, I pledge it to you, Ondoher, much as my ancestors pledged their swords to King Eldacar to fight against The Usurper. I will follow you and assist this Company as best I can, until my life be ended.” Ondoher gladly took this man’s pledge. He was honorable enough, and Ostoher spoke highly of him. He apparently volunteered only a year ago, at 16, the youngest one could join the White City’s ranks. He was clearly not of Numenorean blood, you could see in his eye the passion and fervor that would be needed greatly in any battles to come.

Ondoher looked back at the last few weeks’ events, and thought to himself, “But what should I learn from all this?” we wandered slowly, a bit further out from the camp. He examined the terrain carefully. Ondoher and his comrades had been searching tirelessly through the lands south of the Ettenmoors, near the Govadmilui Sarnianu. They started near it, and then started searching wider and wider. Who knows where those accursed evil-worshipers had left poor Mablung. They could have left him anywhere.

“Two ambushes have we dealt with,” he pondered. “One quite successful,” he thought, rubbing his recent arrow wound. “One failing, but only just.” He looked off in the distance into the trees. “We must learn from our mistakes” he said allowed, to Turgon, who now stood silently beside him. “You men must continue the search. I am going to remain for the time being and study what I can among my strategy tomes. I will not stop until you have returned, and maybe this will give us a leg up in the future!”

“We will continue looking, Ondoher. I will send someone back with word if we find him. Fear not, Lieutenant. We will find him before long!”

So Ondoher left Turgon’s presence, leaving Turgon at the lead for the search.

“All right, men, pair up. Thorondir and Hirgon. Turin and Bareth. Malbeth and Hurin. Arveleg, you’re with me. We will search in a fan from here, facing east. If you find anything, give a whistle like a song bird, and meet back here. One of the pair should head straight back to Ondoher.  If you find anything, return back here at sunset. No need to get another one of you luck heads getting lost in the Wilderness!”

With that, the pairs each methodically searched in an arch, gradually getting further from one another. Hurin and Malbeth tramped forth searching the clearings, and even the rough patches. Hurin could tell that Malbeth was seething, frustrated that they still had not found Mablung. “I know you are concerned, Malbeth,” he said, calmly. “We all are. However, I think that you would be able to think more clearly if you would just take a second to calm yourself. We don’t know what has become of him yet. They may have left him long ago. Or they may have kept him for leverage. But in any case, we will find him and we will bring him home, I know it.” His words did not appear to change anything about Malbeth’s demeanor. Hurin knew of their close friendship, so he understood to an extent, but this was bordering on something terrifying to behold. May the Valar protect any who might stand in his way…

The search went on for the remainder of the day, but still nothing had been found. The respective parties all returned, and came back to the campsite.

There they found Ondoher straining to read his tomes by the firelight. You could tell he had been studying all day. He had removed his armor for utmost ease just sitting on the ground, but as he looked up, the firelight also revealed bloodshot eyes and hair that had not been touched all day. When he saw them, he grimaced, seeing that they had not returned with Mablung. The men all came and sat around the fire. Ondoher passed out rations and they had a rest as they ate.

They first observed the nightly moment of silence, looking towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be. They began eating, and as they did so, Ondoher spoke. “We have searched every inch of this area for a mile in every direction. I think we should move on to the next area of the surrounding lands. I think it would be best to move quickly tonight about 3 miles north of here, and continue the search in a new sector.”

Everyone agreed this was the best way forward. They finished eating, and immediately gathered the supplies and tents, and headed north. There was little to see as they traveled, but before long, Ondoher said, “Here is where we shall camp.” They stopped in a pretty decent sized clearing, and began to setup camp. They were quite exhausted, so they all quickly fell asleep.

It was Bareth that first awakened to the sound of song birds in the trees. He stood to his feet and went to relieve himself out a ways from the camp. As he finished his business, a glint of sunlight of something metal caught his eye as he trend to rejoin the company. He turned back and approached where he saw the shining reflection, carefully. He did not need to search long for the source. There, lying unconscious before him was a warrior of Minas Tirith, laying face down. He turned the face to look at him. A younger man, but with thick arms and legs. He was a behemoth compared to most men, with hands that were not much smaller than Bareth’s own young head. “Mablung indeed,” he thought.

Bareth attempted to lift the man, but he was too scrawny, and Mablung was too heavy to lift on his own, heavy armor all included. Mablung could not be wakened, even after trying to lift him.  “Time to fetch the others, I suppose,” he said, breathing heavily as he stood. It was then that he heard noise in the distance. Surely the enemy was near. He ran as hard as he could, but as silent as his armor would let him. He quickly roused the others. “To arms, friends,” he whispered, finger to his lips. “I have found our Mablung, but I believe there is an enemy afoot.”

“Quickly men,” Ondoher muttered low. “The fate of Mablung in our hands, men. Death to anyone who would harm him! Now go!”

With that, the company moved quickly and quietly towards Mablung’s resting place.

Govadmiluin Sarianu- A Tale of Tempered Iron

​And so it was that plans were made. The sun had departed from the lands, leaving dwarves and men to make camp in the darkness of night. As the dusk fell deeper, the winds howled a little louder, a little more ominously- only the stars and moon above were gracious enough to shed their little light upon the world.

For fear of alerting any ill-intended passerby, no fires had been raised- meals were made of bread, dry cheese, and salted meats. Water had been gathered from local springs near to the east, and as soon as the food was finished a watch plan was set into motion. Man and Dwarf, Dwarf and Man- all were to keep watch, for the Darkness was deafening this night, and evil things were surely lurking about.

​Mablung, the Gondorian spearman who had thrust himself into dwarven legend with the recovery of Durin’s relics, had set off just outside of camp to investigate something he believed he saw in a patch of shrubbery. Bugs chittered and nocturnal foul hooted, but it was a metallic glint that caught his eye- the moon had reflected something, and he intended to see it. Kemlek raised his eyes in time to witness the worst- he grasped his two-handed axe and opened his mouth to give warning, but it all happened too swiftly.

​All at once, arrows came in from the north and the south, a deadly dance of death that saw splintered wooden shafts plunge into shields, and off of the nearby bridge. Mablung cried out-

​“AMBUSH!! Now for Gondor, and the Iron Hills…”

​No sooner had Mablung given his shout than the bushes came alive, golden armored figures revealed themselves and brought down the warrior through weight of number- he stood no chance. Kemlek stared in disbelief as he saw the warrior quickly dispatched, his silver armor quickly disappeared as he was dragged back with a knife to his throat.

Unhelmed, brow busted and bleeding, Mablung attempted one last shout before a sack was roughly shoved over his head, muffling his warnings and fears. The men of Rhun had made their appearance- and with this opening strike, they made a cruel statement.

​“Ready up lads!! Shields to the North!” ordered Mhulo.

​Kemlek turned to see Duk, Dolvin, and Khain form a shieldwall with a pair of rangers and a warrior- they were facing down a teeming horde of goblins! It was a two-pronged attack, an attempt to neutralize the armored advantage of the Dwarves and Men. Kemlek roared his approval- if battle was to be met, it would be met with vigor! Mablung would be avenged this day, at the edge of his mattock.

​“Form up men! Spears behind, support our allies!” shouted Ondoher from his horse behind the front line. He then rode to Mhulo and continued- “These are the Easterlings we faced some time ago! They wish to see my head on a pike!”

​Almost by plan, the southern enemy fully revealed their power in time with Ondoher’s words. Out from the tree line, a small host of Rhunish warriors formed a gleaming shieldwall, supported by archers on each flank, spears, and even pikes! Their golden helms bore the very same features as the one that Cooper had laid before them in the Halls of Gold.

Indeed the stories had their truths- Kemlek bore witness as the enemy advanced methodically forward, testing the patience and mettle of the armored alliance before them.

​“Aye, they might friend, but tempered Iron bends not so easily! As long as there is one dwarf here who yet draws breath, you’ll have an ally the likes of which they sing of in the halls of Old!” retorted Mhulo, brandishing his gleaming runic mattock. “Nasek! Form up alongside Ondoher, ride them down on the flanks!”

​With that, Ondoher fell in line behind Nasek and his bleating war goat, cutting wide to the left flank.

To the north, a warrior named Malbeth had dug in on a ledge adjacent to the shield brothers, defenses up and spear lowered to accept any blows the Goblins might give.

Upon the stairs of Govadmiluin Sarianu, two rangers by the name of Turgon and Hurin returned fire at the enemy, trading precise shafts of fate with the ill-trained minions of Evil. Beside them Thoif and Thalrir, the dwarves own archers, drew level their crossbows, and attempted to bring down the Easterling archers that were intent on ending Ondoher’s existence.

​Closer the men of Rhun came, and Kemlek itched for their blood. His ire was up, and after seeing Mablung taken so cruelly, he intended to repay that blow in full.

​“Hold brothers, the right moment needs come!” commanded Mhulo as the Easterlings closed on their defenses.

​Kemlek glanced to his left and saw an arrow strike true to Ondoher’s mount, sending the Gondorian tumbling from the saddle behind Nasek. The mounted dwarf turned heel to assist Ondoher back onto the ledge defenses, then in the blink of an eye waited no more- Nasek broke full speed toward the Easterling flank. Sensing the tides of battle shifting, the Rhunish leader broke rank and charged forward.

​“Come meet the end of Jandol’s blade you stunted Dwarf-child! This is the day you die, little one!” shouted the caped Easterling leader, now known as Jandol, as he brandished a curved blade hilted in gold.

​A return insult? Mhulo gave none. Kemlek’s superior gripped his mighty mattock, donned his helm, and let roar the fury of the Iron Hills in one bellow.

“BARUK KHAZAD!!”

And with that, Kemlek leapt forward, swinging his axe with all his mighty strength.

​The counter offensive proved successful to an extent. After stagnant melee, the servants of Evil found a way to rid themselves of Ondoher, and knocked him unconscious with an arrow to the shoulder. Like retreating water upon rocks, the Easterlings and Goblins slipped away into the night once their deed was done, taking with them Mablung the Heroic. Despite heavy casualties, the evil alliance snatched victory from the closing jaws of defeat, and the unhurt Dwarves all swore their undying grudges.

​Soon after the dust had settled, a Numenorian Ranger happened upon their camp at the stairs and told of a nearby tower housed by the allies of men that needed tending to. Promised medical care and shelter, the Gondorians agreed it was the best course of action to move along- despite missing one of their own.

​Mhulo thought it prudent to return to the Iron Hills, if only temporarily, to give the Loremaster Torvim the prize he sought. They would be welcomed as heroes, but Kemlek would tell them all of Mablung of the White City. And so they made their long journey back, stopping along the way, once again, to dine in the Halls of Gold with their kin in the Misty Mountains.

Drinks were on Mhulo, one and all. For victory was had with the recovery of their heritage.

But as in life, the sun sets on every day.
Evil will always take root in the dark, dank places of the world.
It will not rest.

Govadmiluin Sarianu

​So here they were in northern Rhudaur. Further north, Mhulo could make out the Ettenmoors, and the Coldfells to his east. Memories returning, he lifted his armored gauntlet to rest on his chest plate, still feeling the Orcish sword that had somehow penetrated his defenses that day, tearing into the upper torso near his shoulder. Aiwendil, the Brown Wizard, had worked miraculously to mend his ailments, and here Mhulo stood this eve- awaiting the company of Men that sought him.

Though the sun was still setting, the moon was already visible in the eastern skies. Amber and violet hues danced across the heavens, and pinholes of light that were the stars had just begun to make their nightly appearance. Soft, warm winds lifted the limbs of the scattered woodlands surrounding Mhulo and company, creating a distant rustle that reminded the dwarves of an ocean break.

The rock formation they inhabited was an arch of stone, and steps had been carved onto the ascending sides that led to the flat platform at its apex- which is where Mhulo took his watch. Patches of green weeds and sparse grass sprouted here and there through the cracks in the mineral, as father time had settled the conglomeration into the soft dirt. Govadmiluin Sarianu was its namesake, Mhulo believed. The letter he had received from the Gondorians, delivered to him by Cooper the Dunedain Ranger, had stated as much.

For the time being, it seemed as if the letter was accurate- Thalrir, the newest member of their battle company, keenly spotted a throng of armored figures eastward making their way to the stone arch, and gave alert. Soon enough, the Tree of Gondor could be seen enameled across the broad shields of the foremost warriors as they made their approach. Mhulo counted nine men, one of them mounted, and two of them were carrying what looked to be a heavy crate between them- his heart skipped a beat.

So it was true…Torvim shall be pleased indeed.

From the throng of visitors came a deep voice, and Mhulo discovered it belonged to the mounted warrior Ondoher, their leader as described in the letter.

“To be sure, I did not believe you’d have arrived so soon Master Dwarf. It is good to see friends in these cursed parts indeed!” exclaimed the man, dismounting his steed.

“We Dwarves are natural sprinters, dangerous over short distances! A few breaks were had along the way, however.” chimed Duk. Some chuckles rumbled through Mhulo’s company at the jest.

“Well met, Gondorian.” Came Mhulo’s meted reply, hand on his sword belt. “It seems we have crossed paths most fortunately. If all you say is true, you and your men have done a favor large to the folk of Durin’s lineage.”

The Gondorians approached, and the setting sun gave a muted glow to the steel they bore across their engraved bosoms. A few were covered by cloaks, rangers perhaps? Nasek leapt his goat down from the steps onto the rocky dirt below and dismounted, his mount’s hooves *clopping*. Ondoher’s mouth gaped briefly at the sight of such an animal, incredulous, but was shortly able to compose himself.

Two of the men ascended the rocky base and laid the Dwarven chest beneath the bridge. Mhulo descended the stairs of the archway to lay eyes on the contents of the chest.

“It was most favorable that my Lord Beren got word of it!” stated Ondoher. “Assuredly, we would be more than happy to pass on these relics to you folk of the Iron Hills. They are of gorgeous make, indeed, even more beautiful than we could have ever guessed in the South. We’ve had such little dealings with Dwarves ourselves, forgive our manner.”

“Aye, and for good reason, meaning no offence. Our people are most solitary. Now, our Loremaster sent us leagues from home for such a gift. Let’s see what that gift be…”

Duk and Dolvin followed Mhulo, shields slung, and even Nasek’s curiosity could not be sated. Speaking in Khuzdul, the three quietly and excitedly conversed as their leader opened the crate, and removed the contents within. Nasek’s war goat bleated, hopping back up the archway to feed on a patch of green leaf.

“By the beards of the Old…” whispered Mhulo.

A cloak of impeccable make fell like water over Mhulo’s armored hands. A brilliant blue the color of the Great Sea shimmered and shone, the cloth soft as a newborn calf. Furs lined the rim and shoulders of the cape, but all such features were simple compared to what appeared suddenly on the back-

As Mhulo stood to measure the cloak, holding it out before him, there shone a beam of starlight from the skies lighting up the cloth and showing its true nature. Silver lines grew along its face, crawling and curving until the final embroidery was revealed- a vast and intricate family tree that went all the way back to a single name at the top.

“Durin the Deathless!” exclaimed Dolvin. “Aye these Gondorians deserve a round of ale on our coin, at least. Kingly make, suppose it could be from the reign of Brilo the Blue?”

Nearly breathless from wonder, Mhulo took great care and handed the cloth to Duk, who stood motionless and quiet, seemingly afraid he would scare the cloak away simply by looking at it. Mhulo reached further into the chest and withdrew the final contents.

A set of three bound, leather tomes revealed themselves, plated in dark iron and bejeweled with dazzling sapphires in the spines. Shining Dwarvish runes framed the bound books, and they were all locked.

“Indeed, these are work for the Loremaster.” Mhulo said softly.

Placing his hand on the front of the first reader, Mhulo closed his eyes and meditated shortly. After a minute or two, when the Men of the West begun to murmur in the background, Ondoher silenced them curtly, and Mhulo finished his musings. Nasek had climbed back to the stairs of the bridge, shouting in Khuzdul, as his goat was curiously approaching the Gondorian warhorse, causing a ruckus. Nasek wrestled his goat away from the bystanders and remounted.

“Ondoher, my friend, wordless I stand.” Mhulo spoke as he approached the man.

Mhulo reached out to Ondoher and together the leaders clasped forearms, a show of solidarity and brotherhood.

“Indebted to your cause, we Dwarves of Durin be, leader of these free folk. These gifts will further enrich our history and culture, cementing an alliance between our people. Where we failed in our mission to retrieve these artifacts of old, you were victorious. How would you have us repay such a gift?” Offered Mhulo.

With a wide wave of his arm, Ondoher motioned towards one of his men.

“Mablung! Quick, lad.”

The warrior stepped forward, spear in one hand, shield in the other.

“This is the man to whom you owe gratitude, Master Dwarf. He went to grievous lengths to retrieve what you sought, and here we stand. He was mighty valorous in fighting off many a servant of evil, and to that end, he is your hero.” praised Ondoher. “Otherwise, simply provide what aid you can to our Northern kin.”

Mhulo looked over the boy (compared to the Dwarves, he was young at least).

“Ne’er a finer example of bravery in the face of such adversity, I’m sure.” beamed Mhulo. “Mablung, a noble name indeed. You are forever welcome in the halls of our people young pup. Mead or meat, gold or glory- If you seek it, I will lay myself down to ensure you have it. Nasek! To me! Reach into that saddle bag of yours, I wish to reward this man in the moment”

The war goat bleated as Nasek spurred it forward, still munching on some grass it had found earlier. Mablung stood tall, chest out- he was clearly flushed, but proud he was indeed. Mhulo reached into the saddle bag and pulled out a scabbard, flourishing the fine blade then sheathed it.

“Here my boy. This is no broad sword by your folks standards, but the smiths at home in the Iron Hills rival all those across the land. This should be by your side for as long as you wish, a reminder of how you’ve done us a great service. A good short sword it will make for you.” offered Mhulo.

Mablung bowed and took the sword graciously, with a smile as wide as the River Running.
“Many thanks, my lord.” replied Mablung.

“Songs will be sung of you Mablung. You are a hero to our people.” ended Mhulo.

And with that, the Dwarves of Mhulo’s company and the Men of Gondor set watch as their leaders pulled together privately. Gaieties aside, plans needed made, for there were evil winds stirring behind every hill and every bush.

The Govadmiluin Sarianu- Brigade of the White City

The chest that the Men of Minas Tirith had found contained items the like of which  they had never expected to see. The halls of the Descendants of Numenor had not been graced by that of the Sons of Durin as long as any of them could remember, nor did any of them know a time when Dwarves had graced the land of Gondor with their presence. The moonlight shone as they beheld the master craftsmanship of the ancient dwarves.

Ondoher reached in and with a bit of a struggle was able to pullout a large bundle of blue cloth. A soft, rich material  of blue, the make of which had not been seen in the lands of Men. With the bundle removed from the chest, the moonlight was able to shine down more directly, and that is when the true dwarfish nature was reveled.

“Bless me,” declared Hurin. “Is that Ithildin magic?”

“I don’t know of any other type of magic that could be similar,” replied Turgon.

The men of Minas Tirith gawked as the moonlight revealed an elaborate embroidery of a family tree, detailing a vast family tree that went all the way back to a single name.

“ That is none other than Durin the Deathless, or I’m a Dwarf!” said Ondoher. “The dwarves of the Iron Hills would definitely be remiss not want this cloth alone!”

Ondoher then gently removed the wrapping and laid it aside with the greatest of care. Beneath the covering, he found a hefty tome, bound I metal plated leather. He had never seen Dwarvish designs so intricate, even in the oldest history books of the White Tower. The designs were inlaid into the iron plates, detailing stories that he did not recognize. In the spines were set Sapphires that even in their age were stunning to behold in the light. On the front of the Tome were set clearly and neatly written Dwarvish runes, that appeared to shimmer. There were 3 tomes total, all appearing in the same fashion.

Ondoher attempted to open it, but they were securely locked, each with their own runes that appeared to glow brighter when he attempt to open them was made.

“These were clearly made to be opened exclusively by dwarf-kind,” said Turin. “They are a very reclusive folk, dwarves. They never teach their own language to any but their own kin, and I heard they don’t even use their real names with those outside of their own kind!“

“Aye,” chimed in Arveleg. ”I’d want to keep to myself too with women like theirs!” The others began to chuckle, they were cut off quickly…

“Enough!” declared Ondoher. “If we are to secure these dwarves as allies, then they must be treated with utmost respect! You can shall show treat them as you would the Steward himself!”

“Yes, sir!” Came their reply.

Ondoher sat down and wrote out a detailed letter of the circumstances  under which the tomes had been found. He did not go into detail of the items found, for fear of an interception. He then detailed a location that he knew of, a stone formation like a bridge in northern Rhudaur, just south of the Ettenmoors; a well known spot for the emissaries of Arnor to meet with the Middle men of Rhudaur in ages past, known as Govadmiluin Sarianu.  It was there that the arrangements would be made. The young noble sealed the letter with the seal of Minas Tirith.

Ondoher brought it to Hurin. “This land is full of danger, but this letter is important. Your first task as Ranger is to take this and get it to a local Dunedain outpost not far from here and have them send it as quickly as possible to this dwarf leader of the Iron Hills, Mhulo.”

“Aye, sir!”

So it was with this letter that Hurin went off on his first mission alone since his new title as a Ranger. He got himself lost once or twice, but before long, he delivered the message and returned to his brothers in arms.

Ondoher and his men made their way north with the dwarf tomes in tow. They kept out of site of the main roads, but traveled along them, with nothing to report other than the odd traveler here and there. They arrived at the  Govadmiluin Sarianu and found that the dwarves were already arrived. There stood at the top of the bridge a hardy Dwarf with a mattock, followed by two crossbow dwarves, vigilantly scouting about.

Ondoher rode up to the stair, hailing the dwarves as friends to prevent confusion. “To be sure, I was not sure you would have arrived at all! It is good to see friends in these parts!”

“Well, met Gondorian. It seems we have crossed paths most fortunately. It seems you have done a favor large to the Folk of Durin’s lineage.”

Turgon and Turin laid the chest beneath the bridge.

“It was most fortunate that my Lord Beren got word of it! We assuredly would be more than happy to pass on these relics to the folk of the Iron hills. They are of gorgeous make, even more beautiful than we could have guessed in the South. We have little dealings with the dwarven folk ourselves.”

Mhulo began to come down the stairs to see the relic. As he did so, Ondoher watched as a dwarf dismounted not a horse, but a goat! With the biggest horns he had ever seen. Ondoher let his mouth hang for a moment, but a dwarf with a crossbow gave him an odd look, so he immediately shifted his focus back to the task at hand. Two other dwarves approached the chest, clearly eager to see the artifacts of their elder-kin.

“Aye and for good reason, meaning no offense. Our people are most solitary. Our Loremaster, Torvim the Old, sent us leagues from home for such a gift. Now let’s see what gift that be…”

The goat bleated as it hopped up on the stone bridge, finding a good patch of grass.  This still amazed Ondoher, but he had to focus.

“By the beards of the Old…” They pored over the contents of the chest . The dwarves explained how the cloak belonged to one of the Dwarven kings of old, and the Tomes were unknown to any of them. They began murmuring amongst each other in Khuzdul. “Indeed this is work for the Loremaster.” said Mhulo to his companions.

Suddenly, the Goat was getting close to Ondoher and his horse. The horse began to bray and huff and shift around. The rider of the Wargoat began shouting in Khuzdul as he wrangled the goat back to the bottom of the Govadmiluin Sarianu’s  steps. This shook the dwarves from their conversation with eachother in Dwarf speech.

Mhulo finally climbed up and spoke again. “Indebted to your cause, we folk of Durin be, Ondoher, leader of these free folk. These gifts further enrich our history and our culture, and cement an alliance between our people. How would you have us repay such an offering?”

“We only ask that you provide as much aide as you can to our Northern Kin,” replied Ondoher. “But there a many plans to take into consideration, to be sure.” Ondoher and Mhulo brought their voices down low and began speaking of where this alliance could lead.

As Ondoher and Mhulo spoke, The men kept their eyes peeled. The Dwarves of the Iron Hills also looked out It was nearing sunset, and who knew what enemies could be lurking.

They looked here and there, but none could really see anything. The sun had just set, but the moon could still be seen. Mablung casually glanced off to the right, and there he thought he saw a glint in the bushes. He rushed forward. As he did so, arrows began to fly from the multiple sides of the camp.

“Ambush!” Mablung cried! “Now for Gondor! For the Iron Hills!” as he gave this cry, Mablung was swarmed by many Easterlings, and he was quickly dispatched. Ondoher looked quickly over in the direction of the Mablung. “Form up Men! Spears behind! Team with our allies,” he ordered. He turned to Mhulo. “Those are the Easterlings we faced some time ago. They must d wish to see me dead!” he remarked as he rode is horse down the steps of the bridge.

“Well, they won’t have you as long as you have us around. Form up with Nasek . The two of you can ride them down together!”

Ondoher quickly formed up behind the heavily armored goat rider and hey awaited the enemy’s approach. Similarly, the dwarves and Men of the White City came together and formed shield walls as best they could. The Men of Minas Tirith were amazed to see the dwarves of the Iron Hills form up so easily, and with such tight formations. “Not even a mouse could find its way between them!” noted Malbeth, getting as close as he could. He stood himself near a ledge, awaiting the what ever enemies may approach.

Turgon and Hurin quickly set themselves in a position to fire at the enemy Goblins that began to approach on the opposite side of the raised rock.

One goblin made its way to the hill and climbed up to charge Malbeth, But the man quickly fought him off and shoved him back with his shield. As he went to strike, the Goblin ducked out of the way, but its foot slipped on the edge of the cleft and it fell to its doom, and didn’t rise during the battle.

On the southern side of the bridge, Mhulo and the hard mattock-armed dwarves made their stand with Turin ,Thorondir and Hirgon. They met the front line of Easterling’s block of soldiers, while Nasek and his mighty goat  prepared to charge. Before Ondoher could lead up behind him, an Easterling warrior woman shot at ondoher, but struck his horse down. Ondoher fell to the ground, but his armor took the brunt of the hit.

As he stood up, beneath the bridge, Ondoher saw that Hurin had fired many shot. “Hurin, your bow is needed to the South! Fire at that archer! “ Hurin Quickly passed around to assist as best he could.

It was then that you could hear a loud guttural sound from the distance, and Turgon shouted, “I see you mean to be a pin cushion!” With that, the a goblin archer captain fell.

Ondoher heard an arrow whizzing from behind and threw his shield up and nearly was struck by it, but fate smiled him as the arrow was inches away from his face through the shield.

Ondoher got in behind his men who were facing the Rhûnish leaders. “Do not let them in men! For Gondor! For the Iron Hills!” With that, the dwarves and men of Gondor were able to charge in to the enemy and the Easterlings could not move before they were charged by the wall of White Tree and Dwarven Heraldry. “Down Ondoher! “ cried Turin. “That archer has it out for you and you are no use to us dead!” He knocked back an Easterling captain, fighting beside Mhulo, who was wielding his mattock deftly to fight off the attack.

As Ondoher laid himself down, attempting to get himself behind his shield, He looked out at and gazed directly back into the Easterling woman’s helmet in the moonlight, but by then it was too late. Time appeared to slow as the arrow made its way to him and struck him in the shoulder. It knocked his head back and he struck his head on the stone bridge’s base, and he heard no more.

Turin was about to strike out against the enemy, but they immediately began to retreat. “Get those cowards!” The Dwarves and Men were ready, but suddenly the Easterlings had picked up Mablung. They held a knife to his throat and began backing away. “Stop! Let them be. They have done their damage this day,” said Turgon, coming up behind. “We must find him another time. He is out brother, but we do not want to doom him for the sake of avenging Ondoher. “

The Easterlings slipped silently into the night. Meanwhile, the Goblins had done their job, distracting the northern side, so they left when they heard that all was clear.

Quickly, Turgon and Turin approached their leader, and sat him up. Turin held is bracers beneath Ondoher’s mouth, and it began to fog from his breath. “Strength of the Valar, he is alive,” he sighed in relief.

“We thank you for your strength of arms, Master Mhulo,” Turgon aid turning to the dwarf leader. “Your folk are as hardy as it is said!”

Before the dwarf could respond, the gallop of a single rider could be heard. Up rode a ranger, Numenorean features to be sure. “Mae Govannen, mellon nin!” It was an elf ranger. “I was seeking Ondoher, a lieutenant of Gondor, when I heard your skirmish occur. Is everyone all right? Anyone hurt?”

“Mae govannen!” replied Turgon. “Yes. Ondoher, the man you seek, is injured. He needs a healer and quick.”

“Well, it is in a fortuitous moment that I have come. Here, take my horse, Amroth.” the elf dismounted. “He knows the way to where we wish to take your company! There is a small fortress of the Dúnedain that needs your help, and they could definitely provide assistance for your current situation. I can lead the remainder of your company there myself.”

“I will go,” said Turin. Turin mounted immediately. They helped Ondoher onto the horse as best they could and they rode off.

Turgon thanked the dwarves for their service in defending their Lieutenant, and they followed the elf into the wilderness.

*************

Ondoher woke to find himself on a well stuffed straw mattress near the foot of a ruined watch tower. There were men  of unfamiliar clothing and features around him, but they certainly did not appear hostile. “This must be a fortress of the rangers of the North,” he thought. He sat himself up in the bed. “Ah! Bless me! It’s good to see you up and moving, sir,” came the familiar voice of Turin. He was sitting in a box nearby, carving a stick with a small knife. “You’ve missed a bit, Ondoher, my lad.”

“Pray tell, what would that be?” Came his response.

“Well, to begin, your leg has been mended. These northern men of Numenorean blood have some decent skill with healing, and were able to mend your wounds . You should be able to jump and leap with the best of them even now! I suspect it’s their connection to elves what makes them so good.”

Ondoher moved his leg and found that it did not catch so much when he bent it.

” Also, they have given me a horse And a keen lance. I shall indeed make use of them quite soon! Your horse Also has been seen to, and is good as new! He just needed a rest and some good healing hands is all.”

Ondoher stood to his feet. He managed to make his way to a nearby bucket of water. As he ladled himself a drink, he pressed further, “And what of the others? How do they fair?”

“Turgon has failed very well! He felt his marksman ship was lacking in the last battle, being limited by unsteady hands when moving. He continues o practice now, and he is  getting to where he prefers moving to shoot!”

Ondoher looked around. Many rangers of the North he saw. It did not take long for him to pick out his companions in the crowd.

Turgon was with several other bowmen, honing his skills and moving as he shot. Hurin was discussing Ranger tactics with the northerner nearby. Thorondir and Arveleg were speaking with the men from Arnor, having a laugh about something indistinguishable from here. Hirgon and Malbeth sparred with each other. But where was Mablung?

“Turin,” the young lieutenant began, looking frantically to and fro to find the Heavy Hand.  “What happened to Mablung? Where is he? What did they do to him!?” His voice escalated as he came close and grabbed Turin by his shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “Where… is he?”

“They took him,” said Turgon approaching, having set his bow aside as heard his leader about. “Those filthy worshippers of the dark lord took him. They used him as a human shield to get away once they did their dirty work.” He spat.

“Then we must retrieve him! Who knows what they have done to him!” Ondoher turned to go get his horse, but Turin laid his hand on his shoulder. “No. they wouldn’t let us leave if we wanted to. They, and therefore we also, are preparing for a siege. The enemy is days away from here, but they need us to shore up this fortress to prepare its defenses. There are relics here that must be preserved.”

“That’s right, and we must assist out northern kin,” said a familiar voice. A voice that Ondoher had not heard in many a month.

“Cousin Ostoher! What in all of Middle-Earth are you doing here?” Ondoher greeted his ranger garb clad kinsman with a long  embrace.

“To come  save your sorry hide, it would seem,” retorted the Ranger. “Lord Beren sent us North with the intent of shoring up a few paces here and there, and then we are to return home when those places have been secured.”

Ostoher had come with a few good men. Two Rangers flanked him, and they were followed by two knights of Minas Tirith  leading their horses. Their retinue also included a guard of the Citadel and two others.

Ondoher would recognize those helmets anywhere. Their white seabird plumage could be seen a mile off. “Truly your errand must be one that our Lord deems a high priority if he sends the Guards of the Fountain!” Ondoher recognized  that these elites were meant only for the business of the King. They only answer to the King himself, yet there had not been any king in a good many years… too long…

“Indeed he did think that,” replied Ostoher. “We are meant to be an elite task force to get work done as quickly as possible, and the. To return. And so, here we be, little cousin.”

“I am grateful to see you, but I still wish to address my missing companion,” Ondoher declared, turning to his remaining men still of afar. “Men of the white city, come hither! We must deal with our loss quickly!”

Hurin came up with Thorondir and Arveleg, while Hirgon and Malbeth come from the other direction.

“What was it that you saw when this happened? Where did they take him?”

No sooner had he asked this question did a blaring horn come from the North, then another in the South, and then another in the West.  Ondoher rushed quickly to his horse and mounted it and saw that in the distance he could see hordes of Haradrim approaching from both sides of the open stone walls. Then he looked elsewhere and saw swarms of the giant orcs he had seen not so long ago fighting for the dwarf relics.

Suddenly a call went up within the camp, “To arms! To arms! Bows at the ready!”

A battle was joined, and the Brigade of the White City was at the center of it all….

Flight From the Troll Shaws

A great host of orcs and goblins have come down from the mountains and caught the free peoples unawares. They seek to venture further west and rain havoc on the innocent. The rangers have long held secret bases through which they have staged their opposition. The sudden attack has caught them by surprise and they must abandon their holds east of the Hoarwell. They have no time to prepare, but will try to take as much as they can with them. Will your battle company help them escape with their ancient treasures, or will you claim them for your dark masters?

This battle will be fought between at least two good and two evil battle companies. Each player will add up their battle company’s score along with any extra troops or heroes they take with them for this battle. The total for each Battle Company and additional troops shall not exceed 300 points. If a player has a battle company that itself is worth more than 300 points he or she is unable to take any additional troops or heroes.

For each pair of good and evil battle companies there will be one objective. Each objective represents the ancient relics that the free peoples are trying to move to safety. Each objective counts as a heavy object. The objective of the good battle companies is to get the relics off the board from any table edge. The evil objective is to seize the relics. The game ends either when all of the objectives have been taken off the table, or evil is in possession of all the objectives.

The battlefield should represent what you want a ranger sanctuary to look like; however It should be a defensible position. In this case, the center of the board will have a tower on a hill surrounded by crumbling stone fences. Inside the tower is each of the objectives. The good forces will deploy within the perimeter of the stone fences, whilst the evil forces will deploy at least 8 inches away from the fence line.

Starting on the 10th turn before priority has been rolled, any warrior lost by the evil forces may return from a random board edge using the reinforcement rules.

 

 

Reward Table

 

6 Numenorean Steel Bow: this is a long bow that is strength 4 (10 points)

5 Numenorean Eket: gives the user an additional attack (does not count toward character’s attacks) (15 points)

4 Armor of Westernesse: very heavy armor (+3 to defense) (10 points)

3 War Horn of the West: This counts as both a rallying horn and a war drum (15 points)

2 Lucky Brooch: this is a lucky talisman that also gives the user +1 fate and can allow a hero to go over the maximum of 3) (15)

1 D3 influence points

Halls of Gold

That lovely amber liquid, how it called his name. The sweet, yet bitter taste of the golden brew that relaxed his muscles, and slowed his speech. Yet- it took his mind away from the horrors of fortnights past, and that was what Duk needed.

The shaking in his hands was now gone, thanks to Drorber’s ale in his Halls of Gold, but the dread memories flashed anew across his mind. Despite the hearty gaieties echoing round the alehouse, Duk’s recollections sprang forth to his forethought.

How their party had stumbled upon Mirkwood yet again was a complete mystery- and thinking of how it was possible drove them all to near madness. They had been involved fighting a rogue band of Uruk-Hai on the southron edges of the Trollshaws, near some dense forests, when, alas, they were beaten back. As Mhulo had called a retreat into the trees, everything changed.

Darkness enveloped them all, and the forest closed in unnaturally around them. The sky was hid from their eyes, and malicious whispers fluttered through the grasping branches. Their injuries slowed them, and after what seemed like ages upon ages, they came to a halt in an empty, grassy clearing.

Duk remembered no more past that moment, save for the sound that still haunted his sleep- the desperate screams emanating from his brother Dolvin. As surely as his memory escaped him, Duk eventually found his way out of that cursed wood, panting and covered in silky, sticky webs.

Thereafter he was visited by stark, isolated recollections of the soft voices of the Elvish folk, and knew then that he and his kin had been rescued from the malign forces of the forest realm by the Mirkwood Patrols.

After a brief encounter in which Thoif took down an Orc named Iggy, the dwarven clan found their way out of that forest and back into the mountains to the west. To this moment they had been led, dining in the halls of the Misty Mountains, amongst their kin in the ale markets of the Stone district.

Dolvin sat beside him feasting, drum of foul in one hand, pint in the other. Thoif was across the small table chewing on a smoking pipe, resting silently, and re-stringing his new dwarven bow he’d won in the markets of the Iron district (a hearty challenger believed himself keener with an arrow, and lost his weapon in the gamble to show for it). Nasek, the war goat rider, was off snoring in the corner, feet propped and helm covering his closed eyes. The fiery Kemlek had been long lost to the drinking games he hosted in the nearby breweries, though he was bound to turn up passed out on his featherbed back in their quarters in the wee hours of twilight.

Earlier in the eve, Mhulo had disappeared and then arrived again with something of a surprise. Torvim, Mhulo’s uncle and Loremaster of the Iron Hills, had seen fit to send relief aid to their company. With two others by his side, Mhulo returned to the company in good spirits and introduced their new friends.

A hardy Dwarf called Khain, a renowned spear-wielder in the ranks of Iron Hills, pledged his sword and honor to their quests. His green eyes stood out brilliantly to his orange beard, much like Kemlek’s own. The brothers welcomed this Dwarf especially, as another shield would prove vital if their missions were to succeed. The other was born by the name of Thalrir, and he bore a crossbow much alike Thoif’s own “Iggy’s Demise”.

In all, these dwarves were welcomed as brothers. As their meals wrapped up and the alehouse emptied, Kemlek stumbled in drunkenly only to pass out at the feet of Mhulo, grumbling about spiders and goats. Behind him slipped a tall, cloaked figure who stepped up to their circle, and pulled down his hood. He wore a dark brown leather jerkin, plain and unassuming. Clearly a traveler, his black boots were dirty and wet- much to the annoyance of Drorber, having tracked prints everywhere in his recently cleaned pub. His sandy hair fell shoulder-length, and his brown eyes were tired and low. The dwarves were silenced, curious as to the advance of the stranger, especially a human man here amidst the halls of Dwarven stone.

“Name’s Cooper, and I’ve not much time. Which of you gentle lads is Mhulor? Mewlen? Ah, I can’t possibly get it remembered. Apologies…”

“Mhulo, sir. And you’ve business with me then, ay?” Replied Duk’s friend.

“Indeed. I’m of the Dunedain, ranger and watcher of the wild lands that lay outside of your cozy halls. A message needs read m’lord, if you will.” He handed Mhulo a folded letter, with a wax seal the color of cream.

“Aye, we know of your lot.” Replied Mhulo as he took the offering. “This is the seal of the White City, Dunedain.” Stated Mhulo curiously. “What do the Lords of Minas Tirith have to peddle with the likes of us?”

“Surely you will find out. This is news only for the eyes of Dwarf-folk, of import most definite. What I do know is that I was to give you this, and bid you well in your missions amongst this land. Servants of the Dark Lord most foul have been ruthlessly invading once peaceful cities. Some even whisper of sightings of Men of the East roaming and pillaging. To our misfortune, I can attest to these atrocities.”

With a swoop of his cloak, which revealed a sword belt nestled on his waist, the Ranger revealed another token he bore. With a muted *clunk*, a golden helmet rested on the round table before the dwarves.

Its features were sleek, slits for the eyes that reminded Mhulo of a hawk. Plating ran down the face of the helm, covering the mouth, and had mail covering where the throat would be. Metal spurs that looked like the ears of some evil bat protruded from the crown, displaying workmanship more than mere Orcish slap-work.

“Men of the East indeed, Cooper. May your eyes be keen and your sword swifter, Ranger.” Mhulo replied respectfully.
The Dunedain lifted the helm, and took his leave, cloak swirling as he briskly left the now vacant alehouse.
Duk finished the remainder of his brew, and thought hard about what he just witnessed. If Easterlings were raiding into their lands, the Iron Hills would be first to know. Back home, his lands and family were likely fighting these beasts, and here they were in these parts too? Dark times indeed, for these were omens of powers not seen in many years.

Duk had never expected to be right in the middle of it.

Elves! Haarith and the Scorpion’s sting

With a way-point taken from the squat sons of Durin, Haarith and his men had taken a huge step towards creating great trade relations with the Orcs of the Misty Mountains. Once the dwarves fled, Haarith and his men established a perimeter and held their positions.

Their orders were to await the arrival of a band of orcs who would take control of the camp from there. They waited a week, until a decent crowd of Goblins, including the one with the message before, who would be taking refuge for now.

“I will pray to the ancestors that you do not forget who it was that took this land for your masters, imp,” Haarith snapped at the tiny goblin atop the warg. Then, He gestured to a large building, on which the sign of the scorpion of Abrakhan had been scrawled in purple and gold paint. “But my spear-brother Yazan does not trust the ancestors that much.”

“You cur!” The goblin dismounted, more or less falling on his face. How he has taken a leadership position if any kind could not be imagined. “You insult me and my master by leaving this here! We know who to pay when the time comes. You’ll get your gold in the south. But now you have made this ruin an obvious sign of the Harad having been here. Any passers by will see it. Makes it an obvious  target for…”

Haarith stepped to the goblin with frightening speed, his new poisoned spear to the throat of the runt, interrupting him. “Maybe that will be all the more reason for you and your kin to keep a better eye out for it this time rather than falling to dwarfs axes.”

Bakr and Abaan came to back their leader, but again Yazvan intervened. “We’ve cleared the land and claimed it in our own way. If your masters can’t deal with a little flair, they can take that up with The Golden King. This is our culture and we will do as we please at victory.”

“Ugh… fair enough.” spat the goblin. “Here’s more orders. Deliver this  to our kin in the east, in the southern forests of the Great forest near Dol Guldur. The map will tell you where to go.”

Haarith took the map. “We can find the way. ” With that, Haarith mounted his new horse and he and his men went down the road. Their message was meant to be delivered as soon as possible. It was given to Bakr for safe keeping as they traveled the road. And it was during this journey that the Scorpion’s Sting came upon their next battle.

It was near a small stream that Harad warriors came across a small band of High Elves… fully armored… they could see it in their eyes they were in need of the same type of speed that was needed by the Harad. A messenger was on its way to someone with a letter of great import. The Haradrim quickly formed up and stood their ground, firing at the one archer of the enemy. These prim and proper elves could not be brought down by arrows. Multiple volleys did nothing. So it was that Haarith could not wait any more. He charged in with his mount and with that he was ready to ride down this archer. His men stayed back to be able to take some shots at the enemy. It was then that the elves charged the hasty lieutenant of Harad, surrounding him and his horse.

Haarith was ready, though… but  it was then that his brashness was met with a fateful moment. Na’Man saw a chance to bring down the elf scum and shot his bow… but a sudden slip of the finger lead to a shot going right through the arm of Haarith’s left arm… and he fell from his horse, and the horse fled. Na’Man saw his leader fall in horror. He would get the lash for that…

This was the beginning of the end of battle. Bakr and Abaan and the rest charged in … Bakr stayed in the back, knowing his message was more important than his leader’s life.

One by one, the rest of them succumbed to the the enemy until only Bakr and Na’man were left… but the message had to be delivered. Bakr and Na’man retreated as quickly as they could, being chased by the fleet feet of the Elves behind them. They ran and ran and finally dove into the river beside them and were swept down-stream. The swift river would nearly drown them, but it sped them away so the elves could not give chase.

Bakr and Na’man eventually made their way near the battle field, where they met their limping and bleeding friends. When the Haradrim finally made their way to a cave in the Misty Mountains, They tended their wounds. Haarith could barely use this arm, and so they slung it.

When they had all sat themselves down to rest, Haarith finally spoke his mind. “Your incompetence today cannot be over stated!” he shouted. “And you!” He turned to Na’man. “Your shotty bow work could have killed me! I hope you are prepared to deal with the consequences!” Haarith unstrung his bow, now useless to him with a wounded arm. “Bakr, Abaan. Bind him.” They used the bow string to tie his hands to a tree. Haarith manically began stripping the armor and clothes from his back. The horn, ivory and sinew of the Haradrim Bow whistled as the wounded leader beat the bare back of his underling. Once. Twice. Seven times. Ten times. Fifteen. Twenty. Twenty-five. With one more mighty THWACK! the bow was shattered. The young warrior’s back was bleeding profusely. But no tears came from the perpetrator. This was not the time to show weakness. The warriors of Harad do no show fear. They have no other option but to take their beatings.

“Let that be a lesson to the rest of you.” Haarith was seething. The incompetence! The utter stupidity! The only man it seems he could count on was Bakr. “I hope you will learn from this… failure.” And so he stormed off to be alone.

Haarith was livid. What would he tell the masters back home? Fortunately the message was still in their possession, anything less than victory is a loss in the eyes of the Golden King of Abrakhan, and  “We need more men. I won’t be much use with one arm, mounted or no! and we still must deliver this message to the Orcs of Dol Guldur.” He contemplated for over an hour , always coming back to what sort of punishment could be received from his masters on his return. But he also came back to another thought. “We need more men.”

Then he made quick letter in the language of his people. He went back to his men. “Stay here, Mumak, dung. I will return. Bakr, you take the lead.” At this Abaan eyed his rival up and down.

With that, Haarith mounted up and rode back to the Way point from which they came. After a few hours ride, he saw the orcs, lounging about. “So this how they repay our labor to return this place to them,” he thought. “Vermin. A drunken, slothful recline, as if after a hard slog. Meanwhile, we find ourselves against an enemy we barely know!“ But he kept his mouth shut for the moment. Yazan’s wisdom had taught him at least some things.

“Welcome back, Southron!” said the stunted Goblin, feeding his warg. “What happened to you?” he croaked, seeing the arm wound. then he began trembling and pulled his knife, realizing that this could mean a fight nearby. “Where are your men? are there more out there?”

“It doesn’t matter. The elven filth are gone. I bring a message to be sent to my masters in Abrakhan. Can you get it there?”

“Yes i can. What is it for?”

“That is for me to know, alone.”

“Very well. We’ll send it as quick as we can. No promises,” he said as he turned to hand the message to a warg-mounted courier. “They way south is crawling with Whiteskins, both horse lords and the bastards with the Tree. Are you sure there’s no more elves about?”

When he turned back, Haarith had already mounted and was riding away, and shouted, “It may be that they are! It would be good for you to keep a look out!”

As he rode away, in the distance he heard a faint, ”You Oliphaunt riding rats are such bastards!”

Through Spiders and Darkness

Wailing, screaming and whimpering echoed throughout the eastern foothills of the Misty Mountains. The captured goblin was not one to suffer silently, as he made his pain known to all that could hear him. The company feared that the cacophonous wailing would draw all of the enemies east of the Misty Mountains to them. They tried beating him, but he only yelled more. They tried ignoring him, but he only called them by name. In a final attempt at silencing Gitnick, Corunir gave him food and loosened his bonds. Surprising this worked, but Brognir was not happy that the wants of an evil creature had been appeased. Gitnick transformed from a whimpering pitiful creature, to a servile simpleton.

During this transformation, Gitnick repaid his captors for their mercy by giving them what they wanted. He began talking about a small unknown trail upon the edge of Mirkwood. He claimed that it would lead to the dark masters that were driving the orcs to the mountains.

It took them two weeks to travel from the Misty Mountains to Mirkwood, however they did not yet enter, for the trail was further south. As they made their way south along the forests edge, the trees began to grow closer and closer together. Then when it seemed as if each tree was choking the other, a small partition appeared. The darkness of the path made it stand out amongst the many trees. Each member of the company entered the dark path one by one as it was not large enough to allow them to walk abreast one another.

As they made their way through the trail a sense of dread crept up upon the company. It became darker and darker as they proceeded through. Gitnick, who had almost constantly made noise since his capture, was now quite. He began to say “It won’t be long until we meet the dark ones, they lie further down the path”. Brognir then took his spear to Gitnick’s throat , threatening him with death, and said “If you betray us, you betray your own life”. Gitnick replied “Me only showing nice rangers what they asked for, I no trick you. Me too dumb for that”. Brognir was however not convinced and made it his personal mission to make sure that the captive did nothing outside of his sight. That night they found a small clearing and made camp.

Many hours went by underneath the darkness of the trees, but none could really tell when the night ended and the day began. When each had their rest they began treading down the path once more. Before long the path became cluttered with thick webs that could barely be cut through. When the webs became so thick that they could scarcely make their way through, Gitnick started yelling hysterically. Brognir tried to silence him, but before he could do anything large dark skittering shapes could be seen amongst the trees. Arrows sung forth from the rangers as they huddled together in a defensive circle. Large spiders hungry for fresh meet had the company. The spiders skittering between the trees made them hard to hit, and their ghoulish appearance made the hearts of the ranger’s race in terror. They began shooting their sticky webs incapacitating some of the rangers, but each of them fought on stabbing and slashing at the dark shapes as they lunged into the melee. Whenever a spider fell, another took its place. They would have to escape if they were to get out alive. One by one some of the rangers fell to the sticky embrace of the webs. The situation was looking dim, but out of nowhere arrows came out of the darkness pierced the spiders.

Out of the darkness stepped a group of elves dressed in greens and browns. Each of them had a bow in their hands and a dagger at their side. As happy as the rangers were to see the elves, they did not appear so joyful. The elves looked upon them with disdain and clearly thought them fools for having needed rescuing. The elves said nothing, but pointed further down the path, seemingly knowing what the company sought.

The engagement with the spiders and the visitation of the elves was so quick and chaotic that No one individual could really know everything that was going on. After all was said and done Gitnick could not be found, and had presumably escaped. Brognir felt personally responsible as he took the task upon himself to do correctly. He cursed himself and the slippery goblin, but could not allow himself to be overcome with guilt. Despite his failing, he pressed on as the company made its way down the path once again.

So far the path had been dark due to the closeness of the trees, but now the trees themselves were different. They were gnarled, withered, and diseased specimens that somehow produced an even thicker layer of canopy. The degree of their sickliness became more pronounced as they made their way further and further into the darkness. When the trees became so sickly that none believed they still lived, a lone dark tower atop a bald hill could begin to be seen in the distance. Dark pillars of smoke, and moving throngs of small shapes could be seen emanating from the foreboding structure. The company stealthily made their way to the dark tower, creeping as quietly as possible. As they got closer, the shapes began to sharpen and turned into orcs, goblins and even swarthy looking men. Before the great host, was a group of nine darkly clad figures, all clad in the heaviest of armor. Where there should have been a face, there was nothing but a terrifying empty void that seemed to be sucking the light in from around it. They turned to the massed throngs and spoke in the blackest of tongues, and in response the masses rose up their blades and spilt their own blood for their new masters. In turn, each of the nine had a pouch that they gave to the leaders of the eclectic assembly. What the rangers could not understand in speech they could in action. These terrible figures were promising more than a simple pouch of gold, this was just a taste of what is to come. Quickly Tarandir had the company retreat and make their way back to the tower. The captain must know of the evil in Mirkwood.

The Dwarf Ruins- Brigade of the White City

Ondoher had finally recovered from his injuries from the fight against the men of the East. Ondoher sat and thought long about what had transpired, and knew that his rash behavior had caused the loss. He forced his men to run too hard, and that lead to their exhaustion. He charged in without thinking of the consequences of fighting an enemy with pikes. He was made a fool, and for what? The chance to regain his honor? It was now that a change would need to be made if he was to forge ahead with this endeavor.

He got up and began stretching his legs. He surveyed his men and the damage that had been taken. Poor Turin. He thought of him as a brother, and now his brother was laid on the ground with a serious wound in his hip. He continued to find his choices going awry. To the detriment of his own men, he had taken on a battle-hardened enemy that was not forgiving. It was a hard notion to deal with.

Battle-Hardened enemies, those Easterlings. What were they doing this far West? They have no lands under their control further than the Brownlands. The treachery that Beren, the son of Lord Elgamoth, Steward of Gondor, had sent this company to investigate and help defend against must have run deeper than the lord had guessed. this was no mere rabble of orcs and Goblins. This must have some sort of organization to it. War parties gathering. But who could coerce the the Dark Lord worshippers to leave their lands?

After having lingered in his thoughts, he saw that Mablung had returned from scouting about. But he was not Alone. There was another warrior Minas Tirith, but younger than Mablung. Ondoher looked in his eyes and recognized a young recruit that he knew from years gone by. He had seen about the barracks here and there, but did not know him by name. But there was no way that Lord Beren could have sent out another man for assistance so quickly. What was he doing here?

“Mablung! Your joining our party has come at a most pivotal moment. I was rash and it lead to our men being injured, and my friend Turin will likely never be the same. And in this hour, you come to our rescue, even as we lie helpless on the battle field. You have guarded us well.” Ondoher said these words, and then offered his hand in gratitude, which Mablung took with grace. He bowed his head in humility to his commander. Ondoher continued. “And it appears you have been given assistance…” He looked the new comer in the eye, showing no emotion. “Lord Beren had not mentioned any additional assistance was coming in his letter. Though we can be glad for a strong arm, if strong his arm be.” Ondoher turned, with wry smile, and took a drink from a bucket nearby.

“Um, Yes, sir,” said Malbeth. “Sorry for the confusion, sir! I was a bit behind Mablung, here. I do hope that my tardiness will not be punished too severely.” Mablung looked at his long-time friend, as if to say “Are you mad!?” Malbeth gave a hard elbow into his comrade’s ribs as Ondoher turned back to face them.

“Uh, of course, sir. How could I be so foolish?” Mablung asked frantically. “I should have made mention of him before, Lieutenant. “

“Interesting,” replied Ondoher. He would continue his little game. “Why would Lord Beren forget to mention that a second man was coming? He is not an unintelligent man. I would say he is one of the smarter men i have known. It is not like him to omit such details.”

He looked back at Malbeth. His face showed no sign of wavering from his story. Mablung, however appeared to be quite nervous. “Well, I am happy to have you in spite of the circumstance.” the lieutenant said, finally. “You were here when we needed you, and when Mablung needed you. For that I commend you.” Ondoher laid himself back down on a bed roll. “We need the men, and he does not have evil intent, I am sure,” he thought.

The rest of the men continued to recover. Arveleg would not be able to fight any time soon, and Turin… his would would heal, but it could wind up affecting him for his life. When they all were able to sit up on their own and converse without wheezing or hurting, Ondoher spoke to the lot of them.

“As your commander, I must beg your forgiveness. It was rash of me to take you all out so quickly. When we came to the Eastlerings in the field, we were already all exhausted and it lead to our defeat. Fortunately, Mablung was able to get us out alive, and relatively unscathed. I must also express my indebtedness to you all.  In spite of my reckless behavior, you all fought bravely to the end of the battle.”

“I pledge to you all that the leadership of this company will not continue to ask for your lives to be thrown away needlessly, especially if they are not willing to do so themselves. This is what separates us from the hordes of darkness.” There were cheers of “Here, here!” from the company.

Suddenly, the sound of a galloping horse approached. Those who were able girted themselves quickly, but it was not needed. “I seem to be here in the nick of time, sir!” He said as he dismounted, seeing his brothers-in arms bandaged and bruised. Arveleg, barely able to stand, sat up and said, “Well it is about time! You missed out on all the action, just to show up conveniently right after it ended!” The men cackled.  “I am confident you never took that sword to the gut.  Hirgon, the fearless one, indeed! You probably saw those goblin rats and feigned the wound to avoid battle!”

“Well, if you weren’t already half dead, I’d clock you, trickster,” retorted Hirgon. At this they all called out, but in more hushed tones. Hirgon once charged and vanquished  a wild Warg on his own with no gear, so his doughty nature was usually never questioned, even in jest.

Arveleg laughed, and then wheezed. “Someone must be irritable because he’s saddle soar!”

“Enough of this,” said Ondoher, calmly. “It is time we all knew the plan. Lord Beren sent word with Mablung when he first came to us of a dwarf relic of great import. Some dwarves from the Iron Hills appear to be seeking out that device, and we have the intelligence needed to retrieve it.”

“Iron Hills Dwarves,” remarked, Mablung. “I have heard tales of their armies. Rank upon rank of heavily armored phalanxes of the hard Dwarf Folk. Their skill is legendary, and their ferocity more so. I hear they have dwarf magic that even prevents arrows from even hitting them!”

“Aye! And Uh ‘ear theirrr wuhmen have the mo’ beautiful beards!” Arveleg chimed in in the most atrocious dwarf accent.

They burst out in hooting and howling, the wounded man trying to make his hands into a beard while he batted his lashes. Ondoher rolled his eyes, but you could see a smile cross his face. After the laughter died down Ondoher spoke again. “With this information, we must find the land on which this dwarf relic can be found and find it before the enemy takes it into its own hoards. Lord Beren marked it on this map, here. He said that some farm had scorched and a dwarf settlement’s bones were revealed beneath.”

“What are we even looking for, Sir?” asked Malbeth. “I have never seen a single thing in my life made by dwarves. How do I know what it is if I see it?“

“Well, as with many dwarves artifacts, and even with their common objects,” Turgon spoke up. “it will be likely very easy to tell that it is of dwarfish make, especially in comparison to what buildings of Men are near. The woodsmen and farmers nearby will likely be Middle-men. You should not be struggling to tell the difference.”

Hirgon stood up. “That is good enough for me,” he said. “ What shall we do with the horse, sir? And what of Arveleg and Turin?”

“Don’t worry about me! Just set me up in a hole in the ground and I’ll lie in wait for the enemy!” He Went to take a stab at the air with his arm, but he began coughing.

Turin finally spoke. “I will wait with him. Leave the horse. Should we need to escape, we can ride it. I at least have the strength to fight should we be found. My wound is not yet ready to let me go off to an all out skirmish, though.”

“Then it is settled,” declared Ondoher.  “We shall go forth to the land and begin our search.”

So the company made their way many leagues to the immediate west of the Misty Mountains. When they arrived at the location on the map, it took some time for them to find a place as described by their lord. Then, they saw it. On the edge of this land were 2 groupings of thick woods, but you could see that there once were dwarf foundations set here on the edge of the thickets. Indeed, these foundations were strong, but you could see places where possible dwarf valuables might have been stored.

That is when they saw them: some of the biggest orcs Ondoher had ever seen in his entire life. It would be a race to see who could find the artifact of the folk of Durin first, and who would leave with it.

“Quickly!” Ondoher cried. “Form up, men!” Ondoher and Malbeth formed the front of the shield wall, with Mablung and Hirgon and their spears behind.

Meanwhile, Turgon took Hurin and formed their own archer line. “With haste,” said Hurin. ”They are using the wood for cover!” A few of the large orcs drew into the wooded areas, while one ran off to the fat left flank, and the another orc and a companion flanked to the right.

The men of Gondor’s shield wall made it to an object in the middle of the battle field, but Ondoher quickly realized that it was nothing of value. Seeing this, they chose to peel away to the right flank. They charged to the next item that appeared to be what they might be looking for.

They got close, but Ondoher saw that this may end up being a diversion from the truth Relic.  He let the enemy take it first. As he did so, he looked and saw an orc even bigger than the others. He was dripping with blood from the helm he wore, and he bore a large sword. This thing was ready for battle, and would not be an easy kill.

Meanwhile, Hurin and Turgon fired at the enemy hiding in the woods. Turgon missed wide, but it was Hurin who kept hitting on target, but the thick armor of these orcs would not be sundered so easily. They continue to fire as Ondoher and the shield wall approached another item.

It was then that the Orc picked up the the chest. the creature opened it, and found what it was that he was searching for, and began to turn off to run, but the chest was slowing him down. Ondoher saw this, and immediately charged into the foe, and Mablung assisted him with his spear. The fight was evenly matched, but Ondoher suddenly shoved the orc back and struck him down with mighty blow.

The bigger orc suddenly whipped himself into a frenzy, and darted for the chest, and picked it up, and began to run off with it, but it slowed him down too much. Ondoher and Mablung charged the berserker and were assisted by the mighty spear of Hirgon, who struck the killing blow to lay this mighty orc low.

With great speed, a new wall was formed, but this one was to stand in the way of arrow fire from the orc bowman. Mablung slung his shield and spear to his back and picked up the chest, running off toward where the enemy had come from, with Ondoher, Hirgon and Malbeth forming up at his side.

Turgon and Hurin saw that their companions had the item they needed, so it was then that they charged the orcs in the brambles, seeing their bows were not effective, especially when the orcs began heading towards their comrade. Turgon slew the enemy leader with a great blow to the head, and then charged in to help Hurin fight off another orc. This one was able to fight the two of them off. The orc bowman shot at the shield wall as it charged off at a slow pace. “Steady men! Don’t falter! We can still win the…Agh! “ Ondoher was interrupted by an arrow through his knee. He immediately fell to the ground. “Forge ahead, men! We must retrieve this for our allies!”

At this, Hurin and Turgon continued to fight, Hurin slaying an orc, but as their friends continued off into the distance, they were over run and knocked unconscious and could remember no more.

The men of Gondor were able to slay a few more orcs, until finally, Mablung was able to flee the field. His valor had won him the day.

Once the battle had subsided, the comrades were able to come together. The Company brought their prize back to the camp where they left Turin and Arveleg.

Turgon and Hurin survived the ordeal with relatively no serious damage to show for it. The leg wound Ondoher received would slow him down, but with the Horse promised him by his Lord and benefactor, this would hinder him little on the battle field from now on.

Turgon, however, had learned from his experience. His devotion to the whole of his company and for his People shined through today, being willing to take on many for the sake of the White City. Ondoher also learned from the skirmish. His strength was not what it should be, so he began training to increase his strength.

Hurin had been through much. Ondoher knew it would please him greatly to join the ranks of the rangers of Ithilien, so he sent a letter back as swiftly as possible to Minas Tirith with a strong recommendation for him to join their ranks. “I think, Hurin, it would be beneficial to us all for you to drop the Armor of the white city for some Ranger gear.”

“Yes sir!” He quickly dropped his armor and took the facade of a ranger. The lighter armor made it easier to fight, and easier to shoot. Ondoher could see the light in his eyes, gladly taking on the ranger role of the crew.

“And Mablung,” Ondoher said. “Tales of your deed shall be sung by that of the dwarves for many years to come.”

“That is not what one thinks when they say that tales will be sung of you, but i will gladly welcome a stiff dwarf ale if they are willing to buy!” responded Mablung.

With that, the company laughed, again. They were in good spirits after their victory and remained rather merry.

With this victory came The promise of additional support. Yet another Spearman was sent by Beren to get their assistance, named Thorondir. The company had grown to quite the skirmishing force. They were now ready for whatever it was that they may face.

At the coming of Thorondir, it suddenly dawned on Ondoher: they had not even opened the chest with the prize they sought. What was this great dwarven artifact they were charged with retrieving? Ondoher opened the chest, his company gathered around him. Then, they saw it. They were all shocked and amazed to see the object inside….

To be Continued…