Rangers of the North

S03E07 - Black Work
Wherein our heroes break the siege

Upon the morrow Feredir stalks the encamped Orcs, discovering extremely lax security, enabling him – dressed in his translucent Dragonskin armour – to move unseen within the very camps themselves. He quickly discards the Orcs’ arsenal, pilfering their arrows and depositing their mêlée weapons into the violent river.
He then returns to his companions, and the five of them ambush the Orcs, Beoraborn spear-heading the attack, and trapping most of the Orcs within their pavilion. They make short order of their enemies.
By this time, the Orcs encamped further down the bank have raised their alarums, but finding their arms vanished they soon panic, and the Companions bear down on them with relative ease.
Finally, the five stand there, drenched in Orc blood, having just perpetrated a veritable massacre. The difference between a highly trained, elite force specialising in surgical striking and a rusty, unpractised band of brutes is palpable. It is strikingly clear to the Companions that Feredir’s initial observations indeed were right; this intruding force is not the Enemies finest. This is an old horde whose skills at battle have eroded through a long time of disuse.

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S03E06 - Siege at Gundabhund
Wherein our heroes seem trapped by the vicious horde of Orcs on their heels

There is little time; the Companions and Tom prepare for a siege.
As the Horde approaches, Feredir and Idhrhis position themselves at the end of a gauntlet of traps and caltrops, and take out as many enemies as they can before finally being overrun. They bolt through the secret path, as Orcs meet their doom in the gauntlet, and it is in the nick of time they barricade themselves in the old fortress.
The gate holds. Even when the vicious giant arrives, sending reverberations through iron and stone, making even Tom shudder with unease. The Companions use the arrowslits to fell as many foes as they can, finally tallying several scores of dead Orcs, until the giant plug the holes with his fallen comrades. Finally, the giant relents, and the Orcs erect a massive pyre at the gate, with their own fallen as fuel.
Feredir watches from a secret perch outside a chimney as they light the fire, and the main force withdraws, leaving only a small detachment in a make-shift camp.
The Companions have little choice but to await the fire dying, as Tom cannot fit through the chimney, and they make good use of their time by gaining some well-needed rest.
The following day they awake to Tom having wandered off down the tunnels. Feredir and Brolin track him for a while, but it is clear that the giant has found a massive tunnel that seemingly goes on into Lindon past the Ered Luin, and they understand that he has left them.
Meanwhile, Idhrhis and Svendir discover that yet another detatchment has tried to conceal itself further from the make-shift camp. It is obvious that the Orcs are conspiring to let the Company taste their own medicine, and catch them flat-footed in a trap. Idhrhis breaks his usual sombreness with a private chuckle: It will be a dark day indeed if a bunch of cretinous Orcs gets the better of Idhrhis of Lindon!

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S03E04-05 - Shadows over Northern Skies
Wherein Feredir leads a new band of rag-tag heroes protecting the last frontiers of Eriador.

Four years later.
The Enemy has declared himself.

Feredir and his three companions, Svendir the Soldier Son, Brólin of the Iron Hills and Idhrhis the Lindoner are running through the northernmost pass of the vales caressing the eastern slopes of the Blue Mountains. Their silent, deadly war on the incurring Orcs that constantly probe the borders from Forochel. This time, they have met their match: A pack of Wargs is chasing, and they suspect a greater enemy behind.

They prepare to make their final stand, and with their well-practised tactics rout the Direwolves with ease. Feredir and Idhris give chase, but soon realise that the Wargs are leading them. It is a trap! Quickly, they gather up their companions, and they make for the ford of the river. Crossing is deathly cold, but inner zeal keeps them warm.

On the other side, they realise they were right: A much larger force follow the Wargs, led by a gigantic figure who trumpets spine-chillingly from a massive horn.

The Enemy has reached Númeriador.

They spirit away to the Last Retreat, the northernmost trading post in the Borderlands. They are delighted to find their friend Beoraborn present, but dismayed at having to tell everyone to evacuate.

Having sent the traders on their way the next morning, they build a make-shift raft to cross the treacherous waters of the river, and secret themselves to get a better glimpse of the enemy.

It is a war party of Orcs, led by a wretched creature perched on the shoulder of a Giant. Having the privilege of calling one of the giant-kind friend, this saddens Feredir.

Idhrhis fells a few with his arrows, just to make the point, and the Companions retreat, to find a plan and to warn anyone in the war party’s path.

They have not gone long before they come across Feredir’s Giant friend, Tom, holed up in an abandoned Dwarf mine.

With Tom’s help, the Companions dig in, setting a trap for the scouting party surely on their trail…

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S03E03 - Angmar Part Three
Wherein our heroes must confront one of the mightiest beings in Middle-Earth

It takes the Companions a while to recover from their encounter with the dread beast. Feredir and Salabon surmise that it must indeed be the terrible Scorba, one of the mightiest of the Red Fire-Drakes, and equal almost to Smaug the Golden himself. Futility engulfs them, and nothing do they want more than to let go, to give up.

But in the Huntsman stirs the sense of duty of his forbears. He resolves to follow through, even if it means his own end. He has come this far, and he has a responsibility to try. Knowing that his companions will follow him even in death, he quietly motions Herbs to walk with him aways from the group.
“I trust you to carry on without me,” Feredir entrusts his friend. “You must make certain nothing befalls our hapless companions. They must not act like fools and irresponsibly follow me. This I must do alone, the catalyst of these events, and I can not and will not ask any to walk this path with me. Do you understand me?”
Salabon carefully weighs the words of his best friend, and feels a sadness well up within him. But he nods gravely, and confirms. “Aye, for love, I will, at that.”
They exchange sober, curt nods, and return to the rest.
“Friends, we need to consider our approach most carefully,” proclaims Feredir. “Herbs, will you not draw us a likeness of this area, and explore the surroundings from our considerations?”
“Aye,” agrees Salabon, nodding. “Gather round, mates, and we’ll regard what we’ve seen from all and every angle.” And with that, Feredir silently falls back, steels himself, and slips away towards the dread citadel…

*

Zarak-Dûm’s constructions seems to have shared the general arrangement as that of the nameless abode of Colargon, and it appears to Feredir that they must have been erected, or rather carved out, at around the same time, presumably by many of the same masons and engineers. As such, its halls and tunnels are so similar that he is able to maneuver his way along with relative ease, due to his familiarity with the designs. He moves silently, slowly, taking his time and measuring his breaths.

Nothing. The subterranean citadel is silent, as the grave it truly is. He occasionally dares let lose a flicker of light, from the talisman he once feared, retrieved from Ost-in-Edhil, which now seems like centuries ago, but truly was only in the previous year. A rustling noise makes him seek refuge in a sheltered alcove, and his light is quenched, sending him spiralling once more into pure, utter blackness. Nothing. It must have been a small piece of rock, crumbled after millennia, and let loose by his presence stirring the stale air.
He wonders if Dwarven design is similar across Middle-Earth, and struggles to recall how Bilbo Baggins described the secret tunnels in Lonely Mountain. In his mind, he conjures up Bilbo’s depiction of that distant monument, arguably twice the size of this fortress, but vaguely similar. He lets loose the briefest of gasps, and quickly sends forth a minuscule ray of light, enough to illuminate a series of barely visible runes etched into the wall by which he crouches. He touches them, and with the faintest murmur of rumbling rock, the wall yawns open enough for Feredir to slip through, spiriting him further into the abyssal darkness of the Dragon’s lair.

*

He makes his way through the secret tunnels, the darkness oppressive, the only sounds those of his own feet, or the rare, subtle rustle of debris stirred by his passing. Finally the tunnels open up, and before him an antechamber gives way to a hall larger than any room Feredir has ever seen. Across the vaulted ceiling stretch walkways and galleries, criss-crossing upwards and demonstrating the near impossible height of the chamber. He is filled with terrible dread, but no signs does he detect of the presence of the dragon. He does, however, sense a familiar stench: Aurochs! Standing perfectly still, he believes can hearken the sounds and clamour of aurochs, far, far into the great hall. The dragon keeps beasts? Then he must have tenders… His line of thought is broken by a din coming from behind him, in the tunnel. He draws his sword, but there is no sign of any enemies; the blade does not glow. He rushes into the tunnel, and discovers his friends: They have all followed… He sternly and soundlessly reprimands them for making such a racket, and reluctantly accepts their presence.

Together, they make their way up, up along the galleries and walkways, until they reach a majestic highway cutting across the hall, an immense bridge large enough to support three carriages side by side. They follow it, and beyond find a sort of animal shelter, complete with stalls and plenty of hay. Feredir was right, the dragon is keeping a stock. Then they are suddenly accosted by a withered old man. Feredir apprehends him, and is shocked to realise that the spellbound old fool is dressed in Dùnadan garb: He is one of the Rangers of the North! Feredir appeals to his inner self, declaring himself his brother, and manages to shake him out of the trance that the dragon had placed him in, and the sobbing, broken old man tells the tale…

Scorba the Wyrm is cursed with sustained slumber thanks to a powerful talisman hidden in the hoard. Unfortunately, the talisman must be activated, and everyone within three hundred feet of the talisman is doomed to join the slumber – including the one who triggers the curse. Thus, one of the Rangers have taken it in turn to sacrifice themselves to a generational sleep, and another has been on hand to take over once the curse’s cycle comes to an end. He is distraught to learn the year, however: He has only been asleep for forty years, so the curse is lessening in potency. He had expected to remain torpid for at least seventy.

The Company has no time to come up with a sofisticated plan, however, as the terrible pandemonium heralding Scorba’s return sends ice cold spikes of fear through their souls. With no time to lose, Feredir commands his Companions to take care of the old Ranger, and carry him and themselves to safety: This is Feredir’s Quest, and his responsibility. He will fly to the treasure chamber and recover the talisman, himself being the one to activate the curse. Dread strikes, however, as they realise that Jack Fleetfoot has already done just this, the troubled Hobbit seeing this one, last act of bravery enough of a sacrifice to redeeem himself from the greed and lust for power that has plagued him.

There is no time to stop him – the dragon is here. It bellows terrifyingly, demanding to know the intruders. He can smell the death-stench of Colargon, but not the Companions’ true scents, and is confused and terribly angry. Feredir and Eadyth exchange a glance: This is a contingency they have secretly prepared for.

Having made it almost across the bridge, Salabon, Feredir and the old Ranger secret themselves, while Eadyth confronts the beast. She flatters it, claiming to have travelled all across the world to come here and behold Scorba’s magnificence, and to serve it. The ruse works long enough for her to lure Scorba far enough out onto the bridge to be affected by the talisman, in Jack’s hands far below them. Then, Feredir suddenly walks straight onto the bridge – hidden from the dragon’s eyes by the enchanted armour he wears. He starts taunting the dragon, claiming to be the wraith of Colargon, back to wreak his vengeance upon him. At first Scorba is only affronted, but that affront, coupled with his confusion, turns to anger, and secondly to fear. The beast starts thrashing about, but Feredir is safe, being able to see the dragon’s attacks, while the dragon cannot see him. When finally they have the dragon in position, they break, and scream to Jack to cast the curse, just as the dragon takes flight and is about to incinerate them, a gruesome death by fire. As it crashes down onto the bridge, the Companions barely manage to escape the range of the curse, and the entire citadel trembles around them, dust and stone raining from above.

It is over.

Scorba sleeps once more.

But so does Jack Fleetfoot.

Silently, the Companions cast one final, lingering look at the dust-filled cavern, glittering reflections from the lit braziers upon the immense treasure sparkling like stars to their eyes. Then, as one, they turn and walk out the way they entered.

“Wait!” Eadyth stops them. She bends down, and picks up seven golden coins, having scattered from the treasure affixed to the dragon’s scales all the way to the gallery they are about to exit. She hands one to each of them, and saves one for Bragol, and one for Jack. “That halfling was in a way larger than any of us,” she says. “In forty years, should any of us still live, he will need our aide once more. I propose a pact, that we keep these coins, and one day return to finish what we started; better prepared and better equipped. Forty years to devise a way to slay that monster, and to save our Companion.” Needless to say, they all agree.

That is the last thing they say to each other until they return to Rivendell to stand before its lord and master.

Epiloge:
It is the autumn of 3017 in the Third Age of Middle-Earth.

Four years have passed since the Companions of Feredir left Jack Fleetfoot, the Hero of Caravan Hill, in a deep sleep on top of the greatest hoard of treasure in Eriador. Very few know the tale of what befell them in the bowels of Zarak-Dûm, that foul and fallen Dwarven stronghold of old, now the tentative prison of Scorba the Wyrm, last of the Great Fire Drakes. It is Jack’s sacrifice that holds the beast prisoner, and should anyone attempt to enter the stronghold, they, too, will fall into the torpor induced by a powerful amulet clutched to Jack’s bosom. But fear of anyone feeling the temptation of that mighty hoard, or worse, word of the Great Dragon’s fate reach the ear of the Enemy, has made the secret a much-guarded one among the Rangers of the North and the Elves of Rivendell. As such, and because of the ever-present concern for agents of the Enemy among their own ranks – stronger now, since the fall of Treadfall – very little pomp and circumstance is made of the fact that the Quest was successful: Not only did the Huntsman indeed return with the fabled blade Aeglin, a long-lost relic of the Dúnedain of old, forged in Gondolin and present at the fall of that majestic citadel, but three dragons have been felled or immobilised as course of the Quest and by the Companions’ hands. Very few even suspected the presence of dragons so far South and West, and it has certainly caused increased prudence amongst the already vigilant Rangers and Elves.

Yet the Companions’ actions are not without rewards:
Feredir’s is granted privilege to be guardian of Aeglin. He is also awarded the duties as Chief Ranger of the Evendim Hills and the borderlands, his birth lands.
Eadyth is given an edict from Elrond, Lord of Rivendell, attesting actions of true valour, courage and honour, enough to satisfy the Horse Lords and restore her family name. The edict is, of course, made out to her brother, Edmund.
Salabon is named a true Dúnedain for his efforts, and his lineage will subsequently be counted among the clans of the Rangers of the North.
Beoraborn is given free passage in all the lands falling under Rivendell’s aegis, and the Bejibar is named a Friend of the Elves.
Jack Fleetfoot is mourned by the Elves. Though because of the circumstances, he will not be immortalised in song. The lamentations of his passing are silent, but not insignificant.

And thus, the Quest for Aeglin is over, and the Company disbands. Feredir travels West to assume his duties, while Salabon goes South, to reconvene with Bragol, their designs their own, but with mutterings of travelling East, into Gondor. Eadyth joins him on the way to Ost-in-Edhil, to bring her family’s restoration back to Edoras, and Beoraborn walks for a while with a Wandering Company of Elves.

Four years later.

Feredir has learned well to know the lands of Emyn Uial and beyond, the borderlands along the Blue Mountains, and the disputed lands to the North, where he and his new companions wage a precarious skirmish war with agents of the Enemy. They have hitherto been unsuccessful in learning the nature of the Enemy’s objectives, but their struggle lingers on.
Oft-times Feredir wonders what befell his friends, and his moods will go dark. Often he will not speak for days. Only Beoraborn understands, but his presence is irregular, his wanderlust taking him long distances away from the Ranger and his new companions. This is one of those moments, and the weathered Outrider falls into a brooding state as he is helping himself to the company’s lunch of cooked coney.
Four years Feredir and his band have been ranging the lands north of the Ered Luin, four years have passed since he last saw his brother Salabon and the others.
Just as he and his companions are about to set of for Lindon, a bird descends upon Feredirs bedroll. A hawk. It is weary, it must have flown very far, Feredir surmises, for the fowl is scrawny for the coming winter, and its plumage disheveled. He is not surprised when the bird speaks him, his inborn ability to speak with birds and beasts making him understand the hawk’s address, but something in the message is unanticipated. “Are you the Huntsman?” the bird demands, and the pitch and tone is not common to the hawks of the Ered Luin. It has flown far, indeed. “Aye, I am he,” he replies.
“Then I have a message for you,” continues the bird. “From the female they call the Magpie. Mother of He Who Gathers Pigeons. Mate of the Half Elven.”
Feredir raises his eyebrows. His companions have left their own meals uneaten, and are now watching the correspondence, unable to comprehend the meaning that passes between man and bird.
“What is this message?”
“Keeper of Pigeons have been taken and Hlaf Elven has disappeared . You must come to the nest of the White tree. Fast.”

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S03E02 - Angmar Part Two
Wherein our heroes finally find Colargon

The Companions of Feredir march on, staying low and avoiding encounters, and after some days they catch the spoor of the fleeing drake. Cresting a hill, the creeping Huntsman comes across a valley in which he spots the blackened remains of Colargon. He calls the others, and soon the Companions discover that Colargon has been slain and eaten by an even greater dragon. The Huntsman looks north, and there, no more than twenty miles distant, stands a terrible fortress. He knows it from legend; Carn Dûm.

Suddenly, an earthquake startles them, and they see a shape emerging from the distant ruin: A giant, black dragon, almost a hundred feet long! It swoops down on a herd of unassuming aurochs, but scents the group, and makes for the valley. The Rangers quickly secret themselves, and it is clear that the dragon fails to locate them, and seems confused by the strong scents of the carcass. It breathes a mighty rain of fire upon the valley, and it is sheer luck that makes it give up and return to the citadel with its prey.

Feredir suggest they mask their scents with the remains of Colargon, and urges his fellows to move on Carn Dûm: This monstrous, evil threat to all Eriador has to be stopped.

That night, Feredir obtains an innate sense of the lands. He does not like them, but he can feel them – understand them. This helps him locate a perfect hiding place for the night; a small cave carefully nestled behind fallen rocks, with a small stream running across, enough to hide any scents. He is also able to produce a small, smokeless fire, so the companions can enjoy a last meal – possibly the last meal ever. Talk turns to their two lost comrades, Bragol and Baran. Worries are voiced, and fears spoken. Only Jack remains silent, even more so than the brooding Huntsman.

The next day a careful survey of the terrain shows that it is quite obvious that the giant Beijibar Beoraborn will be unable to hide himself in case the dragon should appear.
Beoraborn looks immensely sad: it hurts him to leave his companions, but they all agree it is for the best. Beoraborn is best served as last defence, or, if the worst were to pass, a messenger to warn the Free Peoples of the impending doom. Feredir feels uncomfortable leaving his mightiest ally, but it is unlikely that any of them will return, so it stands to reason that someone should be left to survive. Honestly, at this point, he would rather go alone, and risk only his own life, but he knows proud Eadyth would never allow herself to miss the opportunity of regaining her family’s honour: Even if she should fall, her recognition is sure. Jack is hell-bent on his quest for redemption, and facing this foe – perhaps the most terrible in all of Middle-Earth – is the ultimate test. And Salabon is loyal to a fault. He would never leave his best friend. This, Feredir knows, and thus he grudgingly accepts that he is leading some of the best people he knows into certain death. If he will ever be able to live with the choice, if he lives after the ordeal, he is less certain of.

They make their teary-eyed farewells, with promises from Beoraborn to give messages to all who deserve them, and press on. Beoraborn lingers for a while, a great sadness ovewhelming him for a spell, before retiring to the cave to wait, and observe from a far. Waiting, he is familiar with, as a bear shifter. But observing without interfering, is a concept he struggles with.

*

The Companions finally reach the village at Carn Dûm. They see it has been inhabited up until recently, by scores of Orcs, and even some Trolls. These are all lying in the streets, littering the place with their corpses. They are all dead. Feredir tries to communicate with the vermin feasting on the dead, but the wretched things seem mad. He concludes that they have been driven wild by the dragon’s mere presence.

They have little time to consider them, however, as they soon sense the return of the dragon, having been out in flight, and they all make haste to secret themselves among the ruins.
The mighty beast glides deadly and silent above them. They see its glimmering scales, strong as obsidian, and the myriads of gems and coins infused between them like a second armour – just as Bilbo’s tale told Smaug was adorned and protected. The monster, larger than anything any of the Companions have ever witnessed, leaving them gaping and overwhelmed, before it awkwardly lands beyond the city walls. Soon it crawls onto the walls, and trumpets into the misty daylight.
“I smell the foul stench of the wretch Colargon!” it bellows. “I know not who you are, but your tricks cannot fool me!” It roars, and then the air turns electric for a split second as it takes a huge gulp of air, and throws a lance of fire across the square and the nearby buildings. The Companions hug their hidey holes, and bide their time. The dragons stands still, considering the display before him for quite a while, before it suddenly turns away and clambers down and into the fortress.

The Companions sit still, white-faced and in terrible awe. It is not fear that course through their veins, although that is surely strong enough an emotion to affect them. No, it is pure futility, hopelessness and despair that mar the Companions.

How in Fram’s memory can they ever hope to slay such a mighty and invincible beast?

To be concluded.

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S03E01 - Angmar Part One

Prologue:

He was awake. He did not know for how long he’d been asleep, but it had to have been some time. He could no longer feel the presence of the darkness. In fact, he could only feel the presence of one of the younger ones, and the younger one was dying. He rose and stretched his limbs. “Not as powerful as I used to be”, he said to himself.

*

_Corlagon crash-landed in a ravine. His alkaline blood was burning through what little vegetation there was. He had not fled far enough, and death was not far behind. He closed his eyes. It was hard to breathe. He didn’t know how long he’d been lying in the ravine when he could feel a thud, as if something huge had landed right beside him. Corlagon tried to open his eyes, but he was too weak.

“Corlagon,” a voice spoke to him, a voice he had not heard for hundreds of years. “You always were an embarrassment.” Corlagon tried to speak, but only bubbles of alkaline blood emerged from his lips. “Corlagon the Great.” The voice was filled with mockery. “Hunter of goats, ravager of sheep. So petty he could not even hold goblins as slaves.” Colargon wanted to jump up and go for the throat, not necessarily to kill, simply to end the mockery. Even if that meant he’d die. For he would die, soon, he knew that. He spat out some more bubbles of blood. “What was that you said?” Corlagon mustered all his remaining strength. “They are right behind me, and now they are coming for you too.” “You fool. You are nothing more than a cave wyrm. Who are right behind you?” “They are armed with elven…” and Corlagon was gone.

He was hungry. Hungry enough to devour a drake, and that was exactly what he did. Refuelled by the draconian soul harvested from the red Cold Drake, he stretched his neck and roared.

It was good to be awake again._

Rangers of the North: Angmar
Part One

The wind beats uncaring gusts in across the parapet. Below is true darkness, above is nary a star. Only Salabon can see the uneven course of the wounded beast as it frantically beats its wings into the night.
“We must descend the way you arrived! We need our mounts, the supplies…”
“No.” Feredir interrupts him. He walks to the edge. “Dwarves do not fly. And this fortress was not built for dragons. This parapet must have had a function, it is unlikely ornamental in origin.” He tosses a torch down. There are steps carved into the very face of the cliff, but even from here he can see that they are mostly eroded and broken. Not a one of them will be descending that way.
“But the way you came!” sputters Salabon. “Surely it is the only way?”
Feredir turns on him, and snarls, “It is the wrong side of the mountain! End your prattle about the way we came, we are not taking that path. The only way is there!” He points into the gaping archway towards the night.
Salabon still does not understand Feredir’s sullenness, and mistakes it for uncertainty, so he continues unchastened. “What about the gold?”
“What of it? If you are thinking of filling your pockets, you have another thing coming.”
“No, no, not for myself. Dragons can sense if its hoard has been pillaged. Won’t it be back for the gold? We don’t need to go anywhere.”
Again Feredir turns on his friend with anger in his eyes and voice. “Do you presume to teach me of dragons? Have I not travelled across all of Eriador and beyond collecting every last tale and bit of lore about them?”
This stings Salabon’s pride, finally. “Well, I presume not a thing, but if you recall, o Huntsman, it was I who translated the ancient writings in the library in Tharbad. I fail to see how anyone else could have done that.” He adds the latter in almost to himself.
Through gritted teeth, Feredir mutters “And we all know about your linguistic abilities,” but he regrets it as soon as it is said.
Beoraborn tries to intercede. “Let’s prepare this place for its return, we can rig an ambush, get it real good.”
“No.” Feredir stalks over to the hoard, scans it, and picks a large, precious jewel. “This will do.” He points to Beoraborn. “You and I can track it. The rest can return for the gear if you deem fit, and we will leave tracks for you to follow.” Beoraborn nods.
“Wait a minute,” says Jack. “This chain mechanism, would it not be able to feed enough chain to lower us down?”
Feredir thinks for a while. “It makes sense. That must be the purpose of this platform, to transport goods up and down with this chain.”
“I’ll see if I can get it working,” says Jack, and ambles over. While he is busy trying to make sense of the ancient, Dwarvish magics, the rest of the crew go over their gear.
“We have enough supplies,” says Eadyth. “The goat we smoked will last us for several days.”
“And there must be ample hunting in Angmar,” says Feredir, nodding. “After all, the dragon must have been feeding on something. Goats, hill sheep, grouse…”
“We’re ready to go,” says Beoraborn, and Salabon sighs dejectedly.
“Fine,” he says, sullenly, still not sure of why Feredir chastised him so, not grasping the enormous feeling of failure and guilt in his friend, and the burning need to set it right or die trying.
“I have it,” Jack calls from the other side of the hall, and they all turn in surprise to see the chain rattling and clanking across the parapet and into the darkness.
They cheer and clap Jack’s back as he returns to them, and Feredir states, “Right, then we embark.” And with that, he grabs hold of the chain and disappears into the night.

*

Soon they are down on the ground.
“Can you track him?” Feredir asks Beoraborn. The massive Beijibar ponders, and then shrugs off his equipment. He stalks off into the darkness, and after a series of terrifying and painful-sounding noises an enormous bear emerges from the night. It sniffs the air, snuffles about, and then starts lumbering away. The Companions look at each other and follow.

After a while it becomes clear that sporadic drops of alkaline blood is insufficient to determine the direction of the dragon’s flight. It is simply too time consuming to locate the next splash of blood.
“This will never work,” complains Salabon. “It is impossible to find what way the dragon took!”
Feredir just glances at him, and calls in a hooting voice. Soon, a familiar-looking shape glides out of the night and lands on his raised fist. He seems to speak to the barn-owl called Nighteyes, but it is unintelligible to them all. “He flew north,” he finally declares. The Companions move out.

*

The track the dragon’s path, and find that it veers off into the mountain chain to the west. Impossible to traverse, they decide to move further north, into Angmar itself, and skirt the mountains via the plains. They have not gone long before they can see campfires being lit in several directions in the dusky twilight of morning, visible in the flat, open plains miles away. Orcs," mutters Feredir, equal measure statement and query.

Some time later, Feredir comes across the tracks of a company of Orcs, no older than two days. At a march, they move much slower than the Companions, and the five of them pick up the pace. They gain good ground, but are eventually forced to make camp, as only Feredir and Beoraborn are able to keep up the relentless pace.

As Jack keeps watch, he seems to sense something in the dark. He wakes the others, and they realise they are being stalked for an ambush from several directions. They hurry to get their gear on, and make a circle around their secret weapon, Beoraborn. Suddenly arrows start flying, and they are under attack!
With the giant bear on their side, they make quick work of the Orcs, but their battle has attracted the attention of another group of Orcs, half a mile away. They pilfer what they can, and make flight, easily outdistancing themselves from the Orcs, and being able to rest for the night.
When day breaks, they retrace their steps, and sneak into the Orc camp. Feredir and Jack crawl all the way into camp, donning discarded Orcish armour and helmets to blend in, and manage to dispatch the sole sentry with ease. They signal for the rest, and the five methodically slaughter the evil creatures. Even Salabon takes part in the dirty work – and dirty work it undoubtedly is, but works that need doing. For Feredir, this is the reason for his training: Kill Orcs and vanquish evil. Having inherited his father’s grudge for the twisted humanoids, he also has a special hatred for Angmar Orcs, as they also turned out to be his father’s bane. For Jack, dispatching the things bearing a symbol resembling the hated Red Eye, this is another step on the path to Redemption. For Beoraborn and Eadyth, these are their peoples’ tribal enemies. And for Salabon, this is another uncomfortable reminder of the life he chose when he decided to escape from the path of Evil: Even the good path is an evil in and of itself.

As the sun rises over a plains awash with black blood, five grim Rangers again turn towards the mountains and their prey.

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Previously on Rangers of the North
The Road So Far...

The young Ranger Feredir, known as the Huntsman among the folk of the Bree-lands returns from an extended ranging to find that his promised position of protector of the Bree-lands has been awarded to his childhood rival. With his generally positive outlook, he vows to do his job right, and sets to work under his new superior. He is designated as the guide and liaison to the travelling herbalist and physician Nestaron Mistion, whom Feredir dubs Salabon, or “Herbs”. Herbs has sought out the Rangers of the North to learn of their ways, and to become closer to nature. City-bred from Southern Gondor, Salabon is more familiar with the streets of Minas Tirith than the wilds of Eriador. Unbeknownst to Feredir and the Rangers, Herbs is really a defector from the Black Númenoreans, on a mission to redeem himself of his evil legacy. Not long after joining Feredir, Salabon discovers that he is not the only King’s Man in Eriador.

The pair soon encounter a young Elf, Eldacar, and a Gondorian mercenary named Baran, and together the four defeat a small band of Orcs accosting a caravan. Eldacar is in reality Bragol Thriawath, an agent from Rivendell, on a mission to seek out and catch spies and traitors among the Dúnedain. Baran has travelled with the caravan all the way from Gondor, and as it arrives in Bree it is disbanded, leaving him idle. The pay, he learns, does not get him far, and together with Eldacar he decides to join Feredir and Salabon as they patrol the Bree-lands.

Feredir receives orders from his superior, Treadstone, to deliberately be too challenging to solve; firstly to deal with bandits in the Chetwood, and secondly to investigate the Midgewater Marshes for rumours of goblins. With the aid of his three new companions, they accomplish both tasks, and in addition help the bandits receive full pardons by being instrumental in clearing out the Orcish presence in the Marshes. The four become something like folk heroes, much to the dismay of Treadstone, who rewards him by assigning him pointless assignments in the South Downs.

Feredir travels up and down the South Downs looking for incursions of any kind. There is none, but he learns of movements far south, around Tharbad, and he recruits the itinerant Bejiabar Beoraborn, one of the former bandits, to accompany him.

The other three of his companions soon joing them, all three with different reasons for wanting to carry out the southbound trek.

In the ruins of Tharbad they discover a group of bandits, whom they quickly defeat. Bragol manages to turn the situation to his favour by recruiting the leader of the bandits to be his agent in Bree.

The group learns of a rumour of Wargs in the Angle, and follow the Glanduin to investigate.

In The Angle they find and deal with an invasion of wolves led by an evil Warg, and soon are joined by the Hobbit Martial Artist and inventor Jack Fleetfoot, having lost his home in the attack. The company is hailed as heroes, and is summoned to Fennas Drúnin, the only sizeable town of any worth for hundreds of miles. After having enjoyed the worth of their rewards at the Oak Grove, a luxurious guesthouse run by a feisty woman named Jayelle, town council leader Paetric invites them to undertake a special mission to escort a caravan to two forts suffering under heavy attacks from marauding Dunlendings, Southron men and Easterlings. They make it to the forts Thuin Boid and Harnalda, and soon join the cause, helping to vanquish the invasion, but learn that the whole campaign possibly is a red herring – the key being a spy in Fennas Drúnin and an old keep, Minas Brethil, north of the town.

Scouting out the old castle they find a force of Orcs and Hillmen working on a tunnel under the river Mitheithel. With the help of the Red Lances they manage to destroy the forces of Darkness and liberate Minas Brethil. But the agent in Fennas Drúnin, the Sand Serpent, still lives, and what exactly was the Enemy hoping to gain by creating the causeway under the Greyflood?

They return to Fennas Drúnin, and at the banquet celebrating their success Baran overhears the traitors conspiring. He confronts them, but is defeated and wounded. Enough uproar is caused, however, that the culprits are exposed, and soon the rulers of Fennas Drúnin has uprooted the conspiracy and the linchpin known as the Sand Serpent.

The Companions are offered Minas Brethil as a reward, but they all promptly decline, except for Baran, who is declared Lord of Brethil. Feredir learns of Salabon’s murky past, and feels a deep betrayal, leaving the group and returning to the Bree-lands. Jack and Beoraborn follow Baran to Brethil, and a crushed Salabon and spy-master Eldacar remain in Fennas Drunin.

The Company is no more.

Salabon confesses all to Eldacar, and explains that he has reasons to believe a former associate of his has infiltrated the Rangers. He provides Eldacar with a sketch, and then travels towards Minas Tirith to collect his sister and bring her to Fennas Drúnin. Eldacar immediately leaves for Bree to seek out Feredir

*

In Bree, Feredir is approached by Eldacar, who reveals himself and his mission, telling him he suspects a strange Ranger might in fact be a spy. This confirms suspicions Feredir has had regarding a strange companion to his superior Treadstone, and after seeing the sketch he recognizes a mysterious face he has seen before, on his 18 month ranging. The two begins suspecting Treadstone is in league with a traitor.

Baran starts rebuilding Minas Brethil, and soon angers all of Fennas Drúnin as he offers incentives to attract artisans, and starts draining the city of its workforce. Jack and Beoraborn build their forge, until Beoraborn leaves to seek out Feredir. Jack discovers a giant, magical anvil that has been the answer to his dreams of becoming an artificer.
On his way south Salabon befriends the charismatic Adamar the Easterling, who takes Salabon to see his master Saruman at Orthanc. Saruman considers Salabon to be a potential tool for him, especially with his connections to the Rangers. He encourages Salabon to return to the Rangers, making the healer determined to do so.

*

Bragol and Feredir encounter a benevolent giant named Tom, who later meets Beoraborn in the South Downs. They hold counsel at Rivendell, and are given orders to catch Threadstone at any cost. They reunite with Beoraborn at Bree, and add Bragol’s agent Mabs to their party.

They track Treadstone to Fornost Erain, where they are beset by animated corpses, and finally come face to face with a dread Wight, lord of the tainted citadel. They almost lose Bragol and Mabs, but the Elf’s courage and Beoraborn and Feredir’s battle prowess defeat the fiend.

*

Meanwhile, Baran and Jack are summoned to Fennas Drúnin to deal with an incursion of Orcs. The results are disastrous. Baran’s plan is immature and ill-conceived, and the failed attack on the Orcish bastion sees the ranks of the fabled Red Lances, of which he has held command, decimated, and Jack taken prisoner and tortured. While under torture, Jack sees visions of Feredir, and realizes that his path is wrong. He must reunite with his friend. Unbeknownst to him, Feredir shares the vision. Neither knows that there is a mystical bond between them due to an artifact both have had contact with.

*

Feredir, Bragol, Beoraborn and Mabs return to the Lone Lands, where they meet the Ranger Wolf’s Bane and apprentice Ranger Puck. Bragol is too wounded to move, so Wolf’s Bane has him put up with some farmers living nearby, and they leave Mabs to watch over him, while the rest pick up the trail of Treadstone.

They cross the Oiolad, and have a nasty encounter with trolls, before they confirm their track, to Cameth Brin, and make camp to wait for Mabs and Bragol. Reunited, they approach Cameth Brin, just to spot two men travelling away from the keep. They are unable to discern if the two are their quarry, and Wolf’s Bane, as senior Ranger, decides to follow the two, with Mabs and Puck, while Feredir, Bragol and Beoranorn are to scout out Twisted Hill.

The three infiltrate the old keep, which is infested with Orcs, and find definite proof that there is an intelligence behind the movements of the Orcs. One Orc manages to escape with some sort of book, and the three follow him down the river until they come across a company of mercenaries operating out of an old fort in the woods of the Trollshaws.

Sneaking up, they see that Mabs and Isig are captives, and they create an ambush, freeing their friends and fleeing to safety. They are mortified to hear that the mercenaries killed Puck; the other two are wounded. They find out that their quarry is headed for Tharbad, so they return to Rivendell, and are instructed to follow, and seek out the ruins of the Great Library before the villains.

They travel by boat through the Angle, and reunite with Jack and Salabon, who has returned from the East with his sister. Feredir and Salabon are nothing but civil toward one another, but it is clear that both are relieved to be reuinted. Leaving Salabon’s sister in the company of Jayelle, the Companions’ contact in Fennas Drúnin, they make haste downriver with a full crew. Assailed by giant river crocodiles on the way, Jack and Beoraborn barely makes it away with their lives, and the boats are ruined, forcing the Companions to finish the journey on horseback.

In Tharbad they discover that the villains have a whole host of grim mercenaries, and are methodically searching the city. They sneak in unseen, but Jack is ensorcelled by a magical artifact calling to him, and the Company is detected, forcing them to flee in a wild hunt across the flimsy roofs of the ruined city. They barely make it out, and lay low while Eldacar manages to sneak close and spy on Treadstone and the false Ranger, gleaning their final location as Annúminas.

When the mercenary army has left Tharbad, the Companions locate the library, and find proof that the villains are searching for lost Palantíri. They also come across the legend of the lost blade Aeglin, the companion blade to Orcrist and Glamdring, and Feredir declares that when this quest is over, he intends to seek it out – in Angmar.

Traveling north, the Companions choose a more difficult, but faster, route than the mercenaries. While camping in the Tyrn Hyarmen they are beset upon by Wargs, and a legendary creature – a Werewolf! Once again, Jack is enthralled by an evil force, but Feredir manages to slay the terror. They resume their trek, and arrive at Nirmolian, where they stir the Rangers of the North to action. Days ahead of the villains, they arrange a deadly ambush at Annúminas, Jack’s engineering skills allowing them to rig entire streets to collapse on the intruders.

They spring their trap, and realize too late that the false Ranger has been possessed by a Wight! A deadly fight ensues, but the fiend is finally broken, and a wasted Treadstone, drained of life-energy, is found remaining, the mercenaries all put to the sword. After a failed attempt to enter the locked library of Annúminas, they repair to Nírmolian, where they agree to give the now-mute Treadstone into the keeping of the Rangers, and also receive the blessing of the Rangers to travel to Angmar to reclaim Aeglin. Feredir forgives Salabon and names him brother, and the Companions reforge their close-knit bond of brotherhood while looking forward to this, their next, formidable quest.

*

Feredir decides to learn as much about dragons as possible. He instructs Salabon, Bragol and Beoraborn to return to the library in Tharbad and do research there, and meanwhile he and Jack will travel to the heart of the Shire to interview the Hobbit Frodo Baggins. His uncle, Bilbo, is renowned for his part in the slaying of the dragon Smaug, and can offer unique insight. Jack Fleetfoot manages to upset and disturb Frodo to such a degree that he throws them both out, with the conclusion that all Rangers must be vagabonds and scoundrels – but not before having let Feredir peruse Bilbo’s own writings from his ordeal.

Meanwhile, Bragol, Salabon and Beoraborn travel to Tharbad, where they research all they can on dragonkind in the Great Library. Their mission to the Shire over, Jack and Feredir rejoin their friends. Feredir has decided to go to Edoras to hear the tales of the Rohirrim progenitor, Fram, who famously slew the dragon Scatha a thousand years ago. They hire canoes from a nearby fishing village, and sail down the Sirannon, at Jack’s behest. Eldacar has told tales of Ost-in-Edhil, and the Company has reluctantly agreed on the detour to visit the fabled citadel.

In the dark of the citadel, they discover an ancient, withered Elf held captive by a trapped dragon so weakened and maddened with hunger that its skin is translucent. The pair have been trapped for thousands of years. By cunning design, the group manages to trick the dragon and slay it by Eldacar striking it from a hidden position. Unfortunately, its weight crushes Eldacar, and his life is forfeit, until Hunter and Herbs manage to heal him. Unbeknownst to them, Eldacar has a vision wherein he has to give up his immortality to return to his body – and his love for Mabs. They rescue the weakened Elf, who is so feeble that he can barely speak, let alone give his name. Salabon has heard tales of a village of healers not too far into Dunland, and Beoraborn and Feredir set out to find this village. They find a deserted hall and town Cillien, and return to spirit the comatose Eldacar and the weak Elf here to heal.

While Salabon tends to the wounded with Jack and Beoraborn’s help, Feredir travels alone to Edoras. He returns with not only the tales, but Eadyth of Edoras, a spirited Rohir spearmaiden who seeks to reclaim her family’s honour on behalf of her cowardly brother.

They winter at Cillien, and Feredir traverses Methedras in the southern Misty Mountains in search of the Great Eagles. He finds the Eagles, as well as the grave of Elendil. His great awe for the remains of his distant ancestor gains him the respect of the Eagles. Later, he goes north and into the Angle in search of Baran, but nothing of his friend does he find in Minas Brethil apart from a large company of strange soldiers who have taken over.

Jack leaves the Companions and goes into the wild, protected by Feredir’s wolf Grey Cloak. He befriends a group of Elves belonging to a Wandering Company, who teaches him to find his inner peace, and his solution to his Path of Redemption. He carries on into the Angle and what he believes to be the source of his corruption: The magical anvil in his forge. He is refused entry to the fort, despite being one of the Stewards of Brethil, but sneaks in, and manages to crush the evil anvil.

Wounded and hurt he stumbles into Fennas Drúnin and finds Jayelle and Salabon’s sister, who take him in and set him up, before insisting on traveling with him to Cillien. Meanwhile, Salabon has travelled to Bree to fetch Mabs, whom he discover is heavily pregnant! He helps delivering the baby, and they, too, make their slow way to Cillien.

All through winter Beoraborn and the Elf they rescued, a fabled, ancient Artificer, work in the forges of Cillien. As spring approaches, Beoraborn emerges, the Elf gone West to the Grey Havens. Together they have crafted magical spears – two of which are made to slay dragons, an ornate coat for Salabon, and an eerie, otherworldly armour for Feredir.

After their reunion, the Companions start making their preparations to travel North, when a surprise visitor arrives: Gandalf!

Gandalf endorses the Quest, and agrees to escort them as far as Rivendell (which they will avoid, knowing Elrond will forbid the Quest).

North of Rivendell and into the badlands they are accosted by a horde of Orcs, and have to ride hard to cross into the Nan Angmarrim, their goal in sight.

They leave their mounts, and stalk ahead toward the dragons lair, but Salabon and Eadyth are discovered and captured by the beast. Feredir, Jack and Beoraborn infiltrate the lair, and Feredir finds the legendary blade. They confront the dragon, who cannot see Feredir, and it is clear that the enchanted armour makes him unseen by dragons. Armed with drake-slaying weapons and their well-rehearsed tactics, the resourceful group soon has the Wyrm cornered. But then disaster strikes. Seeing no end but his own, the Great Wyrm Colargon flees into the night, wounded and desperate.

The Companions stare into the darkness of night-cloaked Angmar, where the Wyrm Colargon has escaped, wounded and raging, unleashed on the world. Stoic Feredir is silent for a while, before his lips pass a single sentence:

“What have we done?”

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S02E21-22 - Into the Maw
Wherein our heroes finally reaches their destination - and their fates

Feredir and Jack leave the less stealthy majority of the party behind, to infiltrate the Wyrm’s abode in secrecy. They have scarcely been away for an hour when the dragon descends on their friends. It confronts them, and Salabon decides to take an active stance, trying to sweet-talk the beast. Unfortunately his tongue is not quite so silver, and the dragon becomes enraged, seemingly swallowing Salabon, and flying off to its lofty lair.

Having seen the Wyrm from afar, Feredir and Jack come rushing back, to be told the sad tale. With grim determination, Feredir now has further cause to slay the dread Wyrm. He soldiers purposefully onwards, with Beoraborn at his side, and the rest follow.

Halfway up the mountain, they are accosted again, and this time the dragon flies off with Eadyth.

Eadyth and Salabon are being kept in chains in the dragon’s lair. Remarkably little treasure abounds. They attempt to find ways to escape, but to no avail.

The rest of the party continue on a laborious trek towards the mountain. When they finally get there, they find the gate locked by a riddle. Many hours do they spend before Feredir finally realizes the obvious answer, and the gates open.

They trek through the darkness for many long hours, before Feredir sees something glinting in the darkness. It is the sword he has come to reclaim – Aeglin.

With this in hand, the fight is as good as won, thinks he, and they continue.

They emerge from the catacombs just as Eadyth has entranced the dragon with a Rohirrim dance, and wait for the right moment for their attack.

Just as the dance reaches its climax, Eadyth notices her companions, and hesitates just a fraction of a second, enough for the dragon to break free of the spell. As it rears its massive head to bellow, Jack comes hurtling through the air onto the dragon’s back…

and kills it with one blow.

Jack the Dragon Slayer is hailed as the greatest of heroes, enjoying all forms of hospitality and praise, lauded and worshipped wherever he goes. Soon, hubris has overcome him, and he understands that he has succumbed to the Flaming Eye, ever at his shoulder.

Jack wakes, realizing that he did not kill the giant beast, it was but a portent of things to come – his fate should he succumb to the temptations of fame and power…

…and is violently knocked against a column by the dragon’s thrashing tail.

Colargon trumpets, and the Companions regroup, taking cover.

Suddenly, the drake rolls his enormous eyes and flares his nostrils. “I smell… I smell Man of the West!” His massive head sweeps the room. “Where are you, Man of Westernesse, show yourself!”

The Huntsman steps from the shadows to stand directly afore the beast. “I am here, dragon. I am Barhador son of Tauron, called Feredir, the Huntsman, by the Free Folk of Eriador.”

The dragon rolls his eyes again, nostrils flaring, head sweeping. “Where?! Where is he?! I can smell you, little man, I can hear you. What hides you from mine eyes? What sorcery is this?”

Feredir’s eyes grow large, and he stares down at the green and white, almost pulsating armour gifted to him by Beoraborn. He understands. It makes him unseen to the dragon. “I am the ghost of Elendil, the spirit of the Dúnedain, come to visit upon you the wrath of the kings of old!” Colargon bares his teeth and hisses, still oblivious to Feredir’s position.

At the same time, Eadyth charges the dragon with a fierce cry, slashing out with her formidable Mithril-wrought spear. The dragon bellows, and its huge head sweeps right over Feredir towards the Rohirrim woman. Beoraborn wastes no time, and charges out of the shadows with his dragon-slaying spear, roaring Beijibar oaths and thrusting at the great wyrm. Colargon cries out in anger, and rises to his hind feet, flapping his great wings. A terrible gust of air hits hard, sending Salabon sprawling and the others scrambling for footing, but Feredir stands firm. He is about to charge the dragon, when he feels a strange sensation, and hears the drake uttering an incantation. The room plunges into absolute darkness! “Now the scales are balanced, little manling,” chuckles the dragon. Eadyth and Beoraborn strike out blindly, but Feredir remains standing, closing his eyes and concentrating. Still with closed eyes, he strikes out, and strikes true. Colargon bellows in pain as the enchanted spear ensorcelled to slay dragons, cuts through its thick, scaly skin and into its flesh. Panic strikes the drake, and he tries to lash out, but is stunned, recoiling from the thrust and trying to turn away. Pain! He can feel Eadyth and Beoraborn’s weapons as well, and tries to back away.
Meanwhile, Salabon speaks his own little enchantment, tapping into the forbidden knowledge in his possession, and soon he can see through the darkness. “These scales can verily be balanced even more,” he murmurs, and starts striking flint over his oilskin. The cloth at its base catches, and he hurls it at the dragon, striking its breast perfectly. The oil fails to catch fire, but for the very spot where the skin hit. The Companions now have a target!

But the Huntsman has grown weary of this dance; he is no master spear-wielder, so he cuts the drake one more time with the hungry spear, and throws it aside, drawing Aeglin. As the blue light burns brightly through the blackness, he cries out, “From Gondolin I come, feel my vengeance!” and buries the blade in the dragon’s thigh, almost extinguishing the light. Colargon screams in pain and fear, emotions wholly unknown to him, and warps away, dragging at the chains still holding Eadyth and Salabon and driving both off their feet. Eadyth thrusts her spear through a chain loop and deep into the stone, the Mithril blade finding easy purchase. Now Jack has returned to the fray, and darts in, delivering a formidable blow with the flat of his hand to the exact spot lit from flame on the dragon’s breast. Confusion and panic grips the mighty Colargon. What are these small creatures, and why are they not cowering before him? He makes one single bound, and glides several hundred feet away with the Companions scrambling to keep up. The magical darkness vanishes, and all can see that the dragon is making for the vast terrace and the open sky. Jack, Feredir and Beoraborn strike out after it. Jack is there first, trying to strike the dragon’s tail, but it proves too wily, and he only strikes stone. Then, here is Feredir and Beoraborn, just as the dragon leaps from the terrace – - and is forthwith arrested by the length of chain, before being slammed violently against the mountainside a hundred feet from the terrace, all tangle of chain, wings and limbs.

Jack has one of the spears in his hands and is about to leap after it and sacrifice himself, but Eadyth is there to stop him, pulling the spear from his grip. She moves to take his place.

“No,” warns Feredir. “I have brought you all here, the task to finish this is mine.” He moves to the ledge to climb the chain, when a loud, metallic ping is heard, and the chain, all several hundred feet of it, comes thrashing down the length of the hall, smashing anything in its path. It is all the Companions can do to hurl themselves out of its riotous way. Colargon drops into darkness…

*

“Is he dead?” ventures Salabon. “Did the fall break him?”
“It is impossible to tell!” cries Eadyth. “It is simply too dark to see below!”

The Companions stare into the darkness of night-cloaked Angmar, where the Wyrm Colargon has escaped, wounded and raging, unleashed on the world.

Stoic Feredir is silent for a while, before his lips pass a single sentence:

“What have we done?”

[CREDITS]

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S02E20 - Northward Bound
Wherein our heroes move towards Angmar and is set upon by marauding Orcs

Eregion, spring T.A. 3012. The Huorn has the advantage. Swords and arrows cannot harm it, nor Jack’s futile martial attacks. Beoraborn appears from foraging, quickly determines what is transpiring, and with a roar hurls a giant bee hive into the canopy. Hunter and Eadyth share a glance, and Eadyth hurls her oilskin after the hive. Hunter expertly pierces it with an arrow, and then kicks up the logs from the fire, sending them flying into the canopy. The beeswax and oil is enough to blaze mightily up, setting the monster afire. Jack and Salabon are freed, and the Companions retreat from the dying Huorn.
Gandalf sheaths his sword, and smiles cunningly. He approaches the exhausted adventurers, who are busy helping each other up and checking the damages. “I see I was not wrong in believing in you,” he tells Hunter. “I have faith in your quest, and may others,” he gestures ambiguously, “too, have the same.” Gandalf stoops to pick up a burning branch, considers it, and throws it into the blaze. “Friends, I believe we’d be well advised to make our respite elsewhere. This place is tainted by darkness.”


The Companions ride on. Outside Rivendell Gandalf bids them goodbye and good luck. “May your Quest be a successful one,” he says. “There is much hanging in the balance.” He suddenly looks stern; “Should you fail, there is no telling the consequences.” Then his scowl turns into a knowing grin. “Though I am inclined to suggest that fail you will not.” Feredir has no way of knowing, but he believes that Gandalf’s words carry more than mere hope. Some part of him accepts Gandalf’s prediction as true.

Ever on, they fare, through the vales and through the forests, across the rivers and around craggy mountain peaks. Salabon cries out, pointing to the east above the Misty Mountains, having espied great eagles, he says. Whatever he has seen is lost in clouds, but Jack, calm and expressionless, only nods discretely. Hunter feels his heart lift: They are not alone.

They skirt the Eastwood and enter the Cold Fells. They have held a decent pace, but never forced their mounts, nor themselves, but now they grow increasingly uneasy. The Cold Fells is a dark place, there could be marauding Orcs from Gundabad afoot.

And indeed, it is in one of the secluded, flat valleys between the Fells and the Misty Mountains, that they see afar a great band of Orcs bearing down upon a herd of great deer. They immediately determine the danger, and begin a long evasive maneuver, hoping to remain unseen altogether. But that hope is in vain: They are spotted, and a grisly Orc screeches out alarm. They ride on, in a wide arch away from the Orcs, towards the pass out of the valley, but they see that it will be a close call. They press their horses all they can, and the Warg Riders close on them, but they slip through the pass! WIth the Orcs hot on their heels they begin a long escape through unfamiliar terrain – rocky, grim vales where the sun barely shines, the blessed sky-vessel at any rate obscured from them beyond a thick layer of clouds, negating the Orcs’ disadvantage in day time. The gain ground! But just as they begin to have their confidence raised, another group of Orcs emerge from a second pass, mere yards from having cut them off! On they ride, on and on, until they can feel their mounts beginning to tire. Feredir grits his teeth. “Herbs! My closest and most trusted friend!” he cries. “You must finish this Quest. It is down to you now!” Salabon, shocked, is about to protest, but must scrabble to not lose his reins and at the same time catch Hunter’s dragon-spear, tossed towards him. He only has enough time to realise that Hunter has abruptly stopped, turned about and raised his sword, Grey Cloak snarling at his horse’s flank. He wants to stop. Every fiber of his being wants to stop. But instead he yells out, urging on the rest of the Companions, still ahead of them and oblivious to Hunter’s actions.

Hunter waits until the Orcs are close enough to focus only on him, and his friends disappeared around the bend. He cries out in taunt towards the Orcs, making the foremost halt in their surprise, almost causing them to be knocked over by their numbers pressing on from behind. They recover in time to see the damned bastard slip away down a crevasse, and drive their grotesque riding-beasts after him, howling and gnashing their teeth.

Hunter flies! His trusted mount races along the narrow corridors of stone and gravel, and Hunter prays that his horse not slip or drop a shoe. Then he will surely be done for. The slavering hordes fall a little behind again, and he slows to let them catch. He does not want them to lose him and backtrack to the previous pass, following the others! Again he stops and taunts them, again they almost falter, and he notices that they snap and snarl at each other: These are two different clans, not one and the same! He snaps his reins, and is off again. This time he notices that there are two parallell vales randomly intersecting, and risks all in a gambit: He shouts for Grey Cloak to press on, but drives his mount into the parallell pass, and drives it up onto the banks above the pass. Here, he sees that it is a labyrinth of interconnecting paths, and that choosing the right path will let him control the egress. He holds back, lets the Orcs pass, and rides up behind them. He rides up next to the last Orc, who rides on oblivious for a little while before finding first surprise in the fact that their quarry is next to him, and then to the fact of being dead. Feredir loses no time in snatching up the Orc’s vicious bow, and takes off down a side path again. At the next intersection, he shoots one of the foremost Orcs’s Dire Wolf, causing a great commotion among the monsters. The Orc whose mount fell snatches the arrow from the dead Warg, and screams in pure hatred towards others of the Orcs. A great argument erupts, which soon leads to all-out mêlée as the Orcs fall on each other. Feredir uses the tumults to slip away, and though some of the Orcs cry out in alarm, he and Grey Cloak are soon beyond reach, as the vicious brutes slaughter each other.


The second party of Orcs have almost overtaken Salabon, Beoraborn, Eadyth and Jack, as they arrive at an old stone bridge, only wide enough for two horses. They decide to take their stand.
“Where is the Huntsman?” bellows Beoraborn.
Salabon looks at him sadly. “He didn’t make it.”
WHAT?!” roars the Bejibar. He leaps from his horse, grabs his enormous blade, and strides towards the oncoming horde. Salabon nocks an arrow onto his bow string, and Eadyth readies her spear. Jack closes his eyes, and seems to breathe out, growing calmer still.

And then they fight.


Hunter follows the river north-east, finding a crossing a day’s ride from his altercation with the Orcs. He carefully wades across the treacherous stream, leading his horse with tenderness. On the far side he builds a fire and dries his hose and boots, letting the horse warm under his blanket. It is growing colder. He looks up at the now-visible stars. Is he imagining a dark, winged shape up there against the stars? Is it an Eagle friend, or is it in fact their intended quarry, the Wyrm Colargon? He dwells on this in the late, lonely night-hours, stirring every so often, fearing that the Orcs are back on his trail. But they never come.


Salabon is finding leadership tedious. The battle is won, but his Companions will not budge. Beoraborn has taken a stand, saying he will wait here for Hunter, even though Salabon promised to carry on. Jack, also, will not go, saying that he is coming. How the Hobbit knows is beyond Salabon, but only Eadyth is willing to go on with him. He finally relents, and they strike camp, Beoraborn remaining standing in the middle of the bridge, like some ancient, stone-hewn bridge keeper. It sends shiver down Salabon’s spine. They never see him return, and he surely did not come across the bridge, but suddenly he is there, beside them, eating from their stew. Salabon nearly jumps up, Jack only smiles. Eadyth rolls her eyes, and Beoraborn laughs like an avalanche and lifts the Ranger off the ground in a great embrace.


They ride on.

Soon they reach outskirts of the Ettenmoors, and before them runs the Angrenost river.

And along the horizon they see them: The mountains of Angmar, the most unholy and dreadful realm in all of Eriador.

Their destination.

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S02E19 - An Unexpected Visit
Where in our heroes come face to face with one of the legends of Middle-Earth

Halls of Healing, Eregion, spring T.A. 3012. Days and weeks go by as the Companions prepare for their long trek towards the bleak and unforgiving lands of Angmar. It is late one evening, after supper, and the House of Healing that serves as home for the Companions in Cillien, is still. Their departure for Angmar and their Quest draws near. Hunter sits outside in the clear light of the full moon smoking his pipe and feeling for tears in his gear by touch alone. Eldacar Half-Elven emerges from the hut he shares with his consort Mabs and approaches. “Feredir, I must needs have words with you. May we walk, perhaps, and share a pipe of Halfing weed?”
The two friends walk a few yards from the house. In silence Eldacar also lights his pipe, and casts his gaze on the star-filled sky. Hunter’s eye is on their long and pale shadows, ominous portents of shadowy work to be done. Maybe someone is manipulating the shadows, moving the Companions about like pieces on a game board? Surely, too many strange occurences have befallen them in the last score of months. Minutes pass before Eldacar finally speaks.
“I know I gave you my word that I would go with you on your Quest Feredir, and I will keep my oath if you hold me to it. It is not that I wish to abonden the Quest or all of you, but I must admit that things have changed. I am still not the Elf I was, my full strength has yet to return, if ever it will.” He pauses and closes his eyes for a moment or two. Feredir remains still. In truth he had come to be expecting this conversation, in a sense hoping it would finally come. For he has not been certain of his companion’s capabilities to face the dangerous tasks ahead of them. And now there was a child to be considered. Hunter had no wish in playing a part in orphaning an infant. “There is the situation with Mabs and the others… and of course the child…” He is struggling to find the words, Hunter realises. The Ranger lays a heavy hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Speak no more, Eldacar of the Sinda. Your counsel is wise, and your words make sense to me. I have no doubt in my mind that you would keep your word and go with me on this Quest, even with all that has happened. But how can I ask of you such a thing now? Had I been able to forsee these events before this Quest was announced, I would never have accepted your offer. No, fear not that I will think less of you for this, nor will anyone else. I hereby release you from your oath.”
The two shake hands, and the elf gives him a small smile as a way of thanks. The two remain outside, quietly finishing their pipes while watching the stars.
The following day Beoraborn finally returns from his exploits at Ost-in-Edhil. Súlkano, he explains, has left for the Grey Havens, for ever leaving behind Middle-Earth, but before he made his leave, they finished their task. He unrolls a great skin, and reveals two mighty spears, intrically carved with Elvish designs, and other, more animalistic symbols. The spears seem to shimmer translucently, and writhe and swirl with patterns of branches, leaves and moss. They are in all fairness otherworldly, and the Companions marvel at the extraordinary craftsmanship.
Beoraborn is not finished, and unslings a great sack, and from this he pulls a leather armour, fashioned from the scales of the drake Turkulon. This he presents to Hunter as a gift, to help in his Quest. The armour has the same shimmering otherworldliness as the spears, and Hunter intuitively sense that they are not only of nature, but attuned to nature itself. He humbly thanks Beoraborn for the gift.


A few days later. The normal day to day activities of the house are being carried out, while the party is busy perparing themselves for departure. It will not be long now, and there is still much to be done.
Jack is busy looking after the little one, luring smiles from the child with his skylarking. Hunter smiles and shakes his head, returning his focus on his task; fletching arrows with goose-feathers. As he finish one arrow and puts it down, he notices Bragol staring off into the distance. “What is it you see Eldacar?” “Someones coming.” “Who?”, Feridir rises and walks towards the elf, his eyes fixing upon the same area as the elf. “I cannot tell. A cart drawn by a pony, its driver an old man in grey robes.”
Feredir frowns. “Grey robes?”
“It is so. And wearing a very tall, pointy hat.”

Feredir cleans his hands on a piece of cloth, and walks into the courtyard as the cart rolls in. The others are gathering too, and Hunter holds up his hand in salute.
“Greetings, traveler, and welcome to Cillien. I fear there is not much to be found here anymore, the place is mainly deserted.”
“Oh, I believe I have found exactly what I see, , Barhador, son of Tauron,” smiles the old man through his long beard.
All eyes are on Hunter, who stops short and knits his brows. “Forgive me, but you seem to have me at a disadvantage… You know me?”
“Indeed I do, and your Companions too, I wager. There is nimble Jack, fleet of foot and crafty with his fingers. Hither stalwarth Beoraborn, of Beorn’s kin, and therefore my friend by extension. Yonder with the fishy scowl is doubtfully Bragol Thriawath, the cunning vassal of Elrond himself. I believe we may have met? And this, of course is… Salabon, who I have had the pleasure of conversing with before.” He nods and smiles at Salabon, who grins broadly back, and considers Edmund, before moving on to the women. “I know not the ladies, but am charmed, I’m sure.” He bows deeply to Mabs, Jayele, Lominzli and Eadyth. Jayelle bows back, ever so slightly and gracefully. Lominzli giggles and blushes, and Mabs grunts and nudges her. Eadyth, who knows the Stormcrow from Edoras, makes no show of any kind.
“You are Gandalf!” Hunter exclaims, but collects himself. “I beg your pardon, Master Gandalf, I have sought after you.”
Gandalf chuckles. “Indeed you have, young Ranger. And now you have found me. Or rather, I have found you.”


With the master huntsman Feredir among their number, Beoraborn’s newly brewed ale, and with Salabon’s herbalism skills, it is indeed a true feast that they can prepare in Gandalf’s honour with but a moment’s notice. They cheer and carouse, and tell tall tales, none moreso than Gandalf himself, and it is not until the food has been cleared away, the remnants of Minas Brethil brandy has come out, and the men have lit their pipes, driving out the women and children. Lominzli has to drag Eadyth with her, but even she reluctantly leavs the menfolk to their pipes and devices. Salabon delivers an animated account of his visit with Saruman, and Gandalf seems to chew his pipe and beard, muttering under his breath, but smiling and nodding theathrically at Salabon in all the right places. He is more sober and acknowledging of Hunter’s account of sensing something wrong around Calenardhon. He confirms that it was Hunter’s discovery of Elendil’s grave that led to him receiving words of their Quest. It comes as no surprise to the Companions that Gandalf is a friend to the Great Eagles.
“Truth be told, I am no stranger to the tale of your commendable Quest,” admits Gandalf. “I have many friends about the lands of Eriador, not only in Bree or Rivendell.”
“Then pray tell why you waited so long to make contact with us?” asks Hunter.
Gandalf sucks his teeth. “I had to be certain.”
“Certain of what?”
“Certain of your dedication.” He holds up a hand to fend off protests. “Now, now, you must understand that a band of arrant vagabonds with questionable repute, performing deeds that seem unbelievable at best advocates caution. However,” he waves off more protests, “however, I have myself had the opportunity to investigate some of the claims that the folk of Eriador tell of your exploits, and though some of them still seem unbelievable, especially what they say in Bree” he regards an uncomfortable Eldacar from underneath great big bushy eyebrows, “it is without a doubt that your contributions to the Free Peoples are commendable.” The Companions stay silent. “I support your Quest to Angmar.”


Gandalf agrees with the Companions’ decision to bypass Rivendell, fearing Elrond will attempt to stop their Quest. “I have faith you can succeed,” says Gandalf. “Elrond will not be so magnanimous. He will consider letting loose the Wyrm too great a risk, and will not have faith in your ability to succeed. But heed this,” and here Gandalf seems to grow impossibly tall, and the room dim to but a gloom, “you must not fail.”
“Will you come with us, Gandalf, and aid us in our Quest?”
“Alas, I cannot. My presence is required elsewhere. I am only to follow you a ways, and encourage you. Such is the extent I can allow myself to interfere.”


Goodbyes had been said, good fortune wished and promises of reunion as soon as the Quest is fulfilled made. Bragol stands outside and watching as his friends slowly disappear into the horizon. Mabbs walks up to him, taking his hand. “They will return, do not worry. I feel it in my bones. They are as prepared as anyone can be, armed as well as can be and I have never met, nor heard of, anyone more resourceful.”
“I know, but still I worry. And now with Gandalf…”
“The old man? But he seem both friendly and wise? He approves of the quest and their plans, and if he deserves but half the respect and admiration you lot give him, then surely he knows best?”
“Not what I worry about. He is right in fearing what would happen, should the dragon side with the enemy. In the first age they were terrible foes that brought great destruction.”
Mabbs seem confused. “So you agree with your Lord’s sentiments?”
“No, I did not say that…”
“Then all the more reason to kill it, all the more reason for this Gandalf to help…”
“Yes, but that is not what bothers me, it is the timing of it all. As I understand it, at the time that Smaug was killed, Gandalf was part of a group that entered the old fortress of Dol Goldur in Mirkwood and exposed the necromancer there to be no other than the Enemy.”
“That old man? I suppose he must be very old, it has to be what, sixty years ago? But what has that got to do with anything?”
“According to the book the Huntsman read in the Shire, Gandalf was instrumental in arranging the Quest to retake the Lonely Mountain.”
Mabbs is quiet for a little while, before asking: “So what? So you think he ulterior motives for helping the Dwarves? That he used the attack on Smaug as a cover operation, a smoke screen? And that he is doing the same now?” There was anger and uncertainty in her voice.
“I do not know. That is what bothers me.”
“Well if that is the case, I’m glad you are not going. I was glad before, but even more glad I am now! Your place is here with our child, not being killed by some lizard, again. Do not think I have forgiven you for that!” She smiles and gives him an angry look. “No, best you stay here and attend to what is important.” Bragol is about to answer, but bites his tongue just in time. Instead he switches to Quenya and under his breath says: “Personal is not the same as important.”
“Did you say something my dear?” Mabbs ask.
He turns to her, smiles and says: “Just a little good luck wish for them, come let us go inside, there is work to be done.”


Hunter rejoices in feeling the road yet again beneath the hooves of his stout mount. He feels elated and excited, he has purpose and a clear goal. He notices a certain glumness in his Companions, however, only Gandalf seems cheerful, singing songs and smoking his pipe atop his little cart.
Slowly the Companions wind their way along the crumbling roads of Eregion, through the valleys below the Misty Mountains, northward bound.
Barely have they escaped the hollied valleys before disaster strikes. Making camp below a huge, great oak they are set upon by the very tree itself, a fiendish and evil Huorn! The Companions seem powerless against the mighty oak, and soon both Jack and Salabon are caught by its lashing branches, and hurled into the canopy. Gandalf stands back, alarmed and sword in hand, but he bides his time…

TBC

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