The Barnfeathers’ homestead, North Downs. Mabs leans over Bragols feverish body. It’s been a few hard nights since they brought him into the Barnfeathers farm. A rib had probably punctured his lung, and now it looks like he’s got pneumonia. Although Wolf’s Bane gave him some herbs to speed up the recovery, he’s been healing slowly. Mabs hand is almost good enough to work with, but Bragol is not getting better. Mabs bring a wand out of her backpack. It’s been years since she used it last, but Bragol is dying. She holds the wand over his shivering body and prays to the gods. His feverish body is turning cold. This is a good thing, she whispers, almost too scared to hope. She can feel the wand is dead, and she tosses the rowan stick into the fire.
Midnight comes, and he’s still cold. Did I use too much of the wand’s magic? Mabs wonders. He should be normal now. Bragol tosses and turns in his makeshift bed by the fire. What kind of nightmare is he struggling with? Mabs crawls under the blanket with him and holds him close. Bragol lets out a sigh of relief.
Morning breaks. Mabs is standing in the doorway with a cup of tea in hand. Bragol can smell egg and bacon being cooked over open fire. «Where am I?» he asks. «The last thing I can recall is sitting with Feredir in a camp with Beoraborn, Isig and yourself…»
«You caught a fever» Mabs explains. «You’re good now.» She smiles and draw a deep breath. The air smells good. Spring is in the air.
The Lone Lands. Hunter, Beoraborn, Wolf’s Bane and the boy Puck are travelling east after having having seen Bragol safe at the farm where the horses are laid up. He is in and out of consciousness, but Wolf’s Bane has done what he can for him, and is confident that all he needs is rest. And with that, they set out.
They boy, Puck, is given the task of Outrider, as he is in his training, and despite the quick advance across the Oiolad, the three others hang back, and let the boy take the lead.
After two days of riding they come across a crumbling ruin; a folly, all that remains from the long-lost Dúnadan kindom, and later, the Empire of the Witch-King of Angmar. The boy is sent to scout it out, but soon comes running for his life, chased by an enraged nanny goat!
They all have a good laugh, and proceed with setting up camp a while away. Later, Hunter and Beoraborn decide to take a closer look at the folly, and find the goat asleep with a litter of kids. Small wonder she was so protective!
They do a quick search through the folly, but find little of importance – apart from a large and evil-looking mace. Hunter quickly discerns that it is, indeed, a fell weapon of great evil, most likely forged in the fires of Angmar itself. The two decide that this fell weapon would be dire in the wrong hands, so they bury it under a massive rock, making a note of where, to later tell Rivendell.
The next day they continue, over the wind-blown wastes of the Oiolad, where there is nothing but gently rolling hillocks clothed in snow for as long as the eyes can see. The snow is very shallow, making it no challenge for the horses.
But on the fourth day: As Puck is riding ahead into some low slopes, he is suddenly violently struck from his horse by a boulder: There are trolls in the hills!
Wolf’s Bane gasps. «Puck!» Hunter needs no more than Isig’s outburst. He spurs his horse into a frantic gallop, to save the boy. Wolf’s Bane strikes the troll dead with a single arrow, and Beoraborn struggles to come down from his horse in order to fire his own bow. «Damn stirrups! How can you blasted nobs get anything done in these?!» he thunders. But despite him, the battle is joined.
Four more trolls appear over the bluff, and Wolf’s Bane is dangerously struck in his shield arm. Luckily, the damage is light: his shoulder dislocated, and Hunter rides like a man possessed in between the raining boulders, all the size of a troll’s head, manages to scoop ut the dazed Puck, and flee with a accelerating Cave Troll hot on his trail.
But as the troll is about to remove Hunter’s head with a huge stone at point-blank range, an arrow portrudes from its shoulder: Beoraborn has managed to flank it, and delivered a precious wound. This makes the stone go wide, and only grazes Hunter’s pack on his back, making his neck twinge, as he feels something warm. He has no time to think on that, however: The troll is far from struck down, but it buys Hunter the time he needs to get out of there. Beoraborn swings back into his own saddle, and with the struggling Wolf’s Bane they ride as far as they can on their now-winded mounts, but it is clear that the trolls will not relent, and they will have to make a stand.
Bragol and Mabs have now been on the road for three days, after Bragol’s fever broke. They follow the others, guided by a Nighteyes, Hunter’s owl. They keep a good pace, despite at one point being chased by an angry moose.
On the third evening, while setting camp, the two travellers hear strange noises in the distance. The two travellers proceed more carefully now. Next night while cooking food on the campfire something flies out of the night and latches onto the Bragols left arm, sinking sharp teeth into his flesh. Daftly the elf pulls his dagger and stabs the creature, burrying the weapon to the hilt. Another flies above their heads, but Mabs quickly swats it with her sword. «Bats!»
«Vampire bats,» Bragol replies. «Bleeding giant bats. Hope that one didn’t give you any nasty diseases.»
«Indeed, but I’m more concerned with that sound we keep hearing. Its louder and I’m sure we’ll come across what ever it is tomorrow. If it doesn’t come across us during the night. I think it best that we put out of the fire, just in case.»
Walking up in the morning Bragol can feel the cold in his body, only offset by the blanket and Mabs. The rogue has snuggled up to the elf during the night in an attempt to keep warm. Bragol cannot deny that the nice feeling of her warm body against his. She’s an asset, don’t get attached. But he does not wake her or move, instead closing his eyes and keep still. One more thing he notice is that the sound has died away some time during the night.
Some hours of travel later it is Bragol who breaks the silence. «Trolls.»
«Dead trolls.» Their eyes survey the field and the dismembered troll bodies that litter it.
«There are two of them, what’s left of them that is.» The elf shakes his head. «Three, there’s another one over there.»
«By Durin’s hammer you’re right. You think it was these three that made that sound we heard?» «Likely would explain why it suddenly stopped. And I’m sure our friends are behind this. I hope they are all right, they are certainly close. Lets find them!»
The previous night…
“Master Wolf’s Bane, the horses are spent!We must make a stand!” Hunter’s shout can barely be
heard over the sound of the trampling hooves of four horses flying across the rolling tundra.
“I know!” the old Ranger replies “Search for any advantage!”
But in the desolate wastes of the Oiolad, there is no relief, no quarter and certainly no shelter. A wide bluff, alone in a completely level area, is their only advantage. Hunter leaps from his saddle, and hastily sets the older Ranger’s shoulder, whose only display of pain is a faint grimace.
«Stay your horses on this bluff, and wait here!» Hunter exclaims, and then leaps from his horse. He half-runs, quickly pacing out an approximate range for their bows down the faint slope, strikes in a red cloth, easily visible in the moon-lit and white tundra, and runs back: On his return, he scatters a good amount of his nasty, long caltrops on his way. Then, working without a word, he uses his grappling hook and two long knives to create a makeshift tripwire, which runs in a Z pattern. He almost visibly swells with pride as he hears Wolf’s Bane address Puck, «…and that is how one levies the ground to one’s advantage.»
«They come,» rumbles Beoraborn.
And sure enough, the trolls are already in sight.
They brace for the attack. As soon as the trolls are within range, they let slip their shafts, but the hail of arrows does little more than slow down the oncoming trolls. They clash with the trolls, swift swords against clubs and stones, and working in unison they overcome the trolls. Beoraborn, seeing the trolls beat, takes off at a run to meet the last, arrow-wounded troll half way. Hunter makes a desperate run for his bow to level the field for the frenzied Beorning, but only manages to let fly a single arrow. But it is enough: The mighty Beijibar warrior cuts down the troll, and the battle is won.
Heading back, Hunter feels his spine chill as he sees Wolf’s Bane covered in blood, but he is quickly assured that the older Ranger only slipped in the troll’s own blood. He laughs it away to save face, and Hunter gladly indulges him. Having his old mentor die here and now, before having been able to confront him about the mysterious ice front between them, which seems to have thawed as of late, would have been devastating, in addition to losing one more he counts as family.
They all recover their items and horses, and Hunter checks his neck. No blood, nothing at all, but he notices the lining of his pack is remarkably warm. There is something within! He brings out his knife and unstitches the seam, and pulls out a small pendant, the face of the amulet worn away by time and wear. As he touches the amulet, he experiences yet another unexpected flash: He finds himself transported, standing in a dark, dank dungeon, and before him: Jack Fleetfoot. Hunter gasps and takes a step closer as he sees the state of his Hobbit friend. He is in a terribly state, obviosly having been tortured, and Hunter suddenly realizes that this is a vision, but also that what he is seeing is true. He futilely reaches out to the Hobbit, and calls his name. «Jack! Jack Fleetfoot!»
Jack rouses somewhat and looks straight through him, and Hunter somehow knows he was heard. Whatever fate his friend is suffering, he hopes that his contact at least could have been of some comfort. With a profound sense of sadness and despair he finds himself back on the windswept plains of the northern Lone Lands.
Mabs and Bragol make their way into a two travellers come up on a tiny, picturesque dell. Here, the stink of trolls permates the otherwise staunch beauty of the terrain. Under a tumble of tors they spot a small camp – or rather, a camp appears to reveal itself to them, as if it had a will of its own. Leisurly draped around the small fire are their friends.
«Welcome to our humble cave,» Hunter greets them with a smile. «Eldacar, Mabs».
«Friends, it is good to see you», replies Bragol.
«How was your crossing?» The question comes from Wolf’s Bane, a bit frayed around the edges, but otherwise seemingly no worse for wear.
«Between vampire bats and strange noises in the night, I am unsure who had the most eventful journey,» admits Bragol, indicating the troll cave with a nod.
«Trolls?» rumbles Beoraborn. «That is nothing. Sit a while, and share our fire, and I will tell you of the devil-goat of the Lone Lands, and how she almost had our boy here for her supper!»
Puck smiles embarrassedly, and Hunter and Wolf’s Bane break out in laughter.
The Rangers share with them knowledge of what they have found inside. A fortune in small coin and a very precious gem. There is a magical tome that Bragol deems to be related to magics on physical change, remarkably preserved, and a beautiful mace, clearly Dwarven-made.
The following day, about midday, Wolf’s Bane halts and points across a narrow, but steep valley. «Behold. The Twisted Hill.»
The swift, treacherous Hoarwell lies between them and a beatiful vale, allegedly the only one in the Trollshaws. From the looming, steep, natural hill stretches a tortured, pointing finger of black granite outcropping draping the village of Tanoth Brin below in its ominous shadow. The tower seems impossible, rising what looks to be almost a thousand feet above the vale below, but it has endured for more than a thousand years, and likely will endure more.
As the group takes in the breathtaking sight, Wolf’s Bane nudges Hunter, and points. Their eyes fall upon two men on the other side, who also see them. Is this their prey, the very same two villains they seek? The two strangers accelerate, off away from Cameth Brin.
«Master Wolf’s Bane, you are the senior Ranger here, and our next step is your call. Shall we split up?» Hunter ventures.
«I believe we should» says Wolf’s Bane. «I’ll go after these two blackguards, and Puck
and the lady will joing me. But you three have come too far to ignore this cursed citadel, and you know best of all what it is you look for. If those two are not the ones we seek, you will have lost valuable time. I will give chase. The rest of you carry on to Cameth Brin.»
Hunter nods. «Sound thinking, Master». Bragol casts a pained glance at Mabs, hoping that no one noticed, but nods in acknowledge.
Seeing movement in the vale, they find a remote crossing across the river, and ride in a wide circle around to the back of the hill, approaching the tower from behind. From the looming tower’s vantage point above, they see that crude attempts to rebuild the buildings have been made. Tracks from Orcs litter the valley, but they can still see the horsetracks leading up to the tower. Surveying the area they notice an Orc patrol leaving the valley. The Enemy is clearly present in force here, more than just a refuge for evil creatures. This is an organised base.
Finding the back gates locked, and no other way in from this direction, they retreat to the relative safety of a small grove of trees some miles further down.
A storm is welling in the horizon, and Hunter finds a good shelter, and the three wait out the storm. Hunter and Beoraborn sends forth their small weasel companions. Hunter whispers and uses hand signals, and Bragol sits entranced, as it seems as if he is hypnotizing the beasts; their heads loll in tune and sequence with the Ranger’s moving figures. As the winds and torrents approach, the two animals scuttle off into the dimming lights…
Silverdale, somewhere east of Minas Brethil, the dungeons of the silver mine.
Jack wakes up, but keeps his eyes shut. The first thing he notice is the pain in his head. instinctively, his arm tries to reach his head where the pain is strongest. But wait. He can’t move his arm.. He’s tied up. Thinking about it, he can’t feel the ground with his feet. He opens his eyes and finds himself tied up on both feet and arms, hanging above a dark pool. Jack surveys the room he’s strung up in. Difficult to see anything, really. Too dark. Suddenly, Jack hears a deep grunt, and following, a calm, chuckling laughter. A dimly glowing candle is lit on a table a few feet infront of him. A humanoid figure, cloaked in a dark, hooded cape. Jack can’t properly see his face. The figure is smiling. Beside him, stands a massive, disturbingly ugly creature. He looks somewhat like an orc, but he’s alot taller, and more muscular. Jack feels a chill running down his spine. Silence follows, untill the figure sitting behind the table finally opens his mouth. “I trust you’ve slept well?” I must apologize for the brutal.. invitation… to my quarters, but it seemed unlikely that you would follow by your own will." The figure pauses for a bit, keeping his sly grin on his face. He continues: " I’ve heard of your accomplishments in the tower, and of other feats from your past, and i have to say that im impressed. However it seems a shame that a resourceful hobbit as yourself should waste his many talents on people that wouldn’t know how to properly cherish… or reward it." He pauses again. Leaning slowly forward, sliding his arms forward on the table. As he opens his hands, he reveals underneath one of them, a considerable pile of gold coins, shining beneath the light. Underneath the other, a dagger revealed. The dagger is sinister-looking, and the blood on the blade is not comforting. “The choice… is yours” He smiles. Jack thinks for a while. Flickering images flies through his head. He looks at the figure: “What do you want?” The figure answer is quick; “First of all your loyalty. You would be free to go back to your home, but you will be available when you are summoned.” Jack looks at the gold… The figure smile broadens. Then Jacks confused and doubting face changes. He’s decided. His gaze move to the dagger, and he nods. The figure’s grin fades. “I am very disappointed, I must admit. I was certain a hobbit with your reputation would be able to see reason. I will attempt to ignore that very rude gesture you now displayed, and give you one more chance. You make take the gold and be free till we call you, or I will have to let Ban’Challos here decide your fate.” The massive creature standing beside the table smiles, revealing misshaped fangs. Jack nods again in the direction of the dagger. He adds: “Do what you must”. The big, orc-looking figure cant help himself from smiling, as he walks towards Jack. He’s carrying a big cudgel, armed with blunt spikes on metal rings. Jack sees him lifting his muscular arm. Then an excruciating pain, before he loses consciousness.