The year was 2946 of the Third Age, around summer, five years after the Battle of the Five Armies. Rumors circulated among the Free-folk of the North, even reaching folk as far as the Shire, of a great feast which will be hosted in Dale for the first time. They said that King Bard will host envoys from Lake-town, the Woodland Realm, and the Kingdom Under the Mountain on the fifth anniversary of the Battle of the Five Armies, around the last days of November.
This tale opens in Dragonsbone Inn, one of the prominent buildings in Esgaroth, also known as New Lake-town. A unique site, it was rebuilt to thrice the size of the old Lake-town that Smaug destroyed five years prior.
In attendance is our cast:
- Eothain Son of Eofor, a king’s guard of the Riders of Rohan, he was sent north by his king to investigate the Grey Wizard’s warning to the Riddermark about the necromancer in the woods;
- Galdor, a Mirkwood elf struck by wanderlust and interested in seeing the world beyond the woods where he had been all his life;
- Hanar, a dwarven merchant from the Blue Mountains, interested in finding treasure and business opportunities;
- Miriel, the Mirkwood raft elf who, while dealing with the Men of Lake-town on behalf of her king, developed a love for nature and the outside world;
- Poppy Ruby Rose Brownlocke-North-Took, a hobbit of the Shire who loves food, similarly struck by wanderlust and a desire to find the honey cakes her distant cousin Bilbo talked about;
- Rory, a dwarf from the Lonely Mountain who discovered a love for pipeweed and a desire to sell this along with his family’s wares;
- Targon, a Ranger of the North who specializes in herbs and whose life’s goal is to heal those in need using his knowledge.
The story begins
Having arrived at Esgaroth the previous night, Poppy Rose came down to the dining area for breakfast, which consisted of fish, fish, and more fish. Curious for the cuisine of the area, she requested for fish cooked in different ways. The innkeeper offered her four: steamed, fried, fermented and raw. At this, a nearby elf, Miriel, warned her that the fish may be bad, so she passed on the raw fish, but had the rest.
As she was having her meal, a human seated at the next table expressed his surprise at seeing a little girl eating such a large meal all alone. She went over and sat next to him to correct him, and they introduced themselves: Poppy Rose and Eothain, who was very curious as it was his first time seeing a hobbit.
At a nearby section of the dining hall, two merchant dwarves were also having their breakfast, and some thinly veiled insults started to fly between the elves and dwarves in the hall, while the rest of the non-dwarf and non-elf customers attempted to ignore the growing tension.
In the midst of this, Poppy Rose overheard from the two dwarves, Rory and Hanar, that Gloin, the emissary of the King Under the Mountain, is looking for help in finding two missing dwarves. Intrigued upon hearing the familiar name, and in an attempt to cool down the tension in the room, she tried to come over to their table to ask about the missing persons, but was rebuffed by Hanar. As she turned to go away, Rory was quick to make amends and told her that they were planning to visit the emissary to offer their assistance. She decided to join them and they headed out, while just behind them a good number of the customers of Dragonsbone Inn also started for the Town Hall, having heard rumors from elsewhere about the missing dwarves.
At the Town Hall, the hobbit and the dwarves were shown in to Gloin’s office first. After introductions, Gloin told them about how Balin and Oin left three to four days ago to invite the Lord of the Eagles to the gathering in November, as well as to check on the condition of the Old Forest Road. He also insinuated that he wouldn’t be surprised if the pair found themselves as “guests” of the elven king Thranduil once again.
Realising that there may be a need for a bigger group to assist in the search for the missing dwarves, Rory suggested to Gloin to allow him to recruit the other people in the waiting room, whom he had overheard also planned to ask about lending their assistance. Agreeing they could be useful, Gloin asked Rory to tell the other group about the mission, as he did not want to talk to elves; Rory agreed, and the party was formed.
Travelling down the Running River
Gloin gave Rory a commendation letter to the Lake-town wharfmaster, to procure for the group two dragon-headed skiffs for the travel to the Old Forest Road through the Long Marshes via the Running River, a route that is expected to take about four days. Upon presentation of the letter to the Lake-men, a small commotion ensued: Eothain’s horse would be accompanying the group, which would be a challenge due to its heavier weight.
Eventually, the group settled on a solution, possibly not enjoyed by many: Eothain, his horse, the lightweight Poppy Rose, and Targon on one boat, and the dwarves and elves on another. Nevertheless, the boat travel commenced shortly after, through the swiftly flowing dark river, accompanied by the foul stench from the Long Marshes. The first day passed uneventfully, eventually coming to the Stair of Girion near where the Lake-men kept their huts.
The boats were soon brought down the Stair via rolling logs and they met the rest of the Lake-men, along with old Nerulf who proceeded to give them a warning about gallowsweed. Targon and Poppy Rose started preparing the group’s dinner: they boiled some taters and Poppy Rose was able to fish in the river, and seasoned these using some herbs Targon found and oranges from Dragonsbone Inn that she had brought along.
The second day
The group continued down south the next day, via the river. The currents became more of a challenge and slowed the travelers down, and on mid-day Targon noticed people following them on the banks, and after signalling to the other boat, Rory sent his raven to scout. The raven returned, and Rory revealed that there were four elves running alongside the skiffs on the western banks.
Hearing this, Miriel hailed the elves and their leader stepped forward: Galion, the former cupbearer of the elven king. He was demoted from his position and sent to patrol after a bout of drunkenness, and while he looked sourly upon the dwarves and Poppy Rose, Miriel awed him and he divulged that he had been following two dwarves that had been traveling downriver that simply disappeared from their camp. Pressed by the group, he led them to where Balin and Oin last camped: a patch of dry land a few miles north of where a stream from the mountains join the Running River.
Investigating, they discovered that Balin and Oin did camp in the clearing, but they seemed to have left in a hurry. Rory also found a box in a tree stump, protected by spells: a small ivory jewel case, carved with the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Rory took the box for safekeeping, in the hopes that Balin and Oin’s quest may still be fulfilled.
Eothain, while searching, spotted light similar to will o’ the wisps out in the forest, but Miriel urged against following it, which the group wisely agreed to. However, as they were discussing, Eothain noticed something coming up from a pool in the side of the clearing–a troll! The group quickly subdued it, and decided to camp for the night, keeping careful watch.
The searching continues
The group pressed on the following day, not finding any trace of the missing dwarves. However, the succeeding day, with some of the party weary from the rigorous travel, Galdor spotted an overturned boat on the banks. Of a similar make to the ones the group were using, but with slash marks against the sides, the group surmised that this must have been used by Balin and Oin on their own travel down the river.
Disembarking to continue the search, the group remembered old Nerulf’s warnings about gallows-weed and were able to avoid the hanging vines about the forest, until they came upon the old ruins of a town. They pressed further in, discovering that this was likely used as a waypoint by men from Dale, based on the pillars, arches, and gargoyles that were staring down at them from the ruined buildings, where crows with a weird sheen on their feathers cawed and croaked as if in warning.
In the center of town was a dark pool that Eothain drew closer to, while Miriel started to hear a very soft bell that seemed distant and remote, as if coming from under ground.
Eothain continued to draw closer and closer to the pool, until to everyone’s surprise, he jumped into the pool and disappeared under the dark waters. Then one after the other, each of the companions jumped into the pool in pursuit of Eothain, except for Poppy Rose who decided to stay and guard the group’s ponies and supplies.
Down below the pool, the soaked adventurers discovered an underwater opening that led to a half-flooded chamber underground. Here, they saw Eothain lying on the cold stone floor, unconscious. Targon brought the Rider of Rohan back to consciousness and helped him up.
The underground chambers
They looked around the half-flooded chamber and saw a dark doorway that led further into the underground complex. Cautiously, they headed toward the doorway to investigate further, and their senses were bombarded by the reek of death and rot as they continued. The dark doorway led to a vaulted chamber, presenting six arched openings, three on the right side and three more on the left. The farthest doorway on the right side was much larger, its arch decorated with stones of various colors.
They scouted further which revealed that four passages led to several cells, and after investigating they noticed that the cells contained some unknown creatures. They decided to leave those passages behind and head straight towards the farthest doorway on the right.
The decorated archway led to short flight of marble steps that descended toward a reinforced door defaced by claw marks. Hanar and Rory headed toward the door, knocked, and whispered the names of the two missing dwarves. After a short while, they heard a response from Balin and Oin. From inside, the two dwarves opened the door, but there was a loud racket that echoed throughout the underground complex.
Balin and Oin were ragged and clearly in need of food and water. The group assisted them back towards the flooded chamber, only to find six shambling humanoid creatures with clammy pale flesh, like that a corpse left to rot in the water. Clearly, the creatures were roused from the noise and shambled toward the company.
Everyone, except Balin and Oin, drew their weapons and a skirmish ensued, but even in equal numbers the marsh-dwellers were clearly no match to the tenacity of the company, loosing arrows and hacking their swords and axes. They did short work of the enemies, but due to the sound of battle, they heard more shambling noises from the first passage on the left, seemingly drawing more of these creatures to them. Hurriedly, they headed back to the flooded chamber and swam back to the surface, along with Balin and Oin.
Quickly they readied their ponies, and started their trek thru the Long Marshes once again, back to Esgaroth. In a few days, thankfully without any significant delays, they found themselves back in Lake-town and in front of Gloin the Emissary, who thanked the company for their services, and of course were given their promised reward.
With this, the company temporarily disbanded. Galdor, Miriel, and Hanar headed to their respective homes to have their well earned rest. Targon stayed in Lake-town to study medicinal herbs under Oin the Healer. Last, but not the least, Poppy Rose, Eothain, and Hanar decided to head back to Dale in preparation for the upcoming Gathering of Five Armies.
About this campaign
Daniel runs his The One Ring Darkening of Mirkwood campaign once every month. The campaign started with The Marsh-Bell introductory adventure last June 2018. Catch the next installment of the campaign right here next month under the tag The Darkening of Mirkwood Campaign!