Into the Depths
Having been knocked unconscious during our struggle to secure the inn, I cannot recount quite what happened until I awoke some time later in chains.

From Drogo’s account, he, the Hound, and Durim, along with the townsfolk in the inn and Rodwin, did their best to stave off the battering of the dead-faced soldiers, but eventually they broke in from the front, rear, and balcony. The soldiers surrounded us, forcing the furious Durim to surrender his axe. They chained us and most of the townspeople together at the wrists and necks.

In the oblivion of unconsciousness I believed I awoke in the late evening. The ruins of Haycomb surrounded me, and Irimë stood before me, contending with the inky shadow that had washed over us before. Her face was the picture of grim determination, but the shadow pulsed and writhed about her as she struggled. Once again my senses fled and darkness overtook me.

When next I awoke I was chained along with all the others, aching and weary. During our own struggles, Drogo had done what little he could to treat my wounds. The red armored soldiers strode through the town, looking for more villagers and chaining the stragglers. Any who resisted were slaughtered in turn. Strangely, those soldiers who had the appearance of corpses were no longer walking amongst us. We sat unmolested for a night and most of the next day. Aldor, Haeleth, Geb and Rodwin were all chained near us. When I mentioned that in my dream I had seen Irimë, Durim grumbled once again about elven magic, but would hear no more of it.

Eventually, the soldiers forced us all to our feet and we began to march south. Their whips cracked in our ears. For all of us weary folk, the march was exhausting. We walked for days. As people stumbled and fell, they were unchained and kicked aside. Aldor, who was old and not well to begin with, soon began coughing and stumbling. Durim did his best to keep our spirits up, but Geb interrupted, whining about how difficult the marching was. After many days of marching, crossing the Alduin and Gladden Fields, we faced the foreboding darkness of the Mirkwood.

Another troop of soldiers marched toward us, from the depths of the forest. In the evening gloom it took some time to see that they were not human soldiers, but orcs. Our captors showed no concern, and when the orc column met us, we were handed over to them with no further ado. The orcs led us further south before turning east, toward the forest. Over the trees we could see a shadowy, tall hilltop, wreathed in smoke and clouds. Dark writhing shapes could sometimes be seen flitting about within the gloomy clouds. The sight struck fear in our hearts as the orcs turned us toward it and into the darkest path we’d ever trod through the Mirkwood.

Trudging through the dark was even more difficult, and while our human captors had treated us mostly with indifference, the orcs prodded us cruelly. When anyone fell, they were promptly killed and dragged away, orcs cheering viciously for another meal. We were led to a dark hole at the base of the hill, and driven inside. The tunnel narrow tunnel led us deep into the mountain. In the dark, I was able to wriggle my hands free from my shackles, and feigning a stumble, picked up a rock. I desperately hoped for an opportunity to sneak away, or free my friends, but none came.

The orcs led us over rough bridges spanning pits of fire, forges, scenes of torture and horror. We were completely surrounded by orcs. Into a torchlit hall we were pushed, freed from our bondage, and shoved into an unlit cell. Our only luck was that we were not split up. Aldor, Haeleth, Geb, and Rodwin were locked into the cell with us. Aldor’s cough had turned to a dry hacking, and I did my best to make him comfortable so that he could rest and hopefully regain his strength.

Many hours passed in that dark hole, perhaps many days. Every now and then the door would swing open and an orc would toss in a basket of moldy bread scraps and a small skin of water. Aldor’s ragged breathing echoed in the darkness until it eventually stopped. Geb, who always scrambled first to the food, sulked and whined. We were all weary to the bone. The cell in which we were locked held no comfort. A shallow pool of caustic water sat in the middle, and the walls were hewn from rough stone, leaving not a single smooth spot to lean against. The darkness permeated all. Only the thinnest line of torchlight leaked in around the solid wooden door. Faint, shrill screams could be heard echoing some distance away. Durim asked Rodwin what she thought might happen.

“I suppose they will either turn us into those walking corpses, to do their bidding. Save that, we will all die and be tossed into orc cookpots.” Disheartened, we stopped talking. More time passed and eventually Aldor’s wheezing ceased. Drogo sang a terribly depressing song and we all felt very sad for the old man.

After another day or so, the door swung open again. This time, the figure of a man stood in the doorway, holding a tray from which wafted the most delicious smells of food. After nearly stumbling over Aldor’s body near the doorway, he backed out again. Moments later, orcs dragged away the corpse and the man entered once again with the food. As he offered up the tray, we scrambled to devour the steaming meat, bread, and fresh fruit. It was the most delicious meal I’d ever tasted.

As we ate, the man spoke. “Weary travelers, my name is Anater. I live here in the wood. I see you are enjoying this fine food. There is no need for you to suffer down here in the dark. Many men, dwarves, and others are in the service of my master, and live in the woods above. If you kneel to him, you may go.” After we’d cleared the tray, he gathered it and left us alone.

“We ought to do like he says,” said Geb with a belch. “I don’t want to stay down here.”

“You fool!” cried Durim. “His master is a foul sorcerer, master of the orcs who’ve held us down here. You cannot trust him.”

“I’m just being practical. We’ll all die down here. What does it matter? I’ll serve whoever.”

Drogo piped up from his seat in the darkness, and told Geb the tale of Feanor, son of Finwe, who was corrupted by the lustre of the Silmarils. Geb saw the danger of corruption and agreed not to swear fealty to this dark “master” above. When Anater returned, we all declined his offer, and he left us alone in the dark once again.

Time passed; perhaps another day. Our stomachs growled again and when the sound of boot steps clapped through the corridor, we anxiously awaited our next meal. The door swung open, and an orc grabbed Durim, who happened to be nearest the door. “The boys need some sport. You’re coming with me.” Durim, who had my rock still in his hand, lunged and bashed the rock into the skull of the orc. The beast staggered under the blow, grabbed Durim’s neck and roared into his face. The orcs behind him had drawn swords. “Stand down, lads. I’ll be all right. This one’s going to the pit.” Swinging a bag over Durim’s head, they dragged him out and banged the door shut behind him.

After an hour or so, orcs returned, flinging an unconscious Durim into a heap in the corner of our cell. One pointed at Haeleth, “You’re next, boy.” Haeleth began to weep quietly, and I tried to inspire him with a story, but he pushed me away with a sob.

Another day or so passed. Durim awoke, and told us his tale. He had faced a troll in some sort of arena, unarmed. It was a miracle he survived at all.

Disheartened, but determined to change our circumstances somehow, I sat near the door to wait for it to open again. When it did, I slipped out during the commotion of the orcs grabbing at a struggling Haeleth and snuck down the corridor. It was lined with closed doors, presumably cells like ours. Down a few turns I passed into a large cavern, full of pits of fire, forges, and corners where orcs whipped slaves to fuel their fires. Screams and grunts echoed through the air. In an abandoned corner, I found a rusty sword and picked it up. I tried to find my way back through the twisting corridors to our cell, though it took quite some time, for all the doors looked alike. I soon saw an orc standing guard outside a door, and thought it might be the cell holding my companions.

In my haste and desperation, I snuck up and attacked the orc guard. The rusty blade glanced off his thick hide, and he thrust his spear at me. I managed to dodge the blow, and hit him true, in the leg. He bellowed a loud alarm, and stabbed me in return. My next blow struck him in the neck and he tumbled to the floor. I could hear the boot steps coming down the hall as I slipped the key ring from his belt and slid back into the shadows up the hall. I knelt in hiding near some other doors as the orcs investigated their fallen comrade, arguing loudly and pushing one another. In the noise, I tried the keys in the door behind me, and after a few tries, one turned in the lock and I swung the door open. I whispered to the folk within that they may be able to get out if they were quiet and snuck across to the next door.

A man ran out of the cell, not at all quietly, and the orcs pursued him around the corner. I rushed back to our door and unlocked it. The screams of the man told of his fate, and the orcs returned just as I swung the door open. Haeleth’s lifeless body had been flung into the foul puddle of water and filth, but I had only noted that sad fact for but a moment when an eerie green light surrounded Rodwin, forming into the shape of a man next to her. A voice rung out from the darkness.

“Do you know what the Noldor witch has done? She could not face me alone, so she brought you here to do the work. She sacrificed you for her own sake.” Rodwin’s face flickered to that of Irimë’s as the green light undulated sickly around her. The body of Haeleth twitched and dragged itself to its feet, in a mockery of life. Its arms hung limply at its sides and its face writhed in a mask of hatred. Terrified, I swung my sword at the boy, and though my blow met flesh he did not react in pain.

I suddenly realized that this creature might hold some knowledge of how to defeat the evil that had brought us here, and to free my friends. I dropped the sword and knelt in submission. “I submit, my lord. Tell me your secrets!”

The green light surged as the Hound lunged for the fallen blade. He buried the blade in Haeleth’s neck with a growl. Durim’s shout rang out, “I would gladly die for fair Irimë!” as he ran into the corridor to face the orcs, Drogo at his heals. The shadowy figure grabbed me and drew me closer to it.

“So be it, share her fate!” shouted the voice. “Despair!”

A dark shadow swept over all of us, and we awoke to find ourselves in the High Pass among the ruins of Haycomb. Irimë lay near us on the ground. Her skin was pale and bloodless, eyes staring blankly into the sky. Durim shook her, but she did not respond. The Hound, after looking her over, said that her body was unharmed, but her spirit was gone.

We sat numbly, wearied from the strange ordeal. Soon a body of elves approached. The elf lord at their head was clad in bright, shining mail. He saw that Irimë was badly hurt and asked us for our tale. With halting speech, Drogo related our terrible story. The elf lords introduced themselves, as Elodon and Elohir, sons of Elrond. They carried Irimë to a horse and departed to take her to Rivendell.

Left with nothing to do but go home, we started off with heavy hearts. We followed the path out of the High Pass, remembering how we had walked this same trail last in chains. We did not begin to shake the dark feeling until we reached the Old Ford and turned north toward home.
Session: Game Session - Wednesday, Feb 27 2013 from 8:00 PM to 12:00 AM
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