The Marsh Bell: Part 4
The Company, together with Balin and Oin, struggle free of the dark pool and drag themselves on to land under the night sky. As the moon and stars cast a pale glow over the ruins and surrounding marsh, they stumble off in search of a safe place to camp, Dafydd (bleeding and close to exhaustion) leading the way: they find a mound of dry earth, a tiny hill that sticks out of the wetland and have some shelter from a few rounded stones and straggly trees. Guards are set while Alberic treats Dafydd’s wounds, using some of his White Lilies to facilitate his healing. They settle down for the night, after returning the ornate box to Balin, who is exceedingly happy to have recovered it.
The night passes without incident, and the next morning, weary and anxious, the Company head back to where they hid their boat, and begin the long trek upstream to Lake-town. As they travel, Balin and Oin fill them in on their mission: to take a gift and letter of welcome to the Eagles, an invitation for the King of Eagles to join the council at the next Gathering of Five Armies. The companions befriend the two Dwarves, and by the time they reach Esgaroth (over a week later, thankfully without any incidents or troubles), the older and younger Dwarves are convinced that the Company are capable and decent folk. So much so, that when they are returned to Gloin, they persuade the Dwarf to allow them to escort Balin and Oin across Mirkwood, too help them on their mission. The Dwarves agree, and after a few days of rest and recuperation, the Company and the two Dwarves set off on a new mission across the forest.
Don’t Leave the Path: Part 1
25th Rethe, 2947 (Spring)
A few miles out, following an old path from Lake-town to where the Elf-path begins, the Company (& Dwarves) hear cries for help, and a young boy of about ten scrabbles out of the woods, crying for help, pointing into the trees: “They’re going to kill him,” he cries, “My father, the guards are going to kill him! Please help me”!
Leaving the two Dwarves to lead their ponies, the others hurry after the boy into the woods. All except Wilibald, who stealthily steals into the forest, flanking the others. They come into a clearing, where three thugs threaten an older man, middle-aged and wielding a large branch as a club. Dafydd recognises them as Jonar, Kelmund and Finnar, known troublemakers from Lake-town. They tell the companions to go away, or there’ll be trouble, but Dafydd shakes his spear and threatens to kill them if they don’t leave; and seeing the armed men behind him, the three thugs decide to cut their losses and go, grumbling as they do. Wilibald follows them a short distance to make sure they leave, and hears them swearing revenge.
The man introduces himself as Baldor, and the young boy is his son, Belgo. He is a merchant on his way to the Woodland Hall, with iron and toys from Dale; his four ponies are close by. The thugs he hired as escort, unwisely it turns out. As they are travelling in the same direction, the Company offer to act as his escort, and Baldor happily agrees, promising to pay them in silver or goods when they reach the Easterly Inn; from there it should safe enough for them to continue on by themselves. He already has a route planned out too: taking rafts to the Elven King’s Halls, then a rest in those very halls, before heading off along the Elf-path. It seems a good route, so the Company agree.
A few days pleasant travel through the warm Spring days takes the Company through the nicer part of Mirkwood, where Elves with rafts take them along the river and into the cavernous cellars of the halls, where they are welcomed by Lindar, master of the King’s Cellars. Baldor and his son are taken to suitable quarters, but the others (except Gilthannas, being an Elf) find themselves bedding down in the cellars, guarding the ponies and goods. Still, the couple of days there are pleasant, and afterwards the Elves take the Company on rafts out of the halls, down the river, dropping them off past the Enchanted Stream, on to the path; here the trees are thick and the passage once more more like a tunnel than a path through a forest. The shadows are thick and twilight green. Occasionally webs can be seen amongst the trees, but the first leg of the journey is uneventful, though tiring,
After several days travel, over a third of the way through the forest, with the twilight wearing them down little-by-little, they luck out and find a nice place to camp for the night: an old Elven Feasting Hall, a clearing in the forest with a stream running alongside. They camp for the night, feeling better with wider space around them. During the night, while Popo stands watch, Baldor gets up, complaining of bad dreams, and stretches his legs. He takes a drink from the stream, which turns out to be a very bad idea, as that stream is also enchanted, and immediately the merchant is struck by its enchantment: Popo watches as the poor man looks startled and confused, shouts something about the Dragon awakening, screams that he is under attack, and as he sees the Hobbit staring up at him, Baldor charges off into the forest, blundering through the trees!
By the time Popo has woken everyone up, and they’ve done their best to settle poor Belgo down, his father has disappeared. His trail is easy to follow, but it is so dark that without torches they can’t even see their hands in front of their faces. They decide to wait until daylight, only a few hours away, before they can track him down.
The next morning, leaving the Dwarves and Belgo to look after the ponies and act as a backup in case anything goes wrong, the Company head off, torches lit to aid their search in the dim twilight of the forest, following the tracks. They soon come across something alarming: broken webs, and drag marks furrowing the ground. They follow these, and come out into a clearing, where a ruined castle– only a crumbling tower and a L-shaped wall of an ancient keep still standing– once stood. Thick webs connect the top of the tower to the top of the wall, and dangling from the wall is a man-shaped bundle of webs, struggling feebly. There are no obvious sign of spiders, but scuttling noises can be faintly heard all around.
Leaving Alberic and Gilthannas at the edge of the clearing, bows drawn, the two Hobbits and the Barding stealthily head to the ruins: the wall looks too sheer to climb safely, so they head for the tower, silently climbing the stairs. Popo is left at the bottom, bow drawn, keeping an eye out, as his brother and Dafydd reach the top: there they see a bridge made of webs hanging between the tower and wall, Baldor (his boots are sticking out, recognisable as his) at the far end. Then they look up into the trees, and see dozens of Attercops seemingly asleep in the webs that shroud the branches.
Wilibald stays at the top of the stairs, his King’s Blade drawn, watching the sleeping, twitching spiders. Dafydd begins to cross the bridge, being as careful as he can. He is nearly halfway across when he stumbles, and vibrations rock the bridge, and the webs, and then the spiders in the trees; and immediately, the spiders awake!
Dafydd runs across and starts to drag Baldor onto the bridge, taking out his knife to cut the merchant free. A spider drops from the trees, but is shot out of the air by Alberic and Gilthannas, who loose arrows as the boar-sized arachnids swarm.
Below, Alberic and Gilthannas start to pick off spiders as they scurry from the trees; one, then two fall dead to the ground. Another lands near Dafydd, who whacks it aside, gets caught in the sticky webbing of the bridge, and has to cut himself free; Baldor tries to help, but only gets in the way, and suddenly the Barding finds himself caught in a spray of webs, and a spider rears up, trying to bite him! Wilibald too, finds himself facing off against a giant spider, and he too finds himself caught in its webbing!
Popo, seeing his brother in danger, throws caution to the wind and charges up the steps, while the two archers see more spiders swarming from the trees…
End of Session
XP Awarded: 3 for all but Popo (who gets 2 points).