h3. 27-30 Blotmath, 2949
It is the annual Gathering of Five Armies, and Dale is bustling with festivities. The three companions, now calling themselves The Fellowship of the New Alliance are in town to enjoy the festival. They join the crowds, checking out the entertainment, partaking of the food and drink, pulling their cloaks around them as the first winds of Winter blow through the valley. The Opening Ceremony is but a few hours away, and to pass the time the three friends enjoy the downtime.
Dafydd Ap Alfred takes part in a riddle contest, doing reasonably well before some gruff old sea-dog beats him with some seafaring riddle that the Barding has never heard of. Gilthannas tries his luck with a few games of chance, managing to gain a few coins along the way; but it is Alberic who finds short-term fame when he takes part in a singing contest and gets invited to sing at the masked ball taking place that night.
The festival kicks off with a splendid firework display that lights the sky and even manages to illuminate the Lonely Mountain. None other than Gandalf is setting them off, and during a lull, he approaches the Company and takes them aside, quizzing them about the spirit and Orcs that have recently been encountering. After talking to the Brown Wizard, Gandalf thinks he does more about the foe that seems to be plaguing Wilderland.
“Many years ago I myself dared to pass the doors of the Necromancer in Dol Guldur for the second time, to secretly explore his ways," says Gandalf. "What I discovered in that occasion is not a matter that I will discuss here, but suffice it to say that I found the place to be even darker and oppressive than before. It seemed to me that a new power had allied itself with the Necromancer, and ruled the deeper pits of Dol Guldur.
“It was there that I found Thráin, the father of Thorin Oakenshield, wandering witless and near death in the blackest dungeons. I came too late, and he died before I could help him, but with his last words he uttered the name of his gaoler and tormentor: the Gibbet King.
“I fled that accursed place before the Necromancer could spy my presence, but I knew that my visit didn’t go unnoticed. I felt the eyes of that dreadful lord of prisons upon me. The Gibbet King saw me, but seemed content to let me go.”
He asks them to keep an eye out for trouble, and to get word back to him if they can. Meanwhile, he is off to visit the leaders of the land, to see what else is going on.
A masked ball follows the fireworks, and the three companions relax long into the evening.
Towards the end of the evening, Lockmand the merchant clambers onto the stage to address the crowd.
“People of Dale! Tomorrow, there will be a great contest of arms! Swords! Spears! Archery! Let us gather all the defenders of the North, and see which of them is the greatest! In honour of this fine Gathering of Five Armies I shall give a prize to the victor! Behold!”
He gestures to two of his servants, who drag a huge iron- bound chest onto the stage. Lockmand throws the lid back. Gold and gems spill from the chest, which is crammed with treasure. “For Wilderland!” shouts Lockmand. “For the Free Folk of the North!”
The next day, the companions take part in the contests. Dafydd Ap Alfred and Alberic take part in all three, the contest of Archery, of Strength, and of Horsemanship. Gilthannas just takes part in the first two. All of them manage to get through to the final rounds, but are beaten by others. Still, they get a few good cheers and applause as a result of their reputation that has grown over the last few months. Then, the following day, marking the end of the festival, the Grand Melee takes place; to be followed by a great feast for all participants and every hero, adventurers, soldier and mercenary in the land. Everyone is invited, and the food and drink are to be amongst the best that Wilderland has to offer.
Gilthannas, Alberic and Dafydd enter the Grand Melee, and prove themselves worthy warriors. But others are stronger or quicker, and one-by-one the companions are eliminated. Alberic falls within the first few rounds, Gilthannas soon after, but Dafydd manages to get to the final contestants, before he decides to charge straight at a large Beorining called Gerold and gets sent flying into the river.
Battered and bruised, they join the others at the feast and enjoy the food and drink, the music and merriment. As the feast draws on, Lockmand arrives on stage, wearing the same outfit and mask as he did as the ball. It seems he has lost his voice, and mimes giving out the prizes for those who won the contests. When it comes to the winner of the Grand Melee Elstan, First Captain of Dale, the chest of gold and gems turns out to be full of snakes, which attack the masked merchant and slither off into the crowd. The snakes bite a few, the merchant turns out to be a jester in disguise, and then everyone at the feast starts feeling the effects of poison: the food and wine are doused with debilitating poison!
The heroes, affected but tough enough not to fully succumb to the poison, assist those who take a bad turn, and when King Bard hears of the trouble and sends servants and others to help, they do their best to support their most recent patron. They learn from the jester that Lockmand paid him to ‘play a trick’ on the winners, but that this wasn’t part of the plan. They rush off to try and confront him, but when they track him down, he is on a boat sailing down the river. They land a few arrows, but the river is fast flowing and the traitorous merchant escapes.
Over the course of the night Alberic manages to purge the three of them of the poison, but there are too few healers and herbs to tend to all the men and women at the feast. While there were no deaths, virtually everyone is debilitated or incapacitated. This becomes worrying when a raven flies in, perches above the square and announces a doom on the land:
“Harken, men of Dale! Harken, folk of the Mountain! A terrible army approaches. Orcs and Goblins, with Wild Wolves to ride upon, coming with great speed up from the south. They ride for Dale!”
Word reaches the King, and he assembles a hasty council. The heroes, being one of the few who are able, and also as vassals (more or less) to the King since he became their patron, are invited to give counsel.
King Bard addresses those present:
“Lockmand’s treachery has blunted the spear of the forces of Dale. The greater portion of our strength is lost until the poisoned warriors recover. And when they do, it will be too late.”
“The power of the Orcs of the North was broken at the Battle of Five Armies, but Wilderland is still stiff with Wolves, Orcs, and creatures of the worst description. It must be assumed that we face a powerful army.
“The enemy’s outriders will be here soon. Dale has the strength to resist a siege, but if we retreat behind its stone walls, then the farmlands and outlying villages – not to mention Lake-town – will be vulnerable to attack.
“We must resolve what to do with the remaining time. There are two concerns at hand – stopping the enemy, and preparing Dale for war, even in the lack of its best defenders.“
The Fellowship of the New Alliance counsel for the King to evacuate Lake-town and the farmsteads and villages, bringing them all to Dale, and to gather the rest of the harvest as quickly as possible, to hold up in the town while reinforcements arrive from the Elves and Dwarves, and whatever able-bodied Men can be mustered. The King agrees, but needs time to organise such activity: he needs heroes to delay the Enemy for as long as possible. The best place to do this, is the bridge at the Crossings of Celduin, where an army can cross the river easily. A handful of warriors could hold that bridge against an otherwise overwhelming force, for a time at least. The King stresses that he does not consider this to be a suicide mission, merely a delaying tactic, allowing him time to gather whatever force-of-arms and reinforcements he can, and to evacuate vulnerable people to Dale before the Enemy reaches them.
Naturally enough, the three companions are volunteered. They are to be joined by Galia, the Elf-maid who won the archery contest, and the Beorning, Georld, who won the contest of strength. Their old friend Storr comes forth to offer his services too.
The King gives them fast horses, and sends servants with additional servants after them; three sets of fresh horses will be place along their route, allowing for a swifter return.
The six warriors ride off, heading South to the Crossings of Celduin, as the first snows of Winter drift over the land.
End of Session
XP Awarded: 1 each.