With the sounds of the goblins fading into the night, the companions hurry after them. Popo stays behind, tending to his wound, along with the brothers who guard the camp and will come looking for the others if they do not return by dawn.
Wilibald proves to an excellent tracker, and leads the way through the forest. The find themselves heading South, deeper into the eaves of Mirkwood, in the direction of the Mountains of Mirkwood that lie twenty or so miles distant. Soon, after only a few miles, the sounds of the goblins changes as the Orcs stop and gather. Voices are heard, harsh and guttural. The flicker of a camp fire peeks through thick clumps of black ivy that all but strangles the trees, densely packed together. The Hobbit sneaks up and peers through a gap:: half-a-dozen Forest Goblins are stacking the stolen goods off to the side of the hollow they are camped in; trees and ivy surround their camp, and in the centre a low-burning fire sits in a ring of stones. Sat there, glaring and uttering orders to the goblins is another Orc, taller and larger than the goblins, wearing mail and carrying a shield with a red lidless eye painted on it. The other goblins bear a different device on their smaller shields: a crude picture of a butchered Elf. Gilthannas recognises it as belonging to goblins that have been seen raiding Elven settlements.
The companions prepare to ambush the Orcs. They crawl and slink into position, using the trees as cover. Alberic, Dafydd, Wilibald and Gilthannas drew their bows and let loose a flurry of arrows at the tall Orc: the fell creature falls dead, transfixed by arrows. Before the goblins can do much more than cry out, shocked, Veig leads the charge into the hollow and takes the head off an Orc with a mighty swing of his mattock.
Dafydd kicks a goblin to the floor, leaving it open for Wilibald to nip in and stab it; the creature falls dead; Alberic whacks another, staggering it back towards the trees, where Gilthannas transfixes it with an arrow. One of the goblins jabs at Dafydd, who blocks the spear thrust but the ring of stone against his shield weakens his arm, and the already tired Barding becomes increasingly weary under the eaves of the dense forest.
Then suddenly a deafening roar fills the hollow, and a black beats towering twice as tall as any man, explodes from the trees, tearing apart the remaining goblins that stand too close. The big black bear, its thick fur marred by broken shafts and blades sticking out of its hide, turns its glaring yellow eyes on the companions and fixes its stare on the Dwarf.
With a terrible road, it charges straight for Veig and knocks the Dwarf back, winding him. The others dive in, sword, spear and axe swings and thrusting; all glance off its thick hide, its matted fur or off the splintered haft of a broken spear. The Elf tries to shoot between its eyes, but the arrow misses by an inch and ricochets off into the trees.
The beast claws at Veig, and again knocks him back, and all the Dwarf can do is remain standing, and his legs are already shaking from the force of the blows. Another one like that and his knees would buckle.
Wilibald tries to rally his friends, but his voice is hoarse and tired and his words fail him. Dafydd decides that maybe this is actually Beorn, in bear-form, out hunting Orcs and it is all a misunderstanding. He tries to appeal to the bear’s better nature, but his words fall on deaf ears; this is not Beorn, but a monster from the depths of the forest. The creature backhands Dafydd for his trouble, sending him sprawling to the floor; it nips in for a bite, but the Barding’s mail absorbs the worse of it.
Veig, hardly able to stand now, retreats and the others move in to protect him. With the Dwarf out of reach, the beast turns on Alberic, clawing his and denting his mail, forcing him to his knees. He calls out “Run, you fools! This beast is too much for any of us!” Dafydd and Wilibald heed him, and manage to back out of reach, heading for the trees and following in Veig’s footsteps. Alberic finds himself all but alone, and unable to flee; the beast claws him again, shaking him; the Woodman’s axe feels heavy in his hands. Gilthannas also escapes, by leaping up into the trees and scurrying away through the branches, fully expecting Alberic to follow.
Alberic tires to move away, but the beast blocks him and bats him back with a claw; the Woodsman falls, and pretends to be dead. His laboured breath gives him away, and he is clawed again, and again, and this time he finds himself losing conscious and the blackness takes him.
To the dismay of the others, the huge beast grabs Alberic and a dead goblin by a leg and starts to drag them off into the forest, shoving trees aside like they were nothing more than reeds along the marshes. Unwilling to leave their companion behind, they follow. As Gilthannas, Dafydd and Veig head one way, ready to grab their friend, Wilibald takes a risk and moves off by himself, hiding in a bush just ahead of the bear. As it draws near, he begins to sing:
“See the little goblin
See his little feet
And his little nosey-wose
Isn’t the goblin sweet?”
The distraction works, and the beast drops its ‘food’ and heads to the bush to investigate, tearing apart the forest to find no one there: Wilibald has already sneaked off, and joins the others who have quickly rushed in, thrown Alveric over the Elf’s shoulder, and fled back into the trees.
Thankfully, the beast does not follow, and they reach their camp without being attacked or getting lost. Popo is relieved that his brother and the others are alive, and within a short time, Alberic regains consciousness. The companions also managed to grab the stolen goods on their way back (except a few broken bottles of wine and spilled spices), and the three brothers are overjoyed and thankful.
They spend an uneasy night, doubling their watch, but nothing more happens that night. In the morning they head off, keeping an eye and ear out for more goblins or deadly bears. As they continue to follow the path, Gilthannas recalls a legend about a monstrous black bear and shares the story with the Company and traders:
The giant black bear known as Mor’du is a legend told to Wayward Elves, misbehaving Woodmen children and Dwarves that take too much interest in the forest. Legend tells of a great warrior who was cursed by Dwarves from Erebor after the warrior stole artefacts from the Lonely Mountain; the act was well-intentioned, as he sought to use the artefacts to bolster himself and his men in their fight against the Orcs, but he was consumed by its power and by the gold he found with the artefacts, and was cursed as a result: he became the giant black bear that now roams Mirkwood, killing, feasting, hunting. Mor’du has an especial hatred of Dwarves and goes to great lengths to kill them.
The beast is thirteen feet tall with thick leathery skin covered in coarse thick, matted fur the colour of the deepest night. Broken weapons protrude from his hide and fur, creating a layer of armour that adds to the beast’s invulnerability, or at least as legend has it; for it is said that Mor’du cannot be slain.
23rd Blothmath to 1st Foreyule, 2946
The rest of the journey goes without a hitch, although by the time eventually reach Lake-town, only a couple of days from the beginning of the festivities for the Gathering of the Five Armies, most are weary. Popo’s wound has healed and they are feeling better once they leave the forest. As they passed by the Elven Halls, Gilthannas spent a night at home, but was unable to persuade the Elves to allow his friends to also spend a night in the Halls; but that was fine, and no one held a grudge.
At Esgaroth, the traders thanked and paid the companions well, treated them to a modest but fine feast, and bid them farewell. The Company settled in to enjoy the festivities, and talked about how best to spend the Winter months.
End of Session
XP Awarded: 5 each.
Treasure: 3 points each.
Kills: 6 Forest Goblins, 1 tall Orc