STERDAY, THE FIRST DAY OF THRIMIDGE, TA2946
The Cellars of The Docks Bow
As soon as Framleiðandi felt fit, his rescuers led him to the scene of the sorcerous crime of the dwarf twins Dwîm and Dwîma and their mysterious black-clad cohort.
The cellar of the Docks Bow was back to being used as a store room, but the owner was still devastated that renting the space out to his guests led to their using it to inflict such horror on a young girl. He immediately had his staff clear the space once more for the detailed examinations of lore-master Framleiðandi and company. Drinks were ‘on the house’ while this went on and Fjiar, ever the ardent ale-quaffer, distinguished himself by taking a foaming tankard in each fist. ”I only wish I had more hands!” he guffawed loudly.
Despite the flagstone floor having been scrubbed, Ecthelon the keen-eyed Elf could still make out the traces of tallow-stains from the ring of nine candles, and of the large amount of blood that had pooled on the floor, uncollected by any vessel, in their centre. Fjiar puzzled at the miscreants having made no effort to catch the blood of their victim, and Framleiðandi murmured grimly that this pointed away from blood magick, and meant that the purpose of the bloodletting was either to sap the strength of the victim, or to invoke her fear of death, which mannish folk feel more acutely than dwarves or elves, precisely to muster the Shadow.
He was sure that the use of nine points to define the ritual circle would have some significance to the sorcerers, but whatever that was, he had no knowledge of it.
Whilst these examinations were going on, Yngwi chanced to notice that the innkeep was pointedly avoiding the gaze of his wife, hovering at the stairhead with one of the barmaids. He bustled up to speak to them, and learned that when the girl had been cleaning up the cellar, she had found a shred of black feather, which she had kept even though the innkeep called her a fool. Holding it up to catch the light just so, Ecthelon saw the dirty green iridescence that proved it to have been torn from the end of a feather – a tail feather, he believed – of a craban, or gorcrow as the common speech has it. Having pursued an interest in the plants and wildlife of the Lonely Mountain, Ecthelon could confidently state that no gorcrow would ever normally come nearer than several leagues from Dale-town or Erebor, the Lonely Mountain.
Framleiðandi retired upstairs to the drinking hall to avail himself of a jug of ale on the house and contemplate the slender evidence. The gorcrow feather seemed significant, although he had never heard of any tradition bearing such as magical fetishes. He surmised that if the nature of the ritual was primarily to amass a force of the Shadow, and if that were bent upon a gorcrow, it might mean various things. It could have summoned a gorcrow from long leagues over Wilderland, possibly bearing some message, although at great magical cost for such a thing. It could have forged some sort of link with the spirit of a gorcrow, either binding it to the sorcerer’s will, or maybe enabling the sorcerer to mimic or steal some attribute from the bird. But no, he said in response to Fjiar’s suggestion, not even sorcery could ever afford anyone the power of flight.
The Anguish of little Arnia
Leaving the others with Framleiðandi in the Docks Bow, Tóki led Yngwi round to the home of the miscreants’ victim, the seven-year-old Arnia, via the toy shop where Tóki collected a toy to give her, a carven puppy imbued with a magic of yapping back the last word spoken to it.
The family home was a rude timber shack in one of the rough quarters of town, her father apparently a poor but proud man who moved here to get work in the rebuilding of Dale. Tóki was greeted with every honour the girl’s mother could offer, and Yngwi spoke honourably of their wish to track down the evil dwarves whose deeds were a stain on the honour of the race. Tóki’s sensitive offering of his gift, and a song of Yngwi’s about bravery in the young persuaded the mother to let them ask Arnia about her ordeal.
The girl was snatched a little further from home than she would normally venture, looking for the stray cat the family had adopted. She was gagged and a sack was thrust over her head, and the two or three smelly men put her in the back of a cart, scaring her half to death with the foul-mouthed threats of what they would do if she so much as wriggled her toes. She remembered one of them cursing the ‘stupid dung for brains mule’. They didn’t take her far, kept her in a place where several more men and dwarves had a cook fire and a cask of grog, and then after the bells of Dale had rung nightfall two dwarves had bundled her into the cellar of the drinking hall.
With tears starting down her cheeks again, Arnia bravely spoke on in gasps between soft but heart-rending sobs, to describe what happened when the sack was taken from her head. One of the straggle-bearded grey dwarf twins tied a cloth over her mouth, bound her wrists and hoisted her up off the floor. So that her eyes were level with those of a man who wore a black hood and had a scarf masking his face. But now that Tóki and Yngwi were able, gently, to ask her about this man at greater length than before, she recalled that as well as the painted shapes revealed when he took off his gloves and pulled up his sleeves, the man had the same black paint on the little of his face that she could see around his eyes.
“Could you tell what he talked like?” asked Yngwi. “Did he sound like a Daleman?”
“…Daleman?” echoed the toy puppy.
“No, he sounded like a Southerner,” she said, but this proved to mean only that he came from ‘Downriver’, which included all of Middle-earth further afield than Lake-town. “And mostly what I heard was when him and one of the dwarves did that nasty, nasty song. Their voices were all different then, and it was like the whole room got horribler.”
Her bravery gave out at this point and she surrendered to a bout of inconsolable crying. It was only after a good while had passed and a comical ditty from Yngwi had cheered her up that her mother allowed them a few more minutes, as long as they didn’t ask any more about that part of the night.
“Did you ever hear what name the dwarves called the hooded man?” asked Tóki.
“…man?” yapped the toy puppy.
She said shook her head and said, “No. They just put the candles in a circle and lit them without really talking. But I think one of them might have called him ‘Master’ one time.”
“And did you see a bird at all? A crow, perhaps?”
“Yes?” said Tóki and Yngwi together.
“That’s what the painting on his arms and hands was! It was like two scaly raven legs on his arms, with the claws here and here.” And she indicated the backs of her two hands.
Yngwi and Tóki praised Arnia for being so brave, and told her she could keep the toy puppy. They thanked her mother profusely and persuaded her to accept a few silver coins to make sure that Arnia would want for nothing until the whole episode was far behind her.
Plans and Deliberations
Harrowing as it had been to have the little girl recall her dreadful ordeal, when the two returned to The Docks Bow Yngwi the storyteller recounted it all again for the ears of their companions.
Marion the Beorning suggested that the crow-designs on sorcerer’s hands and arms were probably tattoos rather than temporary body art specific to the magical ritual, as that would explain why he never left the inn room hired for him. None of the company knew of any culture in which tattooing was common, though Framleiðandi thought it probably pointed to the Easterlings, amongst whom dwell Dwîm and Dwîma’s dwarven tribe, the Ironfists.
And when Yngwi repeated the girl’s description of the sorcerer’s voice when uttering the incantation of the ritual, Framleiðandi blenched. “The Black Speech!” he exclaimed. “I have seldom heard it uttered, but it answers the girl’s description.
“The Morbeth, as it is called by the lore-masters of the elves!” added Ecthelon.
“Aye,” said Marion. “The language devised by the Dark Lord himself in the Second Age of the world, before he was slain by the son of the first King of Gondor. It is only heard now on the lips of the very worst of orcs, and it is said that it embodies the Shadow in its every word.”
But if the girl’s account elaborated the foulness of the sorcery afoot, it was Yngwi who brought them back to the one small practical detail that they could pursue. “The fact that they had a mule-cart may help us to track the blackhearts down,” he said. “There can only be maybe a couple of dozen mule-carts in the city, and that gives us a new question to ask the gate-guards – and perhaps the cartwrights!”
Whilst Yngwi and Tóki were gone, Fjiar had also been busy. Making free with the purse of Thorfin’s gold given him for expenses, he had bought so much ale for any of the regulars in the Docks Bow who might have seen the comings and goings of the miscreants that word had gone round the nearby streets and Dale-folk had flocked in. Being unaccustomed to public speaking he failed in his attempt at a rousing speech to urge them to do the right thing and tell him anything they might have seen. But pitching the situation as a mystery to which there had to be an answer did have the desired effect.
One ‘Lomund’, a local storyteller who made it his business to know everyone else’s business, had taken an interest in the people involved that night and was keen to boast of his knowledge. He had identified that there were three customers in The Docks Bow, a man who never came out of his room and two grey dwarf twins in the next room who made all the arrangements. Outside of The Docks Bow itself there had been sightings of maybe half a dozen grey dwarves, and they seemed to have been associated with the eyepatched dwarf, Captain Beil, whose hangers-on included a handful of not so reputable dwarves from out of the Mountain or the Iron Hills (apart from one black dwarf in outlandish garb), and three or four mannish thugs.
This Lomund said that no one had seen any of them since the night that the three patrons of the Docks Bow had left in such a hurry, but that they hadn’t been seen leaving town either – and there are only two proper roads out of Dale-town. He also said that if they were still in town but lying low, they were likely to have heard of Fjiar’s grand gestures seeking to find out anything about them.
Finally Ecthelon spoke up. “Rather than following a cold trail around Dale-town, you need to get a step ahead of your quarry.”
The others turned to him, all ears.
“You say these dwarf enemies of yours were previously the prisoners of your King Under the Mountain?” he asked.
Fjiar answered defensively, “Well, Dwîm and Dwîma themselves weren’t there when we led the soldiers in. But yes, the rest of the Karghal clan that were holed up in a farmstead, or all those that survived, were taken as prisoners of the King.”
“And they were cast out, with their lives to be forfeit if they were to return?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Then what in Middle-earth could be so important to them that they would chance that fate? You need to find out from your lord Thorfin what their goal could possibly be, and track backwards from there to identify their probable next step.”
SUNDAY, THE SECOND DAY OF THRIMIDGE, TA2946
The company spent the next morning going round the ostlers of Dale-town, most of which were in the streets round the gate where the Merchant’s Way enters the town. None of the cart-mules that any of them had stabled around two weeks ago had belonged to anyone suspicious.
Finally, close to midday, the company called on mule-breeder and cart dealer, Arfa of Dale, on his stud farm in the townlands a short distance outside the gates. Duly impressed by the sum of silver offered for information, he remembered selling a mule and cart to a pair of twin dwarves maybe six weeks ago, some time about the middle of the month of Rethe.
Yngwi suggested to this Arfa the likelihood that dwarves unaccustomed to mule-wrangling and cart-driving might be likely to have needed repairs by now, and impressed upon him that there would be a considerable further reward for information if any cartwright or wheelwright of Arfa’s acquaintance might know anything about the movements or whereabouts of these dwarves.
Return to the Lonely Mountain
They continued on up the Dwarf-road to the Front Gate of the Lonely Mountain. The dwarves on the gate confirmed that they remained alert for any attempt of the Karghal Ironfists to return to the Mountain, and that none of them had passed the Gate.
Fjiar, Yngwi and Tóki vouched for the good names of their guests, Marion and Ecthelon, and the company entered the Mountain.
In the Mansion of the Dathrins they found Thorfin and related all their news to him. The mission to the eaves of Mirkwood had been successful in rescuing Framleiðandi, and he had been able to offer some admittedly slight new insights. They shared the tidings with Thorfin, and warned him of the possible threat to his estate or his personal safety. Ecthelon posed his fundamental question: what interest could sorcerers and renegade dwarves possibly have in the House of Dathrin that they were prepared to risk so much to pursue it?
Thorfin said he would have had no idea that anything to do with him or his forefathers’ holdings could interest anyone but themselves. “But since regaining possession of my fathers’ mansion and the contents of certain vaults which escaped the desecration of Smaug the Terrible…” He tailed off, appraising Ecthelon and Marion with narrowed gaze. He found himself strangely moved to trust this elf, and the huntress’ gruffly straightforward manner betokened reliability.
“Speak not of this outside this hall, but I have been learning that my House were the heirs of one Bavern of Khazad-dûm, who had clearly been a crafter, lore-master and magician of certain powers and purpose. This pendant about my neck was enchanted by his hand. Perhaps Bavern crossed the paths of sorcerers in the last days of Moria before the coming of Durin’s Bane.”
And Thorfin related that in one of the secret vaults of his House was a memorial plaque to ten unnamed dwarves of ‘The Shield-wall of Bavern’. It said, “They fell in Khazad-dûm, that the treasure entrusted to their House should remain to the Dwarves,” even when the dwarves, on going into exile in the Great Lands, were forced to seal so much within the vaults and armouries of Moria.