[Mention the dwarves’ triangular Fellowship Focusing]
[Needed more attention to the mewlips’ ‘Foul Reek’ stink in the foregoing.]
[Fjiar never got his hauberk on]
A poised moment saw Fjiar and Yngwi facing down three mewlips, at bay in the tight confines of their tunnel. The soulless eyes of the monsters betrayed no emotion, but in that moment they seemed reluctant to advance.
Ecthelon repeated the exhortation that none of his companions had heeded before: “Try to take a prisoner! With a bit of time, we may be able to gain some understanding with the brutes.” He fixed the gaze of one of the cowering creatures and gestured down at the floor with a flick of his nocked arrow.
This met without even a glimmer of recognition from the three mewlips, nor any exchange of glances amongst them.
Then Fjiar chose a more overt tactic, launching himself ferociously at the gap with a mighty “ZIRAZ-TARAG AI-MÊNU!” A Firebeard is upon you!
The mewlip that already bore a deep slash from Fjiar’s axe recoiled from him and with a pathetic grunt dove away back into the tunnel.
“Are you the mewlips?” demanded Tóki , but his question met with no more recognition than Ecthelon’s gestured command. First one and then both of the remaining creatures simply sidled back into the tunnel and scurried after their cohort.
With a look inviting Fjiar to support him, Tóki pursued them. Fjiar followed right behind, joined by Yngwi.
“Push on!” cried the minstrel. “Think of Framleiðandi.”
Ecthelon, Aerin and finally Marion all fell in after the dwarves.
The Treasure-chamber of the Mewlips
They heard the makeshift door thump closed in the darkness ahead, but as the six companions reached and spread out in the space in front of it, Tóki deftly applied his mattock and levered it creakingly open again.
Beyond the door was a great dripping cavern, its walls lost in the darkness, untouched by the glow of the single candle that flickered a few paces ahead. The candle was planted upon an ancient mannish skull, which rested atop a great mound of hoarded wealth: polished gold coins and other shining objects, silver table knives, cups and dishes, lamps and candlesticks. More than simply glinting in the candlelight, the treasure seemed to their eyes to glow with a life of its own.
“Beware a glamour—” Ecthelon began to call, but his warning was in vain. Fjiar’s legs were already carrying him into the cavern where he fell to his knees before the precious hoard, his mouth working silently. Tóki also suddenly found himself in the cavern right behind Fjiar, but one small part of his mind remembered a lesson of Framleiðandi’s and with an effort of will he pulled himself together. [Hope] He saw the candlelight glinting back from countless pairs of eyes in the darkness on every side. Then the soft scuff and flap of many feet announced the attack of the eerily voiceless mewlip horde.
Tóki thrust himself forward to defend the dumbfounded Fjiar with great sweeps of his mattock and even with his own body. As the first half-dozen mewlips fell upon the pair the washing wave of corpse-stench all but reduced him to gagging and he sustained a mauling from the claws of several of the creatures attacking upon every side, but protect Fjiar he did. [‘Foul Reek’: 1 Hope to do anything but attack, + the 1 Hope for Protect Companion. I’ll let this stand, but it should have been 1 Hope for every attack you interpose yourself against!]
Yngwi charged into the fray, axe and shield up as he laid about him to drive the mewlips off his companions.
Fjiar now hacked out and beat his attackers back. In desperation he recalled his battle drill [Hope] and yelled out, “Fight in a wedge, and retreat till we get the door at our backs!”
Marion stood forth amid the three dwarves, swinging her long splitting axe in great circles above their heads, and Ecthelon and Aerin shot their bows into the mêlée, two mewlips falling to their arrows.
Knocking away, evading or even enduring many a groping stroke from the wall of uncanny monsters bearing in upon every side, the companions fought on. Fjiar felled one with a single blow, cleaving it from shoulder to hip. Yngwi [Hope] brought his full strength to bear and cut down another. Marion’s axe [Hope] glanced the scalp of a mewlip, leaving it reeling on the spot, at which Ecthelon shot it through the heart. And Tóki buried the spike-point of his mattock in the skull of another, prying it free with his foot just in time to block the attack of its neighbour. But the press of the mewlips was such that where any was slain there were many more ready to take its place in the fray with the same uncanny desperation.
Marion peered about, over the heads of the milling mewlips. “This isn’t just a natural cavern, there’s shape to it…”
“Niches in the walls,” called Aerin after another moment. He loosed another arrow and added, “Filled with something pale.”
Ecthelon’s eyes saw clearly enough. He announced flatly, “The walls of this place are filled with the bones of the ancient dead. But I see no sign of Tóki’s master having recently joined them.”
Then grasping hands closed upon the rim of Yngwi’s shield and hauled it down, pulling him off-balance before his grimacing attacker’s fang-like teeth. At Yngwi’s gasp, Fjiar whirled and Falcon descended with dreadful precision, a single stroke of the broad-bladed axe hacking through the wrists of both grasping hands. But others seized upon the moment and Yngwi was grabbed, clawed and even bitten in several places before he could power them off him and get his shield up again.
Marion raised her great gruff voice to a verse of a Northman war-song of fighting on when embattled, [1 Hope to do it, +1 Hope to succeed] and the dwarves took heart, steeling themselves against the pain of their injuries to fight on. [ custom]
“We’ve got to get out of here!” rasped Fjiar.”Keep order, but back out of the door.”
Axes and mattocks swung, bowstrings thrummed; mewlips were cast back only to be replaced by more of the horde pressing ever in. The archers, Aerin and Ecthelon, stepped back out of the doorway. Marion gave some cover to Yngwi and the two gained safety till only Tóki and Fjiar still traded strokes with the massing mewlips right before the doorway. But even as Fjiar despatched another mewlip with mighty overhand axe-blow, still another dived under his guard and daggered the claws of both hands deep into his leg all round his knee.
“Come through! Come through!” urged Yngwi.
Fjiar retaliated against his low attacker with a crunching axe blow flattening it to the floor [Hope] before he allowed himself to hop and half fall through the doorway. Tóki was so overwhelmed by numbers he could not swing his mattock but backed out until the considerable combined weight of Yngwi and Marion pushing the door shut scraped the last grasping hands off him.
“We came for Framleiðandi,” pointed out Ecthelon as the dwarves drew great panting breaths. “If he met that slavering pack then he is beyond our aid. If he is anywhere else, we will be hard put to it to get him away with the pack so roused.”
“If these two can hold the door while I work, I can wedge it and jam its hinges till it will take those… things a certain while to force their way after us.” Tóki produced a mallet and leather roll of dwarvish fêlak chisels that could double as wedges in such a time of need.
“We can can hold the door,” grunted Marion.
The three remained to see to it.
Ecthelon and Aerin, with sword and axe, and Fjiar bearing his lantern at their rear, sallied back to the cellar from which they had come.
The Dwarf in the Wine Cellar
[This is a reconstruction of how the next section might have unfolded if we’d had to do the detail in the session itself.]
The cellar had four other exits beyond the ones they had just explored, three of which were all the same. As with the one Yngwi had first glimpsed by the light of his torch, a square-cut tunnel ran off in a straight line for some way, with paired archways on either side every few paces giving onto small cells of forgotten purpose.
“It’s like a gaol,” mused Ecthelon in a hushed whisper, half the way down the second of these tunnels. “But what gaol could need to hold so many?”
Aerin added, “Men would surely never have lived below ground like this through choice? Meaning no offence, friend dwarf.”
“None taken. Woodman. We don’t only live beneath the earth, we choose solid rock for our tombs when we are dead. I think these were the burial vaults of some race of men who honoured their dead the same way, burying them with their grave-goods of gold, and… Gold…”
“Forget the gold!” hissed Ecthelon, leading the way back to the central cellar. “The cells must be empty because the mewlips have defiled everything: the bones of the dead separated and stacked in that gruesome ossuary and the grave goods they were buried with, all collected in that other cavern and steeped in evil.”
From the cellar the very last arch was the one picked out with inserts of coloured stone and glass, which each of them had privately regarded with faint, uncertain suspicion. This led down a short flight of marble steps and then along a few paces of level passage to a door just out of view from above. The door was hinged and bound with lacquered iron, but the heavy timber between was heavily scarred and gouged, and a probing touch found that its lock held firm.
“Framlei-what’s-your-name! Can you hear me?” called Ecthelon. He thought he heard a suggestion of a sound in reply, but though he called again, and pounded on the door and pressed his ear to listen through the wood, he heard nothing further.
Fjiar stepped up. “Lock mechanisms are something Tóki’s very good with. But since he’s not here yet, let’s just see…”
“Keep the door intact!” said Ecthelon, eyeing Fjiar’s great axe with concern.
“Well if Tóki could open it without the key, maybe Framleiðandi – ‘Fram-lei-ðan-di’ – could have locked it without one too.” Fjiar produced a narrow file from the pouch that held his whetstone and used it to pry inside the keyhole. The lock sprang and he gave a delighted cry.
Beyond lay a large cellar supported by many columns, between which were racks of bottles and earthenware pots, and great barrels lined the walls to left and right. In a space behind a barrel in the furthest corner, they found the recumbent form of a white-bearded dwarf, a silver bell still attached to the point of his claw-tattered green hood.
Aerin bent to Framleiðandi’s aid, and found his injuries to have been properly treated, though the dressings were now old. His pack and his canteen were empty and he seemed to have succumbed through lack of food and water. If Ecthelon had truly heard a reply to his call, it must have cost the dwarf the last of his strength.
Favouring his injured knee, Fjiar sank down to sit with his back to a pillar. “Framleiðandi’s survived barricaded in here for however long. I reckon we can do the same,” he gasped.