Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain

You Go To Find The Marsh-dwellers

In which the Five Companions encounter a sixth, and find the dripping cellars

[Retro: It had been a proper violent fight with that troll. All felt Fjiar showed genuine heroism on the offence, despite getting mightily thwacked twice, including that one so hard he opted for the knockback.
“Tóki the Trollslayer.”]

“Maybe we’ve just slain the mewlip,” ventured Yngwi, trying not to betray his eagerness to turn right around and leave the marshes immediately. But no one seemed to think that likely.

Even with their return to their campsite taking in the gathering of fuel for a second day’s smoky beacon, they were washed, bandaged and breakfasted and ready to set forth by the time the Sun — somewhere up there — was halfway to noon.
   Fjiar and Tóki kept their feet dry in Framleiðandi’s boat (on which Tóki’s repairs held up well). Yngwi, bigger than either, was happier to wade on his own two feet than to have anything to do with so small a boat. Fjiar threw him a rope to haul, and sat back to rest his aches and pains as best he could.
   Back to where Tóki had made two mattock-gouges in the form of a big X out of the bark of the tree nearest where he’d found the sunken boat, and on further south they went now.

Yngwi, with a real effort of will, surged through the slimy waters with more force than either Ecthelon or Marion could muster. And lurched onto any rising of semi-solid ground as though his life depended on it.
   He found bones. “Marsh pig” Marion concluded, but with the massive leg bones split for the marrow, and not by any blade.
   Then more bones, and sometimes brittle ancient ones jutting from deep in the clay as though the marsh had built up around them over long ages. And not just the bones of marsh-beasts, one thigh-bone, split down its length, was clearly mannish.
   No one spoke the thought alound that this might be how they would find Fram.

Then some time in the middle of the day, when Fjiar was stretching his boat-cramped legs, his foot struck something truly hard just beneath the muck. His heart rose to find anything solidity under this insipid characterless tract, and when he gleefully scooped it out to show Tóki and Yngwi, it proved to be a quarried cobble-stone of a man made roadway.
   They didn’t find any more bones for a time after that, and began to suspect they were moving further away from the lair of the murderous creatures responsible — both gratefully, but also half-dreading that the Mewlips’ lair would be exactly where they’d need to go. But Yngwi continued to scout indefatigably left and right of the company’s route, and announced the discovery that the swamp was still littered with the bones of many ancient kills everywhere except from the line of the now-submerged roadway that they followed. Tóki felt that there must be some power at work here, if only he had the lore to know what it might be. Ecthelon told that the elves of Mirkwood had warding ways to keep creatures of evil intent off their elvish paths, and he suspected a similar effect to be at work here.

They were now proceeding for better or worse along a definite course, and the lie of the land was changed sufficiently that Ecthelon thought it worthwhile to scale a tall tree and survey the roof of the forest once more. Straining his keen eyes he made out a stretch of forest a few miles off where the naked upper limbs of the trees provided a roost for a number of unmoving dark shapes which he supposed to be birds. If those are ‘gorcrows’, we may indeed hope that we are on the right course," he said on climbing back down to rejoin the others.
   As they carried on, it was Yngwi who first noticed that an ivy-draped stump was no tree, but made of masoned stone. And as they neared the point where Ecthelon had seen the birds, they passed a man-high pillar of the same construction, with an ornately carved capital. A gargoyle! For all its ancientry and vagueness, the poem of the mewlips was proving to unfold with uncanny accuracy on some details.
 

The Marsh Bell

And then as they advanced, line abreast, into where it seemed they were entering an area where a stone-built town, probably of Men, had once stood, the silence of the forest was broken by the baying of a hound. The company hastened onward, past stony humps of fallen walls where occasional arches still stood tall. It seemed to them that they could hear — or ‘almost hear’ — the tolling of a bell. They hastened their steps, Ecthelon, Marion and Fjiar pressing the pace until their line advanced practically at a run, and reached a long wall.

Ecthelon vaulted a low section where the wall had half-collapsed, and the others shortly rounded its end. They saw before them the flat expanse of a dark pool before an impressive arch built of creamy-golden stone, and there on the strand was a green-clad traveller beset by a wolfhound, pulling him back by a mouthful of his cloak as seemed to want to escape it by entering the water of the pool.
   “Ho, stranger. Stand fast and give your name or my friends will kill you.”
There came a splash from the end of their line where Ecthelon dove into the pool. Fjiar and Marion also seemed oblivious to the stranger, seeking to enter the pool themselves even without the need to escape the attack of any hound.
   “Snap out of it!” Yngwi bellowed, slapping Fjiar across the face. The Firebeard impassively failed even to notice that he had been struck, and Ygnwi was forced to put all his strength [Hope, refunded for saving his Fellowship Focus] into seizing Fjiar in a wrestling hold.
   Tóki threw himself upon Marion, desperately tackling the huge Beorning woman in the first few feet of the pool’s shallows and shouting in her face. “There’s enchantment here!” he hollered. “Fight it! You’ mustn’t go into the water.!” {Hope] Her glazed eyes slowly cleared, and took on a healthy expression of alarm, but Tóki has no time to explain. He turned to swim out past where Fjiar waded in his mail hauberk after Ecthelon, whose underwater progress showed only in a trail of bubbles on the surface of the pool, rapidly winking out.
   Yngwi, scared rigid of being lured to a watery death, was also duly wary of the massive hound, as tall at the shoulder as himself. But it proved an ally, its grip on the traveller’s cloak being the only thing that had saved him from a dark fate.

There was no time for introductions, or indeed for Yngwi to give anything more than the most cursory explanation of what was transpiring. Marion had cast a coil of rope to Fjiar and begun tying off the other end on an outcropping of wall she trusted would hold firm. Fjiar in turn had cast his helmet back to the bank and shrugged out of his hauberk of dwarven mail to plunge below the surface after Ecthelon.
   Tóki trod water with some difficulty, as Marion dived in and stroked powerfully over. Fjiar came up for air one last time just in front of the stone archway, and then after long enough that Tóki began to misdoubt how long Fjiar could hold his breath, there came the signal of two tugs which meant that they should follow the rope down underwater and give Fjiar their assistance.

Yngwi hid his reaction with a minstrel’s smoothness, but in fact felt sick in the stomach at the mere thought of deliberately swimming underwater. He led the still-bemused woodman around the pool to the ruin.
   “Has to be another way down,” he grunted.
  The woodman contemplated the purposefully receding back of the big blond dwarf, then regarded the situation of the others out in the dark waters of the pool. “Very well,” he assented lightly. “Come, Shep.” The loyal wolfhound fell into step, following the two as they trudged round towards the ruined hall
   As they ranged about, hey heard another stroke of the bell that had so beguiled them, before they knew to harden their resolve against it. It sounded much closer now, though clearly no belltower still stood in these swamp-infested ruins.
Yngwi declared, “The way that bell echoes, it’s in a smallish space, and underground!”
   His adopted companion regarded him in disbelief.
   “You think a trained musician who’s lived his whole life inside a mountain can’t tell these things?” After a brief exploration of the area, his eye fell on a structure of the right dimensions and sure enough, staring down into the stump of a half-collapsed chimney, he beheld a great rusty iron bell in the flue of the chimney, somehow installed on a bar wedged into the masonry.
   Yngwi hastened to climb down, heedless of the grime of ancient soot and less ancient bird droppings. The woodman followed, but paused in passing the great bell to cut the clapper from it. The rusted iron piece proved to be tied inside the bell by a length of sickly sinew, whose origin he durst not guess.

The Dripping Cellar

Fjiar, diving beneath the water of the dark pool where the last bubbles had shown the ensorcelled Ecthelon to have swum, had discovered a sunken portal. He had pulled his way under the lintel and along the roof of a short passage, until his head broke the surface in a dank dark chamber. A faint glimmer of light from an opening ahead revealed steps rising up out of the water on which was stretched the inert form of Ecthelon. Fjiar gave the arranged two tugs on his rope and moved to tend to Ecthelon.
   The elf still drew light but regular breaths, but did not rouse at Fjiar’s shaking. A splashing in the darkness behind announced Marion’s arrival, and then Tóki’s. Fjiar produced his lantern and his watertight tinderbox, and prepared to strike a light as Marion tended to Ecthelon. She could not stir him at first, but she gave voice to a Northmannish waking song. The echoes in this dank space defied her, but she raised her powerful voice and was rewarded by Ecthelon beginning to stir. [Hope; replenished immediately for succouring Fellowship Focus] Alarmed at the noise, Tóki hurried to stand guard at the doorway with his mattock at the ready.
   A short passage ran from the doorway to open out into a great dark cellar, at the far end of which a dim shaft of light shone down into an open hearthplace. Tóki’s fingers tensed on the haft of his mattock when scuffing sounds issued from the chimney, but then he saw Yngwi and then his Woodman companion drop to the ground.

Yngwi recognised the gruff voice of Marion raised in a surprisingly pitch-perfect song somewhere out in the darkness of the cellars. But not wishing to declare his presence to anything else that might be out there in the darkness, he knelt in the curiously rubble-free fireplace at the chimney’s foot and began to strike a spark to light his torch.
   Yngwi’s torch flared up before Fjiar’s lantern and torch and axe held out before him he stepped forward into the cellar, the woodman with his long-hafted axe right behind.
   As he stepped out, the light of his torch fell on two hideous figures that had been slinking silently up in the darkness. Tóki saw them too. “Look out!” he cried.
   “To arms!” hollered Yngwi. “For the Mountain!”
   The pair of mewlips were shambling man-shaped creatures with pale clammy flesh like drowned corpses left to rot in the water. A fell light in their small eyes suggested a wicked vitality and intent, and they mutely reached out their mighty misshapen arms, clawed hands grasping at the air.
   Yngwi swung his torch flaring in the dank air to fend off the attack of the first mewlip, and as it recoiled he struck it a blow of his axe.
   The Woodman gave a yell of rage and hurtled past him, swinging his long-hafted axe in both hands to crunch into the chest of the second mewlip, felling it instantly in a mess of broken bone.
   Ecthelon and Marion moved out cautiously into the dark space, left and right.
   “Framleiðandi!” cried Tóki as charged with no such care through the dark cellar towards the light of Yngwi’s torch. He swung his mattock at the wounded mewlip that flailed ineffectually at bay before Yngwi, and with a shattering of the bones in its arm dropped the creature in a heap. Even before Yngwi could react, the Woodman’s axe descended again and hacked the mewlip’s head from its shoulders.

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