Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain

Beside the Rotting River
In which the Five continue the search, they return to camp to lie in wait — for a troll!

The Company had no clue as to the lie of the ‘land’ away south of the campsite — having been led in from the north by the Wood-elves. Ecthelon perfectly happy — indeed, for his own part, more confident — to investigate at night, even if he couldn’t see as clearly as in broad daylight. But he made no attempt to persuade the others, who were in any case adamant that they were not exploring a swamp where unknown creatures had tried to lure them and then departed — or, worse, remained lying in wait — when they could not even see in front of their own feet. They sat tight.

Double watches for the rest of the night after the strange lights finally went away and didn’t come back. Breakfast cooked up early, since they were awake anyway, but meagre fare from the reduced provisions they’d been able to bring away from their boat before the elves disappeared. It did little to raise their moods in this forsaken tract of darkened land.

[IN FACT CORRUPTION ROLLS ALL ROUND LEFT MARION AND FJIAR ACCRUING +1 SHADOW POINT EACH.
I WAS HOUSE-RULING THAT IT’S TOO STEEP FOR THIS STRETCH OF M-E TO REQUIRE A ROLL OF FEAT + 1d6 / WISDOM vs a TN of 14 OR ACCRUE A SHADOW POINT EVERY DAY. THE 50% OF PCs WHO FAVOUR VALOUR OVER WISDOM HAVE V. LITTLE CHANCE OF MAKING A TN of 14. SO I MADE IT EVERY 3 DAYS.
I THINK I SHOULD HAVE MADE IT DAILY BUT vs A TN of 10.]

[First rule of Shadow-lore: don’t talk about the Shadow.]

As a grey light slowly raised the blackness of night to the gloom of day, some time well after dawn, the five looked for sign of what creatures had been out there during the night.
They found not track nor slot nor spoor.
At length Fjiar the dwarf surprised both the keen-eyed Ecthelon and the seasoned tracker Marion, pointing to a trail of some three-toed wading bird’s footprints in the top of the silt that lay a foot beneath the surface of the water. This delicate substrate proved that nothing larger than an insect had been out there last night.
“But those were no fire-flies!” insisted Yngwi (who had seen the fire-flies that Bofur Ironhand bred for their glowing glands).
“Nay,” agreed Marion. “Marsh-lights, like I’ve heard tell of among the folk on the Great River.”
 

The Wood of Hanging Trees

Return to the search for Framleidandi.
The campsite was on the southern end of a gentle spur of dry land that rose away to the north and west. South of them was a tract of worsening swamp which was mostly flat water drowning the tangled boles of hoary crack-barked willow-trees that grey so densely the searchers could rarely see the sky.
After wading only a few hundred paces, Toki pointed out how easily they could become lost in such a tract and never find their camp again. (If they didn’t trip and drown anyway, Yngwi added softly, for his own ears only.)
Tóki and Fjiar agreed a plan to create a fire that would make a smoky beacon that anyone’d they’d be able to see just by climbing one of the taller trees. Fjiar had everyone collecting sodden fuel even as they trudged back, then swiftly made a fire, banked it and heaped the wet stuff over it to smoke, then dry, then eventually burn. No one argued with the dwarf when it came to fires, and Fjiar said that this one would smoke on till nightfall, barring a rainstorm or the interference of treacherous elves.

For the first half of the day the five fanned out in a broad line and waded and squelched their slow way through the darkling mire without finding the faintest sign that anyone had ever travelled it in a hundred years. They ate a cold lunch perched on mossy logs, relieved to get their feet out of the water even for a brief spell.

But they stuck at their task, and later in the day as Yngwi clambered up over a tangled mass of exposed roots, he spotted that the usual moss was missing from a broad swathe across them. Marion came over and identified a deeper scoring across the bark of the roots, a continuous line a couple of fingers wide, like the keel-timber of a light boat. A thin layer of slime proved the boat not to have been dragged over here less than a week ago, but nor was the moss grown back.
“It’s Framleidandi, I’m sure of it!” concluded Toki.

They changed their line to trend a little further west, following the line the bot had been dragged, and rewarded later in the day by another discovery.
After hours of hearing nothing but the rhythmic sloshing of own wading legs, the monotony wasbroken by a sudden cry of surprise and pain from Toki. Both Fjiar and Yngwi immediately lurched in his direction, bellowing out to demand what had happened.
Ecthelon and Marion were concerned too, but Ecthelon remembered himself [HOPE] in time to see a twitch of movement in a pile of mossy growth on a limb a Fjiar approached to pass beneath it.
“Look out!” yelled the elf.
Fjiar felt a pendulous vine of moss touch his cheek and, forewarned, threw himself his full length into the water on his left. The thick vine was pulled up into the air with an audible snap, to disappear back onto the branch overhead.
“Gallows-weed!” gasped Ecthelon as Fjiar pulled himself back to his feet and let swamp-water drain out of his sleeve.
Tóki — his cry of alarm momentarily forgotten by the others at Fjiar’s narrow escape from being hanged by gallows-weed — proved to have barked his shin on something submerged beneath the water.
This was the gunwale of a sunken boat, a skiff that would take two men, which they manhandled out of the muck. Righting it and setting it on the surface of the water, they found it intact, but with its seams ruptured and slowly shipping water. Looking at its underside, it bore numerous scars made by something sharp (but not as sharp as a blade) and the wood of the gunwale-rail had been crushed to splinters in a few places. They reached the conclusion that the damage was caused by claws and bites.
“Can you fix it?” Fjiar asked.
“No,” replied Tóki. “I mean: yes. Yes I can.”
Even with nothing better than mud and moss for caulking, within a few minutes he had the boat afloat again and letting in scarcely any water.

Having identified the appearance of gallows-weed lying coiled on a branch in readiness to seize its prey, it was easy to find another specimen and trigger it’s ‘attack’. The vine proved strong, resisting the cuts of anything less than a mattock or great axe, and capable of yanking upwards easily the weight of a large man.
“‘…Tread lightly…’” mused Ecthelon. “It would be bad enough to be suspended by the neck by this creeper, but if it had gained a purchase on Fjiar, he would have had the full weight of his dwarvish steel hauberk dragging down on his neck!”

By this time the day was done and the paltry light already dwindling into darkness. Ecthelon lithely climbed up the limbs of a sturdy-looking willow tree and confirmed the direction back to where the plume of smoke from Fjiar’s fire revealed their campsite.

Back at the camp the fire was remade for cooking, and a passable if uninspiring evening meal was prepared. But after the curious events of the last night, they were anxious for their safety again. After much discussion, it was agreed to use Framleidandi’s two-man boat, upturned, as a ‘hide’ disguised by bits of swamp-vegetation, in which Fjiar and Yngwi would install themselves ready to rush out with surprise on their side against whatever the lights of last night might be.

We Have a Swamp Troll

Sure enough, the lights returned again, a little before midnight as far as anyone could judge, but the ambush did not go entirely according to plan.
The lights were not as obvious as they had been the previous night. Fjiar [HOPE] spotted a dim glow in the faintly misty night, not a hundred paces out as before, but almost on top of them. Just a couple of lights were there, but not directly visible as they were in the lee of some obstacle. Then one of the lights bobbed forward a little and its radiance limned a scaly outline of a huge form easily ten feet tall.
We have a swamp troll! he thought bitterly, and sounded the duck lure that Tóki the Toymaker had lent him from the satchel of oddities he insisted on travelling with.
The troll proceeded onwards, a few paces to one side of Fjiar’s and Yngwi’s hiding place, heading for the light of the campfire. Ecthelon and Marion were in their bedrolls whilst Tóki sat up with his back to a tree, but he had failed to notice the approach of the troll, and failed to move even as the duck-lure was sounded. Tóki had been fast asleep on watch!

Fjiar surged to his feet, throwing back the shell of the skiff and hurling the Falcon Axe of the Dathrins in a double-handed overhead cast at the troll’s back.
Baruk khazad! he yelled.
The great falcon-bladed axe looped end over end to strike the troll squarely in the back, and spin on, disappearing through the trees on one side.

Ecthelon and Marion leapt to their feet, the elf dashing back to gain space for a bowshot Marion swining her axe right at the approaching troll, but the darkness defied her and the ill-aimed blow glanced off the troll’s scaly hide.
“A DWARF!” it bellowed thickly, ignoring Marion at the sight of Tóki.
Tóki woke from slumber at the last moment, snatching up his mattock and swinging out with it even as he scrambled to his feet, but his own twisting movement spoilt his aim and the mattock thunked deeply into the sodden turf for all the world like he was digging his own grave. Thrown badly off balance by his missed attack, that seemed all too possible.

Yngwi was up behind the troll with axe and shield, but his stroke went astray.

The flying axe carried on its course out in the darkness and now snapped back to the outstretched hand of Fjiar as he closed on the troll without a thought for his own defence, bent on hatred for the race that had taken his grandmother’s life. No sooner was it grasped than Fjiar buried it in the side of the troll, black blood gouting out in response to strike the wet turf with a hiss.
From out of the darkness, Ecthelon’s arrow struck true if not deeply in its armoured hide, and the troll let out a great bellow of anger.

It laid about it with a scarred and gnarled tree-trunk that served it as a club. “I HATE DWARVES!” it hollered, thumping the tree-trunk down with poor aim, missing Tóki by several inches.

Yngwi struck again, forcing himself to his best effort (HOPE) and planted his axe into the great troll’s thigh.
“Splitter!” came Marion’s gruff battlecry as she swung her great axe in a perfect arc and its heavy wedge-shaped head took the troll high in the ribcage with a great impact like the crushing of rocks. The troll reeled back, but split the night air with a roar or anger and continued it attack even with the black blood pouring down its chest.
Tóki pulled his mattock from the soft earth and swung ineffectually, then in the face of the troll’s anger Fjiar was between them. The tree-trunk swooped down with a stroke that would surely have broken Tóki’s skull but Fjiar had interposed himself — helm, hauberk and Falcon axe — in the path of the blow. Tree-trunk struck axe haft with a worrying crack and the weight of the blow carried through, taking Fjiar in the chest and sweeping him back off his feet to fall several paces away.

Ecthelon loosed again, sure enough of his aim to add an archer’s incantation. The arrow flashed silver in the darkness in the moment between leaving Ecthelon’s bow and striking the troll, but shy of a killing shot it merely lodged a couple of inches deep in the monster’s neck.
Yngwi Sandstone gave little heed to his own protection and hewed at the troll again, and more black blood sprayed in the night.
Then Tóki struck upwards at the body of the wide-stanced troll looming over him. His mattock crashed through the armoured skin of the troll and bit deep.
THere was an instant in which everyone was still, and pain contorted the ugly features of the stone-troll, and then with a final roar of anger it kelled over and fell to the ground dead.

View
The Long Marshes
In which they pick up Framleiðandi's trail amid the swamps of the River Running

NOTES STILL KINDA SCRAPPY

the huddle of huts where the some-time Stair porters lived.

No amenities, so camping, but the simple young men of the camp-village have a tented booth with a couple of hogsheads of ale, and there’s drinking at a couple of the campfires.

Camp set. All happy to mingle with the locals.
Impressed with anyone who comes this way, only well armed and courageous merchants. Yngwi knew he could be sure to entertain them with a tale or two, but thought to lift their spirits with a song. [TOR: His Speciality of Storytelling could have guaranteed a regular success.] He strikes up on his lyre and gives them a song, but their claps are only polite, uninspired.
Marion strikes up with a song of Beorn’s leading a goblin-slaying escapade in the Misty Mountains (Yngwi improvising an accompaniment on his hand-drum) and this is far more like it.

Later on, as Fjiar’s prying Toki’s hands from Thorfinn’s purse strings to offer ale all round and instigating contests of arm-wrestling, two of the young men usher old Nerulf to the fire and seat him beside Marion.
Prompted by Fjiar, Toki asks after Framleiðandi, saying that they’re heading south into the marshes. Only party through here anything like recently was a group of seven dwarves heading off on a trade prospect to the Sea of Rhûn.
Old Nerulf says — an ancient-looking decrepit Northman, hardly intelligible when he speaks, but when told that the companions are heading south he repeats to Marion over and over again what seems some words of warning or rhyme of lore he learned when he was a child:

“If you go south in the marshes take heed: tread lightly and fear the gallows-weed…”

All of this was in Dalish. Ecthelon could tell that it was a Northron tongue, but Marion understood it well enough to translate for him.
Ecthelon: detects a fragmentary rhyme of lore, even if its pedigree is only a lifespan or so of men. Every word likely to have import.
In fact, wracking his memory, he became sure that gallow-weed is the mannish name for a certain plant that grows downward from flat-spreading boughs, only in wetland areas of the forest, and mostly in the south: only where touched by the Shadow.

Next morning, boat onto open frame wagon and down the trackway with its carved wheel-courses like the dwarves knew from mine tunnels.
Below them the flat and fenny land blanketed in deep fog, but burning away in the morning sun so that before they reached the bottom they could see the river stretching out before them, fractured into a hundred interweaving courses.
At the bottom Ecthelon bade one youth take a silver farthing for Nerulf, as a token of thanks.

Ecthelon moved to the prow to watch for submerged hazards and spot out the best route. Fjiar to the helm, following his directions. At times it took Fjiar a major effort to avoid becoming grounded on mudbanks invisible in the murky water, even with the long poles he’d had the forethought to cut. Everyone was appreciative of his efforts.

Yngwi and Marion scouting and hunting upon sandbanks and islands on either side as they proceeded. Couldn’t possibly quarter the whole marsh, but could stay alert for signs.
Yngwi found a broken arrow-shaft in a marsh-alder, snapped off a hand’s breadth behind the arrowhead that was so deeply embedded that it took him some time with his knife to carve it free. Fjiar pronounced the arrowhead to be unminstakably of fine dwarven steel.
Late in the day, Marion spots soot-stains up the bark of a tall willow-stump and finds the site of a campfire and the neatly-stacked bones of a marsh-deer, bearing the blade-marks of skilled butchery.

Camp in the open, before the river plunged into the dark wall of the forest of Mirkwood now only a mile or two distant.
Yngwi sticking at the poem and (INTRODUCE EARLIER:) map, trying to identify the area of Mirkwood to which they should travel, convinced despite Ecthelon’s rejection that the poem must be intended as literal directions.

Next day, onward, into the forest, where all sounds of natural life were stilled. No birdsong, nor even the buzz of marsh insects could be heard in the eerie silence.

Marion found the site of a recently felled tree, dead not greenwood. Fjiar confidently pronounced the cuts to have been made at a dwarf’s height rather than that of a man or an elf. (Demonstrates with a swing of Falcon.) A search of the immediate area soon turned up a campsite that looked to have been used for quite a while. Gutters had been carved in the loam on three sides of a space the size of a one- or two-man tent, drag-marks on a bank showed where a boat had been drawn up; though the rain had softened everything in the time since. Regarding the camp-hearth lined with stones brought from who-knew-where, Fjiar said he knew dwarven firecraft when he saw it.
This was surely Framleiðandi, and if he had a boat then he could hardly have smuggled it unnoticed past the porters at the Stair of Girion. He must have passed through in the company of the dwarves travelling further downriver.

Tracking from the campsite, Ecthelon identified a route along dry land which someone had used repeatedly for up to a mile — though it was less travelled the further it went, suggesting a search pattern fanning out all along the route.

Out on this trail, Ec caught sight of a wood elf flitting along parallel to his course. Stepping smartly out of range of his companions he warily approached, and an elf stood out from behind a tree trunk. Bow held low and unthreatening, he nevertheless had his hand out in admonishment.
Soft he demanded what business Ec had here in this tract of Mirkwood, in the company of dwarves. Clearely a touchy subject; Ec recognized Galion the former butler/winekeeper of King Thranduil; dwarf- and hobbit-hater since the escape of Thorin Oakenshield and company from the halls of the Wood-elf king. Three other archers made up his group.
Ec said that he and the dwarves were seeking another dwarf, who they believed was searching for the mythical ‘Mewlips’, and — laconically — if it was any consolation, the ancient rhyme described such searches as leading to a dark fate.
Galion declared that he had never heard of ‘Mewlips’, and confirmed Ecthelon’s belief that there were no creatures in this march of the forest that might warrant such a name. But he confirmed that there had been a crazy lone dwarf in the area a few weeks ago, acting like he was searching for something. Galion consented to lead Ecthelon to the place where this dwarf had had his last camp before he disappeared — which had not concerned Galion in the slightest. This camp was a few hours southwards on foot; he would not tarry for straggling dwarves who could not keep up, and returning for their boat would be their own affair.

Ecthelon trotted back to the others and told them to strike camp in haste and bring only the essentials with them, as party of wood-elves were leading the way to where they’d last seen Framleiðandi, but they weren’t waiting for stragglers.
Marion moved swiftly to Ecthelon’s side, and the two looked back in some dismay as the three dwarves identified a keg of ale as a travel essential and were proceeding to lash it to two of Fjiar’s long poles in order to carry it between them.
“We can’t trust the water in this place!” puffed Fjiar as he and Yngwi jogged after the others, with Toki alongside the keg itself trying to steady its jouncing.
The wood-elves pulled far ahead, and the Company from Dale were soon strung out in the darkling forest, their fraught haste preventing all hope of retaining their bearings and leaving them defenceless against any peril their unseen guides might fail to protect them from. did not. The simple weight of the keg was something they could sustain all day, but it was a struggle for Yngwi and Fjiar to maintain a matched pace as the way led over gnarled tree-roots and splashing through mud-choked creeks. I HAVE TO RETCON HERE: THIS IS WORTH -3 ENDURANCE, DOUBLED IF YOU FAIL AN ATHLETICS vs TN:12, AND ACCRUING 2 FATIGUE IF YOU ROLL AN ‘EYE’. SO YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN A ROPIER STATE THAT NIGHT THAN WE’D PORTRAYED.
[BUT AFTER A ~HALF-HOUR REST YOU GOT YOUR HEART-SCORE’S WORTH OF ENDURANCE BACK, AND AFTER THE NIGHT’S KIP YOU GOT THE REST OF YOUR END BACK. SO ONLY SOMEONE GETTING AN EYE WOULD STILL BE DOWN BY MORNING. THE END OF THE

The beams of sunlight filtering through the dark canopy slanted up till they no longer reached the forest floor, then faded, and then were gone. The company jogged the last hour in complete darkness within the forest. Fjiar efficiently struck spark to tinder and handed Toki a torch to hold up to light their steps, but they remained largely dependent on the elvensight of Ecthelon, and slumped down at the end inwardly glad that the ordeal was over.
“Who’s for a jack of ale?” quipped a breathless Fjiar.
“It was good stuff last night, a heady brew with a notes of fruit; I hope it travels well,” said Toki.

100 paces from the campsite Marion found a place where a small boat had been repeatedly dragged out of the water and ‘beached’.
Fjiar: “Elves could have let us boat our way in.”
Now long gone. they’d said to Ec that Fram had not been seen back here in the last three weeks, nor anywhere within a day’s ranging.

(They spent as little time as they might in this area ‘for the obvious reasons’ — MIRKWOOD-LORE accounting for this by the proximity to the Shadow-reeking Mountains of Mirkwood.)

View
Onto the Trail of Framleiðandi

HIGHDAY THE 16TH DAY OF CHITHING, TA 2946

At first light Tóki the Toymaker made his hasty way from Dale-town up into the Lonely Mountain and the Hall of the Dathrins. He roused Thorfinn and those of the Company who, having aided in liberating the hoard of his forefathers, now enjoyed the hospitality of his Hall, and told them his dire news.
   “Dwîm and Dwîma are back!” he gushed. “Unless they never left, and were just hiding out all this time.” After Thorfinn had reported the crimes of the twin dwarves, Dwîm and Dwîma, and the other Ironfists of the Karghal clan, the authorities had instigated a dwarfhunt but had been unable to find any trace of the remaining Ironfists or ‘Captain’ Beil and his so-called mercenaries. “Whatever they wanted with your family’s vault, Thorfinn,” Tóki continued, “they obviously haven’t given up on it. And it looks like they’re in the company of a mannish sorcerer.”
   “Yes, I remember,” said Yngwi the Storyteller. “That prisoner we questioned — ‘Fhêk’ — he said that Dwîm and Dwîma had been meeting a mannish stranger, and had been very secretive about some ‘thing’ that he wanted them to get, for which he would make them all rich dwarves.”
   " ‘Some thing’ that they sought to steal from the vault of my fathers!" exclaimed Thorfinn bitterly.
   Tóki proceeded to tell the others everything that had happened the previous night. But he was forced to admit that after he and his friends freed the hapless quarterstaff-wielding guardian from the same ensorcellment as the Karghals had used on the giant mole-monster, they had not been able to stop the evil twins and their sorcerous accomplice from getting away. Nor could they glean anything from the candle-burning blood ritual as to what the nature of the dark magic had been.
   Thorfinn directed Fjiar to double the guard both on the Hall of the Dathrins and on the North Spur Mines. Thorfinn himself would go back to the King’s Officers and demand a repeat dwarfhunt of redoubled intensity, as the wrongdoers were not only still in the area, but had now proven to be consorting with sorcerers intent on committing the darkest of misdeeds.
   “But if only we knew what in Middle-earth they are after,” he glowered.
   “My master, Framleiðandi, might have been able to help us,” mused Tóki sadly. “I was always sure he knew much more about sorcerers than he ever told me — as though even the knowledge of such things was a burden he refused to inflict on anyone else. Such is the road walked by the wardens of Middle-earth.”
   Thorfinn was in agreement. “So we need to find him and bring him back from wherever his mysterious business has taken him. Take this purse and do whatever it takes to find out where he went, get after him, and bring him back to help us against this sorcerer.”

* * *

Over the next couple of days Tóki and big Yngwi went round all the gate guards of Dale-town, asking whether any recalled seeing Framleiðandi the Toymaker leave town three moons ago in the month of Frery, just after Yule: a whitebeard dwarf in an emerald hood with a silver bell on the end. They paid respectful calls upon several wise whitebeards of the Lonely Mountain who might have known him, since he was a loremaster as well as a toymaker, and his mysterious business might have been known to others. But it seemed he had slipped away in complete secrecy and told no one any more than he said to his toy-making apprentice, Klerkur: “I am going away upon business; I may be some time. Give this to Tóki and tell him to keep it with him at all times of day and night.” The item in question was of course the masterpiece magical toy duck, the true nature of which Tóki had only just discovered.
   On the evening of the second day Tóki and Yngwi wearily slumped into two booth seats in the Gold Hush Tavern and ordered a pair of ales. Tóki set Framleiðandi’s duck on the table and treated himself to a smoke of his new batch of hobbit pipeweed.
   Yngwi inspected the wooden duck’s blank gaze. “So that thing really spoke with old master Framleiðandi’s actual voice?” he asked.
   “Well, it was his voice saying ‘Quack!’ — by some magic I never even knew could be invested into any toy. Certainly he never taught it to me…” Tóki tailed off, savouring the Longbottom Leaf.
   Yngwi regarded the toymaker inhaling the smoke of the weed and blowing it out again, and then he saw a shrewd look slowly dawn in Tóki’s eyes.
   “What Framleiðandi did know I can do,” he said, “is give life to magical things.”

Back in the toyshop Tóki cleared a space on a workbench and placed the duck in front of him. He laid both hands upon it, closed his eyes, and went through a succession of songs, broken fragments of the spells of the dwarven masters of the ancient days, until he found one that worked. And then he flooded new strength into Framleiðandi’s magical creation.
   Tóki opened his eyes. “It’s done.”
   “So now what do we do?” asked Yngwi, seeing no change in the duck.
   “Where is Framleiðandi?” Tóki intoned to it, flicking its bill open with one finger.
   I do not know where he is, replied the voice of Framleiðandi, the duck raising its wings and wagging its lower bill as the words came out. He has gone to seek the Mewlips of legend where the Rhyme of Lore surely says they must be, southwards along the eaves of the forest of Mirkwood. And then it lowered its wings and was still.

* * *

So it was decided that whilst Thorfinn and the others would remain in the Lonely Mountain and do everything they could to track down the Karghal twins and their sorcerer associate, Tóki, Yngwi and — against the dangers of Mirkwood — Fjiar the Fearless would undertake the expedition to follow Framleiðandi’s trail.
   In Dale-town the affable Yngwi led their enquiries about journeying southwards, speaking to traders and caravan captains in the Merchants’ Quarter. But Tóki and Fjiar realised after a time that where everyone was directing them to the Docks Quarter to travel down the River Running, Yngwi persisted in asking after overland routes. Even when, exasperated, they challenged him on this, he deftly changed the subject by saying that they also had to find out about the Rhyme of Lore the duck had mentioned.
   “I may be mostly a tavern storyteller and young, but I have learnt some of the histories of Durin’s Folk.” The oral traditions of the houses of the dwarves each comprise staggeringly long sagas of the deeds of the forefathers through all the Ages of Middle-earth, all rendered in the secret Khuzdul tongue which they never use in front of other folk. “A ‘Rhyme of Lore’ sounds like the same thing for the other Free Peoples; we should ask minstrels and storytellers and such like about this rhyme of ‘The Mewlips’.”
   He plunged through a drinking hall door before the other two could stop him and took a seat at a table right in front of the platform on which a singer was performing: an immensely tall leather-clad woman with a powerful voice.
   And so the three dwarves met Marion Ursaris, a towering woman of the Beornings from the passes of the Misty Mountains. Though she was a singer of the songs of the Northmen’s traditions, she gruffly dismissed any notion of ‘Rhymes of Lore’. But when Tóki spoke of their mission to bring back the missing master with the lore of the Shadow, Marion suddenly took an interest.
   “If your old dwarf was a master of that lore, then I will help you to find him!”

“Excuse me,” came a light voice from behind them. “I enjoyed your performance very much, madam. And I couldn’t help overhearing you mention ‘Rhymes of Lore’, just now.”
   The speaker pushed back his hood and revealed himself to be a slender elf.
   “What do you want, elf?” demanded Fjiar brusquely, eyeing the mailshirt beneath the elf’s cloak and the sword at his hip.
   “I am something of a collector of of such rhymes, and I wondered if I might be of some assistance. Ecthelon of Mirkwood, at your service.”
   Tóki hurriedly introduced himself before Fjiar could say anything further, and briefly recounted their goal of following the trail of Framleiðandi, who had gone to seek the Mewlips along the eaves of Mirkwood.
   “I do not know of any ‘Mewlips’, but it is true that there is an ancient rhyme about them. If I recall correctly it is notable for being a rhyme composed far to the west, but referring to the east of Mirkwood. It is badly corrupted, with invented names like the ‘Merlock Mountains’ and the ‘Marsh of Tode’ inserted in it, but I believe I could can recite it accurately.”
   He took himself apart and sat curiously inert, seeming as one asleep save for his eyes remaining fully open. And then after a short space he came back to himself, returned to others, and recited the recollected tale.

The shadows where the Mewlips dwell
Are dark and wet as ink,
And slow and softly rings their bell,
As in the slime you sink.

You sink into the slime, who dare
To knock upon their door,
While down the grinning gargoyles stare
And noisome waters pour.

Beside the rotting river-strand
The drooping willows weep,
And gloomily the gorcrows stand
Croaking in their sleep.

Over the Merlock Mountains a long and weary way,
In a mouldy valley where the trees are grey,
By a dark pool’s borders without wind or tide,
Moonless and sunless, the Mewlips hide.

The cellars where the Mewlips sit
Are deep and dank and cold
With single sickly candle lit;
And there they count their gold.

Their walls are wet, their ceilings drip;
Their feet upon the floor
Go softly with a squish-flap-flip,
As they sidle to the door.

They peep out slyly; through a crack
Their feeling fingers creep,
And when they’ve finished, in a sack
Your bones they take to keep.

Beyond the Merlock Mountains, a long and lonely road.
Through the spider-shadows and the marsh of Tode,
And through the wood of hanging trees and the gallows-weed,
You go to find the Mewlips — and the Mewlips feed.

“If your dwarven master is as learned as you claim, then I would be keen to learn the truth of that rhyme.” said Ecthelon. “My people have known of no such creatures within the borders of Mirkwood for many yen — ‘many centuries’, you would say.”
   Yngwi exclaimed, “But here’s a rhyme that Framleiðandi — in his own voice; I heard it! — said he was following. And not a month ago, Toleður found verses in the Devotion of the Dathrins that we followed right to the secret treasure-house. Even though I’m a storyteller myself, I’ve never known poems and rhymes to take on such significance.”
   Dwarves, Beorning and Elf resolved to undertake the expedition together, a company of five, in search of Framleiðandi.

* * *

Ecthelon repeated what the folk in Dale-town had said all along, that the only sensible way to make the journey would be to take boats down the Celduin or “the River Running” to Esgaroth or “Lake-town” and then onwards down the Long Lake until the river flowed out southwards at its further end.
   A subdued Yngwi Sandstone slowly brought up the rear as the group made their way to the docks. When Tóki produced Thorfinn’s purse to negotiate the hire of a boat, Yngwi spoke up. “I’m not getting on any boat…” To go by land, even with ponies, would be to double the time the journey would take and double the hazards they might encounter in the marshes south of the Long Lake, but Yngwi seemed quite irrational on the matter, until Marion observed gruffly that he was obviously just plain scared of water. Yngwi admitted then that he had seen his mother die of drowning when he was only a young beardling.
   At length Tóki resolved to hire the largest boat the Lake-town man at the docks had to offer, still manageable for the five of them, and hopefully stable enough in the water to put Yngwi’s mind at rest. But the big dwarf was still reluctant, and finally consented to get on the boat only once he had availed himself of a large, water-tight barrel.
   “According to the tale, this worked for Thorin Oakenshield and his Company, so hopefully it will work for me,” he said.

* * *

Ecthelon was the most knowledgeable about the route ahead of them, so he took the steering oar in the stern. Yngwi sat squarely amidships on the central rowing bench, clutching the rim of his barrel with both great hands, and the others took position around him as they were able. Their course lay downstream, so the rowing was not onerous.
   A morning’s easy going took them down the River Running, past Dalefolk farmlands and new-planted orchards that were reclaiming the former Desolation of Smaug. In the early afternoon they passed between the two low hills that stood like a gateway and came out upon Esgaroth, the Long Lake, which stretched away into misty distance in the south.
   Rowing was a little uncertain, as none of them were experienced boatmen and even though they hugged the shallows just off the lake shore, every time anyone moved about the boat Yngwi complained loudly that they would capsize and drown. But eventually they found that Tóki and Fjiar rowing on one side more or less matched the mighty sweeps of Marion on the other, and by the time the sun began to dip to the western horizon the moorings of Lake-town hove into view.
   Thorfinn’s purse secured them board and lodging and after a hot meal and a tankard or two they retired for the night.
   Early in the morning Tóki made enquiries around the wharfmasters about a single whitebeard dwarf in an emerald hood with a silver bell on the end, travelling southwards in the month of Frery, just after Yule. But none recalled anything of such a dwarf passing through Lake-town.

Ecthelon said the next milestone would be the Stairs of Girion at the southern end of the Long Lake, most of a day’s rowing away, since they must give a wide berth to the final resting place of the dragon. The very mention of Smaug kindled a yearning in the hearts of the three dwarves. The whole belly of the dragon had been armoured with precious gemstones from the Lonely Mountain — wealth beyond reckoning. But not even thieves dare approach that spot, quoted Ecthelon, clearly knowledgeable on the matter, for the evil of the dragon lives on in his very bones and it touches folk in the heart before they can even draw near.
   “Dread before Dragon-sickness,” muttered Marion. “The Shadow is layered all about us even we we cannot see or feel it.”
   “Framleiðandi used to say something very much like that!” exclaimed Tóki.
   The big woman stared levelly at him.
   “Are you a warden of Middle-earth too?”
   She shrugged. “Never heard it called that before…”
   Tóki fell silent and only realized later that Marion had not answered one way or the other.

For much of the day the far end of the Long Lake reached as far as the eye could see. With the others rowing, only Yngwi and Ecthelon watched forward, and for a long time after his keen eyes recognized the Stair of Girion, Ecthelon made no comment. Imperceptibly a faint rushing sound gathered in the air.
   Eventually even Yngwi saw. “The end of the Lake is nearer now — but there’s no lakeshore beyond it! That noise! It’s a waterfall, isn’t it? A force of water! Steer us to the nearest shore right now, Elf, or so help me…”
   “Very well,” Ecthelon complied with an unreadable smile in his eyes.
   Yngwi splashed ashore through knee-deep water and trudged his way south as the others rowed without incident along to the jetties before the huddle of huts where the stair porters lived.

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The Awakening of Framleiðandi's Duck
In which Tóki and his new friends discover a dark deed afoot in Dale-town

MERSDAY THE 14TH DAY OF CHITHING, TA 2946

The Gold Hush Tavern

The lone woodman traveller, attracted by the sign over the steps down into the Gold Hush tavern, had made her shy way inside and was glad of the quiet gloom after the day spent amid the bustling throngs of Dale-town. Propping a great bow against the wall beside her she signed for an ale, ruefully counting out the meagre contents of her purse.

An hour later, with the traveller halfway through her jack of ale, a far more unusual figure entered. Tóki the Toymaker escorted none other than a little lady hobbit into the tavern, a sight no one in Dale-town had ever seen before, though all knew that a hobbit named Baggins the Burglar had been instrumental in the downfall of Smaug the dragon. Tóki introduced her to the dwarvish proprietor, Bavor the Broadbeam, as a daughter of the family that was going to plant a crop of their pipeweed in the farmlands right here in the Dale. (She was going to do no such thing.) Bavor was interested chiefly in tidings of Bilbo Baggins, and when the young lady admitted that she was some distant cousin of the Hobbiton Bagginses, she was soon sipping an ale on the house — which came in pints!
   “Salvia Boffin of the Southfarthing in the Shire, at your service, mister Broad Bean,” she said, having misheard his name. “My friends call me Sally.”
   “And I am Tóki Longbeard of the Iron Hills, known to the folk of Dale-town as Tóki the Toymaker.”

Looking to impress the hobbit lady, Tóki claimed that he and his relatives had also been involved in the slaying of Smaug. (They hadn’t.) And he proceeded to tell a tale of his own involvement the previous month in the retrieval of a hoard of dwarven gold from a secret vault hidden deep in the Lonely Mountain (which was true), as having gained him the ear of Dáin II Ironfoot, the King of the Dwarves himself, no less. (Which it hadn’t, really.) Proclaiming himself a ‘warden of Middle-earth’, Tóki said it was his calling to protect all the Free Peoples from the evils of the Shadow upon the land.
   The traveller along the bar from them had silently been as impressed by Tóki’s inspiringly recounted tale as the hobbit, but a snort escaped her at this last.
   “Can we offer you a drink, mistress?” offered little Sally, impeccably polite. “I don’t believe we caught your name…”
   “Hush,” said the woodman woman.
   Your name,” whispered Sally, puzzled.
   “I am Evina daughter of Edoric — from Rhosgobel to the west of Mirkwood — but people call me ‘Hush’. In Rhosgobel we know something of the Shadow, as you call it, master dwarf, but it is not a thing to be spoken of loudly, even in a bright town such as Dale.”

The three repaired to a discreet booth, where Tóki related that Framleiðandi the master toymaker to whom he had been apprenticed in the making of magical toys had also gone to some lengths to teach him lore of the insidious darkness which has its seeds in the very hearts of dwarves, elves and men.
   “None know this better than the Woodmen of Mirkwood,” said Hush, soft but firm. “We live our whole lives within the forest where even the beasts and the trees have been twisted by the Shadow upon the land, roused through the evil of the Necromancer.”
   Getting beyond the toymaker’s bluster, the two established that Framleiðandi and the wise folk of Rhosgobel had much lore in common, despite their different traditions. Sally looked from one to the other, agog at the dire talk so strange to her hobbit ears and wishing it wouldn’t have been rude to pull out her journal and make notes immediately.
   Tóki explained his concerns about his master, who had not returned to Dale for three moons, and asked the two recent arrivals whether they had seen or heard anything of Framleiðandi upon the road—
   “Quack!” said a voice from under the table.

Tóki reached into the sack under his chair and produced the most magnificent toy that Sally had ever set eyes upon. He placed upon the table a beautifully detailed wooden toy duck of exquisite workmanship.
   “It sometimes does that,” said Tóki, and explained how his master had left this toy with the special instruction that it was for Tóki, who must keep it in his possession at all times. “I’ve no idea why it goes off when it does…”
   “Quack!” said the duck again, in what was now recognizable as a dwarvish voice, and it flapped its wooden wings, twisting slightly on the tabletop.
   “Ooh, how delicious!” exclaimed Sally. “And what is this strange writing on its collar?”
   Tóki explained that they were the runes of the Angerthas Erebor, the writing system of the Lonely Mountain dwarves, but they just spelled out a piece of childish nonsense: WHAT FLOATS ON WATER?
   “But don’t you see?” said Sally. “That’s a riddle that any hobbit-child would know! Wood floats on water, or very small rocks, or—” she lowered her voice conspiratorially, “witches!”
   She quizzed Tóki at great length on everything he could remember of the toy duck’s previous behaviour, as it continued to quack periodically with Framleiðandi’s voice. Then with the distant ringing of the belltowers of Dale tolling the hour after sunset, it came to them. The duck had only ever ever come to life in the hours of darkness. They concluded that the magical duck was no common toy but a rare gift, possessing a power to detect the workings of sorcery.
   “‘Morgûl’, that’s what its called by the Wise,” whispered Hush. “And in case you hadn’t noticed, the duck stopped turning on its wheels once it was pointing at that wall. There’s morgûl sorcery being worked right now, somewhere in that direction…”
 

The Docks Bow Drinking House

They drank off their ales and shouldered their belongings, Hush and Tóki making to hasten up the steps into the street, and the fascinated Sally Boffin could not but follow them. Then with a last moment thought, Tóki went over and held a whispered conversation with Bavor, rejoining the two womenfolk holding a mattock on his shoulder.
   “Sometimes he has to break up tavern fights… I know, I’m as surprised as you are that he actually let me borrow it.”

Whenever Tóki set his duck down upon on a stone step or atop a low wall, its flappings — which were coming more often now — caused it to swivel on the spot until it was pointing the same direction. In this way the duck led them across Dale-town, over canals and past fountains, until they were in the Docks Quarter at the northernmost point of the bend in the River Running. When the duck turned and pointed back the way they had come, they narrowed in until they identified the focus of its attention to be a large and raucous drinking hall called the Docks Bow.

In the glow of the lamps within was a great press of lary Dale-man dock-workers, stevedores and labourers, sailors up from Lake-town, and caravan-guards in outlandish garb from far and wide. Sally baulked at the crowd of so many dangerous Big Folk, but Tóki and Hush on either side ushered her protectively in until they were lucky enough to see a party leaving a booth and shouldered their way in to the table where they could relax a little.
   Tóki glowered worriedly across the hall at where a party was seated around a table near the great blazing hearth. “I don’t think he saw me, but I know that dwarf.” he said, tugging up his hood. “He calls himself ‘Captain’ Beil, and claims to be a leader of Iron Hills hireswords, but according to my friend Fjiar the Fearless he’s nothing but a thug and a brigand. Last I knew he was working for those outlander dwarves that had designs on the treasures of Thorfinn’s family, that I was telling you about earlier.”
   Sally and Hush peered cautiously over at the eyepatched dwarf and the unsavoury-looking dwarf and the rough Dale-men who were his drinking companions, and believed everything Tóki said about them.
   Keeping his hood up and his back to the hall, Tóki cautiously withdrew Framleiðandi’s duck, making sure to keep its bill closed this time. Its flapping came quicker now and its wooden wings beat higher, and it swivelled on the table until it was facing in one definite direction.
   Sally stood up on the bench and peered cautiously over its back into the next booth for a few tense moments before dropping back to her seat and reporting. “There are just three men sitting there, not very well dressed and looking a bit glum. And beyond them is just the stone wall that carries along from the bar.”
   Hush slipped from her seat without a word of explanation and wound her way through the crowd, hovering at the bar for a minute or two, and coming away again. “Through that wall is just a storeroom, with kitchen staff coming and going all the time. I don’t think there can be anything in there more evil than a ripe cheese.”
“Then it must be upstairs,” declared Tóki.

They would be in full view of Beil and his ruffians if they went up the stair and along the gallery to the half-dozen rooms (and the loft that was used as a flop-house by less discerning patrons), but that could not be helped. As they climbed the stair Hush stole a glance over at Beil’s table but saw no sign that any of them were watching at all.
   The reason became plain after a few tense moments outside the closed door of the last room, when Tóki pushed open the door. No one was in there, and the sole inhabitant had left nothing more valuable than a tatty, mud-spattered woollen cloak on the back of the door.
   When the duck was put on the floor it sat and flapped like before but without turning at all, even when pointed in several different directions.
   Sally clambered up onto one of the beds and looked out of the window, and finally beheld something suspicious. The Docks Bow backed onto one of Dale-town’s canals where it had a small timber loading-wharf at the level of its ale cellar, and wooden steps leading up to a door at the back of the kitchen. Down on the wharf the dark shape of a man stood in front of the loading doors through which ale barrels were presumably unloaded from barges into the cellar. The man stood still as a tree, armed with a quarterstaff in his two fists held level before him. The source of evil must be in the cellars, with the eerily motionless man standing guard outside.

The Guardian

The three went back downstairs, passed out through the throng and back into the night-time street to slip into the alley beside the Docks Bow’s kitchen. Hush grimly strung her great bow and leaned out over the low wall at the alley’s end, saying it would be simple to reach out to the wooden railing and clamber to the top of the wooden steps. No sooner said than done, she swung out into space and hauled herself lightly over the railing. Flat to the wall, and with an arrow swiftly fitted to the bowstring she looked down the steps, but the man with the quarterstaff was oblivious to her, unmoving as ever.
   Sally crawled up onto the low wall next, but she looked down at the surface of the canal ten feet below, and said there was no way she was going to do it. “Hobbits like to keep their feet firmly on the ground, and with good reason,” she insisted. Only with much cajoling did she allow Tóki to hold her under her arms and lean out into the empty air until Hush could grab her outstretched hands and pull her over to the railing. Tóki handed over his mattock and the sack containing the magical duck and his other toys, then followed robustly if without grace, and at length all three stood on the planks at the top of the steps.
   “Right,” said Tóki, reclaiming his mattock. He gave a theatrical feigned hiccup, practiced a drunken little sway, and proceeded to clatter down the wooden steps. The man with the staff showed no sign of having noticed him at all (which was just as well, since his play-act was atrocious) until he advanced off the bottom of the steps.
   The man turned mechanically, swinging his staff up until he held it upright in front of him. “No…” he said, in a flat and toneless voice.
   Tóki advanced, holding his mattock as unthreateningly as he could.
   “No…”, the man said, with exactly the same lack of tone again.
   “They’ve sent me to get something from the cellar,” said Tóki, advancing with a mock stumble and heading to just push past the man. But the staff swung out at him, forcing him to block it with the haft of his mattock.
   “No…”
   Hush spied a gleam of gold at the man’s throat. “He’s got a golden collar!” she cried incredulously. “Like that monster you said you fought in the tunnels of the Lonely Mountain.”
   Unhesitating, Tóki swung the mattock in an overhead blow but completely missed his target, the weapon gouging into the wooden wharf.
   “A golden collar? Then he is ensorcelled! Don’t kill him! We have to get the collar off him.”
   And then Hush took her shot. As the man began to swing his quarterstaff a perfectly-placed arrow struck the wood and knocked it from his hands to tumble into the water of the canal.
   “Turn him round!” cried Sally, holding up her skirts to hasten down the man-sized steps.
   Tóki ducked under the man’s clumsy grasp and tried to roll past him, but managing nothing more than to sprawl to the decking beyond.
   Ponderously the ensorcelled man turned and tried to punch down at the dwarf, but in that instant Sally jumped up on his back, reached for the golden torc and plucked it deftly from his neck.
   “What the—” said the man, looking all around him with sudden vitality. “How the hell did I get here? I only went out for a p—”
   “I think you need to get back to your friends in the pub,” said Tóki firmly. “Up those steps, but don’t go into the kitchen or you’ll have to explain yourself to them. Just hop over the railing and go round.”
   Too confused to argue, the man complied and shambled off.

The Scene of the Crime

The loading doors of the Docks Bow’s cellars were barred from within, but the resourceful Sally said she could get them open. With the point of the knife from her bag she pried at the wooden bar through the crack between the doors and fraction by fraction edged it aside.
   Hush stood ready with another arrow at the string, but even as Sally worked, she heard hurried footsteps on the other side of the door. “I think they’re getting away,” she whispered. “But I hear something else too. It sounds like a child crying.”
   Sally finally edged the bar aside and Tóki barged through. He found himself in a cellar full of kegs and casks, and with an open door showing through to a second cellar lit by flickering yellow light.
   In the second cellar room they found a young girl sobbing hysterically into a cloth gag, suspended by the wrists from the barrel-hoist of the trapdoor to the store-room above, with a circle of stinking tallow candles around her on the floor. She was dressed only in her shift, and long shallow wounds had been scored into her arms and legs, letting out much blood to pool on the stone flags beneath her. The child’s plight was a veritable horror to behold, but Tóki, Hush and Sally mostly felt relieved to have saved her.
   Hush reached up and cut the poor girls’ bonds, letting her sag into Tóki’s arms. Removing her gag, Tóki recognized her as little Arnia, one of the children of Dale-town who spent half their lives peering in through the windows of Framleiðandi’s shop. He took a glove puppet from his sack and did his best to distract the poor waif from her suffering whilst a businesslike Hush dressed her wounds.
   Inviting Arnia to talk to the puppet, Sally asked what had happened to her, and slowly the tale unfolded. Arnia had been kidnapped by three people, two dwarvish twins with short, straggly grey beards — “Dwîm and Dwîma!” exclaimed Tóki — and a tall man in black clothes whose face she never saw on account of his hood and the scarf across his face. When they hung her up on the hoist, one of the dwarves had chanted some horrible song in a language she didn’t understand while the man in black pushed up his sleeves, and she saw strange shapes painted all up his arms, and it had been him who had used a curvy-bladed knife to score the blood from her arms and legs. Then the chanting dwarf with the golden collar stopped, and started saying “No…” over and over, and moving his arms around strangely… And then he stopped doing that too and said a curse word, and said that they had to go. And the three of them just left.

Tóki and Hush caused some consternation when they went up the cellar steps and emerged in the Docks Bay’s kitchen. The landlord explained that he’d seen nothing of the girl before that moment (which meant she must have been taken into his cellars by way of the loading doors), but the cellar had been hired by three of his patrons who had paid handsomely in gold for privacy for the duration of the evening. They’d said they wanted more privacy than they had in their room up on the gallery, and the dwarves had said they wanted stone walls around them, so the landlord had taken their gold and let them use his cellar…
   It turned out that these three had now gone out into the night, leaving their rooms empty despite having paid up front for a week’s lodging. And Captain Beil and his henchmen were also gone from the main drinking hall.
   Though Tóki, Hush and Sally had foiled some deed of foul sorcery and rescued little Arnia from a ritual that might have taken her young life, they had no inkling as to what the sorcerous undertaking had hoped to achieve. That was a riddle they could not yet solve…

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The Ironfists' Monster in the Mines
In which they turn to fight their enemies, but find themselves facing a Giant Armoured Moldewarp

HEVENSDAY, LATE AFTERNOON

EVERYONE AGREED TO TOLEÐR’S PLAN OF AMBUSH, but where he himself was the fastest on his feet he had lost too much blood in the fight with the Ironfist dwarves. So it was Yngwi and Tóki who volunteered to play the part of the bait. They left their packs and even their axes with the main force, though Tóki fished his bag of marbles out of his pack just in case, and they wisely kept their shields strapped to their backs as they hurried off.
    Toleðr had said for the ones in armour to be ‘the anvil’ but the mail-clad Fjiar and Gymir, his brother in ruthlessness, that they should be ‘the hammer’ to fall on the enemy’s rear, and Thorfinn made no objection. The two left their packs with the rest of the company and took a lantern and a leather sack to shroud it round into the other tunnel.
    Thorfinn, Toleðr, Bofur and Mêgrim piled up the packs and set about gagging their three Karghal prisoners and binding their ankles.

“Heigh hooo—” began Tóki in his best singing voice, before Yngwi cut him off.
    I know we’re supposed to play blundering idiots, but don’t overdo it! he signed.
    The two kept up a more normal banter as they advanced back up the sloping tunnel, faltering only slightly as they got further and further without encountering anyone. They still heard nothing as they neared the last bend where the tunnel would give onto the dished chamber at the foot of the Force of Stone. The glimmer of light betrayed the fact that their enemy were there.
    “Yes, all of us, now silence!” came a hissed order in response to some unheard question, and they knew that their approach had been detected.
    “I’m telling you I’m bursting. I’ve just got to go right here.” Tóki declared in a stage whisper. He just about managed to suppress a giggle and his fingers flickered, If they come round that corner and we’ve got our breeches down flashing them our arses, that’ll definitely make them chas—
    His fingers froze as there came a flurry of noise, big heavy scrapings over stone. The light ahead was blocked out as a huge shapeless shadow was cast into the tunnel, and suddenly there it was! A monstrous thing the size of a cart that practically filled the tunnel, with great claws more than a foot long, a mass of tentacles at its snout and great plates of bony armour growing out through its black fur.
    “Run for it!” they each cried to the other, and the pair fled as fast as their legs would carry them, all thought of feigned flight utterly forgotten.
 
The appearance of the moldewarp bw
 
Thorfinn and Toleðr had their group all in order, flat against the tunnel wall just beyond enough of an inside curve to hide them. Mêgrim, no fighter, kept watch over the three prisoners at the back and with a sack ready to throw over the lantern when the enemy neared. Weapons and shields were at the ready, and Thorfinn had briefly drilled them in moving out to form a shieldwall, though Bofur dearly hoped Yngwi or Tóki would take his place when battle was joined.
    Fjiar and Gymir lay in wait in the other tunnel, testing the edges on their blades. Both relished the prospect of battle, the proving of skill and the winning of wealth.

“Abandon the plan!” boomed Yngwi’s holler down the tunnel.
    “Everybody out!” followed Tóki. “It’s a freaking great giant moldewarp monster!”
    “They have a cave mole!” Yngwi interpreted. “A monster of horn and ivory that gnaws the world beyond our deepest delvings.”
    “For gold’s sake don’t get stuck in that dead end!” the two kept clamouring as they came, their own pounding bootsteps proof that they were in desperate earnest. They had easily outdistanced the ponderous beast but not slackened their pace one bit.
    “No!” protested Fjiar. “Stick to the plan! This is still the best place to fight!”
    Yngwi met Fjiar and Gymir at the fork in the tunnel, and stopped to persuade them. “Beggar that!” he that he cried. “They’ll be having that armour back off you, if you even live to yield it up.”
    Tóki kept on running down to the others, where he clutched up his battleaxe and ran to get his pack from the pile. Thorfinn directed Mêgrim and Bofur to do the same while he started cutting the ropes from the ankles of the Ironfists.
    “Don’t!” protested Toleðr. “We don’t have to run faster than the monster, we just have to run faster than them.”
    Thorfinn fixed Toleðr with a frosty look and carried on cutting the bonds.
    Toleðr groaned his aggrievement, abandoned the idea and instead raced up to the fork. “Can we wound it – turn it into the other tunnel?” he asked Yngwi.
    Yngwi shook his head. “No. It’s covered with bloody great plates like dragon-armour. But Fjiar still wants to fight it.”
    Fjiar was just as adamant. “We can’t flee down a tunnel we haven’t even explored. We could be over the edge of some chasm before we know it! Or into a dead end where there isn’t a wedged boulder making the passage too small for a giant monster to get at us!”
    “The Karghals are with it,” Yngwi added. “They were there in the chamber before it came at us. Look, I’ll wager my armour to yours: come with us and if we live to tell the tale, you’re a mailshirt up on the deal.”
    “No.” Fjiar refused bluntly. “Taking an unknown tunnel is madness.”
    Then it dawned on Yngwi. “But we do know what to expect that way. It wasn’t down the dead end, so that way leads to the Empty Pie. This is the route that the riddle in the Devotion is telling us to go!”
    “And anyway,” said Toleðr, relieved, “it’s not down to voting. The others are already running…”

Empty pie bw 33

Scarcely a hundred yards later the curving tunnel gave onto the Empty Pie, a large open chamber dominated by a depression where segments of the circular portion in the middle of the cave-floor had collapsed. The miners’ name for the place made perfect sense, as the fallen segments looked for all the world like sunken-in slices of pie crust.
    “Go round it!" came the cry from behind. “You have to skirt around the Empty Pie!”
    Tóki ushered the Karghal captives around the ledge on the left-hand side, making for the far exit. As the others arrived with more lights, they saw that two tunnels came down into this chamber, and a single one led onwards to the north. It was on the threshold of this tunnel that the company downed packs and formed a loose line of battle at which to put up their defence.
    Gymir gave little for the chance of killing the monster with bowshot, and clutched one of the oil lanterns ready to throw.
    “He’s going to immolate it,” said Toleðr. “Im-mole-ate, get it?”
    Fjiar grunted, and took up Gymir’s bow, preferring a slender hope over none at all.

The giant moldewarp surged into the cavern, dragging itself along with its foreclaws almost like it was swimming over the rock.
    Bofur and Fjiar loosed but in their haste in the half-light neither struck home. Fjiar fell foul of a split string and his arrow shot wild, straight up into the ceiling.
    The others bided their time with lantern, throwing axes and even rocks that they wanted to throw in concert when it came closer. The moldewarp scraped on its belly straight over the lip and down into the centre of the collapsed space. The company held their breath, praying that the ‘pie’ was only half-sunk and that the monster’s weight would collapse it into a deeper cavity, but the only movement was the spray of clinker that it scattered left and right as it shovelled itself across the stone.
    There was a glow of light in the tunnel out of which it had come and two dwarves, one hooded and one helmeted emerged at the entrance in the moldewarp’s wake. Fjiar abandoned his useless bow and set off at his best run round the outside of the chamber, snatching out his axes as he went.
    Gymir lofted the lantern high in the air, and it clattered into an armoured plate on the side of the monster’s head, but only when it fell to the floor did it break and a splash of burning oil start up beside the creature’s flank.
    Yngwi hurled his throwing axe, chipping into the armour on the beast’s brow before glancing away, inflicting no more harm than a hangnail.
    Bofur’s second arrow flew true, but merely lodged itself in the armour of the moldewarp’s heaving shoulder. Still the monster came at them, making for the middle where Bofur stood beside Thorfinn. Thorfinn brandished his great sword, but Bofur with only his bow backed away from the battle-line.

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2 Leagues' Journey Under the Earth
In which they question their prisoners, and dwarfmarch them onwards and downwards, following the Riddle.

“WHAT’S YOUR NAME, and what are you doing here?” demanded Yngwi as he neared them.
    “We w– We weren’t…” the dwarf stuttered, looking around at the trio of Lonely Mountain dwarves surrounding him with drawn weapons.
    “Come on, you don’t need time to lie. Tell us who you are and what you’re doing here! Drop your sword! Surrender and you won’t be harmed.”
    “Fhîk,” the dwarf relented, lowering his short sword and then letting it clang to the rock floor, “My name is Fhîk. We’re dwarves of the Ironfist Clan Karghal.”
    “And what are you doing in the sealed caverns of the Kingdom Under the Mountain?”
    Fhîk confessed, fearfully, that he didn’t really know. He was here with his clanfolk, looking for ‘this thing’ that his kinsman said was meant to be in here. Yngwi and Toleðr, joined by Bofur, continued to question him while Fjiar rejoined the rest of the company, binding up the other captives, confiscating their gear, collecting stray marbles and generally composing themselves after the fight.
    The Ironfists hadn’t come in through the Great Gates, but had delved their own way in from the mountainside of the Northern Spur. Fhîk didn’t know what it was that his kinsman was seeking, except that Dwîma said it was very old—-
    “Dwîma?” exclaimed Bofur. “With a brother called Dwîm?” Fhîk nodded. “Them again! And do you know a Longbeard called Foron?” Fhîk said he didn’t know anyone of that name.
    This ‘Fhîk’, Yngwi said with a flicker of Lonely Mountain iglishmêk from behind their prisoner, is no traditional outer name like ours, and it sounds Khuzdul. The others frowned. Surely even Ironfists had more honour than to use their inner names openly.
    Fhîk explained that the Karghals hailed from no hold, but lived on the hills and plains of the Easterlings, beyond the city men called Shrel-kain. There were eight of them here with Dwîma and they’d been here for a month or more.

“So there are five of the worms left, and Dwîm and Dwîma will still be smarting from the last time we met,” Toleðr was reckoning, when Fjiar came back from the group on the ledge, carrying something in his hand.
    “There’s one other thing,” he said, glaring down the tunnel where Fhîk had sought to flee. “I found this spoon. This lot were camped out, with fuel for a cook-fire, a couple of bedrolls, and four sets of bowls and spoons.”
    He turned to the prisoner. “Tell us where the other one is! Tell him to come out or you really will only need three spoons.” And he snapped the spoon in half to make his grisly point.
    Fhîk gulped, genuine fear showing in his eyes, but said that his cousin wouldn’t still be there, he would have been long gone.
    “So all this camping out: you were a rearguard set to keep a watch?” Yngwi surmised, and Fhîk admitted it.
    They dwarfhandled him back to the others and Tóki trussed up the three captives, all stripped to their breeches, as Thorfinn and company held a whispered council. This runner had been gone at least half an hour by now and had not yet brought anyone back to come to his comrades’ aid. But nothing would be gained from lying in wait for them; they would surely approach with caution.
    “We go on,” pronounced Thorfinn. “But what about these three?”
    “Kill ’em,” spat Fjiar.
    “Cut out their tongues,” suggested Gymir.
    “We can drive stakes and tie them to the wall,” Yngwi proposed hastily, alarmed at his companions’ bloodthirstiness.
    “Oh no,” Toleðr countered. “They’re coming right along with us. They get to go in front!”

Force of stone

They clambered back down the ledge to the chamber floor and considered which route to take. Yngwi took charge of the roped-together captives, scarcely daring to trust them to anyone else. He had Mêgrim light them a torch and warned them not to even think of letting it anywhere near their ropes.
    Gymir went to the lip of the dark pit across from the Ironfists’ ledge, looking dubiously down. “That must be where that axe went clattering,” he commented.
    “My heart tells me we will need to go down there too,” Bofur said dourly.
    “Check your lodestone again,” Toleðr suggested. “We’re in Lodestone’s Maze and the next clue is to ‘use the force of stone’ if we don’t want to ‘come undone’.”
    “Look at the way the flowstone cooled in shapes, down that ledge and across the chamber then down here. Almost like a river,” Bofur continued. “A river flowing over a pair of waterfalls.”
    “Waterfalls! That’s it!” exclaimed Yngwi, to the bafflement of the others. “‘Force’ doesn’t mean strength or power – it’s a Dalefolk word for a waterfall!”
    “‘Use the Force of Stone’,” nodded Bofur, hardly pleased at being right.

A torch lowered on a rope showed the drop to be not quite vertical for five or six fathoms, and then to fall away into space for another two before reaching a floor hollowed out like a bowl. It was no simple matter to lower the three handfast captives protesting down the moulded rock, but Mêgrim’s experience with ropework from his mason’s apprenticeship was a great help. Toleðr didn’t relish the climb, but jested callously that he’d be all right as long as the Ironfists were bundled up at the bottom to break his fall.
    Eventually they were all down with the reluctant Bofur coming last, clinging to the rope like grim death to inch his way painstakingly down. Fjiar suggested twitching the grapnel free, but they decided to leave it in place.

The chamber floor rose up a broad step beyond the bowl-like depression, and a tunnel continued out from one side of this. It promptly curved around before more or less straightening out and threescore paces later Bofur declared them now to be heading north-west; the lodestone was holding true once more.
    Before they had gone much further the half-naked Ironfist captives halted their resentful trudge, at a place where the tunnel forked. With no sign of which way to go, and the left-hand passages having worked out so far, that was the way Yngwi bade them take. Moments later there was a glint from something ahead, but as they stole forward with all caution, it proved to be no more than a firestone rock formation with a finish like a potter’s glaze.
    “Lo: ‘the Guardsmen standing by’,” intoned Yngwi.

Guardsmen

The tunnel beyond snaked its way in a more or less steady north-westerly direction for a hundred paces before they encountered another feature. A great boulder was wedged between roof and floor, and the tunnel widened around either side of it.
    “Why are we stopping?” called Toleðr from the back. “‘Lo: the Empty Pie’?” But no one thought it was. The two ways rejoined immediately beyond the boulder and they proceeded onwards, until the tunnel ended abruptly in a rockfall.

Returning the way they had come, they had scarcely manoeuvred everyone round to put the three Ironfists at the front again when the one Fhîk had named ‘Khela’ stumbled and fell, his weight on their ropes pulling Fhîk over with him.
    “Argh, my ankle!” he bellowed. “I’ve bloody sprained it!”
    “So hop,” came an unsympathetic order from further back.
    “Really? Balls to hopping!” he bit back fiercely, a shouted retort louder than was needed to be heard.
    He’s playing to the gallery, Yngwi realised. “Now you listen here. I’m the nice one, and I know you’re faking. You get up or one of this lot— Stop that!”
    Sitting in the tunnel with their hands bound before them, Khela’s and Fhîk’s fingers were twitching away in a gesture-code that Yngwi didn’t know.
    “We’re going to have to separate them,” he said.
    Gymir immediately volunteered to take one, but in the end the troublemaker, Khela, was passed back into Thorfinn’s keeping and at Fjiar’s suggestion the hands of all three were retied, this time behind their backs. The delay had taken some time, and it was only as they regained the last junction that they realised the depth of Khela’s wickedness. If the pursuit had reached them during that time they would have been bottled up in a dead end.
    Fjiar took this as a cue to drop back as the others headed this time down the right fork. As the sound of their footfalls receded behind him he craned into the darkness, and heard… He was not sure what the noise was. It was not close by, but as it echoed from a distance all he could make out was a sound of something, or several somethings, scraping long and very hard at a surface of stone.
    He scurried after the others, and described to them what he’d heard. “Do we run, or do we use the junction to our advantage in fighting them?” he asked in a whisper.
    “There are only five of them,” Toleðr pointed out. “We should take them. Two of us, the fleetest, do a bit of play-acting and blunder back into the Ironfists then feign flight to draw them into the chase. They lead them back to our main force that lies in wait down this fork of the tunnel with the armoured warriors ready to step out as a shield-wall: our ‘anvil’. The runners come back and through the line, and once the enemy is committed to battle our skirmishers, ‘the hammer’, close in on them from behind.”
    “It’ll be like shooting rats in a trap!” exclaimed a darkly gleeful Bofur.
    “No shooting when the battle is joined!” growled Thorfinn sternly.
    “And what if they don’t fall for it?” asked Gymir.
    “Then we go to Plan B…”
    “Plan B?”
    “Plan B,” Toleðr nodded solemnly. “All rush in and attack anything that moves!”
    “BARUK KHAZÂD!”

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The Battle of the Ledge
In which they overwhelm three intruders, question them, and follow the Riddle onwards and downwards

“The first one of you to raise his head as high as that lantern will have it cut off at the neck!” The cry had come from some unseen foreign-sounding dwarf, out of sight beyond the brink of the ledge three arm’s lengths above their heads.
    Thorfinn’s company looked grimly to one another, undaunted by the threat. Bofur signed to bid Mêgrim come and take the staff-lantern so he could unshoulder his bow; he and Gymir fitted arrows to their bowstrings. Tóki delved in a soft pouch and produced a double handful of marbles, his whiskers twitching with glee; Fjiar the Firebeard sheathed his axes and placed his hands on the rock face to await the command of the company’s leader.
    Fjiar and me, agreed Toleðr with a flicker of his fingers, following suit. We’re the ones in mail.
    “Let’s just get ’em!” cried Thorfinn. “SIGIN-TARÂG AI-MÊNU!” The Longbeards are upon you!

Big blond Yngwi boosted Fjiar up and onto the rock face. Tóki lobbed his marbles up and over the lip above, then scrambled onto the small mound of breakdown to make a stirrup of his hands to assist Toleðr’s climb.
    First over the top, Toleðr saw two dwarves in the dancing shadows cast by Mêgrim’s light, one rushing forwards upon him too fast for him to bring his sword to bear. He rolled over the edge, seeking to swing his shield around on its strap to meet the inevitable blow, but he had his own weight on the strap and it didn’t budge.
    Bofur and Gymir loosed as soon as they saw the full helm of Toleðr’s assailant but their arrows whistled past him to splinter on the cavern roof as the murderous dwarf stooped and plunged his dagger above the edge of Toleðr’s mailshirt into his neck. Blood gouted scarlet from the wound.
    Gymir the White flung his bow aside and fairly sprang up the rockfall, hauling himself upwards before Thorfinn, his scale armour overheavy for ready climbing, could even offer assistance.
    Fjiar gained the ledge to Toleðr’s left a moment later and rolled to his feet unopposed. The second enemy dwarf hurled an axe directly at him, but Fjiar leaned out of its path and drew his axes as the other pulled a handaxe and picked his cautious way over the still-rolling marbles to join battle. Fjiar’s longer axe swung first, aimed low at the legs. His target anticipated the swing, beat the axehead aside with his shield and stepped in close, raising his own axe to attack. But Fjiar was the faster and his second axe bit through the ringmail on his victim’s shoulder.
    Yngwi had grabbed up a number of rocks and run back to better vantage beside Bofur. Seeing Toleðr’s plight, he hurled one with a perfect cast that struck ringingly off the helm of the dagger-wielder and caused him to stagger back.
    Toleðr, clutching at the bleeding wound in his neck, gratefully clambered to his feet and swung his sword out from its scabbard into a sweeping cut which his unbalanced attacker only just fended off with a small shield. The dwarf lunged back in for a dagger-thrust but Toleðr stepped aside, parrying the attack away at the same time as he made space for Gymir to scramble up behind him.
    Seeing close-work afoot, Gymir forsook his cudgel and drew two daggers, including his fine new one from the Dathrins’ treasure chest. Even as he did so a third dwarf charged out of the darkness behind the others, shoulder tucked in behind his shield. No marble spoilt his charge but Gymir himself fell foul of them, failed to avoid the shield-barge and teetered on the edge, only just managing to keep his footing.
    Fjiar battled on, ignoring his opponent’s attack and barely feeling the ill-directed axe-swing cut into his leather leggings, but exulting in arcing a blow of his own over the top of the dwarf’s shield to fell him with a blow to the side of neck.
    Tóki scampered about below, trying to catch the marbles that fell from the ledge and chasing the ones that he missed as they crazily kept on rolling. Bofur waited patiently for the opportunity for a clear bowshot, but with three of their company already up onto the ledge, Yngwi abandoned his rocks and moved up to join them. Thorfinn grunted with a mighty effort as he propelled the huge dwarf upward.
    Even with two blades Gymir could not connect with anything behind the large round shield of the dwarf who’d charged him. And he failed to dodge in time to avoid the short sword that flashed out over the shield-rim and took him in the shoulder.
    Toleðr beside him was hard pressed to fend off alternating swipes of buckler and blood-smeared dagger without letting the dwarf inside his guard, and he took no unnecessary risks to seize the offensive. His patience paid off as Fjiar fell upon the dwarf from his unshielded side. The dagger went up for a high block but Fjiar’s attack was a feint and the true blow from his other axe sheared into the hand and knocked the dagger flying as the full-helmed foreign dwarf went down.
    “Stop that bleeding!” Fjiar instructed the wounded swordsmith.
    Indignant, Toleðr turned on the other combatant, lunging in from Gymir’s left and forcing the dwarf to duck back behind his shield.
    “Yield!” Yngwi suddenly menaced from Gymir’s other side whilst Gymir himself ghosted away to tend to Fjiar’s first victim. “Oh all right,” Yngwi relented and swung, but the dwarf used his shield to block the axe-blow aside and down, fouling Toleðr’s sword-blade in the process. Their erstwhile target fled for the darkness of the tunnel and for a moment Gymir’s saviours were left just staring at one another.
    Yngwi switched his axe to his left hand, unhooked the throwing axe he had scavenged earlier and threw it after the fleeing dwarf. Toleðr chased into the darkness, still unheeding of his loss of blood from the dagger-wound in his neck.

Swift-footed, he had not gone twenty paces before it was so black that he couldn’t even make out the direction of the tunnel ahead. He steeled himself to keep up almost a full run dead ahead, the sounds of the others receding behind him. And then he realised that he could hear no step fleeing ahead. He paused, stilled his own breath and strained his ears as he turned on the spot, switching defensive guards in the hope of warding off an unseen blow from any quarter. Then he saw him!
    Yngwi had knelt on the ledge to reach down and take Bofur’s lantern-staff from Mêgrim. As he and Fjiar advanced, Toleðr caught a glint of Yngwi’s light reflected from the iron rim of a shield. Their quarry had flattened himself to the wall behind his shield and Toleðr had unwittingly run past him. But he stalked back now and levelled his sword in the dwarf’s face.
    “Safe passage!” the dwarf cried in the same accented Khuzdul as before, seeking terms for his surrender.
    “Your passage is anything but safe,” Toleðr replied grimly in the same tongue, to be very sure he was understood. “Surrender – or feel my sword!”

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Into the North Spur Mines
In which a scouting trip into the abandoned Dathrin mines is followed by a second foray in earnest

STERDAY to SUNSDAY

THORFINN TRUDGED BACK FROM THE KING’S HALLS after his fourth and final interview with various of the clerks and advisors in law to King Dáin, having achieved a fair ruling that was still less than he had first hoped.
    The eagerness with which he, Toleðr and Tóki had first presented the tablet proclaiming his legacy as heir of the House of Dathrin had waned when the provenance of the tablet was called into question and then been pronounced a mere show-copy, carved as it was in the Erebor modes of runes that had only evolved long after the stewardship of the Northern Spur Mines had first been granted to Dathrin and his heirs. Some days of due process, which first Toleðr and then Tóki had ceased to attend, had resulted in Thorfinn, the acknowledged rightful heir, being declared the presumptive steward of the mines. The whitebeard law-master had given him avuncular smiles and reassured him that a great deal from before the Coming of Smaug could only be taken as presumptive. “Don’t take it badly,” one of them rumbled. “Once you’ve got a few decades doing a good job of it behind ye, no one will even question it.”

The labour of the party in the forecourt and entrance chamber of the mansion had by now cleared an aisle through the rubble allowing folk to walk straight into the hall if they picked their way with a little care. Whilst Foron had paid up the promised last 100 pence of his ransom, the wages for which he’d hired these labourers had run only up to the day before last. Mêgrim explained that one of the four, Ofrader Eight-fingers, had already decided to take his services elsewhere.
    He also explained that Toleðr, Yngwi, Fjiar and Gymir had been restive, right up until they took a copy of something from one of Thorfinn’s books, borrowed his wand-key and went to scout out what the mines of the Northern Spur might have to offer.
    The four did not return for many hours.

WHEN EVENTUALLY THEY FILED IN, weary from an exploration that had lasted from afternoon into the next day, Yngwi gave the tale of what they had found.
    The great gates into Thorfinn’s domain in the northern arm of the Mountain were undamaged by Smaug because of the narrowness of the access-tunnel. A touch of the wand-key to the lockplate’s bind-rune had withdrawn the solid stone spars behind the gates and allowed a gate to be pushed open by just two dwarves.
    They had proceeded down the road tunnel into Mine Head Town, a compact settlement and base of operations half delved from the rock and half constructed from dry-stone walls. But if the key had been safe in the Hall of the Dathrins they realized there must be some other means of getting into Mine Head Town because they had found signs of someone having carried out some days’ search of the place. The Overseer’s offices in particular didn’t have so much as a footstool unbroken, and deep-gouged fêlak marks showed where they’d tried the walls too. Holding a lantern close, Fjiar was able to tell that the marks were fresh, without the patination of old stone, and he reckoned them no more than a year or two old.
    The riddling directions in the Devotion said to “seek for the oldest caves”, and every dwarf knows that Drift Number 1 is always the oldest, so that was the way they had proceeded. The drift ran straight as a die, rising with a constant grade for a mile and a quarter until they reached Old Minehead, an altogether smaller affair than Mine Head Town, much of it long ago in-filled with spoil and the remainder given over mostly to storage of pit-props. But beyond Old Minehead, Drift Number 1 began to descend, following the seams of rock parallel with the surface not far above them, and then it gave onto passageways carved out by Mahal’s firestone in the Deeps of Time before the Fathers of the Dwarves were made. First the passageway branched into two natural tunnels, and the four dwarves took the left branch. Within four or five hundred paces it was first joined by another coming in from the right, then branched again, and then the left-hand one that they took proved to branch again.
    “This isn’t like a mine at all,” Toleðr had observed, and sure enough there was but scant sign of the tunnels having been worked at all, except for the occasional smoothing of the floor underfoot. “The way these tunnels keep splitting and then rejoining each other, they must be ‘the braided ways’ of the riddle.”
    The other three chorused their agreement. This was the sort of thing they had envisioned from the words of the riddle before they even set out, though the natural features of the tunnels where Mahal’s firestone had gouged and melted its way through the very rock were a source of awe.
    “So what’s next?”
    “‘Until you come to Lodestone’s Maze’,” he read.
    They thought they could easily be in a maze already, and Fjiar scratched his beard, wondering whether they should search the branching tunnels for a region where they cut through a lodestone deposit. Lodestone was known to be one of the mined products of the Lonely Mountain, after all. Toleðr disagreed, thinking that the words more likely meant there was a place where a lodestone would spin around instead of pointing always northwards.
    “So did anyone think to bring such a thing as a lodestone?” he asked.
    No one had.

“So here we are, back again,” Yngwi concluded.
    “I’ve got some little ones, down at the shop,” volunteered Tóki. But the Lonely Mountain is one of the few places in Middle-earth where lodestone is mined in plentiful supply, and indeed traded to mannish merchants. It would be a simple thing to purchase.
    Thorfinn was more concerned with the fact that someone had done all that damage in Mine Head Town. “And recently,” Fjiar added. “Which we reckon must mean that either there’s another key, or another way in.”
“Nobody can have door magic strong enough to open a lock like that without a proper key,” Bofur asserted. “Unless the magic on the lock would open either for the key or for a pass-word or the like.” The others frowned, and carried on with planning their next steps.
Young Toleðr pointed out that they should prepare for the worst. There had probably been several searchers in there in the last year, and since the whole venture would be pointless if the vault had already been plundered, they had to assume that someone could still be around. “I’ll be wearing this mailshirt, for one thing,” he declared, patting its links with a jingle.
“This time we all go together,” Thorfinn announced. “Get some sleep, get your gear together, and we leave before noon.”

THE GROUP THAT ASSEMBLED in the forecourt of the Dathrin mansion the next morning was very different from the one that had first come together in the Gold Hush Inn only days earlier. Thorfinn was resplendent in his scaled armour and his grandfather’s helmet from the mantelpiece in the study. Fjiar and Toleðr both sported mailshirts taken from the grim twins, Dwîm and Dwîma, and Fjiar had Thorfinn’s (now) spare steel cap. Gymir planned to go lighter, but he had the leather jerkin, bow and quiver of arrows that had belonged to Foron’s loose-fingered archer. Tóki, in his padded jack, was now also the proud owner of a cheekguarded helmet. Mêgrim, whom Foron had recruited for the illicit search of the Dathrin Mansion and who had witnessed the company’s opening of the secret vault, was also promoted to a genuine treasure-seeker on the strength of his knowledge of stonework.
    Everyone had a pack with rope, tools, supplies for a meal or two, “a drop to drink”, or a few days’ worth of pipe-smoking, according to their priorities. There were lamps, lanterns and candles aplenty, and with the hand that wasn’t on his staff-lantern, Bofur dangled a lodestone on a string. It pointed exactly where they were heading: to the Northern Spur of the Lonely Mountain.

The eight dwarves passed through the Great Gates, through Mine Head Town and up Drift Number 1 to Old Minehead and on into the braided ways, all without incident. Fjiar led them along the same choice of passageways as he and the smaller group had taken the previous day, with Tóki making a map of the branches they took and the distances between them.
    A quarter of a mile further along than before, after their passage had been joined by another coming in from the right, was a natural chamber with an almost perfectly round depression in the middle.
    “The ‘Empty Pie’!” said Yngwi and several of the others at the same time, and they looked expectantly back to Toleðr, bringing up the rear. He consulted his copy of the passage from the Devotion, but said that they should expect to encounter several other features before reaching that. They reluctantly decided that they were unlikely to have come to it by a more direct route than that of the riddling verse, but still ‘skirted around’ it as the verse directed.
    Two hundred paces later, including one left-hand branch, Bofur held the suspended lodestone up to the light of his staff-lantern for everyone to see its erratic twitching. “A few moments back it was steady at about half-left, meaning we were heading north-east, but now look. ‘Lodestone’s Maze’!” he pronounced.
    There was nothing out of the ordinary in this section of passageway and they proceeded on, watching the skittish lodestone as they went.
    Almost immediately, Gymir made out a dim glow ahead, but it was extinguished even before he could tell the others.
    “I thought so too,” confirmed Thorfinn, though the others had not caught it.
    “I’ll go on quietly,” Gymir suggested and began to move off, lantern still in hand.
    The others watched as he stole forward and soon disappeared around a slight bend, marking his progress by the receding lantern glow.
    Gymir found a place where a widening in the passageway formed a chamber ten yards across. Without warning, as he played his light around the walls, a hurled axe struck the stone before his feet. He swiftly shrouded the lantern under his cloak and turned to flee, then stopped and groped to pick up the axe. Trusting his footing he fled through the dark back the way he had come.
    Another clang rang out as a second axe struck the wall somewhere behind him. Briefly he turned to fling the first back into the darkness where it too struck rock, but several ricochets echoed back as it bounced from wall to wall of some perilous shaft.
    “There was someone there!” Gymir gasped as he neared the company. “But I don’t think they’re following.”
    “Who was it?” asked Thorfinn.
    “I don’t know. They threw an axe—”
    “What sort of axe? Was it dwarvish?”
    “I don’t know – I threw it back. It could have been.”

“Let’s get them!” declared Fjiar as he unlimbered his shield and led the way forth.
Yngwi tucked in behind him, his own shield held high, pausing only to seize up the throwing axe he spotted lying in the tunnel. Bofur came third, his staff-lantern held out its full length across the passageway in the hope of drawing any missiles that might be sent at them. Thorfinn, Gymir, Tóki and Mêgrim followed up, with Toleðr still prudently watching for threats from behind.
    They met with no resistance and gained the chamber itself. Bofur twisted his staff to angle the lantern around and made out the continuing passage ahead, flowstone leading to a descending shaft to the left of it, and up on the right was a recessed ledge two fathoms above them. A breakdown of clinker could ease half the climb, but if foes lurked above it would still be perilous to assault them.
    Gymir slunk close to the wall, glad this time not to have to betray his position by carrying his own light. Thorfinn and Tóki with their shields, and Mêgrim behind them, also clung to the near wall where no one could launch an axe at them without leaning well out.
    “WE ARE WITH THORFINN OF THE HOUSE OF DATHRIN, STEWARD OF THE MINES OF THE NORTHERN SPUR,” declaimed Yngwi, pitching his voice to best advantage in the cavernous space. “WE ARE HERE WITH THE RIGHTFUL AUTHORITY OF KING DAINAND YOU ARE NOT. WHAT ARE YOUR NAMES?” His echoes died away in silence.
    As Bofur raised his light high to try and reveal anyone by the shadow it might cast, Fjiar took a more direct approach and heaved a chunk of clinker up over the lip. He threw a second and this time heard a scuff of leather moving on stone…

View
The Treasures of the Hall of the Dathrins
In which, over a few days, many secrets are unlocked

HEVENSDAY AFTERNOON

WITH THE GREAT HALL OF HIS ANCESTRAL MANSION under his control and the intruders herded into one corner and showing no more will to fight, Thorfinn ordered their weapons to be seized.
    “And armour,” added Fjiar. “This one had mail on under his shirt.” Indeed both the big gaunt greybeard twins both wore hidden corselets of mail.
    “You’re on my property,” Thorfinn announced to Foron’s group. “We’ll have your weapons and armour and anything else of value from you, and you can call that a ransom and leave on your sworn oath not to come back.” With that he strode out of the hall to collect the war-gear he had never had time to don, leaving Toleðr the swordsmith, Bofur the alchemist and Tóki the toymaker to see to collecting the ransom whilst Fjiar the Firebeard brandished his two axes, discouraging the captives from second thoughts.

Meanwhile Yngwi was leading Gymir and their captive back along the gallery above in the direction of the way out, when the hapless dwarf crumpled to the floor. A deep wound in the back of his leg was bleeding copiously.
    Yngwi immediately cast his shield aside and knelt to press on the wound and try to staunch the flow.
    “How did he get this?” asked.
    “He must have got it as we scuffled in the dark,” said Gymir, “and been bleeding all this time.”
    The bright blood gushing through Yngwi’s fingers prevented him from getting a purchase and he decided it was hopeless. Gymir took over, undoing the dwarf’s belt and whipping off his leather jack, then looping the belt round the thigh just above the wound. He drew it tight and the flow of blood subsided, then tighter still and after a few moments it stopped.
    “He’ll live,” rumbled Gymir, but with no concern in his voice.
    The pair rolled the captive-turned patient onto Yngwi’s shield for a stretcher and carried them down the stairs from the gallery to the rubble-filled entrance chamber.

The leader in this misadventure, the merchant Foron son of Jídli, was the one who had first surrendered and offered to buy his way out of the situation. He was not ungenerous, handing over his purse of coin and a jewelled knife, and promising more on his return to the main city – not ‘on his honour’ but ‘on his reputation as a respected citizen of the Kingdom Under the Mountain’.
    The grey-bearded twins who were his bodyguards showed surly ill-grace but Foron told them to cooperate. He addressed them by name as Dwîm and Dwîma, and as they stripped off their tattered shirts and yielded up the unbreached mail corselets, Toleðr frowned and gave a covert flicker of his fingers. Those could be traditional outer names, I suppose, but they could just as well be Khuzdul inner names! What sort of dwarf makes normal use of their inner name?
    Of the victors only Thorfinn himself had armour so these were a real prize. But none shared the almost undwarvishly rangy build of these grim twins and the corselets would have to be let out before any could wear them, and let out some more if they were to fit over a padded coat.

There was some bumbling around the hall whilst Thorfinn retrieved his armour. Yngwi composed an idle song about Toki and shared it with them all, finding the hall to fill very pleasingly with the song. Bofur retrieved three arrows from the table, grumbling as he did so and muttering that there’d better be some left in the other archer’s quiver to replace those he’d lost. Fjiar eyed the intruders’ lantern where it sat behind the large table, and noted fresh stone dust and damage to the masonry of the wall just there, clearly inflicted by these renegade workdwarves. Foron’s attempt to have them pry out the stonework for whatever strange reason was pronounced by Mêgrim the former mason’s apprentice to be a task of many days. Close inspection of the damaged section proved it to have constructed using carefully chiselled ‘double-tongue’ blocks in the old style that was rarely used in these late times. A block could be loosened only by chipping it to rock dust.

Double tongue masonry
 

Thorfinn appeared back in the entrance of the hall, resplendent in his coat of scales. They learned from their captives that there were more workdwarves in the servants’ quarters and suggested to Foron that he should keep paying for the miners as part of his ransom, but that now they would be working for him. The miners were gathered up by Tóki and Gymir, accompanying Foron, and it transpired that they had no loyalty to Foron and would be equally happy to work for someone else as long as their got their pay. Thorfinn set Mêgrim as the foreman of the band of stoneworkers, with instructions not to attack any more walls, but to use such their skills and the strength of their backs to set the mansion of the Dathrins back in order.

FORON WAS ALLOWED TO LEAVE after all the combatants had sworn reluctant oaths never to return. The wounded archer was carried away on an improvised stretcher by two of the hired dwarves. The episode seemed concluded, and Thorfinn’s thought turned at last to the original reason for coming here.
    “We are here in search of maps, or any other clue to the location of the vault of my forefathers,” he announced.
    The search was protracted, and punctuated by pauses to eat the cold provisions they’d brought, though Gymir said the kitchen was in reasonable order and could be used if their stay were to be a long one. Intrigued by the use of beaten copper mirrors and sections of wall in which blocks of glass took the place of stone,
    Tóki was delighted to spot a dead but intact lightstone mounted high on the wall of the Great Hall above the high table, and some time was spent in dwarfhandling the large table up against the wall to allow Tóki to clamber up there and attempt his art, but the whole exercise proved futile.
    Eventually, the searches of the other areas of the mansion unsurprisingly yielding nothing, everyone came back yet again to the Study. Though they had no more found anything here than anywhere else, it seemed the likeliest room to search at greater length.

Mantelpiece 0 ii

Thorfinn had reverently claimed his ancestors’ helm from its stand in pride of place on the mantel over the impressive fireplace (and lent Fjiar the common helmet he had used thus far). They pored over the age-crisped papers, ledgers and scrolls that lay about the study just as they had been left on the fateful day of the Coming of Smaug, reasoning that the fleeing dwarves’ last concerns might have been for their vault and the treasures it contained. But they learned nothing but dreary details of the House’s running of the mines in the Northern Spur of the Lonely Mountain.
    They searched through the scrolls and ledgers neatly stowed in cupboards but found nothing of any greater interest. They moved the furniture out and tapped repeatedly over every inch of wall. Eventually everyone’s increasingly weary gazes kept returning to the dominant feature of the room, the fireplace itself.

Mantelpiece 1 ii

 
 

    The centrepiece was very striking, with its smooth-carved representations of ideal dwarves and of the Lonely Mountain itself.

Mantelpiece 2 ii

    Many false ideas, chiefly to do with reflecting rays of light, were explored before Bofur drew everyone’s attention to the incongruously sharp definition of the low-relief depiction of the gem in the central dwarf’s headband circlet, achieved by a geometrical seven-pointed star. It was clearly solid stone, not even the thinnest joint separating it from the rest of the solid slab, but Bofur explained that the door magic of the dwarves in the days of the founding of the Kingdom Under the Mountain could meld stone to appear seamless, or apply glamours to it to beguile the eye. But this gem did not press in; it did not turn. Further grunts and sighs were heaved.
 

Thorfinn   star of dathrin i

    Bofur persisted. “So some device must have served as a key—”
    “Which was probably lost two centuries ago,” groaned Thorfinn.
    Then he realized Bofur was now regarding him, agog.
    “What?” demanded Thorfinn.
    “Your pendant, there; in plain sight since we first met. It’s a seven-pointed star!”
    Sure enough, the family heirloom that Thorfinn had worn since his mother gave it to him in his teens, the silver Star of Bavern the Loremaster who fell in Khazad-dûm, fitted perfectly over the stone gem on the fireplace. Stone and silver both flared with a sharp bright white light, their shapes combining to resemble the pattern of facets on a brilliant-cut adamant. Planes of light shone out, painting a pattern momentarily on the far wall and leaving the shape in all the dwarves’ eyes for long moments after it equally suddenly went out.

Anagnorisis i

    The scrape of stone on stone announced the opening of a small hatch-like door in a corner of the room.

A SHORT PASSAGE RAN from the back of the narrow doorway. It turned, and formed a balcony overlooking a dark space below, but high on their right was a glimmer of light.
    “The light-stone!” cried Tóki.
    The light now shining in the Great Hall was filtering faintly through the clear crystal of the dead light-stone mounted in the wall above the high table. The secret space lay directly behind that, and when it worked, the light-stone would have illuminated both. The workdwarves of Foron’s party, however they had discerned it, had been slowly chipping at exactly the right place to gain access to this chamber – if Thorfinn’s Company had not caught up with them first.

As they brought up lanterns, they made out the fortified counting-room of the Dathrins. From the balcony a wooden stair led down two sides of the chamber, to a space with a large table surrounded by many chests. Upon one wall were a picture and a runic inscription.

Shieldwall

: THE SHIELD WALL OF BAVERN : THEY FELL IN KHAZAD-DÛM THAT THE TREASURE ENTRUSTED TO THEIR HOUSE SHOULD REMAIN TO THE KHAZAD EVEN AS SO MUCH ELSE WAS MUST NEEDS HIDDEN SECRET AND SAFE :

They had no keys for any of the chests, but Thorfinn turned to Tóki, and the toymaker bent his craft to the task of opening the locks. With much effort and the breaking of several small tools, he opened two of the chests. The first contained a wallet of aged promissory notes, several small sacks of silver coin and a casket containing a small sack of gold. The other proved to be a book-locker containing the ledgers of the family’s own wealth, where those in the office had all related to the businesses they ran.
    When Tóki admitted defeat on the two remaining chests, Gymir son of Snorri stepped forth and self-consciously produced from an inner pocket a set of tools that looked suspiciously like they existed for the sole purpose of opening locks. Several glances were shot askance at Thorfinn, but he only nodded his curt approval. Gymir got open a decorative, brass-faced chest, the contents of which included a leather-bound book telling the history of the House of Dathrin and a silk-wrapped slab of marble incised with gold-inlaid runes.

IN THIS THIRD YEAR OF THE KINGDOM UNDER THE MOUNTAIN OF DURIN’S FOLK, KING THRAIN SON OF NAIN SON OF DURIN VI DOES HEREBY GRANT TO DATHRIN SON OF BAVERN AND HIS HEIRS IN PERPETUITY THE TITLE OF LORD WARDEN OF THE DEEPS OF THE NORTH SPUR OF THE MOUNTAIN. FOR HIS SERVICES TO DURIN’S FOLK IN THE ORDERLY KEEPING OF THIS DOMAIN, HE SHALL HOLD ONE FOURTH PART OF THE WEALTH GARNERED BY THE KHAZAD

But even Gymir and Tóki working together were unable to defeat the lock on the final chest, the smallest, wrought entirely of steel plate. Ultimately, though most of the dwarves were not party to the details, Gymir brokered a deal whereby the respected whitebeard master craftsman, Jerezh Locksmith, came clandestinely –and with oaths of secrecy sworn by them all – to gain them access to the contents of the strongbox.
    After an hour’s effort with several clamps holding a total of four tools selected from a toolkit larger than the strongbox itself (which made Gymir’s red eyes bulge with envy), the lock clicked open. Jerezh gathered them round and solemnly demonstrated why his services came so dear. The lock could be opened with just three tools, but as he did so, four steels needles fully two feet long shot out from concealed housings disguised as rivets on the faceplate securing the lockplate to the box. Jerezh Locksmith told Gymir and Tóki that in matters of their forebears’ security, a little learning is a dangerous thing.
    Most of the space in the strongbox was taken up with the mechanism for this lethal trap, but in the space that remained was the most previous treasure of all. Under a cloth bag containing promissory notes received and already honoured was a dagger for use in the very last pinch, which was worked of the finest steel. A purse of cut gems were mostly semi-precious stones, but contained a ½” sapphire with a single rune etched on its face: the D for Dathrin.

D sapphire

    There was a “hand” of keys, a six-limbed armature bearing four key-rings that promised to open no end of locks in the Dathrin’s domain, and finally a largish flat wooden case held a sceptre-like ward-key. It had an ornate handle and a caged-crystal finial, but the main feature was a recessed bind-rune cast in a hexagonal plate. Bofur identified this before Jerezh Locksmith could even speak. “A wand key! Such keys are not mechanical in nature, but operate entirely by magicks now lost."

The great key diag ii

But what did it open?
    Nothing here in the counting-room responded to it, nor did anything anywhere in the Hall of the Dathrins (barring those utterly collapsed spaces which remained inaccessible). Thorfinn was certain that the counting-room held only ready funds, and they were yet to find the vault containing the chief wealth of his House.

THORFINN HIMSELD WAS OCCUPIED for most of the next several days in securing an audience with his cousin, King Dain Ironfoot, to confirm him as the heir of the House of Dathrin and rightful Lord Warden of the Deeps of the North Spur of The Mountain. As the workdwarves originally hired by Foron son of Jidli continued to make the Hall of Dathrin sound and habitable again, Thorfinn’s other followers spent much time supposedly ‘closeted in the study’, and in fact poring over their findings in the secret counting-room.
    They had a frustrating time pursuing Thorfinn’s assertion that ‘there must be a clue somewhere’, and his insistence that his house hearkened back through Dathrin and Bavern to Khazad-dûm, where it had famously been the practice to hide vaults in the remotest of tunnels. In his absence it was said more than once that the greatest security is in not telling anyone and not leaving any clue, in which case the location of the vault was lost with the death of Thorfinn’s grandsire in the Destruction of Smaug. But the promised share of the possible proceeds kept them at the task.

The Devotion of the Dathrins

    It was Toleðr who found a passage in one of the many books in the outer office that seemed curiously out of keeping with the rest of the volume. The Devotion of the Dathrins began with a lengthy saga in the style of the traditional lore-masters, describing the works of Mahal the Maker in the fashioning of Middle-earth for the habitation of the Children of Ilúvatar. This was followed by another work, relatively brief, describing Mahal’s making of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, Ilúvatar’s gifting of their souls, and a short history of the Ages leading to their arrival in the Lonely Mountain.

Then came the curious passage which attracted Toleðr’s eye, a set of more individual stanzas, with a far less sophisticated metre. “Does this not sound,” the beardling asked excitedly, “like a promise of wealth in natural caverns deep in the Mountain, followed by directions… of some sort?”

: In the ages of the Deeps of Time,     ere the Eldest Days,
Mahal riddled The Mountain Lone    with ancient hidden ways :

: Though dwarves may delve    to seek rich lodes,
the finest paths    are Mahal’s Roads :
: Not hewn from rock    by Durin’s Sons,
these tunnels flow    where firestone’s run :
: To behold the gifts    that Mahal gave,
seek you in    the furthest caves :
: The oldest drift    from Dathrin’s time
holds more of worth    than all the mine :

: Travel through    the braided ways
until you come    to lodestone’s maze :
: Here you’ll find    you’ll come undone,
unless you use    the force of stone :
: Pass The Guardsmen    standing by
and skirt around    the Empty Pie :
: Augers’ well    runs high with water
but keep good faith    and never falter :
: Find the treasure    above all others
where life is given us    by dwarf-mothers :

There at last    in inky night
the dwarves’ reward    will come to sight :

The Devotion ended in a laudatory passage describing the wonder of gold, jewels, treasures of shining mirrored glory, and how only the Dwarves are capable of beholding Mahal’s creations in the reverence they deserve.

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The Taking of the Hall
In which our heroes take the day and Foron, the lamed Dwîm and his twin are forced to yield.

HEVENSDAY NOON, CONTINUED

TOLEÐR CHARGED AT THE TWIN OF THE DWARF FELLED BY BOFUR’S ARROW as Bofur himself loosed again from the darkness of the entrance corridor, but this time struck only the back wall of the hall. The three dwarves milling there put their shoulders to the great high table and heaved it over to provide cover.
    The second greybeard twin showed no deference to his employer as he shoved the quailing Foron back in the direction of the upturned table. Toleðr’s charge up between the long hall-tables carried straight into a lunge with the point of his sword. The bodyguard punched the sword away with the boss of his shield. Toleðr stepped wide to evade the replying battleaxe-sweep, the two recovered their guards, and both squared off for the fight.
    Bofur moved left to try another angle, at which Thorfinn hustled forward up the right-hand wall, still leery of being in front of an archer. Stepping smartly into cover around the corner into the hall he pulled himself up to his full height and strode forward projecting all the authority of the mansion’s rightful master. (‘As far as this hall is concerned, I do own the place,’ he reminded himself.)
    At the same time, fearless Fjiar ran up the left-hand side of the hall, once more bellowing for his opponents to surrender.

On the gallery above, Gymir burst through the door after his and Yngwi’s quarry, but found himself in such darkness that he couldn’t see his own cudgel in front of his face. Two paces behind him, Yngwi could not see Gymir or the dwarf with the short bow, nor hear so much as a breath from either of them. The big dwarf was ill-suited to a blind-fight, and worse: could be as likely to strike friend as foe. He left Gymir to the game and dashed back for Tóki’s lantern.
    Gymir opted for a feint. “Don’t shoot. I surrender,” he pleaded. “I can tell you where to find the treasure.”
    There was no reply from the darkness for the space of several breaths.

Bofur narrowed his eyes and took careful aim at the head of the middle dwarf peering over the edge of the table. His arrow thudded into the table, an inch of timber between the arrowhead and his target’s groin. The dwarf’s eyes went wide but he kept his place, still watching the mêlée in the room. Bofur swore quietly and nocked another arrow.
    The second twin made an opening and swung his battleaxe at Toleðr, but Toleðr deftly lifted his shield to meet it in mid swing and slashed back with his sword. There was a clang as his blade struck the centre of his target’s shield again. The two glowered across their shield-rims.
    The first twin, Dwîm, used his battleaxe as a crutch to haul himself up onto his good leg beyond one of the long hall-tables, near to a side passage leading out of the hall. But Thorfinn was already bearing down on him with axe and shield and demanding his surrender.
    “Come on, I’ll take yer!” snarled the beleaguered Dwîm through teeth gritted against the pain in his foot.
    Thorfinn grinned wolfishly and darted in, his axe lifted to answer the invitation. Dwîm realised his folly and tried to get his shield up, but pain dulled his reactions and Thorfinn’s axe struck him squarely in the chest. He was knocked to the floor a second time, his life saved only by the shirt of mail he wore under his clothes. [3 pennies to Dwîm]

Bofur took careful aim and waited for a clear moment when there was no danger of Toleðr’s fight carrying him into the path of the arrow. He loosed and the arrow flew true, but dipped just like the last one, thunking into the table within an inch of it. His target glanced down with a strangled look, muttered a curse and moved a superstitious foot to one side, still fearfully surveying the unfolding fight. Foron on one side and the craftsdwarf on the other ducked right down behind the barricade of the table.
    Fjiar, running up behind the benches on the left side of the hall, satisfied himself that none of the three behind the table were aggressors. He whirled his axe high over his head as he moved to join Toleðr in battling the gaunt greybeard in the middle of the hall. This one, his shield locked against Toleðr, desperately tried to block Fjiar’s blow with his battleaxe. He was quick but Fjiar was quicker and landed a blow to the shoulder, shredding through the shirt but chittering and sparking against mail armour concealed beneath it.
    Hoping the fight in the middle of the room would keep attention away from them, Foron and another dwarf made a low-crouched dash out from behind the table and round to Thorfinn’s side of the hall before Bofur could nock and draw again.

Alone on the dark gallery above the right-hand side of the hall, Tóki had charged at the edge of the balcony and succeeded only in throwing himself into the baluster rail with a thump and a gasp of breath as his wind left him.
    Having recovered himself, he now looked over the edge and saw the fleeing dwarves. Forsaking a run-up he hollered a very fitting “Khazâd ai-mênu!” – The dwarves are upon you! – and swung himself over the baluster with flailing axe and kicking feet. There was a bone-splitting crunch as he landed on Foron and swung his axe wildly at the dwarf beside him. The merchant howled in pain but somehow managed to stay on his feet, as Tóki glanced off and stumbled to one knee.
    Thorfinn contemptuously kicked the dropped axe away from where Dwîm groaned at his feet and strode over to help Tóki. Coming upon the shocked pair of dwarves, he struck out at the one uninjured by Toki’s assault, catching him in the hand that he desperately flung up at the last instant, eliciting a yell of pain.
    Dwîm’s twin abruptly forsook the attack and broke and ran in the direction of his fallen brother, but Toleðr leapt ahead of the stouter Fjiar and chased him down. He turned at the last moment but too slowly. A hand’s breadth ahead of the shield’s rim, Toleðr’s sword fell across his victim’s back, hammering him forwards as his mail again saved him from far worse. [2 pennies].

Back upstairs Yngwi’s run brought him, lamp in hand, back to the doorway through which Gymir had disappeared. As he pushed it open, the growing light exposed a surrendering Gymir and cast his shadow large across the floor before him.
    Knowing that he was now clearly outlined to his foe, Gymir continued his feigned surrender, letting his cudgel be seen to drop clattering to the floor whilst at the same time his other hand beneath his cloak slipped a dagger silently from its scabbard.
    Finally, the dwarf at bay spoke from somewhere in the blackness a few paces ahead. “Set that light in ’ere, close the door and you can go free.”
    As Yngwi swung the lamp around, the archer was suddenly revealed, standing awkwardly but with an arrow nocked and aimed at Gymir’s head.
    Quickly, Yngwi put his shield before the lantern, plunging the room back into darkness.
    “Your friends are dying down there…” he menaced, then suddenly bellowed at the top of his voice: “SURRENDER!”

The beaten Foron stayed his henchman’s arm, keeping him from launching into a senseless brawl against Thorfinn and Tóki.
    “Keep ’im away from me!” Foron howled without taking his fearful gaze off Tóki. “I can pay!”
    Bofur at last advanced into the half-light at the entrance to the hall, with an arrow on the string and a clear view all round the room. “Any fecker moves and I’ll pin ’em to the wall!” he cried.
    The second twin was the only one still offering any resistance. He kept trying to back towards his brother, fending off Toleðr’s sword-blows though he no longer answered them with his own axe. Now Thorfinn set down his arms and drew the great sword from behind his shoulder. Fjiar too advanced on the beleaguered fighter and swung his axe low at the legs, unlikely to be protected by hidden mail. The dwarf blocked too weakly and Fjiar’s axe knocked his shield aside and bit into his leg. [3 pennies] All hope lost, the dwarf put up his axe in defeat.
    Thorfinn strode to the centre of the room and announced loudly, “We accept your ransom!”

Upstairs, Yngwi coldly ordered the archer to drop his bow and quiver. Realising the hopelessness of his situation, the dwarf complied. He forfeited his bow, arrows and leather jerkin to Gymir and Yngwi in exchange for his life and the two frogmarched him from the room.
    Halfway along the gallery, the vengeful Gymir dropped back a pace or two, slipped out his dagger and delivered an underhand stab to the back of the poor dwarf’s leg. The blade cut silently and deeply into his thigh, [21 damage on a crit]. The archer collapsed silently into the shadows, blood gushing from his wound.

Not noticing the incident, the rest of the party bargained with the intruders. All weapons, armour and possessions were forfeited, along with a solemn oath never to return.

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