Nearly there, just two more articles to go to have covered all the flavor text of all the cycles. This one took a bit longer as large parts had to be copied by hand (including the entire Deluxe box). Luckily, this cycle’s narrative is not as long as the previous cycles, though it is still a lot longer than the first two cycle (combined). Let’s travel north and explore the untamed wilderness of Rhovanion!
Journey Up the Anduin
Start: The sun shone brightly on the wide green pastures of the Anduin river valley. The tall grass swayed with a gentle breeze. Summer was already giving way to fall in the Misty Mountains to the west, but the air was still warm in the Vales of Anduin. It was pleasant travel weather for a small band of adventurers who were making their way north along the western shore of the mighty Anduin. They had already come a long way. The tale of their journey spanned from the cold of Angmar to the coasts of Andrast, and from the desert of Harad to the high walls of Minas Tirith.
It was a hero’s tale: This company of adventurers had brought with them from the far south of Middle-earth the remnant of a Haradrim tribe whose village was destroyed when they defied Mordor. They had depended upon one another over a long and perilous journey from Far Harad to Pelargir, but they were not permitted to remain in Gondor. The steward of that land remained suspicious of the Haradrim even after the heroes’ account of their bravery, but the Lord Denethor had granted them safe passage north. They were escorted to the city of Edoras in Rohan where they sought an audience with King Theoden, but it was the king’s advisor, Gríma, who heard their plight and denied them refuge.
Once again the heroes and their Haradrim allies were forced to continue north. Their hope now was to seek asylum for their friends with King Brand in Dale, but it was still a long and dangerous journey across Wilderland and winter was nigh. The Haradrim, unaccustomed to the harsh cold of a Rhovanion winter, would be ill-suited to such a journey, so the heroes had left them on the northern border of Lothlórien in the care of the Galadhrim. The Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood would not allow strangers into their realm, but they agreed to shelter the refugees through the winter while the heroes traveled to see King Brand on their behalf.
So it was that the heroes now traveled north through the Vales of Anduin on their way to the Old Ford. The Beornings safe-guarded the passage of the river there and many small Woodmen villages dotted the west river bank along the way. It would be an easy journey through pleasant country. Or so they thought.
Their troubles began when they saw a Warg-rider atop a low foothill of the mountains to the west. As soon as they spotted the Goblin, he turned his mount and rode out of sight down the other side of the hill. They did not see him again that day or the next, but it left them ill at ease and they took turns keeping watch at night. It was a good thing they did because on the third night the lookout saw a Mountain-troll descend from the hills and walk within a stone’s throw from their camp. The lookout had fitted an arrow to her bow and was ready to wake her companions when she realized that it had not seen them and was heading south. When she shared this news with the rest of the company the next morning, it caused a stir.
“A stray Warg-rider is one thing, but Trolls are another!” exclaimed one of the adventurers.
“We do not know the Goblin was a stray,” countered his companion. “I still say it was a scout and a sign that there are more nearby.”
“It is unusual to see these creatures this far south and on the west side of the river,” agreed the first.
“I believe some evil is afoot. We must stay alert now; this land is no longer safe for us,” offered a third companion. All nodded their heads in agreement. They made no more conversation as they broke camp that morning, and they remained silent and alert as they resumed their journey north.
Completed: “I’m glad that’s over,” said the Woodman, Haldan, as he leaned wearily on his axe after the fight at the Old Ford.
“That’s the most fun I’ve had in years!” laughed Grimbeorn. The huge Beorning gave Haldan a clap on the back that nearly toppled the Woodman. “Scraps like that make me feel young again,” he added with a giant grin.
Haldan offered a tired smile in return and massaged his shoulder where Grimbeorn had slapped him. “That may be,” he said, “but doesn’t it worry you? It isn’t like the Goblins to venture so far south, or to attack those who can fight back.”
“Aye,” said Grimbeorn thinking about it now. “It didn’t feel like one of their raids. It was more like an act of desperation than an attack. There’ve been a fair few of these Goblins and other creatures trying to sneak across the Ford recently. It’s as if they’re trying to get away from something up north.”
“But what could be driving Goblins and Trolls from their holes in the mountains?” asked Haldan.
Grimbeorn and the companions all looked at each other, but no one offered any guesses as the weight of the question sank in. They all felt it though: the foreboding of worse to come.
Lost in Mirkwood
Start: The vast and dangerous forest of Mirkwood lay before the heroes like a wall of green and black. The Forest Road ran the length of the woods from the Old Ford to the River Running, but it was a perilous crossing. The fortress of Dol Guldur to the south had again become a place of evil, and its influence could be felt throughout the darkening woods, and to the north were the many webs and snares of the giant spiders. To wander off the trail in either direction was to risk becoming lost forever, and it was a long way to the other side of the forest.
The heroes knew all this but were determined to reach Dale and have an audience with King Brand, so they thanked Grimbeorn and the Beornings for their aid and entered the woods. Haldan went with them. The Woodman had made this journey before and the adventurers welcomed his assistance.
“It is many days travel to the eastern edge of the forest,” said Haldan. “If we stick to the road we should not have any trouble. Traffic has lessened since the shadow returned to Mirkwood, but the trail is still easy to follow during the day. At night we camp and dare not move.”
The first few days were uneventful, but as they moved deeper into the woods, the closeness of the forest became unbearable until each member of the company traveled in silent torment. The gloom of Mirkwood clouded their minds as well as their senses until the memory of sunlight faded into a dream.
That night great weariness overcame the adventurers and they fell into enchanted sleep. Haldan had first watch and as he struggled to keep his eyes open his head leaned heavily on the pommel of his axe. His mind was beginning to wander when he saw the horrible shape of a spider illuminated by the orange glow of the fire. “What a terrible vision,” he thought to himself as he stared into the bulbous eyes of the beast. It wasn’t until he saw another spider bite one of his sleeping companions that he cried out in terror and roused the others. A bitter and desperate battle ensued as the heroes struggled to cast off their weariness and defend themselves…
Completed: The heroes blinked as their eyes adjusted to the light from the sun shining overhead. It had been a harrowing journey through Mirkwood, but they had finally reached the eastern edge of the forest. They came now to the shore of the River Running, and, as luck would have it, a trade vessel sailed into view on its way north.
They hailed the boat and her crew steered the vessel to shore in response. The captain was a friendly Barding who welcomed them aboard and offered them safe passage in exchange for a reasonable amount of their gold. The heroes happily accepted and began loading their things onto the boat.
“This is where we part ways,” said Haldan. “The river will carry you north to Lake-town and then to Dale, but my home lies back west.”
One of the heroes clasped hands with the Woodman and said, “Thank you for your help. You are a brave man, Haldan. I wish you safe travel on your return journey.”
With that, the heroes climbed aboard the Bardings’ boat and sailed north as Haldan waved goodbye from the shore.
The King’s Quest
Start: “Welcome, guests,” said King Brand to the small party of adventurers who had just arrived in Dale. The king sat upon a wooden throne at the far end of his great hall. About him were the knights of his guard in fine mail. Rich tapestries hung from the walls, and the king drank from a golden cup. “I understand you have traveled a great distance and through many perils to reach me. The hospitality of Dale is yours. Tell me: what errand brings you to my realm?”
One of the heroes stepped forward and knelt at the foot of the throne. “My lord,” she began, “our road has indeed been long and perilous. From Far Harad we escaped the grasp of Mordor with a tribe of noble Haradrim who aided us in our moment of need. They forfeited their home when they joined with us and now they are a houseless people in a foreign land. Word of your prosperity reached us in the south and we have traveled here on their behalf. King Brand, will you allow them to settle in Dale?”
The king stroked his beard as he considered all that had been said. “This is no small thing that you ask of me. Even here in the north we have heard tales of the savage Haradrim. It is a marvel to my ears to hear you speak of them as you do, but I do not doubt the truth of your words. The journey you have undertaken on their behalf speaks to their credit.”
King Brand paused for a moment before continuing, “It is timely that you arrived when you did for I have need of heroes such as you: Something drives the fell mountain creatures from the north and into my realm. An entire village was reported destroyed only yesterday. There were no survivors to tell the tale and the knights of my house are already stretched thin defending the other outlying villages. That is why I need you to investigate this attack and discover those who are responsible. I must secure the borders of my kingdom before I can admit your friends to settle here. What say you?”
The hero rose from where she was kneeling, drew the sword from her scabbard and held it aloft as she spoke her answer, “We will go at once to deal with this threat to your realm and will not return until it is done.”
King Brand also stood and said, “After it is done, you will send for your friends, and they will have a new home in my land.”
Completed: With a final might stroke the heroes hewed the fire-drake and it collapsed upon its side. As it lay there, dying, the companions caught their breath and marveled at the monster they had slain.
“Surely this was the beast that terrorized the borders of Brand’s realm!” said one of the heroes triumphantly.
“Indeed, not since Smaug the Golden has a dragon such as this been seen in Middle-Earth,” added another. “This must be what drove the Goblins out of the mountains.”
The adventurers were all in agreement when a horrible, gurgling laughter interrupted their conversation. The fire-drake coughed and cackled, “Fools! When my mother learns of my death, she will set all Wilderland ablaze!”
The heroes looked with wonder and horror as the wounded fire-drake summoned the last ounce of its strength to glare at them. The only fire left within the beast was the rage in its eyes as it cursed its enemies: “Your cities will burn! She will leave… nothing green… alive…” it sputtered and died, and its head dropped back to the ground.
There was a long silence as each member of the company reeled at the dragon’s words.
“It lies,” said one of the companions at last. “It was an evil creature, and it means to rob us of our victory with empty threats.”
“Nay,” replied another. “My heart wishes that were true, but it warns me otherwise. The creature was evil, and evil is wont to boast. The beast could not but tell us the truth in order to ease the sting of its defeat.”
“If that is true, then we must seek the mother before she hears of what has happened here, or else the Bardings and many more will pay the price for our victory,” added a third.
“But where do we find the mother?” asked the first. “Wilderland is a vast and untamed country. She could be anywhere.”
“Wilderland is vast, but a dragon cannot go long unnoticed,” answered the second companion. “I believe we have felt her presence on our journey already. It must have been the mother that chased the creatures from the mountains, so that is where we shall seek her: in The Withered Heath, where the dragons breed.”
The Withered Heath
Start: The heroes had already been traveling for days when they reached the first foothills of the Grey Mountains. Their journey across the barren lands between the Iron Hills and the Ered Mithrin had been uneventful except for the weather. It had rained in torrents, soaking the travelers’ heavy cloaks and leaving them wet and miserable.
As they began to climb the rising slopes of the Grey Mountains, the rain turned to snow; a welcome change if not for the cold that came with it. The early frost had only just descended on Wilderland below, but already in the stony heights of the Ered Mithrin the chill winds of winter were blowing and biting at the heroes’ faces.
Nevertheless, the adventurers climbed on. The fate of Rhovanion depended on them. Somewhere in this wide mountain range lurked a terrible danger: an ancient Dragon whose scion they had cut down in the Dwarven mines beneath the Iron Hills. The dying beast warned them his mother would seek revenge when she learned of his death, and the heroes feared that all Wilderland would suffer if they did not find her first.
So they climbed in search of the Withered Heath, a long valley that lay amid the eastern arms of the Grey Mountains, where the Dragons were said to breed. After several days of navigating steep cliffs and narrow paths, the heroes reached the summit and looked down on the vale they sought: an ashen plain of charred, lifeless rock. There were no Dragons to be seen, but plenty of Dragon sign. As they descended into the burnt valley, they could see that the vast majority of tracks were those of hatchlings – small prints, about the size of a bear’s, leading this way and that from the scattered remains of large eggs. But after some searching they found one large set of tracks that led west and up back into the mountains.
After a short rest in a low dale among the charred rocks of the Withered Heath, the heroes resumed their hunt and followed the larger Dragon tracks they had found. They were each happy to leave the scorched vale behind them, but they all knew that greater danger still waited for them amid the cold heights surrounding the Withered Heath…
Completed: Once again the heroes gathered around the body of a dead Dragon, but this time they knew it could not be the one they sought.
“This one’s smaller than the first,” said one of the companions.
“Aye, I’d imagine the mother we’re after would be much bigger,” agreed another.
“But where do we find her?” asked the first. “The tracks that led us here were the only ones we found large enough to be an adult’s All the others were but hatchlings.”
There was a brief silence as the adventurers contemplated this question when, from a dark corner of the Dragon’s lair, there came a shuffling noise. The heroes wheeled around with their weapons ready, to see a large Goblin stepping forward from the shadows with his arms held outward in token of surrender.
“Yrch!” shouted one of the heroes, and he drew an arrow back with his bow, ready to fire.
“Hold!” cried the Orc in a hoarse voice, “I can tell you where to find the Dragon you seek!”
The archer aimed at the Goblin’s chest and ordered him to speak: “Tell us what you know of this Dragon, and how you know it.”
The Goblin laughed bitterly and said, “Sure, sure. And while I’m at it, why don’t I tell you where I buried my loot after I raided the Woodmen so you can have all my secrets and be done with me? Garn! Urdug’s not stupid! I know yer gonna kill me once I tell you what I know.”
The bowman relaxed his draw, lowered his bow, and said, “Very well. I promise no harm will come to you if you speak truthfully, though it would be the first time I’ve heard an Orc do so.”
“Well, that’s better!” said Urdug. He sat down on the Dragon’s corpse and gave it a pat. “You make short work of Dragons it seems, and that’s good cause I know one that needs killin’. The same one as you want dead I’ll wager: a great-big, fire-breather. Calls herself Dagnir the Terrible. She ran me and my boys out of our home in Gundabad months ago when she came on us in the early morning.”
“Gundabad!” exclaimed one of the adventurers. “The Goblins stole Gundabad from the Dwarves ages ago. Serves you right!”
“Pah! If those long-beards wanted it, they should have fought harder to keep it,” laughed Urdug. “It belongs to the Goblins now.”
“From your own account, it sounds like it belongs to Dagnir,” replied the heroes sharply.
Urdug stopped laughing and glared at her. “For the moment,” he said coldly. There was a tense pause before he laughed bitterly and continued, “I imagine she’s made herself a nice bed of treasure in the great hall by now. Probably made the Goblins drag it all up from the deeps for her.”
“Goblins yet live there with the Dragon?” asked one of the companions with bewilderment.
“Cowardly maggots!” Urdug exclaimed. “Lost their nerve at the first sound of her roar. Some fled south while others threw down their weapons and begged for mercy. Pah!” he spat. “I let out with the few who stayed loyal, but they’re mostly dead now. We fled out the secret door. The rising sun burnt our eyes, but we kept on. We came this way looking for a new home, but all we found were more Dragons.”
Urdug regarded the Dragon carcass under him. “This one at five of my boys after we stumbled into her cave.”
One of ther heroes turned to her friends and said, “If all this is true, then we need to journey to Gundabad and find this Dagnir before she grows restless of he new home.”
Then, turning back to Urdug she added, “And you, Urdug, will be our guide.”
Roam Across Rhovanion
Start: Outside the entrance to the cold-drake’s lair, the Goblin, Urdug, howled as the heroes bound his wrists with a cord of rope.
“I won’t do it!” he screamed. “I won’t take you anywhere as your prisoner! You’ll have to kill me.”
“Very well,” replied one of the heroes as he drew his dagger from its sheath.
“Wait, wait, wait!” cried Urdug, falling to his knees. “There’s another way! A secret way only Urdug knows! If you kill me, you won’t find it!”
“What secret way?” asked the hero with his knife to the Goblin’s throat.
“There’s a side door, a secret entrance that the Dwarves built – only I know where it is,” said Urdug, speaking quickly. “You can’t simply walk into Gundabad through the front door; Dagnir will be on you in an instant with her fire-breath. But I can show you the hidden entrance, if you untie me.”
The hero looked searchingly at Urdug. “I don’t like it,” he said. “How do we know you’re telling the truth?” “There’s a key.” replied Urdug, “I took it with me when I fled, but I lost it days ago running from an angry giant. Help me find the key, and I will give it to you as proof.”
The Goblin held out his hands, still bound together, and looked at the heroes pleadingly.
“The Dwarves are known to build secret entrances to their realms, and a key would be convincing proof,” said one of the companions.
“We should wait until we have evidence of his truthfulness before releasing him,” replied the hero with the knife.
“But he insists he would rather die than aid us as our prisoner,” said the first. “We cannot carry him down these mountains, or drag him across Rhovanion, but I believe there are enough of us to keep an eye on him to watch for any sign of betrayal.”
“Very well,” answered the other hero, sheathing his dagger. He narrowed his eyes and looked suspiciously at Urdug while untying him. “We will help you find this key,” he said, “and you will take us to your secret entrance. But be warned: if you attempt any deception, I will slit your throat.”
“Yes, yes,” said Urdug rising to his feet, “Urdug will find you the key, and maybe the horn I lost as well. Perhaps even my friend, Tiny. I think he escaped when the giant attacked us. He was never too bright, but he knew when fight and when to run. Anyway, off we go. Follow me!”
And with that, Urdug led the bewildered heroes down the slopes of the Grey Mountains to retrace his steps through Wilderland.
Completed: The heroes had taken a risk by trusting Urdug, but they were no fools. They had anticipated his treachery, and dealt harshly with his fried, the Troll. But Urdug they kept alive because they still need the location of the secret entrance to Gundabad. They bound him again with cords, and this time the Goblin did not complain. He didn’t even so much as whimper. Urdug had taken his chance to escape and failed. He knew that if he caused any more trouble for the adventurers that his fate would be the same as Tiny’s.
“We have the key to the Goblin’s door but it is still a long way to Mount Gundabad, and we are ill supplied for such a journey,” said one of the heroes.
“Agreed,” said another. “There is a great settlement of Woodmen between us and the mountain. It rests on the edge of Mirkwood Forest. Hrogar’s Hill, they call it. People are friendly there – though perhaps not to Goblins.”
He threw Urdug a sharp glance, but the Goblin did not even raise his eyes to see.
“Excellent,” replied the other hero. “Then we head for Hrogar’s Hill.”
The heroes packed their things and began the long trek to the Woodmen settlement, leading their captive by a rope tied to his wrists.
Fire in the Night
Start: Hrogar’s Hill was a Woodmen settlement with a tall, wooden palisade that encircled it. The wall was built upon an earthen rampart and surrounded by a deep moat. A single, wooden draw-bridge connected the town to the road that led to its gate. Watch-towers were built on either side of the gate and guards kept their vigil there day and night.
At the far end of town opposite the gate, was the hill from which the settlement took it’s name: a tall, steep slope ascended by a fortified stair, and upon its summit was built Hrogar’s Hall. The Woodmen gathered there for important meetings and celebrations. If the town were to be overrun, they could take shelter there and long withstand a siege, for the Woodmen always kept supplies stored within.
During the day, the Woodmen worked in the pastures and gardens that surrounded the town, or felled trees at the edge of Mirkwood forest nearby. But at night, they withdrew inside their walls and raised the draw-bridge as protection from dangerous forest-dwellers and Goblin raids. So it was that the heroes found the entrance barred when they arrived a few hours past sunfall on a dark night.
“Who goes there?” called a guard from one of the watchtowers.
“Travelers on an errand from King Brand in Dale,” answered one of the heroes. “We seek food and shelter for the night, and we have gold to trade for supplies.”
“That is good,” replied the guard. “The servants of King Brand are welcome in our town, though it is long since any have visited. But what is that you bring with you?” He pointed to the Goblin whose wrists that had bound with rope.
“This is our captive,” answered the hero pulling Urdug into the light with a tug of his rope.
“The Master will not like that,” said the guard. “We have had many battles with the Goblins, but we are not accustomed to taking prisoners. For what purpose do you bring him here?”
“That should not be answered in the open. Let us in, and we can speak more plainly.” said the hero.
“Very well,” replied the guard, “I will summon the Master. Wait there.”
After a little while, the draw-bridge was lowered and a small troop of armed guards ushered the companions through the gate where they were greeted by the Master; a big man with a bushy, white beard and keen eyes. He regarded the heroes TM with a friendly smile and said, “Welcome friends! What brings you to Hrogar’s Hill?”
“We are on an urgent errand to Mount Gundabad with this Goblin as our guide,” answered one of the heroes.
“Strange tidings!” exclaimed the Master. “Gundabad is a name of ill omen, and to follow a Goblin there seems folly. Your errand must be urgent indeed to travel there in such a manner. Tell me friends, what need drives you thither?”
“We hunt a great Dragon: Dagnir the Terrible. This Goblin claims she drove his people from their homes in Mount Gundabad,” answered the hero.
“A Dragon?” laughed the Master, appearing relieved. “My friends, this Goblin has deceived you. There has not been a Dragon seen in this part of the world since time out of legend.”
“Deceived we may be,” answered the hero, “but the Dragon we seek is real. Two of its spawn we have killed already, and we fear what their mother may do when she learns what has befallen her children.”
“Two Dragons?” said the Master with a fresh regard for his guests. His eyes were wide with wonder. Then, he collected himself and said, “I must hear the tale of these deeds. Come, you will be guests at my table tonight and tell me your story. My guards will keep watch over your prisoner.”
Two Woodmen escorted a sullen Urdug away as the Master led the adventurers up the steep hill to Hrogar’s Hall. There the heroes were seated at a long table and food was brought to them. The Master sat at the head of the table and listened to all they had to tell until their meal was suddenly cut short by the sound of alarm from outside.
The heroes followed the Master out of the hall where they saw in the distance a terrifying red-orange glow that cut a swath through the black night as it moved toward the town below. Dagnir had come.
Completed: As the first cold light of dawn climbed over Hrogar’s Hill, it revealed the smoldering remains of the Woodmen town. The city gate was smashed, and the watch-towers on either side were burnt to the ground. Inside the blackened walls, houses were still burning or already collapsed into scorched ruins. Yet atop the steep hill, Hrogar’s Hall still stood. The women and children had taken refuge inside during the attack, and a large part of the people survived thanks to the gallantry of the defenders.
The heroes had driven back the Dragon, but only after she had grown tired of hundreds of stinging arrows and sword strokes. No weapon had been able to pierce Dagnir’s thick armor enough to do her any real harm. When she retreated into the night, it was only because she had grown tired of smashing homes, and her fires burned low.
The companions were not surprised when the Master emerged from Hrogar’s Hall and asked them to leave at once. Even if he knew better, many of his people accused the heroes of bringing the Dragon to their town. Some noted that there were Goblins who joined Dagnir in her attack and suspected that they were trying to rescue Urdug.
As it happened, their captive was nowhere to be found. At first they suspected that his guards left him to fight the Dragon. That was until they found their bodies in an alley. One had a dagger in his back, and the other a slash across his throat. Without their Goblin guide and without the means to defeat Dagnir, the heroes had to rethink their plan. Here the Master provided them with a parting gift, a bit of lore to help them on their journey.
“Until last night I thought Dragons were merely legend, but now that I know they are not, I am reminded of another story: the tale of a mighty warrior who slew the great worm, Scatha. It was rumored that he wielded an enchanted blade powerful enough to pierce the Dragon’s hide, and it was afterwards called ‘Wormsbane’.
“Such a weapon would surely aid us in our quest. Tell us: where can we find it? ” asked one of the companions.
“That’s easy,” answered the Master. “ The man who wielded the sword was named Fram, and he won such great renown that his people named their city after him. Search for his resting place in Framsburg.”
The Ghost of Framsburg
Start: Thousands of years ago, Scatha the Worm attacked the Dwarves of Ered Mithrin and amassed a great hoard from their treasuries. He was one of the greatest Dragons in the Third Age of Middle-earth and the scourge of Wilderland, but even more renowned was Fram son of Frumgar, for he it was that slew the worm with his sword and claimed its treasure for his own.
Fram was lord of the Eotheod, and he used his wealth to improve the capital city of his people, which they afterward named Framsburg in his honor. It was rumored that the Dwarves demanded Fram return the treasure Scatha stole from them, but he refused. Instead, he made a necklace from the Dragon’s teeth and gave it to them with these words: “Jewels such as these you will not find in your treasuries, for they are hard to come by.” It is said that the Dwarves were so angered by this rebuke that they slew Fram in revenge.
In the years that followed, Eorl the Young would come to lead the Éothéod and bring them south to Rohan, whereafter they were known as the Rohirrim. Their old capital of Framsburg was abandoned and fell into ruin, and the tomb of their hero, Fram, lay hidden for millennia.
It was in Fram’s tomb that the heroes now hoped to find his legendary sword, Wormsbane. After their battle with Dagnir at Hrogar’s Hill, the adventurers learned their weapons were not sufficient to kill the Dragon. They hoped that the enchanted blade of Fram would be able to slay the beast. So they had traveled west from Hrogar’s Hill until they reached the river Anduin, then they followed the river north to Framsburg.
The ruins of the old city lay at the meeting of the Greylin and Langwell rivers. The Greylin ran down from the Grey Mountains to the north, and the Langwell flowed from the Misty Mountains to the west. When they joined, they formed the headwaters for the mighty Anduin that flowed far south where it served as a wide barrier between Gondor and Mordor, but here in the north the heroes were able to ford the river without too much trouble.
Once across, the adventurers made straight for the old keep. Age had taken its splendor and given it a haunted look, and in the failing light of the setting sun, the keep stood above the decayed remains of the dead city like a dark sentry, foreboding an evil fate for any who disturbed the memories of those long past. For a moment it seemed to the heroes that a faint blue light could be seen from a high window, but when they looked again the window was a black hole.
A hush fell on the company as they walked along the ancient road that led to the keep. They neither saw nor heard any sign of danger, yet their hands rested anxiously on their weapons as a feeling of dread grew with each step they took towards the dark hold. They walked in silence, their eyes darting this way and that as if expecting some sudden assault, until at last they reached the gate. Its empty archway stood open like the black mouth of some horrible beast, but they could see nothing inside.
They lingered there for a moment until one of the companions spoke: “I like not this place. There is some evil afoot here.”
“I feel it too,” said another, “Yet the sword we seek lies within.”
“I fear what else we will find,” answered the first.
“As do I. Let’s find out together,” came the reply. “Come. Follow me.”
Together the heroes entered in the dark keep in search of Fram’s tomb.
Completed: Beneath the haunted keep of Framsburg, in the dark of Fram’s tomb, the heroes were confronted by the shade of Fram himself. He regarded the heroes with lifeless eyes and the walls shook when he spoke: “Why do you come here? Have you come to steal my treasure? You cannot have it!”
Such power and terror was in his voice that the heroes staggered and could not at first respond. The dead man howled with rage, and again the cave trembled. It seemed that he would attack when one of the companions managed to speak: “Wait! We don’t want your treasure! It is a sword we seek. Wilderland is again threatened by a mighty Dragon, and we need your sword to defeat it.”
“Lies!” shouted Fram. “You want the gold from Scatha’s hoard, but I won’t let you take it!”
“No my lord!” answered the hero. “There is no treasure left in Framsburg. It has been abandoned for millennia.”
“What? What trickery is this?” asked the shade, its voice losing some of its terror. “Where is my gold?”
“I know not,” replied the hero. “We found naught but this as we explored the keep,” he said, holding up the Dragon-tooth necklace.
“Ahh!” cried the shade as if pained by the sight. “The necklace! I remember!” His lifeless eyes were fixed on the necklace as he spoke: “When the Dwarves heard Scatha was dead, they sent emissaries to demand their gold be returned, but they were haughty and I disliked their manner, so I gave them the necklace and naught else. With mocking words I threw it at their feet, thinking little of their wrath.”
“Then it was your pride that doomed you to this fate,” spoke the hero.
The shade seemed to contemplate this before it continued to speak: “Pride? Perhaps so. I thought that I had nothing to fear from the Dwarves. I had just slain the great worm, and they were guests in my house. But I underestimated the fire that burned within them. I thought them only a stunted people, but they set upon my guards in the night and slew me in my own keep.”
“It was an evil death, my lord,” the hero said, “but it would seem that you brought this curse on yourself by provoking them.”
Fram’s ghost appeared to diminish further with its reply, “You are right; it was pride and greed that doomed me to this fate. I will bear it no longer.”
Fram lifted his eyes from the necklace to regard the heroes, and as they looked back at him they no longer saw a powerful shade, but instead it seemed to them that an old, wizened man stood before them.
“You may have my sword. It lies within,” he said, pointing to the sarcophagus at the center of the tomb. “I repent of my arrogance, Forgive me.”
With those words, the shade of Fram closed his eyes and a peace washed over his face before he disappeared. The companions stood silently for a moment before opening his sarcophagus. Inside was the dusty skeleton of the fifth lord of the Eothéod. Chain mail hang from rotted bones, a crown rested atop its skull, and across its chest laid Wormsbane – broken in two pieces.
Start: As morning dawned on the ruins of Framsburg, the heroes had already left the broken streets and buildings behind them on their way north. They paused atop a high hill to take one last look at the forgotten city, and it seemed to them that in the gentle light of the rising sun the old keep no longer held any menace.
“Farewell, Fram son of Frumgar,” spoke one of the heroes.
“May his spirit finally rest in peace,” another intoned.
“I would rest easier if we weren’t on our way to confront a giant Dragon with a broken sword,” one of their companions complained. “I can’t believe we went through all that trouble for a splintered blade!”
“It was a disappointment to us all,” said one, “but we must find a way nonetheless.”
“Find a way?” came the reply. “How are we going to fight Dagnir the Terrible with a broken sword? Throw it at her?”
“We reforge it,” answered the first, ignoring the jab. “Legend holds that Durin, father of the Dwarves, awoke to this world in Mount Gundabad. According to his people, Durin built his first forge within the mountain and there taught his children the craft of metal work. So we bring the shards of Wormsbane and find the First Forge.”
“This just gets better and better,” laughed the second. “First we find a broken sword, then we carry it into Dagnir’s lair to fix it, while she what – waits politely for us to reforge it? What if she finds us before we’re done? Let’s not forget about the Goblins in her service that still live in the mines!”
“These are the hazards in our path,” agreed the first, “and we will risk all of them to save Wilderland from Dagnir’s wrath.”
She looked at her disgruntled friend with compassion, but she spoke with determination: “You saw what she did to the Woodmen’s town at Hrogar’s Hill, and you know how much worse it might have been if we had not been there. We must endure whatever dangers lie in our path the prevent more suffering. We have the skill to repair Wormsbane and the courage to wield it. All that is left is to find Durin’s forge. Are you with me?”
“Aye, of course I’m coming with you. That’s why I dislike this plan so much!” laughed her companion. “Let’s not forget we still have to find Urdug’s secret entrance,” he added.
“I have not forgotten. Indeed, I believe I know where to look for it,” she answered, smiling at her friend. “You remember the Goblin’s account of how he escaped the Dragon? He used his secret route to escape Dagnir’s assault, and fled into the daylight – towards a rising sun. That means the hidden door is on the eastern face of the mountain. The door may be camouflaged but the path leading to it is not. No doubt Urdug and his Goblins left a trail in their hurry to escape.”
“Very well,” replied her friend, “then there is naught else for us to do but get on with this folly. Let us hurry before I regain my senses.”
With that the heroes resumed their march to Mount Gundabad.
Completed: The blade of Fram son of Frumgar bit deep into Dagnir’s chest and the Dragon bellowed in pain. Her roars shook the walls of the great hall, and her mighty tail smashed against a tall pillar, toppling it. As she thrashed about in her death throes, Wormsbane was wrested from the hero who dealt the final blow. Then, the giant Dragon toppled over the edge of a deep chasm and disappeared into utter darkness.
Dagnir the Terrible was dead and Wormsbane lost to the world forever, but all about the heroes lay the glittering treasure of Gundabad. Piles of gold were scattered here and there by the Dragon’s death spasms, and now the entire hall was lit by the sparkling reflection of torch-light on shimmering jewels. Such a wealth had not been imagined since Erebor was recovered from Smaug the Golden.
The companions clapped each other on their back and started rummaging through the treasure. One of them opened his travel pack and was stuffing as much gold as he could fit inside when his companion laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Easy friend,” spoke his companion. “Others need this gold more than we.”
“But surely there is enough for us as well?” complained the adventurer with a pack full of gold.
“Indeed,” answered his companion with a smile, “but let us learn from Fram’s example and not be greedy.”
The adventurer looked at the gold spilling out of his pack and sighed, “Aye. You’re right. The people of Hrogar’s Hill will need this wealth to rebuild their town.”
He stood and emptied the gold from his bag, when from outside they heard a horn blast. The heroes stopped what they were doing and listened. Another horn blast rang out.
“I know that horn,” said one of the heroes in a grim voice.
“Urdug,” said another.
They drew their weapons and rushed to the gate. A full moon was overhead, and below them they saw Urdug astride a mighty Warg blowing his horn. About him was a large force of Goblins making their way up the mountainside. Mount Gundabad was under siege.
The Fate of Wilderland
Start: Urdug had been busy since escaping his captors at Hrogar’s Hill. He had gathered the scattered host of Gundabad and led them back to the mountain, but it had taken some doing.
When Dagnir attacked the Woodmen’s town, it provided the Goblin chieftain with the perfect opportunity to slip his bonds and disappear. Killing his guards was just an added pleasure. He had endured too much humility at the hands of the heroes who forced him to march across Rhovanion on their quest, but the long journey had also given him the time to plot his revenge.
“If these heroes are so determined to slay Dagnir, then why not help them?” he had thought to himself. “And when the Dragon is dead, me and the lads will kill these fools and take back our home.” So he gave them the key to his secret entrance and told them the story of how he escaped through the eastern door when Dagnir first attacked Gundabad.
After he slipped the heroes at Hrogar’s Hill, he came upon two of his brethren fleeing the battle. He recognized them as traitors who chose to serve Dagnir after she usurped his place in Gundabad. He set upon them in a fury, killing one and holding the other at knife point. “Listen you maggot!” he snarled, “I ought to slit your throat like I did your traitor friend, but I need you to carry a message back to that den of gutless cowards back home: Dagnir’s days are numbered. A band of mighty warriors is on their way to Gundabad to slay her soon.”
“H-how do you know?” asked his captive.
“Because I’ve sent them, you worm!” snapped Urdug. “I’ve set things in motion to take back what’s mine, and anyone who gets in my way will end up like that.” He pointed to the Goblin corpse at his feet. “So run and tell those miserable lackeys that they better join with me when they hear my war-horn.”
After he let his messenger go, he traveled through the Grey Mountains on his way west, searching out the Goblins who fled that way when the Dragon came. By the time he reached Mount Gundabad, he already had a small army with him, but he was careful to stay out of sight until his spies returned with news of Dagnir’s demise.
“Har, har! I told you lads!” he laughed, “Just like I promised: Dagnir is dead and Gundabad is ours!”
And with that, he mounted his Warg and blew a loud blast on his war-horn. “Follow me, boys!” he cried as he rode toward Gundabad.
Inside the mountain, the heroes heard the sound and raced to see the approaching army. More Goblins were joining them from their hiding-holes; lackeys answering their master’s call.
There was little time for the heroes to organize a defense. They were outnumbered many times over, but among them was no thought of surrender; the Goblins would make cruel sport of any captives. Their only option was to fight. Urdug had the overwhelming force, but the heroes determined he would pay dearly for each life he took. And if the price proved too steep, there was a small hope that the Goblins would be dismayed and scatter. So it was with fierce war cries that Urdug and the heroes charged into battle.
Completed: The rocks about the gate were stained black with blood, and the slopes of Mount Gundabad were littered with the slain. Unbelievably, the heroes had prevailed in battle against the larger force of Goblins determined to retake the mountain. The battle had not gone well, but the Goblins’ battle lust wavered in the face of the heroes’ fierce defense. The companions fought like cornered beasts, thoughtless of their peril, almost savage in their desperation. The Goblins had never seen warriors like these, and it was only Urdug’s will that drove them on. When their chieftain was pulled down from his Warg and slain, the Goblins’ will broke and they scattered in fear.
“The day is ours!” shouted one of the heroes, and his companions cheered. They withdrew inside the gate and each slumped to the ground with exhaustion. The wealth of Gundabad lay before them, but any one of them would have traded it all for a cup of water and something to eat.
It had been a long road from the Iron Hills to Mount Gundabad, but Dagnir was dead and the Goblins were scattered. All that was left was to divide the treasure. Messengers were sent east to the Woodmen at Hrogar’s Hill, and from there further east to King Brand in Dale. Within a fortnight, the first troop of Woodmen arrived to help the heroes liberate the wealth of Gundabad.
The greater share of the treasure was given to the Master at Hrogar’s Hill to help rebuild the town. Yet much wealth was carried back to Dale with the heroes for their triumphant return. It was upon a fair spring day the heroes arrived in King Brand’s hall with an escort of the king’ s men and several large chests of gold.
King Brand stood and greeted the heroes, “Well met once again, my friends. All Wilderland sings of your deeds. Honored shall you ever be among my people. Come, sit at my table and enjoy the celebration.”
The heroes bowed, and one spoke, “Thank you, my lord. You give us great honor, but there is one thing that remains unsettled in Rhovanion.”
“Yes, indeed,” said Brand, Your friends, the Haradrim.”
He lifted his cup and spoke, “I swear to you, by this time next year they will be safely settled within my realm as honored friends.”
The hero bowed again and said, “Twice thanks, my lord. Then all is settled and we are content.’’
“All except for the growling of my stomach,’’ laughed another of the companions. “It is hard to endure the courtesies of court after a long journey when the smell of food fills my nose.”
The king laughed and said, “Well said! Please, sit and eat. This meal is in your honor. And when you have eaten your fill, I will hear the whole account of your adventures.”
The heroes enjoyed the greatest meal of their lives, sweetened with the success of their quest. They regaled the king’s court with the details of their journey: the Withered Heath, the colddrake, Urdug, Dagnir’s attack on Hrogar’s Hill, the ghost of Fram, Wormsbane, the Dragon’s death, and the battle of Mount Gundabad. “
“My friends,” said King Brand, “You have journeyed far and done much. Wilderland is in your debt. These deeds of yours will live forever in the songs of Dale.”
Then, to the lasting delight of the heroes, a minstrel was called forth to sing their tale. As they listened to the bard’s account of their deeds, they wondered at all they had accomplished.
No epilogue this time, so this is where we complete the cycle. It is just Vengeance of Mordor left, before we end this series. I hope you all liked me revisiting the cycles, though I will be doing some other things on the blog soon as well. I might also do an article covering the flavor text for each of the FFG created heroes, but only if people are interested in such an article.