We have arrived at the end of this series, with the ninth cycle of the game and the narrative that it tries to tell surrounding the nine quests of this cycle. This cycle even returns some characters from a previous cycle, so you better read up on their backstory before jumping into this one. With that said, it is time to explore the regions of Dorwinion, Rhûn, and Mordor!
The River Running
Start: It was late spring and the trees were already blossoming in Dale when envoys from Dorwinion arrived with an urgent message for King Brand. The city guard escorted the weary travelers to the great keep where they found the King holding court from upon his wooden throne. Citizens of Dale and nearby Lake-town were gathered there seeking audience, and a motley band of adventurers stood to one side observing what was said. The guards made their way through the crowd and brought the Dorwinions straight to the foot of Brand’s throne.
“Welcome friends,” said King Brand to the weary Dorwinions. “What brings you here in such haste?”
The Dorwinions bowed, and one of them said, “A great darkness has befallen our fair country, my lord.”
“People are missing,” said another. “Whole vineyards go untended in the countryside because the workers have disappeared. We fear what these things forebode, but we are helpless to forestall it; we have no warriors to protect us.”
“Alas, that I have none to send thee,” the King spoke sadly. “My country was this last winter beset by Orcs and Dragons, and we recover still. I’m afraid all my warriors are needed here.”
“Have you no one you can spare, my lord?” asked one of the Dorwinions.
“Indeed not,” was King Brand’s grave reply. “Though I wish that it were otherwise.”
“Then I fear that Dorwinion will be consumed by darkness,” lamented one of the messengers.
“Perhaps not,” spoke one of the adventurers who stood nearby. He motioned to his companions. “My friends and I have rested here long enough and we stand ready to aid your people.”
Walking forward to the foot of the throne, he knelt and continued: “We have enjoyed King Brand’s hospitality, and by his leave, we will journey to Dorwinion to confront the growing shadow there.”
The Dorwinions regarded the adventurer with surprise, but the King smiled and spoke. “My friend, this country owes you and your friends a debt that cannot be repaid. I could not ask you to undertake another journey into danger on my behalf. But since you do now volunteer, I am glad. I can think of no one better suited for this task. Go with my blessing and the goodwill of my people.”
The King ordered that a boat be provisioned for the long journey to Dorwinion, and an oarsman familiar with the southern passage of the River Running be assigned to bring the heroes there safely.
Once underway, the heroes learned much from the oarsman assigned to them by King Brand. His has named Rutland, and he was a seasoned boatsman who made his livelihood ferrying goods up and down the River Running. He told the heroes all he knew of Dorwinion and its surrounds as the current brought them ever closer.
“They’re a peaceful people – not much for fighting.” said Rutland. “They prefer making that famous wine of theirs. It’s powerful stuff, too. The Elves in Mirkwood can’t get enough of it. Last year I made enough gold from trading with them to buy this here boat.” He smiled proudly and patted the oar he was using to steer.
“Yep,” he continued. “We deal with all kinds: Dorwinions, Elves, Easterlings, and now them Haradrim you brought this spring.”
“What dealings do you have with Easterlings?” asked one of the heroes.
“Just a little trade,” said the oarsman. “Some of their merchants set up camp just north of Dorwinion on the eastern shore of the river. We like to stop there on our way to and from the Sea of Rhûn to swap goods and news. They’re honest people, even if they seem strange to us.”
“That is surprising news,” said the hero with wonder. “We thought all Easterlings were our enemies and hated the West.”
“I wouldn’t be too quick to guess what all Easterlings think of the West or anything else, “chuckled Rutland. “They come in all different kinds, just like you and me. I expect most of them would rather live with their neighbors than kill them, though sure enough there are some who want blood. But they spend a fair bit of time fighting amongst themselves from what I hear. Matter of fact, the merchants we trade with on the river mentioned once how they were threatened themselves. Seems some cadre of warriors didn’t approve of them doing business with us.”
“I should like to meet these merchants,” said the hero. “I have never spoken with an Easterling before.”
“You’ll get your chance soon enough,” said Rutland, “We camp there tonight.”
That evening, just before dusk, the oarsman landed their boat on the eastern shore and led them to the merchants’ camp. The Easterlings there greeted the Lakeman like an old friend, and they welcomed the adventurers to join them by their fire. As the sun went down, news and drinks passed freely between them, and before long, there was merry laughter too. The heroes were enjoying the hospitality of their hosts when there was a terrible cry, and out of the night charged Easterling warriors brandishing torches. They set fire to the huts and threw their torches in Rutland’s boat. The oarsman cried out in terror and was struck down alongside his merchant friend. There was no time to organize a defense and the heroes had no choice but to flee, so they lifted their injured friend and carried him away into the dark night.
Completion: The heroes scrambled up the steep embankment on the western shore of the River Running. Their feet slipped on the loose rocks and their tired legs screamed with pain, yet they toiled on, determined to reach the summit and escape from the valley below. When they reached the top, a wide plain opened before them, and they collapsed from exhaustion.
After they caught their breath, the heroes crawled back to the edge of the ravine and looked over the river they had just crossed. Below, upon the eastern shore they saw the Easterling warriors who had pursued them. They appeared to be debating with each other. Some pointed across the river in the direction the heroes had fled while others shook their heads and raised their fists. For a tense moment the heroes feared that these fierce warriors would ford the river and continue the chase, but to their great wonder, the Easterlings instead turned their horses east and rode away.
“Why do they leave?” asked one of the heroes in disbelief.
“Can’t say,” answered Rutland in a pained voice. He coughed and clutched his side.
“Your wound needs attention,” said the hero, looking at the injured Lakeman with concern.
“Aye,” groaned Rutland. “I’ve a friend in the city of Dorwinion who can patch me up. Name’s Niena. Her husband, Torwald, is a cousin of mine. If you can help me there, they’ll take care of me.”
“Of course,” said the hero, helping Rutland to his feet. “Our quest is to answer Dorwinion’s call for help. We should not rest again until we reach the city.”
Danger in Dorwinion
Start: Built upon the shore of the Sea of Rhûn, the capital of Dorwinion was at most times a cacophony of trade: The docks were lined with boats from Lake-town, hired hands loaded and unloaded cargo, and mules brayed loudly as they pulled heavy carts to and fro. Shouting could also be heard from the merchant district as sellers peddled their wares to the crowds of people who passed between their stands.
But not this day. When the heroes had arrived in Dorwinion, they found the capital a much quieter place. A shadow of fear hung over the city. People spoke in hushed tones, if they spoke at all. Most of the Dorwinions they met on the street did not greet them but rather looked down and walked faster. Nearly every home and shop around them was shut tight with windows shuttered.
Rutland guided them to the home of his cousin, and there a woman motioned for them to come inside. After the heroes entered her home, she glanced outside before closing the door.
“Rutland!” she exclaimed and hugged the Lakeman. When she saw that her embrace pained him, she looked him over with concern, and asked, “What happened to you?”
“I was injured by Easterling raiders when they attacked the merchant camp,” answered Rutland. “There brave companions rescued me.” He motioned to the heroes.
Their host bowed and said, “Welcome. I am Niena.”
“What troubles this place, Niena?” asked one of the heroes.
“A hidden evil afflicts our city,” she answered softly. “Each night people disappear, but no one will speak of it. Those who did have gone missing themselves. Now everyone looks suspiciously at their neighbors. We are prisoners to our fear.”
“Do you know who might be responsible?” asked the hero.
Niena looked nervously at the door. “There are rumors,” she said. “Some say a cult has taken root here in secret, and they are behind the abductions.”
“Can you tell us more about this cult?” the hero asked. “Who are they? Where do they meet?”
“I know not,” answered Niena. “It is only a rumor. Nobody will speak of it openly, so nothing is known. Please, help my city! My husband, Torwald, was one of those who tried uncover the truth, and he has been gone for weeks now. I fear that he is dead, but I need to know. Will you not help?”
“We will,” declared the hero. He stood and walked toward the door. Then turning he said, “We will discover the truth behind these disappearances, and unmask this cult if they are responsible. And if we cannot find your husband, then we shall avenge him.”
Completion: “Wroth am I to discover that Dorwinions did willingly consort with the agents of Mordor to terrorize their own countrymen,” growled one of the heroes. She stood over the body of her fallen enemy – the leader of the cult responsible for abducting Dorwinions and nearly subduing the country through fear.
“Yet treachery had ever been the Enemy’s favorite weapon, and greed and corruption his best allies,” replied her companion.
“I know it has always been thus,” she consented. “But it does not lessen the sting of betrayal.”
“That is true,” her friend agreed. “Yet my immediate concern is given to the missing Dorwinions: Where are they? We have searched out every secret meeting place in this city and still not found them.”
“You there!” said the hero, pointing at an injured cultist with her sword. “Where have you taken them? Speak quickly!”
The cultist clutched his wounded arm and looked wide-eyed at the bloodied sword mere inches from his face. “I – I don’t know!” he stammered.
“You lie!” shouted the hero. The cultist saw a raging fire in her eyes and tried to squirm away from her sword, but the wall was behind him and there was nowhere to go. He raised his good hand and said, “I don’t know where it is.”
“Where what is?”
“The temple!” said the cultist. “The temple where they’ve taken the captives. It’s somewhere in the Hills of Rhûn, but I don’t know where.”
“How did you learn of this temple? Who told you?”
“No one told me. I overheard that one there talking to his boss about it.” The cultist motioned to the dead body at the hero’s feet.
“So, our defeated foe was himself a servant,” remarked the hero’s companion. “Then the real danger is in the Hills of Rhûn, and our work in Dorwinion remains unfinished.”
“Indeed,” agreed the hero as she wiped the blood from her sword. “Let us hand this cultist over the local authorities and go ourselves in search of this temple.”
The Temple of Doom
Start: It took the heroes several days to reach the Hills of Rhûn, and several more before they found a narrow path that wound between the ridges and gorges of the hills. On the path were the unmistakable signs of captives being led upwards, so the heroes followed the trail with redoubled speed and vigil until at last they found what they sought: A mighty temple carved directly into a sheet rockface.
The entrance to the temple was like the gaping maw of a ravenous, and the jagged pillars that flanked either side left no doubt in the heroes’ minds: this was a temple built to Sauron during the dark years of His reign over Middle-earth when the Elves and Númenóreans abandoned the lands east of the Anduin to His rule. Rumors of dark rituals and dreadful sacrifices came to the West out of those years, but never any witnesses. When the Dark Lord was overthrown by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, those who worshipped Sauron fled the wrath of the West, and they hid themselves in dark places where the High-elves and Sea-kings did not go.
But when the power of Mordor arose once more, those who still worshipped the dark were drawn back to the land of shadow, and there Sauron filled them with terrible malice and vengeance against the West. He sent them abroad to lands such as Dorwinion to plant fear and sow dissent in the hearts of those who might oppose Him. They went here and there whispering shade in the ears of the unwise. Some they won to their cause with promises of power; others they subdued with threats of violence. In time, they had won nearly all the lands of Rhûn to their Master’s will.
All the while, they met in secret to worship their Dark Lord and offer up sacrifices to hasten the day of His wrath. So it was that the heroes found the entrance to the temple guarded. A foul reek issued from it.
“We cannot enter this way undetected,” whispered one hero to another. “If we charge the guards, they will surely alert those inside, and the captives’ lives will be forfeit.”
“Agreed,” said the other. “We must search about for another way in and enter secretly. A temple this size must have more than one opening.”
Just then a horrible scream echoed out from the temple’s black gate.
“We must move quickly, or the Dorwinions will die regardless,” urged the first hero. “See how the sky darkens above? Evil things take place within.”
“It is the work of Mordor,” agreed the second. “Come, we must search for another entrance.”
They withdrew from the main gate and climbed down the side of the hill that sloped out of the guards’ view. There they found a low cave that led to a deeper tunnel. They lit torches and followed the tunnel as it wound its way beneath the temple of Sauron.
Completion: The heroes fought their way past savage Easterling warriors to reach the stone altar just in time to stop a dark figure from plunging his dagger into the heart of a helpless Dorwinion man. The man with the dagger recoiled and hissed at the heroes, “Curse you! Not again!”
His face was scarred and twisted into a hideous fit of rage. The heroes froze when they saw it clearly for the first time.
The man laughed, and the noise of it was mocking and cruel. “Yes, I was Alcaron,” he said, “until you left me for dead in the Morgul Vale. I should have died, but the Nazgûl would not let me. By their craft, I have been restored. No longer do I hide behind the mantle of Alcaron. You face Ulchor, Thane of Nurn and servant of Sauron. I will have my vengeance upon you!”
Ulchor raised his hand as if to strike, but instead there was a rush of wind and every torch in the room blew out. Smoke and darkness consumed the temple chamber. The heroes circled with their backs to one another in order to ward off any attack, but no blow was struck.
After a few tense moments, one of the heroes spoke: “He has fled.”
“Shall we give chase?” asked.
“No,” replied the first. “The Dorwinions here need our help. We must see to their safe return before we give thought to Thane Ulchor.”
“Very well, ” he replied. “Let us start with this poor fellow on the altar. Can someone light a torch?”
Several torches were lit. The heroes gathered together all the survivor and led them out of the hideous temple. The man they rescued from the altar turned out to be none other than Niena’s husband, Torwald. When he heard that his wife was safe and anxiously awaiting his return, he wept and thanked the heroes many times.
There were more joyful tears and heartfelt thanks when the heroes arrived in Dorwinion a week later with their rescued captives. Doors and windows were flung open, and the people rushed out to be reunited with their loved ones. As husbands, wives, parents and children embraced again for the first time in months, the dark clouds over Dorwinion were dispersed and the sun shone clear again. But in the hearts of the heroes there lingered a shadow of doom: Ulchor had escaped after swearing vengeance upon them, and he had displayed new powers of sorcery in the temple. He was too dangerous to be allowed to roam freely. The heroes would have to seek him out in order to finish the job they started years ago.
Wrath and Ruin
Start: The land of Dorwinion seemed both bright and beautiful now that the shadow of Mordor had been driven back. A light breeze tickled the leaves on the trees, and sunlight danced on the waves that rolled in from the Sea of Rhûn as the heroes strolled through the land that they had rescued from darkness.
It had been a month since the heroes returned to Dorwinion with the captives they had rescued from the Temple of Sauron. They had not planned to stay for so long, but the people of Dorwinion insisted that the heroes rest and enjoy their hospitality after doing so much for their country. They stayed in the home of Niena and her husband, Torwald, whose life they had saved in that hideous temple.
The heroes insisted that they should pay their hosts for their lodging, but Niena would hear none of it. “My husband would have died if not for you,” she said. “It is the same for every family in the city, so it is our honor to have you here.” The heroes relented and expressed their thanks for her generosity.
In their hearts, the companions were glad that they were able to bring peace to Dorwinion after her people had endured such hardship, but in their thoughts there lingered still a shadow that distrubed their peace: Ulchor. Deadly servant of Sauron and the one responsible for the recent suffering of Dorwinion, whom the heroes thought died at their hands several years ago. At that time, they knew him as Lord Alcaron, a Gondorian nobleman. But he was revealed to be a Black Númenórian and a traitor, whose machinations nearly led to their deaths in the Morgul Vale.
It was believed that Lord Alcaron had died in that evil place; the heroes had just defeated him when he revealed his true name and allegiance to Mordor.
They were shocked to discover him in the Temple of Sauron, alive and empowered. Ulchor had used their momentary confusion to make his escape, and had promised dark vengeance upon them. This, the heroes knew, was not idle talk, so they had resolved to pursue him when they were rested.
“Then it is agreed,” spoke one of the heroes. “Tomorrow we begin the hunt for Thane Ulchor.”
“Aye,” said another. “I fear we have already waited overlong to begin the chase, but I doubt not that we will find him in time.”
“Very well. Then let us enjoy the hospitality of Dorwinion one more night before setting out in the morning.”
The heroes were soon comfortably asleep in the house of Niena, but in the dark of night they were woken by shouts and the frantic ringing of bells. From outside the house, they heard the ring of steel and the sound of fighting in the streets. They rushed outside to find an army of Easterlings invading the city, and at its head was a familiar man. Ulchor had come to them.
Completion: As the sun rose over the city of Dorwinion the next morning, black smoke rose to meet it. Many hands still struggled to put out fires, while others tended to the wounded. The weary heroes rested near the burned out ruins of Niena’s house. They had returned too late to have her and Torwald from the Easterlings.
It had been a devastating battle. Several of Ulchor’s spies still hiding in Dorwinion had slain the city guards and opened the gate to let his army inside the walls. It wasn’t until after the city was nearly overrun that the heroes knew they were under attack. Against all odds, they were able to rally the Dorwinions and beat back Ulchor’s army, driving them from the city. There was great loss on both sides, and as the rising sun revealed the extent of the devastation, the heroes felt it was a pyrrhic victory at best.
At first, they sat in silence; either too tired, or too grieved to speak. Many of the people they had saved from the temple of Sauron now lay dead in the streets, or in the blackened ruins of their homes. The companions sat there brooding about the cruelty of it all until one of them finally spoke:
“Vengeance,” he said. “Vengeance I swear upon Ulchor. Vengeance for the people of Dorwinion. I will not rest until I find him and avenge the people he has slain.”
The others looked up to see the grim determination on their companion’s face. He rose to his feet and extended his hand, “Are you with me?”
One by one, they took his hand and rose to their feet, and with oaths they swore vengeance upon Ulchor.
“Oaths ye have sworn,” said their leader. “Let us leave now to fulfill them. Pack quickly! Our enemy flies east toward the city of Ulfast.”
The City of Ulfast
Start: On the sourthern shore of the Sea of Rhûn, a tall man knelt down next to his horse to examine the ground.
“Here is the trail we seek,” he proclaimed to his mounted companions, pointing to the obvious trampling of booted feet in the soft earth. “See how it hugs the shore? Just as I thought it would.”
“How did you know that Ulchor would travel East and not South towards Mordor?” asked one of the companions as the tall man mounted his horse.
“That was not an army of Orcs he led into Dorwinion, but Easterlings,” answered the man. “And their armor bore the sigil of Ulfast, their King. I suspect that Ulchor went to Ulfast after we drove him from the Hills of Rhûn and demanded that the King provide him with an army in the name of Mordor.”
“How do you think the King will respond when Ulchor returns with only a remnant of his army?”
“He will be furious, I am sure,” replied the man. “But he dare not rebuke an emissary of the Dark Lord. In the past, the Easterlings worshipped Sauron as The Lord of Middle-earth. You saw evidence of that in the temple they built. Even if they no longer worship him, the Easterlings fear the power of Mordor too much to refuse Ulchor.”
“Then how will we reach Ulchor if he has the King’s support?”
“Ulfast is a big city, somewhat akin to Pelargir. The Easterlings conduct trade with ships sailing down the Sea of Rhûn, so foreigners are not uncommon there. If we sneak in by night, we should be able to blend in and search for Ulchor discretely.”
“Then let us ride straightway for Ulfast. The blood of Dorwinion yet cries for justice, and I would see it done.”
Completion: The heroes were disarmed and led to the throne room of King Ulfast. There they saw the king, a strong man with discerning gaze. About him were his palace guards. Upon his head was a golden crown, and on his lap rested the Sceptre of Ulfast. From his high seat upon the dais, the Easterling king looked down upon them and studied them thoughtfully. Standing next to the King with his hand upon the back of the throne was the Black Númenórean, Ulchor. His guards also stood nearby.
The Thane of Nurn smiled cruelly at the heroes. They had come to Ulfast to capture him, but had ended up being captured themselves. Just as Ulchor had intended it when he alerted the King to their presence in the city.
“You see, your majesty,” said Ulchor pointing at the companions, “Here is your true enemy. They have violated your law by trespassing in your city, and they have broken your peace by fighting with your city guard. They are thieves and killers. You should deal with them accordingly.”
The King stroked his beard thoughtfully as he listened to all Ulchor had to say. Then he motioned to the heroes and said, “What have you to say in your defence?”
One of the heroes stepped forward and answered, “Great King. It is true that we did come to your city uninvited, but we beg you, please: hear our full tale before passing judgement. We did not make the long journey here to do you harm, but to seek justice for those lost in Dorwinion and to rescue Ulfast from the yoke of Mordor.”
Ulchor laughed. “Yoke! What yoke? Mordor has ever been a friend and ally to you, King Ulfast,” he said. “Sauron the Great has…”
“Sauron the Deceiver has no friends or allies,” proclaimed the hero, interrupting Ulchor. “The Dark Lord seeks dominion over all of Middle-earth, East and West alike. To him we are all but pawns to be used or destroyed as he sees fit. Tell me Great King, would you see more of your soldiers die needlessly fighting his wars?”
The king pondered these words silently, but Ulchor glowered and said to the king. “My lord, do not let these liars deceive you. Have them taken away.”
“No,” said the king, stroking his beard. “I will hear their tale first.”
“But you cannot listen to them!” urged Ulchor.
The king looked sharply at him and said, “You do not rule here. I am king of Ulfast, and I will decide what can or cannot be done regarding those under my rule.”
Ulchor recoiled, releasing his grip on the throne. His face was twisted with terrible wrath. “You rule only by the will of Sauron,” he hissed. Then, he gave his guards a look and shouted, “As the Dark Lord gives, he can also take away!” Ulchor’s men drew their weapons and attacked the palace guards.
The throne room erupted into a fierce melee. Ulfast’s guards rushed to the throne to protect their king, but many were cut down by Ulchor’s men. The heroes lifted the weapons of the fallen and joined the fray with shouts of “Dorwinion!” At their coming, Ulchor retreated, and they pursued him into the courtyard. But they were stopped by more of Ulfast’s guards who knew nothing of what had happened inside. The heroes threw down their weapons at spearpoint and watched helplessly as Ulchor and his men galloped away on horseback.
Moments later, they were brought back to the throne room where King Ulfast addressed them once more. “You came to my city seeking vengeance on Ulchor. Now it seems your goal and mine are the same. But I cannot move openly against Mordor. Here, then, is my judgement: For saving my life just now, I will spare yours, so long as you pursue the traitor Ulchor. Bring him to justice, and you shall have the friendship of Ulfast.”
The heroes bowed low, and thanked the king. Ulfast returned to them their weapons and gear, and also furnished them with fresh horses and supplies. Then, they set out once more in pursuit of Ulchor.
The Challenge of the Wainriders
Start: The heroes followed Ulchor’s trail from the city of Ulfast south across the expanse of Rhûn. It seemed clear to them that the villain now inteded to return to his province of Nurn, in the land of Mordor. The heroes rode hard in the hope that they might overtake him before he reached the Black Land.
At first their pursuit was aided by good weather and a clear trail, but fortune turned against them when they came upon a camp of Wainriders. These were a nomadic band of Easterlings who roamed about Rhûn in great wains. They valued their freedom too much to swear allegiance to Sauron, but they were no friends to the West either. When they saw the heroes approaching on horseback, they mounted their horses and quickly encircled the heroes.
Seeing that escape was impossible, the heroes raised their hands in surrender. They did not wish to fight the Wainriders, especially when they were so badly outnumbered. They were taken as prisoners and brought to the Wainrider camp. There, the heroes were questioned about where they came from and where they were going by the Wainrider’s chieftain. When they told the Wainriders about their quest to capture Thane Ulchor, their captors laughed and said, “Yes, we know that one! He was here just before you. He threatened us by the power of Mordor if we did not let him go, and he promised us gold if we killed any who followed him.”
“Did he give you any gold?” asked one of the heroes.
“No,” laughed the Wainrider chieftain, “Only threats and promises.”
“Such is the way of Mordor, my friend. But it is not our way,” said the hero. “We will pay you with the gold that we have with us if you will let us be on our way. No idle threats or empty promises.”
The chieftain laughed again. He leaned forward to tell the hero, “If we wanted your gold, we could just take it.” Then, he leaned back and motioned to the others around him, “But we are not thieves or murderers. That is not our way. We are riders and chariot racers! Our way is the wind in our hair and the earth rushing beneath us.” The others around him cheered and whooped until he motioned them to stop. “Can you drive a chariot?” he asked the hero.
The hero considered his answer and said, “Yes.”
“Good!” smiled the chieftain. “Then this is what we will do: we will have a chariot race. If you can beat our champion, then you may keep your gold and be on your way. But if our champion wins, we will deliver you to Ulchor.”
Completion: The chariot race was more like a battle than a sporting event. At first, the heroes were unprepared for the ferocity of the Wainriders’ racing skills, but what they lacked in experience they quickly made up for with daring. They drove harder over each rise and around each turn, until they overtook the Wainrider champion and finished in first place.
After they crossed the finish line, the heroes were greeted warmly by the Wainrider camp. “Well done! Well done!” they cheered, and clapped them on their backs. “We didn’t know Westerners could ride like that! We will tell stories of this race for years to come. Well done indeed!”
“Then we are free to go?” asked one of the heroes.
“Yes, yes,” answered the Wainrider chieftain. “You have won your freedom. Go with good hearts.”
“Thank you,” said the hero.
“But,” added the chieftain, “if you still mean to find Ulchor, you will need our help.”
“How is that?’ asked the hero.
“Ulchor has gone back to Mordor,” the Wainrider explained. “You cannot follow him there without being captured again; this time not by Wainriders but by Orcs. There is no hope for you that way.”
“But we have sworn to deliver justice to Ulchor,” replied the hero. “We cannot turn back now.”
“You misunderstand,” said the Wainrider. “You don’t turn back now. There is another way under the Ash Mountains. We can lead you to the entrance for the gold that you have.”
The hero studied the Wainrider’s face for a moment, then, offering his hand he said, “Agreed.”
That night the Wainriders held a feast to honor the heroes and celebrate the race they had won. The next morning, the heroes mounted their horses along with a couple of Wainriders who would guide them to the tunnel entrance.
Under the Ash Mountains
Start: It had been two days since the heroes left the Wainrider camp and headed south toward Mordor. The first day of their journey was spent trading stories with their guides as they followed them across the plains. They learned much about the Wainriders and how they had come to roam the open lands of Rhûn.
The second day was different. As they drew nearer to the northern fences of Mordor, the ground became hard and the sky above them grew dark. A dreadful stillness was on the land. They rode in silence, looking anxiously about them like hunted beasts that fear an attack. But they saw nothing in that barren waste except the black wall of the Ash Mountains looming ever higher before them.
When they reached the foothills of those mountains, they stopped next to a wide, washed-out basin. The Wainriders refused to go any further. The heroes were dismayed by this, but there was nothing they could say that would convince their guides to climb with them.
“How will we find the tunnel entrance without your help?” asked one of the heroes.
“Follow this river-bed,” answered the Wainriders. “It winds up a narrow ravine. The cave entrance is at the top.” Then, they turned their horses and galloped north as if the host of Mordor was after them.
The heroes looked at each other doubtfully. They dismounted, shouldering their bags, and began to climb. When they came out of the ravine, midway up the northern face of the Ash Mountains, they found the cave entrance just as the Wainriders described it.
“This must be it,” said one of the companions.
“I don’t like the look of it,” added another, trying to peer into the darkness.
“I don’t like the smell of it,” said a third, wrinkling his nose. A foul air wafted out of the cavern entrance.
“This is an evil place, but our quest lies beyond it.” said the first. “Will any of us shrink back now?”
The others shook their heads.
“Very well. Safeguard your rations. We are unlikely to find any provisions within, and who knows what waits for us on the other side!”
Once again, the heroes shouldered their packs. Then they lit torches and entered the dark passage beneath the Ered Lithui.
Completion: It was late afternoon when the heroes emerged from the dark tunnels of Torech Gorgor on the southern slopes of the Ash Mountains. They squinted and blinked as their eyes grew accustomed to the light. It had been days since they had seen the sun. Indeed, deep within the gloomy bowels of the Ered Lithui, they had doubted if they would ever see the sky again, but they had soldiered on until at last they found their way into the land of Mordor.
It was hardly what they expected. Before them lay a wide green land of rolling hills and grassy fields; a far cry from the smoke and ash that they had expected. Each of the heroes had heard stories of The Black Land and the Mountain of Fire, so they expected that all of Mordor would fit that description. Yet, if they had thought about it, Sauron could not feed his soldiers with ash or give them fire to drink – even Orcs need food and water. It was necessary that part of the Enemy’s domain should be fertile for producing those things, and it was here in the province of Nurn that The Dark Lord harvested what he needed to provision his armies.
This was also the province ruled over by Thane Ulchor. He it was that the heroes had journeyed into this land to find. As their eyes adjusted to the light, the companions began to make their way down the foothills of the Ash Mountains. They moved as quietly as they could, unwilling to let the scenic landscape lull them into a false sense of safety. They knew that regardless if the land was black or green, this was Mordor. They were in the Enemy’s territory now.
The Land of Sorrow
Start: After descending from the southern fences of the Ered Lithui, the heroes headed south towards the Sea of Núrnen where they knew they would find Ulchor’s fortress upon the northern shore. They had learned this much from the King of Ulfast, who was eager to have his revenge upon the Thane of Nurn. He told them to follow the river that flowed south from the Ash Mountains, which would lead them to Ulchor’s fortress of Dol Rhugar.
Dol Rhugar was the capital city of Nurn. From there Thane Ulchor ruled over that land, but it was not Ulchor who built the city. The fortress was built by the Númenóreans during the Watchful Peace, after The Last Alliance of Elves and Men overthrew Sauron. They built a tower of guard to keep watch over the eastern border of Mordor, and a city grew up around it. Minas Fuin it was called in those days, and those that lived there were not without gladness, for the land of Nurn prospered under Númenórean rule.
But those days were long passed. When the Númenórean race declined and Sauron again rose to power, those who had worshipped him in secret came forth to declare themselves. Among them were Ulchor’s ancestors, who helped to overthrow the last remnants of Númenórean forces in Nurn. As a reward for their fealty, The Dark Lord granted the land of Nurn to Ulchor’s family and bestowed upon them the title of Thane. But in return, Sauron demanded provisions for his armies in the region of Gorgoroth, where nothing grew.
So it was that as the heroes drew near to the sea of Núrnen, they encountered the slave-worked fields that surrounded Dol Rhugar, and they saw The Dark Lord’s prisoners being made to harvest crops and raise livestock to feed his vast armies. There were Elves, Dwarves, and men dressed only in rags and bent with hard labor. Stern Easterlings moved among them and drove them harder still with their cruel whips.
The heroes watched all this from the shelter of a low hill overlooking the fields. There they debated what should be done.
“We much help these people!” declared one, struggling to keep her voice down.
“But what of our quest to find Ulchor?” asked her companion. “If we intervene here, he will surely be alerted to our presence.”
“Aye,” voiced another. “Then how shall we fulfill our oaths of vengeance upon him?”
“We swore an oath to avenge the people of Dorwinion,” answered the first, “but they are gone, and fulfilling it will not bring them back. These people,” she said, pointing at the fields, “are alive and need our help. We cannot overlook the living to avenge the dead.”
There was silence as the others contemplated her words. Then, at last, one of her companions spoke. “I began this quest to see Ulchor pay for his crimes: to avenge the deaths of Niena, Torwald, and the rest. But we all know that if Niena could speak to us now, she would tell us not to worry about her when there are others in need.”
The others looked up at this, and they were surprised to see they were smiling at her memory, and that of her husband Torwald.
“It is agreed then?” asked the first.
“Yes,” said her companion, drawing his weapon. “We will set upon these Easterling slavers and release their captives.”
The other heroes nodded and did the same. Then, the first raised her sword and cried aloud, “For Niena!” and charged into battle.
Completion: The Easterlings were wholly unprepared for the heroes’ sudden attack; they though themselves safe from all harm here in the land of Mordor. The heroes used this to their advantage when they launched their assault. Though the Easterlings far outnumbered them, they were used to whipping prisoners and shooting escapees – they could not match the ferocity of the heroes’ attack, or stand before their wrath. Those that didn’t die dropped their weapons and fled back to Dol Rhugar.
Once the fighting was done, the prisoners rallied around the heroes, who had unlocked their chains with keys taken from fallen guards. Former slaves rubbed their wrists and ankles as they looked around themselves in disbelief. none of them could have ever imagined that help would reach them all the way in Mordor.
“Thank ye, lads,” said an elderly Dwarf named Farin. Years of captivity had nearly broken his pride, but when the fighting started he was one of the first to lift a weapon and join in. “I never though I’d get the chance to make these slavers pay.”
“Yes, thank you!” spoke an Elf. His name was Edrahil. “I was captured at Amon Lanc and brought here. it has been so long since I have seen the forest that I was nearly lost to despair. Did my lord Thranduil send you?”
“Nay,” said one of the heroes. “We have come to Mordor seeking vengeance against the Thane of Nurn for his crimes against Dorwinion. We knew nothing of your captivity until we came upon you just now.”
“You are too few to assault the Thane’s stronghold of Dol Rhugar,” said a Gondorian man named Arador. He had fought valiantly alongside the heroes once the battle began.
“We had not planned to lay siege to his fortress when we first pursued Ulchor,” said one of the heroes. “Out plan was to come upon him unlooked for in the land where he felt safest and least expected an attack. But all of that changed when we found you.”
“We are grateful for your intervention,” said Edrahil. “But it will count for naught if Ulchor is not defeated. Otherwise, he will surely gather his army and hunt us down.”
“Aye,” said Farin. “He would not be named Thane of Nurn for long if Sauron learned that he had let his prisoners escape. He’ll come for us, alright.”
“Then we must get you to safety!” urged one of the heroes, feeling responsible for the fate of these people.
“There is no safety in Mordor,” replied Arador. “There is only one thing we can do: attack Dol Rhugar.”
“What?” said Farin in disbelief. “Are you mad?”
“No,” answered Arador. “Ulchor will expect us to run. He will not expect us to marshal our forces for an assault.”
“That’s because it is folly,” urged Edrahil. “Even if we all had weapons and armor, we’d still have no way to breach the walls of Dol Rhugar.”
“But we do,” said Arador. “There are other prisoners within the city: slaves who are made to serve Ulchor and his lieutenants. I used to be one of them until I was sent to the fields for displeasuring my master. While I was working in the city, I discovered a secret entrance long forgotten by the people there. I can use it to enter the city at night while you gather your forces nearby. Once inside, I will find others to help me open the gate and signal you to attack. We can be inside the city before the alarm goes up.”
Farin grinned. “I’m beginning to like this plan,” he said.
“But what do we hope to accomplish once inside?” asked Edrahil.
Arador motioned to the heroes and replied, “These brave companions showed us what only a few can achieve with surprise and determination on their side,” He looked around at all of the freed captives gathered around them, and said, “Just imagine what all of us together can achieve.”
Edrahil smiled and nodded.
Farin laughed again and said, “Then let’s get moving. It will be dark soon.”
The Fortress of Nurn
Start: The heroes were huddled behind a low hill less than a mile from the gate of Dol Rhugar. Gathered about them were the prisoners they had rescued from the slave-fields that surrounded the fortress. They were waiting under the cover of night for the signal to attack. The Gondorian, Arador, had come up with a plan to infiltrate the city. He took with him Edrahil the Elf and Farin the Dwarf. The three of them were going to rally the captives inside the city in order to open the gate. A single, long horn blast would be their signal to begin the full attack.
As the heroes waited for the signal, they reflected on the string of chances that had led them to this moment. “I feel as if some fate has brought us to this place,” said one of the heroes looking at his companions. “How else could we possibly have gathered an army just outside Ulchor’s fortress, deep in Mordor, ready to launch a surprise attack?”
“It is a wonderous turn of events,” replied another hero. “Perhaps it is the Valar who have guided us here?”
“I cannot say what is the will of the Valar, though I welcome their aid,” said another. “What I know is this: Ulchor is a traitor and a murderer. He should have been dealt with years ago in the Morgul Vale, but it seems the evil that is in that land has also the power to restore the flesh.”
“No doubt the process caused him great agony,” murmured another. “The ways of the Dark Lord are never kind, and powerful sorcery comes at a price. Ulchor has indeed grown more powerful, but madness seems to have nearly taken him as a result. How else could he have acted so brashly in the court of King Ulfast? He had but to mask his contempt for a minute, and victory might have been his.”
“The wrath of the Enemy has often been our unwitting ally through the long years,” agreed one of the companions. “The desire for vengeance has often overruled wise counsel.”
There was a short pause as each of the heroes considered their own motives, and then one of them spoke, “After Dorwinion was attacked, I swore an oath of vengeance to channel my grief and focus my rage. That oath nearly led me to overlook those who are gathered with us now. ” He bowed his head with shame.
“We all swore the same oath,” said another, placing her hand on his shoulder. “We are all in this together, but let us now amend our oath to seek justice rather than revenge.”
The man looked up at her and answered, “Aye, I swear by the Valar that when the gate of Dol Rhugar opens, I will bring justice to Ulchor or die in the attempt.”
All the heroes swore likewise. Then there came a change in the wind, and a breeze coming up from the south carrying the salty tang of the sea. Their spirits were lifted by the smell, and their limbs strengthened. They looked up and saw the stars piercing the darkness like bright lances.
There was another breeze, and this time it carried the sound of a long horn-cry.
Completion: Ulchor winced in pain as he fell back onto his throne. His sword clattered onto the floor when it fell from his hand. He groaned and clutched his side. “Ahhhhh, curse you interlopers! Curse you to death and darkness!”
The heroes looked at their defeated foe with grim faces, and their hands gripped the hits of their weapons with white knuckles. Yet none of them moved.
“What is justice for this fiend?” asked one of the heroes, pointing at Ulchor with his sword. “Death he has earned – and worse. Yet I hesitate to strike a defeated foe.”
“Ha, ha, ha, ha!” laughed Ulchor, and he spat blood at the hero. “You followed me all this way, only to waver at the end.”
Ulchor looked at the heroes gathered around him with the wild eyes of a cornered animal, and he shouted, “You’re all cowards! Run back to whatever lands you crawled out of and cower. The Dark Lord will find you!”
One hero sheathed his sword and leaned close to Ulchor to say, “Each of us knows that Sauron seeks dominion over all Middle-earth, but he will come for you long before he finds us.”
Ulchor’s eyes went wide and he shook violently even as he glared at the hero.
“Yes,” said another hero sheathing her blade as well, “I imagine your Dark Lord looks unfavorably upon defeat,” She smiled and said to Ulchor, “What do you think your Master will do when He learns that you lost your fortress and allowed your slaves to escape?”
Ulchor moved his mouth, but no sound came out. The once-proud sorcerer was now reduced to a feeble man slumped on his chair. One by one, each of the heroes sheathed their weapons and turned to leave.
Outside the throne room, the sounds of battle had quieted. News of Ulchor’s defeat spread quickly though Dol Rhugar, and his servants lost their will to fight, throwing down their weapons and fleeing into the night.
But there was no time for the heroes or their companions to celebrate; they reasoned it would only be one day before The Dark Tower was alerted to the fall of Dol Rhugar. It would take perhaps two more days after that for the soldiers of Mordor to arrive and retake the fortress. By that time, the heroes planned to be in Rhûn.
They disguised themselves in the armor of the soldiers of Nurn, and they loaded the rescued captives into the caged wagons used by the Easterlings to trade slaves. So it was that after several days of hard riding, they finally arrived at the City of Ulfast with news of Ulchor’s defeat.
The King bellowed with laughter when he heard of all that happened. “With an army of slaves you bested the Thane of Nurn in his own castle? What a triumph!” He clapped his hands and roared to his servants, “Prepare a table for my guests. We must celebrate!”
That evening at the King’s table, the King of Ulfast raised his glass in a toast to the heroes: “To our intrepid guests! For helping us to cast off the yoke of Mordor, you have earned the friendship of Ulfast. May songs of your deeds be sung in every corner of Middle-earth!”
The heroes lifted their glasses to salute the King, and they all drank together in friendship.
Thane Ulchor awoke chained to a wall in the dungeons of Barad-dûr. His wounds had been tended, but his body ached. His eyes winced when the door was opened and bright torch-light shone into his cell.
A tall figure in sable armor strode in. His armored footfalls echoed sharply off the walls until he stood over Ulchor and spoke: “Greetings, Ulchor, Thane of Nurn. I am The Mouth of Sauron.”
Ulchor struggled to turn his head and looked up to see that it was him. The helmeted man smiled at him mockingly.
“Our Master is ill pleased to learn that you have failed him a second time,” the Mouth said in a cold voice. “You were nearly dead when I found you in Nurn: Your castle in tatters, and your captives escaped. You have much to answer for. it will be a small comfort to The Dark Lord to know that you survived; He is looking forward to questioning you Himself.”
So ends our tale of the ninth cycle for this game. It has been a lot of fun copying these stories by hand, though I feel it may have put a lot of similar content on the blog this month. Not to worry, I will have some different articles released towards the end of November, including some AleP news. I hope you have enjoyed reading the flavor text for this game. I will not be doing this for the Saga expansions or any other content, as there isn’t an overarching narrative for those. I might do an article with all the backgrounds for the FFG-created heroes, but not this month. It has been a lot of typing, and my fingers need to take a break.