Monday, August 21, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 29

Down, Down to Goblin-town

Highday, 6th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Tunnels of Goblin-town, Somewhere in the Misty Mountains
The tunnels of Goblin-town
I do not know how much writing I will be able to do this evening -- or morning, or whatever it is just now -- on account of the fact that I can barely see well enough to write anything. The day and date I've recorded at the top of this page are only my best guesses, for I've quite lost track of the hours in this damnable hole. But before I go any further, let me backtrack to when we first entered here. You will recall that, at the end of my last entry, our Company was taking some much-needed rest inside of a small cave high up in the Misty Mountains when there came a terrific noise from somewhere which took us all by surprise.

There was a screeching and a clattering of arms as a dozen goblins rushed into the cave! No sooner had I shouted the alarm than Nephyn had dropped her bow, drawn the Sword of Ringdor, spun around, and beheaded two of our attackers. Lagodir and Drodie were instantly on their feet with swords flying and Gaelira's staff was a whirlwind. Even I took a hand as I was able with my small hammer. But the press of goblins was great: we slew several and sent many more wailing back into the darkness of the cave, but more and more swarmed against us.

Suddenly, Gaelira thrust her staff longways in front of us, as if to bar us from fighting. She drew something from her belt and held it aloft. There was a spark, then she hurled the object in front of her onto the cave-floor. Flames leapt forth with a bang! and engulfed four of the goblins which were nearest us while the rest fled shrieking toward the back of the cave. We were all thrown off balance by the explosion and I lost my footing entirely. Before I even knew what had happened the cave had become both very hot and filled with smoke. The five of us beat a hasty retreat out into the snowstorm to regroup.

"More Elf-sorcery!" gasped Drodie as we all hacked and coughed the smoke from our lungs. "Nearly singed off my beard! What the devil did you do that for, Gaelira? I had the situation under control."

"Clearly," I cracked with a smile, but my coughing continued. "But at least she has bought us some time. I do believe her little display has routed the enemy for now."

"I see only the charred remains of many goblins," said Lagodir as he peered cautiously into the cave. "I think Padryc is right -- the ones that remained alive have fled back into the mountain itself."

"Have we found Goblin-town, then?" I asked with wide eyes. "You don't suppose this is the very same back-door where Bilbo and his thirteen companions were set upon do you?"

"I would think that unlikely," said Gaelira as she leaned against the cliffside. "The goblins have many entrances and exits from their lairs. Still, while this may not be the same back-door into Goblin-town of which you speak, it is clearly a door into Goblin-town, and that is the chief thing for the moment."

"Why does the fire not go out, Gaelira?" asked Drodie as he eyed the flames suspiciously. "Surely the Elves have not found some why to burn stone, have they?"

"Of course not!" laughed the Elf. "It is nothing more than a hollowed-out gourd filled with sticky tar along with a short rag fuse and a small set of flint and tinder I carry about with me. The tar is a long-burning sort, but give it time and the flames will subside."

"I hope it does not take too long," said Nephyn as she drew her cloak tightly round herself, "For this storm has only gotten worse. The cave will be a welcome place in short order for my part -- goblins or no goblins." A thin line of smoke was issuing from the roof of the cave-mouth only to be instantly dissipated by the winds whipping about the mountainside.

The flames did not take long at all to die off, and we quickly filed back into the cave. We wasted no time in locating the source of our adversaries and found it without difficulty: the back-wall of the cave was in fact some sort of ingenious contraption which ran on a pulley system. It was controlled by a winch located behind the mountain wall, so the noise we heard just as the attack had started must have been the hidden counter-weights crashing to the stone floor somewhere nearby which caused the door to open. The goblins, thankfully, had not returned, and we were able to retrieve our belongings and baggage which we were obligated to abandon briefly due to the fighting.

"I never would have thought goblins clever enough to build such machinery," said Lagodir as he examined the dirty ropes and levers which operated the doorway. "But in Gondor we seldom deal with these mean, little folk -- there are much larger and more dangerous foes with which to concern ourselves."

"He would be unwise indeed," countered Gaelira, "Who discounts the goblins on account of their size. Is it not said in Gondor as it is oft in the North that smaller hands doth the greater subtleties weave?"

"It is," answered Lagodir with a sidelong glance at me, "Although not in quite the same wording."

"The immediate question, though," said Nephyn as she poked her head into the doorway, "Is what do we do now?"

"Our task, unpleasant as it is, is to infiltrate the tunnels of Goblin-town," Gaelira replied grimly. "We must slay the Great Goblin or, at the very least, somehow steal his crown. This will not be easily done."

"Well, one thing's for certain," growled Drodie, "I'll not be caught napping for the vermin to come swooping in on me a second time! Let us go into the tunnels."

We created some makeshift torches from the remains of our campfire, collected our gear, and plunged into the darkness of Goblin-town. I felt a distinct tug at the back of my mind as I stepped over that threshold -- almost as if I would never be able to leave again.

We bore our torches aloft and cautiously made our way inside. There was no sign of any more goblins in the darkness, but there were the echoes. Our Company was being as quiet as it knew how, and all other sounds were magnified manifold within the tunnels -- we heard harsh shouts, the clash of weapons, and all manner of shrieks and wails. Some of them sounded like goblins but some of them didn't, at least to me, although it was probably just a trick of the echoing stone. Suddenly, we turned a corner a saw a blazing torch lighting the path for us. It was jammed into a crack in the rock, for of course there were no sconces in those vile passageways. We paused and Gaelira cocked her head.

"This cannot be right," she said softly and mostly to herself. "Goblins can see well enough in the dark and have no need of torches. And why was there no guard to challenge us as we entered? What is going on here?"

There was nothing for it but to continue. Our pace increased along with our apprehension as the suspense in the absence of battle cruelly frayed our nerves. Ever and anon the screams and cries of the goblins would bound off the stone walls again until I was frantically wishing I could shout at them to be silent, if only for a moment, but still we continued on. The tunnels branched and wound about in confusing fashion, but Gaelira was consistently leading us downward by whatever path she could find. We encountered more torches -- some thrust into the walls as before, others simply left burning on the cold floors -- and by their light I was able to see some of the vastness of Goblin-town.

There were high chambers followed by narrow tunnels; great open spaces with crude, wooden scaffolding climbing upward and plunging downward. There were side-passages of such number that they could not be counted, and there were rickety bridges spanning wide chasms everywhere. We were obliged to cross some of these and I held my breath as I scampered along them. Despite my being the smallest and lightest of the Company, I never felt safe. We went on and on and on; I began to wonder if we were about to emerge on the far side of the Misty Mountains or whether we were very much farther from reaching the very roots of the world itself.

Just then, in the middle of a large but longish chamber, we saw the most incredible thing. We had not come across one of the rogue torches in some time, but now there was one in front: bobbing and prancing madly -- and it was headed straight for us! A tumult had begun to arise and it boomed along the walls as it approached. We swiftly concealed ourselves behind some nearby piles of refuse. None of us spoke, but we all readied our weapons.

Suddenly, there appeared a Dwarf carrying a torch! He was fleeing in a full panic with a wild, maddened look of sheer terror on his bearded face. At his heels was a horde of goblins and even some taller, broader Orcs which brandished all manner of cruel weapons. The Dwarf carried only his torch and a broken piece of wood -- probably all that remained of whatever axe or club he once wielded. The entire cavalcade passed us by and the noise of it thundered in our ears.

"We must save him!" cried Drodie, and he made to follow. But Gaelira seized his shoulder and held him in place.

"No!" she hissed, and my stomach lurched to hear the fury in her voice.

"Unhand me, Elf!" shouted Drodie at full voice and wrenched himself free of her grasp. "I wouldn't trust you to save me either if I was trapped down here." Then Lagodir stooped and hefted the Dwarf full into the air to prevent him from running off.

"Stay your madness, friend!" I heard him whisper in Drodie's ear. "We cannot hope to overcome so many -- there is nothing we can do for him and we doom our own mission if we try."

"Yes! Listen to the Man if you will not hearken to me!" came Gaelira's furious whispers. "We cannot get sidetracked: I do not know how it has come to be that the goblins do not now oppose us, but we must seize this opportunity and make the most of it while we can."

Drodie calmed down and Lagodir returned him to his feet. He said nothing, but I could see that their pleas had appealed to his senses, although he clearly hated the idea of abandoning a fellow Dwarf to certain death. At that point, we began to understand both the presence of torches and the absence of the goblins a little better.

"It must be some of Gloin's folk," said Drodie as quietly as he could. "Did he not say his charge was to check the aggression of the goblins? But why would they venture into the very heart of their realm?"

"They could not possibly have thought to defeat them in the midst of their own lair," said Nephyn in a horrified whisper. "Perhaps this was some ill-fated attempt at a rescue? But Gloin made no mention that any of his folk were taken captive."

"Then maybe it happened recently," said Drodie, "And it was ordained that our paths crossed thus. Ah! Would that I was with them! I would have seen to it that any Dwarf caught in these accursed tunnels was rescued."

"There is no rescuing anyone from this place," said Gaelira in a cold, even voice. I held my tongue, but I was thinking of a rescue which had in fact occurred here, seventy-seven years ago.

We pressed on. The darkness became complete except for our own feebly flickering torches. The echoing din of the goblins became fainter and was to our rear at first, but soon it began to grow again, and once more it was in front of us. As we wound our way through the tunnels we also became aware of the glow of torches. Then, all at once, we came upon a terrible sight.

It was clearly a Dwarf -- or what remained of one. He had been cruelly hacked to pieces where he lay and both an arm and a leg were missing. The innards had been ripped out of him and snaked revoltingly on the floor. Half the face was gone and the remaining half was a hideous mask of pain and fear. I turned away swiftly and fought to keep my last meal inside of me. The others bowed their heads in respect, but Drodie was inconsolable. It was everything we could collectively do to keep him quiet as he wept for his slain kinsman. He wished to bury the victim, if only under some loose stones, but we could not afford the delay. After a brief but painful time, we moved on again.

Soon after, the passageway opened up into the widest and longest chamber we had yet seen. It was difficult to describe, for the whole of that place was covered -- every inch of it -- with goblins. They were chanting and bleating, bashing sword and spear upon shield, and among them were wolves and vicious Wargs of the mountains. They were all faced away from us and looking toward a high platform. There, perched on something that I suppose was meant to be a throne, sat a goblin which looked unusually large for his kind, even from that distance. The dull glint of gold gleamed off an object upon its brow.

"The Great Goblin!" I gasped, but it was only a stifled whisper.

I could hear the goblin-king shouting something to his assembled hordes, but I could not make out the words -- assuming he was, in fact, using words. Now and then the assembly would erupt into more howls and cheering, and I stuck my fingers into my ears at the riot. That's when I felt Gaelira take me by the arm.

"Come," she whispered to us all, "This way."

The she-Elf led us down a side-passage which twisted and turned many times. There were several tunnels which led off from the main one, but Gaelira ignored these and kept to the central path. It did not appear to be much used, and I wondered why that might be, considering how it was relatively close to the large gathering hall we had just left behind. Finally, we ducked just inside one of the side-passages and Gaelira permitted us to halt. She commanded that the torches be extinguished and we were not allowed any campfire.

I sat miserably munching a cold piece of cram while we waited in silence. The ruckus from the goblin-den continued in the distance, but the echoes made it seem as if it was all happening just around the last corner.

"What do you think is going on in there?" I asked as quietly as I could.

"I do not know," came Gaelira's answer, "But we cannot hope to approach the Great Goblin while his entire tribe surrounds him. We must watch and we must wait."

"And what are we watching for?" asked Drodie. "I can't see what the devil is going on from down in this dank, festering hole, and neither can you. Not unless the Elves can see through solid rock."

"Did you not notice the wolves and Wargs among their number?" Gaelira queried in response. "We cannot take the chance that they should catch our scent. Whatever is going on there will not last forever, and when they depart from the chamber we must be ready to make our move. In the meantime, here we shall sit."

Drodie fell silent. That was good enough for me, and I didn't think Gaelira was in any mood to argue. She did allow me to light one small candle so that I could make this entry, however. The goblins continued their noise from up the passage, and we remained quiet as shadows, patiently waiting for our moment to come. We all strained our ears to catch any sign that the riot was ending, but anytime the Great Goblin's croaking voice would stop the goblins would cheer loudly, and then the whole cycle would repeat itself. But the horde was quiet while their chieftain was speaking and, just one time, I could have sworn I had heard a soft swish and bubble as of water echoing up from somewhere further down the passage.

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