Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 42

Through the Rammas

Mersday, 16th of Rethe, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning

No entry.

Highday, 17th of Rethe, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning

No entry.

Sterday, 18th of Rethe, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
Gabilshathur, Somewhere in the Land of Angmar
The destroyed pine-woods of Angmar
I'm ashamed to say I skipped a couple of entries in this journal. I hope, Dear Reader, that you can forgive me for this oversight as many things were happening very quickly. It turns out that my negligence may have spared you the tedium of learning about a series of errands which would have made for a very dull read, so perhaps this was not altogether a bad thing. In any case, let me bring you up to speed on how we now stand.

No sooner had I completed my previous entry and plopped my little head down on my travelling pack (which I often use as a pillow), then I was awakened by the sound of voices. I sat up and rubbed my eyes, still feeling very sleepy indeed, for the miles we had covered in the previous day's march into Malenhad and then back to Aughaire in retreat from the Standing Stones had quite drained me. I wondered what local barbarian my friends had decided to converse with and whether I ought not hide my belongings from them, but to my surprise our visitor turned out to be a Ranger of Esteldin!

His name was Corunir, and he was a bright-eyed chap, full of energy and optimism -- which is quite a feat when one lives in Angmar, as he has apparently been doing for some time now. He had befriended (as much as possible) the Hillmen of Aughaire and served as a scout and huntsman for their tribe. He had just returned from a hunt with new provender for the locals when he was informed of the presence of strange Southrons (that would be us), and naturally he was curious to learn more. 

We had a long conversation with him, but since I am trying to shorten this tale and not prolong it, I will merely say that he was part of an army of Dunedain from Esteldin which had journeyed north under the command of a Ranger named Golodir. This army had also encountered the terror of the Standing Stones, and many were defeated by them (Corunir admitted to being one of these). However, a contingent of Rangers managed to pass beyond the Stones and continue their trek deeper into Angmar, and Corunir believed he knew how we might be able to follow them.

It seems that the Standing Stones, whose right name is the Rammas Deluon (I think that translates as Wall of Despair, or something similar) are inhabited by fell spirits in service to the Iron Crown and they serve as a barrier against intruders. These spirits feed on the fear of all who draw close to them, and many lose the will to challenge their malice. After long thought, Corunir had concluded that those Rangers who were able to withstand the spirits all had one thing in common: they had witnessed great evil or cruelty in their time and so understood rather than feared the Enemy's depravities, leaving the spirits with naught to feed upon. As peculiar as all this sounded, it did explain why Lagodir and Gaelira were able to largely resist the wrath of the Stones, unlike the rest of our Company. The long and the short of it was, if we wished to continue our journey, we would need to confront these foul beings and overcome our fear of them.

This was more easily said than done: it ended up being a two-day process which saw us scrabbling in the muds of Malenhad, examining smaller (and less potent) watching stones elsewhere in Angmar, slaying a dark sorcerer to discover the methods by which the spirits were bound within the Stones themselves, and even drawing one of the spirits forth from a watching stone and driving it off. It was a very taxing and time-consuming ordeal, but when we finally returned victorious to Corunir in Aughaire, he (and we) felt convinced we would succeed in passing through the Rammas Deluon the next day.

That next day (today), we bade Corunir farewell and began our return to Malenhad. We were all disheartened by the delay, but this was tempered by our collective assurance that we now carried the strength of will to defeat the Rammas and continue on toward Carn Dum. We departed Aughaire before the rising of the Sun and picked our way carefully through the decaying countryside in an easterly direction, back toward the swamps of Malenhad.

As before, we stuck to the southern hillsides in an effort to avoid unfriendly eyes. Nephyn pointed out (and I was inclined to agree) that the foliage in this land offered precious little in the way of cover, as the dead trees and strangled grasses obscured next to nothing in their barren nakedness. Still, we managed to creep through the knolls and dells without encountering any enemies. Our progress was slow, for the uneven terrain forced us to constantly change our direction, so that when the Sun peeked above the horizon we were still not free of the hills.

"Can't someone tell us a story to pass the time?" I asked. The silence was far from peaceful -- quite apart from being bored I was perpetually on edge in this unforgiving place. "What about you, Drodie? I bet there's more happening behind that beard than you let on about."

"I'm no good at storytelling," answered the Dwarf as he stumped along in his heavy boots.

"Alright then -- Lagodir!" I said, cheerfully volunteering the Gondorian. "How about it?"

"But make sure it's uplifting!" Nephyn said. "No depressing stories for me in this gloom."

"I do not think I know of any uplifting stories -- not from my own experience, at least," replied Lagodir after thinking for a moment.

"Ah, well, I suppose I shall be forced to have a go of it myself then," I said. "So here goes: some years ago, I was at a birthday party. I don't remember whose it was (nearly every day is someone's birthday in the Shire), nor does it really matter for the purposes of this tale. Mayor Whitfoot was there --"

"Whitfoot?" Nephyn cut in. "What an unusual name! It makes me chuckle for some reason."

"It's a well-respected name in my homeland," I said as we continued to march along in single file. "Pray, don't interrupt! As I was saying: Will Whitfoot, the Mayor of Hobbiton, was at this particular birthday party and the Shire Inn League had sent over a keg of fine ale for the occasion. Now the Mayor, he quite fancies his beer, and instead of waiting for a mug, he simply plopped his whole head into the keg without waiting! He proceeded to lose his balance and completely fell into the barrel. I should have mentioned he's also rather, um, stout around the middle. It comes of presiding over all those festival and holiday banquets, don't you know, and he got himself stuck! Now, none of us at hand were able to pull him out and we started to fear that he might get drownded, so we did the unthinkable: we smashed open the barrel to save him and all the ale was spoilt. Actually, there was surprisingly little left in the barrel -- it seems the Mayor had gotten the idea to try and drink his way out of his predicament. To this day Old Whitfoot doesn't get invited to many birthday parties, but he tends to show at them all the same."

"What a funny story!" Nephyn laughed. "We would do well to not let Padryc get too close to any beer-barrels while on our adventures together!"

"Just you try and stop me!" I replied, laughing in my own turn. "And it's no matter anyhow -- like as not my tale is the closest any of us are going to get to a real beer-barrel for quite some time."

"It actually reminds me of a tale of my own," said Lagodir. "If you will allow me to tell it."

"But of course!" I said.

"By all means!" said Nephyn.

"Very well. This took place many years ago, back when I was still quite young. I had been newly assigned to the watch overseeing the outskirts of Osgiliath -- we were on patrol against any skirmishes which come at us out of the Enemy's country to the East. One night, the other sentinels challenged me to a drinking game. I was able to hold my liquor in much better fashion back then. I was declared the champion, and the next morning I was too inebriated to function."

"Ha!" I chortled. "I'll bet your commander had some choice words for you the next day!"

"Not really, no," said Lagodir solemnly. "Since you ask: that was the same night the Orcs launched their surprise attack and sacked the eastern half of the city. I only survived because I had passed out into a shallow puddle and so the Orcs all thought me dead. Everyone I had drank with that previous night was slaughtered. "

"Good heavens!" I cried. "I thought we said no depressing stories!

"Your pardon," said Lagodir with a shrug.

"Hush!" said Gaelira. "We have returned to the Rammas Deluon."

The ominous wall of figures rose before us once again. This time, though, we were able to screw ourselves up and pass them by. It was a bit more complicated than that, but for the sake of brevity I won't provide further detail. Also, I'm afraid I personally did not handle the situation as well as I had hoped to, and I'd rather not embarrass myself in these pages. Suffice it to say we did defeat the Rammas at last, though the landscape was quite unchanged on the far side.

We continued on our easterly track, but our ordeal with the statues had shaken most of us and there was no more friendly banter. Instead we focused more on trying to remain unseen as the hostile glare of the afternoon Sun shone down on our backs. It occurred to me then that Spring had finally arrived, and yet here in the Land of Angmar it brought no warmth or green to ease that blasted landscape. Smokes and steams continued to waft upward, causing the air all about us and above us to be filled with a sickly yellow murk. I was forced more than a few times to cough the beastly stuff out of my lungs.

We trudged on. Inside myself I suspected it was high time to halt, but none of us wanted to spend the night in that nasty swamp. We kept following the high cliffs which ran to our right, but still there was no change in the view. Finally, the pools of steaming water and the billowing craters came to an end. Before us there suddenly appeared a tumbled collection of fences, barricades, and rickety towers, most of them perched atop a low ridge not more than a mile distant.

"Look!" said Drodie as he pointed. "An orc-camp if ever I saw one. And just in time: I was beginning to worry this day might pass without my decapitating something."

"Remember the warnings of Mallacai," Gaelira cautioned. "We should avoid any encampments of the Enemy's minions for the time being in order to preserve the secrecy of our errand."

Drodie didn't like this, but he assented. With great care, we were able to circumvent the camp and avoid being spotted. Once on the other side, we found ourselves in the remnants of what must have once been a mighty pine-wood: there were still very tall tree-trunks thrusting straight skyward, but they had no branches or needles. It looked to me as though a great fire had roared through that place at some point in the not-too-distant past. In any case, the land there was difficult to traverse for it rose and fell constantly. We began to be unsure of our direction as we wound back and forth through the gullies, so we followed an upward slope when we came across one. Some time later we found ourselves well up a mountain-side and wondering where we had gotten to. The cliffs were steep and everywhere we saw cave-claws, vultures, and other vermin scurrying about. Gaelira was peering westward with her keen eyes while Lagodir scanned the mountain and Nephyn examined the path.

"Ai!" the huntress suddenly cried. "We must leave here at once! Drakes roam these parts!"

"Come," said Gaelira as we gathered ourselves and hurried away, "Let us go swiftly but warily."

We retreated down the slopes and returned to the pine-wood in short order. We could find no way forward from there and were forced to dodge the orc-camp a second time. By now, the Sun was barely peeping over the western horizon and I began to shiver in the coming cold of evening. We had come once more to the edges of Malenhad and my spirits sank at the prospect of having to spend the night there.

"If only there was some nook or cave in which we could find shelter," said Nephyn as she looked up the cliffs to our left (southward). "But there is nothing -- it's as if these hills were cut by a giant's knife, they are so sheer. Quite impressive, actually."

"More o-ppressive than im-pressive, if you ask me," I said.

"Wait! Look there!" Drodie was pointing to a spot in the mountain-side. It was cunningly hidden, but now it had been noticed there was, clear to see, a cutting gash which thrust into the hills.

"A path!" Nephyn and I said together. We had no idea what might lie beyond, but somehow it felt just then that our discovery was a boon and not a danger.

It turned out to be quite a boon: we followed the path into the mountains and found a small but highly industrious colony of Dwarves! They call it Gabilshathur, but please don't ask me what that means or how to pronounce it. We found several Rangers encamped here as well, which identified themselves as members of Golodir's band that had penetrated the Rammas Deluon some time ago. We were able to replenish our food and water stores as well as get some directions. As it happens we should have begun heading north before we even encountered the orc-camp, so our little detour into the drake-infested hills proved providential after all.

I can't imagine what led a bunch of Dwarves to settle in a place like this. From what I've been able to gather, some of them seem to think there is a chance of finding mithril in these hills. I'm not sure what mithril might be, but apparently it is quite valuable. Personally, I'd just let it lie if it meant having to live in Angmar! I hate this place and everything about it. The Malenhad swamp was more than enough for me to grow sick of the land, and now I'm being told it only gets worse from here.

Speaking of Malenhad, I'm happy to point out we managed to traverse it without running into that Wenhair woman or any of her friends. Lagodir would still prefer to find her and deal with her directly, but I'm not so sure that's such a good idea. Either way, we did not encounter any sign of her in the swamps, and hopefully it stays that way: I don't know what that one is up to, but whatever it is, it can't be good for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment