The Darkening of Mirkwood

A Yule You Will Never Forget

Each of the party members dispersed to their respective retreats to spend a few weeks with kith and kin. Their repose was interrupted just a few days before the turning of the year by an invitation from King Bard to his Yuletide celebration. The group reassembled at the Palace of Dale along with many notables from the surrounding kingdoms, including a surprise appearance by Gandalf the Grey.
While everyone was enjoying themselves, Bard asked for a tale of surpassing prowess to regale the Great Hall. After a few tales were heard a great knocking was heard at the door. Upon the third blow the doors yielded and in rode a huge bearded man astride an equally massive horse.
While he might be taken for Beorn for his size, it was the green hue of both the rider and the horse that made it quite clear that this was not a person anyone in the room had seen before. In one hand he held a branch of verdant holly, while in the other he held a huge green bearded axe with tracery of silver. No other gear of war did he bear on his person, for he wore only a green tunic, trousers, and boots. The man, if man he was, first assured the assembly that he came in peace and then asked if he was in the court of the famed Dragonslayer Bard the Bowman. Then he went on to challenge the courage of all present to a special sport: that night he would take a blow to the neck from his own axe at the hand of anyone who had the courage to swing it if in a year the same person would seek out the stranger’s abode and allow him to return the blow.
Stunned silence greeted the newcomer, except for Telearel who got up and left the feast in protest. With no other response the Green Knight asked again if he was in the right place because he had heard that Bard, and presumably those who followed him, were men of courage and renown. King Bard stirred in his seat and was about to stand when Pytr Bronn stood up an accepted the challenge. The green stranger addressed Pytr and had him repeat the terms back to him. When asked where he dwelt, the Green Knight assured Pytr that if he could, he would tell him after Pytr’s blow fell. Pytr then took the axe, and after becoming acquainted, he let the axe fall on the Green Knight’s naked neck.
The Knight’s head fell to the ground and rolled toward the high table, but the body did not fall. Instead it stood up, reclaiming the axe from Pytr with one hand, and with the other he picked up his head that had come to rest near the feet of Bard. Having collected everything he had come with, the body of the Knight mounted the horse and the disembodied head addressed Pytr: ‘In one year, on the first new moon after the Yule, you will come to the Green Keep and I will deliver the blow in return. Search where you think you will find me. Come or the dreadful curse of broken vow will befall the house of Dale.’ The green knight and steed then fled into the night and were not seen in Dale again. Bard managed to calm his guests following this disturbance, and after all the guests had had their fill and departed later that night, Pytr consulted with Gandalf and Bard and agreed to meet the following day to discuss possible locations of this Green Keep.
In the palace library the group found Bard, Gandalf, and Alwis the following day, pouring over the tomes of lore that were in Dale trying to discover the location of this mysterious keep. A number of places were discussed, but the most promising place to look seemed to lie in the ancient name of Mirkwood, Greenwood the Great. Telearel pointed out that the lore of the Woodland Realm would most certainly contain more information regarding such a place if it exists in the forest and offered to aid Gandalf in his search in the libraries of the elves. Plans we laid to begin the journey, when an urgent message came the following day to return to the palace.
Upon arrival the group found Bard and Balin in a visibly strained tete-a-tete. Appearently a caravan of dwarves from the Blue Mountains was traveling to the Lonely Mountain, had entered the lands of Dale two weeks before, but then had gone missing. They should have arrived by now, and the ravens had been sent in search but could find no trace of them. However a few days ago a mostly-dead dwarf staggering out of the northern wastes and after being nursed for a few days the dwarves determined that he is Skafith, the leader of the caravan. Among his delirious ramblings about the journey they learned the group was captured by Bardings. Further information regarding the location of the others could not be teased from him beyond two cryptic hints: ‘Keep the stars of the Seven Fathers before you and on your right until you come the Dragon’s Teeth’ and ‘Look for the cavity at the base of the fang when the dragon is smoking.’ Balin arrived from the Mountain this morning bearing this news, of which Bard denies any knowledge and begged for the opportunity to go in search of the missing dwarves. His offer was refused because the dwarves of the Mountain no longer trust Bard, particularly because this caravan contains many dwarf women, one of which is Dis, sister of Thorin Oakenshield and mother of the slain heroes Kili and Fili. Seeking for a compromise Bard asked that the Mountain consider sending a small group upon whom both peoples can rely, hence our trusty band having won the respect of the Mountain by rescuing Balin and seeing him through Mirkwood, and having secured the faith of Bard on the reputation of his vassal Omund and because of the valor of the others shown at Battle of the Crossings of Celduin. While this means that they must put the quest for the Green Keep on hold, Bard assured them that Gandalf had already made plans to journey to the Woodland Realm and ask Thranduil for access to his vaults of lore. The group agreed and prepared to set out the next day.
The dwarves showed the group where Skafith was found and with only his delirious ramblings to go on, the group managed to find their way north to a row of mountains that seem to fit the description given in the riddles. While trying to figure out how to go forward from here the group spotted a couple of armed men with a large dog (?) that seem very lightly laden for folk traveling through such a wasteland. The pair and large canine charged when they spotted the group, and the pair’s wolf and one of the bandits were dispatched with little effort. The second, realizing that he was woefully outnumbered, turned to run and almost got away before being tackled by Olo. With some assistance from Pytr, Olo subdued the man and the group then gave him a choice, help them or die. He tried to play for some advantage in the situation seeing the group was in need of information, but finally succumbed to his hunger and took the food offered to him then ran. In return for the meager rations, the group learned that in some caves close by a group of men held some prisoners and were led by a fearsome man called Eofur, or ‘the Boar.’

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