In the cold winter evening, we came cautiously down the old road that runs across the marshy land of Raku. Snow was lying on the ground and the wind cut fiercely. The journey was long, but fortunately uneventful. Here we are one evening, all huddled around a fire.
Finally, one cold evening, we came to something that wasn't just boggy open land. Just on the edge of sight, we could see a glint of water reflecting the grey sky, and silhouetted against the shining water, we saw the shape of many low wooden buildings. There was no cover at all, only the road leading on down to the water. And there were an awful lot of buildings.
We took a look at ourselves, and concluded that some of us were rather more conspicuous than others. In particular, the tall swift elven horses, and Sirithglor with her golden hair and shiny slippers were not going to pass for anything but Elf, even to a lookout who wasn't trying very hard on a cold winter's night. We therefore divided forces. Sirithglor devised a disguise for the rest of us, based on an idea she got from Lúthien She made us look like a troop of orcs returning to base. She herself stayed with the horses.
So we crept closer, quietly and cautiously, and we saw....
But first, we had to deal with the wooden huts around the edge. Our disguise made this easy. We opened the door of the first building and went in. Inside were loathesome goblins, playing a hideous game they called Stupid Frog, which involved... well, shall we just say that it involved live frogs and an iron spike. The orcs barely had time to look up from their game of Stupid Frog before Thorofin was on them. He finished the game and I think we can agree he won.
We moved silently from hut to hut, clearing out each in turn. We had just finished the last one, when there was movement out over the lake. A strange menacing flying beast, larger than a human being, emerged from a tower far out in the lake, stretched its wings and flew off. It gave our guide Gyula a nasty fit of the terrors, which is no doubt one reason that he became even more insolent and annoying than usual.
It was time to turn our attention to the lake, before the flying thing returned.
Unfortunately, the only way to get out to the tower was using some very small coracles. Coracles are not a dignified form of transport, but we managed somehow, and what's more, we managed to knock out the orcs on top of the tower without them ringing the bell for help, which is quite an achievement for an attack via orc-coracle. We saved one orc to interrogate. He wasn't very bright, but even a stupid orc knows who his bosses are.
This one told us that he reported to a chief orc named Nurclamac, who was subordinate to a Great Wolf named Carangamp. The flying thing that we had seen from shore was named Gulavar, and the flooded city had once been named Rhest. There was also some confused plan involving a Big Black, involving an invasion of Urd - but the orc seemed unclear on who Big Black was, or when he might return. Orc-information has its limits. We gave the orc a swift death as a thank you for being so helpful. I imagine the local frogs were delighted.
From the tower, the other building that looked to be inhabited was a large rectangular building, which we dubbed the Town Hall. Since we had now cleared out all the watchers, we sent a coracle back to collect Sirithglor. This proved to be a mistake, although probably not as big a mistake as leaving her there would have been.
In the town hall, we found the orc known as Nurclamac, but he didn't have much to add to the information we already had, although he did tell us that Rhest had been inhabited by the orcs for around two hundred years. It can't really be said we gave Nurclamac a swift death, since Thorofin put his eyes out, but needs must.
The town hall was a curious affair : it appeared to be an old dwarf-building, still in surprisingly good order, with decoration still visible on the walls. There was even an old tapestry, showing an image that could just about be made out, an image of a dragon, being driven off by an army of dwarves and also taller people who seemed from their gear to be Elves. We found a small box too, clearly of elf-make though not a design we recognised, and some small sacks of gold. Gyula's greedy eyes lit up and he grabbed one, although the rest of us felt that heavy gold was not the reason we had come to this place, and let it lie where it was.
A great hole had been ripped through the floors, going down into the darkness. Strangely, it was not filled with water, and examining it closely, I could see that the entire place was being held together and watertight by the power of some dark will. But there was no sound or movement , so we resolved to explore further. Unfortunately I twisted an ankle climbing down into that unpleasant place, but it did not slow me down too much.
In the depths of the place, we found a long chamber, lit with a sickly yellow light, in which lay a pool, surrounded by sculptures depicting wolves. Submerged in the pool was a giant dead cat. I shot it, just to make sure, and it bled a little, but when we pulled it out (very carefully not touching the foul water) it was clearly dead. We could make nothing of this. It did not look good.
Exploring further, we found a horrifyingly twisted leafless tree, growing in a dark underground room. Before it were seven orc-corpses, with the roots woven into their parched corpses as if the tree had been feeding on them. The Sindarin elf, examining this, determined that the tree had once been a holly tree. I have a bad feeling about this.
Finally, underneath it all, we found a great black dungeon, where a huge black throne stood before a hideous sculpture whose mouth formed a great balcony. The arms of the chair were marked with incised channels, and examining this, I could see what they were for. They were designed for holding sets of Rings of Power : Seven and Nine, and the workmanship of the entire thing looked extremely familiar. This entire place had been occupied by Sauron himself.
Before the throne, a set of stairs went downwards between two statues, which depicted Balrogs. Thorofin wanted to go down the steps between the statues, but we overruled him. A troll on a bridge is one thing, but there could be anything sleeping here. We left the place in something of a hurry.
Back at the top, looking nervously down at what lay below the lake, and up at the skies, we resolved to try to break the spell that held the place together against the water. In this, we were only partially successful. Water came flooding into the upper levels, but the spell held and we could feel it still darkly holding together the evil far beneath our feet.
Things were not going well. Back on the shore, we found that the horses had been attacked by wolves, and tragically, all of them had been killed: a sad end for beasts who had travelled so far with us. We would have to walk back to Urd. Thrandin suggested that we spend the night in the orc-huts by the lake, but the rest of the party vetoed this on the grounds that anyone could creep up on us if we were inside, and also that no Elf willing spends the night in an orc-hut.
At this point, Thorofin, who runs swiftly, decided to run ahead of us and fetch some fresh horses. This was probably a mistake, but unfortunately as Thorofin runs so fast, by the time we had realised this it was far too late to point it out to him.
As the rest of us were walking through the night, we were attacked by wolves. We killed four of them without too much difficulty, but then more wolves came at us, six huge pale wolves, with an uncanny air about them. They were not true wolves, but skin-changers in wolf form.
At this point, it would have been very helpful if the mighty Elf warrior had still been close at hand. My bow is a good weapon, but it's little use when a wolf is leaping right at your back, and poor Sirithglor's bow and shiny slippers are little help in combat. I threw one of my Noldorin balls of light into the air. These are generally used as lanterns, but they do have a 'light flash' mode that can be activated in emergency. The flash of light discouraged a couple of the beasts, but the rest closed in around us.
One of the wolves hit me so hard that I fell to the ground, unable to move. Thrandin and the Urdish Man, Gyula, fought on, back to back, and Thrandin heroically rescued Sirithglor with a great swing of his war-hammer, which saved her just before the teeth closed.
Gyula fought mightily that night, and slew three of the skin-changers as well as one natural wolf. We would certainly all have ended in a wolf's belly without him, and I was forced to forgive him for his many ignorant remarks: I suppose they were only to be expected from such a barbarian.
There still seems to be a lot of plot left. More here!