War in the East of Middle-earth
It's taken me a while to complete this: arrival of puppy proved timeconsuming.
After part 1...
Pan out from the quest for the Numenorean Prince Irimon to a wider scale:the great unknown lands in the East of Middle-earth, for there are many forces moving as Sauron's plans begin to fruit and grow, in Raku, across the great grassy Plains of Alcar, in the great Harad desert and as far south as Ibavi. We moved to a Huge Map, where we could see the many forces moving.
I was much amused by this little tribe heading determinedly west and off the big map: these are the ancestors of the Rohirrim, apparently, moving back with their horses from the wide plains to settle in Rhovanion.
But the main focus was further east of course, where the Orcs of Raku, with whom we had fought on several occasions, were once more menacing our friends in the Land of Urd! Hidek, though not officially the king, but the uncle and Power Behind the, king, called for aid from the king's relatives, the ferocious (but Not Evil) people of the Nurniags. (He also called for aid from the Stiffbeard Dwarves and Chey, but neither of them turned up in time.)
And so the momentous Battle of Mount Ü, also known as Haggi Ü, began!
I'm afraid I can't now remember why both sides are on horseback. I'm guessing that the orcs had some Variag auxiliaries with them and therefore I chose to draw everyone on horses.
There are a LOT of different peoples in the East of Middle-earth whose names end in Iag: Nuriag, Nurniag, Variag, Asdriag, and Ioriag. While the battle was raging with bitter fury, I decided to try to draw one of each, and here they are:
While I was drawing Iags, Hidek and the forces of Urd were battling heroically with the orcs, and through cunning strategy, pretty much wiped them out.
While all this was going on, our third party, including Angruin, Sirithglor, Hor the Iron-fist dwarf, Thorofin, Thrandin and Finculin, had made their way South to the great Nurniag Horse-Fair. There were a great number of iags present of almost all kinds (except for the Sauron-admiring Variags). There were jugglers, a wrestling tournament, bran tubs, horse archery, and a game called Quintag, which is a more violent form of horse-polo. We met Badwalla the story-teller, and found the answer to the story of the Strong Young Man that he had previously told us. The Nurniags gained a new leader, Moglai, who had won the horse-archery, and Batu Kan, the great chieftain of the Ioriags, offered him his daughter's hand.Angruin was frankly somewhat inattentive through all of this, since there were singularly few shiny things and the smithworth on display was not overly impressive, but several other members of the party took part in competitions at the Horse-fair, particularly the young lady-dwarf Hor, who made up for a notable lack of skill in most of the arts on display by indefatigable if slightly baffling enthusiasm.
From there, we went on to the land of Ib-Narad. Ib-Narad is ruled by priest-kings who serve Mol, but they don't seem to be all that good at it. They were kind of a bit evil, but it was like their hearts weren't really in it. They were more interested in social status manoevering than overthrowing the Rule of Law: an intriguing situation, which meant that we could travel through Ib-Narad as a party of elves (and a dwarf) who were in theory abominations, but in practice, few people seemed too bothered.
In the town of Ab-Pilesa we encountered a preacher of the Religion of Mol, one Kurin the Harbinger, who took the whole Mol thing a lot more seriously than most. It was his opinion that the plague of the White Blight (which we know had been started by Sauron, and had caused great hardship in this land) had been sent by Mol to punish people for not worshipping him. He also threw an exciting range of insults around, including 'Usurpers' at the Elves, and 'their slaves the rock people' at the Dwarves, and those of us who had had encounters before detected a strong Sauronic whiff about him.
I'm afraid the paintings are going downhill a bit at this point, I was probably painting way too fast to hope to get a good result.
An earlier Angruin would probably have lopped his head off, but having learned a thing, he just muttered darkly, while Sirithglor, in a fit of somewhat mysterious optimism, tried arguing him out of his lunacy. This was unsuccessful.
But no other clues presented themselves, and wandering around being both insulting and Sauronic seemed to require some action, so Angruin borrowed Thorofin's disguising bat-hood, and stalked the Harbinger, bopped him on the head, tied him up and interrogated him.
You would think a three-times-kinslayer who had somehow survived the First Age would have some skill at interrogation, but no. This was also unsuccessful. I think it may have been Finculin who eventually got through to him, having himself been under the Enemy's thumb for some time.
Anyway, Kurin decided to turn over a new leaf, abhor the worship of Mol and joined our party! This didn't mean he was now a sensible human being, not by a long shot. In fact, he was still a complete loon. But now he was OUR loon, which obviously made his weird attempts to make sense of the universe slightly more tolerable. He also told us a prophesy about great black swans that would come into Ib-Narad and fix the plague and everything else that was wrong with the place. In retrospect, this was clearly a prophesy about the coming of the brand-new shiny-black Nazgul. We failed to take the hint, but in our defence, the whole 'swans' thing was pretty confusing. Why do prophecies have to randomly have everything be a bird?
At this point, Sirithglor, struck by the terrible ruination and starvation that the White Blight had brought to Ib Narad, decided to carry out a Great Enchantment to lift the blight and help the people. Finculin volunteered to help with this great work of fertility magic, using his chaotic ability to magnify the work of others, and now I think about it, we probably missed a number of opportunities to make earthy jokes about fertility magic methodology at that point. Alas for the rude jokes of yesteryear.
Anyway, they did that, and it worked jolly well, and the land burgeoned with grass and pumpkins and things and we all set off to the city of Lessa to see what further mischief we could get up to, accompanied by Kurin the Harbinger, now wringing his hands and racked with Theological Doubt About Everything.
In the city of Lessa, we found a priest (slightly different flavour) sacrificing sheep, horses, and two elephants and burning the flesh. The smell was indescribable. Fortunately the wave of fertility was following on nicely behind us, so at least the burning of all those sheep etc would not cause quite the level of starvation it might otherwise have provoked. In Lessa, Hor, making friends and influencing people with determination, found a family of delightful heretics, who had been converted from the worship of Mol by the Blue Teacher (Alatar) to believe in the work of the Valar instead.
What happened then? Oh yes, it was around that time that Variags out of the Plains of Alcar began driving the Nuriag horsemen west, across the lands of the Ulgath. The Ulgath were not happy about this, and there was a Confrontation. This was all a bit unfortunate since neither side were actively Sauronic, but much must be risked in war. The poor Ulgath rolled badly, and lost, allowing the remaining Nuriag forces to cross, with the Variags close behind.
When we left Urd, we had thought that the main Sauronic attack was some time off, and that we had time to explore Ib-Narad without too much urgency,
But now, it was all happening a bit faster than expected. The Variags were on their way!
Thrandin, our Diplomatic Dwarf, hurried off and sent messengers to try to summon help from the Iron-fist, Stiff-beard and Blacklock Dwarves. He spent most of the rest of the adventure doing this, cunningly very-nearly making use of his Seal of Durin to call them all out to fight, but not actually taking the final plunge and doing so.
Ladyofastolat took over playing Kurin the Harbinger instead, which was a role that involved a great deal of impressive shouting, and a certain amount of existential dread.
Sirithglor did some Symbolic Magic involving making an eagle-and-crown montage thing, but it did not seem to impress the local populace as much as she had hoped. We sent messengers scurrying in all directions asking for aid. Angruin, rather plaintively, asked Sirithglor to send a bird to the Land of Uab, where we had previously encountered Maglor, to warn him of the approaching risk. But we heard nothing by return.
We hurried on, to the great walled city of Nim-Narad.Or, at least, the locals thought that it was a great walled city. We set about gathering news, and soon discovered an underground sect of heretics, who had been educated by the Blue Wizards. We also found that one of the great Men of the city, Clemen, was one of these same 'heretics', who called themselves the Faithful. We recruited one of them, a young archer (played by my sister, visiting for the afternoon) as a guide.
At this point the mildly-irritating sprite, Tingling Redcap, made his presence known. He said that he had a 'friend' who could help us against the Variags, and we should go and talk to him. Despite our misgivings, we did.
Our misgivings grew considerably when we were half-way through a dark and marshy forest full of fog. At that point, something very odd happened to time, and Tingling Redcap disappeared, quickly followed by about half the party, who all went rushing off in different directions. All apart from Angruin, who had rolled well, and found himself standing on the muddy path surrounded by horses and mist, wondering where everyone else had got to, and Thorofin, who had rolled slightly less well, but is too mighty a warrior to be overcome by the foes of the misty marsh. The two Noldor therefore set off with an air of considerable annoyance and a great deal of weaponry, to find that the rest of the party had been caught by Mewlips. There was a comedy moment in which several characters found themselves dangling by their feet in a cave.
We were fairly sure at this point that Tingling Redcap was in the service of Sauron, but at this point he came back, accompanied by an Ent, Fenrush, who he said was his friend and he had gone to him for help. A long moment of extreme scepticism later, we decided that vanishing in time of need without saying a word was actually something that Tingling Redcap was quite capable of doing without the least deliberate malice.
Fenrush the Ent led us to his boss, Redbark, a Much Bigger Ent, ruler of the Old Marsh, who was very scary. Even Fenrush seemed alarmed.
Fortunately, we had a Lady of Doriath in our company, and despite having been dangled by her feet, she managed to win the Ginormoent over to the idea that the Variags were much more his enemies than we were.
This was bad news for the Variags who tried riding into the Old Marsh, and got eaten by vegetation. Well, they were cannibals. It was hard to feel too much sympathy for them.
Fenrush volunteered to return from the Old Marsh to Nin-Narad with us, and help in the defence of the city. Since the Mewlips had eaten the horses of Sirithglor and Hor the dwarf-lady, who were still feeling somewhat shaken, they hitched an ent-ride. At this point, Bacchus stopped playing Finculin, and took over playing Fenrush instead, basically because we were all of the opinion that the Ents *should* be allowed to be player characters.
On our return to the walled city of Nim-Narad, we noticed at once that things had changed. The city was filling up with refugees fleeing the Variag hordes, and there were tents pitched in the open spaces of the city.
We spoke with Ivat. We had first encountered Ivat years ago when he was one of the leaders of the rebellious Men of the Iron Kingdom, who were rising against their Ironfist Dwarf overlords. The Dwarves put the rebellion down harshly, and they sent the leaders, Ivat and Sul, to Ib-narad as slaves. I seem to remember that we did have the chance to intervene, but as we were a party of Elves and Dwarves from Khazad Dum, felt it wasn't really our business.
Anyway, Ivat had Made Good from this unpromising start, had become a gladiator, had won his freedom and risen through the ranks to become important in the army of Ib Narad. Now he was able to tell us that news had come that the city of Ashar had been sacked by the Variags, and that a general was about to be appointed from the various available members of the class of Strats, to lead the forces of Ib Narad in what must surely be the oncoming siege.
Angruin was against the idea of a siege. Having survived a great number of battles, some of them even against evil, he had carefully inspected the walls, and come to the conclusion that the city water supply could easily be contaminated, there wasn't enough food for the army and all the refugees, and the walls though tall and strong were not sophisticated. He felt that Nim-Narad under siege would quickly cease to be a refuge, and become a trap.
But first we needed a leader. I forget the details, but there was a dramatic ceremony atop a ziggurat, and I think Sirithglor somehow managed to manipulate the vote so that our mate Clemen, the Strat who wasn't a worshipper of Morgoth but a follower of the Blue Wizard, would be appointed leader.
Angruin was doubtful about the morality of hijacking a vote to appoint a leader, so as to get a leader who was pro-Valar. That seemed a little dodgy to him, though entirely in keeping with his view of the Valar. But people generally don't feel that Angruin should get much of a say on moral issues after the whole multiple kinslayings thing, which I suppose is fair enough.
However, once Clemen was appointed, he proved to be open to hearing Angruin's 'this would be a very bad place to have a siege' talk. Plans were made to start moving the refugees out of the city and sending them further west.
While the Elves were busy manipulating votes, Hor the young lady Iron-fist dwarf had been doing some scouting around of her own. She found her way down into some tunnels deep below the city... which seemed to be inhabited, and not by any of the Seven Families of the Dwarves! Yes, Hor had indeed found the Petty-dwarves, who had been scratching out a rather pitiful secret livelihood underneath the city for many generations.
Since their lives in Nim-narad had been pretty poor, and our mate Thrandin had previously been charged with finding the Petty-dwarves and bringing them back into contact by Aule himself, we felt a sense of responsibility for them, somehow. Sirithglor offered them a new home in her Land of Engirdor, an offer that they eagerly accepted. Keen not to encounter the horrors of invasion by the Variags, they left almost at once, and, rather more slowly and reluctantly, the refugees of Ib Narad too began to pack up and move out.
Fenrush the Ent, being rather on the large side for frivolling atop ziggurats, had been hanging out at ground level, and had encountered a group of orphan children, who lived in an abandoned house within the city walls on whatever they could steal. The strict structure of Ib Narad society which had caused Sauron such trouble when attempting to convert the place into a complete menace was also a problem for these children, who had no tribal or clan affiliation, and thus nobody to feed them or defend them from cannibal Variags.
Unable to solve these difficult problems, Fenrush opted to at least give the orphans some entertainment.
The orphans enjoyed being ent-juggled a lot.
News came in that once again, Urd had been attacked. This time terrible forces had been set against the humble herdsmen of Urd: Raugamedui, a demon and spirit of fire who had escaped into the world at the fall of Utumno, and Zugrug, a Baldog, supported by trolls and Goblins, had come marching out of the East.
Hidek, in the form of a bear, heroically slew Raugamedui, and the trolls and Goblins were beaten back by a combined force of Urdar and Ioriags. The battle was a Notable one, and was immediately dubbed the Battle of Demon's End.
Now the mighty horde of Variags were approaching Nim-Narad, and the army led by Clemen was about to go out to try to destroy them .... or at least, to give the noncombatants and refugees time to get away. The orphan children, however, did not want to leave. They had nowhere to go, and nothing to eat outside the city.
At this point, Angruin, gloomily surveying yet another probably-doomed fortress, yet another massive evil fast-approaching army, and yet another sad huddle of war-children, came to a life-changing decision, and announced that he was going home to Rivendell and taking all the thief-orphans with him. I like to think that Maedhros would have been proud of him. I also like to think that he was one of the Elves of Rivendell singing tralalalally under Bilbo Bagginses window and keeping him awake, several thousand years later.
But the rest of the party were made of sterner stuff. It was time for... The Battle of X Armies! (X being however many armies attended, because it's always hard to work out exactly who should be counted.)
For example, the elephant and riders below are clearly part of the Army of Ib-Narad. But does an Ent throwing rocks with all his four arms count as an auxiliary force, or a single fighter???
Also: Thorofin. I didn't actually paint Thorofin fighting, but in this battle, he went through the Variags like a knife through butter. Does a single Noldo count as an army if he's acting as a Weapon of Mass Destruction?
Here are some banners waving heroically against the Forces of Darkness.
I think these ARE some of the Forces of Darkness, carrying with them a Mechanical Dragon.
And here are some elephants facing off against wolf-riders.
Sirithglor acted as a commander of the Ib Narad forces (Clemen clearly being very willing to hear counsel from the Elves, in such desperate straits) and probably should not just be counted as an adjunct of the Mannish army.
Anyway, no matter how you count them, our forces performed spectacularly and quite unexpectedly well, somehow overwhelming a considerably larger and more ferocious and heavily-armoured attacking force.
From a purely narrative perspective, this was something of a pity, because there were actually some impressive reinforcements lined up that we knew nothing about. For example, Thrar, who had been one of our party and had broken both his legs fighting a dragon, returned, leading a force all the way from the Blue Hills to our aid in a goat-cart (because his legs are still not up to marching). We also got reinforcements from the Iron-fist dwarves, persuaded by the diplomatic efforts of Thrandin, from the Stiff-beards, who we had helped save from the orcs in the siege in the northern mountains, and from the Bead People of the Northern Shore, who we had freed from an ensorcelled beach, if I remember rightly.
And finally, turning up last of all, Maglor, leading a force of Elves from Uab! Here he is with the Iron-fist dwarves. It would have made for a very stirring ending, if it hadn't been that the elephants of Ib-narad had been so very heroic that most of the reinforcements weren't needed. That's war by dice for you.
But no matter how it happened, Sauron's plan to overwhelm the East of Middle-earth with hordes of Variags, had been defeated!
In this we learned which of the mortal characters we had met would end up becoming Nazgul. At least we destroyed one of the Nine! So actually the Nine aren't Nine. They are Eight, and A Replaceable Larper.
The Epilogue divided characters into:
1 - Those Who Lived Happily To the End Of Their Days (including Thrandin, who will found the Dwarf Olympics, Thrar, who will send lots of poetry to compete in the Dwarf Olympics, Kurin the Harbinger and Sirithglor, who will topple the Priest-kings of Ib Narad and bring down the religion of Mol, Angruin and his orphans, Ching-po, Molaine, Hor, and Hidek, who eventually retreated from Urd to his home in Engirdor, and became a King-Arthur-like figure to Urd, thought to return in times of national difficulty.)
2 - Those who Attempted to Rescue Prince Irimon and Died in the Attempt (Thingolodh, Ecthelion) Sadly, it turned out that Prince Irimon really had gone over to the Enemy. The Omniescient Narrative Voice told us that Irimon was given a Ring of power, and became one of the Nazgul, and the River King's Daughter was conveniently (for Sauron) shipwrecked and lost. The River King died with them, trying to find his daughter. RIP Ecthelion and his white shiny boots. Your prince didn't deserve your faith in him.
Incidentally, this proved that Angruin's gloomy mutterings about the River King, Irimon's strange dreams about the River King's Daughter, and the inadvisability of elf-man marriages were actually 100% correct. It wasn't a romance, after all. It was a horror story.
3) Those Who Fell into Darkness (Finculin, Tosca) Finculin was filled with optimism about Progress and the State of the World, and went off to set up a university in Bur-Esme. It ended badly.
4) Those who died heroically much later: Thorofin. He became the leader of Gil-galad's personal guard, and was the last of them to fall in the Battle of the Last Alliance, protecting his king.
And that, at long last, is the very end of the story.