The group arrived at the Stair of Girion late in the day as the sun was just disappearing behind the tallest trees of the eastern eaves of Mirkwood. They considered making camp themselves but were soon invited to join the lake-men who lived near the shore to take seats around their fire. These porters were simple men, and most of them young. They were easily excited by the sight of adventurers daring to go south on a boat, and jumped at the chance of hearing a good story or song from them. Unfortunately the party lacked any musical individuals, but Burin was happy to entertain them with stories from the histories of the Dwarves, mostly of great battles with the Orcs in the far off Misty Mountains.
The Lake-men were pleased to have such interesting company on that night, and before it grew late they introduced the party to an ancient looking individual that supposedly lived nearby. Old Nerulf was his name, and when he spoke to the group the decrepit Northman was hardly intelligible, but when he heard that these travellers were heading south he repeated over and over again what seemed to be some words of warning, perhaps a rhyme of lore he learned as a child: ‘If you go south into the marshes take heed: tread lightly and fear the gallows-weed…’
Early the next morning the company set about rowing south into the Long Marshes. This area was still considered to be mostly unexplored and dangerous, shunned by even the most curious lake-men and raft-elves. The terrain along the river vale was flat and fenny, and a dense fog would often rise on a morning such as this, making it almost impossible to follow a path on land. Boating on the river made for steady progress, even if the stream would become tortuous at times, wandering among a hundred winding courses. Lifstan and Arnulf kept them at a good pace rowing the boat while Burin and Runa kept watch ahead and to the land in case of any obstacles or anything worth investigating.
After some time down this route they eventually began to enter the eastern eaves of Mirkwood. The shadowy canopy of the wood seemed to silence the sounds of nature, from the buzzing of insects to the chirping of birds, all not noticed until their absence, resulting in a deafening quiet that made the air feel close and numbing to the senses. They were all feeling the effects of the oppressive place they had just entered, but of all four companions Burin reacted worst.
‘agh, why would I ever want to enter such a blighted place?’ he said ‘I’d feel far more free under a league of stone and earth than these horrible twisted branches’.
It didn’t take long for him to focus on the task at hand again once Arnulf reminded him why they were here in the first place, but his outburst had already put them all at unease.
A little further along they decided to proceed on foot as the way by water was becoming more and more difficult if they wanted to be close enough to keep an eye on the bank. Lifstan and Arnulf were both already muddy up to the waist from having to enter the cold waters of the marshes to free their boat from submerged roots and tangles of dead boughs. They pulled their boat onto the land, hoping to come back this way and return with it if they could. After some time walking through the still thoroughly waterlogged soil of the wood Runa, who was at the back of the group as they moved, suddenly came to a stop, telling the others to do so.
‘I’m fairly certain we are being followed. Someone, or something just made made movement through the trees to the west…’.
As she started to ready her bow, they all saw a group of figures appear from various positions among the trees in the direction they had come.
‘It’s the Wood Elves’ Said Arnulf upon seeing them ‘We are travelling in their realm I suppose, and at least it isn’t orcs’. But Burin still looked apprehensive as they approached.
The Elves, still spread out and keeping their bows at the ready, approached the companions, and the one in front stopped a few yards away, close enough to not need to speak loudly, but far enough to be prepared for trouble. He spoke to them quickly got straight to the point. ‘The Elvenking wishes to know why this part of the wood has been so busy as of late.’ He glanced at Burin with a look of distaste ‘Like myself, he is not overly fond of the amount of Dwarves he has found entering his lands unannounced’
‘There is a simple answer to that master Elf, ah-‘ began Arnulf.
‘Galion is my name’ Interrupted the leading Elf.
‘Well Galion, we are simply looking for these Dwarves that you may be referring to. They are importand Dwarves on a diplomatic mission, and they have gone missing, we are one of many search parties sent to follow their path.’
After a pause Galion continued ‘I see, I know I recognized at least one of them from the last time they… visited the royal halls. We were keeping track of their movements, two of them, until they disappeared from their encampment one night. Most likely they discovered one of us following them and chose to sneak away quietly. I did not inquire any further and returned, as these parts of the marshes are too close to the Mountains of Mirkwood for us to tarry too long.
Burin spoke up suddenly ‘Their encampment? is it nearby?’
Galion glared at the Dwarf but answered ‘It is not far, but well hidden. If it means your businuess here is concluded more quickly then we will take you there now’.
So the party continued forward, being led by an undetermined number of Elves of the wood, hard to clearly count due to the way they moved stealthily amongst and around the trees. It was starting get late in the day, and the group would want to get to this encampment soon enough to not only search it, but also have a dry place to rest before they carried on.