Departing without ceremony, Saruman disappears into the darkness of the night-time forest, the almost-glow of his white robe and hat vanishing by degrees as bit by bit it is hidden by shadow and bough. Within the hall of Maracar, all is briefly still, Radaghast gazing out the door as if expecting Saruman's return at any moment, the women and children of the house struck dumb by the events of the past half-hour. Finally one woman, the youngest to judge by the lines of her face, ventures forth. "If it please you, sir," she says, her voice hesitant at first but gaining strength from Hathcyn's welcoming words, "our men are gone to Rhosgobel to join the gathering of the fyrd. We will wait here for their return, but thereafter we shall put your offer before them, for these woods are no longer a fit place to bring up our children!"
Her words break any spell lingering from Saruman's presence, and all at once the business of life and death goes on. The remains of the goblins' feast are portioned out among the surviving hall-folk and the new arrivals alike, and the following day is spent building a pyre for Maracar, and comforting the children as they grieve for the loss of their grandfather. Though the labour is wearying, none of the Fellowship can deny that a day without urgent marching is a great relief.
Finally, as the sun begins to set once again, the sound of a horn announces the arrival of the warriors of Rhosgbel. As a tearful reunion takes place between the sons of Maracar and their wives and children, close to four score men and women, all well-armed with spears, bows and long-hafted axes in the fashion of the Woodmen, enter the small clearing and begin to make themselves comfortable. Their leader, a long-limbed woman whom Grimbeorn recognises in a vague fashion from previous visits within the brown hedge, approaches the two Beornings. "Hail to you," she calls out as she comes close, "Men name me for the Stag-horn. I was told to expect the son of Beorn here. Tell me, are you he?"
Esgalwen, for her part, finds her brow furrowing in slight puzzlement, for though she has seen armed men at muster from the gates of Minas Tirith to the canals of Dale, and the folk of Rhosgobel are not known to be considerably wealthier than those of the other great houses, this band is the best-victualled fighting force that ever she has seen. The answer to the riddle comes when out from behind a pair of heavily-laden ponies steps Bandobras Bracegirdle, his bow over his shoulder and already looking with bright eyes around the twilit scene. "Lady Gwen!" he cries with a jubilant grin as he espies her. "Why, fancy finding you here! Hasn't King Bard made you Marshal of Dale yet?"
The timbers of the palisade creak and groan as if echoing the dismay of the defenders of the hall, and the howling and baying of the orcs beyond grows ever louder. As a barrage of black-fletched arrows drives the last archers from the parapet, Amaleoda, her spear held in her left hand as she cradles her shattered right to her chest, looks about her, gauging the strength of her exhausted and starving people and their willingness to fight on.
From his place at the right edge of the shield wall, Arbogast meets her eye. Judging that enough time remains, she motions him over to her. "Little more can we endure," she tells him, "and I would not spend our strength further if we could instead retreat and defend only Sweartmereseld."
The Fire-watcher spares a glance backward at the hall as a crack announces that the orcs have pulled one of the thick palisade timbers loose and the whistling of arrow-shafts answers from within. Its doors, and its wooden roof that resembles the inverted hull of a river boat, are solid and strong but there are precious few openings through which arrows might be loosed. Slowly, he shakes his head. "We have held out this long only because they are not yet sure that we are beaten. Should we show them that they may pass the palisade unimpeded, they will come upon us at once. They will burn Sweartmereseld and us inside it, and gnaw the charred bones they pluck from the embers."
Another crack, and now comes the sound of goblin arrows finding Mannish shields. "We must retreat, but not before we have beaten them back," Arbogast says, eyeing the line and weighing how much time he has to spare for talk. "Even once most are safe inside, we must have a few here to challenge the night-time interlopers."
Amaleoda nods her approval. "And your companions?"
"I have heard nothing more, but they are on their way. This I know as I know my own name," he answers, giving an assurance that he no longer feels. The vision of the Hathcyn-fox was days past, from a night when he and Lindwine lost once again an unborn child. Was the memory of it merely a creation of a mind oppressed by weariness and grief? No voice does he give to this doubt, for such would surely be the end of him. How long could the warriors of the Tarn continue to resist, if the hope of rescue were dashed?
Another timber is pulled away by strong and terrible hands, and goblins push through the gap in twos and threes. Amaleoda holds high her spear and calls forth "Stand fast, firas! Stand fast!"
Hey Paul, my local sheet looks like the Dropbox sheet except I have my 3rd Personality box checked. I assumed it an AP when I scored the last Persuade success while applying my traits to coax Radagast into finding his balls.
While I'm thinking about character sheets, Doug, can you make sure you check your local copy of Esgalwen's sheet against the one on Dropbox? I have a feeling you've marked off at least one AP that isn't on the 'master' one, and I don't want to screw you out of any.
"I am sorry for your loss and the state of things here in your house. Have you any kin or family among the woodmen you may fly to? The path behind us is relatively safe and groups of men are coming to pay back these fouls creatures.
If you have no where to go and are willing to travel to the forest road you may come to the Wolf's Tale. I will see that you and your children are taken care of and provided shelter. My inn is small but growing. I could find work and space for you there should you wish to stay and live farther north than here."
I'll attempt to inspire the women of the hall. If they do not accept My offer maybe I can help them to make a decision or have a goal and feel less helpless.
Good questions, Tom. The dead goblins are of a type Hathcyn hadn't seen for a while - these sorts of creatures usually dwell deep in Mirkwood and had set up lairs in several of the Dwarven watchtowers along the Forest Road. These particular examples might have been scouts seeing how far they could push north and west from the Tarn, but just as likely had skulked away from the main force and were living it up at Maracar's Hall in the short-sighted way that goblins often have when there's food around and people to bully.
The bodies bear some scars that seem a little too consistent to be combat-related, but no markings that he recognises.
Maracar, for his part, has passed on to whatever awaits the souls of Men. His body shows signs of torture (not least being hung from his own roof) but not, as far as any of the Fellowship can tell, over a long period. It looks like they arrived no more than a day or so before you did.
"I... I..." Radaghast stutters as Esgalwen and Grimbeorn give voice to their frustrations. When Hathcyn's words sound, though, even the White Wizard looks momentarily taken aback, and in the momentary silence, Radaghast finds his voice once more. "I will go! You, who look out from your grand tower over many lands forget, I fear, that the lives and doings of those closer to the soil are just as real, and of as much import, as the deeds of great lords. I will go with those whom I have taken as my friends, in defence of a folk I have come to love not as lesser beings but as family, and not all your wrathful petulance shall bid me do otherwise!"
The Brown Wizard's staff fairly leaps into his hand. For half a heartbeat, Saruman's hand twitches toward his own. Upon his face is his wrath plainly writ before an even quicker flash of heartache, seen only by Hathcyn, who has himself known the pain of being scorned by the closest of kin. But the moment passes, and the great and ancient dignity of the Wisest of the Wise reasserts itself. "Very well," he says, his tone that of a lord pronouncing a heavy sentence upon a wrongdoer. "Await the warriors of Rhosgobel here, and may such powers of the world that watch over the adventures of the foolhardy spare you not their gaze."