Chapter 4: Imtarumbar

 

Daern, after listening to the party, looked briefly for footprints
from this area to or from the mansion, but finding none, he then looked skyward and pulled his cloak in tighter.
"We had best get going before this storm is upon us and the babe catches his death." With a look to Taurvantar, he motioned
with his chin towards the mansion. He then started wearily trudging
towards the mansion with an arrow still knocked in his bow as his eyes scoured the bleak surroundings
"Prithee, my companion, make haste," Ranciryon told Daern, "We must move on, for where babies lie, mothers shall be also. Yet we have seen hide nor hair."
Ranciryon and Daern headed for the mansion while the others questioned the goblin. Quietly, the tall Numenorean drew his sword, Lassemista. Taurvantar, noting their departure, called for them to hold until he had finished questioning the goblin but perhaps the howling wind had caught hold of their ears for neither turned around but continued to trudge forward, eager to discover both shelter and answers.

As they approached the looming mansion, they could see that it was a very large and imposing structure, obviously built for a great house, though none had been known to live in this area since before the ruin of Annuminas.
The foundation of the building was 4-5 feet high and built of mortared stonework. The building was mostly two stories, though parts of it rose higher. On the sides that they faced, Ranciryon and Daern could see that a great covered walkway ran the entire length of the western and southern sides of the house. On the western side, the walkway ended into a door and this was closest to the huge three storey glass annex that jutted out from this end. This was the annex that was closest to the temple and its walled garden of stone monuments. On the western walkway were set no less than eleven doors, between each of which was a beautiful crystal window, topped by coloured glass each depicting a different pastoral scene. Small benches could be seen scattered about, as if to offer comfort and rest to those who wished to linger outside in fairer weather. Two railed stairways led up to the porch on this side.
On the southern facing, there was one great stairway, obviously the main entrance as it faced the distant gate, whose overgrown ruin was now obscured by fast falling snow. This southern facing offered many windows. But only three sets of doors were immediately apparent. One was a double door of what looked like tarnished bronze, and it was flanked by two smaller cousins on either side. As they approached, Daern later pointed out another small door at the very far end of the southern walkway which dead ended into the house.
Ranciryon and Daern, hearing heavy crunching footfalls behind them turned and found the newcomer, Kal, gaining on them. He had rushed forward to join them, eager to discover what lay inside. Ranciryon and Daern nodded silently to Kal and the three of them ventured up the main stairway, which was made of stone. They went up carefully and parked themselves near the corner of the patio, where they could see both southern and western ways. The patio was twenty feet wide at all points and to the west went on for 250' before it dead ended into two double doors. Eleven doors led off of it along the way. The southern walkway travelled even farther, some 300' but dead ended in but a single small door. Looking behind them, now out of the heavy snowfall, they could see that the rest of the party was now out of sight, cut off as if by a white blanket. Conferring amongst themselves, they tried to decide if they should press on and if so, what entrance should they try first. Or should they wait for the rest of party to rejoin them?

Kal, setting about business right away had already taken out some rope and bound Pric hand and foot so that the goblin would not escape.
"Owr! Elven rope it iss! It burns me skin! Take it off! OWR! OWR! She'll get you for thiss! She will!" Hissing and spitting, Pric ventured to snap a bite out of one of Kal's fingers, but the Peredhil just tweeked the goblin's nose and then gathered his things, setting out after Ranciryon and Daern, leaving the actual questioning to the others.
Tirion, ignored the goblin's cries and continued to search around the campfire, looking for other clues that might have been overlooked. As he scoured the powdery snow with his shoes, he sang to himself in Quenya. Fred busied himself with trying to douse the bonfire, and though it was well established, the weight of the falling snow and the heaps of powder that Fred threw onto it buried eventually until it was just smoking black branches and hissing snow.
Ordain, fearing for the child's safety and comfort, mumbled a few words and with the sweep of his hand the blueness of the child's skin began to fade and a rosy bluster restored itself. As if in thanks, the young boy reached out chubby arms to it's benefactor, cooing and squeaking in delight.
It was Taurvantar who began the questioning of Pric, taking hold of the rope that Kal had used, he twisted it until Pric howled, snapping his goblin jowls in pain. It was clear, what would be the response to unanswered questions.
"Tell me Pric, how did you come by this fair babe?" When Pric didn't answer right away, Taurvantar twisted the rope.
"OWR! Alright! Alright! We went troo the mirrour, an what was beyond were cribs, as always dere were. You'd better let offn that rope," he growled.
"I'll let off this rope as long as I get straight answers, do you understand, Pric?" Pric didn't answer but mumbled something under his breath. Taurvantar continued.
"Ask him if the child is Lord Tarma's son," Fred suggested. Taurvantar nodded, and told Pric to answer the question.
Pric giggled with delight. "Even the high, their flesh shall feed the Hunger. Yess, Tarma, yess."
"Well," Fred concluded, "now we know what happened to all those missing children." He turned to Eoras, "Hey, Eoras, look what I found." Fred handed the Rohirrim a wineskin. Eoras opened and smelled what was inside.
"Pah! Very nice clue, Fred, thanks," Eoras mocked.
"Now, where are those other goblins going, your friends? And what is this mirrour you speak of?" Taurvantar continued.
Pric glared at Taurvantar and the others, but he continued to answer. "Basher and Sneaks, they go back to da dead place, where She lives. She will come and she will kill you ALL!"
"And who is She, Pric." She is da one who sleeps no more. She is the one who will bring back da grate dead God. She is the one who will strip the bones from yer flesh and feed me sweet gibblets." Pric licked his lips at the thought. Though Taurvantar continued to press the goblin on this point, no amount of twisting or questioning could produce anything but meaningless mumbles, so Taurvantar went on to other topics.
"And the mirrour, Pric? You mentioned a mirror? Tell me more of that?"
"It lies in the house, dere. In it a goblin may walk into the greatest guarded house and steal and maim while all men and elves be sleepin." The goblin cackled in delight, remembering past triumphs. "An troo it, She watches. She watches you now! She knows you tall folk and will cut out your hearts and feed them to the dark One who is dead but lives. She'll have you," Pric promised. "She'll have you and I shall feed on what's left, so you'd better run now!" Pric started to cackle, but Taurvantar shut him up, twisting the rope again.
Ordain and the others appeared to grow discomfortable, but it was not just from the bitter cold for a chillness entered all of them, Taurvantar as well, that no man, elf or hobbit could sunder from himself.
"What's the saying?" Fred mumbled, "When you feel that someone just walked over your grave."
Taurvantar ignored Fred's fear and his own as well and pressed Pric for more.
"Where is the milk that you kept this child alive with, Pric? Where is there milk, nearby?"
Pric sneered, "Feed from Her teats, if you dare? Her black milk would burn you raw!" That was all that the goblin said then for Taurvantar laid hold of the rope with a vengeance.
"No games Pric, or I'll twist your head off next."
"The wineskin! The wineskin!" Pric howled. "The potion in it. We gives it to babes and they think it sweet!"
Eoras handed Taurvantar the wineskin and the Peredhil sniffed it, reeling back from the stench. He offered it to Pric and the goblin sucked it down with such relish that Taurvantar had to pull it back to keep at least some of it.
"Well, at least we know it's not poison," Eoras said. The Rohirrim put some on his finger and offered it to the babe in Ordain's arms. The baby cried and objected to its smell.
"So much for thinking it sweet," Ordain huffed. "Perhaps it will keep the child alive. If we find no other milk, we might have to chance it."
Eoras turned to the goblin and cuffed him hard.
"Hey now, my sniveling little friend, what do you mean with stealing babes and sacrificing them? Don't you know that will get you killed?"
At this, Pric whimpered.
Eoras continued. "Don't you goblins have any more sense than that? And what have you done with its parents? How many others have you done the same with? More than I can count here?" Eoras kicked the blackened pile of skulls and bones, sending a few of them scattering.
Pric covered his head, afraid of the Rohirric's wrath.
"We only did what She told us to do."
"How many? And where are the parents?"
"The mothers and fathers are where they were. We only took the crib meat. And of that, no more than one and a half score. That's not so much is it? And they could always breed more," the goblin offered. The offer however did not have Pric's desired effect. All of the party present loomed over the goblin with looks that suggested that they would begin to rend Pric on the spot.
Eoras fought to control himself. "And what is this mansion? Who lives here?"
Pric looked up at him. "She lives there. She and all the souls she has captured as slaves. You will hear them crying soon for She torments them as She will you."
"Where have your companions gone?" Eoras pressed Pric further. "Do you have a secret hidey-hole hereabouts? Where is it? He cuffed the goblin again, preferring that over the rope.
Tirion rejoined the rest of the party, having found nothing new.
"Answer me, you dolt! Shall we throw you into the fire?"
Eoras theatrically glared at the goblin. "Come friends, get some more rope and a large branch if you can find one, let us burn the little demon at the stake!"
"They've gone back to the dead!" Pric screamed. "They will call for Her there and Her horsemen will come! Their cold lances shall spear you and they will take your rent souls back to Her."
The threat of horsemen galvanized the party, caught as they were in the openness of the snowy field. Gathering their things and a whimpering and seemingly cowed Pric, they made their way to join the rest of their band gathered near the great house. Always, they looked behind them, dreading the sound of snow softened horsehooves.

The wind had picked up so fiercely by the time the rest of the party set out that they could not see the mansion for all the snow flurries and had to rely on dead reckoning to find it. Soon it's dark bulk could be seen and shouldering against the wind, they pushed on until they had arrived onto the porch. They could not see either Ranciryon, Daern or Kal, but the snowfall was so thick that they might be just a few yards off.
From what they could see, they were standing before the great house, whose covered deck or walkway rose above them about five feet, resting atop a stone foundation. The building was mostly two stories, though parts of it rose higher. The walkway seemed to encompass all of the southern and western ends of the house, which was all that could be seen and three access points presented themselves in the form of railed stairways that led up to this porch. Of these, two were on the western side, nearest where Taurvantar had seen the light, but the largest was on the southern side and was obviously the main entrance to the house, facing the overgrown gate that now could not bee seen. Everything was covered in white, it's glaring lack of colour burning into everyone's eyes. Everyone looked about, trying to see where the rest of the party had gone and trying to decide which approach would be best.

Just as they were deciding which access to the house would be best, Taurvantar noted that Fred was not amongst them. Damn, he thought, now what should they do. Go on and search for their advance scouts or go back into the storm and try to find the wayward hobbit?

So intent was the rest of the party in questioning Pric, that no one noticed Fred depart and make his way unseen to the mansion. Though he could initially see Daern and Ranciryon ahead of him, with Kal following fast behind trying to catch up, the increasing snowfall and the wind which had started to pick up with a vengeance soon obscured even them to Fred's eyes. They had not seem to have seen him either. Turning around and pausing to catch his breath as if was heavy work for little legs to work through deepening snow, Fred could not make out either the party he had left or the advance group. As Ranciryon and the others seemed to head for the southern part of the house, Fred headed for the western side.
The foundation of the building was 4-5 feet high and built of mortared stonework. The building was mostly two stories, though parts of it rose higher. On the side that he faced, Fred could see that a great covered walkway ran the entire length of the western side of the house. On this side, the walkway ended into a double door and this was closest to the huge three storey glass annex that jutted out from this end. This was the glass annex that was closest to the temple and its walled garden of stone monuments. Off the western walkway were set no less than eleven doors, between each of which was a beautiful crystal window, topped by coloured glass each depicting a different pastoral scene. Small benches could be seen scattered about, as if to offer comfort and rest to those who wished to linger outside in fairer weather. Two railed stairways led up to the porch on this side. The patio was twenty feet wide at all points and to the west went on for 250' before it turned the corner and continued what had seemed to Fred an even greater distance along the southern side, but that was a side that he could not see.
Cautiously, Fred went up the stairs. Everything was quiet as if all the world had disappeared into a frozen slumber leaving Fred and the House, each to face the other. The house bothered Fred immensely, its dark dirty glass peering at him. Fred tried one of the doors, it's tarnished brass knob would not turn. Locked. Fred got out his lock kit and went to work but whether from the biting cold that froze his hands, lack of skill or both, Fred could not open it. Needing some refuge from the cold, Fred decided to at least peer inside. Rubbing the dirt off the windows, he looked inside. It looked like an interior walkway, he might have called it a room because it was very broad, perhaps thirty feet across and other doors inside led off that. Also, he could see a stairway going up.
Just then a face appeared to stare back at him. Startled, Fred jumped back. It was his own face, reflected in the glass and now revealed to him by some trick of light, perhaps because he had cleaned off the glass. He bent his head to peer back inside, but his own face, no, not his own face, but a mockery of it stared back. Fred looked with horrour, his feet frozen to view the dead reflection. Worms and maggots crawled out of his skin, his scalp patchy and showing some skull while his reflection, still capturing what must be the horrour on his face, mocked him. He was looking at himself as if dead.
He screamed but the sound died, caught by the wind. He ran, forgetting his tools and pack, running down the stairs and slipping on it's icy coating and then falling head first into the snowy ground below the patio. For a few moments he lay there panting and screaming into the snow. Then recovered himself and pulled his body up, brushing off several inches of snow that had already covered him. He was freezing and he was scared, but he would have to go back up the stairs to gather his things and go on. Fred swallowed thinking about what to do as he stood, half covered by the deepening snow.
{I will assume that Fred continues to explore as you indicated in your last move, unless you tell me otherwise. Still send me a confirmation move though. To keep your timeframe in sync with the rest of the party, I will only reveal a little at a time.}

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