Just after dawn, three days later, the company struck camp and climbed to the crest of the final down that lay between them and Amon Tira. Like much of the remains of the North-kingdom, the walls of the fort were pitted with age and grown green with moss, making the stoneworks hard to distinguish from the rock outcroppings and boulders that protruded from neighboring hills.
Down the other side of the down and up a series of crumbling stone staircases was the south gate of Amon Tira, now no more than a decrepit stone archway. Halfway in between, the company spotted an earthen chimney with thick, dark smoke wafting up out of it into the morning sky.
Duinhir and Talandil bid the party to keep quiet and stay out of site on the far side of the down. They then began discussing approaching the fort from another direction. As they turned to confer with the rest of the company, they realized Bowen was nowhere to be found.
The company watched anxiously as the hobbit moved stealthily down the hill and scrambled up the stone stairs. Talandil hissed “Fool of a Bucklander!” when Bowen nearly fell on one of the more decrepit stretches. The following half hour or so was fraught with nerves as the hobbit evaded an Orc sentry, stole into the keep and finally made his way back to his companions.
“There’s a trap door in the floor of that old tower. It looks as if rubbish has been recently cleared from on top and, of all things, the hinges have been oiled. I’d have opened it out of sheer curiosity, but it was too heavy for me to lift. What do you say – shall we?”
“What of the Orc?” The Widow asked incredulously.
“Oh, him… He seemed an unpleasant enough chap.” Bowen replied, smiling, “A bit dim too, seeing how he let me walk right in the front door.”
One by one, the company made their way down the hill, up the stairs and into the keep. At one point, they were sure they’d been spotted, but, after a brief pause, the sentry started back on his shuffling loop around the building.
This time, Bowen was able to lift the trapdoor (with a considerable amount of help from Duinhir, of course). A rough hewn ladder descended down to a dimly lit landing. Once again, Bowen was off in a flash. This time Alaglîr was right behind.
Quickly and cautiously investigating a room off the landing to the left, Alaglîr discovered an Orc hunched up against a barrel snoring like a drunk. He drew his dagger and quickly ended the Orc. On further inspection, the room appeared to be a mess hall. Cracked bowls and chipped mugs littered a large stone table that sat at the center of the room. A foul smelling stew and some black noxious draught could still be found in some of the tableware. Stools lined the table – some stand, some knocked on their sides.
The barrel was branded with an Orcish “g” rune inside of a triangle. Duinhir was able to identify it as the mark of the Orcs of Mount Gram. “It would appear that the Orcs and Wargs we have encountered have issued forth from here,” he said, “this does not bode well.” The rest of the company nodded in grim agreement.
Stepping back out to the landing, the company descended a stairway into a modest hall. Stone columns lined its length on the left and right. A large square fire pit sat at the center. Embers from a recent fire gave off a deep, orange light. At the other end, a stone staircase led down to an ornate arched door with four lines of Sindarin carved above a bas relief of three birds in a barren landscape.
Quietly, Alaglîr read the lines out loud in the common tongue:
In Elder-days that long are gone
a light amid the shadows shone,
a voice was in the silence heard:
the sudden singing of a bird.
“It is from the Lay of Leithian.” he said when he was done, “A wondrous and sorrowful tale of Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel.”
Just as Alaglîr was intoning the name of the daughter of King Thingol of Doriath and Melian the Maia, Bowen pressed the relief of one of the birds — a nightingale with a slightly thicker outline than the other two. There was a soft yet solid click as the door swung open silently.