Back to Middle Earth
Week 2, When does Smaug Die?
Tom decides he would like a little more data before trying to locate the day of Bilbo's arrival, so he and Fogi step out of the pantope again, which is still parked in a stand of trees on Erebor. They walk down the hill through the woods, then step onto the road and walk up to the gate, where the dwarf guards are.
Tom claims to be a craftsman from a far land [true], traveling with his apprentice [Fogi]. He says he has come to admire the handiwork of the dwarves and makes appreciative noises about the workmanship of the gate. The guards seem a little surprised, but gratified. He asks them how old the gate is, but they don't give him any useful chronometric data. Nor do they let him in. Dwarves do most of their business with men down in Dale. So we retrace our circuitous route to the pantope. Rats.
We disconnect and back up to Tom's best guess for the right Durin's Day. The forest is now much younger -- mere scrub and brush, the Desolation of Smaug. It is dusk. Tom sets the pantope to re-connect tomorrow evening, then in a week, then at monthly intervals. The party steps out, and--
"Halt in the name of King Dain!"
Dain? sigh We're a year or more late. And we were spotted quickly in the reduced cover. Cantrel fades into the gloaming and the rest of us stop. Aphron, who is disguised as a dwarf, calls out, "Greetings from the far east! I take it this is Erebor?" Of course it is. The guards want to know where we're from. Tom wracks his memory of the Middle Earth maps he has seen and claimed we were from the mountains of Yon (or whatever it was. I don't have the Total Recall skill). The guards -- maybe the same guards 75 years earlier -- are suspicious and surly. They tell us the gate is closed for the night. We head downhill, toward Dale, then veer off and look for a campsite to wait until tomorrow's dusk.
While foraging for the night's dinner, Tom came across a very large wolf, a warg in fact. Fortunately, he was downwind of it. Meanwhile, Pfusand had found a deer -- the same deer the warg was hunting. She attacked the deer and the warg attacked her. She and Tom both shot the warg with crossbows, then took out the warg's partner. So we've worked for our venison tonight.
The following day passes uneventfully, and at dusk we make our way back to the pantope. There, we just sleep out the night, still parked. Next morning, Tom and Wu approach the gate as if from Dale. They once more introduce themselves as travelers and ask how long it has been since they buried Thorin Oakenshield. The guards, still surly, ask why we want to know. Tom admits they have a bet on it. Three years is the answer, and their manner doesn't invite further questioning. Nevertheless, it's enough to navigate by. Tom says, "See, I told you," to Wu, who hands him a coin, and they leave.
Back to the pantope again. And back FOUR years. Esgaroth is still standing. Forward one year, to Durin's Day. This MUST be the day the hobbit and the dwarves arrive at Erebor, if the plot is at all on track. We leave the pantope connected by no more than a window, move it closer to the gate, and quietly watch.
Later than evening, we see Smaug erupt from the mountain, to hunt down the thieves he has just discovered. We also spot a figure not in the story. On a far hill sits a figure on horseback, watching. The pantope zooms in, but it's dark and there's only so much we can do with image enhancement through the window. It's a gray or brown horse, and the rider is darkly clad. He radiates in the infrared as would a normal human. So far, so good.
Is he a native? A customer with a ring-side seat or a side-scenario? A world-bender keeping track of the plot, or running the dragon, or some such?
The Serving System then announces a party moving through the woods down by the lake. Probably elves. Fifteen minutes later, the horseman rides down the hill and out of sight. After another fifteen minutes, Smaug lands and crawls back into the mountain.
At 10:00 AM the next morning, the Serving System announces, "There is a party in the area that includes at least one elf." We get a telephoto shot of a pale, beautiful face with pointed ears. More people not in the novel.
We continue waiting. While we do, Fogi recalls the worldbender gadgets we brought in from the control center, when we made our jailbreak. How about looking through them for useful things? The most useful thing at first glance is an instrument pack we will call a tricorder. It senses, records, analyzes, and acts as a communicator. Tom is able to work it, though he cannot read the displays -- foreign language. He can send a viewpoint sailing out of it and get TV pictures. However, Dr. Wu is able to detect the viewpoint as a psychic presence. This could be detected. We shelve it.
Next night, Smaug emerges again and beats down the far side of the mountain in an effort to kill off Bilbo's party. He then takes off to destroy Esgaroth and, according to the plot, to die by the arrow of Bard. The mountain will be vacant for a day or so, until the dwarves and the hobbit work up their nerve to come down the secret passage.
Or is it vacant? Pfusand spots a dark, cloaked figure on the gate's wall. It has a sword strapped to its back. It jumps off the wall, falls LIGHTLY despite the great height, and dashes away toward a copse of trees. The pantope's close-up reveals black armor. "75% chance this is an elf," announces the Serving System. "Make that 66%." The elven Zorro then reappears from the copse, riding a dark horse toward Esgaroth.
Time for us to bail out. The pantope is once more set to the day-week-month waiting cycle, and Victoria is on board to keep watch. We very much hope that the worldbenders and their customers are busy watching the show over at Esgaroth.
The gate is locked. Pfusand takes bear-shape and climbs the wall with a rope in her mouth. David and Cantrel follow without the rope and the rest of us scramble up. Once on the other side, Tom unlocks the door but leaves it shut. This, he hopes, will give no clue of our entry, but leave us a fast exit. Wu conjures a Deryni handfire and Lorelei kindles a lantern We start exploring Erebor.
There is a stream leading up an underground slope. Parallel to it runs a carved stairway. We ascend and enter a pair of inner gates. We find a feasting hall, probably meant for entertaining visitors. The whole place reeks of dragon, all the furniture is smashed, and the shields hanging on the wall have all their jewels torn out.
Guessing our way and exploring further, we find a stairway leading down, protected by a trap -- step on the paving stone at the top of the stairs, and a heavy stone falls out of the ceiling on you. Pfusand spots it, but still trips it accidentally as she tries to tiptoe around it. Wu is able to probe the trap mechanism, though, and uses his telekinesis to arrest it. So we manage to sneak past and down the stairs.
We have struck it lucky. At the bottom of the stairs is the treasure-hoard of Smaug, all the wealth of Dale and the much vaster wealth of Thror, King Under the Mountain. It's a pile about thirty yards wide and ten high at the highest. Somewhere in all that is the crown which is the diadem segment in disguise.
Wu tries to detect it magically and gets his extra-senses dazzled. Most of the stuff here is magical in some small degree, loaded with the jealous and creative passions of the dwarves. The best Wu can do is search for the peculiar flavor of diadem segments, very different from the magic/psi of Dwarves, Elves, Men, or Deryni.
Fogi finds the Arkenstone -- a baseball-sized crystal that glows with its own light. Fascinating, beautiful, and magical, but it isn't the segment. Tom tests it to make sure, then tosses it away. (Fogi catches it and places it carefully on top of a pile for Bilbo to find in a couple of days.)
We leave our heroes with eight of the 24 hours gone and an hour's climb to get out. Search faster.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.