Regrouping in Talugdaeri after the debacle with the trolls, our chastened heroes spend some days resting and recuperating. The loss of Pingle Rack is made good when a feisty hobbit adventurer joins the party at the Red Hooves Inn. His name is Chuffles. The slain retainer Fergus is also replaced by another surly Dunlending called Calum.
Chuffles, tough hobbit (4th-level fighter)
Yreorraent, laconic Dúnedain ranger (effectively a 4th-level cleric)
Finglas, Grey Elf from the woodland realm of Mirkwood (3rd-level fighter/magic-user)
Calum, Cormac and Donald, Dunnish men-at-arms (1st-level fighters)
The party decides on a new plan: they will explore Tir-barad Tereg, the watchtower atop Cameth Brin, and attempt to find the reputed secret stair down into the fortress proper. Under a heavy overcast they cross the foaming Sruth Boghain and trek the few miles to the hill, all the while keeping an eye out for any orcs or other creatures abroad on this dull grey day. The countryside seems deserted. They slog up the east slope of the hill to where the impressive tower, over 200 feet in height, perches right at the edge of Cameth Brin's seemingly impossible granite overhang.
A main door at first-floor level is inaccessible now, the original wooden stairs having been gone for centuries, but the party finds a small sally port. The steel-reinforced oak door is still strong, but the party breaks into the base of the tower with little difficulty. Donald's torch illuminates the interior, which is chilly and thick with dust. Finding a spiral staircase, the party ascends to the floors above. They pass through a kitchen and refectory, stores and guardrooms aplenty, all long deserted. On an upper level, they enter a relatively grand chamber with a door leading to a balcony with a spectacular view. Finglas surveys the countryside around, looking for any sign of threat. Some black specks that must be crows flap around a distant patch of woodland, but otherwise the Trollshaws lie still and silent under the leaden sky.
On a dusty table in the next room lies an ancient tome. When wiped clean, words are revealed on the cover: Book of Plans of Cameth Brin
. The maps within have suffered the ravages of time and vermin and are barely legible in parts. Nevertheless, this is a notable find. Poring over the pages, the adventurers find plans of the tower itself - with what appears to be a hidden staircase marked on the base level. They resolve to go back down and search for secret doors, but first they ascend the last few steps to the tower's roof.
A windy parapet surrounds the conical tin-plated roof, affording panoramic views - and a dizzying 700-foot drop on the western side. A small door leads into the dark space under the roof, and the party enters. Chuffles finds a rusty mechanism that creaks and complains but serves to open up a section of the roof. Grey daylight seeps in, illuminating the circular floor of smooth black granite inlaid with irregular patterns of seven-pointed copper stars. Perhaps the room was an observatory. Chuffles sets about poking and pressing the stars to see if any are loose. When he reaches the constellation of Menelvagor (identified by Finglas), there is a soft click and a star springs up on the end of a six-inch copper rod. Chuffles grabs hold and pulls, whereupon tiny whirling blades spring from the handle and the hobbit releases the rod with a yelp of surprise and pain. His fingers are cut and bleeding, but the wound is not grave. After bandages are applied, and with a mite more caution, he tries turning the handle instead of pulling. Another soft click, and a hitherto unseen compartment opens in the floor nearby. Inside the shallow space is a long copper box, which proves to contain a wand. Finglas takes it, studies its slim shape and tries to discern its function. It seems to direct his attention to the handle that hurt Chuffles. "I think this detects traps," he announces. Taking wand and box, the party leaves the roof and descends to the base of the tower.
In the room where their map shows a staircase behind - or rather within - a wall, they search for a secret door and Finglas finds it easily. He performs the procedure to open it but suddenly a trapdoor gapes beneath his feet. He totters on the brink but somehow manages to scramble back to safety. Yreorraent looks down the hole and sees daylight. The smooth-sided shaft passes straight through the rock of the overhang, leading to empty air and - five hundred feet below - the gabled roofs and hard, stony streets of the abandoned barracks-settlement of Tanoth Brin. A couple of tiny distant raven-shapes coast lazily across the space framed by the shaft.
Yreorraent peers. Chuffles goggles. Finglas exhales and wipes sweat from his brow. One of the Dunnish retainers - hard to tell which one - mutters, "Might be a good idea to use that magic twig, then."
After a few moments to recover their composure, and carefully avoiding the hole in the floor, the party successfully opens the secret door and finds the narrow stairway beyond. Lighting a fresh torch, they descend into the bowels of Cameth Brin.