Part 4 – Wrath and Ruin
The hills of the Lone Lands passed underfoot as Rathbairn continued his steady gait towards Ost Guruth. Two days out from Bree and he had encountered little trouble. His stop at The Forsaken Inn had been a brief one, mainly to restock provisions and rest for a few hours before beginning the long trek to meet Langhar, his sister. Her letter had troubled him greatly. Ofolmoth, youngest brother to Grimbeorn the Old, Patriarch of the Beornings, had left the Vale of Anduin, the Beornings homestead and had vanished. Word had then come weeks later that a great Lord of Bears, who was sometimes a man and sometimes a great bear, had risen to lead a company of Dourhand dwarves in the Lone Lands near Minas Eriol. Grimbeorn had sent his daughter Langhar to seek out Olfolmoth and convince him to return home. She had, in turn, sent word to Bree to her brother Rathbairn to meet her there; his assistance would be greatly needed to help bring their Uncle home. The troubling message near the end of the letter still haunted Rathbairn. Under his father’s decree, if Olfolmoth would not abandon his evil ways and return home, he was to die for his crimes and his dishonour to his family. Rathbairn still couldn’t believe that he and Langhar may still have to kill their Uncle. His memories of Olfolmoth were mostly good ones. His Uncle showing him the passes to the Carrock from the Vale, teaching him to fight like a true bear, stories about his Beorn, their ancestor and Rathbairn’s Grandfather. The fact that Olfolmoth had turned evil was something Rathbairn couldn’t believe. It had to be a mistake. It had to someone else.
As mid-morning of the second day of his journey came, Rathbairn crested a hill and in the distance he saw the faint outline of the ruined towers of Ost Guruth. In the hills to the south, he could see Minas Eriol. His heart hammering in his chest at the thought of his Uncle, Rathbairn continues his steady pace towards Ost Guruth and his sister. He had missed her greatly since he had left home and begun his adventures in Eriador. The bond between the two was close. Their brother Sterkist, the middle of Grimbeorn’s three children, had always seen that his brother cared greatly for his sister and had himself felt the wrath of his brother whenever Sterkist and Langhar had fought. When their mother had died giving birth to the girl, Grimbeorn was devastated. Rathbairn had taken over care of the child, enlisting some of their animal companions to aid in helping feed and watch the child. When she was old enough, Rathbairn never left her side. Despite still being a child himself, he felt the duty and embraced it. He taught her to fight, to track and to communicate with the beasts that lived in the vale. Grimbeorn was proud of all his children, but he smiled greatly when he spoke of Rathbairn.
A few hours later, the steps to the old fortress came into view. Anticipating seeing Langhar again, he bounded up the stairs three at a time, reaching the main entrance in no time at all. The guards, seeing the huge figure charging up the stairs, raised their spears in warning, but lowered them again at seeing Rathbairn. When he had passed through Ost Guruth on his first journey to Bree, the Beorning had made many friends of the Eglain who settled here. Recognizing their friend, the guards called out a greeting and waved him through, calling out a request to meet later for ale. Rathbairn smiled and waved in greeting, but as he passed through the archway, a familiar voice called out and a huge grin came to his face as his sister’s voice rang out.
A tall young woman, easily a hands width above the Eglain, dressed in a brown woolen tunic and work boots, her mane of reddish brown hair flying behind her, slammed into Rathbairn, crushing him in an embrace as the siblings were reunited. They stood within the gates, locked in an embrace for several minutes until a not-so-subtle sound of a clearing throat broke up the hug. Frideric the Elder, leader of the Eglain within Ost Guruth, stood nearby with his eyes glistening, unshed tears of joy at the happy reunion in his eyes.
“Welcome back Rathbairn, your sister has been waiting for you these last four days, albeit rather impatiently. She has been a great help to us here”. The elder man smiled warmly at the girl, who stood with one arm around her brother.
“Thank you for having me Frideric; it’s been an honour to help.”
“Thank you for keeping her safe Frideric” Rathbairn said simply, wanting nothing more than to speak privately with his sister, yet recognizing the need to show respect to the Eglain who had welcomed the Beorning girl with open arms. The elder saw the Beornings obvious need for privacy regarding the urgent matter Langhar had mentioned, Frideric spoke again. “You can speak in the tower if you wish. Radagast is not here at the moment, and he would be happy to allow you to use it, I’m sure.”
Thanking him again, Rathbairn and Langhar strode side by side towards the tower, he sharing stories of his adventures in Eriador; she telling him about life at home. Sterkist had chafed at not being allowed to leave the Vale, but Grimbeorn had stood firm. He was needed here, his father said. The passes out of the vale must be guarded now that Goblins had dared venture in. Langhar was fascinated by tales of Bree and of the Ranger Strider, her curiosity of youth fueling more questions as the two reached the tower and climbed the stairs. Entering the room at the top, they moved towards the far wall and sat where they could gaze towards Minas Eriol in the distance.
“So tell me what you know of Ofolmoth” Rathbairn said after a moment of silence.
“He has taken up with some dwarves, Dourhand I am told. They are just outside of Minas Eriol, across the valley. They call him the Bear Lord and treat him like a king.” She shook her head in disgust. “This is not our way Rathbairn, we were never meant to rule. Our vale is our home and our people simple ones. Olfolmoth has perverted what it means to be a child of Beorn.”
“The two of us should be able to make him see reason. He was always close to us, Langhar”
“Close to YOU maybe brother, but I never liked him much.” She made a rueful face.
“I don’t understand how he could allow himself to be twisted like he has, but we have to face what is to come. Also, we have to agree that if he cannot or will not see reason, Father’s instructions are clear. No matter how much it would pain us.” Rathbairn went silent then, lost in thought.
Langhar’s brow creased in worry at Rathbairn’s words. “Can we do it, you mean? Can we kill one of our own? To kill something that is not an orc or a goblin, it feels wrong. But I am ready!” She slapped her thighs for emphasis, her last word coming as a shout.
“Easy cub, we can’t rush in there not knowing what’s in store for us. I propose that we…OW!” Rathbairn rubbed the back of his head.
“You call me cub again, OLD MAN and I’ll tear a strip of your soft, fat belly” Langhar boasted, laughing at the sight of her larger brother rubbing the back of his head with a scowl on his face.
“Oh really, cub? Do you think you can stand up with me? I taught you everything sister.” Rathbairn taunted playfully, enjoying the banter.
The two stood and left the tower, leaving Ost Guruth and heading south across the great East road. They found an empty clearing and dropped their weapons, preparing for the shift. Rathbairn regarded his sister carefully. She was still only in her teens, yet she was taller than almost any man she stood near. Ferocious and clever, she didn’t rely on brute strength alone to win battles. Her mind was quick and she wasn’t afraid to gamble, taking risks that more often than not, gave her an advantage. She would be a deadly foe to anyone who crossed her path. He took a deep breath and began the shift to his other form.
To anyone who may have been passing by, it would simply seem as if the two siblings were engaged in a staring contest, seeing who would be the first to blink. However when limbs began to lengthen, fur sprouted and grew quickly, fangs and claws growing and the outlines of the Beornings changed and shifted, the sight wouldn’t be as pleasant. Bones and muscles shifted and popped, drawings growls of pain from both Rathbairn and Langhar. When the change was done, there stood one brown bear, her reddish brown fur and shorter stature characteristic of where Langhar had stood. Opposite her, a pale brown bear, his larger form replacing that of Rathbairn. The two bears reared on their hind legs and roared at each other, then crashing together in battle. It was a nightmare come to life for those who feared creatures they did not understand. An orc or a goblin would flee if it saw even one of the bears, but two! There wouldn’t be an orc or Goblin for many miles indeed. Now dwarves were a different matter. And the Dourhand Dwarf who lay belly-down on the top of the ridge overlooking the clearing where the two Beornings fought gleefully in joyous reunion. The Bear Lord was right, he thought. But not just one of his kin is here. He slowly crawled back down the ridge and stood up, brushing the dirt off. Gathering his axe, he began to run west, toward Minas Eriol.
An hour later, brother and sister lay exhausted by a fire near the southern wall of Ost Guruth. They had declined offers of a room to sleep in, instead preferring to sleep beneath the stars.
“Tomorrow morning we will set out for Minas Eriol. We should approach from the east, along a path I know of” Rathbairn said, studying a map of the area a helpful Eglain had provided. They munched on Honey-Cakes that Langhar had made days earlier in preparation of her brother’s arrival. Dozens of the cakes now were on the hands of the Eglain, the recipe a guarded secret. Beorn’s honey cakes were legendary in the east and now in Eriador, they were gaining popularity. Langhar now lay on her back across the fire from her brother, staring into the vastness of the night sky. She was still exhausted, yet happy that she had this time with her brother. She had missed him over the months he had been gone, yet she was fiercely proud of him too. He had gone out into the world with reluctance, but from the stories she had heard on her journey here, his presence had shaken the very earth itself. Father will be proud of him, she thought to herself.
“What are you staring at, ugly?” Rathbairn teased as she snapped out of her reverie. She had been staring at him and hadn’t realized it.
“Don’t start that again you mangy buffoon. I’m too tired to throw you into the dirt again” she smiled.
“You didn’t throw me, I tripped over your clumsy feet” he replied. They both burst into hearty laughter, the nearby sentries smiling at the happiness the two Beornings shared.
“We’d better get some sleep Langhar, morning will come soon” Rathbairn said, his tone bringing the mood to a somber level.
“Too soon” was all that she replied. Shortly after, her brother’s snores were still keeping her awake.
“I pity the woman who chooses you, brother” she said softly. “She, like I, will never sleep when you are nearby” She closed her eyes and was thinking of home when sleep took her.
. . . .
Dawn came early and the morning sky was lit with a ruddy orange glow as the two Beornings gathered their weapons and left Ost Guruth. They did not speak, even to the sleepy sentries that dozed against the south gate. They descended the stairs and headed west, angling towards the road with eyes open. By unspoken agreement, Rathbairn took the lead, he knowing the lands around Ost Guruth having passed through before. His knowledge of books, maps and lore had been helpful in his journeys Langhar had discovered. They would need it today.
They were a somber pair as the hills near Minas Eriol came into view nearly an hour later. They stopped at the base of a path that curved up and to the east slightly. A small stone bridge lay over a small gap in the hills. Once they crossed that, Minas Eriol was a short distance away. Rathbairn looked to Langhar and spoke softly, his voice low. “From here, we cross the bridge and pas through ruins. I know that there may be orcs around and Dourhand dwarves too. Be ready for anything. If we can, keep our kills quiet. Let’s not give Olfolmoth time to know we are here.” She nodded, her hands tightening on the two-handed axed she carried. Besides the twin daggers at her belt, it was her weapon of choice. Rathbairn carried his large axe in his left hand, while the twin axes were in the loops in his belt. Climbing the path, they reached the top of the hill and looked across the bridge. The ruins seemed abandoned in the early morning. They both knew this was not true. The smell of death and decay wafted from the ruins and the distinct smell of Orcs reached their nostrils. As quietly as two Beornings could manage, they crossed the bridge. Reaching a small archway, Rathbairn peered around, looking for movement or signs of life. Seeing nothing, he motioned Langhar forward and began to creep through the ruins. Beyond the archway, a crumbling wall stretched to their left while a set of stairs rose to an elevated platform on their right. Two goblins lay sleeping near the stairs, unaware that their duty to watch the entrance had failed. Silently, Rathbairn pointed at the two Goblins and motioned to Langhar. She crept silently to the goblin on the right and paused, looking to her brother. He lay down the two-handed axe as quietly as he could and drew a small knife from his boot and began a countdown from five on his fingers. Langhar drew one of her daggers from her belt and when Rathbairn’s countdown reached zero, plunged the knife upwards through the goblins throat into its skull. Its eyes flew open then glazed over as its legs kicked and thrashed in spams of pain, then stopped. She glanced at her brother who was wiping his dagger on the dirty rags of the other dead goblin. Grabbing both bodies, he dragged them behind the nearby wall and looked at Langhar. She nodded her readiness and the two continued towards the only other exit, a wall to the south with a rope bridge leading south-west. At the gate to the bridge, Rathbairn stopped and peered around the corner. Across the ravine, he could see Olfolmoth standing on a large circle of stones, nearly two dozen dwarves around him. Rathbairn beckoned to his sister and pointed across the ravine. Langhar’s eyes narrowed as she laid eyes on her Uncle. Looking up at her brother, her eyes met his. A flash of understanding passed between them. They knew what was to come and were ready. Exiting the small room, they crossed the ravine, the rope bridge swaying with their weight. The pair no longer hid their presence, knowing full well that Olfolmoth would now see them coming no matter which direction they came from. As they neared the far side, one of the dwarves pointed and cried out, the rest of the dwarves turning and drawing weapons. “Let them come!” Ofolmoth barked, and the dwarves held their charge, the older Beorning’s voice freezing them in their tracks. Ofolmoth turned and held his arms out wide as if to welcome his kin with an embrace. “Welcome my kin! Rathbairn, my how you’ve grown! You’re almost as large as your father! And Langhar! My niece! You’ve become a beautiful young lady! So proud and so fierce! Come join me and you can hear my plans for my new army.” Hi eyes were shining with a fire of madness and he beckoned to the dwarves around him. “Make way for my kin! They must be here to join us!”
“We are not here to join your cause Ofolmoth” Rathbairn replied as they stopped a few feet away from the gathering of dwarves who clustered around their Uncle. “Father knows about what you are doing. He has asked us to give you this message. Stop this foolishness and return to the Vale with us.”
Ofolmoth let out a raucous laugh “Or what? Are you two going to kill me? I’d like to see you try!” He gripped the handle of a sword that was belted at his waist. Beornings typically did not use swords, yet Rathbairn had noticed that his Uncle now wore it with familiarity that was evident when Olfolmoth drew it and held it confidently.
“Because you are my Kin, I am going to offer you both a choice. You can join me and together we can bring glory once more to the name of Beorn! The lands of Eriador can be ours! We can rule together! Or you can refuse my offer and die together, right here and right now!” The fires of madness had been once again kindled in his eyes as Rathbairn gripped his two-handed axe. The roar of defiance from brother and sister was the only answer they received as suddenly, Ofolmoth pointed his sword at Rathbairn and Langhar and shouted “KILL THEM NOW!” The Dwarves shouted gleeful war cries and rushed the pair as Ofolmoth turned away and walked towards a distant ruined bridge.
Rathbairn roared in fury and launched himself at a cluster of dwarves, his first swing severing the head of the lead dwarf, causing the rest to hesitate. He parried an axe swing from his left and stepped forward, driving the butt end of the axe handle into the dwarf’s back, dropping it to the ground. He stomped down hard into the dwarf’s skull with his boot, hearing a sickening crack as bone splintered and the dwarf screamed. Stepping forward again, he sliced his axe sideways, knocking two more Dourhand axes to the ground. Losing himself in the thrill of battle, he couldn’t spare a moment to see how Langhar fared, but if he could, he would have seen the young Beorning slicing and parrying with her daggers, showing agility unknown to even Men her size. The half-dozen Dourhand Dwarves that surrounded her couldn’t land a single blow as Langhar spun and landed a solid kick, knocking her opponent down, allowing her to drive one of her daggers home into the dwarf’s chest. Soon, she stood alone, the remaining Dourhand’s dead at her feet. Rathbairn too had finished dispatching the small group that had attacked him and the two Beornings gave chase to Ofolmoth who had cleverly fled to another stone platform. He stood alone, his sword at his side, waiting for the two others to join him.
“I knew you could defeat the dwarves” he purred. “They are no longer needed. We three are all that matters now. Think of what we could accomplish together! There is no force in Middle-Earth that could stand against us!” His voice had become desperate and almost pleading.
“No Ofolmoth” Langhar snarled “this is your last chance. Return with us to the Vale and face our Father or you die”. A beast-like roar came from Ofolmoth’s throat as he launched himself at the pair, his sword swinging wildly. Langhar brought both of her daggers up to block an overhand stroke and lashed out with a kick to the knee. Ofolmoth cursed and stepped back away from Rathbairn’s overhead stroke, barely missing the axe cleaving his skull. Throwing the sword at Langhar, Ofolmoth dropped to his hands and knees, his body shifting. “Langhar look out!” Rathbairn roared. His warning came too late as the older Beorning’s bear form completed his change and he lashed out with a wicked slash from his front paw, slicing Langhar across the abdomen. Blood spurted from the wound as she fell with a thud to the ground. “NO!” Rathbairn roared.
The world around him went red. A second beastial roar ripped from his throat as Rathbairn threw the two-handed axe at Ofolmoth. The bear knocked it away with a huge paw and charged. Rathbairn drew the twin axes and whipped both at the beast charging him. They both sunk into Ofolmoth’s right shoulder as Rathbairn looked down quickly at his sister. She lay still, her blood coating the stones. Rage gave way to wrath as Rathbairn let loose the anger inside, seized it and embraced it. The change came quickly, and with it the pain. Yet the bear that was Rathbairn felt nothing but the need to kill. Ofolmoth, still in bear form, charged as Rathbairn launched himself at his Uncle charged. Both bears came together in a flurry of claws and fur. Rathbairn locked his jaws on the side of Ofolmoth’s throat, striving to gain a hold. Ofolmoth drove his forelegs into Rathbairn’s shoulders while his jaws tried to gain a hold onto something solid. Rathbairn strove back, pushing Ofolmoth back, roaring and clawing. Ofolmoth suddenly dropped his paws and clamped down onto Rathbairn’s right shoulder, pulling backwards. Both bears twisted and flipped over, Olfolmoth landing on top, his jaws still barely gripping onto Rathbairn’s shoulder and his claws digging into flesh and bone. Rathbairn howled in pain and fury, trying to shove his foe off, yet Ofolmoth held firm. Finally, in desperation, Rathbairn planted his rear legs into his Uncle’s midsection and kicked hard, the older bear losing its grip and landing solidly a few feet away, dazed and disoriented. Rathbairn, sensing his chance, surged to his feet and pounced, swatting away the claws that swatted him, ignoring the cuts and pain, his shoulder wounded and blood dripping from his many wounds. His jaws stretched wide and he clamped down on Ofolmoth’s throat. With shocking strength, his neck and jaw muscles surged and snapped side to side. A dull crack echoed through the hills as Ofolmoth sagged down to the stones, his form limp and reverting to human form.
Moments later, Ofolmoth, his head twisted almost sideways lay unmoving on the stones. Rathbairn, reverting slowly to his man form, rushed to his sister’s side before the change was fully complete. He checked the hideous gash in her abdomen. Blood poured from the wound as his sister’s life ebbed with it. Her pulse was weak and faint. Tearing a strip from his smock, he stuffed it over he wound and tied it as tight as he could. Gathering her gently in his arms, he began to run. Pain was the only constant as his breath burned in his lungs. Fatigue coursed through his body, his strength fading. Yet he did not stop or falter; his sister’s survival his only thought. If he could reach Ost Guruth in time, the healers could save her. Stumbling and staggering, his vision growing dim as his own wounds began to burn, he found steps at last. Surging in one final burst of strength, he reached the top and roared for the healer as he sank to the stones, Langhar’s faint heartbeat stuttering against his own.
“Healer….pl..pl..p.p.please. Save..he..he..her” he mumbled, collapsing to the grass as darkness rolled over him.
The wind blew chill as it gleefully found cracks in the stones of the buildings of Ost Guruth. A brown robed figure strode from the door of the tower towards the healing chambers, its fifth trip in the last two hours. Pushing the door open and stepping inside, a woman in faded blue robes, dried blood caked on her apron, turned with finger to her lips, shushing the robed man before he could utter a word. Closing the door softly, he approached and spoke in low tones.
“Any change at all?”
“Good Radagast, there has been no change since your last visit. These two Beornings have been through a horrible ordeal and lost much blood. But they will both live. Langhar will need time to recover, for her wounds were grievous. Rathbairn should wake soon”
“Very well my dear. You can’t blame me for my concern. I brought them from the Vale to join the battle against the Dark Lord. If they were to perish, I don’t think there is any place in Middle-Earth to hide from their father. Grimbeorn is not known for his placid, forgiving nature you know”.
A deep sigh came from the back of the room as both turned towards the sound. Stepping quietly, the approached a large bed where a figure in grey blankets, his feet hanging well over the end of the bed and propped onto a chair. Rathbairn’s eyes fluttered open and he blinked several times before sitting up quickly. “Langhar! Where…?”
“Easy now son” Radagast reassured him. “She rests in the next room. Because of you, she will live. You brought her in the nick of time.”
“I want to see her.” Rathbairn grumbled.
“Now I don’t think…” Radagast cut her off with a raised hand. “My dear, not thinking is the problem here. You can’t deny thing young man the sight of his sister. Wounded or not, you don’t want an angry bear in here with your patients. Let him see her.”
Frowning, the healer nodded reluctantly. Pointing towards a door in the east wall, she raised a stern finger. “Just a few minutes now, and don’t wake her” Rathbairn raised himself slowly from the small bed, his shoulder aching. Crossing the floor, he silently opened the door and entered. Langhar lay sleeping on a well-lit bed, her abdomen wrapped with fresh, clean linens. A chair sat beside the bed and Rathbairn went to it, seating himself carefully. Looking down at his sister, Rathbairn dropped his head into his hands. He had almost lost her. The fight against Ofolmoth had been won, but they had almost paid too much of a price. A soft laugh startled him as he looked up and found Langhar staring at him. A wide smile framed her face.
“Were you planning to sleep a few more days and keep me waiting? You worried me” she teased.
“Langhar, I’m…” he couldn’t finish.
“Rathbairn, we both knew what could have happened. I am of the line of Beorn, like you. I don’t fear death. I don’t fear my fate. We restored our family’s honour with Ofolmoth’s death. Father will be pleased. You have nothing to regret.” She paused, wincing. “I must sleep now. You have to go back to Bree soon. Once I am better, I will return to the Vale. I will ask Radagast to send Father a letter with news of Ofolmoth.”
Rathbairn nodded, his heart swelling at the thought of leaving his sister. But her words rang true. He had to return to Bree and to Strider. The battle against the Dark Lord wouldn’t wait for him.
“I have missed you so much Langhar. Fighting with you felt right. We Beornings belong together. But you are right. I will return to Bree in the morning. I will say goodbye before I go. Rest easy tonight sister, and in your letter, give my love to Sterkist and to Father too.” He softly kissed her brow as her eyes closed. He left the room then, closing the door silently. Returning to his bed, he sat for a moment. Then searching a nearby table, he found his clothes. His weapons were gone, forgotten at Minas Eriol in the fight against Ofolmoth. It was no use anyways, he thought to himself. They were lost. He would have to borrow something from the Eglain until he could find a better weapon. Maybe a smith in Bree could fashion him something. Laying down on the tiny bed, he closed his eyes and was soon asleep.
In the morning, his farewells said to Langhar, tears streaming down both faces. As he dressed in his own chamber, a knock at the door came quietly. Pulling his smock painfully over his head, Rathbairn opened the door. There stood Radagast, his brown robes gathered around him.
“I am guessing you are leaving now?” The Wizard asked. Rathbairn nodded wordlessly. “Then I would like to give you some counsel. First, you need a horse. There is a large steed in the stable below. Her name is Calista. She is more than fit to carry you. Second, you need a weapon. While I am no smith, Frederic the Elder wanted you to have this.” He handed Rathbairn a small one-handed axe. Thrusting it through a loop on his belt, he smiled and thanked the wizard. Waving him off, Radagast placed both hands into the huge shoulders “Your Father would be proud of you Rathbairn. You are a great warrior and if your Grandfather was still alive, he would also be proud of you. There are fresh provisions in Calista’s saddle bags. Go in peace and may the Valar watch over you.” Turning towards the exit, Rathbairn climbed the stairs towards the gate and without a backwards glance, began the journey back to Bree.