Birdsong echoed throughout the valley of Imladris, or Rivendell as it was called by some. It washed through the valley and wound its way through trees and buildings and even along the river. It was still early morning and many Elves of Rivendell had not yet awoken. A few token servants of the House of Elrond were stirring and some wound their way down paths and hallways on errands. The cooks were awake and smells began to permeate through the house. In a guest room on the lowest floor, a light shone through a small crack in the doorway, shadows of movement showing that the occupant of the room was awake and moving about the room. Rathbairn began to gather bedding, clothing and other basic provisions for the journey south towards Moria. He looked once more of the map of Eregion that Elrond’s steward Lindir had provided him, the parchment smooth and lined with landmarks of the land of Hollin. The map was well-marked and would allow Rathbairn to navigate Hollin and find the various elven outposts and eventually find his way to the door to Moria. Rolling the map and slipping it into its protective leather tube, he stuffed it into a saddlebag and slipped them over his shoulder. He had slept only a few hours, his mind wide awake with thoughts of his journey into new lands. It had been nearly a week since his Father and brother had left the valley and begun the journey home. Rathbairn patted the lower corner of the saddlebag where Sterkist’s carving rested and smiled. He hefted the axe Father had given him and pushed the door open. Stepping quietly for a seven foot Beorning, he began to work his way down the hallway towards the Hall of Fire, where the cooks had agreed the previous night to prepare rations for him. He had been particular about the food, ensuring none it contained animal flesh and they had been adamant that his requests would be served well.
Upon reaching the entrance to the great hall, Rathbairn pushed the door open and entered as quietly as he could, closing the door behind him and walked towards the rear of the hall where the great kitchens were. The smells assailed his senses as Rathbairn greeted one of the cooks, a slight, brown-haired elf that greeted him with a low bow and smiled. The previous night’s dinner had indeed impressed the cooks as Rathbairn had eaten as much honey, berries, nuts and bread as he could. Fresh cream had been provided in pitchers and emptied just as quickly. The cooks joked that they hadn’t seen a meal devoured so ravenously since the company of Thorin Oakenshield had dined many years before. Rathbairn smiled and asked about the rations and the head cook nodded and spoke softly.
“Your rations should be ready soon, friend Rathbairn, please seat yourself and we shall bring them to you when they are ready. Some bread, cheese and cream is available if you would like?” the elf asked.
Rathbairn nodded and turned towards a nearby table. As he pulled back a chair to sit, he noticed a curious figure seated in a small chair at a table across the hall near a roaring fire. The figure was a small, gray-haired Halfling dressing in an elegant brown doublet and his furry toes swung gently above the floor. His face was lined and stretched, wrinkled like dry parchment, yet his eyes held the sense of mischief. Rathbairn stared openly at the Halfling as he realized that this was Bilbo Baggins, the adventurous Hobbit who had accompanied Thorin and company to Erebor. Beorn had told his children, who had told their children stories about meeting Thorin and the children always laughed loudest when their elders had described the tiny Halfling who seemed to eat more than his own weight.
Rathbairn approached the Hobbit and inclined his head respectfully.
“You are Bilbo Baggins, are you not?” he asked bluntly.
The old hobbit looked up from a large red book he had been scribbling in with quill and ink, a half-eaten chunk of bread on a platter nearby.
“Why yes, but I’m quite unfamiliar with who you are at the moment.” Bilbo replied. His voice was quiet and slightly scratchy, seemingly worn out as the hobbit himself. “Wait a minute, you tall, like someone I met once. He was so tall I could nearly walk through his legs and not have to duck my head. Beorn was his name, yes that’s it!” He seemed excited to remember the details of the meeting and described it in detail. Rathbairn listened respectfully as a feeling of awe came over him. He had only heard stories of his Grandfather, but now he sat with someone who had met Beorn himself! His curiousity overcame his patience and he interrupted the hobbit.
“You speak of my grandfather, Beorn. My name is Rathbairn, of the Vales of Anduin. My father is Grimbeorn, Beorn’s eldest son.”
Bilbo’s eyes widened, the interruption forgotten. Beorn’s Grandson, here in front of him! What a story this would make! He set down his quill and waved a hand at a nearby chair. “Well then, come on sit down here and share a space at the table. I don’t move around too much at my age anymore and I’ll say that you are too tall for me to keep straining my neck up at you!” Rathbairn pulled a chair over and sat next to the old Hobbit. An elf brought a platter of cheese, steaming bread and a pitcher of fresh cream and set it down carefully before bowing and returning to the oven. Rathbairn began to eat as Bilbo rambled on about the Shire and his adventures. He told a few tales about his brief time in the lands of Beorn and Rathbairn smiled, his memories of home flooding back with Bilbo’s descriptions matching the scenes of the Vale exactly. Bilbo looked up at the large man in front of him and began asking questions about the Vale these days. “How fare the Beornings now I wonder? There have to be more of you now! When I was there, Beorn was alone and now he’s a grandfather many times over! How wonderful!” The hobbit’s words gushed together with excitement as Rathbairn chuckled and began to tell Bilbo about the Vale of Anduin and his home. At first Bilbo listened intently, his eyes never seeming to blink as he listened with intent concentration for nearly a quarter of an hour. But soon after, his eyes began to droop and without fail, his eyes closed. Rathbairn smiled when he noticed the old hobbit snoring peacefully and it was then that Elrond’s cooks brought his rations. Gathering them into his last empty saddlebag, he gathered the rest of his things, took a last bite of bread and left the hobbit sleeping peacefully in his chair. He caught the arm of an elf approaching Bilbo and requested they give Bilbo his regards and passed on a request to speak to him when he next returned to Rivendell. The elf nodded and Rathbairn left the Hall of Fire and strode towards the stables, crossing bridges and striding down garden paths. He crossed a final bridge and entered the stables through a stone doorway. Near the door, a familiar snort and whinny called out as Calista saw her master. He reached her stall and noticed that her coat glistened like silver. She had been well cared for by the elves and seemed eager to be on her way. Rathbairn entered her stall and began to saddle her, unaware that a slim, hooded, dark haired figure had entered the stable to watch. As Rathbairn turned to lead Calista out from her stall, he noticed the hood elf and stopped, unsure of what the intentions of the mystery elf was. Slim hands reached up and lowered the hood and dark hair framed a face that shone with opalescent fire in the early morning. Arwen, daughter of Elrond, Evenstar of her people stood before Rathbairn, a smile on her lips.
“Mae Govannen Rathbairn, son of Grimbeorn, I wished to speak to you before your journey south. You journey towards Hollin and after, the Mines of Moria?”
Rathbairn nodded, unable to speak in the presence of such beauty.
She smiled again, and took a step towards him. “I wished to warn you of the dangers of your errand regarding the fellowship. I have given my heart to one who travels with the company and I would have you aware of the danger of joining them.”
Rathbairn cocked his head sideways, unsure of her meaning. “You speak in riddles Arwen, my purpose is not to pursue the company, but to ensure others stay off their trail. That is what your father requested of me, among other things.”
Her laugh was musical as she replied. “That is good, for I worried your intention was to join them. That you must not do, for any reason. Their success depends on secrecy and your presence would deter that.”
“In Hollin however, you face new dangers that will test you. Many Orcs and Half-Orcs have been spotted roaming through the entire land of Eregion, yet we know not what they search for. There are elven outposts through the land that house many of my people and they will aid you if they can.”
“I understand Lady” Rathbairn replied. “I am ready for this journey and am eager to be gone.”
Arwen held up a hand, taking a step forward. “I ask only one more thing of you, and then I will trouble you no more. If you do encounter the Ranger Strider, I ask you to give him this.” She handed him a letter sealed with wax. He nodded and slipped it inside his tunic. Mounting Calista, he nodded a farewell and rode away without looking back.
Rathbairn crossed the bridge of Rivendell and began to wind his way up the side of the valley, Calista’s step sure as she plodded along with confidence. As they reached the top of the path, Rathbairn looked back upon the valley one more time before nudging Calista with his heels. She trudged through the path and out into the Trollshaws. His path would take him through the closest path to Eregion, through Giant Valley, named for its inhabitants. By the map he had studied, he would emerge into Hollin’s north-eastern area and then would begin to travel south-west, avoiding the main road to the west. He began to climb the hills, following a faint trail that climbed upwards before descending into Giant Valley.
It was mid-morning by the time Rathbairn reached the bottom of the path that led into the valley. He dismounted and studied the land ahead. No sign of giants or any creatures other than a few birds and the occasion fox could be seen as he crossed the valley floor. Ahead in the distance, he saw the beginning of the path that left the valley and climbed the hill towards Eregion. As he neared the opening, Calista suddenly laid her ears back, snorting. Rathbairn stopped her and looked around. The woods around him had gone still and no birds made a sound. A sudden prickling on the back of his neck made him dismount and draw the massive, two-handed axe his father had given him. He had left the two-handed axes back in Rivendell, unwilling to carry more than one weapon. If the axe failed, he had other means to fight. He listened intently, trying to pickup whatever sound had made Calista shy back. She snorted again and began to back up, her eyes wide. Suddenly, the a crash from the trees ahead caused Calista to rear and bolt back towards the path back to Rivendell. Rathbairn tried to catch her but she bolted past him. Cursing, he turned towards the noise and his eyes went wide as a massive booted foot emerged. The giant that appeared through the trees was easily three times his own size and it toward over him, a menacing sneer on its face. “Wha’s this we ‘ave? Yer bigger than the rest, but you’ll make a hearty meal for sure!” It reached towards him but jerked its hand back with a loud howl of pain as Rathbairn sliced it’s hand.
Rushing forward, the giant lunged with a mighty arm to swat the tiny figure that cut him, but its hand slammed empty ground as Rathbairn dodged sideways, slicing the giant on the hip. Howling again, it lashed out and caught Rathbairn in the chest, knocking the wind from him. He landed sideways a few feet away, his axe gone. Rage began to boil as Rathbairn sought the beast within. He roared at the giant, who came running at him roaring. Rathbairn let the change roll over him as he charged the giant, who now stopped and looked stupidly at the form that began to shift and grow.
“Huh?” it said stupidly. “Where’d the man go? Oh well, a nice rug you’ll make then. Come on you furry beast!” Slamming the ground with both fists as it charged the bear. But Rathbairn’s other form was lost in a towering rage as it launched itself at the giants knees, catching it on the side and slamming the giant to the ground, stunned. The bear didn’t hesitate as it charged to the giant’s throat and clawed relentlessly, mauling viciously. The giant only had time to let out a gurgle of protest before it died, choking on blood. The bear, its muzzle and claws covered in blood, roared triumphantly and turned towards the hill, running smoothly. Soon after, Rathbairn, now reverted to his man form, looked back towards the valley. There was no sign of Calista and despite recovering his axe; he had lost all his provisions and maps. He carried only his weapon and the clothes he wore. Turning resolutely towards the steep path ahead, he began to climb.
It was late in the day when Rathbairn descended the far side of the hills and entered the lands of Hollin. Trees as far as the eyes could see dotted the land and gentle hills crowned the forest. Searching for the sun, he judged his position and began to head southwards, keeping the hills at his back and the setting sun on his right. If he kept this path, he would reach the outpost of Echad Eregion. According to the memory of the map he had studied, this land was known as Pend Eregion. Elrond’s scouts had informed him of Half-Orcs and cruel Dunlendings that had begun to roam freely through the area. Keeping his eyes open, Rathbairn made good time as he headed south west. He crossed over a high ridge and avoiding the top, glanced the land ahead. In the distance, a ruined tower stood out from the surrounding landscape. “That has to be Echad Eregion” Rathbairn said to no one in particular. The sky had begun to darken in the west and Rathbairn judged he had less than an hour before night fell. Climbing down the west side of the ridge, he began to run south west towards the tower. As night fell and the stars shone brightly, he reached the tower. The firelight ahead made him blind to the darkness as he approached cautiously.
Sure that the elves had either seen him or heard his approach he called out. “Hail the outpost! I am a traveller and coming in.” No sooner than he had taken a step, the blade of a sword rang from its sheath and rested against his belly, the point barely touching his skin. “Do not move stranger, or you will die” a voice said from the darkness ahead. “What is your name and why are you here?” the elf asked pointedly.
“My name is Rathbairn and I have been sent here by Lord Elrond of Rivendell. I lost my horse and provisions and wish to rest here.” He kept his hands still but tensed his body, careful to be ready for anything.
To his surprise, the elf sheathed his blade and stepped forwards, emerging from the gloom. He was dressed in greens and browns and his cloak seemed to blend in to his surroundings, hiding him in plain sight. “You and your errand are known to us Rathbairn” the elf said, “come to the fire and tell us what happened. You were not expected for another day or so, but we will assist you.” He led Rathbairn to the tower and entered through an archway. Rathbairn blinked as he approached the fire. Nearby sat a small handful of elves, their bows and blades nearby, obviously prepared for attack. The elf that had found him gestured towards a log nearest the fire. “Sit, we will provide you some food, water and some lembas bread is all we can spare you.” Rathbairn nodded, grateful for the food as his hunger had grown in the day. He took a small handful of lembas and wolfed it down quickly, the elves startled at the stranger’s ravenous hunger. He accepted a water skin and drank a small amount before handing it back to his host.
“My name is Golgallon and these are my companions; Dornhador, Faenhillith, Ladenthir and Lengliel. We keep watch over this area of Hollin and ward against the minions of Sauron.” What has happened to you to lose your horse and supplies?”
Rathbairn related the encounter with the giant and Calista’s flight. He related the journey over the hills and the run from the pass to the tower now.
“Did you see any Orcs or Half-Orcs at all? What about Dunlendings?”
Rathbairn shook his head “I saw no one. It was strange since Elrond’s scouts informed us that they roamed everywhere. I was prepared to fight my way here, yet I encountered no one.” He stood, towering over the elves. “What goes on here? Where are the Orcs? Have you seen a company of nine travellers cross here?”
The elves looked at each other, confused. “We have seen no one but you, friend Rathbairn” Ladenthir said.
Rathbairn sighed in relief. “Then all is not lost.” He looked around and stretched, fatigue finally overcoming him. “Have you a place where I can rest for a few hours? I am tired from the crossing.” An idea formed in his mind then. “I will take a late watch to repay you for your kindness.”
Dornhador nodded, pleased with the idea. “Yes, you can rest here” he pointed towards a corner not far from the northern most wall of the tower. I will wake you just after the moon is at its peak.
Rathbairn nodded his thanks. “I would warn you though to not come out from the tower during my watch if you wake. I can promise nothing will approach the tower, but cannot guarantee your safety if you emerge.” The elf’s eyes widened as the Beorning’s meaning became aware. He bowed respectfully “I will follow your advice and will advise my companions.” He turned and walked towards the fire, speaking softly to the other elves.
Rathbairn lay down and closed his eyes, sleep overcoming him. It seemed as if he had just closed his eyes when Dornhador shook him awake for his watch. The elf did not speak, but nodded to the Beorning, who rose from the floor where he slept. He left his axe leaning against the wall and left the tower, moving away from the fire and the elves. After a few minutes, he felt safe enough and began the shift to his bear form. The bear sniffed the air and began to wander the area around the tower, grumbling on occasion as a warning to those about.
Inside the tower, Dornhador and Lengliel, both awake, stared in awe at the sounds from the darkness. They looked at each other and lay down to sleep, comforted that with the Beorning outside, evil would never reach them. Soon after, they slept, while outside, the bear continued its watch until the morning.