The foothills of Caradhas jutted out like a dagger from their namesake, dividing the eastern edge of Eregion and providing a barrier from the edge of the mountains to the forested lands to their west. The mountains themselves rose silently above the land, watching solemnly as the lands they divided struggled on.
In Eregion’s north-eastern edge, near the western door to the entrance to the ancient Dwarven stronghold known as Khazad-Dum, or Moria to most, an outpost lay near an elegant wooden gate that served as the entrance to the valley road that led to the door of Moria. Echad Dunann, an ancient elven ruin home to dwarves and elves alike who stood guard on the road to Moria. On this particular morning, one figure rose from his tent and pushed himself to his feet, his joints cracking as he stretched with the sun on his face. He ran his fingers through his beard, pulling twigs wrapped in the grey hairs. Hundi had been to the gates and had seen the work of the dwarf expedition to re-enter Moria. He too wished to see the Dwarves ancient homeland again, but the pool at the doorway made him nervous, yet he couldn’t tell why. Something lay in the water, he was sure of it.
Shaking himself free from his reverie, he strode to the table where the elves poured over maps and letters from scouts. The elves seemed to never sleep, their concerns over Moria gnawing away at them. Hundi smiled and silently agreed to himself that seeing elves frustrated made him a little happier. But he would never admit that to anyone. He reached the table as one of the elves that oversaw operations at Echad Dunann greeted him with a smile and a polite bow.
“Greetings Master Hundi, how fare you on this fine morning? I trust you slept well? You slept quite later than usual”
“Lady Glavroleth, I am fine, just resting up my tired old bones.” The dwarf frowned slightly, unable to tell if the elf was teasing him or not. “What news today?”
“We have no new word on the White Hand in the area, but more have left as we reported yesterday. They seem to be headed towards Enedwaith, perhaps then towards the Gap of Rohan then back to Isengard. We will continue to track them.”
Hundi frowned, “That still bothers me, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. Is there any more word about the Dunlending camp that was attacked last night? It seems odd to me.”
Glavroleth shook her head and smiled, “Nothing that we don’t already know. A large attacked the Dunlendings and wiped out the camp. Just as something similar happened to the Burnt Tor. The Beorning that Golgallon spoke of has been busy. No evil moves openly through Eregion anymore for fear of the bear. Have you still the Beorning’s axe?”
“Aye, I do and what a weapon! The head of that axe is Mithril-infused, the handle solid oak. To see it in the hands of anyone not a dwarf is a shame!”
“You will remember that the axe belongs to him and will give it back when he arrives?” the elf said, arching an eyebrow.
“Of course I will, I am no thief, I was merely admiring its beauty!” The dwarf sputtered angrily, his beard wagging back and forth.
“Indeed” Glavroleth said with a grin. Before she could comment further, a scout called out from the north, pulling her attention away. Shouting rang through the camp as several elves grabbed bows and swords and began running towards the north. Hundi ran to his tent and grabbed his axe and followed an elf scout. Atop a nearby ridge, one of the elves guarding the camp was pointing towards the grassy plain to the north speaking quickly in the elvish tongue to Glavroleth, who responded in kind. She turned as Hundi and two other dwarves arrived and motioned towards the plains.
“Perimbant has spotted wargs on the plain below” she said quickly as Hundi and his dwarf warriors asked about the commotion. “They are attacking something in the trees at the edge of the plain. They seem to be afraid.”
Hundi grumbled in thought. “Could it be the Beorning?” He knew he had to learn the man’s name, fearing he would offend by calling him simply Beorning. He knew the stories of Beorn the great Skin-Changer from the tales of Thorin Oakenshield. It was not an experience he wanted to relive himself.
Glavroleth’s eyes narrowed. “We cannot be sure, but Perimbant and a few archers are going to deal with these wargs, they cannot be allowed to get so close to our camp. Would you and your dwarves like to go?”
No sooner than the words had left her lips the dwarves began to run down the long hill, the elves startled and began to follow. Hundi’s breath came in gasps as he reached the bottom of the hill and crossed the grassy field where the wargs still hadn’t noticed the new threat. A twang sounded from behind him as an arrow felled the nearest Warg. Upon getting closer, Hundi noticed that eight Wargs lay dead already and six more darted amongst the trees. Only something like a Beorning could fell eight Wargs alone Hundi thought to himself. The dwarves reached the tree line and stopped, spreading out in a line. The elves, understanding the dwarves’ intentions, began to fire arrows into the trees at the wargs, hoping to drive them out into the plain.
The idea worked for the start as three wargs, arrows protruding from various limbs and their sides, emerged growling from the trees only to meet their doom at the hands of Hundi and his two brethren.
The remaining five Wargs however, did not appear as a new sound emanated from deep within the woods. Too deep for a Warg, Hundi thought. The growl changed quickly to a deafening roar as a giant bear emerged from the tree line to the north. Hundi stopped, his eyes wide in shock. He had seen many bears in his many years, but nothing as big as the pale-furred bear that was decimating the wargs around it. The beast roared and swiped at anything that came too close, its claws like the sharpest blade. Wargs that were unfortunate to come within reach were simply torn apart. Hundi stood still in shock, unable to believe what his old dwarf eyes saw. His father had told him of the Battle for Erebor and how Beorn had arrived when hope seemed to be lost. He had sat enraptured while his father told him of how Beorn had rescued the mortally-wounded Thorin and then had gone back to the battle more ferocious than ever, almost single-handedly wiping out legions of Orcs and even killing Bolg himself! This beast before him seemed to be a legend reborn, like Beorn himself stood in bear form before him and Hundi’s Father’s tale had come to life before his very eyes. He blinked the tears away and made to charge before a strong hand clamped down on his shoulder. Perimbant, having arrived at the dwarf’s side shook his head wordlessly and nodded towards the bear, who now had felled four of the remaining five wargs. The lone Warg attempted to flee east towards the mountains, but the elf drew his bow back and released, the arrow finding its mark and dropping the Warg. The bear reared to its hind legs and stood towering over the bodies of the wargs and roared in triumph. Hundi clamped his hands over his ears, fear shaking him to his bones. He had faced Orcs, Trolls, Goblins and even Uruks before, but nothing had ever frightened him like this. He and the dwarves began to back away slowly, the elves following, bows ready.
Suddenly, the bear began to lurch sideways, still on its hind legs. Hundi and Perimbant, along with their comrades, watched in fascination as the bear began to change, shrinking slightly, bones snapping and muscles shifting. The fur seemed to melt away as within a moment, where the bear stood, now a tall pale-haired young man stood in a blue tunic. He dropped to his knees for a moment, fatigue taking over. He gasped for breath for a few moments as both elves and dwarves stood at a distance, not trusting themselves to get closer. The young man stood then, taking a final deep breath and with a rasping voice, said “I am Rathbairn, Beorning of the Vale of Anduin, can you take me to Echad Dunann?”
An hour later, Hundi sat across the fire from the young man, who was wolfing down two loaves of bread in minutes. The Beorning had nearly collapsed from hunger as he shared the tale of how he had come under attack by Wargs. Travelling from the Dunlending camp, he had skirted the edge of the foothills of Caradhas, heading to Echad Dunann when the Wargs had attacked. He had not eaten since the previous day and weakened from hunger had turned to fight. Hundi had nearly fallen off his seat in shock. If the great beast he had seen was weak, then he would hate to see it when the young man had a full belly!
Two empty water skins lay beside him as the young man tore another hunk of bread with his teeth and swallowed. He sighed and looked at the dwarf. “You have my axe I am told?” he asked bluntly. Hundi nodded “Yes, a fine piece of work. An ancient dwarvish weapon by my eyes, but there are runes on it that I cannot read. My cousin Rathvarr who guards the road just beyond the elf gate to Moria may be able to read it. Perhaps he can…”
“I’d like the axe back now” the young man said bluntly, his face impassive.
Hundi’s face began to redden in anger. “By Durin’s beard you’re an impatient one! Hold on, I’ll get it.” He rose slowly and crossed the camp to his tent, retrieving the axe and crossing back handed it across the fire. The young Beorning took it and hefted it in both hands. Strangely, Hundi thought, the axe seemed to fit the hands of the man who held it. As if it belonged there. Hundi nodded and grunted. “That axe was made by my Kin, of that I’m sure. But it seems as if it wants to be with you lad. So you keep it, and may you cleave a thousand,thousand Orc neck with it!” he said with reverence.
Rathbairn looked at the dwarf and nodded, “If that’s what it takes to free my home and Middle-Earth from Sauron, then so be it.” He said it so matter-of-factly, that Hundi shivered, even though he sat nearest to the fire.
Glavroleth appeared then, seating herself next to Rathbairn and waving a hand at another elf nearby. When both elves were seated, Glavroleth looked to Rathbairn curiously. “What are your plans, friend Beorning? Golgallon brought your axe and advised us that you were to arrive, but did not advise us as to what you planned here.”
Rathbairn paused a moment, unsure if to share the dream he had the previous night, but resolved to explain his intentions anyways.
“Last night, I had a dream of an Elf named Galadriel. We stood in her garden and she advised me to come to her in Lorien, but first, I am to go into Moria and lend aid to the dwarves. She spoke of some ancient evil that lay there.”
Glavroleth paled at the mention of Galadriel and bowed her head. “The Lady of the Golden Wood indeed has the power to appear so, her garden you mentioned in Lothlorien, is where she resides with her husband Lord Celeborn and the Galadrim. The Elves there do not suffer outsiders, but if you have been summoned, you will have no trouble. As for Moria, I cannot speak of it. Perhaps Hundi or one of his kin can shed light on this matter?
Rathbairn turned to the dwarf and raised an eyebrow, inviting the dwarf to share information. Hundi instead pointed towards the Elven gate. “We need to speak to Rathvarr; he has been to the doorway and stood beside the black lake. He can tell you more, and also share more about your axe.”
Glavroleth stood along with her companion, who said nothing. “Rinneldor here will see that you have provisions for your journey. We do not have much, I’m afraid, but we can spare you an extra bedroll, a water skin and some Lembas bread. That should tide you over until you reach Moria. At that point, you will have to rely on the Dwarves.” She bowed and walked away. Rinneldor inclined his head towards Hundi and addressed Rathbairn.
“Is there anything else you may need aside from what Glavroleth has suggested, Rathbairn?” Rathbairn shook his head no and the elf bowed and retreated. Hundi cleared his throat and gestured to the elven gate. “Shall we go?”
A few moments later, Rathbairn and Hundi stood before the carved stone gate, admiring the detail of the elven smiths. Hundi nodded his head. “It’s been here for thousands of years and still looks like it’s new. Those were wonderful days lad” the dwarf said. “Elf and Dwarf working together to craft some of the greatest works ever known. Most of them lost now” he added somberly. They stepped between the gates and followed the path that curved up and to their right. At the top of the hill, a stern looking dwarf stood with his arms crossed, his beard twitching and his eyes hard as stone. Upon seeing the newcomers, he growled as they approached.
“What is it now Hundi?” he snapped, “I’m busy here. Got too many things to worry about besides you moping about thinking of the good old days!”
“Cousin!” Hundi exclaimed. “This is Rathbairn, the Beorning I was telling you about. He has questions about Moria and you must have a look at his axe. Perhaps you can read some of the runes?” Hundi patted Rathbairn on the shoulder and pointed towards the camp below. “I’ll get your supplies for you Rathbairn, that’ll give you two some room to chat. Be right back!” He strode down the hill, a lively bounce in his step.
“Durned fool” Rathvarr said quietly. “Always complaining about the past, looking for reasons to believe he’s young again. Well, you want to know about Moria, so ask! I’ve got things to do!”
Rathbairn smiled slightly at the Dwarf’s grumpy tone, reminding him of another Dwarf, a friend he hadn’t seen in weeks. He looked at Rathvarr and began to pose questions about the layout of Moria and how to navigate through it. Rathvarr explained that the door had indeed been opened recently, but something had blocked the doorway again, huge boulders blocked the door inside. A company led by some of Rathvarr’s Kin had taken wagons of supplies and had removed the boulders, but Wargs had attacked the dwarves. Also, there was a strange feeling when anyone got too close to the water, like something was watching. Ripples formed as if a stone had been dropped in the lake, but no stone had been thrown. The dwarves were getting nervous and were hesitant to enter the mine again. He spoke for another ten minutes or so before he gestured towards Rathbairn’s axe.
“Enough about Moria, you learn more when you get inside. So show me your axe boy.”
Rathbairn handed the axe to the dwarf, who peered at the runes and the axe-head.
“Mithril infused dwarf-steel, that’s what this is. Won’t rust or break, ever. Handle might crack of course, unless you can get a smith to reforge the axe with a steel handle. You’d need a forge hot enough, and legend says that The Heart of Fire that’s deep inside Moria could do it. Anyways, these runes….let me look….” He was silent for a moment while he ran his fingers over them. Suddenly, he let out a startled exclamation, his shout echoing across the nearby hill.
“Bless the beard of Durin, this axe is old, older than anything I’ve ever seen! This axe was forged in Nogrod! Perhaps by Telchar himself! That’s back in the First Age as the Elves say it! This is a rare axe indeed. It seems that the handle has been replaced many, many times, but the axe head is still new. This weapon has no name that I can see, so perhaps you can give it a new one. But mark my words boy; you treat this weapon with respect!” He handed the axe back to Rathbairn gently, cradling it as if it were a fragile, living thing.
Rathbairn took back the axe and slung into the loop onto his back. He extended his hand to Rathvarr, who took it. “My thanks Rathvarr”
The dwarf laughed out loud. “A man of few words! I like you boy! No promises to make it worthy of legend or anything. You’re a rare Man, probably one of the few honest ones I’ve ever met. Fare you well Rathbairn. Here comes Hundi with your supplies now.”
Hundi reached the top of the hill just as Rathvarr released Rathbairn’s hand. He handed the Beorning a pack and a water skin and offered his hand. “Fare you well friend Rathbairn! May your road be prosperous!”
Rathbairn didn’t reply, but shook the dwarf’s hand and nodded once. He turned and wound up the road towards the valley that lay ahead. He had listened to Rathvarr’s words and knew the path ahead. Through the valley, then a sharp turn left and up the hill. Then, left again would take him to the Walls of Moria. From there, into darkness.
Sorry for the absence last week, I had to give Rathbairn (and myself) a little holiday, otherwise, he’d just wander off while I planned his next adventures.