Rathbairn had left the Dwarves behind almost half an hour ago almost gratefully and had continued to tread along the path through the valley. If the Dwarves were correct, he would reach the Walls of Moria with an hour from leaving Echad Dunann. The valley he had left behind was devoid of life, not even crebain coming near. His eyes roamed ahead as he spotted the small trail that left the main path up and to the left. Ahead in the distance, a set of stone stairs had been blocked by a rockslide, hence the new trail that had been blazed. A small handful of dwarves with pick axes chipped away at the massive blocks of stone, hoping to gain some headway. They did not turn as Rathbairn turned off the path and headed up the small trail. Wagon tracks cut through the mud and dirt ahead as Rathbairn heard dwarven voices ahead. He crested a small hill and came to a clearing at the base of a second hill. Here, many dwarves bustled and hurried back and forth on errands. Horses tethered nearby munched on buckets of oats provided by their handlers. Near the centre of the clearing, a roaring fire lit the glade, flickering amongst the rocks and boulders. A cluster of dwarves stood near the fire, talking to another grey-bearded dwarf who gave out orders crisply.
“Yes, yes! I know that the wagons are getting stuck Varneg! What would you have me do? I’m no wizard to stop the rain! They’ll have to put their backs into it and pull the wagons out!”
Rathbairn headed towards the dwarves and approached the greybeard, pushing past the knot of dwarves who seemed to take delight in pestering their leader with problems.
“You are in charge here?” he asked boldly.
“Name’s Warr, who’re you?” the dwarf asked, he hand on his axe.
“I have been sent to aid you, my name is Rathbairn.”
“Who sent you? We didn’t ask for help” the dwarf blustered.
“I have been sent by Elrond of Rivendell and Galadriel of Lothlorien. They said you may need help in Moria with Orcs and Goblins and maybe more…” He left the last part hanging, ensuring the dwarf caught his meaning.
Warr caught Rathbairn’s gaze and held it for a moment, then looked down. “Leave me, all of you. I need to speak to this giant fellow alone.” The dwarves nodded and returned to various tasks, seeing the look that Warr gave them. Warr jerked his head and Rathbairn followed, the two moving towards a small tent near the rear of the camp. Warr pointed towards a set of logs on either side of a small campfire and Rathbairn lowered himself down, extending his legs out. Warr sat down across from him and took out a small pipe from inside his tunic. He lit it and blew out a cloud of smoke before he began to speak.
“It’s been a tough go Rathbairn, very tough. We’ve been attacked by Wargs a few times and it’s been difficult to get supplies in. Then there’s that small lake out there. We haven’t seen anything, but I’ll swear that somethings there, watching us. The door to the mine has been blocked by boulders and it looks like something smashed at the door.”
The dwarf took a pull from his pipe and blew the smoke out, his silence speaking volumes. Rathbairn could tell that the dwarf was uncomfortable with what was going on.
“So that’s where we stand. We’ve been here for almost a week bringing supplies and clearing the doorway. Bosi and Brogur say today is the day where we’ll be able to open the door and enter Moria, but something chills me everytime I think of it.”
“Orcs?” Rathbairn asked simply.
“No, not just Orcs.” Warr said with a shudder. “Durin’s Bane.”
Rathbairn was confused. The name didn’t mean anything to him. Warr noticed the look and began telling Rathbairn the story of how the dwarves delved too deep and awoke a demon from ages past that drove the dwarves from their ancient homeland and how it had killed Durin, the last King.
“I’m sure it can’t still be alive Warr, it would be thousands of years old. It would have to be dead by now”
“I hope you’re right, lad” Warr said, taking a draw from his pipe.
“I will go to the doorway and find Bosi and Brogur. Thank you for the story and your words.” Rathbairn stood and nodded down at the dwarf, who called out to the Beorning as he walked away.
Watch yourself lad, Moria is darkness and danger. Take a lantern and be sure to not wander. You’re a giant of a fellow and can hold your own in a fight by the looks of you, but Moria is not like outside here.” The dwarf gestured with his pipe towards the path leading over the hill. “That way will take you to the door around the lake. Be careful Rathbairn. And above all else….don’t disturb the water.” He tamped out his pipe, stood and walked away without another word.
Rathbairn stood and took a swig from his water skin. He pulled a small piece of Lembas from his pack and munched it as he headed up the path, his thoughts on the dwarfs words.
When he reached the top of the hill and descended the other side, he was unprepared for what came next. The lake the dwarf had described was black and inky looking, not like the lakes Rathbairn had seen before. There was a sense of death here, and a sense of forbidding. Nothing grew but a few weeds. The smell of the water was foul and permeated the very air itself. Around the lake at the far side, Rathbairn could see dwarves moving about and at the far side, like a gaping maw, lay Durin’s door.
Rathbairn followed the path and worked his way around the lake. He passed dwarves on his way, but none of them acknowledged him at all. Eyes downcast, they moved somberly, voices kept to a whisper. The terror of whatever the dwarves thought lay in the water seemed to be affecting the dwarf workers. Rathbairn shook his head and walked on, unafraid of an unknown beast that hadn’t been seen.
After several minutes, Rathbairn came to a cluster of Dwarves with pickaxes chipping away at a large boulder. The wall behind the boulder was blank, no doorway could be seen. Standing watch nearby were two well-dressed dwarves, Bosi and Brogur, he assumed. The Dwarf on the left wore blue robes, his beard reaching to his belt. The Dwarf on the right wore a red tunic over chainmail, a black patch over his right eye. Rathbairn approached the dwarves, “Which of you is Brogur and which is Bosi?” he demanded.
Both dwarves frowned at the strangers tone, yet the one-eyed dwarf looked closely at the new arrival. The tall stranger’s face was marked by three lines that ran from forehead to chin on his right side, almost claw-like. Brogur smirked and elbowed his cousin beside him.
“Beorning” was all he said.
Bosi looked up at the giant man in front of him and nodded wordlessly. He extended his hand.
“I’m Bosi and this one-eyed mongrel beside me is my cousin Brogur. Who are you and what are you doing here Beorning?”
Rathbairn was taken aback by the Dwarves’ ability to identify him. “How did you know who I am?” he demanded again.
Brogur fixed him with a stern gaze, “A few years back my son Broin and I” he gestured to a sturdy, brown-bearded dwarf nearby, “journeyed to Erebor a few years back. We passed through the lands of Beorn the Skin-Changer. He had died a while ago, but his son Grimbeorn allowed us passage. I remember seeing young children with those markings. Grimbeorn told us that it was used as a warning to outsiders. So here you are. Now answer my cousin’s question.” His hand strayed to his axe.
Rathbairn noticed the gesture and a growl of warning came from his throat. The dwarves took a step back, suddenly wary of this giant man who seemed to be tensing all over. He relaxed then, and shook his head.
“My name is Rathbairn and yes, I am of the Line of Beorn.” I have been sent here at the request of Elrond of Rivendell and Galadriel of Lothlorien to help you. What do you need?”
Brogur clapped his cousin on the shoulder and laughed out loud. “I told you the Elves would be worried cousin!”
Bosi rubbed his shoulder and dug out a small pouch from his belt. He handed them over to Brogur and Rathbairn heard the clink of coins.
“Well, we only have this giant boulder to move and then we can enter the mine. Perhaps you can help us with this boulder then?” Bosi waved a hand to several pickaxes that lay nearby.
“What door are you talking about?” Rathbairn asked, confused. “There is no door there.”
“Oh there will be, just you wait” Brogur said. “So how about we get this boulder gone and get the door open?”
Rathbairn grabbed a pickaxe and removed his tunic. He began to chip away at the stone, a massive boulder bigger than his torso. Cracks appeared as the dwarves and the Beorning worked tirelessly, the dwarves driven by the realization that with the removal of this boulder, Moria would be open to them, their ancient homeland reclaimed. Rathbairn felt at home with the hard labour, sweat running down his torso in rivulets as he was reminded of working at home. A loud crack echoed off the stone walls as the boulder split in two. The dwarves cheered as the halves were pulled aside. The wall remained blank as Bosi and Brogur stepped up to it. Warr and the rest of the dwarves were summoned and arrived shortly after. When all the dwarves were assembled, Bosi began to speak.
“Friends, brothers, today is a day we have long sought!” Cheers resounded again. “Today we begin the quest to reclaim our homeland of Moria! No orc, goblin or spider will keep us from our destiny!”
Bosi continued to speak as Rathbairn looked around at the dwarves. Their faces were rapt with fervour as Bosi’s words spoke directly to their hearts. As his eyes roamed across the surrounding dwarves, a movement in the water caught his eye. As quick as it had appeared, it was gone. He pushed through the throng of dwarves and moved to the water’s edge, his eyes searching. Something was in the water. And it was close.
Bosi saw the Beorning move to the water’s edge suddenly and stopped his speech. The rest of the dwarves, sensing the sudden concern of their leaders, turned to follow him. Bosi looked up at Rathbairn, concern on his face.
“What is it Rathbairn? What did you see?”
“Something moved, just out there.” He pointed to a spot a few yards from shore.
“I see nothing friend, perhaps it was a stick?” Broin said.
“It was no stick” Rathbairn growled.
Brogur scoffed, “whatever it was, it’s gone now. Let us get the door open!”
Bosi agreed, “Yes the door! Here we go my friends!” he paused and took a deep breath. “MELLON”
Rathbairn watched as a faint outline began to appear on the wall. Like a live thing, it moved and suddenly, the outline of a door appeared. The door creaked as it swung inward, as it an unseen hand pushed it. The dwarves began to cheer, pounding each other on the back and promises of toasts with foaming mugs of ale resounded. Suddenly, a scream sounded and cut off quickly with a splash from the far side.
“NO!!!! BROIN!! MY SON!!! HELP!!!” It was Brogur, his good eye on the water and a shaking hand pointing at the ripples in the water. All eyes turned to the spot where Broin had stood. He was gone. Without warning, many large tentacle-like arms surged from below the surface of the water and thrashed about, seizing dwarves and throwing them about like stones in the hand of a child. The Watcher in the Water emerged from the black lake, only its eyes and arms visible on the surface. Rathbairn let loose a roar and brandished his axe, swinging and missing at the waving arms. Farther out, several more arms emerged from the water and came his way. He swung and missed again, cursing. The dwarves, their momentary panic gone, attacked, axes and swords coming free and dwarf battle cries sounding about.
The dwarves began to curse themselves as their weapons could not penetrate the waving tentacles, only bounced off harmlessly. Rathbairn’s axe swung and missed as he floundered about like a cat swinging at butterflies. He cursed and growled as he swung again and again. Suddenly, he saw one of the largest of the arms nearby, dragging a screaming dwarf towards deep water. Rathbairn splashed over and swung at the arm with all of his strength. His axe buried itself deep into the creatures arm as it shook and black ichor oozed from the wound. The arm jerked away and the dwarf fell free, thanking Rathbairn and running back to shore. Rathbairn looked at the blade of his axe. A faint glimmer rippled across the blade and a pulsing shimmer began to come from it, as if the blade was alive. Rathbairn turned his gaze away and began to swing again, hope surging as a new strength seemed to envelope him. Bosi, seeing the Beornings axe hurt the beast, shouted to his dwarves.
“Back from the water, our weapons cannot hurt it! Rathbairn, your axe is the only thing we have that can cause it pain, hit the larger arms or sever the smaller ones if you can!”
Rathbairn didn’t turn or acknowledge Bosi, but eyed the waving arms, now determined to drive the creature off. The dwarves began to throw stones and rocks deep into the water, where the Watcher’s eyes gleamed angrily just above the surface. Rathbairn saw a smaller tentacle whipping from his left and swiped sideways, cutting the arm off cleanly. Two more arms came from his right and were severed as well. A huge arm then emerged right in front of him, catching him in the chest and hurling him from the water to crash against the rocks. The arms retreated and the watcher sank beneath the water. Blackness closed in as Rathbairn heard voices coming closer.
The sound of Dwarven voices and curses was the first thing Rathbairn heard. He opened his eyes and saw a vast blackness about him. He blinked, trying to orient himself to his surroundings. As his eyes adjusted, he looked about and saw stone pillars stretching beyond sight, massive columns and stone monoliths all around. He lay on a makeshift bed of cloaks, the smell of hay about him. A dull ache in his chest reminded him of the fight. He saw his axe lying beside him, a soft shimmering rippling over the blade.
“That weapon is special” a voice sounded from over his shoulder. Groaning, Rathbairn sat up and turned around to look behind him. Brogur stood there, his one eye on the axe.
“It’s the only blade that could hurt the beast. I don’t know how, or why, but you drove it off. You have my thanks.”
Rathbairn stood then, looking down at Brogur. “I’m sorry for the loss of your son.”
Brogur’s shoulder’s slumped, his head bowed. “My son is gone because of that creature. But we have entered Moria. This is Durin’s Threshold, the ancient entrance to Moria. From here, we will begin to reclaim this place. Broin would want us to do this. And we will. Thank you for your help Rathbairn. You have our gratitude and all dwarves in Moria will ensure you have whatever you need. I’ll let you look around. Bosi has taken a small group and gone farther in to explore. He is bound for The Chamber of the Crossroads, not far from here. When you are ready to set out into Moria, see Rathulf, he can ensure you have provisions and supplies needed, including a lantern.” Brogur turned away and disappeared into the darkness.
Rathbairn looked around, seeing a set of grand stairs in the distance ahead of him. Dwarves bustled about, carrying supplies, lighting torches and some exploring the nearby wings. At the top of the stairs beyond, Rathbairn saw four dwarves with torches looking at something ahead. Picking up his axe gingerly, Rathbairn headed for the stairs and climbed them, joining the dwarves at the top.
One of the dwarves clad in a reddish tunic with mail overtop, turned to greet the newcomer.
“Rathbairn is it?” He extended a hand that the Beorning shook. “Rathulf, at your service. I am the Dwarf in charge here. From this spot, we’ll bring in supplies and ferry them to the various settlements. Brogur and Bosi have made it clear that you are to be allowed to travel freely and to be given whatever you need.”
Rathbairn nodded and looked around. “What is needed to be done here?”
“Well, here at the Threshold, we’ve actually made good progress. But beyond, Bosi has headed to the Chamber of the Crossroads. It’s in the section known as Durin’s way, above us. We found some crude maps in some of the old books and scrolls that we’ve brought. I have one of our scholars making copies, so I’ll give you some maps to help you find your way around.”
“So where should I go to help first?” Rathbairn asked.
Rathulf thought for a moment, and then looked up. “I have a squad of dwarves exploring some of the nearby chambers, perhaps you can go help them when you are ready?”
Rathbairn nodded and took a torch from one of the other dwarves that stood nearby. “I’m ready now. Which way did they go?”
Rathulf pointed towards a passage directly ahead. “Take this passage and turn left, they are there. Be careful.” Rathbairn waved a hand and headed down the passage. As he looked around, the silence began to close in on him. In the world outside, there was always noise. But here under the mountains, noise was a dangerous thing. He reached a junction and turned left, as Rathulf said. The faint glimmer of torchlight was just ahead when he heard a startled exclamation and the ring of steel. Surging ahead, he reached another passage and found the dwarves battling a spider, larger than Rathbairn had seen before. One dwarf lay dead as the rest of the dwarves attacked, the spiders legs swatting at the dwarves, its pincers clacking together. Rathbairn growled and charged, his axe ready. A front leg came at him and he swung, his axe slicing the leg clean off. The Spider rushed him then, enraged at the loss of its leg. It swatted at his right arm, knocking his axe from his hand. Growling, Rathbairn surged ahead and gripped the spider’s pincers with each hand. The dwarves, stunned by the ferocity of the battle, attacked the spider as Rathbairn locked his shoulders, preventing it from biting. One of the dwarves ducked under the spiders belly and with a yell, buried it axe in the creatures abdomen. With a shudder, the spider collapsed to the ground. The dwarf underneath rolled out and grinned at Rathbairn. “Good fight” was all he said when one of the other dwarves cried out. From a side passage, more spiders, some as large as the dead one, came rushing at the party. Rathbairn knew that he and the dwarves couldn’t defeat this new threat with simple weapons. Pushing past the dwarves, he let the wrath roll over him as he changed form in mid stride. Within seconds, the great bear snarled at the nest of spiders and burst into them, claws tearing and shredding. The dwarves, again stunned, broke free of their shock and attacked, cries of battle from their lips. As suddenly as the attack had begun, it was over. Rathbairn, now back in human form looked to the dwarves. Several had small wounds and another lay on the floor with a long gash in his leg, pain on his face. Rathbairn and the rest gathered the wounded and headed back to the camp at the Threshold, the Dwarf healers coming to handle the wounded. Rathulf clapped the Beorning on the shoulder, a grin splitting his face.
“The lads told me about the fight! That was incredible! Again you have our thanks. We have much work to do, but with your help, we will reclaim Moria!” The dwarves nearby cheered as Rathbairn stood looking around, realizing that this ancient dwarf kingdom would prove a great challenge.
From a crevice high above the threshold, far from Dwarf eyes, a small figure crept back from the hole where it had been spying on the dwarves. It turned back down a passage and made several more turns. After a few moments, it reached the rest of its company. The chamber where the goblins waited was massive, a Great Delving indeed. Below, a camp with Goblins, Orcs and Uruks swarmed with activity. The goblin ran to the large Orc at the middle of the camp. The Orc turned to the goblin and sneered. “What is it?”
“The dwarves, they got some big Man with them. Turned into a bear and wiped out a nest of spiders real quick. Could be trouble.”
The Orc sneered at the goblin. “Nothings trouble for us you little rat! We’re gonna go visit these Dwarves and this man and teach ‘em that this here place belongs to us and our Master. MOVE OUT YOU LUGS!”
The Orcs, Goblins and handful of Wargs began to gather as the drums began to sound. Drums in the deep. Drums of war.