The dwarves were drinking and celebrating when Rathbairn yelled for quiet. Something at the edge of his awareness had tugged at him. The dwarves seemed not to have noticed so Rathbairn yelled again, “BE QUIET, NOW!” and the dwarves went silent. The silence was oppressive as the Dwarves and the Beorning stood at the top of the stairs in Durin’s Threshold, listening.
It came as an echo, a thudding that at first, the group all thought was the sound of heartbeats. Louder still, it increased in tempo until the dwarves looked at each other and ran to the camp at the Threshold.
“What’s going on? What’s that noise?” Rathbairn called to Rathvarr as the dwarves began to gather shields, armour and weapons.
“Those are drums laddie, that means Goblins and more are on the way. We need to make ready!”
Rathbairn looked around and saw dwarves scrambling to and fro, calling out to each other. It had been nearly a week since the battle with spiders and Rathbairn had been busy helping. Some Goblins had tried to raid the camp, but had been squashed by the Dwarves and their new Beorning friend. Rathvarr began to shout orders as some of the dwarves began to move barricades to the top of the stairs. Some dwarves tightened straps on their armour while some sharpened swords and axes. Others just stood silently, preparing for the attack that they knew may be their last. Rathbairn moved to the stairs and climbed, standing alone at the top, waiting. He was soon joined by Rathvarr and the entire company of dwarves who stayed at Durin’s Threshold. Nearly fifty dwarves stood alongside the massive Beorning as the drums grew louder. Minutes went by as torches were lit and lanterns were hung in sconces on the walls. Soon, the top of the stairs and to entrances to the hall beyond was bathed in candlelight.
Rathvarr, his grizzled face staring at the various passages, called out to the company.
“We don’t know whats coming, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we just got here and now these goblins and orcs and whatever else think they can send us out of here? Does anyone here feel like going home?”
A loud shout of “NO” rang off the stone as Rathvarr continued.
“Then how about we step along here and send these rats back to their holes and use their carcasses to fill the cracks, eh boys?” Shouts and cheers continued to ring off the stones, the dwarves eager for battle, Rathvarr’s speech lighting a fire in their blood.
Rathbairn thought of home, his brother and sister, Father, his kin in the Vale, all of them. His home. If Moria wasn’t freed, there was no guessing what would happen, but he knew his home would be threatened. A towering rage began to build, slowly kindling like a blaze that surged through his veins. Lifting his head, Rathbairn let loose a roar that shook the stone, drowning the sound of the drums and causing many a dwarf to cover their ears in pain. He held his axe in both hands, and waited.
The sound of the drums returned when the echo of Rathbairn’s mighty roar faded, closer than before. When the first goblin burst from a passage to the right, the dwarves, as one called out the ancient Dwarf Battle cry; “BARUK KHAZAD!” As one, they charged the waves of goblins that emerged from the tunnels. Rathbairn took a step towards the battle but a strong hand gripped his elbow. Turning, he saw Rathvarr holding on, pulling him back. “Just wait a minute” the dwarf said. Rathbairn was about to protest when the dwarf pointed to the empty left passage. “Too quiet there, don’t ya think?” the dwarf said. Rathbairn understood and waited beside Rathvarr. Moments later, huge orcs, their crude tulwars waving, charged the dwarves from the side, hoping to smash the line that was now fully engaged with waves of goblins. “GO!” Rathvarr said to the remaining dwarves and to Rathbairn he said “Wipe them out my friend, show them what you’re made of!”
Rathbairn didn’t need any more encouragement as he charged the orcs, roaring. His axe hewed limbs and heads as the stone was bathed on blood. The dwarves were standing firm, yet more orcs emerged from the tunnels, forcing the dwarves to give ground. Their right flank had pushed the goblins farther back into the tunnel and the backs of the dwarves were barely visible now as cries of goblins became louder. Rathvarr, burying his axe into an orc’s neck, frowned as he fought. Something wasn’t right. The goblins seemed to give up to easily, almost pulling back and letting the dwarves pursue them into…the sudden realization dawned on him as he called out to a dwarf behind him. “Gamli! The right corridor is a trap! Get the lads to fall back! Rathbairn go with him! We’ll handle this rabble!” He ducked under an orc’s blade and swung hard, taking the Orc’s head off in one swipe.
“Come on big fella!” Gamli shouted as he and four dwarves surged towards the right tunnel, vanishing into the darkness. Rathbairn kicked another orc in the chest and with a mighty swing, cleaved his axe through its chest, slicing through the crude armour. Pulling the axe free, he began to run down the right tunnel after Gamli, catching up shortly as the smaller group followed the sounds of fighting. Turning a corner, the passage began to descend slowly towards the lower levels. Rathbairn cursed as his head bumped a chunk of rock jutting down from the ceiling. The Dwarven tunnels in Moria were mostly vast chambers with ceilings far above, yet many of the tunnels were of dwarf height, far too short for a near seven foot Beorning. The dwarves had seen this, but most wisely kept their laughter to themselves in the face of the massive warrior growling in pain while holding his head. Gamli however, couldn’t resist as he called behind him, “Watch yer head eh?”. A growl of frustration was his only answer as the party emerged from the tunnel into a massive cavern. Ahead, torches lit the path into the Great Delving. Gamli raised a hand and called for silence. Strangely, the dwarves that had entered the tunnels only a few minutes before were gone. No weapons, no sounds, nothing. The Dwarf frowned as he looked around. Rathbairn, his eyes scanning the vast darkness spotted a glint of metal on the stone road ahead. He strode forward and reached down to pick up a bloody earring and hand it to Gamli, who took it with a curse.
“You recognize this?” the giant man asked.
Gamli nodded, his face darkening.
“Where to now?” Rathbairn asked.
“You” Gamli pointed to one of the dwarves, “run back and get Rathvarr and the rest. Tell them what happened and tell them we need as many warriors as we can spare. And bring torches!”
The dwarf nodded and ran off down the dark tunnel as Gamli began to search the huge chamber. The Dwarves split into pairs, no sound being made in the vast darkness.
Rathbairn, his keen eyes penetrating the darkness, had wandered towards a road that stretched away to the south, the paved path leading further into darkness. As he approached an archway, a glint of light came into view from a side passage. He looked back towards where Gamli and his Dwarves were searching. Picking up a stone, he threw it, striking the nearest Dwarf. At the sound, Gamli turned and saw the huge man beckoning. Calling quietly, Gamli led the Dwarves towards the Beorning. Rathbairn pointed down the passage and said “light”.
Gamli, his eyes narrowing, led the way, his torch illuminating the tunnel ahead. Rathbairn followed, taking up the rear, listening. Within moments, he heard the scuffling of heavy feet. Brandishing his axe, he called to the Dwarves, who stopped and prepared for the impending attack. But when only Rathvarr and thirty Dwarves appeared, they sighed in relief.
“What news?” Rathvarr asked Gamli.
“We saw light down this tunnel, or so that’s what Rathbairn said. We haven’t seen or heard anything at all, just this” he handed the bloody earring over.
Rathvarr held up the earring closer to his torch, examining the earring closely. “Yep, that’s a Dwarf earring. Stafli’s if I remember it. He was with that group that vanished. We’ll have to…” his words broke off as a horn sounded from the main chamber of the Great Delving. Rathbairn looked at Rathvarr, “That’s no Dwarf horn” he said simply. The Dwarf nodded and the group ran back down the tunnel to the main passageway. The horn called again as they reached the central passage of the Great Delving and headed towards a large chasm that divided the chamber. At the far end across the crack, hundreds of Goblins holding torches hooted with laughter and called insults to the small group of warriors they faced. Standing amidst the goblins were several orcs, who in turn surrounded a strangely armoured Orc with Horns jutting from the top of his helmet. The Orc was hunched over, yet strangely, the rest of the Orcs and Goblins gave him a wide berth.
“What’re you for dog?” Rathvarr called, his voice echoing. “Where’s the rest of my Dwarves.”
The Orc’s laugh was hideous as he responded back.
“Show them their precious friend’s boys” his voice guttural and rasping. The rest of the Goblins and Orcs sneered and called out as four Dwarves were shoved to the front, their hands bound behind them.
“Let’em go you filth!” Gamli roared his face red with rage. Rathvarr was about to call out when from the northern tunnel came the sound of many booted feet. Within minutes, Bosi, Bori and Brogur had arrived, flanking the goblins and their leader. Seeing this, the goblins closed ranks around the Dwarf prisoners, many calling out to kill them.
Bori stepped forward. “Alright Orc, who are you and what do you want?”
“I am MAZOG!” the Orc roared. “My friends and I want you gone! Moria is ours now! We have some powerful friends who have taken a liking to this place.”
Bori shook his head “Not gonna happen filth, now let them Dwarves go before we come over there and tear you apart. We’re reclaiming Moria for the Iron Legion and no Orc or Goblin is gonna stop us”
Rathbairn had been quiet during the exchange, standing at the rear of the party. When the Orc named himself however, he shoved past Rathvarr and stepped to the front, fixing the Orc with a look of pure hate.
“Mazog, son of Bolg!”
The Dwarves were stunned into silence. All knew the name Bolg, the Orc who had led the attack on Erebor. While the Dwarves had one the day, the battle had taken the lives of many Dwarves.
Mazog looked across the gap at the massive figure. Recognition dawned on his face. “I know you. You’re one of them Skin-Changer freaks!” He screamed in rage, pulling a crude sword from its sheath, waving it at Rathbairn.
“If you are Bolg’s son, then you’ll die like him!” Rathbairn roared back. “I am Rathbairn, grandson of Beorn, who killed your spineless father at the gate of Erebor!”
Mazog paled, then with no warning turned and plunged his sword into the chest of the nearest Dwarf prisoner. The rest of the Goblins began to do likewise and soon, the four Dwarves lay dead. He turned and began to lope away into the darkness behind him, the Goblins and Orcs following.
Brogur, his one eye streaming tears, shouted “Charge!”
The Iron Garrison charged, heading towards a small path that crossed the huge chasm. Rathbairn did not wait for Rathvarr as he began to run after the Iron Garrison, the rest of the Dwarves following. By the time the Dwarves and Beorning crossed the path, Mazog was gone, vanished down a tunnel. Some few Goblins had tried to slow the Dwarves, but were cut down like wheat.
Bosi, his face red with anger, stormed up to Rathbairn. “What was that? Why did you do that? He killed those Dwarves because of you!”
Rathbairn, rage taking hold, threw his axe down. He seized Bosi by the front of his tunic and lifted him off the floor, his feet dangling. “That Orc is responsible for killing many of my Kin you bearded runt! My family has hunted him for years after my Grandfather died. Do not talk to me of loss! “He dropped Bori and turned, finding himself looking into the drawn weapons of Brogur, Bori and the Iron Garrison warriors.
Rathbairn did not move, but fixed the Dwarves with his eyes.
“Get out of my way” he said, his voice sending shivers down the Dwarves spines. Brogur, his one eye still weeping, lowered his axe. “Take it easy Rathbairn, no one blames you, Bosi is just angry, that’s all.” He motioned for the rest of the group to lower their weapons, which most did reluctantly.
Rathbairn grabbed his axe from the ground. “I am going to help you find Mazog and kill him and then I am leaving Moria for good. Is that a problem?” he asked bluntly. Brogur looked and Bori and both said “No, not at all”
“Then what now?” Rathbairn asked.
“Come with us to the 21st Hall Rathbairn, we’ll discuss plans there”
Rathbairn nodded and said nothing else, his face teeming with a towering rage. He wanted to smash something, to change form and rip his enemies to shreds. Having been denied that made him even angrier.
Rathvarr approached cautiously “Rathbairn? I just wanted to thank you for your help here. Don’t worry about Bosi, he’ll cool off”
Rathbairn nodded and looked to Brogur. “Lead the way”
Brogur spoke with Rathvarr in hushed tones, then he, Bori and the Iron Legion began to wind their way north and up to Durin’s Way, the passage that led to the 21st Hall of Moria. It seemed like days that Rathbairn marched behind the Dwarves, too angry to speak. He was hungry, which didn’t improve his mood. Mazog, he thought to himself. After years of hunting, he’s here in Moria.
Hours later, they reached the massive 21st Hall encampment of the Dwarven expedition. Huge columns stretched out of sight to the ceiling, the darkness beyond like a weight. The Dwarves had been busy building walls and fortifications. It began to look like a small city within the huge empty hall. A side door outside the camp led to a chamber where Brogur and Bori had taken up residence, naming it the Chamber of Leadership. They took Rathbairn their where the three sat down to some food and ale, Rathbairn eagerly wolfing down bites of bread and ale, his stomach missing the taste of honey and fresh cream. Between bites, he looked to Bori and asked “Where do we look for Mazog?”
“That’s the mystery alright, for we have no idea. We have discovered maps of the known regions of Moria, but Mazog could be anywhere. We’ll have to begin searching for him, piece by piece.”
“Then let’s go” Rathbairn said, coming to his feet.
“Easy there my friend” Brogur said, extending a calming hand. “We won’t find him by just rushing out there. We need to be cautious, careful. If he hears us coming, he’ll just go elsewhere.”
Rathbairn slammed his mug down “He knows we’re coming, that I’m coming”
“Indeed he will, but he won’t know from which way. Better to find him and then attack. Right?” he looked to Bori who nodded in agreement.
Rathbairn’s head drooped in frustration “Then how long must we wait?”
“Give it a day or so, we’re sending small groups to go looking around, quietly of course. Once we discover where that rat is, we’ll find him and squeeze him like a bug.”
“Fine” Rathbairn said shortly.
Brogur gestured to a corner where several cots had been lashed together to form a large bed. “Why don’t you get some sleep? You’ve been on your feet all day and it’s late anyways”
Rathbairn bowed his head “Thanks” he said quietly and retreated to the bed. Almost as soon as his eyes closed, sleep claimed him.
He knew it was a dream, but he couldn’t resist the thought that he was somehow partially awake. He was flying down tunnels and chambers, leading slowly upwards. He saw a path from north of the 21st Hall, twisting and turning. To a door that led…outside! He came out into a howling blizzard, a window in the world itself. A sense of dread seemed to grow as the dream brought him up the side of the mountain to the peak. There, in a huge crater, lay the form of a creature larger than anything Rathbairn had seen. He made out wings and a horned head. Waves of fear and dread seemed to pulse from the dead form. Then the from a higher point, away from the beast, the urge to roar, to lay claim to the Misty Mountains themselves for his bloodline, for his kin. Then, blackness.
He came awake to voices. Voices that were eager and boiling over with excitement like a steaming kettle over a fire. Rathbairn sat up and looked to table where Bori and Brogur spoke with someone Rathbairn couldn’t see. He groaned as he sat up, his back sore. Bori looked over, “Ah you’re awake! You have a visitor!” Rathbairn stood up and crossed the floor. At the far end of the table sat a familiar face. A bearded dwarf in heavy armour, a twisted smirk on his face.
“Rathbairn!” the dwarf extended a gauntleted hand, which Rathbairn shook warmly.
“What are you doing here?” Rathbairn asked, his face curious. It was good to see a familiar face, even if it was another dwarf.
“I’m taking Eilon here” he gestured to a hooded figure that sat at the table, nearly invisible in the shadows. “To the Golden Wood to see her Kin. We would have gone around and through the Gap of Rohan, but it’s not safe anymore. Orcs roam everywhere. Rohan is under siege. So we had to come through Moria instead.”
“But Mord got lost and we almost died” the elf said, a smile lurking at the corner of her lips.
“DWARVES DON’T GET LOST!” Mord yelled, his face reddening. “I’ll have you know that I have only seen maps of Moria, but have never been here myself. The maps were wrong!”
Eilon’s smirk widened as she looked at the sputtering Dwarf “Of course Mord, whatever you say.”
Rathbairn laughed out loud, glad to be near friends again.
Mord, his face darkening, looked at Brogur and Bori “And if it wasn’t for all those damned Orcs we had to hide from, we’d have made it through fine.”
“Orcs? Where?!” The two elder Dwarves asking at once.
Eilon looked taken aback at the ferocity of the Dwarves “What is going on? We’ve seen hundreds of Orcs and Goblins travelling and had to hide to avoid being spotted.”
Rathbairn explained the events of the previous days and the hunt for Mazog.
“Mazog? That’s a name we heard the Orcs say. He’s their King by the sound of it, has himself a place in something called Durin’s Throne room. Does that mean anything?”
Brogur, his eye coming alight crowed with delight as he raced to a shelf and withdrew a tattered scroll.
“We know where he is! Durin’s throne room is here!” He pointed to a faded map of the upper halls of Moria.
“But he’ll be guarded and that hall will be crawling with Orcs. We don’t have enough warriors to fight our way through.” Bori said.
“What about Melkof’s passage?” Brogur said.
Bori’s face lit with glee. “We can take in a small force and attack him from there! We can cut off the head of the snake and the Orcs won’t know what to do!”
“What are they talking about Rathbairn?” Mord asked, confused.
“I’m not sure, but if we can get to Mazog and kill him, it will make Moria safer for the Dwarves and the lands around them.” Rathbairn said as Bori and Brogur continued to babble to each other quickly.
“The Golden Wood indeed faces threat from the Orcs and Goblins of Moria” Eilon said. “If we can reduce that threat, the Lord and Lady would indeed be glad.
Brogur turned to Mord, “Would you and your elf friend lend aid to us? With you two and Rathbairn, we should have no problem taking Mazog by surprise. We could wipe out the Orc’s King and their leaders in one swipe of an axe!”
Mord looked to Eilon, who nodded solemnly. Bori smashed his fist on the table. “Tomorrow then?” he asked Brogur.
It was Rathbairn who replied, his voice coming in a feral growl. “Tomorrow”