There were no words spoken in the hours before the small party gathered outside the Chamber of Leadership. Weapons had been sharpened, armour straps tightened and plans discussed. The six dwarves who had been hand-picked by Bori and Brogur to accompany the dwarf leaders stood clustered by the door to the Chamber, awaiting Bori, who had stepped back in for a last minute provision. Brogur stood next to Mordroskerk and Eilonwyniel, the former tightening the strap on his shield, the latter examining her bowstring by lantern. Rathbairn stood alone, away from the group near a huge stone pillar, lost in his thoughts. Brogur had explained earlier that to access the hidden passage to Durin’s Throne Room, the company would have to go outside onto Zirakzigil, the Silvertine or Celebdil in Elvish. It was a door above the clouds as Brogur had explained it. From there, they would cross the treacherous snows and enter the door to Melkolf’s Workshop, through which a passage had been hidden that would take them eventually to Rushdurinul, where Mazog had entrenched himself. The plan itself didn’t worry Rathbairn, he trusted the Dwarves plan and with both Mord and his Elven friend Eilon alongside, they would have little trouble.
His worry came from Brogur’s description of the Mountain’s peak itself. The old Dwarf had been able to describe it in such exquisite detail, which had raised the hairs on the back of Rathbairn’s neck. His dream the days before of the snowy peak and the corpse of the dreaded creature matched Brogur’s description exactly. Coming face to face with the place from his dream had worried Rathbairn. He pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind and checked his axe. Bear’s Fang, as he had named it, had been sharpened by one of Bori’s craftsman while Rathbairn slept earlier. The dwarf was overexcited when he was given the task as the ancient axe was laid in his hands. It was obvious that the axe had been cared for while its owner slept seeing the gleaming axe blade now. He shouldered the axe in its sling and approached Mord and Eilon, who now spoke quietly to Brogur.
“Are we ready to go yet?” Rathbairn asked, his voice hushed.
“We are waiting for Bori, who went back to re-check the scroll with the directions from Melkolf’s workshop.”
“Perhaps it would be wise to bring the scroll with us?” Eilonwyniel said, her lilting voice musical against the pressing gloom.
“It’s too fragile to travel” the one eyed dwarf said “It’s better to leave it here. “
The door to the Chamber of Leadership opened and Bori emerged, a smile on his face. His axe rested over his right shoulder as he looked around. “Are we ready?” he asked shortly.
“Aye, we’re ready to go kill this mangy cur Mazog” Mord said, his gleeful tone bringing smiles and nods to the dwarf guards.
“Then let’s be off Bori, take the lead” said Brogur.
They travelled north past the 21st hall encampment, past the Chamber of Records where the body of Balin son of Fundin lay. Bori strode confidently, never losing his way or even hesitating. They twisted and turned and walked for hours until one of the dwarf guards with Bori raised a hand sharply. The party stopped without a sound, the silence oppressive. Rathbairn slowed his breathing and concentrated, straining his ears for any hint of sound, yet it was Eilon who shocked them all when she whispered “four goblins patrol the next hallway where we are bound, am I correct Bori?”
He nodded wordlessly, a frown creasing his face. Eilon laid a finger to her lips and drew out four arrows. She padded ahead, her feet making no sound. She reached the end of the hallway and peered around to the right. Without hesitation, she nocked an arrow, drew and released. Before the first arrow had reached its target, she had drawn and released another. Two more arrows followed and in less than a minute, she waved the party forward. As they turned the corner, the bodies of the goblins lay twisted in the hallway, their throats pierced by Eilon’s arrows. She bent to retrieve them as the dwarves grabbed the corpses and pulled them out of sight down a side passage. Bori looked around, satisfied and travelled on down a long hallway north and up, sets of stairs appearing ahead. He stopped at the foot of the massive sets of stairs and waited for the group to collect. When he spoke, it was in hushed tones.
“Three sets of stairs, then at the top is a chamber. At the back of the chamber is the way out, The Door to the Clouds it’s called. Remember. Once we’re outside, your eyes will hurt like daggers for a few moments. This is normal since you’ve been in the dark for a few days. The problem is that we don’t have a lot of time. We don’t know what’s out there and we don’t want to be outside for too long. So be ready for anything.”
Bori turned and climbed the stairs, the rest of his party following. Within moments, the dark shape of a huge wood and steel-bound door appeared at the edge of the lantern light. Brogur cast his lamp about through the chamber, looking for danger.
“It’s empty, not a hint of anything” Mord said, his eyes on the layers of dust on the floor that seemed undisturbed.
“Come on then, no reason to wait” Brogur said, reaching for the door.
“Wait!” Eilon called sharply, running to place a hand on Brogur’s arm. She paused and cocked her head sideways, as if listening.
“What is it Eilon?” Mord asked.
“Can you not feel that?” she said, her eyes narrowed.
“I feel nothing but the eagerness to reach Mazog and to separate his head from his shoulders!” Bori snapped.
“A shadow grows on my heart friend Bori” the elf said. “Something isn’t right.”
“Whatever it is, it’s dead” Rathbairn said suddenly.
“How can you know this Rathbairn?” Eilon asked, shocked.
“I’ve seen this place in my dreams. It lies broken on the mountaintop out there. Even in death, it casts fear. We need to go, Bori, open the door.”
The dwarf snapped himself out of his shock and twisted the heavy steel ring. A loud clank echoed in the chamber and Bori pulled the ring as hard as he could, yet the door didn’t budge. He looked to the giant Beorning standing nearby. “Uh…could you give us a hand my friend? It seems to be stuck.”
Rathbairn grinned as his crossed the floor. He gripped the ring in his hands and pulled, the door resisting for a moment, then with a squealing of rusted hinges it opened, the cold wind and blowing snow entering the chamber. The light of the mountain storm seemed blinding as the small party stood in the entranceway, allowing their eyes to adjust from the darkness under the mountain. After a few moments, they exited the mountain into the howling wind. They stepped onto a plateau of snow and rock on the top of the mountain. Eyes roamed the surroundings in amazement. Below, the clouds seemed within reach as they began the march to the hidden door. Bori, confident in his steps, led the party out and down the side of the path. He led them over a ridge and continued around another jut of rock when they saw the creature.
It lay in a crater of its own making, its blasted form blackened by flames. It was huge, bigger than anything they had seen. A horned head and large wings framed a form that was man-like.
Eilon, her face white, broke the stunned silence with one word. “Balrog”.
The rest of them looked at her, shocked. All of them had heard stories of the demons of the ancient world, long thought to be lost, yet now, one lay in front of them, dead and broken.
“Who could defeat a balrog? No one we know besides Lord Elrond of Rivendell or The Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood perhaps. But who else would have that power?” Eilon’s voice betrayed a mix of fear and awe as she stared at the creature, her heart hammering against her chest.
Rathbairn didn’t answer or hear her, his steps almost automatic as he approached the Balrog’s still corpse. He heard someone call his name and a strange tugging as if someone was trying to pull him back, yet he continued towards the Balrog.
Bori and Brogur stood up from where they had fallen, efforts to restrain Rathbairn fruitless. He moved woodenly, almost as if he was a puppet on strings. They looked to Mord and Eilon, who could only stand frozen, the fear locking them in place.
Rathbairn moved around to the top of the creature and turned towards the party, his face expressionless. He turned again, looking out over the Misty Mountains. His Father had told him the stories passed down by Beorn himself of how their people had been the first to live in the mountains. It was the Beorning’s ancient homelands and one day, they would have it back. The words came unbidden to his mind. Suddenly, he knew what he must do. He let the change roll over him as he shifted to his bear form, the snapping and growling drowned out by the wind. When the change was done, he stood looking out onto the world below.
The Orcs, the Goblins, all creatures of Middle Earth knew the legends of the Skin-Changers, but none that day would ever forget the moment they heard the roar. It echoed off the Misty Mountains far and wide. It was heard throughout the tunnels below by Dwarf, Goblin, Orc and the unknown creatures alike. It was heard at the borders of Lothlorien and Eregion itself. The party at the top of the mountain could only stare with hands over their ears as the great bear roared his claim over the Misty Mountains. It was a warning to all those who threatened Middle-Earth to fear the House of Beorn.
In the tunnels afterwards, some of the dwarves cast dark looks at their Beorning companion while still brushing snow out of the most peculiar places. Mord was still chuckling as he watched one of the dwarves shake like a wet dog, trying to dislodge snow.
“Don’t be so grumpy there lads, cool off a little” Mord said…chuckling.
“Oh my” Eilon said, covering her smile, “I think you’ll have to watch where you sleep for that one my dear Mord, you really stunk up the place with that one.”
Mord let out a quiet chuckle. “The only thing that stinks are your navigational skills Elf, you could get lost in your own bath!”
Eilon, not to be daunted, replied quickly. “Ah the great warrior Mord, we all know that the only reason Orcs and Goblins run away when they see you is because of your smell.”
Mord paused for a moment, then burst out laughing and was about to reply when Brogur turned and shushed them all.
“Quiet you fools! We’re close now, less than an hour and we’ll be there. Keep it quiet until then!” He stomped off, leading the way.
Mord nudged Eilon with his elbow as he passed her “Good one Elf”
They marched on in silence for an hour, seeing nothing but cobwebs and the occasional bug. Rathbairn’s nose picked up the scent of Orcs. It was faint, but there was no mistaking the foul stench of unwashed Orc and Goblin. Brogur raised a hand in silence, calling a halt. He beckoned to two of his warriors and pointed to the corner ahead. The two dwarves crept ahead on silent feet to the corner of a long ornate hallway. Bori turned to the rest of the party as Brogur stared intently at the two dwarves who scouted ahead, both dwarves having vanished around the corner.
“Okay, get ready because once Brogur’s scouts return with details, we’re going in. We kill Mazog and anyone around him, then we get out fast. We’ll collapse this tunnel if we have to.” He pointed to two of the remaining dwarves. “You two guard this hallway. Make sure we don’t get sealed off. Understood?” Both dwarves nodded wordlessly and moved father back into the shadows of the hallway.
Rathbairn looked at Eilon and Mordroskerk, the former readying her spear, checking the grip and the latter tightening his shield. They were an odd pair, but well suited for each other in battle. Their banter back and forth clearly hid their respect and admiration for each other. He smiled and felt glad that he was going into this battle with friends, but his face darkened at the thought of the battle. Mazog, son of Bolg, son of Azog, the line of Gundabad Orcs who had plagued his family and the East for as long as he could remember. Grimbeorn had hunted Mazog since a raid had killed several members of the Beorning clan in retaliation for the death of Bolg at the hands of Beorn. Rathbairn wanted to get his hands on Mazog, to tear him apart, to….
A hand on his arm snapped him out of his thoughts. The concerned look of Eilonwyniel staring back at him.
“You were lost to us for a moment friend Rathbairn, you were growling at nothing. Are you well?”
“Yes” Rathbairn replied, shaking his head ruefully. “Lost in some old memories I guess. I want Mazog, for my family.”
“Mazog seems to have much to answer for it seems, but we must not lose ourselves to blind vengeance.” She patted his arm again and leaned back against the wall. Bori, standing nearby, winked at Rathbairn and turned back to watch Brogur who stood at the corner ahead. Moments later Brogur snapped his fingers, signalling the return of the scouts. They rounded the corner less than a minute later, breathless and flushed with excitement. They spoke with Brogur a moment, and then moved to sit near the wall out of sight, taking a moment to rest.
Brogur approached quietly, his booted feet making little sound. “We’re in luck, Mazog is there along with a few of his chiefs. There are perhaps three dozen orcs between us and Mazog.” He knelt down in the dirt and sketched a crude map with his finger.
“Here’s where Mazog and his chiefs are” he sketched a line in the dirt. “And here is where we will come out” he drew a circle a short distance away. “We have to do this just right because the rest of the orcs in the chamber are on the far side of where we will come out. So we’ll have a fight on two sides. Bori, Rathbairn and I will go for Mazog and his lackey, the rest of you keep those other Orcs busy. Once Mazog and the rest are dead, we’ll pull back and run for it.”
Rathbairn nodded and stood back, pulling his axe from the sling on his back. Brogur and Bori faced each other and banged their gauntlets together, readying. Brogur looked at the party, his one eye gleaming wickedly. “Ready?”
Nods all around as Brogur motioned to the resting scouts who stood up and led the party down the hall and around the corner. They entered a darkened hallway to a ruined stone wall. Torchlight shone through a gap in the wall. Brogur took one look out the gap, nodding to himself before turning around to the group who stood behind him.
“This is for Moria, for Eriador and for Middle-Earth.” He drew a deep breath and reached to a small alcove partially hidden. He grabbed hold of the handle for the hidden door and pulled hard, a rumbling echoing above and the partial wall falling outward. “BARUK KHAZAD!” he roared, the remainder of the dwarves calling out with him as the group charged, then separated. The plan seemed to work as Mordro, Eilon and the four dwarves raced to engage the Orcs who stood frozen in shock at the sudden appearance of this group of warriors. Their shock was short-lived as they gathered their own weapons and charged, both groups meeting with a loud clash of steel. Eilon pulled her hammer from her belt and spun, deflecting an orc blade with her spear as she rolled her shoulder and crushed its skull with her hammer. She thrust the spear behind her, the butt end doubling another orc in two as she spun and caved in its skull like its counterpart. Mordro, Dwarven battle cries to Durin coming from his lips, was hard-pressed as three Orcs came at him from the front. He stabbed with his sword, impaling the lead orc, yet the other two fanned out and attempted to come at him from the flanks as he finished off the first attacker. He lashed out with his left hand, his shield smashing into the face of one orc. He chopped at the orc on his right, pushing it back a step. Turning quickly, he thrust his right arm to his left, the blade passing under his shield and taking the orc in the face. Without pausing, he whipped his sword back to the right and barely parried the last orcs tulwars, the shock rippling down his arm. He turned and prepared to finish the orc, his attention fully on his remaining prey. A feral smile came to his lips as he charged. The four dwarves were lethal as a group, axes and swords chopping and hacking with reckless abandon. The First group seemed to have everything in hand.
Bori and Brogur charged ahead of Rathbairn, sprinting towards Mazog and the half dozen Orc War chiefs that stood on a raised dias. Mazog roared to his chiefs who surged forward to protect their king. Their shouts were drowned out by a roar from behind the two dwarves as Rathbairn charged past Bori and Brogur. Bear’s Fang splitting an orc skull like a log being split for firewood. The five remaining chiefs spread out and began to engage the three warriors. Rathbairn rushed two of the chiefs, forcing them away from the rest as he stabbed his axe like a spear, impaling an orc in the chest, knocking it to the floor. He took a cut on the shoulder from the remaining orc and growled, ignoring the pain. The orc smiled wickedly, thinking it had the advantage. Rathbairn surged ahead and Bear’s Fang rang out with a clang as the orc barely blocked an overhead chop. They exchanged blows, each looking for an opening.
Bori and Brogur had fought side by side for longer than most, their knowledge of each other’s battle habits making them fight as one. Where a shield moved, a sword or axe blade replaced it. They stepped and spun as one, the three remaining orcs not ever having a chance. Soon, the two dwarves and their Beorning friend stood alone, facing Mazog, the Orc King hunched and backtracking. The din of battle behind them quieted suddenly as Mazog realized that his orcs were dead. Mord, Eilon and the four dwarf warriors joined the rest at the dias. There were no serious wounds, only small cuts and the odd gash. But the six had clearly been a match for anything. Mazog, facing the nine alone, suddenly began to laugh.
Bori his face red with anger, stepped forward. “Laugh yourself to your grave Mazog, your time is over.”
The Orc laughed even harder until suddenly, the nine realized that another was laughing along with him. A red-cloaked form stepped out from behind a wall behind the dias.
It was a man, pale-faced with a cruel expression on his lips.
“Well done, well done! The ferocity of dwarves and the elf is much to be admired. And you, my Beorning, you are true to your line!”
“Who are you?” Brogur snarled at the newcomer.
“I am Gorothul, of Dol Guldur,” the red-cloaked man said mockingly.
“Never heard of you” Bori taunted. “Run yer hide back to that stinking rot of a fortress before I split your skull.”
“A most generous offer, but I decline.” He raised a hand and Bori’s axe flew from his hand. Gorothul began to chant again and a white wave flew out from his hands, sending the nine warriors sprawling backwards.
Rathbairn felt like a large stone had hit his chest. He felt the rage building inside and pulled himself to his knees. He began to shift when Gorothul called out. “None of that now.” Rathbairn felt something crash into his head and he lay on his back, unable to move. His bear form slipped away as he lay helpless. The rest of the party faced similar fates, frozen in place at the spell.
“Come Mazog, my master summons you to back to Dol Guldur, but perhaps we’ll take him a gift or two. He called out in a hideous language and two massive Troll-Like beasts emerged from the right, armoured and bearing huge clubs. Gorothul pointed at Bori. “This one comes with us, the rest can die now.”
Bori was seized as the troll slung him over its shoulder, following Mazog and the sorcerer out of sight. Mazog stopped and called back to Rathbairn, the Beorning struggling to his feet as the spell holding him in place ended. “Rathbairn, I enjoyed our battle, but now, join your gutless coward of a grandfather in death!”
The remaining troll smashed its club to the ground, bellowing out a challenge. Brogur lay dazed, directly in the trolls path. The four dwarves surged ahead, weapons out to defend their leader. The troll roared again and smashed down with its club. With the troll engaged, Rathbairn caked out to Mord and Eilon. “Grab Brogur and make for the tunnel, quickly!”
Mord pulled Eilon to her feet and the two pulled the dwarf to his feet. “Rathbairn come on!” Mord called.
The Beorning tossed Bear’s Fang to his friend as he turned back to the troll. “GO!” he roared. He let the rage at Mazog’s taunt flow through him as his bear form took over.
The four dwarves kept their distance as the troll’s club smashed the floor. The troll hadn’t managed to hit any of the dwarves yet, the four moving as one, taunting and darting among the beasts legs. Rathbairn took the distraction to his advantage and the great bear charged into the Troll, his great bulk slamming the troll backwards, knocking the club from its hand. Rathbairn reared on his hind legs and pushed, slamming the troll down on its back. The dwarves, seeing their chance, lunged in with axes and swords. The bear’s claws tore chunks of flesh and blood spurted everywhere. The Troll shuddered once as a Dwarf axe buried itself in the beast’s head. Then it lay still. The four dwarves turned to the main entrance of the hallway as the great doors to Rushdurinul began to open. One of the dwarves turned to the bear, his face sombre. The bear shifted and shuddered as Rathbairn regained his man form.
“More orcs, too many to hold.” He said.
“We’ll hold them off” one of the dwarves said. “Get Brogur to safety and get Bori back for us.”
Knowing the stubbornness of dwarves, Rathbairn only nodded. “We will remember your courage.” He said simply.
The dwarves nodded and bowed to the huge man standing before them. Then, as one, they charged to oblivion as the great throne room doors opened and waves of Orcs poured into the throne room.
Rathbairn ran for the passageway, pausing at the entrance to see the four dwarves charge and vanish into the melee of Orcs. They vanished from view moments later. He ducked into the passage and caught up to Eilon and Mord. Brogur looked up at him and bowed his head as Rathbairn shook his head sadly at the unspoken question.
“Let’s get out of here” Brogur said as the four of them vanished into the darkness.
Sorry for the brief absence. Life, as they say, waits for no one. But I hope you enjoy the next installment of Rathbairn’s adventures.