The Dwarf Chief Brogur had smashed his fist on the oaken table at least a half-dozen times in the last few minutes. His one eye narrowed and he raised his fist high and brought it down with a resounding smash that echoed in the Chamber of Leadership, outside The 21st Hall of Moria. The table top, finally having enough of the abuse, shattered as dishes, parchments and maps all scattered across the room. A dwarf, standing near Brogur, bent and begun to pick up the scattered items. Brogur turned away and faced the wall, fuming. “Damn it!” he cursed out loud.
“Calm yourself Brogur” Rathbairn said for the seventh time.
“Don’t tell me to be calm! My cousin is in the hands of Mazog and that sorcerer in the one place we might not be able to get him out of and Mazog’s armies now are moving to stroke here! How can I be calm?” he roared his frustration.
Rathbairn had had more than enough of the temper tantrums. He crossed the room, seized Brogur by the back of his jerkin and hoisted him off his feet, pulling him up to eye level. Brogur protested, his legs kicking in the air.
“You have been shouting, smashing and throwing things for a quarter of an hour and nothing has been decided! We need to make a plan to rescue Bori and your bawling accomplishes nothing!” Rathbairn’s face had reddened with rage. Frustrated, he tossed the dwarf into a chair and strode to the door. As he prepared to jerk it open, the door opened and Mordroskerk and Eilonwyniel entered. The mismatched Rangers of the West normally had more to say, but overhearing the shouting, opted for silence.
“Are you done now?” Mord asked casually. “We have to figure out what’s next.”
“We?” Rathbairn asked. “I thought you two were headed to Lothlorien?”
“We are, and we wished to speak to you both about it.”
Brogur sat up from the chair where Rathbairn had tossed him and grumbled. “Let’s hear it then. You have an idea that involves the elves? Not that they’ll help.”
Eilon glanced at Brogur and begun to speak. “The threat of Mazog and Gorothul affects the Golden Wood and the Lord and Lady must be informed of this development. Also, friend Rathbairn, you said that the Lady Galadriel had summoned you. This would be the time to meet her. A summons from the Lady would allow you entry to the city and we could take that time to plead our case.”
“You must be daft, Elf, if you think I’ll go crawling to those stuck up Elves for help. You’re either stupid or crazy and I’m aiming at both!”
Mord’s face had gone purple and his sword hissed from its scabbard as the Dwarf lept to Brogur and pinned him to the wall while still seated. His voice was deathly quiet as the tip of his blade pressed lightly to Brogur’s throat. “If you ever insult my friend and Kinmate again, Chief or no Chief, I’ll decorate the 21st Hall with your guts.”
Eilon, her face white with shock, laid a gentle hand on Mord’s arm. “Come Mord, easy now.” The Dwarf sheathed his sword with a slam. Brogur, freed, lept to his feet.
“You blasted fool! I’ll bring the entire 21st Hall to have you thrown from the highest peak for this!” He pulled in a breath to shout for his guards when a terrible rumbling echoed through the chamber. Brogur didn’t have to look to see where it came from. He swallowed hard and shook his head. “You three against the Dwarves of Moria? After everything we’ve been through, you’d throw your lives away for this?”
Rathbairn’s voice had a beastial overtone that didn’t sound human when he stopped growling and spoke. “You’d better count your warriors again Brogur, you haven’t got enough.”
Brogur blinked and the frustration and anger that had fogged his mind lessened. He looked into Rathbairn’s eyes and understood the promise, not threat, that was there. Indeed, he knew that should he cross that line, there would be nothing he could do to stop Rathbairn. He sighed deeply and looked to the floor.
“Ah forgive an old fool. I’m getting too old for this.”
“Then let us take care of this for you Brogur.” Eilon said.
“Okay then” he said after a few minutes of thought. You’ll go the Elves to plead our case for help. May Durin guide you.” Take the rest and stock up on provisions and leave when you’re ready. Leave me now, before…” a thunderous pounding echoed as a voice outside called.
“Brogur! Come quickly! Brogur!”
A guard positioned outside threw the door open. “Brogur, your son, Broin…” the guard gasped for breath.
“He’s dead Gafli, what of it.”
“My Chief, he’s alive! Brogur he’s been found!”
They almost flew down the north tunnels towards the Peaceful Path, the chambers near the highest point of Moria. Well away from any fighting or threats, it was home to many Dwarf healers. Brogur threw the door open and ran towards his son, who lay pale and shaking in a bed.
“Broin, my son…my son” Broin mumbled as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“F…Father…” Broin said weakly. “I’m s..s-sorry”
“No son, you’re okay now, you’re safe. I’m here now son. Sleep and we’ll talk later” Broin’s eyes closed as he fell into a restful sleep.
Brogur turned to the Healer in charge. “How…where? Explain this. What happened?”
“He was found near the Waterworks Brogur, a side passage into an unknown tunnel. He was carried to a patrol and brought here.”
“Where are those who found him? They’ll be handsomely rewarded and have my gratitude.”
The Healer pointed to a bed behind the group on the far side of the room. As they turned, Mord, Eilon and Rathbairn gasped as they recognized the reclined form dressed in green and brown. His bow and twin blades lay within reach, his dark fair about his face as he looked back at them, a half-smile upon his face.
“By Elbereth!” Eilon gasped.
The three Rangers were most shocked when Brogur himself spoke.
“By Durin’s beard!” the dwarf yelled, surprised. “Leandir, what are you doing here!”
“Following him” he said, pointing to Rathbairn, whose face displayed shock openly as he replied.
“You found me, now what in the name of anything are you doing here?”
The elf reached under the bunk and pulled out a large pack. He stood, crossed the room and handed it to Rathbairn.
“You dropped these crossing Giant Valley.”
Rathbairn opened the back and shouted with delight. Inside he found several items he had thought lost, including Sterkist’s carving, Arwen’s letter and several maps. He grinned at the elf as he felt his heart would burst with joy. His face darkened as another thought entered his mind. “Calista, how is she?”
Leandir raised his hand to sooth his large friend. “She is in Rivendell, safe after her ordeal. However she took several wounds to her leg. She was found in the High Moor, near the entrance to Imladris. She had been attacked by something, but we could not determine what. I am afraid that while she lives and enjoys life in the Hidden Valley, she can no longer be ridden. I am sorry my friend.”
Rathbairn sighed loudly, his despair evident. “She deserved better, but she will be safe with the Elves. I owe the Eglain a debt, for it is they who gave her to me.”
“It will be fine my friend” Leandir replied. “She will have a good life with my people. Now on to business. What happens here?”
Mord suggested that the Rangers discuss the events of the last few over a meal, and the four Rangers and Brogur adjoined to a nearby chamber to feast while they caught up the new arrival.
“So Gorothul has left his hole in Dol Guldur and came here? Then returned and took Mazog and your dwarven friend with him?”
“Aye” Brogur said, lighting a small wooden pipe and passing the leaf jar to Mord.
“You sound like you know of Gorothul Leandir” Eilon said, a curious look upon her face.
“I am familiar with the lands of Mirkwood and Dol Guldur itself, yes. If you are planning to go there, I will accompany you, if you will have me. But first, I have an errand with the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood that cannot wait much longer.”
Rathbairn frowned, his face grim. “I also have to see this Galadriel.” He didn’t explain further, his face impassive.
Mord grunted as Brogur’s face darkened, “We also need to see the Elves so it seems fate has brought us together. Leandir, can you lead us out of Moria safely into the Dimrill Dale?”
The dark-haired elf was silent for a long time before he looked back up again.
“Yes, I can take us out of here, but we must leave soon.”
Brogur stood up quickly, his face stern. “Then take the provisions you need and may Durin guide you.” He turned and left the room quickly.
“What bothers him so Mord?” Eilon asked, curious and somewhat concerned.
“Brogur doesn’t trust elves much, but the thought of asking the Elves for help with his own kingdom is more than he can handle.”
“Ah, that I understand. And here I thought it may have been your breath again.” She chuckled softly, drawing faint smiles from Leandir and Rathbairn.
Leandir stood and gathered his dishes, handing them to a nearby servant, then turned back to the group.
“We will meet at the farthest gate of the 21st Hall, eastern side in one hour.” Then we will leave. He turned and left the room without a word.
Rathbairn, Mord and Eilon also stood and tidied up the table before each headed off to gather their weapons and food for the journey.
Rathbairn looked fondly at his pack as he filled it with rations. He had taken bread, some cheese and dried fruit. The dwarves of the kitchens had been shocked when he declined several strips of dried meat, taking the dried fruit instead. He didn’t respond, only scowled and left them open-mouthed instead.
He traced the exquisite lines of the small bear carving Sterkist had given him weeks ago in Rivendell. It reminded him of home and a smile came to his face. Seeing it again gave him a new sense of purpose. After losing it, he felt adrift, like a log cast into a vast river, being sent this way and that. Now, he knew what was to be done. Protecting his family and his people in the Vale against the threat of Sauron was what mattered. And with Mirkwood only a few days journey from home, he would now see that threat defeated.
It was an hour later when the four Rangers gathered outside the eastern gate of the 21st Hall of Moria. Leandir stood at the foot of the stairs, his dark form barely discernable in the gloomy darkness. He had changed into dark leather armour and dark leggings. He wore no cloak, but a curious quiver was strapped to his back. A hood lay cast back across his shoulders and half gauntlets were on his hands. He knelt in the dust, studying the stone floor.
Rathbairn had traded his tattered cotton tunic for a pair of leggings and a sleeveless jerkin made of spun wool. He had kept his steel bracers and the blue headband kept his pale hair from his face.
Mord was armoured as always. Steel plate over a mail jerkin and steel helm in his head. Heavy steel gauntlets covered his hands to the elbow.
Eilon wore hunter’s garb, green and brown leggings and tunic with a dark green hooded cloak. Her bow was in her left hand and a quiver rested at her hip. Her hammer rested on the other side of her hip and her spear was in her hand.
The four Rangers of the West gathered together at the foot of the massive stairs that led out of the 21st Hall and looked to the silent Hunter who prepared to lead them out. He looked at them all and spoke softly, his voice hushed.
“Our route is simple enough, but be wary for danger. Gorothul and Mazog may be gone, but there will still be more than too many Orcs and Goblins. Plus Wargs will roam the higher chambers. That doesn’t count the spiders and insects that already inhabit this place. Be on your guard at all times and keep your eyes open. Mord, take the rear, let me know if your hear anything. Eilon, have your arrows ready. Rathbairn, have a care to your axe.” He took a deep breath and began again.
“We’ll be headed through Nud-Melek, the oldest region of Moria. If we have a straight path, we can reach the Dimrill Dale by nightfall. But I can tell you we may need to detour to avoid the Orcs and Goblins. We will have a straight journey down the hallway ahead to the Second Hall, then to the bridge of Khazad Dum. After that, the First Hall, then the door to the Dimrill Dale. Be ready for anything and we do not stop unless we have no other choice. The quicker we leave these halls behind, the better.”
Mord laughed quietly, “Wow Leandir, I think that’s more words at once than you’ve ever said before. I’ll have to tell Lily. She’ll faint for sure!”.
Leandir looked at Eilon, a half smile on his face. “If she does faint, it’s because you forgot to take a bath again Mord.”
Eilon doubled over in silent laughter, Rathbairn covered his mouth to avoid making noise.
Mord stood silent, his face turning purple, then a huge grin covered his face.
“By Durin’s beard Elf, that was a good one! Did you think that up on your own or did she have you repeat it and memorize it?” he chucked.
Leandir cocked and eyebrow and smiled before bowing. “Well played Mord. Shall we go?”
The headed east along a long, empty hallways. It was curiously quiet now, their soft footsteps echoing off the stone as the group headed down the hallway. After a half hour, the passage opened into a massive chamber, with the distinct sound of water falling. The path led towards a dropoff. The group paused at the end of the path where the stairs ended in a huge chasm framed by broken stone. Leanir peered about, the torch in his hand flickering and sputtering.
“There’s no way down here, we’ll have to go back. The stairs have crumbled and from what I can see, the rest of the tunnel on the far side is blocked. It looks like something collapsed the stairs and the bridge across.” He peered above into the vast blackness, but nothing could be seen in the pressing gloom.
They detoured back to the 21st Hall and headed south instead, turning left and travelling towards a hallway with hung lanterns overhead.
“Have the dwarves begun to reclaim this section yet?” Leandir asked over his shoulder to Rathbairn.
“Yes, Brogur was talking about it before we left.” He said. “They have begun to move south and have opened up some of the tunnels all the way to the Water-Works. If we turned right instead of left, we follow the tunnels and a hallway that leads down there.” He paused, a sudden thought coming to his mind. “Broin was found near the Water-Works, but what were YOU doing down there?”
Leandir paused and turned back to the group, the sharp lines of his face lit by the dim torchlight. “Lord Elrond received a message from the Lady Galadriel about Orc activity in Mirkwood. One of the messages was something a scout took off a dead Orc in Mirkwood. It was a message from Gorothul himself to an Orc Captain in Moria, something about Azanarukar.” His face was grim.
Mord and Rathbairn looked at each other curiously, but Eilon’s face was pale as she stared at Leandir. “No…” she breathed, “not…that place”
Leandir nodded wordlessly his eyes glinting dangerously. “Elrond and Galadriel both believe that Gorothul, at the bidding of his Master, the Nazgul, are attempting to use that place for something evil….” he trailed off, his eyes distant.
Mord was curious as he looked at the dark clad elf. That name doesn’t sound familiar, but I’m probably one of the few dwarves who doesn’t know every story about the Foundations of Stone. What is Azan…whatever you called it?” He looked at Eilon’s still pale face. “And why does it have her looking like one of those white-faced orcs?”
Eilon shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. Leandir spoke instead.
“In the eldest days, when Durin’s Bane still ruled Moria, the lowest levels of Moria were called The Foundations of Stone. In the farthest corners of that place, there is a shadowy cave that was opened by a group of dwarf explorers. When they entered, they felt evil all about the cave. There was a fell light about the stones, as if it was a portal to the abyss. They were attacked by something, no one knows what. Only one dwarf made it out of the cave alive, and he was mad for the rest of his days.” The elf shook his head. “The dwarf healers managed to get some details and even got him to sketch what he saw. But in the end, the one thing that he would say is one name…Rogmul. And saying made him scream for days.”
“So what is a Rogmul?” Rathbairn asked, his blood cold.
“We don’t know.” Leandir replied. “Lord Elrond still searches for an answer and even his eldest tomes speak nothing of it. Perhaps Celeborn and Galadriel have found something, which is why I was sent by Elrond.” He paused, took a deep breath and continued. I was in the Water-Works searching for the path to the lower levels of Moria. In the Redhorn Lodes, there is a tunnel that leads to the Foundations of Stone themselves. If I can locate these tunnels, perhaps the dwarves can help to collapse them. I was near the hall to the Water-Works when I found Broin. I had to abandon my search and bring Broin to safety.”
Eilon shook herself and sighed. “The tale of the Shadowy Cave feels evil. It is not unlike the feeling we had near the body of Durin’s Bane we found on the mountainside days ago.”
Leandir drew a sharp breath. “Durin’s Bane body has been found? Tell me more as we walk.”
They continued down stairs and turned left again as they strode through vast halls with elaborate dwarven scripting. Rathbairn told Leandir about the body of the balrog on the mountain top, the elf curious and pestering the Beorning with questions. Their discussions stopped when the party entered a vast chamber that took their breath away. They had reached the Second Hall of Durin.
The massive chamber stretched away as far as the eye could see. The massive stone pillars were a living tribute to the dazzling skill of the ancient dwarf craftsmen. Mine carts littered the southern side of the chamber along with huge statues of dwarven kings.
On the northern side, they could barely make out the lights of torches and moving forms. There was no mistaking the hunched figures of Orcs and Goblins, along with Wargs and even some Uruks.
“Damn….” Mord cursed through his teeth. “We’ll never pass them without being seen. There’s obviously a camp back there somewhere. And just beyond the pillars is the bridge of Khazad Dum. Once we’re through there, we’ll have a straight shot to the First Hall and the exit to the Dimrill Dale.”
Leandir extinguished his torch, plunging the foursome into darkness. “We need to make a decision before we move.”
They pulled back into the hallway and found an empty chamber they had passed. They sat in the dim light of the lanterns outside the room and ate a small meal of their provisions. They spent well over an hour trying to decide the best way to pass the Orc camp.
“If we just try to run, we’ll never make it to the bridge. Even if we do make it that far, we’ll have them snapping right on our heels all the way to Lothlorien.” Mord was saying.
“So what shall we do then?” Eilon replied testily. “We aren’t exactly dressed for sneaking.”
Rathbairn had been silent for a long time, lost in his thoughts. The idea of sneaking past the orcs chafed at him. A descendant of Beorn wouldn’t run from Orcs, he would meet them head on, and they would fall. But he also recognized their need to to reach the Golden Wood. The fate of Middle-Earth hung in the balance and the threat in Mirkwood had to be dealt with soon. He cleared his throat and when the others quieted, he began to speak.
“I am the Grandson of Beorn, and the mountains above us were the home of my people long before the Orcs and Goblins came. I will not run from a fight. I will attack their camp while the rest of you reach the Elves.” He said it with a finality that shocked his companions.
“A noble plan Rathbairn, indeed, but unnecessary.” Leandir said. “For your plan has given me an idea.” He knelt to and began to draw a crude map of the Second Hall.
“There are chambers that all connect along the wall where the orc camp is, am I correct Mord?” The dwarf nodded, confused.
“I can move unseen and launch a few arrows from the farthest reaches of the passages. If some of these arrows set fire to the Orc camp, they will rush to defend it. While they are distracted, you three reach the bridge and get to the First Hall. Once there, you can find the exit and make for Lothlorien. I will follow once I lose the Orcs.”
“Leandir, if they see you…” Mord started, but the elf cut him off with a sharp gesture.
“It is the best way we can get around the Orcs. Does anyone have a better idea?” He waited. When no one responded, he nodded. “Then go, head down the stairs at the head of the chamber and stay to the right hand wall. The Orcs are clustering around the left side of the chamber. Stay in the shadows and if you have to fight, keep it quiet.” He began to tighten straps on his armour and weapons. The three looked at him, mournful smiles at the thought of losing their friend.
“Leandir, are you…” Eilon began, but again Leandir cut her off.
“The time for discussion is over. Go now while you can.”
Rathbairn crossed the hallway and rested a hand on the elf’s shoulder. “Though I haven’t known you long, you are a true friend Leandir. Be safe and come back to us.”
Leandir nodded and slipped away, melding into the shadows as he descended the steps down the far side.. Mord took the lead and led the three down the vast stairs and into the huge chamber. They began to cross the floor and used the columns for cover. Only once did they have to hide as a Warg Rider roamed lazily across the floor, passing out of sight moments later. The continued to cross the floor and had reached the halfway point undetected when shouts echoed across the hall. The trio froze, fearing they had been spotted, but when Mord peered around the massive column that hid them, he returned to tell the others.
“The Orcs are running for the end of the passageway! He’s done it! Let’s move!”
They began to run, their steps echoing across the hall as they knew that the distraction would only last a few short moments. As they reached the end of the hall, a stone wall divided the hallway with an archway farther down away from them. As they neared it, a lone goblin emerged, glanced at the trio and reached for a horn at its belt. Eilon, panic setting in, drew back her bow and let fly just as the goblin blew the horn, a short burst ending in a squawk.
“I wasn’t fast enough, that sound will draw attention. Quickly Mord, take us to the bridge!”
They ran for the archway and saw the bridge arching before them. The hallway was still empty and they ascended the bridge, but froze when shocking sight of the gap across the chasm opened up before them. The bridge was gone. They were trapped.
Rathbairn cursed out loud. “We are trapped, is there no other way?”
“Too late” Mord said quietly. “Look”. He pointed to the gloom ahead.
Waves of Orcs, Goblins and Wargs began to emerge from the nearest tunnel as the trio stood at the end of the bridge.
“We need to get down to that doorway to stand a chance. If we stay here, we’ll be pushed over the edge. At that door, they’ll only be able to come at us a few at a time.” Eilon said grimly.
“Time to die, I guess” Mord said matter-of-factly. “Nothing wrong with dying here beside friends.”
Eilon looked into his eyes and nodded. “Agreed”
Rathbairn felt the familiar surge of anger as he stared at the approaching horde.
“We will not die this day” was all he said before he let the wrath roll over him like a wave.
Arms and legs lengthened and muscles and bone shifted with crackling and popping. Soon, the great bear stood where the man had been. The bear reared to its hind legs and with a great breath, unleashed a mighty roar that echoed across the hallway, shattering the silence. Then it charged the horde.
Eilon and Mord, their face frozen in awe, hesitated only for a moment before charging, trailing behind the bear as it charged the waves of enemies in front of it. With a resounding clash, the beast tore through the lines of foes with reckless abandon, claws tearing and shredding. Mord and Eilon wove through the Orcs and Goblins that sought to attack the bear from the rear, splitting Orc skulls and shearing goblins in half. The Wargs attacked straight on, hoping to bring down the beast with their great numbers, yet they too fell.
Eilon stabbed with her spear and pivoted, her hammer crushing another skull. Mord, his shield smashing a goblin against the wall, thrust his sword into an Orc neck. Chop, parry and stab….it went on for hours until arrows suddenly began to thud into the Orcs from the side. Eilon could only look for a moment.
“Leandir!” she cried, and then was lost to the battle.
A dark form, twin swords flashing, smashed into the Orcs from the side as Leandir emerged from the gloom, slicing into the now dwindling waves of Orcs.
The four Rangers were a foursome of death as the ground was littered with the bodies of goblins, Wargs and Orcs alike. Soon, there were no more foes.
Rathbairn, exhausted, resumed his man form and dropped to his knees, winded, his breath coming in gasps.
“The bridge is out” Mord snapped, “We can’t get out that way!”
“There is a side passage, over here! I found it while the Orcs chased me.”
They ran parallel with the great chasm that opened in the floor like a giant mouth, yawning widely. Leandir led them into a hallway and turned right as they crossed into more chambers. Ahead, Orcs were mustering in a small antechamber. Before they could prepare, the four Rangers cut them down like wheat. The turned right again and climbed a set of stairs. They emerged from the top of the stairs and came into a courtyard with more Orcs. The foursome quickly cut them down as they looked around.
They had come out of the far side of the broken bridge and to their left were massive stone steps leading up and through a large doorway.
“There!” Leandir shouted. “That doorway leads to the First Hall! Run!” They climbed the vast steps and reached the top when shouts from behind made them pause. Arrows began to rain down as goblin archers loosed from alcoves above.
“The orcs have followed our path!” Rathbairn yelled.
Eilon peered down into the gloom. “There are too many of them, we cannot battle that many again. We have to run for the door!”
“Let’s go then!” Mord shouted as the foursome fled through the chamber.
The First Hall of Moria was the oldest part of the ancient homeland of the dwarves. Durin himself has stepped into these halls first when he built the ancient kingdom. The vast pillars went by in a blur as they crossed the floor. Ahead, a faint glimmer could be seen as the outline of the vast door appeared. They did not stop as they reached the door. Rathbairn barreled in at full speed and the four weary Rangers burst through into the blinding light of the midday sun.
The Holidays are over and I have been able to now return to writing! My sincerest apologies for the absence, but now, Rathbairn’s tale returns!