The Dimrill Dale opened up as the four warriors descended the twisting path down the mountains, moving quickly yet cautiously. The battle in the Second Hall of Moria, combined with the flight from the Orcs and Goblins had pushed them beyond fatigue. They were driven by the need to gain safety. Ahead, in the distance, the Golden Wood itself opened up like a vast sea of trees. The golden leaves of Mallorn trees glimmering like a second sun. The edge of the wood lay ahead, across a small stream that flowed from the mountains. As they reached it, they stopped, gasping for breath. Mord, the dwarf more fatigued than he cared to admit, dropped to his haunches, his breath coming in short gasps.
“Where…how close…to..the Elves?” he asked, puffing like a bellows.
“The edge of Lothlorien itself lay less than an hour ahead” Eilon replied, wincing at a cut on her left arm.
Rathbairn looked around at the ancient trees ahead of them. The Mountains behind them still towered over, like a wall that separates two lands. The dark door into Moria was barely visible and Rathbairn scowled as he gazed at it. He felt a presence at his shoulder and looked to see Leandir there, the elf staring at the mountain also.
“That was a close call my friend” the black clad hunter said.
“I have not fled in battle, I do not like the feeling.”
The elf grunted. “I understand, Rathbairn. But what good would you be to your family and Middle-Earth of you perished in the dark depths of Khazad Dum? You are mighty indeed, but even you couldn’t stand against the Orcs and Goblins of Moria. ‘Tis better to gain a safe haven and rest.”
Rathbairn grunted but didn’t reply. Eilon had been silent, studying the tree line ahead. “We need to reach the Wood soon. It seems to be midday, but come the fall of night, the Orcs and Goblins may come looking for us.”
“Agreed” Leandir said. “Let us head to Lothlorien and the safety of the Golden Wood. Mord, are you ready?” The dwarf was still hunched down, puffing.
“I’m…fine…uhh!” The dwarf collapsed face down with a thud.
“Mord!” Eilon cried, rushing to his side. Rathbairn stepped quickly and helped her turn the steel clad dwarf over. As she removed his helmet, she noticed blood from his right side. She gasped as she examined closer.
“He’s wounded, badly.” She said. “Stubborn fool must have been hiding it from us.”
Leandir knelt down next to the dwarf and listened closely to the dwarf’s breath, which was ragged and faint. They removed his chest plate with some difficulty and examined the wound. A deep gash it seemed at first, but upon closer inspection, Eilon discovered a Goblin arrowhead embedded deep within the wound.
“This is bad” Eilon said. “We must get him to Lothlorien quickly.”
“I will carry him” Rathbairn said.
“Oh my” Was all Eilon could reply. “We must bind the wound as best we can, but you must be careful Rathbairn.” She wound several strips of cloth torn from a spare cloak in her pack and tied them carefully. Rathbairn knelt and scooped the dwarf into his arms, straining slightly.
“Don’t tell him any of this” Eilon said, her face etched with concern.
The three Rangers stepped quickly along the path, urgency driving them on, but care for their unconscious companion preventing them from quickening their pace. As the edge of the Golden Wood approached, a change began to come over the group. Leandir, his shoulders tense as he scanned their surroundings for threats seemed to relax, just a little. Eilon, nearing the homeland of her kin, found familiar sights and sounds pleasing.
Rathbairn felt a change as they entered the forest at last, relief setting in. While Mord’s wound was still a desperate concern, they felt relief as no Orc or Goblin would dare risk the wrath of the Galadhrim by entering the Golden Wood.
Leandir halted them for a moment after a few minutes of navigating between the vast Mallorn trees, his face worried.
“What is it?” Eilon asked.
“The wardens should have seen us by now.” Leandir replied. He looked about the forest, his ears straining for a sound, any sound. Yet the forest remained strangely quiet.
Eilon turned back to Mord, still unconscious in Rathbairn’s arms.
“How are you holding up? Do you need a break? I know he’s heavy.”
“No, I can keep going. We should not be stopping. Mord needs a healer, soon.” The Beorning’s face was flushed but his breath was steady and even.
Leandir had taken a single step forward when suddenly, his hands blurring, he drew an arrow, set it to his bowstring and drew, facing the trunk of the tree ahead.
“Daro!” the hunter called in his native tongue. It seemed almost a command.
To Eilon’s and Rathbairn’s surprise, an elf stepped from behind the tree in front of them, his brown and green clothing seeming to blend into the trees around him.
“Mae Govannen Leandir.” the elf called, his hands held palms out.
“Haldir, suilaid mellon” Leandir replied, relaxing his bow. He stepped towards the elf and they spoke quickly, Leandir gesturing towards the dwarf in Rathbairn’s arms.
“What are they saying Eilon?” Rathbairn asked, straining. The dwarf had begun to feel very heavy all of a sudden, plus, the smell of the steel plate armour definitely had a distinctive smell, which wasn’t pleasant.
“Our guide pleads our case to allow us passage to Caras Galadhon, the city of The Lord and Lady of Lothlorien. He and Haldir seem to know each other well. That I didn’t know”
Haldir, his golden hair gleaming as he bowed to Eilon, looked at Rathbairn and drew a sharp breath. He gave Leandir a look of alarm and another exchange followed, more tense than the previous one.
Rathbairn, his patience gone and his arms aching from holding the dwarf, snapped at the Galadhrim warden. “You must let us pass. Our friend is gravely wounded and I also have been summoned by your Lady Galadriel. Will you let us pass or let him die for your stubborn rules?” His voice sounded more like a snarl than a shout.
Haldir looked at Leandir, then back at Rathbairn before gesturing sharply “Tolo ar nin”. He turned and strode past the trees. Leandir beckoned to Eilon and Rathbairn and they began to follow the elf through the trees.
More elves began to appear as the group made their way deeper into the forest. Rathbairn began to notice a strange feeling about him as he carried the dwarf. He could feel a change in the very air itself, as if things seemed, slower somehow. Yet as far as he could tell, they hadn’t. They stopped near the base of a large hill crowned by a large Mallorn tree with a Talan towering above them.
“Cerin Amroth” Leandir said suddenly.
Haldir smiled and indicated for Rathbairn to place Mord down gently. His shoulders practically screamed with relief as he laid Mord gently onto the grass. Haldir pulled aside the crude dressing and winced at the wound.
“This dwarf’s wound is most serious. He cannot travel any further. He must stay here while our healers attend him.” He turned then and strode away, calling out to other elves.
Eilon looked down at Mord’s pale face and without looking up, spoke softly. “I will stay with him. He will need a familiar face nearby when he wakes up. You both must speak with the Lady.”
Leandir nodded and rested a hand on her shoulder. “He will be fine Eilon, he is too stubborn to die.”
She nodded and looked to Rathbairn. “You must put aside any mistrust you have my friend. The Galadhrim bear you no ill will, as the only evil found here is what one brings with themselves.”
Rathbairn nodded and knelt beside the dwarf as several elves approached bearing a litter. He patted the dwarf’s shoulder and stood back as the elves gently loaded Mord onto the litter and with Eilon following, bore him toward the crest of the hill. Rathbairn and Leandir watched as the group left and then turned as Haldir approached again. He bowed deeply to Rathbairn before he spoke.
“I ask for your pardon Beorning. The Lady has sent word that you are to be brought to her at Caras Galadhon as a welcomed guest. I wish to convey my apologies if I gave offense at our first meeting.”
Rathbairn sighed deeply and frowned. “You were doing your duty, Haldir, no offense taken.”
Haldir bowed deeply and waved towards the east. “I will escort you to the Lord and Lady. Shall we go?”
Leandir inclined his head and turned to Rathbairn as they began to follow Haldir.
“You have changed my friend” Leandir said softly as they walked side by side.
“What do you mean?” Rathbairn replied.
“Any other Beorning would have been gravely offended when Haldir first met you. It is clear your kind are feared by the servants of the Enemy and the Free Folk alike. Haldir was reluctant to allow you passage into Lothlorien until the Lady allowed it. You however, handled it with much grace.”
Rathbairn grunted “I was reminded of something my Father said before I left Rivendell. He said that our people are changing as the world itself changes. For us to survive, we have to adapt. I have watched and learned in these journeys of mine. Haldir doesn’t deserve wrath for doing what he thinks is right.”
“Well said” Leandir agreed, and said no more.
They continued on in silence for several hours until they left the small track they had been travelling on and joined onto a larger path. Ahead, Rathbairn could see a massive hill of stone surrounded by hedges and a wall of trees.
They travelled south-east around the hedge-wall until they were south of the city. They stopped at an elegant stone bridge that spanned a gentle river. On the far bank lay the gates to the city itself. Several armoured guards stood firm at the gates, their eyes on the party and their bows ready.
Haldir led them across the bridge and to the gates. as they reached the entrance, they stopped and waited as the warden spoke to the guards. After a few moments, the gate was opened and Haldir led them into the city.
Rathbairn could not take his eyes of the massive Mallorn trees that seemed to be everywhere throughout the city of Caras Galadhon. Far above the ground, he saw houses built into the very trunks of the huge trees. When his companion asked, Leandir smiled and gestured as he explained.
“Many of the Galadhrim have built those Talan, those houses you see up in the trees. We are presently headed for the Talan of Galadriel and Celeborn now.” He pointed to a large Talan nestled in the upper branches of the largest Mallorn tree in the city. A soft white glow lit through the windows, giving it the impression of a large lantern. Curling around the tree was a gentle staircase. Two silent, grey-clad elves stood silent watch at the bottom of the stairs. As they approached, Haldir gestured and called out in the elven tongue. The Elf guards nodded and stepped aside as the three began to climb.
As they climbed higher, Rathbairn looked out over the city of the elves, his gaze picking out elves clad in white and silver wandering throughout paths that wound through Lothlorien. He saw some sitting on the grass, some laughing and some standing or sitting alone. At the base of the tree they climbed, he saw a white pavilion that he hadn’t seen when they approached the tree. He asked Leandir about it, but it was Haldir that answered for him.
“That was the dwelling place of a group of travellers that sought refuge here not long ago. They have left now, but the lady bade us not to remove it as more guests would be coming.” He frowned and spoke no more.
They reached the top of the stairs moments later and came upon a large open terrace. Lamps glowing with white fire lit the area and gave off the glow that Rathbairn had seen earlier. A table laden with a basin of water rested on a wooden table on his right, and to the left a silver-clad guard stood silent vigil. Ahead, a smaller set of stairs led up to an enclosed room on the talan. The elegant doorway opened and through it stepped two figures who to Rathbairn’s surprise, seemed to emit a white glow of their own. A golden haired elf, her white robe flowing like a gentle river. Her face was bathed in the soft light of the lamps and her eyes held the wisdom of ages past. Her hand rested on the upturned palm of a second elf. His tall, lithe figure, clad in silver radiated power and wisdom. His eyes were lamps of knowledge and power. Galadriel and Celeborn, oldest and most revered of all elves in Middle-Earth descended the stairs and came to stand in front of the three warriors. Haldir bowed low and spoke first.
“My Lord and Lady, I present Rathbairn, son of Grimbeorn the Old, grandson of Beorn the Mighty. He is accompanied by Leandir of Lindon.”
Leandir bowed deeply, his hand over his heart in a gesture of reverence. Rathbairn also bowed low and stood silent. The Lord and Lady inclined their heads and Celeborn spoke first, his voice measured, his cadence soft and slow.
“Welcome, both of you. We have been informed that two more travellers are at Cerin Amroth, one a gravely wounded dwarf and the other an elf also?”
“You are correct, my Lord Celeborn” Leandir said, nodding. “The Dwarf, Mordroskerk, is a close friend and was wounded by a goblin arrow as we fled Khazad-Dum. The elf, Eilonwyniel is a close friend of the dwarf and stayed behind to reassure him should he wake.”
Galadriel smiled and Rathbairn’s heart skipped a beat. The elf woman was easily the most beautiful he had ever met. Her voice was gentle, yet rolled with power.
“Welcome Rathbairn of the Vales of Anduin. Your Grandfather’s lineage rings true in your eyes. You are most welcome here. Do not be troubled, we will see to the dwarf’s injuries and tend to his recovery.”
She turned to Leandir, her smile widening. “Welcome again to Caras Galadhon Leandir Shadowbane. It has been some time since we last saw you.”
The Elf Hunter bowed deeply “guren glassui, hiril vuin.”
Galadriel smiled again and looked to Celeborn. “You wished to speak to Leandir regarding the evil in the depths of Khazad-Dum. Perhaps this is the time to do so, for I must speak with Rathbairn.”
Celeborn nodded and indicated for Leandir to follow him back into the small room at the top of the flet. The two elves vanished inside and the door closed.
Galadriel looked up at Rathbairn and his heart skipped again. She was so beautiful, so fair. Never in his years had he laid eyes on anything fairer. The Lady’s eyes shone like the stars on a clear moonlit night. She smiled again and began to speak.
“I would speak with you in my garden Rathbairn, for I have much to discuss with you. I will lead you there.” She indicated towards the stairs and they began their descent.
Rathbairn asked her about the giant Mallorn trees and she began to speak of their history and the history of the Golden Wood. She told him about how the Mallorn Trees had been brought to this land when she and Celeborn had first settled here. The trees themselves had been gift from Gil-Galad, who had given them to her to grow elsewhere as they would not grown in Lindon.
She spoke of the ancient times of the elves as they reached the bottom of the stair and wound their way through the city. They were followed at a respectful distance by two guards who neither spoke nor looked at the mismatched pair. Many of the elves in the city wondered at the sight of their fair Lady with the Giant who strode beside her. They crossed Caras Galadhon and began to climb a set of stone steps on the city’s western borders. Galadriel led him down a path and stopped at an elaborate wooden archway. The Elf Guards positioned themselves at the entrance and Galadriel beckoned Rathbairn to follow as she stepped through the gate. Rathbairn, his head ducking low gasped as they stood on the uppermost terrace of a vast garden, the largest and most splendid garden he had ever seen. Flowers and blossoms of a kind he had never seen spotted about the garden as Galadriel led him down more stairs to the lowest level where a small raised dais stood under a canopy. A stone pedestal topped by a stone basin. She led him to the basin and stepped to the other side.
She poured water into the basin from a small pool set into an alcove nearby. “This the Mirror of Galadriel, as it is called by many. I can command it to show many things. What was, what is and what shall be. Will you look?”
“Do you suggest I look?” Rathbairn asked.
She smiled then, and a laugh escaped her lips. “A just question, and not the first time I have been asked such. I cannot make you do this, but you must choose freely.”
Rathbairn lowered his head, deep in thought. He was hesitant to look into the water, but curiosity began to burn within him. He and his people distrusted magic, as they called it. But if he could see some hint of the road ahead of him, something of his family, he would be grateful.
He looked into Galadriel’s eyes, his mind made up. “I will look” he said simply.
She lowered her head closer to the water and breathed deeply, exhaling onto the surface. The ripples widened and Rathbairn came closer.
The ripples seemed to mesmerize him but then, his vision went dark.
He saw The Misty Mountains about him, the snowy peaks towering above the plains below. The valleys were filled with figures, as his vision brought him near, he saw that they had tattoos on their faces. Standing nearby, a towering, aged figure leaned on a staff. As the figure turned, Rathbairn saw his own eyes.
The vision clouded then and he saw a dark-clad figure creeping into a vast underground cavern. A cluster of Orcs lay dead at the feet of a dark, towering creature that radiated evil. The black-clad figure drew a bow that shimmered with runes, twin blades on their hip.
The vision clouded again and with it came another vision. He saw smoke rising from a distance. A vast forest nearby. Rathbairn recognized Mirkwood and the edge of the Vale, his homeland. As the vision brought him nearer, the smoke revealed to be massive fires raging all about. The Vale was on fire!
As he cried out, the vision clouded again and a dark ruin opened up before him. It was Dol Guldur, the ancient ruin teething with Orcs and Goblins. A host of Elves lay before the gates. He was flying to the topmost tower of the ruin and saw a red robed figure standing above the prone form of a dwarf on the stones. Above, the sound of wings descended from the clouds. A Nazgul on its winged steed approached the tower as Rathbairn saw himself emerge from the door to the tower, roaring with rage, bleeding from wounds. As he charged the red robed figure, the Nazgul’s steed screeched and dark fire flew from the Nazgul.
Then the vision faded and Rathbairn only knew darkness.
He woke to the sound of birds and the blurry vision of golden leaves above. A soft voice called his name and he turned his head. Galadriel stood nearby, her face lined with concern.
“I saw…” He began to speak but Galadriel held out a hand to stop him.
“What you saw in the mirror is for your eyes alone Rathbairn.”
He swallowed and sat upright, his head spinning. He looked into her eyes and held her gaze, concern flooding him. “Everything that I saw, will it all come to pass?”
She knelt beside him then, her hand on his. “It is not known if all the visions will come to pass…” she hesitated, then spoke again “or if they have already done so.”
“Dol Guldur, the Nazgul…The Vale was burning.”
“You saw Dol Guldur?” She exclaimed, her eyes showing alarm. “A Nazgul was there?”
He nodded, saying nothing.
“Come with me, we must speak with Lord Celeborn.”
They left the garden and she led him back to the huge tree they had first met at. Galadriel’s steps were quick and hurried as she led him up the stairs. They reached the top and Galadriel spoke to a guard at the door to the room where Rathbairn had seen Celeborn and Leandir enter. The two emerged a moment later, their faces alarmed.
Galadriel told Celeborn about the vision of the Nazgul and of Dol Guldur. Rathbairn brought up the form of the dwarf on the stone and told them of the abduction in Durin’s throne room and of Gorothul and Mazog.
Celeborn sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose, his face clouded with anger. Galadriel laid a hand on his arm and spoke quietly to him. They moved away to the far side of the Talan and as they Lord and Lady spoke, Leandir approached Rathbairn.
“Are you alright my friend?” he asked. “You look unwell.”
“I had visions in her mirror. Of my home, my people, of Dol Guldur, and of you.”
The elf’s face clouded for a moment and then the expression vanished. “We can speak of it later. What of Dol Guldur?”
Rathbairn relayed in detail what he had seen and a moment later, Galadriel and Celeborn rejoined them. Celeborn voice was strained as he began to speak.
“Some weeks ago, we housed a party that left Rivendell on a journey of most importance. While we cannot name them or their task, we housed them for a time after they experienced a painful loss in Khazad Dum. Once they left, we had another visitor for a time, who left days before you arrived. Since then, we have had skirmishes with Orcs on our borders, three of them to be exact. While we repelled them, they have begun to penetrate into our borders. This army of Orcs hail from Dol Guldur.”
Rathbairn wanted to explain that he knew of the party and their quest, but kept silent as Galadriel was speaking.
“My Lord Celeborn and I agree that the time has come to assail Dol Guldur and to free our lands from this threat. For if the Golden Wood falls, then the armies of Dol Guldur will march west to the lands of the free people.”
Celeborn nodded to her and looked to Rathbairn. “We shall assemble our forces and they will march on Dol Guldur with all swiftness. There, we shall thrown down this threat and free your dwarven friend.”
“And what of the Nazgul?” Leandir asked.
“We shall show him no mercy if he dares to show himself.” Celeborn said boldly.
Rathbairn looked to the three elves. “What can I do?” he asked bluntly. “I was asked by the dwarves of Moria to ask for your assistance. I know the lands of Mirkwood and wish to help.”
Celeborn smiled happily and inclined his head. “Your assistance would be most welcome Rathbairn, for indeed you shall accompany the Golden Host and together we shall free these lands from the threat of Dol Guldur.”
Leandir looked puzzled and spoke softly. “What of Azanarukar?” he asked.
Galadriel’s faced paled for only a moment, then she spoke, her voice strained. “We have not forgotten this threat, Leandir. For it is down to the Foundations of Stone you must go to meet this evil. We shall provide you with companions, some elves with skill to help fight this evil.” She looked away briefly before turning back.
“But you must beware brave Hunter, for in the darkness of Azanarukar, you shall meet a prey that is your deadliest hunt yet.” She paused, her face fearful.
“What, or who is it, My Lady.” Leandir asked.
It was Celeborn who answered then. “We know now what it is that dwells in the cave in the deeps.” He paused before finishing.
“Gwathnor” he said and Rathbairn felt the chill of death in his very bones.