In the beginning, there was only pain. It came and went, like waves on the shore of the Anduin. It was the only sensation he knew. His eyes were darkened, whether blinded or not, there was only the pain.
After what seemed like days, light began to creep in near the edges of his vision. Then, in a wave of blinding light, he could see again.
Ancient and weathered stone and lichen reflected torchlight. His neck screamed in agony as Rathbairn turned his head from side to side to determine what had happened. His last memories were of the attack at the cave entrance, then Gorothul’s cruel smile, then…darkness and pain.
Across the room, a rasping, ragged breath drew his ears. It was Broin, shackled to a wall, seated on the floor. His beard was bloody and his hands were mangled beyond recognition. Beside him, Elessedil hung limply from the wall, her arms in manacles and her limp form sagging. She hung like a dead thing, yet Rathbairn could see the rise and fall of her shoulders, her breath soft and even.
Satisfied that the two companions were alive, Rathbairn looked around the room. It was small, clearly some sort of dungeon. In the centre, a brazier burned low, providing a dim light, the coals nearly out. Various instruments lay about the brazier, some with blades and some with blunt ends, all showing signs of recent use. The chains limited his movement and Rathbairn strained weakly, pulling forward in a feeble attempt to free himself. It was hopeless however, as the steel links held fast. In a moment of inspiration, Rathbairn sought the beast within, hoping a shape change would force the manacles open, yet nothing came. It was as if there was no form but his own man-shape.
Laughter from outside a nearby door echoed as footsteps approached. Rathbairn, becoming more alert strained against his chains, desperate to free himself.
“Now now” a familiar voice sounded, its cruel mocking tone echoing across the room. “We’ll have none of that now.” Gorothul, entering the dungeon, raised a hand wreathed in green fire and Rathbairn felt himself slammed against the wall by an unseen force.
Flanked by four robed figures, Gorothul stood before the brazier, his gaze peering into the coals.
“I have been wondering when we would see you here, my friends. It is clear to me that you have come for the dwarf. Such a foolish sentiment.” He waved his hand at the brazier and it came alive in flame, the coals beginning to glow eerily.
“Let them go” Rathbairn growled.
“I think not” Gorothul said menacingly. “Why should I rob myself of such sport? And when I am finished, my Master will enjoy the gift of the three of you.”
“Sauron is banished to the east. Lady Galadriel made it so” Elessedil said weakly from her side of the room.
Rathbairn, surprised that she was awake, looked over to her, but Gorothul laugh a cold cruel laugh.
“Ah the Elf is awake, such wonderful news! And I’m sure our dwarven friend will be waking soon to join the fun.” He laughed again. “I’m sure the elf witch Galadriel is sure enough in her power, but Sauron is not of whom I speak. It is the Witch King himself I speak of, and when he comes, he will give you much to fear.” A grim smile crossed his face. Rathbairn surged again against his chains, his muscles straining. The four figures stepped back, but Gorothul stepped closer, a look of near madness on his cruel face.
“Go ahead Beorning, pul for all you’re worth. You’ll never be free. And when I and my guest are done with you, you’ll howl out your misery until the end of your short life.” He clapped his hands together loudly, and the four robed figures exited the room. A moment later, a familiar sight entered. Mazog, a wicked grin on his face.
“Rathbairn, Beorning scum. The elves and dwarves you brought us were such fun. Me and the boys had such a time, even the wargs had a chance to play! Now, you three are all that’s left. Too bad” His mocking laugh sent Rathbairn to roaring in fury as realization set in. Elessedil moaned in outrage and Broin, finally coming to wakefulness in time to hear the fate of his kin screamed out his rage.
“You mongrel! I’ll gut you like a fish and decorate the walls of Moria with your head!”
Mazog crossed and laced the dwarf with several kicks. Broin lapsed into silence and Rathbairn fixed the Orc with a look of pure hate. His bear form still would not come. As if his thoughts were aloud, Gorothul taunted the Beorning mercilessly.
“Ah Rathbairn, missing your other form? You can thank me for that indeed.” He crossed to stand in front of the huge man, a mocking smile on his lips.
“I can’t have you escaping or killing any of my men. You see, I know of the army that stands near our borders. I also know that the Elves of the Golden Wood will soon send more troops and intend to attack this fortress. It is for naught. My Master will soon be here and he will strengthen my hand. I have taken your other form from you. You are only a man now.” His lips peeled back in a snarl. “I remember all that your father and grandfather did to us, so does Mazog. Now we take our revenge!” He took a glowing poker from the coals and Rathbairn prepared for the pain. But when it didn’t he noticed that Mazog had the poker near Elessedil. Then the screaming began. As he closed his eyes, he heard Broin’s protests. Gorothul’s voice came to his ears. “Don’t feel left out, Rathbairn, here’s a gift for you too!” Rathbairn opened his eyes and saw Gorothul raise an evil looking dagger and felt the burning pain. As the torture continued, Rathbairn felt his strength leaving him. When the blackness closed in, the cruel laughter of Mazog and Gorothul followed him into darkness.
A soft wind was in his face as he ran through the long grasses of the vale. He looked around for Elessedil and Broin, but couldn’t see much of anything beyond his own hands. A mist laid itself on the Vale, entwining over all things. Rathbairn continued to run, calling for his friends. He stopped shortly as a soft pale light began to appear ahead. He began to walk slowly, the light coming closer. A form appeared in the middle of the light, shaping itself into a woman, robed in white. He voice rolled with power, soft and gentle as the sun in the morning, but powerful as the tide. Galadriel, Lady of Lothlorien stood before him.
“Rathbairn, heed my words, for there is not much time.” He tried to speak, but the Lady raised a hand.
“This is but a dream, and my time is short.” You must free yourself and all your friends from Dol Guldur. Evil approaches that is beyond your power.”
“I tried!” Rathbairn snarled. “He has taken my bear form! I cannot change nor free myself!”
“He has taken nothing from you.” She said simply.
“What do you mean?” Rathbairn shouted angrily.
“Gorothul’s power is in illusion and manipulation. His words can bind you, but he cannot take anything from you. You have the power inside to break away from your bonds and free your companions, all of them.” She smiled then, and a peace came over him like a fresh dawn after a storm.
“I must go Rathbairn, but fear not, help comes. Now AWAKE!” Her eyes blazed as she raised a hand to him and he felt a blow against his mind.
He was still in the dungeon, his chains in place. But something had changed. Looking across, Elessedil was a bloody mess, hanging limply from the wall. Broin, still chained, looked to Rathbairn and called out.
“Rathbairn, they’re coming back! She can’t take much more. We need you lad!”
Rage fueled him. Galadriel’s words wrapped him in a fire of inspiration. Closing his eyes, her words echoed in his mind. “You have the power…Gorothul’s power is illusion….”
Closing his eyes, he fell deep within himself and realized she was right. The sorcerer had lied. He took hold of his bear form and wrapped himself in it, let the rage and anger burn him like fire. Before he lost himself in the bear, his arms surged and he snapped forward.
The chains broke, he was free. Crossing to Broin, he seized the dwarf’s bond and ripped them from the wall. Turning away, he moved to the Elf. She was weak, pale and her eyes closed. He pulled her free and lowered her to the floor. Broin knelt beside him.
“We need to find Bori Rathbairn. Give her to me, I can carry her. Bori should be somewhere close by. You find him and free him. I’ll keep her safe, go.” The Beorning nodded and stood to his feet. He exited the room and closed the door. He stood in a long hallway, leading to another door. He began searching the rest of the chambers. The hallway had doors on all sides, and all the chambers were empty. He moved to the door at the end of the hall and pulled it open, coming to stand in front of two surprised Orcs at the end of the hallway. They yelled in surprise and tore their swords from their belts. Rathbairn, weaponless, surged ahead and shifted to his bear form. The beast roared and tore the Orcs apart in fury.
Sniffing, the bear moved through the next rooms, searching. Down another hallway, through an antechamber, a familiar smell came to its nostrils. Lumbering down another hallway, it came to a stop outside a doorway. Shifting back, Rathbairn stood and looked through the small window. Bori lay within, asleep on a straw mat. The lock was a simple bolt, which Rathbairn threw open, bursting into the cell. Bori leapt to his feet, startled, his fists raised.
“Rathbairn!” the dwarf called out, “By Durin’s beard it’s good to see you! What are you…?” it was then he noticed the bloody cuts on Rathbairn’s abdomen and was about to speak again when the giant man raised a hand.
“We have no time, come with me, now”
They left and Rathbairn led the dwarf back to the antechamber. The Dwarf pepper Rathbairn with questions, but he didn’t answer. They were about to turn back down the final hallway when a pair of huge, armoured Orcs burst from a passage to their left.
“Down that hallway, go to Broin!” Rathbairn pointed as he began to shift form. Bori raced down the hallway and vanished from sight as the great bear charged the Orcs. Closing the gap, the bear shouldered aside the axe of the first Orc and barreled it to the ground, stomping as it charged the second Orc. Raising a huge paw, it swiped aside a sword and lunged with its jaws wide, gripping the neck of its victim. Snapping its head side to side, it broke the Orcs neck. Turning back to the first Orc, the bear raised up on its hind legs just as the remaining Orc attempted to sit up. When the bear dropped down sharply, the Orc could only stare in fear as the beast brought its full weight down, squashing the Orcs head. The bear lumbered ahead and began to shift form. Moving quickly down the hallway, Rathbairn returned to the chamber where Broin and Bori were tending to Elessedil, her wounds still bleeding. She was unconscious still, her breathing ragged and uneven.
“We have to get out of here, do either of you know the way?” Rathbairn asked. Both dwarves shook their heads and Rathbairn looked down at the elf. She needed to get out and back to her people for help. The three stared for a moment until Rathbairn simply gathered the elf woman in his arms and moved out into the hallway.
“This is too quiet…where are the guards?” Bori asked. “Before, the place was crawling with Orcs. And we haven’t seen that red robed ugly one or his cronies either?”
Broin nodded in agreement. “I have a bad feeling about this. Something is happening.”
Rathbairn turned to the dwarves. “We can’t stay here. Follow me.” He turned and led the way down the halls. The two orcs he had killed lay in a bloody mess still. The dwarves grinned at each other at the sight of the dismembered Orcs. Rathbairn jutted his chin in the direction of the side passage where the Orcs had come from. “Those Orcs came from here, go that way.” Bori surged ahead, Rathbairn trailing, carrying Elessedil gently, Broin watching the rear.
They came to a set of stairs and after a brief wordles glance, began to climb. The stairs wound upwards in a gentle incline, leading the foursome upwards, but to where, they did not know.
As they climbed, chests heaving with the effort and bodies tensed as the weaponless four moved as silently as possible. The three conscious heroes knowing full well that any encounter with foes could prove hazardous without weapons. And with Rathbairn carrying the elf, a sudden attack would prove disastrous.
Then, the noise began. Dim at first, but as they continued to climb, it became clearer. Sounds of shouting and the clash of steel were more evident as they came to the top of the stairs and a large doorway. The pitted and mossy stone did nothing to drown out the racket as the noise of Orcs, Wargs and Trolls shouting and preparing for battle. Bori reached the door and hesitated, his hand on the latch.
“I dunno what’s waiting outside here. We could be walking into a courtyard of fully armed Orcs. We wouldn’t survive long.” He said.
Broin approached and aid his ear to the wood. “It’s the sound of battle. Someone is attacking this forsaken ruin.”
“The Elves” Rathbairn said. “The Host must have finally assembled and they are attacking. That would be why we have seen no one.” He shifted the Elf slightly and nodded towards the door. Bori shook his head, sighed and pulled the door open slightly. Peering around outside and then pulling the door closed again, he let out an explosive breath.
“There are about two dozen Orcs outside, and a huge armoured troll thing. We can’t go anywhere.”
“Troll thing?” Broin asked. “A Trolls a troll. Yer not makin any sense.”
“Its bigger, stronger and armoured to the teeth. Not like any troll I seen before.”
Rathbairn looked to thee two dwarves as they argued in whispers about the Troll thing. He knew he was the only one who could fight, yet that this fight could be his last. But the Dwarves and the Elf woman had to get out. The vision in Galadriel’s mirror was clear. He had to get to the tower to battle the Nazgul. He silenced the Dwarves with a growl.
“Take her.” He handed Elessedil to Broin and looked to Bori. “When I give word, open the door and stand aside. I will engage the Orcs and the Troll. While they fight me, you find a way out. Get her to safety.”
“Laddie…you can’t…” a growl cut Bori off. Broin laid a hand on the older Dwarf’s arm. Bori nodded sadly and looked up to the giant man who had come a long way in the weeks since their first meeting.
“Rathbairn…I…” but the Beorning cut him off.
“Get ready.” Rathbairn said, taking a deep breath, then looking at the door steadily.
Broin looked sadly at Rathbairn and then to Bori. He nodded and clenched his grip on the elf woman.
Bori, unshed tears in his eyes, nodded to the Beorning and gripped the latch on the door.
Rathbairn felt a calmness come over him. He breathed deeply again and nodded to the door. Then, let the shift come over him. Bori pulled the door open and stepped back to the wall as the great bear burst through the doorway ut into the courtyard.
The Orcs stood in ranks, waiting while the Troll Commander waited for the order from the gate. The filthy Elves had come to battle, but it couldn’t wait to rush from the gate and kill its enemies.
What the troll and its Orc troops didn’t expect, was the sudden attack of the great bear that burst from the side door, roaring and clawing. Five Orcs went down in seconds as the great beast ripped, bit and clawed anything that moved. The Troll ordered the Orcs to attack the bear, but it was fruitless. The beast was tearing through the Orcs like fire to grass. Then the Troll spotted the two Dwarves bearing the Elf out of the doorway and towards the central courtyard. Roaring with rage, the Troll bore down on the weaponless Orcs, anticipating easy kills when it felt a blow to its back. Turning in rage, it saw the carcass of an Orc at its feet and the snarling bear standing amongst the corpses of the Orcs it had commanded. Screaming incoherently, the Troll charged, waving its steel bound club as the bear lowered its head and charged also.
The troll raised its club to end the fight quickly, but its fatal mistake was to underestimate the speed of the bear, who dodged the downward blow and latched on with its jaws to the troll great arm. Pulling downwards, the bear pulled the troll to its knees and then pounced for the throat, ending the troll before the fight had begun.
A scream of rage echoed across the courtyard as the bear turned. There, across the way, in the archway of two great doors, stood Mazog, screaming at any Orcs who stood near. The bear, recognizing its prey, lurched forwards and charged after Mazog, who fled inside. A dozen Orcs tried to block the door, but were torn to shreds and the bear, fully enraged in its bloodlust, would not be stopped.
Bori and Broin, breathing heavily while bearing Elessedil, crept along the far wall as they looked for an exit. As if by summons, a massive blow struck the main gate of Dol Guldur and the heavy wooden panels creaked and groaned. Another blow struck and the gate began to buckle. Three more blows struck when finally, the gate crumbled and wave after wave of gold and black clad Elves burst through, blades weaving and killing. The Orcs pulled back from the gate and Bori turned to Broin. “Now! Let’s make a run for it!” The two dwarves, legs pumping furiously, made a dash for the gate, screaming all the while. “Let us through we’re allies!”
A company of Elves, led by a familiar face, encircled the haggard three as they reached the gate. It was the Elf Captain from they had met days ago.
“Where have you been?” The Captain snapped. “Where is everyone else?”
“No time Elf! She’s hurt! Rathbairn’s still inside! We need weapons!”
The Captain, seeing for the first time Elessedil’s bleeding form, called out to the troops accompanying him. Two Elves came and lifted the Elf scout from Broin’s tired arms and vanished back out through the gate.
The Captain, looking at the angry, bearded faces of the Dwarves, called out to his nearby troops. “To me, to me!” The dwarves were handed a pair of short swords and the attack resumed.
Bori, seeing the main doors to the tower open and hearing the roars of an angry bear, gripped Broin’s arm. “Come on! Let’s go help him!”
The two dwarves vanished through the doorway as the battle for Dol Guldur raged around the courtyard.
Mazog, his cries for help going unanswered during his flight, burst into the throne room beneath the top level of the tower as Gorothul stood cruelly in the room’s centre, his arms raised. Hearing the Orc King’s whimpering, he turned, a look of hate on his face.
“Stop your blubbering dog! My master approaches! Soon, he will rend the Elf army to pieces and we shall begin the war on the Free Peoples!”
Mazog, breathless, could only manage to blurt out “…bear” and “killing” before the sounds of the great beast’s rage echoed in the corridor. Without warning, the doors burst open and the great bear charged in. Gorothul stepped backwards towards the stairs and raised a hand, a burst of green fire lancing towards the beast. The fire enveloped the bear, who surged backwards and began to shift back. Soon, Rathbairn knelt on the floor, his sides heaving.
“There you fool! He’s weak! Kill him now” Gorothul sneered as he fed up the stairs.
Mazog, seeing his foe weak and seemingly helpless drew a cruel steel sword from his belt and began to stalk towards the Beorning, who unawares tried desperately to regain his senses. As Mazog reached Rathbairn and raised his sword for a killing blow, a yell from the doorway stopped the blow. As he looked up, the whirling of steel caught his ears. Bori, his arms extended watched the sword strike Mazog’s blade with a heavy CLANG as both blades flew to the far side. Rathbairn, recovered in the fleeting moments heaved himself to his feet, his eyes full of hate.
“He’s mine” he said, and the dwarves, not missing the hint, fled up the stairs after Gorothul.
Mazog, weaponless backed away, his hands raised in supplication. Yet as he witnessed the shifting Beorning before him, he knew it was to no avail. In a last desperate attempt, he turned and fled. He almost made the door when the great bear caught him.
Gorothul heard the pursuit as he climbed the stairs to the tower’s summit. He didn’t care who it was, not that it mattered in the least. He felt the scream before he heard it as the Nazgul and its winged steed called out its foul cry. Bursting through the door, Gorothul stood at the top and raised his arms over his head.
“Master!” he cried, but was cut off by the hiss of the hooded figure.
“YOU HAVE FAILED SORCERER” the chilling voice echoed above him.
“No Master, all is ready for you!”
“SAURON SEES YOUR FAILURE. OUR ENEMIES HAVE UNITED. DOL GULDUR WILL FALL.”
“NO!” Gorothul cried. “Strike them down, defeat them!”
“YOU WEAK FOOL” and the Nazgul raised a hand as the Dwarves burst through the door.
The scream tore across the top of the tower as the dwarves were thrown down. Bori collapsed in terror, face down. Broin, unprepared for the blow of the Nazgul’s Black Breath, rolled to the edge of the peak and lay as if dead. Seconds later, green fire burst from the Nazgul’s hands and enveloped Gorothul as Rathbairn burst through the door, his bear form discarded.
Gorothul’s burning carcass was dust on the wind as the Nazgul regarded the Beorning who stood alone atop the tower.
“You…foolish skin changer…shall not interfere again. My Master rises up and soon, your race will be burnt in the fires of war.”
Rathbairn stood boldly, his fear barely contained against the power of the Black Rider, roared beast like in defiance.
“Come wraith! Come for me now!” he raged against the hideous winged beast and its Black Rider.
As the Nazgul raised its hands, wrapped in red flame, another voice cut through the din of battle. The words were ancient and powerful as they rolled across the battlefield like a string wind. Rathbairn couldn’t make them out, but the speaker’s voice was unmistakable. He looked down towards the courtyard and a shining figure stood in the center, he white robes alight like the sun, her golden hair ablaze.
She raised a hand and looked to the wraith, her wrath rolling across her tongue.
“Begone servant of Sauron! You shall not dwell here again!”
The Nazgul screamed in rage as a white light, like a wave, leapt out from Galadriel and struck the Nazgul, knocking it across the sky.
“Your power is nothing! Flee and never return to these lands foul wraith!”
With a final scream, the Nazgul and its steed, flew south, its wrathful cries fading away at last.
Rathbairn, his body spent, fell like a hewn tree, fading into darkness.