The Wraith in the Mist
Hey, it’s good to be a young man
Celeborn, The Silver Tree, was friendlier than Thranduil. That didn’t mean that Dwalin liked him any more than he did the King of the Greenwood. Gimli, son of Gloin, made quite the impression on the Lorien Elves, especially Celeborn’s wife, Galadriel, who, according to the Elf sitting across from him, eating like a commoner and not the regal, noble Elf he was, was very fond of that Dwarf and therefore, all dwarves entering Lorien were accorded great respect and hospitality.
Dwalin thought the Elf was full of himself and remained on guard anyway.
Celeborn finished his rabbit and tossed yet another bone in the fire, before licking his thumb. “Are you traveling south? You should be warned of the Falls of Rauros.”
Before Tauriel could respond, Dwalin grunted. “No. We be goin’ tuh Khazad-dúm.”
What small talk was going on around them by Celeborn’s archers came to a stop.
“Moria? That mountain is death!” one of the elves exclaimed.
“Oh, aye an’ aye know it.”
It was not lost on Tauriel that Celeborn was watching his guard through hooded eyes. “Why in Arda would you want to go there?”
Dwalin had never been a sociable dwarf and he disliked conversing with elves, despite traveling with one. “Aye’ve no’ seen mah brother’s tomb,” he spat. “An’ aye wuld like t’pay my respects before aye die, which culd be t’morrow, considerin’ my age!”
There was twittering in a language Dwalin didn’t understand and he didn’t care to. Luckily, it didn’t go on long before The Silver Lord motioned with his hand to silence them. “Are you returning after visiting Balin’s tomb?”
Dwalin shook his head. “No. We be headin’ on t’ thuh Blue Mountains.”
It was not lost on Celeborn or Dwalin that Tauriel had become very quiet and withdrawn. “Aye.”
Celeborn nodded towards the raft and horses. “Come to Caras Galadon.” He continued, ignoring Dwalin’s dwarven cursing. “Rest and recuperate. Replenish your supplies and plan. You must decide on a path. We can help you with that.”
“Aye, an’ how much will this cost?”
The look on Celeborn’s face was sheer confusion. “Cost?”
“We spent the night with Beorn’s descendants,” Tauriel supplied. The elves began to nod and cluck in understanding. “It was quite expensive.” She reached to her belt behind her. “I traded my mithril knife for most of our provisions, however,” she pulled that very knife from her belt, “I relieved them of it without their knowing.” Dwalin began to cackle at the industriousness of his traveling companion. “That was why I was really in such a hurry to get down the river.” She shook her head. “They aren’t taking it back!”
Celeborn stood up and brushed off his hide leggings. “You will come?” Even though it was framed as a question, Dwalin had the feeling it really wasn’t and if he declined, this elf had it within his power to make this portion of their trip very unpleasant.
And conceivably, impossible.
“Aye. We will come.”
These elves, Dwalin concluded, knew how to treat guests, unlike their Greenwood Kin. The crusty part of him, however, wondered if he had simply stepped into a gilded cage.
That would be like the elves…
There was merriment, music, and laughter. Dwalin hadn’t seen Tauriel for some hours, not since dinner. The Lorien Elves dressed her in something pale, feminine and flowing. She was also barefoot, adorned in jewelry, borrowed from only Mahal knew. For a moment, Dwalin saw her through Kili’s eyes, knew without a doubt why the young dwarf had fallen so quickly and deeply in love with her.
As the evening grew late and the sun set, Dwalin found himself wandering alone, gazing up at the tall trees of Lorien, the golden mallorns of myth. Not paying much attention and feeling lulled by the birdsong, Dwalin meandered into a grotto, something ancient, something private. He found himself hypnotized by the spring, the fountain, the waters…
“This was my wife’s favorite spot.” Celeborn seemed to come from nowhere, materializing out of the mist. He nodded towards the fountain. “She says she could see things in that water. The future. The little Ring-bearer, Frodo, looked into it. I have no idea what he saw.”
“Yes. A Hobbit.” Celeborn smiled at the memory and shook his head. “Hard to believe one so small-”
“Aye’m familiar wit’ the resilience o’ Hobbits.” Celeborn lifted a regal brow in question. “Aye traveled an’ fought alongside Bilbo Baggins fer many months.” Dwalin turned his back on the Elf, his unblinking stare making him nervous. “Aye thought he be soft, tew gentle a folk fer a quest such as ours.” He looked over his shoulder, not meeting the gaze of the tall Silvan Elf. “Aye was wrong.”
Celeborn dropped his head and smiled. “It takes a great amount of character and strength to admit mistakes. Durin would be proud to call you his son.” Before Dwalin could retort, the Lord of Lorien continued. “You are not just taking a scenic trip about Middle Earth, are you?”
“And there is a reason why Tauriel is traveling with you.”
Dwalin swallowed hard. Try as he might, he couldn’t and wouldn’t lie to this elf. His mind was fuzzy, covered with a great fog. He knew it was elven magic, but there was little he could do, save answer. “Aye,” he whispered.
“Are you dying?”
Dwalin rolled his eyes and for a moment, the fog lifted. “Mon, aye be 339 years old! It wud be a pleasure t’die!”
Celeborn’s eyes grew sad. “You have outlived all of your kin, your parents, your brother. All of your friends. The Company of Thorin Oakenshield. How many Kings Under the Mountain have you outlived? Dwalin, son of Fundin, you are legend, even to the elves. Yes, I can imagine it would be a great relief to fade.” The elf walked passed him and stood next to the fountain. He drew his hand through the water, cupping it and watching the moisture fall through his fingers. “Your time is almost complete here. You have a journey to accomplish first,” he stopped, the liquid dripping from his fingers, “a quest, a promise you made that you must keep.”
Finally, Dwalin looked up, his brown eyes of stone reaching the blue ones of the Elf. “Aye.”
“You must keep it.”
“Aye.” This was uttered in a whisper so soft, even the elf had to strain to hear. “I made a promise.”
Celeborn stepped away from the fountain and descended the rock steps. “You made a promise to an elf.”
Dwalin shook his head. “No.”
Dwalin swallowed hard. He had held onto this for years, so many years. No one knew, knew it had taken place, knew he had spoken…
“Legolas.” The minute the name left his lips, it was if a great weight lifted from his shoulders and pushed him forward. “Her parents left fer tha’ island o’ yers over two millennium ago. She ‘as no one an’ loves a dead dwarf. She canno’ fade or die or move on.” Finally, his voice rose from it’s dusty whisper. “Aye promised ‘im when aye saw ‘im at th’ King o’ Gondor’s weddin’.”
Celeborn was watching the dwarf, watching his body language, the way he held himself. “Thranduil had Legolas ask for him.”
Dwalin’s head bobbed. “Aye figured tha’.”
It was silent for some minutes, before the elf spoke again. “Follow me.”
Dwalin did so without a word, without questioning. Funny, how his inhibitions fell away in this quiet place. At some point, he was aware Celeborn was talking. “After the War, the power of the ring my wife wore faded. And with it, the beauty of this forest faded as well. My people are leaving, going to the Havens a few at a time. There are so few of us left.” They entered a large talan high up in the trees. It seemed to be an office, a library of sorts. Dwalin watched as Celeborn sifted through stacks of scrolls, of maps.
“Aha.” The Elf pulled one out and smiling upon unrolling it. He set it on a desk and set weights on the corners. “According to reports, Moria’s West Gate was destroyed when Aragorn and his band of Walkers used it to come through the mountain. You’ll not be able to enter or exit that way. The East Gate is open, as is the Redhorn Gate. The Redhorn is dangerous, a steep and difficult pass. The Walkers could not breach it. I do not recommend it.”
Dwalin was shaking his head. “Tuh Walkers consisted o’ four Hobbits, tew men, a dwarf an’ an elf. It were t’dead o’winter. They needed more dwarves.” His finger drew along the Mountains. “Wha’ yew suggest is we go in an’ out th’ same way and then,” his finger made a large loop, “go back th’ way we came, tuh th’ High Pass to Rivendell and west or come back an’ head south ’round Fangorn an’ through th’ Gap o’ Rohan. Tha’ be a long way.”
“And north would put you in the path of the Beornings, who might take offense that Tauriel took back her payment for supplies.”
“Aye.” Celeborn was known as wise and Dwalin was seeing this wisdom first hand. “If I might suggest, spring will be over in a few weeks. You’ll not be able to take your horses and I am willing to pay you for them. The snows above the Redhorn will have receded and the passage will be easier for a time should you choose to go that way. You can purchase horses and supplies when you descend into Hollin.”
“Or aye kin travel nor’ intuh Rivendell.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest that,” Celeborn said with a smile, “but it is a good idea, Master Dwarf.”
Dwalin’s responding grin was wry. “Aye, make it my idea.” He looked around the room. “Kin ye stan’ puttin’ up wit’ a dwarf fer several weeks?”
Celeborn’s laugh was infectious. “Oh, I was going to suggest you camp in Nanduhirion. You can use up what supplies you can’t carry. We have no need for them.” He realized the dwarf was not laughing. “Surely, I meant no offense.”
“Tuh lake ‘n valley are sacred tuh t’ dwarves. Yew know that.”
“It was a jest. You are honored among your people and ours. You are welcome to stay.”
Dwalin’s returning smile, did not reach his eyes. “Gud.”
Dwalin and Tauriel stayed with the Lorien Elves for some weeks, watching as the snow on the mountains rose higher and higher on the steep, as did the swell of the River Nimrodel. Dwalin poured over the maps of Middle Earth. He knew the mountains; he was a dwarf, after all. But mostly he spent the time steeling himself for what was to come. This part of the trip would be the hardest of all for him. The valley they using to enter the East Gate was the site of Azanulbizar, the war that killed Fundin, his father. Many dwarves had lost their lives in that valley. And then, inside the mountain…
There would be no amount of preparing to prepare him for that and he knew it. When the waters of the river abated to its normal levels, he and Tauriel decided to venture up to the valley.
“I cannot guarantee that you will get through the mountain,” Celeborn told him the evening before. As had become their ritual, the two sat around a tree stump, ignoring each other while enjoying elvish wine. Well, Celeborn was enjoying the wine. Someone had found an aging brew that Dwalin preferred and he had a feeling the elves were glad he liked it because no one else did.
There was no accounting for some beings’ tastes!
“We did not see your brother or his entourage enter the mountain, so we assume he entered through Moria’s West Gate. There has been no sound, no sign of orcs in many years. Not since the war. We are sending archers with you,” Dwalin began to protest, but Celeborn talked over him, “just in case there are still some random orcs.” Dwalin was now muttering in Dwarvish and Celeborn was glad he couldn’t understand a word. “There is one more reason why I’m sending archers with you.”
“Why dew we need a nanny?”
Celeborn’s face was all seriousness. “No one knows what condition the inside of the mountain is in. The Wizard fought the Balrog there when The Walkers escaped.”
Chills ran up Dwalin’s spine. “What are you suggesting?”
The elf was choosing his words, shifting through what to tell the dwarf and what not. Dwalin could see it in his eyes and it infuriated it. “Wha’ secret d’ye hide?”
The Silver Lord shrugged. “Boromir, son of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, told the elf who served him, the mountain towers and bridges were collapsing as they escaped. When Gandalf fell-”
“Yew speak too many wurds! What frightens yew?”
“Durin’s Tower fell. Collapsed.”
Dwalin snarled. “Who told yew this? Who-”
Celeborn signed. He knew the dwarf would not take the news well. “When the Ring-bearer journeyed to destroy the One Ring, the Walkers-”
“Yesyesyes aye kin! They went through Moria!”
Celeborn was inspecting his goblet, as if to find the words or some wisdom within the depths. “All but Gandalf escaped. After we sent them on their way to continue their Quest, we sent scouts into the mine, to see if there was any sign of the wizard.” Celeborn stared deeper. The truth was his wife, Galadriel, had insisted they look, search. She loved the old Maia as much as she loved him and this knowledge did not bother the Silver Elf in the slightest.
“Only half came back. They were felled by goblins, but those that returned were adamant about the damage within the mountain.”
Dwalin took a swig from the ancient bottle. “Moria has seen many battles. Aye wuld think a few arches haf fallen.”
Celeborn shook his head. There was no way to be gentle and dwarves were not known to be one of Middle Earth’s softer people. In the past few weeks, Celeborn had gotten to know this revered dwarf and decided the direct approach would be best. “Celebdil has fallen in. The mountainside is a ruin. My scouts did not see the Eternal Stair, but I would suspect Durin’s Tower was destroyed as well.”
“Zirakzigil fell in? Tuh whole of it?”
Celeborn shrugged. It was an elegant, negligent thing, an elvish thing, but the dwarf read much into it. “I would not hold out hope. Moria’s West Gate is blocked, considering the damage to the mountain, I cannot see how the Tower could have survived. Your brother’s tomb may not be accessible.”
“Aye will get tuh mah brother’s tomb. Aye do not need help frum any elf fer that!”
Something in the elf hardened. “I know that you do not desire any aid from my people, however,” and with this he looked up, into the eyes of the dwarf, “I will not have Tauriel put in any additional danger.” He reached into his robes. “I have as much reason to want her on the boat as anyone.”
They departed for the East Gate early in the morning. It seemed that the whole of Lorien accompanied them, on boat, horseback, and on foot, much to the dwarf’s discontent. They… he didn’t need all of this… fellowship and Dwalin was unusually vocal about it. Bad enough Celeborn still insisted that they take a unit of archers into the mountain. Truth was, he wanted to face his brother alone. Not to mention, they would enter the great mountain from a battlefield; a battlefield where many dwarves lost their lives. He didn’t want company.
Unbeknownst to him, Tauriel sensed this.
They spent the better part of the day moving up the River Silverlode. The Elves left the dwarf to his thoughts, some of them watching thoughtfully. By late afternoon, the mountains rose on both sides of the river, their shadows keeping the air cool. As the afternoon passed, the shadows grew longer, darker. The Elves chattered noisily for a time, but eventually, Dwalin’s dark demeanor began to influence their own moods. The mountains grew taller, more jagged.
And the three largest loomed ahead.
“Master Dwarf,” Tauriel whispered-
He rolled his eyes in ire. “Dwalin. How many times, lass? Dwalin.”
“– what am I looking at?” She pointed to the three peaks ahead of them. She sensed his ire and attempted to soften the jagged answer. “I am sure I can guess, but with the exception of my time on the side of the Lonely Mountain and the scouting mission with Legolas to Gundebad, I have never… I have never been this far west.” She looked at him. “Except for Rivendale and we did not take this route. This is Dwarven heritage. You should be proud of it. Please tell me.”
Dwalin closed his eyes. She was right. It was his heritage, he was proud of it. Often, in the evening, he sat with the few young ones of Erebor, canting and regaling them with stories of the time before the Dragon, the battles, the wars, lest they forget. He reminded them of the Line of Durin, Moria, and the Blue Mountains, reminded them they had kin on the other side of Middle Earth and to not forget them. He told them of Thorin Oakenshield, he who had passed into memory and legend. How many times had he sung ‘Misty Mountain’ to them, knowing all of them truly came from the Iron Hills and didn’t know The Longing for home. A home? Without opening his eyes, he pointed to the mountain on the right. “Tha’ be Bundushathûr or simply Shathûr.”
“It is quite cloudy up at the peak.”
Dwalin had a feeling he was being cajoled, catered to and it irritated him. “Men often referred to it as ‘Cloudyhead’. The Elves call it ‘Fanuidhol’.”
Tauriel repeated the Elvish name, the sound of it falling like rain from her lips. Dwalin then pointed straight ahead.
“Tha’ be Caradhras. Men call it ‘The Redhorn’ or ‘The Cruel’. We dwarves knew it as Barazinbar.” Now, his eyes were open. He was unaware the Elves were all silent, listening to him. “E’en in the warmest months, tuh Dimril Stair and tuh Redhorn Pass are difficult an’ merciless to cross.” He shook a finger at the elf next to him. “Dinna think fer a minute tha’ jus’ because ’tis almos’ summer tha’ it will be easy.”
“Most go around and take the High Pass or travel The Gap of Rohan,” one of the archers accompanying them interjected.
“Tuh Gap o’ Rohan be a pretty walk, if ye wan’ tuh walk,” Dwalin conceded. “An’ if ye dun mine Dunlandings.” He snarled up his nose and leaned into Tauriel. “They smell worse ‘n wet cattle. As fer tuh High Pass, aye ‘ave seen tuh Stone-Giants play their game. Aye’ve no wish tew watch agin.”
It was silent while they went around a curve, waiting for the last mountain to come completely in view and when it did, Dwalin gasped. It was as Celeborn said.
The side of the mountain was gone. Nothing but rubble.
And to live the way you please