The Wraith in the Mist
When the fun falls through and the rent comes due
The two left as the sun rose, provisions and minor niceties taken care of. The dwarf planned well and apparently took into consideration and assumed that he would have a companion traveling with him. Several younger dwarfs sought to join them, barely bearded and wanting to see the world, but Dwalin turned them back at the bottom of Dale, threatening to chase them back with his axes in hand if he needed to. They took it in good stride, laughing and jostling as they returned toward The Lonely Mountain.
But the Elf saw the look in his eye as he watched them leave.
“Why are you sad?”
Dwalin’s jaw dropped and sagged to answer before stopping himself. He turned and sought out a well beaten path. “Aye envy their youth,” he lied.
Tauriel recognized the dwarf’s evasiveness, but chose not to push the point. They were starting on a journey, how long, she did not know. She simply knew that it was an odyssey she need to go on. Best not to start an argument on the outset of such a pilgrimage. But a pilgrimage to where? “Where are we going, Master Dwarf?”
Dwalin stopped and exhaled loudly. “Look. We might as well be getting’ this straight!” He turned on her, a furious gleam in his eye. “Mah name is Dwalin. ‘Tis not Master Dwarf, Master anythin’. Aye might answer to ‘dwarf’ if the bein’ doon know me. But mah name is Dwalin. It’s been mah name fer more centuries than aye care tew admit tew.” He turned his back and began walking towards the lake shore. “So call me that.”
Tauriel chose instead to remain silent.
It took two days for the pair to reach Esgaroth and they stayed for another two, rousting up two study ponies and a sleek, nimble-footed horse for the two to ride, as well as taking on additional supplies. They left Esgaroth with no fanfare, so unlike their send-off from Erebor and Dale. The dwarf seemed impatient, ready to go, his thoughts so far inward, Tauriel feared for the furrow between his eyes would become permanent.
She would realize in the coming months that the furrow between his eyes was permanent.
They had not gone far, when they reached the Forest River.
Dwalin remembered that river, even if it had been over two centuries since he raced down it in a barrel with The Company. Fighting Orcs, Kili injured. For not the first time, he considered the elleth ambling along beside him.
“Thranduil’s holdin’s be that way,” he nodded up the river. “Aye’m o’mind tuh go tha’ way iffn’ yew wish tuh see yer kin.”
She shook her head sadly. “I have no kin nor friend in Halls of Thranduil.”
“None?” The dwarf feigned shock. Truthfully, it was a relief for him to not go to Thranduil’s Hall. “Yew lived there fer how long?”
Tauriel shook her head and nudged her mare further up a ways in towards the river. “There is a shallow and narrow point about a quarter of an hour up the way.” She looked back to ensure Dwalin and the pack pony were following. “It will be easy to cross there.” She smiled to herself as she listened to grumbling and sputtering she’d learn to expect from the gruff dwarf. “My father ignored the call of the sea for many years. When he could ignore it no longer, he and my mother left for the Grey Havens and left me behind.” She shrugged. “I was young and I had friends in Thranduil’s Hall.”
“Yew were left b’hine or yew stayed b’hine?”
Dwalin snorted. “Yew fancied yerself in love with a pasty elf!”
For some reason, this caused Tauriel to burst into laughter. It was joyous, if rusty, for she had not laughed in many years. “I am a pasty elf, Master Dwarf!” She enunciated the last two words purposely, stated such, just to make him bristle. “I had friends, but truth be told, I was alone.”
“Yer goin’ tuh tell me yew ‘ad no feelins’ fer that elven princeling?”
Tauriel lived on the mountainside for many years and she listened in on more conversations that she dare admit. She knew how the dwarves felt about the elves and she knew what she had been taught about the dwarves. Both sides were wrong, but this dwarf was elderly and so very set in his ways. Unbeknowst to most, she watched how he treated the sister of Thorin Oakenshield, how he doted on the dwarrow. His care for his friend’s sister and the mother of Kili and Fili softened her heart towards the gruff dwarf and rather than snap at him, she answered gently. “Elves love once and only once and I love-” she caught herself, her breath hitching before continuing, “I loved Kili.”
“Yew ‘ad no feelins for th’elf?” Dwalin was pushing the point.
She was silent for so long, he concluded she’d decided not to answer him. The only sound was that of hooves on the river bed, the water rushing between the rocks. They rode like that for some minutes.
“His father made it very clear. I was a common wood elf. I was not good enough for his son and there would be no approval for a union, if it were requested. I did not look for it or desire it.”
She did not see the look of consternation on the dwarf’s facial features and so she was surprised when he stopped, allowing her to pull up next to him. “Aye wuld think tha’ a society as high ‘n mighty as the elves wuld no’ make such an issue o’ birth.”
He watched sullenly, as she pulled forward, her spine made of mithril, the only thing visible in his sight. He followed as she crossed the river to the opposite side. Again, her answer was delayed.
“One would think.”
They traveled for a time, following the edge of the Long Lake, before finding the mouth of the Celduin River. They kept the Mountains of Mirkwood to their left, crossing yet another river before turning west on the Old Forest Road.
“I have heard tale of a story about dwarves mining the Mountains of Mirkwood. Do you know of it?”
Dwalin snorted. “Aye. Aye dew.” Of course he knew of it! He was there!
Tauriel was looking towards the sky, following the sun. Too quickly, it blotted out by the trees. “’Tis said Thranduil caught the Dwarves of Erebor trying to steal the ore from the Mountains of Mirkwood.” She ignored the cursing of the elderly dwarf and continued. “The story goes that rather than prosecute them, Thanduil offered to pay the dwarves of Erebor to mine the mountain. He felt it would aid them so soon after Smaug took the Lonely Mountain. Give them a purpose, somewhere to live.” There was a gagging, sputtered coughing. “Master Dwarf? Are you unable to breathe?”
“Tha’ be a lie!” Dwalin was having a difficult time settling down. “A fargin’ lie! We did a cursory dig. Those mountains be full o’ rocks an’ no’ much else! There be no ore!” He pulled ahead of the elf. “Wha’ yer king’s emissary thought to generously pay us be a joke an’ Thorin told ‘im so!” Dwalin was so angry, he didn’t see the small grin on the Elf’s face.
“Thranduil’s emissary plucked Dwarven-thrown pellets from his arse for months.” Dwalin’s head jerked up to look at her. Tauriel continued, seemingly unaware that she was under such scrutiny. “Poor thing couldn’t sit for weeks without twitching or popping up.” She made a moue and shook her head. “I’ve never heard such cursing from an elf. One would think he learned such from a dwarf.”
Dwalin’s laughter echoed through the forest for some time, before the two settled into what was becoming a comfortable silence.
That evening, they found a small clearing just off the path and they set up camp. Tauriel caught several conies and they feared the smell of the roasting rabbit flesh would send a beacon to wolves and other unwelcome visitors. They decided to set a watch, split the time. Dwalin took the first.
After they broke camp the next morning, Tauriel informed Dwalin they were being shadowed by wood elves and they had nothing to fear.
Dwalin didn’t believe her. He still watched for spiders.
There was an abandoned house just north as they exited the Old Forest Road. Tauriel stared at it for a long time. “It smells of magic. Old magic.”
Dwalin gazed as well. There was something… familiar… about the place, although he didn’t recall seeing it. It simply reminded him of… “A wizard lived here.” Finally, the name came to him. “Radagast. Radagast, the Brown.” He shrugged before trudging along. “Strange ‘un. Hair was a bird nest.”
Tauriel continued to look. “You are strange too, Dwalin,” she whispered. She turned and followed him. “Why are you going north?”
He pointed to the mountains to the west. “Thuh sun be movin’ faster ‘n we are. Out in thuh open, yer friends won’ be watchin’ now that we’ve left thuh woods.” He clicked his tongue, making his pony move to a trot. “There used to be a skin-changer just a ways from here.”
Tauriel nudged her horse and the pack horse to follow. “You think Beorn will welcome us for the night?”
Dwalin shook his head fiercely. “No. He’ll no’ welcome us a’tall. Aye hope he no be home an’ we can jus’ stay wit’ow ‘im knowin’.”
Beorn’s home had been expanded to a small gathering of homes. All activity ceased as the dwarf and elf entered the compound. The dwarf was of a mind to simply nod, ask where the well was so he and his companion could refill their water skins and keep moving through. They’d move a few miles up the ways and then turn east, go to the Langflood River and lash a raft to float back down through to the Anduin.
Sadly, one of their kind, a mountain of a man, stood in their way.
Dwalin took one look at the man and knew who he was immediately.
“Aye knew yer sire, Beorn. He be well?”
“He be dead.” The shifter mimicked the dwarf’s speech. “I am called Grimbeorn the Old and if you knew my sire, you are older than I.” He scrutinized the dwarf and elf. “My father did not like dwarves-”
“But he liked Orcs less,” Dwalin finished for him.
The Shifter inhaled sharply. “You’re one of Thorin Oakenshield’s Company.” He shook his head. “They should all be dead by now.”
Dwalin rolled his eyes. “Aye. Aye shuld be, but aye’m breathin’ still.”
“It is getting late,” Tauriel whispered. She was watching the final flames of the sun settle behind the Hithaeglir. “We need to find shelter soon.”
“Being a wood elf,” Grimbeorn surmised, “I would think you would not be uncomfortable in the open.”
“Yew’ve lived onna side o’ a mountain-”
“I have lived in the caves!” she spat.
“Aye knew that.” The sneer on Dwalin’s face was comical.
The elleth forced a smile. “We have provisions on our pony and need to find a safe place to tether our animals.”
The shifter’s smile was fierce. “Come. There is shelter in the barn. And for the two of you.” He turned, forcing them to follow. “You are safe here.”
The Elf stared straight ahead, her hand tight on the tiller, no expression on her face. “So you have said for the last hour,” she murmured drolly.
“Well, it was! What they charged fer a room, stabling the animals, an’ supplies!” Dwalin was in a fine snit.
“You are not out any coin. I, on the other hand, am out my cherished mithril knife. My father gave it to me and I have traded it for food and sundries not near the value, monetarily or sentimentally, of the knife.”
“Ye shuld ‘ave ne’er given it to ’em! Aye’d ‘ave rather slept under th’ stars!”
Tauriel continued to hold the tiller. “We’d not have fared well, Master Dwarf.”
Dwalin nudged himself closer to the back of the boat. The horses weren’t happy, but weren’t trying to jump off. “Why?”
“Wolves had our scent last night.”
“Aye’m no’ a-feared o’ a few wolves!”
“There were wargs in their pack.”
Even though the war was over and Sauron was dead, rogue orcs and wargs still roamed Middle Earth. While orcs were becoming rarer and rarer, wargs in a wolf pack were particularly worrisome. The wargs tended to become the alphas of the pack, with the pack following along in viciousness, lest the evil beasts run them off or kill them for food or sport. What was worse were the wargs were mating with the wolves, creating a cruel hybrid mix that was tough to kill.
“Tha’s why yew insisted onna raft.”
Tauriel nodded. “True. The faster we move down the river and further away from Carrock, the better. I also wanted to get downstream before the spring thaw makes the Langflood difficult to navigate.” They sailed on for some hours, before coming to a large bridge. “Where to, Master Dwarf?” She nodded to the west. “The High Pass lies that way. It will take us to Rivendell.”
“No wish t’ see tha’ place agin,” Dwalin spat. “Saw it once. Once were enough.” His mission reasserted itself and the dwarf’s voice lowered and his tone softened. “That is, unless yew be wantin’-”
“I visited once, when my parents went to the Havens. I traveled as far as the Last Homely House with them.” She stared down the river. “It was beautiful. Peaceful. I remember meeting Elrond…” and on she droned, making the dwarf roll his eyes and wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.
They sailed for some days, camping on the river’s edge, passing the Sîr Ninglor, or the Gladden River, as it was more commonly called. The two talked, Dwalin coming to the conclusion that the elleth he traveled with had seen less of the world than he. So deep inside, he decided he was relieved she was willing to go on this trip with him and glad he hadn’t had to coerce her.
He prayed to Mahal she wouldn’t discover why until it was too late.
Just south of the merging of Gladden and Langflood Rivers, the spring thaw of the mountains caught up with the two, causing them, along with their equines no shortage of grief. They feared they’d lost the pack horse, along with their supplies at one point, when their large raft tilted in a river rush. It was a relief when they came upon the merging of the Anduin with the Celebrant River. Being so close to Lorien, the two felt it safe to rest for several days at The Tongue, a place of no small renown. It was late in the afternoon, when they tied the raft to an aging dock and spread out their supplies to dry. Food was low and Dwalin scanned the waters for fish, while Tauriel hunted game and berries. The Dwarf had several fat trout spitted and trickling over a fire when the Elleth returned with several rabbits on a string. “Good you’ve cooked the fish,” she remarked. “They would smell within hours.” She hung the hares high on the mast of the raft. “Expect company for breakfast.”
Dwalin looked up with a black look. “Who?”
“Celeborn. The Silver Lord of Lorien, himself!”
The aging dwarf grimaced. “Ah, shite! Mahal take me now.”
Somewhere Along the Line