The Wraith in the Mist
Yes, a young man is the king
The sound of valley became audible as they neared the lake. Dwalin quickened his step, actually accelerated into a trot, distancing himself from the elves. One of the archers made to follow him, but Tauriel held him back. “Give him some time,” she whispered. “His father died here. I suspect he witnessed it.”
The Elves waited for the sun to duck behind the mountain before moving forward. The beauty of the dale took Tauriel’s breath. It took her several minutes to recall why she was there. Quickly, she scanned the dale, the glade and then the lake. She found him up a ways, standing on a rock on the east side of the lake. By the time she reached him, the moon had risen and the stars were out, their reflection twinkling in the pool. Acknowledging her with a shrug, Dwalin stepped to the side, to give her room next to him on the rock. Tauriel stared across, admiring the beauty of the view. “Mirrormere,” she whispered. “’Tis beautiful.”
Dwalin shook his head. “Kheled-zâram.” A joyless smile graced his craggy features. “And aye, it is.”
They ignored the sounds of the elves making camp while the two stared into the waters. Tauriel finally broke the silence. “It is said that your ancestor, Durin the Deadless, looked into these waters.”
Dwalin was silent.
Tauriel continued. “It is also said that when he looked into these waters, he saw the reflection of the stars in it.”
Dwalin was still silent. And Tauriel still continued.
“It is said when he saw the reflection of the stars around the mirror of his head, he fancied they were his crown.”
Dwalin turned and stomped from the rock. “’Tis said Elves talk tew much!”
They camped along the east side of the lake that evening, the smell of rabbit and venison rising in the air. As the group began to settle, a low, rumbling croon rose from the far rocks. The language was guttural, archaic and the elves listened with rapt attention as Dwalin sang of the legendary Halls of Khazad-dûm. They pretended not to notice when he finished and slid from the crevice, towards his small campsite.
But Tauriel did take notice.
“You have a fine voice, Master Dwarf. I did not know you carried a harp.”
Dwalin stopped for a moment, his back to her, before bending over to grab his satchel. His jaw worked in vexation, the tightness obvious in the set of his shoulders before he relaxed. He looked over his shoulder. “Dwarves are not awl about greed…” his voice trailed off, the sound of crickets, over-powering. “…there are things we love an’ crave besides bright jewels.”
“And those things would be?”
He waited so long, she didn’t think he’d respond. Finally…
“Gud music, gud fud, loved ones. Especially loved ones.” And with that, he moved a ways from the elves and proceeded to bed down.
Tauriel waited until he was settled. “Good night, Master Dwarf.” She turned and went to find a quiet spot.
The crickets began their song.
“Gud night, lass.”
It took Dwalin and his Elven entourage four days to find his brother’s tomb. Bridges had fallen and they strayed from the path many times. There were scorch marks, fallen rubble, the leavings of a great battle, not fought by the normal dwellers of Middle-earth. The mountain was silent, wretchedly, frightening silent, the only the sound being that of the company’s footfalls echoing through the empty caverns. As they came closer, there were signs of yet another battle, of a flight-
Arrows everywhere. The skeletons and mummified remains of dead orcs.
There were two dark-haired elves in the company, twins, to be sure and they reminded Dwalin of someone, but he couldn’t put his finger on the memory. They joked and played in that sing-song language of theirs and more than once, Dwalin told them to be quiet or leave. Actually, he told them to just leave. They smiled and continued on behind, staying out of the craggy dwarf’s way for a while, before moving forward and starting again.
So needless to say, it irked the old dwarf to the back of his teeth when one of the elfling upstarts found the cavern first. It was lost on him that once he was made aware of the room, the elves stood back, playfulness gone and austere respect on their faces.
And he went in alone.
Dwalin did not see the skeletal remains of the orcs or the cave troll. He didn’t see the arrows littering the floor. He didn’t see the remains of dwarves, bodies filled with orc-arrows.
He saw a tomb. All the internal, emotional, mental preparing for it, didn’t help.
Here lies Balin, son of Fundin. Lord of Moria.
There was silence.
Like all elves, Tauriel was good at keeping time, so when there had been no sound for the better part of thirty minutes, she called out. “Master Dwarf? Are you alright?”
A sigh rent the air. “’Tis Dwalin, lass. Dwalin.”
She took his remark as an invitation. Slowly, she picked her way into the chamber, noticing how the light shown on the great tomb in the middle of the room. Unlike the dwarf, she noticed the signs of not one, but two great battles that had been fought in it. The stone was married with chinks, obviously etched with by sword strikes. The floor was strewn with chips of rock, rubble, arrows…
Bodies. Skeletal remains scattered everywhere.
“Master Dwarf? Why are you sitting on your brother’s tomb?”
Dwalin was perched on the edge of the crypt, slouched over, reading a large book. “Whar else wuld ye ‘ave me sit?” As the elves came further into the chamber, he turned a page, slowly, savoring the feel of the aging vellum, the smell of the ink and dust. “Aye’m readin’ ’bout tuh last days of muh brother.” He nodded towards several dead dwarves. “An’ these. Tha’s,” he pointed to the body leaning against the tomb, “be Ori.”
Tauriel searched her memory. The dwarves had been ‘guests’ of Thranduil’s for some weeks long ago, when spiders still roamed the Greenwood. “The young one.”
“Aye. Too young and too gentle for a dwarf. Not a warrior.” Dwalin shook his head and turned the page again. “He were like his mum.” He was now grimacing at what he was reading.
“Surely this upsets you?” The rest of the elves were now in the room, roaming gently. One of the twins peered down the well.
“Aye, there be a body fallen down it. Dunno who.”
The elves were now looking about the cavern. One of the dark-haired ones began to chatter, whisper to his brother.
“‘Tis rude tuh dew that!”
Both looked at him, amusement on their faces. “My name is Elladan and this is my brother, Elrohir. You’ve met our father.”
“Somethin’ tells me aye wish aye hadn’t!” He closed the book and laid it behind him. With a kick, he bounced from the tomb.
The one began to chuckle. “Our father is Elrond of Rivendell.”
“Aye, Aye wish aye hadn’t!”
Elladan continued on, ignoring Dwalin’s snarl. “Two battles took place here. The dwarves lost theirs.”
“Aye. Accordin’ tew tuh book, there were legions of goblins against them.” He turned to look again on his brother’s grave. “They hid here long enough to bury muh brother.” There was a long pause. “There was no way out.”
Drums in the deep…
At that point, Dwalin took one last look around the cavern, as if to memorize it, etch it into his brain and left the cavern.
Tauriel ran after him. “Master Dwarf? Is that it? Where are you going?”
Dwalin said nothing. He stopped, lifted his nose, before turning to head deeper into the mountain.
The elves followed the elderly dwarf for some hours before he came to a stop. He could go no further. There was a pile of rubble that reached into the cavern’s heights.
“Master Dwarf? What should this be?”
Dwalin took a deep breath. “This shuld be th’ Eternal Stairs. Shuld be.” With that he turn, and began the long journey back to the East Gate.
Dwalin had been correct. Climbing the Dimril Stair and crossing through the Redhorn Gate was not a picnic in any way. The slowest member of the party was Dwalin himself. While the majority of the Elves returned to Lorien when they exited the mountain, Elrond’s sons stayed with the duo, chittering in their sing-song language. Sometimes they made Tauriel laugh and she would feel sorry for the old dwarf who couldn’t understand them, so she would attempt to repeat the joke or observation. Most times, she thought her words fell on deaf dwarven ears.
But they did not.
Upon reaching Hollin, the small company procured three horses and two ponies, as well as supplies.
“Have ye seen Rivendell, lass?”
He has asked this before, Tauriel thought. It crossed her mind to remind him of it, but perhaps, it would be simpler to just answer the question. She’d noticed at times, memory was a fleeting thing for the elderly dwarf. “Aye. When my parents answered the call and went to The Undying Lands, I accompanied them to The Last Homely House.”
“D’ye wish to see it agin? Now?”
Her answer was immediate. “No. I wish to see where Kili lived. As you promised.”
Dwalin inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. He truly had no desire to return to Rivendell. Truth was he simply wished to fulfill this duty and promising her a bit of Kili’s life and childhood had been the honey to entice her to follow him.
Elrond’s sons left them at that point, choosing to go to their father’s abode, even though he’d left for the Undying Lands years before.
The two wandered south, following the Sirannon River before picking up a barge when they reached the Glanduin. Tauriel was enthralled with the swans at Swanfleet, while Dwalin found them noisy and irritating. Eventually, they disembarked at Tharbad. It was mostly deserted and dried up, little left after the floods almost two centuries before. They scrounged some provisions and headed north, on the Great North-South Road.
They discussed taking the Barrow-Downs Road, north, into Hobbiton, but in the end, decided against it. Tauriel wanted to see the Blue Mountains.
Dwalin just wanted it to be over. His joints ached and getting on Buttercakes, his pony, was becoming difficult in the mornings, especially when it rained.
And it was raining quite a bit.
So instead, they stopped in Michel Delving, the great seat and capital of the Shire, staying almost a full week. Tauriel was aware of Dwalin’s struggles and said nothing, not wanting to insult or embarrass the venerable dwarf. He was easily offended, but as they traveled, the fonder she came to be of the crotchety old thing! So rather than let on she was letting him rest, she spent time in the markets, hunting up more provisions, liniments for aching muscles, analgesics, and cookies.
Dwalin had a serious fondness for cookies.
The rains had passed when they finally departed. The heat of the summer was well over and Tauriel said Yavannah was painting the earth, as was her wont, with the golds and deep reds of autumn.
Dwalin grunted. Yavannah was Mahal’s wife and if the elves wanted to believe such silliness, well, they were elves. Truth was, he believed Mahal mixed his wife’s paints with the colors found in his mines.
Once they left the Shire, there was no main road left to follow. There were hills to their left and right and they stayed steady to the northwest. Often, they passed great fields of wheat and barley; those who were harvesting would look up for a time, to watch an elf and a dwarf ride by, for to see such a pair together was rare, but they said nothing and soon returned to their reaping. At times, Tauriel would chatter, utter nonsense falling from her mouth and Dwalin would grunt and roll his eyes. Sometimes, they slept in the openness; on occasion, they found a small walled settlement with an inn, or a farm, where the farmer didn’t mind the two staying in the barn. Occasionally, they paid their way, Dwalin doing the odd smithy work in a barn for a few hours, mostly. Repairing horse shoes, or bridles and bits. Once or twice, it was a pitchfork with bent tines or a dull scythe. Such was done in silence.
It was funny how they always left with extra food. And cookies. Sweet treats.
And it was funnier that the elf said she wasn’t fond of sweets and left them all to her traveling companion.
Fall was closer to over than not when they reached the River Lhûn.
Of every kingdom that he sees