Elladan led the way down the tunnel. It was wide and level, and plunged straight ahead into the darkness. It was clear that it had been a main thoroughfare when the dwarves had inhabited Moria, and equally clear that it must lead somewhere – perhaps even to the eastern gates. Chambers and great halls led off to the left and right, the walls carved with depictions of animals and birds. These had been the habitable parts of Moria, the feast halls and storerooms; the networks of smaller caves where dwarven families had once lived; but now the caverns were silent and deserted. Orcs had been here, though – their filth littered the floor, and crude lettering had been daubed in places on the pillars and walls. Shards of crystal lamps glinted on the ground, long since smashed and broken.
“Why must they destroy everything?” Estel asked softly behind him.
Elladan paused, glancing back. Estel had appointed himself the rearguard, from where he could keep watch behind them, and keep an eye on Elrohir. He shrugged, unable to answer. “Because they hate the free peoples, and envy them,” he suggested at last. “Who knows?” He ran one hand over his head and sighed, aware of the inadequacy of the answer. He could feel both Elrohir’s weariness and his own, as the strain of supporting and reinforcing Elrohir’s strength began to make itself felt. The brooding sense of evil had never left him since they had first encountered it in the Dimrill Dale; he had not slept since leaving Lórien; and he was tired, worried, and at his wit’s end. Philosophical debate about why the orcs were as they were was beyond him. They just were. He shrugged again. “They are orcs,” he explained lamely.
“They need no reason,” Elrohir added in a sombre tone.
Elladan nodded in agreement. They continued on their way as the tunnel widened again, and soon opened into a vast hall. Despite the urgency, they slowed as the passed into the chamber, awed at the soaring heights and magnificent carvings. It must be night outside, but in the world above the moon shone weakly, for a faint, muted light filtered into the chamber from some distant window or light-shaft. In the dim, pale light they could only guess at the height of the chamber, for the ceiling was lost in the gloom. Immense pillars, exquisitely carved, supported the roof; soaring upwards into darkness.
They halted, staring into the gloom in wonder. “Elladan? Can you hear anything? Are there any orcs nearby?” Estel whispered.
Elladan listened, then shook his head. “No. Nothing. Not yet. Why?”
“I want to light a torch. I want to see!” Estel explained.
Elladan listened again, still cautious. The silence was intense. There was no hint of pursuit, and he knew that there was nothing else living as far as his senses could reach. Slowly, he nodded his agreement. Estel lit a torch, but the light did little to penetrate the oppressive darkness. The flame cast a fitful illumination around them, showing the ground stretching away into the distance and only emphasising the vast scale of the hall. Here and there, jewels set into the pillars shimmered and shone in the reflected light; gleaming flashes of white, green, and red glowing in the darkness.
“I have never seen anything like this,” Elrohir breathed in wonder. “I knew the dwarves were stone masons and masters, but I never imagined that they could do this. This cavern must be as high as a mallorn!”
Estel shivered. “It seems – almost too much,” he said unexpectedly. “Too big. It makes me feel … insignificant.”
“I know what you mean,” Elrohir admitted. He was leaning against one of the pillars, carefully keeping the weight off his injured leg. Elladan glanced at him anxiously but kept quiet. There was no point in nagging.
They set off again across the great chamber, alone in the vast, echoing silence, feeling vulnerable and exposed in the immense cavern. At last, on the far side, they found a series of smaller rooms cut into the wall – alcoves, perhaps once used for storage. In the corner of one, larger than the rest, a fireplace remained; cold ashes still scattered on the hearth.
Crouched in the gritty remnants of the long-dead fire, Elladan peered upwards. The chimney rose above him, climbing up towards the outer world. Faintly, far overhead, he could see a single star. For some reason, this glimpse of the outer world made him feel more isolated from it than ever.
He sat back on his heels with a sigh. “We will stay here for the rest of the night. Tomorrow will bring us to the eastern edge of Moria, I hope. From there we can make our way back to the Dimrill Gate, or find another way out.” He gestured to the fireplace. “It will be safe to light a fire here – the smoke will vent upwards. El – sit down and rest. Estel and I will see to everything.”
Elrohir merely nodded wearily, and sank to the floor. Estel cast an anxious look at him, then turned to Elladan. “Is he all right?” he whispered. Before Elladan could reply, Elrohir opened his eyes again.
“Do not worry, Estel – I will be well. Trust me.”
Elladan nodded reluctantly. “He will be. I have seen this before. When we get out of here, we can return to Lórien – El can rest there for as long as necessary. Do you remember,” he asked Elrohir, “how ill you made yourself at Barlynch?”
Elrohir’s face darkened. “I remember. But then, as now, I had no choice. What else could I do?” He was silent for a moment, then gave a tired grin. “Estel, I will be fine. I am weary, but nothing more. Do not worry about me.” He wrapped himself in a spare cloak and lay down in a corner near the hearth.
“Barlynch?” Estel repeated softly. “What happened there?”
Elladan sighed. “I will tell you later. Now, get the fire lit – I will make us some supper.”
While supper cooked – a stew of dried meat, dried vegetables and herbs, mixed with a little of their precious water – Estel questioned Elladan again.
“What happened at Barlynch?”
Elladan glanced down at Elrohir, dozing next to the fire. “Many years ago, El went with another healer to a small town on the Mitheithel. There was a sickness there, and the people had asked for our help. But they never arrived. When word came that they were missing, I went with a friend to search for them. We found that Bereth, the other healer, was dead – he had been attacked, and left to die by the side of the road. There was no sign of Elrohir.” He paused, remembering. Those days had been some of the darkest of his life. “I thought he was dead too,” he added expressionlessly.
“When I eventually found him, he had collapsed after working alone for ten days without rest, without sleep; healing nearly all those who were sick. But there were some he could do nothing for – and he blamed himself when they died. Some of them … some were only children.”
Estel was silent for a long time. “I see,” he said at last. “I see why he said he had no choice. What a terrible time for him to remember. But Elladan …”
“What now?” Elladan asked patiently.
“Well, why? Why does Elrohir have this talent, but not you? You are twins – there are so few things that you do not share.”
Elladan shrugged. “In a way, we share that as well. We work together. El uses his skill to heal, and I use my own to lend him strength and support. Because we are twins, it works well. Between us, we can do far more than any individual healer.” He smiled. “I have some healing skills of my own, but Elrohir’s are stronger.” With a short laugh he added, “and there is a story behind that, as well!”
After they had eaten, and Elrohir again lay down to rest, Elladan stretched and yawned. “I need to sleep as well – Estel, will you take first watch? Wake me when you need to.”
Estel smiled and nodded. “Yes, of course.” He stood in the doorway of the kitchen chamber, leaning against the stone pillars. He was grateful for this chance to prove himself again – Elladan obviously trusted him now. And one way he could repay that trust would be to take the whole watch himself, and leave Elladan to sleep. He was weary, and worried, and worn out from caring for Elrohir. A few hours’ uninterrupted rest would help the twins enormously, and the more quickly Elrohir recovered, the sooner they could all be out of this place.
As his brothers slept, the silence of Moria grew. Restless, Estel peered into the darkness, then began to pace to and fro across the entrance. Irritated by his nervousness, he forced himself to sit quietly for a while, listening and watching. There was nothing – nothing to hear, and nothing to see. The smothering darkness reached out to him again, and he found his eyes growing heavy before jerking awake with a start.
Ashamed of his weakness, he paced again – he would not sleep while on duty! But his weariness grew once more, and his head nodded as he leant against the doorway. With a muttered oath, Estel forced himself upright. “You are not going to sleep, curse you!” he scolded himself. “El and El would never let you hear the end of it!” He began to silently recite a foolish song his brothers had taught him about the Man in the Moon. Images of a cat, a dog and a cow danced through his mind, the creatures pursued by a dish and a spoon, and he shook himself awake again.
At last, shame-faced, he knelt by Elladan, shaking him gently. “Elladan – it’s your watch. Wake up.”
Elladan mumbled something as he stirred, then blinked sleepily. “Estel?”
Estel sighed. “I’m sorry. I wanted to keep watch all night, and let you rest – but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I’m sorry.”
Elladan yawned as he sat up, and glanced across at Elrohir. Then he smiled. “Well done. That was far more sensible than trying to keep awake, and falling asleep on duty. You did the right thing. Thank you, Estel.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Of course not! You showed sense and maturity. You knew your limitations.” Elladan shook his head ruefully. “You showed more sense than I did. On our first patrol, I was determined to keep watch on my own all night. I was supposed to wake El for his turn, but decided to do it alone – just to prove I could. I fell asleep, of course. Glorfindel … Glorfindel was not pleased.”
Estel gaped at him. “You fell asleep on duty? You? What did Glorfindel do? What did he say?”
Elladan shook his head. “I learned my lesson,” he said simply. “It was something I never did again. Well done, Estel. Goodnight.”
Estel fell asleep, still smiling at Elladan’s praise – and his revelation – and praying to all the Valar that he never incurred Glorfindel’s wrath in such a way.
As Estel fell asleep, the silence grew again. Elladan stood in the doorway to the storeroom, gazing out into the darkness. Apart from the soft, scarcely heard breathing behind him, the silence was immense. Nothing stirred, and he felt no sense of orcs nearby. The ever-present taint of evil still pressed on him, but it seemed no greater than before. All appeared quiet.
As he stared at the vast darkness, his eyes began to play tricks on him. A faint flicker and sparkle seemed to dance in the distance, and then he began to hear things as well – a far off tread, and a low rumble of voices. He froze, stared, and listened for an instant longer – then turned and dropped to Estel’s side.
“I can hear something ahead,” he told Estel quietly. “Something drawing near.”
Estel was on his feet immediately. “Orcs?” he questioned.
Elladan shook his head. “No. I do not think so. It does not sound like orcs, or feel like them. At least, I sense no evil about it – but what is it? Can you hear it?”
Estel listened for a long time, then slowly drew his sword. “Yes,” he agreed. “I can hear footsteps – voices. They’re coming closer.”
Elladan nodded. He edged forward cautiously, sword in hand, and peered around the corner, waiting. He stared, blinked, then stared again, slowly lowering his sword.
“What is it? What do you see?” Estel whispered behind him. Then, when he made no reply, Estel hissed more urgently. “Tell me!”
Elladan glanced back. “Look,” he said blankly, gesturing at the hall.
Three dwarves approached, talking in low voices and quite unperturbed by the vast darkness. They strolled across the chamber as if they were quite at home – and indeed, their ancestors may well have dwelt here. They wore helmets of leather, strengthened with iron bands, and each carried an axe. Their beards were long and well-groomed, reaching down to the jewelled belts they wore.
Estel joined him at the entrance to the chamber, watching the dwarves in amazement as they drew nearer. “What are they doing here?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” Elladan admitted, still watching.
“Are you going to stop them? Talk to them?” Estel persisted. “Or just leave them alone? Let them go on their way?”
“I think we will greet them. They may have answers to some of our questions. They may have news of the orcs.”
Estel snorted. “They don’t even look as if they know the orcs are here!” he protested.
“Then we warn them. No one should wander through these halls unprepared. Stay here.” With that, Elladan stepped out from the shelter of the side chamber into full view of the dwarves. He kept his sword low, but in clear sight. “Greetings,” he said softly.
The dwarves stiffened. “It’s a bloody elf!” one growled, drawing his axe. The dwarf Elladan judged to be their leader – his beard was longer, and his belt more encrusted with gems – held up one hand in a signal to his companions to wait, then stepped forward.
“Greetings,” he replied neutrally. “What is an elf doing here in the realm of my fathers?” He sounded more curious than suspicious.
Elladan hesitated, wondering how much to explain. The clear threat posed by the orcs was one thing. Dwarves were creatures bound to the substance of Arda, to the rock and soil. They would understand the physical danger of the orcs. Yet mention of the misgivings they all felt, the miasma of evil that permeated these halls, and the shadows that pressed so heavily – surely they would dismiss such warnings as mere elvish fancies.
“We were travelling from Lórien to Imladris – Rivendell,” he explained at last. “We found signs that made us uneasy, and came into Moria to find an answer. There are orcs here, very many of them, and also trolls.”
“Orcs and trolls as well?” the dwarf growled. “Here? Curse their foul feet in these hallowed halls! I had thought them long fled from these parts.”
Estel interrupted. “What do you mean, orcs and trolls as well? As well as what?”
The dwarf glanced at him. “Who’s this? How many of you are there?” he demanded.
“Three,” Elladan explained. “Myself and my two brothers.”
“Foster brother,” Estel added quickly, as the dwarf turned an incredulous eye on him.
“Come, join us,” Elladan continued. “Tell us your tale.” The dwarves posed no threat to them, and they could have information to share – not to mention useful knowledge of the mines. He stepped aside and showed them the room where they had set camp, and where Elrohir still slept, wrapped in Elladan’s cloak.
One of the other dwarves glanced down at Elrohir. “What of that one? Is he dead?”
Elladan tensed at his dismissive tone. “My brother was injured in a rock fall. He rests, but will recover soon,” he explained curtly.
The dwarf, who still clutched his axe, grunted, and muttered under his breath in Khuzdul. “A pity.” Elladan’s fist clenched, but he held his tongue. Then the dwarf turned to their leader, still grumbling. “The only good elf’s a dead elf, if you ask me!”
The leader cuffed him. “Enough!” he rumbled.
Elladan’s thinly stretched patience snapped. “I did not ask you, you stunted dirt-digger!” he snarled in the same language, taking a step towards the dwarves. “That is my brother you speak of!”
The dwarf glared back at him, and there was a strained silence. Estel stared at them, not understanding what had been said, but recognising the tone and making a clear guess at the content. Then the leader cleared his throat. “Your pardon, master elf,” he said in Westron. “I did not realise you understood our tongue. My companion will apologise.” He poked the other with his foot. “Won’t you?” He paused. “Won’t you?”
The dwarf glowered at Elladan. “You have my apologies.”
Elladan stared at him, then nodded stiffly. “Mine also.”
The leader snorted, tugging at his beard. Then he bowed. “Farin, son of Dwalin, at your service.”
Elladan blinked in surprise. “Elladan, son of Elrond, at yours and your family’s,” he responded smoothly, gathering his wits.
“Elrond? Elrond of Rivendell?” Farin repeated curiously.
“My father passed through your house some years ago. Although he has no great love for elves, he speaks highly of Elrond,” Farin told them.
Elladan nodded. “I remember your father. And the great Thorin Oakenshield, and all his companions.” He bent, touching Elrohir’s shoulder lightly. “El? El! Wake now – we have company.” Ideally, he would have liked to leave Elrohir to sleep – but Elrohir would hate to miss this encounter, and in any case he valued his twin’s opinions too much. “Elrohir – wake up.”
Despite his exhaustion, Elrohir woke instantly, his hand moving to his sword. “Wait,” Elladan cautioned. “We have company. This is Farin, son of Dwalin; and his companions.”
Elrohir pushed himself upright, and nodded at the dwarves as they settled themselves. “I am Elrohir.”
“Farin, son of Dwalin.” He nodded at the other two dwarves. “My companions are Náin and Bilbur.”
“My father’s brother,” Farin began, “is minded to re-establish a dwarven kingdom here. We have come to look, to examine the rock for ores of mithril and iron, and to report back to my people. We have seen no signs of orcs yet, but we have seen … something.”
“What sort of something?” Elrohir prompted.
Farin glanced at his companions. “Fires. A red glow at the end of passageways. A blast of heat rising from the deep. Smoke and flame on the lower levels. A feeling of something … wicked here.”
Elladan nodded. This agreed with what Orophin had told them. “Yes. We met with an elven patrol from Lothlórien a few days ago – they spoke of the same things. And we have felt it ourselves.”
“Lothlórien?” Farin repeated warily. “Dwarves do no go there. They say there is a White Lady there who can see into your heart and mind – a witch! It is true I have heard of no great evil in the Golden Wood, but still we do not go there.”
Elladan hid a smile. “There is nothing to be feared from the Lady,” he reassured Farin.
The dwarf snorted. “Maybe not for elves, but I’d not trust her!”
Elrohir changed the subject. “The smoke and fires you have seen – what of them? What causes the heat – do you know? Have you guesses?”
“Well …” Farin hesitated, seeming reluctant to speak. He fingered his beard, then nodded to himself. “They said that he was the last. That there were no more. But I reckon there’s one left – and it’s here. That’s what we’ve been seeing. I’m sure of it!”
Elladan’s gaze slid to Elrohir, who raised one eyebrow, clearly just as puzzled. “Your pardon, Farin – but I do not understand. What have you seen?”
“A dragon, of course! They said Smaug was the last – but who’s to say? No-one knows for sure.”
“A dragon?” Elladan was initially surprised, but then considered Farin’s startling conclusion more carefully. A dragon. It made sense – it made a great deal of sense, in fact. It explained the rumbling and roaring they had heard; it explained the billowing smoke Orophin had reported; it explained the vague sense of wrongness they had all felt.
“There is mithril here, and gold, and the jewels that the dwarves have mined,” Elrohir added, following his line of thought. “Enough for a hoard large enough for any dragon!”
Elladan nodded. “A dragon,” he sighed. “I fear you are right. I must warn my grandmother.”
Farin looked surprised. “Your grandmother? Will your menfolk not take care of this matter? My grandmother – may her beard be blessed – is a redoubtable lady, but not one I would trouble with tales of dragons.” He shook his head. “Why your grandmother?”
Elladan smiled icily, relishing the moment of revelation. “Her realm borders Moria. My grandmother is Galadriel, lady of the Golden Wood.”First > Previous > Next