Shadow Search

by Arien-(Valar)
September 22, 2006


Fifteen years before the Council of Elrond, in the Misty Mountains, slightly north of the Gladden fields on the west side of the Great River:

“I will leather the hide of this ninny when I get my hands on him,” snarled Gimli as he plodded through a cheerless day. The sky was heavily hung with dark clouds and now and again they opened a hole just to ease themselves of their load of rain but it did not much to make them appear brighter.

“I wouldn’t bother," one of his companions said, a sturdy dwarf with a long grey beard who walked bold and upright and was clad in heavy mail armour. “Maybe there even won’t be much left of him …, running off like this towards Azalnubishar on his own - what did he think …”

Gimli cast him a dark glance and the speaker shut up. “I won’t hope that, Nari. I don’t wish him evil and Frali has been my responsibility – so I should bring him back and maybe he will get a  chance to proof his worth some day. But I agree with you in this at least, he did not think much”

A shout from the front stopped the conversation short and both dwarves hurried to follow the call. “What is it?” shouted Gimli from a short distance, fearing that the ill-boding words of Nari had already come true.

Silently the two dwarves who had barred at first Gimli’s view stepped aside and now he could see indeed a lifeless form on the ground and looking closer at it, Gloin’s son could see that it was a young dwarf near Frali’s age and one that he had seen in his foster–brother’s company several times. Gimli cursed silently and wanted to start rushing into the nearby brambles to search for a second body but then he stopped short and asked with forced calm, “I gather you searched around for traces of a second body?”

“Aye, Master Gimli“ the first dwarf said. “There is none, thankfully, but there are traces of some fighting over there.”  

“This young fellow died of several deep sword wounds and we found his axe buried in an orc body," the second scout added. “Whoever came upon our foolish younglings got himself obviously somewhat more into trouble than he or they bargained for.”

The speaker led Gimli to the aforementioned spot where the ground was even wetter, as if it were slick with blood, and a dead orc lay on the ground not far from the severed claw of a second one. Apart from these obvious signs the ground was heavily trampled and a torn bag of food was found on the ground. Hoof prints could be recognized amongst many heavy boot traces as the trail lead away into the mountains.

Gimli frowned. “As it seems, my foster brother was taken as fee for this vermin there,” he said, pointing to the slain orcs.

The others of the search troop had closed up by then and heard Gimli’s words. “Do you want to follow them?” the first scout asked.

The younger dwarf nodded with a heavy sigh. “We don’t have much choice, do we?” After a short silence he added thoughtfully. “Let’s see where this trail leads to. It can’t be very old, as the earth around the print borders hasn’t crumbled yet. We will try to find out with how many orcs we have to deal and where they have taken Frali. Then we decide what to do”

This was done and after a while the path became stonier and the trail harder to follow but it was still recognizable, since they found rags and pieces of bread crumbs now and again on the ground.

The slope became steeper and it took more effort to climb it, but the company found that when it became unpassable some crude steps had been driven into the hillside like wounds, hardly recognisable as such but still serviceable. Finally a path became obvious and darkness drew near just as they could make out a fortified cave entrance.

“This is where they took him, “Gimli stated. “I wonder whether we should have a look inside”

“Maybe you wonder but I am sure a nice welcome party would offer you suitable words,” a dry voice suddenly threw in. The dwarves looked up alarmed and automatically their hands wandered to their axe handles. “This comes a bit too late, Master Dwarves,” the man said good-naturedly. “You should have paid a bit more attention when you searched the traces down where the fight took place and maybe you would have found one print that didn’t match the others.”

Gimli tried to seem unconcerned at the reproach and looked the stranger up and down closely. He was a man whose age was hard to tell as his dark hair showed only light traces of grey. Else his face was weather-hardened and years of outdoor life had left their mark, as well as sorrow and other concerns for sure. But still there was a nobility and sternness in this face that Gimli had not met before. Otherwise his appearance was vigourous and almost youthful. The eyes were of sea grey and still held a trace of amusement in them as well as an unusual amount of awareness. The remaining appearance marked the man a watcher in the wilderness, as his gear was of green and brown leather, all of good quality and made to endure wetness, long distances and possible fighting, all of which this man had seen no doubt The dwarf’s eye rested slightly longer on the longsword that hung at the stranger’s side in a skillfully crafted sheath with no ornament but a single star. Alone the handle showed that a true master had been at work here, its shape so fashioned that it would lie in the fighters hand comfortably. On the other side of the man’s hip humg a long knife of similar fashion and a leather bag was slung across the man’s back.

“Aren’t you one of the wandering folk?" Gimli asked finally.

“We certainly wander around,” the so-asked answered, “even though it is only part of the truth and far from the mark. My name is Halbarad, Dunadan, and the guardianship of the west has been the task of my people since many generations - ever since the Northern Kingdom, which was held by Isildur of Westernesse, came to an end.”  Halbarad’s voice became sad and he cut himself short. “It shall be of no concern to you, Gimli, Gloin’s son.”

The so adressed startled since he had not introduced himself. Halbarad chuckled and seemed to find his sense of humour again. “I have quick eyes and ears, my good dwarf and you have been far too careless for the purpose of your undertaking, so all your conversations could be heard a long way in the wilderness and your trail was easy to follow. When I first found the orc trail not far from yours and the older trail of the two young dwarves which all seemed to lead in the same direction, I was sure that we would meet. I knew of this fortress and it was kind of obvious to me that this is where any prisoners would be taken if they made them.”

Halbarad’s hand suddenly went like lightning to his sheath and in an almost invisible movement he drew his sword. “We have talked too long,” he said grimly. “A welcome comittee. Now you can use your axes”

The ranger had hardly finished speaking when a medium-sized group of orcs came charging out of the cave entrance.

Khazad ai menu!” Gimli cried with a mighty voice and soon only the noise of vigourous fighting could be heard. First the orcs seemed to have the upper hand but the skillfully used blade of Numenor and the battle-experienced axes from under the mountain combined cut down the numbers of the defenders (or attackers, as you would like to see them) to such a small number that the leader of the party decided it was time to retreat. “Don’t let them go!” Halbarad cried. “They will bring back report of our number and strength which no doubt they were sent to test!”

Indeed the dwarves where about to gather themselves and to retreat on their part, when Gimli heard Halbarad and nodded shortly before he charged past the ranger, straight towards the fleeing orc leader – a huge brute almost twice his height and broadly built.

“Silly idiot,” Nari snarled and started to run after his younger friend, but Halbarad held him back. “Stay, good dwarf,” he said kindly, “I fear even the two of you might have trouble with this one - no offence, master warrior, but I’d rather go myself. My blade is of some more use here.” Nari looked doubtfully but then nodded slowly. “If we do get into trouble, however,“ Halbarad added, “then feel free to enter the game.”

This was gracefully accepted and Halbarad followed Gimli who was already engaged in close combat with an opponent he found indeed hard, if not beyond his strength.

“Come now and show your true skill!" Halbarad challenged the orc. “How good are you really, eh?” To this the only answer was a flash of the orc blade and a second long knife suddenly appeared in the creature’s hand. “One for each of you,” it snarled.

With that the fight gained a new dimension which would have almost been enjoyable to watch had it not been so vital. Together the dwarf and the man managed to bring the orc into such a rage that his movements became hasty and uncontrolled, which on the other hand meant greater danger and now and again the orc managed to draw blood, although nothing deep or vital.

Halbarad saw the opening in the orcs side as it came to strike a fierce blow towards himself and called to the dwarf, “Now!” Gimli understood immediately and drove his axe - its blade turned upwards - deep in the orc's side. With a loud shriek that quickly died it crashed to the ground and Halbarad jumped out of its way. When it finally lay still, Halbarad said, slightly out of breath, “That was a mighty blow, Gimli, Gloin’s son – if more of your kind are fighters like you then we can count ourselves lucky to have you on our side in this fight.”

Gimli laughed. “My pleasure to be of service, ranger, but now let’s get away from here to a place wher we can rest – before they send a search troop for these rats here.”

Halbarad could only agree to this and when they were back with the others who welcomed them cheerfully, he said, “As your leader suggested we shall go to a safe camp for the night – the rangers have a shelter not too far from here which as yet has remained undetected by the orcs. Follow me, if you will,”

With these words the ranger led the dwarves slightly south of the orc cave where the mountain slope seemed to be a bit less steep and then further down into a sheltered glen which was greener than the rest of the hill and in which a lusty river ran. Beside the river stood a rough but well built wooden hut with a low stone wall around it. Into this Halbarad led the dwarves, opening the door first and holding it open politely to wave them inside. “It will be a bit crammed but there is space for all,” he said with a wink. “This hut is bigger on the inside than it appears to an outside watcher.”

“I am sure it will be fine and better than many lodgings we had on this rotten journey so far,” Gimli answered good-naturedly. He found Halbarad’s words to be true, not that he had expected anything else. Not only was there room enough for each of them to spread out their bed rolls, but also space for a table and a cooking fire which served as heating as well. Wood was neatly stacked at the wall near the door.

After they had tended their wounds and eaten, the company made ready for a well-earned night’s rest. But before they settled to sleep, Gimli asked from under his blanket, “Will we have a chance to get Frali out, Halbarad? What do you say?”

Halbarad answered soberly, “I will make you no false hope, Gimli, Gloin’s son. This was but a third of the company that is stationed in here and the brute we took  last was not even the best fighter they have here. Five more of us and I would say yes, there is a chance, but as it is…” The ranger shrugged his shoulders. “I fear no, or at least no good chance. I won’t say impossible, but hard no doubt.”

“We will see what the morning brings, “Nari said. “I am sure that you are right, Master Dunadan, but better rest first and then discuss strategies on how to go about this mission, for as we are here to get the lad, we cannae leave him in there.” The last word was underlined with a movement of his head towards the orc cave.

Halbarad chuckled. “I like your attitude, Master Dwarf, and there is some truth in what you say. So we shall follow your advice and rest for today. Put two of you on guard for the first watch and take turns every two hours. After the third change of watch, wake the rest of the sleepers if that suits you?”

Questioningly the ranger looked at Gimli who nodded.

“So it shall be and now may the stars watch over our sleep and keep us safe this night,” Halbarad said and wrapped himself in his blankets.

The night passed without further event and soon after daylight came to the rangers’ valley Nari, who was on guard at the time, woke the remaining sleepers.

“It is time,” the warrior said almost cheerfully.

“So it is, Master Warrior, “ Halbarad said. “Time for food and a bit of thinking.”

Setting action to his words, the ranger took out some food of his bag which was complemented by the dwarves’provision and sat himself at the table. The dwarves joined him, but after a while of silence during which nothing could be heard but the noises of chewing and the occasional clanging of a mug, Gimli asked impatiently, “Now, Master Dunadan, has your thinking come to any result?”

Halbarad looked at the dwarf with amusement and answered in a quiet voice, “I believe so, Master Dwarf, and if you let me finish my meal and clear away the remaining food and the dishes I will let you know what came of it.”

”And what will you do, if I may ask?” Gimli asked undauntedly.

The ranger smiled and answered sweetly, “I will go outside and have a nice smoke. I trust I can leave you the given task?” A slightly raised eyebrow accompanied the question, upon which Halbarad rose and stepped out of the door.

Gimli stood amazed and shook his head, as if he would not believe what he just had witnessed, while the other dwarves had trouble to suppress their laughter. “You heard what he said, “ Gimli snarled. “Best get on with it.”

Still chuckling, the dwarves finished their chore soon and decided to join the man outside and found him sitting on the stone wall, smoking quietly out of an artfully cut pipe with a silver mouthpiece, on which the outlines of the same star as on the sword sheath and a tree could be made out.

“Nice pipe," Gimli remarked.

Halbarad smiled and nodded. “It is indeed, a present of a cousin of mine who lived long in Imladris and was raised by the Half-elven himself. They taught him the art of smithing and working metal in the Elven fashion as well as to wield the weapons they made. Now there is no swordsman or indeed man at all who can compare to him.”

Gimli looked at the ranger whose face had become almost nostalgic and whose voice betrayed respect and affection for the gift giver. “If you speak of him like this, Master Dunadan, then he must be noble indeed. You almost make me wish to meet this man.”

Halbarad smiled and answered thoughtfully, “Maybe you will someday, Master Dwarf. Maybe you will.”

Forcing his thoughts back to the matter at hand, the man of Numenor explained his plan.  “I think we best make sure of the number of orcs that are within the cave and find out where they keep your young friend. So Gimli should come with me and Nari as well, while two others will follow us to assist, should we only be attacked by a small party. If we are taken prisoner or killed, bring back the news.”

Gimli nodded. “I hope it won’t be necessary, Master Dunadan, but it makes sense.”

The company decided to leave the bags in the hut for now and together they made their way back to the cave where Halbarad, Gimli, Nari and the two other dwarves split themselves from the remaining warriors.  The ranger bade them stay near but out of sight of the cave and so they took their leave.

Halbarad led his small band slowly deeper into the mountain and the light that came through the entrance soon faded and vanished, but the dwarves were used to such surroundings and the ranger had obviously no trouble finding his way in the darkness. Noiselessly they followed the corridor and finally the flickering light of torches that were a little distance apart from each other could be made out – a door of some kind.

Halbarad signaled to their rearguard to stay back and motioned Nari and Gimli to come with him, nearer to the doorway. Through it, growling orc voices could be heard. “Bring this mountain beggar and make him fit for a journey. Word has been sent that they want him in the Forest Fortress back north – what for I don’t know. I’ll pick some stout lads to make sure we get there. Somebody put an end to Murgad and his lads up there. Shikrit found them during his night round.”

“May be more beggars, and you know what we do with those," a second voice snarled.

Rough laughter was the answer to that. “Aye, I do. I was there at the mines,” the first speaker said, triumph still audible. “Azog cut off the head of one and his son did in another the following year.”

“All the more reason to put an end to this squealing youngling there,” the second speaker snarled. “I already made him pay for killing Krashnuk.”

“That was well done, Unkal, but see that he reaches the tower – I don’t want to get into trouble with Upstairs for crossing their plans”

Halbarad beckoned to Gimli and Nari to make their way back out of the cave, collecting their rearguard on the way. One of them wanted to open his mouth to ask a question but the ranger whispered. “Later we explain – we better get out of here first.”

Once they reached those who had stayed behind, Halbarad said: “Now, friends, this does make things a bit easier, I must say. It seems that our young friend is to be brought to Mirkwood, to Dol Guldur for questioning.”

Nari looked puzzled at the ranger. “Why does that make things easier, if I may ask?”

“We'll never get him out of there,” Gimli confirmed.

“Which is of course why the orcs must not be allowed to bring him there at all,” Halbarad said slightly exasperated. “What I meant was that it saves us going down and trying to storm through this fortress which would have been foolish anyway. Now they bring Frali out and we will have a smaller number to deal with, a bigger party though than we had that little game with last night, with hand-picked fighters. Hard work to come”

“Ah, that’s what you meant I see,” Gimli said. “Where shall we try the deed?”

Halbarad frowned in thought. “They have to take the prisoner slightly southeast from here down to the river Gladden. I know where they cross the fort to get to Southern Mirkwood. Too far south from here... “

“I would suggest one of the steps, Master Dunadan,“ Nari threw in. “They have to slow down there and go single file.

“Good thought, Master Warrior,” the ranger answered, “then we take the last steep step before they turn off towards the river. They won’t go down too far south on this side of Anduin because of the guard that the Elves keep round Lothlorien.”

Once their mind was made up, the group hurried to return to the hut with their luggage and made their way downhill as quickly as possile to set up position on the step where the assault should take place.

When the company reached their chosen spot Halbarad arranged the position of each dwarf as strategically as possible and what he came up with was something like a circle form, as near as the geography allowed it. Two were above the step on each side of the narrow path and Halbarad was glad that the dwarves were a mountain people and used to such steepness as here. Three the ranger put on each side of the path directly below the step and he decided to stay at Gimli’s side with Nari on the other. These two would move on the same height with himself as central figure.

“We wait until half of the orc company is down the steps with Frali,” Halbarad had explained before they spread out. "You four keep an eye on those that will be still upstairs – knowing the ways of this uncouth folk, they will push and shove each other, quarrelling all along, so you should not have much trouble. Your task will be to keep them out of the fight as long as possible.”

Turning to Gimli, the ranger continued, “You, Gimli, will state your case, since Frali is family of yours – tell them you want him back. I am sure they will refuse, and challenge to fight until noone but Frali is left there – which we will try to avoid but most likely won't succeed at. Hopefully our young friend is in a disposition to assist us in some way, but after what this guard said in the fortress I fear he might be hurt.”

There was nothing left but to wait and the Valar meant well with them since they decided to let the orcs appear not too long after everyone had taken position. By then it was mid-afternoon of a cloudy but dry day in the Misty Mountains.

Everything went as expected, and after a long and bloody fight, during which Nari managed to throw a blade to Frali, so he could join in. Unfortunately the young dwarf lacked his usual agility since there was a leg wound and a cut along his side that hindered him greatly, but nonetheless Frali was of some use.

When the four upper dwarves could no longer restrain the orcs that were with them, they let them join the fight and followed on their part. Being fresher than the rest, they fought with a rage that could easily have led to the downfall of the rescue party if not for the endurance and skill at arms of Halbarad, the ranger of the North. It was he, Gimli and Nari that slew the last remaining orcs while the others took care of Frali, who had collapsed after his last engagement.

Wearily the three returned to the others and now it was again Halbarad, child of lost Numenor, who proved skilled in the healing arts as well.

“All that our young friend needs now is rest, I did what I could,” the ranger said. “I am not as skilled as Aragorn but most of my people know almost as much about tending wounds as afflicting them. The best place to take him is our shelter uphill, for we all need sleep and something to eat.”

This was agreed upon quickly and so the company returned to the hut against their expectations. There they remained for several days until everyone’s hurts, especially Frali’s, were healed enough that the long journey back to the Lonely Mountain could be dared.

“Now we must part, my good dwarves” Halbarad said on the fourth morning after the fight. “As much as I enjoy your company, I fear other duties call me.”

Gimli nodded silently in agreement. “I fear you are right, Master Dunadan, and we are deep in your debt. How can we settle the score? “

“It was a pleasure,” the ranger laughed. “I enjoyed your company as much and it helped our cause as a whole. This hill fortress has long been a thorn in our eye and we knew that it served as camp and reprovision station for Dul Guldur and Moria.”

At this Gimli stirred but didn’t say anything, even though his face grew worried. Then Halbarad turned to Frali, who was still a bit pale but else had regained his strength. “Before our paths split, young one, I would like to know what set you on the road to the mines of Moria, for it is obvious that you were headed that way.”

Frali blushed at this and he answered in a low voice, “I fear it was the old stories, Lord Halbarad. Someone mentioned mithril and other treasure that could be found there of old and called those cowards who would not dare to get them. I …”

Halbarad sighed and continued for the obvously embarassed dwarf, “You felt yourself insulted in your honour by that and decided to prove the speaker wrong. Young one, there is nothing wrong with personal pride and a sense of honour, but there are times when they are in our way and in this case it even cost the life of your friend.”

Frali hung his head. “I shall never forget him. Cori hindered one stabbing me from behind but another one stabbed him almost at the same time, for which I took first his claw and then his life.” The voice of the young dwarf grew grim, “He was a good fighter if nothing else and marked me, but in the end I prevailed.” Blushingly he coninued, “I am afraid I swooned and when I came round I was up in that orc cave.”

Halbarad looked at him kindly and said by way of comforting the young dwarf, “Valiantly done and no need to blame yourself for other than listening to some foolish taunt. I hope you have learned your lesson.”

Frali nodded with a scarlet face and murmured, “That I have, Lord Halbarad, that I have, and I hope you think not ill of me.”

“That I don’t,”Halbarad answered. “You showed good talents and valuable skills which will grow as you get older. Life teaches us such lessons as this, whether we want them or not.”

The ranger smiled and bowed to all the dwaves. “Farewell for now, my good dwarves, and may we meet again in better times.” As he said these words, Halbarad’s eyes rested shortly on Gimli, then he waved, “Namarie!” With that the ranger vanished quickly out of the dwarves' view and was gone.

“A noble lord indeed,” Nari said with his eyes still on the path where the Numenorean had blended into the landscape.

“Aye,” Gimli nodded. “They are a good folk after all and no doubt we will see more of them in years to come. My heart tells me that somehow they might have something more to say in this fight against creatures such as live in the old tower in Southern Mirkwood and their minions.”

Saying so, Gimli turned back to the hut and adressed the other party members who had watched the farewell and bowed in farewell as the Numenorean left.

“Let’s get our gear,” he said. “I want to go back where we belong, to Erebor.”

“Yes,” Frali echoed, “to Erebor!”

 The End