The sun bore down upon them as they stood on the cliff overlooking the Bruinen. Far below their feet, the river picked up speed as it veered southwest to join with the Greyflood. Eirikr had awoken to find the settlement of Gwingris full of purposeful activity and the sun hanging high on the verge of noontime. At first, anxiety grasped him as the first thought that entered his mind was a threat; could Eruviel have forgotten him in the press of an attack? Only when he saw her across the way speaking with the provisioner did his pulse slow and he was able to breathe again.
The provisioner, Thillosil, approached them holding a carefully wrapped bundle. Eruviel turned and accepted it with a smile and exchanged quiet words with her in Sindarin, shooting an occasional glance at Eirikr’s back. Though he could understand their words if he wished to do so, Eirikr did not bother with trying to listen. He could guess the thread of their conversation and he had little interest in addressing their concerns.
Thillosil nodded to Eruviel and retreated with a bow. Turning back to him, Eruviel clasped the bundle of supplies to her and said, “I am sorry if you did not wish to sleep in this morning, heruamin. I felt it beneficial that you rest.”
Eirikr grunted. He knew she spoke truth.
Eruviel smiled; only the curve of her cheek shifted enough to reveal the change of expression. Eirikr felt her amusement more than he saw it as he turned to look at her. Any irritation he felt at the time lost dissolved around him and he found himself chuckling as he ran a hand through his hair.
“It was,” he admitted as he looked down at the package. “Supplies?”
Nodding, Eruviel turned away from the river and led him to the stable. “If we ride hard, we should make the Walls of Moria soon. I’ve secured steeds to Echad Dunann since we left our horses with Candelleth. We can’t take horses into Moria, though. Still, it is the safer route now that the Dwarves are reclaiming their halls.”
Eirikr looked north to where he left Kvígr with the small Elven camp in the southern Trollshaws. “You still believe the time lost through the mines is worth it?”
Eruviel nodded. “The High Pass is no longer passable. There is little other choice now.”
Setbacks. Delays. He knew the obstacles served their purposes—he needed that sleep if he was honest with himself—but he longed to see the end of their journey.
“All right. Through the darks of Moria it is.”
Again, a small smile curved Eruviel’s lips. “It is not so dark any more. We will not be going through the darkest deeps, at least. Come, heruamin. Let us go.”
They mounted their borrowed steeds and set off. Sticking to the paths, they covered ground quickly, their horses’ hooves thundering through the wild lands as they passed beneath the ancient trees. As the holly and oak fell away, so did the path and Eirikr relied on Eruviel to navigate ever south through the dry river beds cutting across the land. Their passage startled more than one wild creature. As a lynx darted out of a shallow gully, his thoughts flashed to Anya and he wondered briefly how his sister fared back in Bree.
South of Echad Eregion, they found the road again though it often faded into a worn footpath. At the edge of a river long dried up, the stone road branched east and west. They took the eastern road and Eirikr could no longer ignore the towering mountains in the distance. As they grew, a darkness in his heart struggled to resurface. He thought of the poison left to the wilds near Thorenhad. He saw his father’s face. He recalled the dark gloom of the paths through the mountain.
Steeling himself, he looked up at the mountain as the sun sank behind him. He knew the goblins and twisted passageways were not the worst things that stood in his way.