The long darks of Moria were more lit than the last time Eirikr had been through. Even so, the paths seemed more dangerous. The lamps cleverly reflecting the light often allowed the enemy to find easy targets or disappeared from the trail without warning, destroyed or stolen. Eruviel and he often lent their bows to the protection of the caravan and progress was slow despite the Dwarven presence at the many holds along the way. Between the Twenty First Hall and the Second, the paths were more often patrolled by goblin than Dwarf. On the fifth day, Eirikr had found himself grinning with satisfaction as each arrow he loosed hit true. Eruviel commented casually about his improved aim, but her eyes twinkled with her satisfaction. In his mind, Eirikr heard her unspoken words: I told you so, heruamin.
Nonplussed, he smiled as he gazed across another gaping chasm impeding their way. A narrow, but passable, bridge had once extended across the dark expanse before him. Now, all that remained were jagged remnants of that bridge and Brogur informed them the Dwarves were forming a new path around the gigantic crack in the stone. More delays. They did not plague him as they once did, though. He knew every step, not matter how slow, was taking him closer to his goal.
Right now, it was getting out of Moria. He was tired of the dark and reflected light. Tired of wondering if the next ambush would be orcs and goblins or something even more sinister. Tired of the echoes and tired of the feel of stone. Green. He wanted to see something green and growing.
Nonetheless, as he stood at the broken bridge, he smiled. The sight inspired awe, as so much of the Dwarven architecture did and he kept his spirits up by admiring the work of hands from Ages go. Man in all his pompous grandeur could not hold a candle to the stonework of the Dwarves.
The caravan began moving out; Eruviel rode up beside him leading his own mount.
“Ready, heruamin?” she asked softly.
Nodding, he strode over to her and took the offered reins. “It is unfortunate the bridge is down. I cannot imagine how marvelous it was.”
Eruviel mirrored his nod. “I agree. It was a sight to behold. Perhaps they will rebuild one day.”
They rode in comfortable silence with bows and arrows across their laps. The bridge had once joined the Second Hall with the First, but now a narrow footpath barely revealed itself along the edge of the chasm. Carefully, they picked their way around and finally found solid footing on the other side.
Norlin directed his wagon beside them once the road widened. “Master Eirikr and Mistress Eruviel! Ye ready for the sun?” the portly Dwarf quipped.
Eruviel smiled and said, “I do think the feel of its warmth is long overdue.”
“Hopefully, it will be daylight when we emerge out the East Gates. If not…well the Mirrormere is no less stunning by the light of the stars.” Norlin shifted on his bench and dropped the reins long enough to light a pipe. They turned down a passage lined with towering columns on either side. “Won’t be long now ’til we’ll see for ourselves.”
Eirikr turned from the columns to peer down the long passageway. As they drew closer, he began to make out the East doors out of the mountain guarded on either side by axe-wielding Dwarves.
“At last,” he murmured.
Slowly, with much clamouring, the caravan made its way out of the kingdom beneath the mountain. They left the rented goats with the Dwarves at the Eastern Stable and trailed after the last wagon, alert and ready. When finally they stepped over the threshold, Eirikr felt the cool air on his face and he breathed deeply. He looked up at the sky.
It was indeed night, but Norlin had not misspoken. As Eirikr walked down the steps and approached the Dwarven camp established outside the doors, his breath was stolen by the sight of a million stars twinkling in the crystalline surface of the lake. Leaving Eruviel behind, he made his way through the Dwarves stirring at the arrival of visitors and found himself at the edge of land and water. He turned back and looked at the mountains. Celebdil loomed and the door soared. A full moon sank over toward the peaks and again, Eirikr smiled.
Goal: get out of Moria? Achieved.
* * *
“What do you mean, they won’t let me in?”
Eirikr stared at the stablemaster incredulously. Thalamb, an extremely stern-featured Elf with his light brown hair knotted carefully on the crown of his head, stared right back.
“We protect our borders with the utmost care, Master Tenorbekk. And while Miss Aranduin may have…some connection with our people, the times require extra caution.”
Eirikr tried to surpress the indignant huff in his lungs.
“There must be something we can do to win the trust of the Lord and Lady, yaaraaer,” Eruviel politely interjected.
“The path between here and the Golden City is dangerous,” Thalamb answered cryptically.
“What about the caravan? Why are they allowed in?” Eirikr asked. He ran a hand through his coppery hair and looked over his shoulder at the wagons and goats.
“I assume they have permission. A delivery, perhaps. It is not my concern.”
Eruviel placed a gentle, but warning hand on Eirikr’s arm. “Yaaraaer, I beg your pardon, but is there nothing we can do to prove our loyalty to the Lord and Lady?”
Thalamb turned his dark brown eyes on his fellow Elf. “There might be. There are several orc camps between here and Echad Andestel. They will be a problem for the Dwarves. Prove you do not serve the Enemy and bring ten spent Elvish arrows each to Celeguien. That will be a start.”
Eirikr blinked. “Elvish arrows? What would Elvish arrows be doing in an orc camp?”
The Elf gave Eirikr what could have been a glare if glaring at Men was not so far beneath him. “The sentinels of Lorien do not allow the Shadow to spread unchecked. Supplies are limited, however, and the incursions come quicker than our fletchers can replenish them. Every arrow is valuable. Every arrow recovered is another dead orc.”
Eirikr met the Elf’s gaze without wavering. “Then recover them we shall. Eruviel?”
He turned and quickly trotted after the caravan. Eruviel took the time to bow low before she backed away to follow him. He barely tried to suppress the snort and had an inkling the self-important Elf heard it.
“Eirikr,” Eruviel said as she caught up with him, “I know the stable master seemed…haughty, but what he speaks is true. The Golden Wood rarely sees visitors for most people feared Lady Galadriel.”
“Hm. Yes, they call her a witch and kept their distance from the borders.”
Eruviel raised a brow. “You do not fear her, then? Despite the legends?”
The pair quickly passed the caravan as it slowly lumbered down the road. As they crested a slight rise in the land, the first orc camp reported its position with the rise of shadowy black smoke. Eirikr nocked his arrow and dropped low. Eruviel turned to gesture to the Dwarves at the front of the caravan and a quiet word spread quickly to halt. “Four, five.” He counted beneath his breath. “At least five patrolling. It is heavily guarded.”
“It will be a challenge, indeed.” Eruviel strung her bow beside him and looked up at him. “Are you ready, heruamin?”
Nodding, he softly responded to her previous inquiry: “No, sister. I do not fear legends when what is before me is worse than any terrible tale spread by ignorance. But I am ready to shed light on the shadows and dispel the fear.
I am ready.”