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A Family Tale

Story Collection: 
Chapter 1 - A Rare Interlude At Home

Part 1

The Moon was rising over Herbroke, as Ariana rode her Pale horse through the north gate following the road running though the dark streets . The village located to the South-East of the Town of Bree was still, but not silent as the sounds of music and merrymaking could be heard to the south. Ariana let out a whoop as she saw the flash and bangs of green and gold fireworks launching into the night sky illuminating briefly dancing figures outside a large building to the south.

‘Sounds like a good party,’ she thought to herself, ‘ The Grey Guard will be suffering from sore heads tomorrow morning’.

The Minstrel reined her horse to a stop as she thought over her options, should she go straight to the party, or quickly have a change of clothes and freshen up?. Vanity won out as she looked at her mud-splattered leathers, and she turned the horse away from the kinhouse towards a house nearby high on a hill.

Ariana dismounted from her horse and tied the reins to the arm of a nearby weather stained statue of a dwarf soldier, the other arm perpetually raised in greeting, then she walked up the door of the single storey home. Faint light could be seen through the curtains, ‘Someone’s home!’ she muttered to herself. Trying the door she found it locked, but quickly located a key from her pack and opened the door into the building.

The door opened into a large comfortable room, dominated by a large table as always strewn with maps, wood was smouldering in the fireplace in the corner and a smell of pipeweed was in the air. She spotted a small figure sitting at the table looking to be deep in thought, a dwarf with a thick braided golden beard,a full head of hair, piercing green eyes, clad in dark, heavy armour, drinking an ale she guessed he’d poured from the new addition in the room, a large Beer Keg. Arianas initial thought was how tired the figure looked.

‘I see you’ve found another one of those ugly things’ Ariana said with with a grin as she spotted yet another Troll’s Head mounted to the far wall.

‘What!’ the dwarf stood up with a start,’ Ariana! Come on in, don’t stand there in the doorway letting out all the heat, take a seat and join me for a beer’.

Ariana sat down as the dwarf with effort stood up, crossed the room and poured ale to the brim of a large tankard, before placing it in front of the woman, and returning to his chair.

The Minstrel took a sip of the ale and almost spat the evil brew back out, ‘By the Valar, where did you get this from Thradin!’. The dwarf, Thradin, ignored the comment and took another swig of his own brew. Outside there was another flash, followed by the bang from another firework, ‘Thradin, there is a party at the Kin house, and your sitting here, alone in the dark. Go and change out of that armour, then go over and have a good time. Take your instruments and join those hobbits and the rest in their partying. I bet Nidi will be unconscious soon and you both enjoy your musical sessions!’

Ariana’s smile faded as she saw the expression on Thradin’s face, she’d never seen him looking so tired and dejected. ‘Thradin, tell me what’s wrong?’ she said in a soft voice.
‘My father is 193 years old today!’ Thradin lifted his ale jug and took a hefty swig.
The Minstrel leaned closer to the Dwarf, smelling the sour ale on his breath ‘We are friends, and the closest I have to a family since my parents and home were destroyed by those bandits at Archet, if there is something you want off your chest, please tell me.’
‘Its complicated’, Thradin muttered.
‘Then start at the beginning, tell me about your father’.

Part 2

Thradin hesitated for a moment, sighed, and then began to speak in his deep, gruff voice ‘The Ravenstones, my family were the keepers and guardians of the Ravens of the Lonely Mountain. Durin’s folk had a friendship with these birds and were able to speak and understand their language, they were used as messengers between the many dwarven colonies. Many generations of my family maintained a vigil in a guardhouse on the slopes, until the day that Smaug came. My grandfather was the Guardian at the time, and with a handful of dwarves escaped the slaughter that happened inside the Lonely Mountain. He and other refugees sought sanctuary with the Dwarves at the Iron Hills, and began a new life there.

In time my father, Thyrdin, and then later myself, were born in these halls, and I grew up under my fathers harsh tutorage. As a young dwarf I began to hear that Thorin and other of our folk had established halls in Ered Luin. I was eager that our family travel to Thorins Halls and rejoin our kin, but both my grandfather and father were settled in the Iron Hills. Rashly, I disobeyed them both and left with the first Trading Caravans heading west.

After a long and arduous journey I arrived in Ered Luin, was welcomed in the halls, and spent my time there training in the arts of warfare and smithing. It was a pleasant time, but my life changed again the day that Gandalf, Thorin and Company set off from the halls on a journey to the Shire to find a burglar to help steal back their treasure from Smaug. I of course asked Thorin if I could join them, but was told, rightly, that I was too young.’

‘That was over 80 years ago!’ Ariana exclaimed, ‘I didn’t realise you were that old.’

‘And I’ve plenty of time left to me yet!’ replied Thradin with a smile,’ Of course what then happened has become legend, being a minstrel I bet you know that tale, the Great Goblin was killed, Thorin and Company escaped from the Wood Elves , Smaug was slain by Bard and that adventure concluded with the Battle of the Five Armies....

Dain sent an army to support Thorin at the Lonely Mountain and both my Grandfather and Father were present in this force, the battle was fierce and almost lost. My Grandfather was slain, and my Father lost an arm to an Orc Chieftain. Thorin died also in that battle and Dain was declared King Under the Mountain. When news reached us at Thorins Halls, I set off straight away to the Lonely Mountain for my Grandfathers funeral.

The journey was clear (the north was cleared of Orcs by the battle and the Necromancer was driven from Mirkwood ), and I was re-united with my wounded Father. In time he fully recovered and became a mighty smith, earning the name ‘Thoradin Strong-arm’.

For the next 50 years the folk of the Lonely Mountain grew strong and numerous, and there was a belief that we were strong enough to re-take and re-settle Moria. Balin put together a group and my father was chosen to accompany them due to his skill in smithing. Again, I asked to travel with Balin, but my father forbade me, saying this was a dangerous expedition and a desperate venture, saying I also lacked the experience to face its horrors. I grew angry with my father we parted with harsh words. For 5 years we heard reports from Moria that Balin had secured the East gate, driven out the Orcs and started mining Mithril, but then the reports stopped. That was 25 years ago’

Thradin took another long swig from his ale and glanced at the maps on the table in front of him, his eyes focusing on an area of the Misty Mountains south of Rivendell.

‘So what did you do next? And why did you return to the West of Middle Earth?’ Ariana enquired…

Part 3

Thradin smiled, 'I was outspoken at the Lonely Mountain about the fate of Balins expedition to Moria. I asked Dain to send a 2nd force to investigate why we no longer recieved news from the ancient home of our fathers but he refused. So....I formed a group anyway. A group of us wanting to know Morias fate set off, skirting round the edge of Mirkwood and then south following the Anduin towards the Dimrill Dale. As we camped at the edge of Lothlorien one night we spied a Raven flying directly to us. Dain had sent this Raven to pass on some urgent instructions to us all. Messangers from Mordor had been coming to the Lonely Mountain and Dale asking questions about Hobbits and Thorins group all those years ago, offering rings such as Sauron gave of old. Dain wanted those Dwarves to be warned that Mordor was asking after them, and asked as we were so close, to leave Moria for now and head west. With a heavy heart we crossed the Dimrill Pass and crossed west to warn Dwalin at Thorins Halls.'

Ariana nodded,'So you headed west and got involved in the recent events in the west then..?'

'Yes' Thradin replied 'I became involved with the Skorgrim Dourhand affair at Thorins Hall and the rest is history. I was recruited by one of the Grey Guards founders, the dwarf Hanrik, back in Evendim and since then have been fighting to keep these west lands safe. I've fought in Goblin Town, Angmar and Forochel to name a few lands, but i've been seeking a way into Moria. The passes are snowed out at the moment but as soon as they are clear, i hope to find my father in Moria and learn of his fate.'

'I'll come with you if i can Thradin', Ariana replied,' and i'm sure the Grey Guard wil support you on this.'

'I hope so, I hope so..' Thradin yawned and his eyes began to droop, and seconds later he began to snore.

'Goodnight Thradin' Ariana said quietly, carefully placing a blanket over his sleeping form and closing the door to the house behind her, leaving Thradin to have a rare moment of peace....

Part 4

Early the next morning, Ariana returned to Thradins home. She opened the door onto a scene of chaos, papers everywhere, various clothing and armours covering most of the floor space, foodstuffs strewn across the tables, and in the centre of it all was Thradin pacing around sorting through the various piles

'Ah...morning Ariana', he boomed,' Now since your here, can you sort these into order for me'. Thradin passed a sheef of parchments to Ariana, she glanced at them noting they appeared to be some sort of crafting recipes.
'And morning to you Thradin', she replied, taking a seat and setting the recipes down. 'You seem busy, what are you doing?' she inquired.

'I'm getting ready for a long journey,' Thradin replied,' i've been catching up on my mail, and had some mixed news...where did i put that envelope...oh yes, here it is'

Thradin passed the Minstrel an envelope that was sitting on a bookshelf. Ariana removed and unfolded the letter from the open envelope, the handwriting was ornate with bold strokes ( an Elven hand she thought ) dated within the last week.

'Master Thradin,' Ariana read, ' I bring you tidings, some good and some bad. The Goblins are returning to the Misty Mountains in increased numbers and threatened to overflow into Eriador, but with the aid of fellow members of the Grey Guard, we have thinned their numbers somewhat considerably, and slain their leaders, yet with the speed they reproduce, they are still dangerous.

At least for now, Amarthiel is no longer a threat, and there are no more signs of the Nazgul troubling these lands, but these events as you know are far from over.

It also seems the Fellowship have travelled south making for the Dimril Dale, but i've seen strange omens, un-natural weather, deliberate landslides and blocked roads. Agents of Sauron are watching the passes, i fear Gandalf may be forced to take them the path through Khazad-Dum, the dark place my people call Moria.

I have made my camp near Eregion, and sent Cornelius to you with this news. I'm sure that he will make it through the dangers of these lands to deliver this message to you and seek your aid. He has instructions to leave you this letter, and will seek lodging at the Prancing Pony if you need to speak to him.

Your axe is needed!

Your faithful companion,

Elrich of Lorien.'

'Interesting news Thradin', Ariana smiled, ' if the Fellowship are forced to enter Moria, you believe they will find your father?'
'Yes Ariana, although i am troubled that the agents of Evil may follow and threaten the Moria colony, also Narchuil was last seen not far from the Gates of Moria.'
'So you are heading to Moria then?'
'Yes,i'm leaving today, I've tarried too long in these lands and my axe-edge grows dull.'

Together the human and dwarf worked together, sorting out the goods, food, and equipment and by mid-morning Thradin's grey pony was fully loaded with gear.

'Ariana, thank you for all your help.' Thradin said,' and if i set off now, i should make the Forsaken Inn by nightfall'.
'Look after yourself Thradin, remember that you don't have to do this alone. I'll finish my affairs here and will follow after you, ill contact Cornelius is in Bree, and persuade that little hobbit to travel with me'. Ariana winked.
'Your right Ariana...i'll pay the Kinhouse a visit on the way out of Herbroke. I'm sure Eiadric, Tilda and Glotka to name but a few will be willing to join me on this.'

Thradin climbed up onto his already over-burdened pony and with a shout of ' Farewell !' rode the pony at a canter down the hill away from the Minstrel until he turned out of sight.

Ariana sighed and muttered 'Be careful Thradin' before returning back inside the house to start the clearing up..

Chapter 2 - A Sad Discovery

Part 1

Thradin stood in large square chamber, dimly lit, rubble filling the east side of the room. His head was bowed before an oblong block, upon which was laid a great white slab of stone, on which was graven 'BALIN FUNDINUL UZBAD KHAZAD-DÛMU'

'So Balin's Colony failed, and my father died with that dream', the dwarf said quietly,'as we moved deeper into Moria, i lost all hope that they were still alive. Now i see the final proof with my own eyes.'

A tall, heavy-armoured human placed a hand on the dwarfs shoulder, 'Yet someone survived to build this tomb Thradin.'

'Yes Glotka, but it seems as if the final battle for survival of the colony may have been played out in this room'

The western floor of the room was covered in the remains of both orcs and dwarves - broken swords and axes, cloven shields and helms, and many bones. The eastern half was buried in rocks and masonry.

As the pair moved quietly through the room, Thradin noticed that some of the Orc kills were recent, 'Here Glotka', he pointed to the remains of a large orc chieftan, clad in black mail with a cloven head, the rotting flesh giving off a vile stench, 'I'd say this Orc was slain within the last couple of weeks.' Thradin pointed to another body half buried under the rubble, 'and another fresh kill UNDER the rubble. That means this collapse is also recent'.

'Strange signs Thradin, and i must agree, i would say the Orc-foes fled east and collapsed the tunnel behind them.'

'It has to be the Nine, none other have passed so recently.'

Glotka nodded,'So what now Thradin? You came here with questions, and have found answers.'

Thradin looked up at Glotka with fire in his eyes, 'I have not seen my fathers body here, and with his distinctive armour and war-wounds, i would know him anywhere. He may be buried under this rubble, and once i've had my revenge, i'll dig every dwarf body out of this mess and lay them to rest properly.'

'Revenge?'

'Revenge!', Thradin shouted, his eyes blazing,' I'll not rest until every Orc from Moria and Mordor lies dead at my feet! They will feel the bite of my axe, and i'll smash their bones to splinters with my Hammer!'

'You can count on my swords Thradin', Glotka bowed his head before the angry dwarf, 'and we will do what we can to clean the orc-filth from these ancient halls.'

Thradin lifted his axe into the air and shouted at the top of his voice, 'I will reforge you anew, and name you 'Felak-Rakhâs', Hewer of Orcs in the language of my folk, and you will make the them pay for what they have done to the folk of Durin!'.

Thradin lowered his axe, and kneeled before Balin's tombstone, speaking a few words in the language of his folk, before leaving with Glotka through the west gate of the room back into the dark of Moria...

Part 2

The defense was going badly, the Orcs had retaken the 21st Hall and driven the defenders towards the north arch. There was a brief pause in the action as the Orcs regrouped in the darkness, and the defenders prepared themselves for the next attack.

Thradin's eyes gleamed red among the torchlights, a look of determination upon his face, his shield and armour dented, orc blood dripping from his axe. He studied his fellow defenders, a mixture of the Dwarf Expedition Force and adventurers caught up in the attack. Reaching into his pack, he found one of his few remaining Athelas potions, and offered it to a wounded human fighter, who accepted it with thanks.

In the darkness the Orc's drums began once more, and they began to chant, 'Mazog! Mazog! Mazog!'. In an attempt to counter the song and raise spirits, an elven Minstrel among Thradin's group began to sing a Ballad, a story of Beren and Luthien. The defenders took positions at the temporary barracade at the northern arch and prepared for the next attack.

With a scream, the Orcs charged , crashing into the defenders. Thradin's axe sang in the darkness, arrows flashed past as they flew between the two sides, but for every Orc slain, two more ran up to take their place.

The defenders were slowly being driven back, towards the Chamber of Mazarbul where there was no exit, Thradin knew that if they were driven there they would never leave there alive, so he looked for options.

He spotted a great armoured Uruk-Chief, that was shouting commands to the Orc force, flanked by two trolls,' I'm going for the leader!', Thradin shouted to his fellow defenders, and with a mighty cry, forced his way past the Orc line with a Shield Bash, and charged at the Chieftain. A pair of elven archers, provided covering fire as Thradin charged, and the Dwarf saw one of the trolls fall to the ground clutching at the arrows in its neck. Ducking under the other trolls blow, the dwarf caught the Uruk-Chief with his shield, knocking him back several feet.

The Uruk grinned an evil smile , spat a mouthful of black blood at the Dwarf, then shouted to his followers, ' Leave the Dwarf to me, I want the pleasure of this kill!'. The dwarf smiled, calmly slinging his shield to his back, and lifting up his two-handed axe, as he readied himself for the duel.

Thradin fought one of the hardest fights of his life,as the Uruk was truly skilled in the arts of warfare, his armour was almost impenetrable, and he had the strength of many men, but the dwarves heart burned with the thought of revenge, and every blow was countered by a fierce retort. His axe at first cleaved a wound in the Uruks leg, then the uruks arm, and finally with a mighty shout of 'Thoradin!', the Dwarf swung the axe in a mighty arc onto the Uruks head. The Uruk dropped to the ground with a mighty crash, and the chamber fell silent.

Without the commands from the Uruk, the Orcs had become disorganised, and the defenders had been able to pick them off one by one . Now with the fall of the Chief, the Orcs howled in dismay and fled in terror as the defenders sallied forth with a mighty cheer, driving them across the 21st Hall, cutting them down as they ran.

Thradin stood there alone catching his breath, his desire for revenge still felt unsated, and in anger kicked the body of the Uruk-Chief. To his surprise the Uruk groaned. Looking closer, Thradin saw that the final axe blow to the Uruks head had been prevented from being fatal by the strong design of the its helm, yet it was enough of a blow to knock it senseless. He dragged the senseless body over to a pillar and secured the Uruk to it with strong-rope from his pack.

Forcing the last of his Athelas potions down the Uruk's throat, the orc coughed and spluttered as he came too.

'Now you piece of filth', said Thradin, 'We are going to have a little talk about Balin's Colony, mainly about the fate of my father'.

'I'm not telling you anything, Beardling', growled the Uruk.

Thradin grinned an evil smile, and reaching down to his belt he unhooked his hand-axe, 'This axe i have named 'Thoradin's Revenge!' after my father,' Thradin said,' It has slain many Orcs, and let me introduce you to it....'

Part 3

In hindsight Durin's Stone was not the best choice of a meeting place, but after a short battle, Thradin and his companions were victorious against the orc band that had foolishly set up camp at this hallowed place. Thradin reluctantly turned away from the sight of the stars reflected in Kheled-zaram, his heart lifted by the sight of the Crown of Durin, and faced his comrades. The laconic elf, Elrich, was recovering his arrows from the orc-bodies, the hobbit scholar Cornelius was examining and making a sketch of Durin's Stone in his sketch book, and the woman minstrel Ariana was cleaning the black orc blood from her sword blade using a scrap of cloth.
'Well fought all!' Thradin shouted to his companions,'But now to the business at hand!
As you are aware, i've heard rumours that some dwarves were taken prisoner from Balin's company for questioning and as slave labour for the foul orcs. I captured an Uruk leader in the assault upon the 21st Hall and after some..persuasion..he confirmed this was the case'
'So you tortured him.' Elrich stated flatly.
'Yes' Thradin muttered,' I'm not proud of what i've done, but if you were in my position what would you do?'
Ariana looked sadly at the dwarf, 'We understand Thradin, especially myself being a survivor of Archet, but be careful about revenge Thradin, as it is said that the tree of revenge does not bear fruit.'
Thradin nodded at the wise words,' True Ariana, so I sought confirmation of the Uruks words. After a great deal of work showing i could be trusted by the elves, i was finally allowed an audience with the Elf-Witch of Lorien. Looking into her Mirror i saw visions of faraway lands and strange omens, but the Mirror also showed me my father chained up in some dark Orc cell!'
'Be wary of those visions', Cornelius warned, a look of worry on his face,'My research shows that not all such visions come to pass, some may have already happened or are yet to happen...and the mirror may not show the whole picture, indeed it may only show your desires, in your case, your desire that your father lives.'
Elrich spoke up,'I was a native of Lorien, so i know that Galadriel can be trusted, but she may be showing you these visions for her own purposes.'
'But if there is a chance my father is alive then i will do all i can find him!', Thradin's eyes flashed for a moment with anger,and he bowed his head for a moment and composed himself once more,'but I want to thank you all for your hard work, all of you have passed through Moria and gained the trust of Galadriel, i've seen you all grow strong in your own particular ways...and now I believe that we are skilled enough to seek our next goal, which is to rescue the captives of Dol Guldur, my father among them if that is where he is captive.'
His companions blanched at the Dwarves words, they had heard tales of the Orc Fortress in South Mirkwood, once home of the Necromancer, and knew that it was a place of great evil.
'For now, spend time in Lorien, Cornelius and Ariana, keep your ear to the ground, see what you can find out about Dol Guldur and its defences, Elrich can you scout ahead and keep an eye on orc movements, use your native knowledge of the land to our advantage.'
'And what are your intentions?' Cornelius asked.
'I am going to war my young friend,' Thradin smiled,'Those orcs will not know what is coming!.'
The group talked, ate and made plans until the dawn, and as the sun rose above the Golden Wood, they recovered their mounts and rode east...to Lothlorien.

Chapter 3 - Standing at the edge

Part 1

The heat was intensive and Ariana could feel her cloak beginning to smoulder. Drawing up all her reserves of courage, she leapt through the window, scattering broken glass across the street. The night was lit up like a one of Gandalf's legendary firework shows as the town of Archet slowly burned. One of a group of darkly clad figures, framed by firelight, gave a yell and collectively they came running towards the fallen minstrel, weapons drawn, a look of murder in their eyes. Bruised and singed, Ariana pulled herself up to her feet, drawing her own stolen blade, and prepared for a fight for the death, and screamed words of defiance back at her attackers....

and she awoke with a yell.

'Bad dreams again?'

Disorientated, Ariana sought the source of the comment. As she fought back to wakefulness, she remembered where she was, sleeping high on a flet in Lorien, overlooking the west bank of the Anduin. It was very late, maybe a few hours before dawn. The dwarf Thradin was standing close to the edge of the flet, almost a shadow in the darkness, the pale glow of his pipe lighting up his face.

'Yes Thradin'. Ariana stood up and pulled her lorien grey-cloak closer to her, feeling the chill of the night, 'Ironic isn't it, even in Lothlorien I cannot escape my nightmares.' She drew nearer to Thradin, peering over the edge of the flet at the fast flowing water.

'Any news of the others?', she asked.

The Dwarf shook his head, 'Not a word, although i thought i heard fighting on the eastern bank not long before you awoke.'

Ariana opened her pack, broke off some lembas, and thoughtfuly chewed the elven bread, offering Thradin a piece. The dwarf declined. 'He looks worried' thought Ariana,' and rightly so,' as she also looked east, towards the dark forest of Mirkwood and waited....

A whistle from below made Ariana jump, smiling she looked over at the dwarf who looked relieved. The elf, Elrich's pale head emerged from the hole in the flet, climbing the rope ladder to join his colleagues, followed by a shivering hobbit. Both were clothed in elven grey and were soaking wet, dripping water onto the wooden floor.

'Atchooo!' sneezed the poor hobbit, Cornelius, looking miserable as he sat down, but happily accepted a warm banket from the minstrel.

Elrich seemed unaffected, removed his wet cloak and, as ever, came straight to the point,

'Many orcs patrol the east bank.'

'Yes!' piped in Cornelius, 'Hundreds of them, maybe thousands! We were lucky to escape with our lives. I guess its lucky that orcs cann't swim too well. I of course am very glad of my many lessons in Lake Evendim, swimming across that lake..although swimming across a lake is very different than swimming a river. Now, if it wasnt for my idea of using a log to...'

'Good work both of you!', interupted Thradin, and looking at Elrich, 'Did you find any paths or trails that would lead into the forest?'

'No. They are all being watched. The enemy is indeed vigilant and preparing for war,' replied the grey-clad elf.

'Damn it!' cursed the Dwarf, 'Looks like we may have to find another way into Mirkwood.'

Part 2

Five more bodies were found again before dawn, and again upon each headless corpse, a single Mallorn leaf was found among the gore, placed there deliberately by the killers.
The Captain of this stretch of defences along the east bank of the Anduin, Oglok, could smell the fear that was spreading through his troops. His orders were simple, hold the east bank, watch for anyone trying to cross the Great River, and kill them. His Orcs were crack-shots withy a Bow, and were picked for their acute vision, and yet over the last few weeks, he found bands of his troops slaughtered in the night, with the leaves of that cursed elf-wood found with the bodies.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was also losing troops to desertion. Only earlier that night he caught and slew three orcs running from their posts, fearful of becoming the next victims of these mysterious attackers.
How in the name of the Great Eye were they crossing the river without being spotted? And yet the evidence of the line of Orc heads spotted on poles along the western bank told Oglok this was happening.
‘Worm!’ the captain shouted to one of his many trackers, picking through the signs of the battle, ‘what ‘ave you found out?’
‘I’d say an ‘andfull of attackers Chief, our boys ‘ere were killed by arrows, axes and knives, and looking at the marks on the ground, this aint a large force’ the small orc replied.
‘Axes? It’s a rare elf that carries an axe! Find out where these folk are coming from before I kill you all and do the job myself!’
Oglok looked up at the first signs of the sun rising with its light coming through the canopy at the edge of Mirkwood, shielding his eyes with his hand, he headed away towards the darker part of the forest back to his camp…..

Cornelius has to admit it was an ingenious idea. All attacks across the river were repelled by orc archers, so the dwarf Thradin decided to build a tunnel underneath the Great River. With several dwarves he had recruited in Moria, and with friends among The Grey Guard, after a few weeks the tunnel was completed. Thradin had explained to Cornelius that it was relatively easy work, digging through clay rather than stone. Cornelius, with the man and woman Invictus and Ariana, had spent the time running between Caras Galadhron, running supplies to Thradin’s camp at the base of a flet along the western shore. The elf Elrich, spent the time ‘fishing’, although what he was really doing under the watchful eye of the orc observers was measuring the depths of the Anduin along which the tunnel would run.

The Elves of Lothlorien were not happy at first when they discovered the mining operation, but Thradin had persuaded them to his point of view with a simple set of designs. Firstly the way into the tunnel was accessed by a narrow pit, a rope ladder leading down, and thus easily defended. Secondly like most dwarven constructions, the exits would be designed to look like the environment around them, only a very close examination would spot it. And last but not least, the tunnel was designed to be a mini-maze, a wrong turn would trigger a trap, which would cause the river above the come crashing down onto the unfortunate victim.

Cornelius had been through the tunnel a several times since it was finished, and although it was deemed safe by the Dwarves, he was careful to stay close to a dwarf, half expecting the narrow, damp, dripping tunnel to come crashing down at any second.

Every night was a similar story, Thradin led a group though the tunnel, they would emerge in darkness behind the orc lines, killing one of the patrols or supply trains, taking their heads and leaving a Mallorn leaf on each body, before heading back to the tunnel.

Invictus was used to this form of warfare, having been a man of Gondor using these tactics to effect in Ithilien. He had advised that eventually the enemy would lose heart, and then a quick attack could break them, the tactic so far seemed to be working.

Yet there was elements of the plan only Thradin alone seemed to know, Cornelius once out of curiosity opened one of the supply boxes he was taking to Thradins camp, and to his surprise found it full of fireworks, asking the dwarf about it, Thradin had replied ‘I want to give those orcs a party they will never forget!’

Absently thinking about the fireworks, Cornelius got to work that morning, adding another five orcs heads to the ever growing line along the west bank…

Part 3

‘3! 2! 1! Ride!’
Blowing his horn, Invictus spurred his horse into the forest, leading at the head a large column of mounted Grey Guards, riding east, into the very edge of Mirkwood. As the company reached the edge of the orc-defences a storm of black-orc arrows met the charge, Invictus’ horse was one of the first to succumb. His mount went crashing under him, and the Captain hit the ground hard
Luckily, as he rolled to a stop, the column of horses following him avoided his fallen body, riding skilfully past him further into the darkness of the forest. Pulling himself painfully back to his feet, he gave three further blasts of his horn before diving for cover behind a fallen log as the orc-archers converged on his position…
Earlier that evening, the Grey Guards had launched a series of fireworks near the Vineyards of Lorien, this was the signal for another Grey Guard team to begin their assault. Now, further to the north, the sound of the triple horn-blasts reached the dwarf Thradin’s ears, his company waiting just below the ajar secret-east exit of the river tunnel that traversed the Anduin. This was the signal for them to move.
The small team climbed up out of the tunnel and moved quietly into the wood, their grey-elf cloaks making them almost seem almost like shadows in the early dawn light. The woman Ariana remained, keeping lookout from the tunnel exit, watching until the dwarf, hobbit and elf vanished into the gloom. As they slowly headed east, the elf Elrich, with his excellent hearing and sight, kept giving the team signals to crouch down and stop, avoiding the orc patrols running south to investigate all the noise that filled the morning air. It was impossible not to hear it, the sound of clashing blades, the howling, shouting and the screaming. Thradin noted Cornelius looked pale beneath his hooded cloak, imagining the events enfolding to the south,
‘They are doing their jobs, now let’s not fail on ours!’ the dwarf whispered into the hobbits ears, a simple nod was the answer he received.
Several minutes later, minutes that felt like hours to the threesome, they reached the main orc encampment, a motley mix of tents, crude dwellings and a rough central hall. As expected, the orcs had all but left their posts, all eager finally to have their revenge on their perceived tormentors over the last few months. The few Orcs that remained were quickly taken by surprise and slain before they could raise any alarm. Quickly the group got to work, Elrich pouring vials of oil over the structures, Thradin stuffing bundles of fireworks at the bases of the dwellings, Cornelius running between the two giving an extra hand where needed. Once completed the three ran back away from the camp, Elrich applied fire-oil to an arrow, took aim with his bow and fired…
The Grey Guard to the south had mostly regrouped and were slowly retreating back to Lorien, Landril and Goegeurts bow were slaying many, Tilda and Maexe were blooded, yet still fighting, the rest of the Guards were nursing wounds, but battle ready, but the orcs were many and surely at any moment they would be overwhelmed. Bravely the group prepared for one final push back to the Anduin, but then suddenly,a noise like thunder echoed around the forest, and a vast column of fire and smoke, mixed with the lights of dozens of fireworks all going off at once, billowed out above the tree line. The Orcs were taken completely by surprise, and in their confusion, the Guards counter-attacked, killing many of them where they stood. The befuddled Orcs turned and ran, and many were cut down in their retreat. The Grey Guards killed many on the offensive, but were too wounded and few to pursue, so they halted their charge and turned their backs on Mirkwood, heading back to Lorien to rest and heal, vowing to return to finish the job…
Ariana came up the ladder back into the Lorien first, followed by Elrich and Cornelius. The Orcs that were drawn back to the ruined camp by the explosion had chased the team back to the tunnel, and followed them in. The dwarf Thradin could hear dozens of orcs climbing down into his tunnel, but it had now served its purpose. He set the final part of his plan in motion. The remaining fireworks, the supplies delivered from Caras Galadhon, were stacked up near the ceiling at the centre of the tunnel, pulling a lever as he sprinted through the damp corridor, a series of events were set in motion, events that couldn’t be reversed. Reaching the rope at the west side, he gave it three sharp tugs, holding on for his life as Elrich, Cornelius and Ariana pulled him swiftly up the pit. And just in time! A mighty bang and crash, followed by screams and yells from the many orcs were heard below, before the sound of rushing water finally drowned out the noise.
Thradin spat into the now flooded pit, and shielding his eyes from the rising sun to the east, he looked over to the river, where the first Guards were beginning their swim across the Anduin back to Lorien. The column of smoke in the wood was rising higher into the sky, marking their victory.
Thradin hugged his allies, ‘Ha-ha! The orcs will not recover from this, and hopefully the Elves of Lothlorien will have learned something here today. Get ready my friends, soon we will ride to Dol Guldur!’

Chapter 4 - An Unkindness of Ravens

Part 1

Dusk in Mirkwood bought more than just the darkness.
The forest awoke, not only the bands of orcs who preferred the shadows, but also for the wildlife that seemed to thrive and become more violent in these evening hours.

From his vantage point high up in the ruin of Ost Galadh, the dwarf Thradin watched the shadow of night spread, and the awakening of the gleeming eyes of the insect life down in the dark green of the folliage below. Looking further east, Dol Guldor dominated the skyline, fell beasts flying around its tower tops.

Ost Galadh was now one of the main occupied centres for the Lothlorien Elves in Mirkwood, camp fires burned within its grounds, elf archers patrolled its ruined walls and even traders had moved in selling supplies and armour to the mercenary forces passing through.

Thradin lit his pipe, earning a stern glance from a nearby elven sentry. The glow of his pipe could possibly be seen for a great distance, but Ost Galadh wasnt exactly a secret base, let the orcs come! Thradin thought.

In the failing light, Thradin could make out a large black bird flying above the trees, heading towards this lookout post, turning his head, the dwarf noticed the silent elf sentry also seemed to be watching the bird. The elf reached for an arrow and strung it to his bow, and began to draw.

'Fool!' Thradin cried, knocking the elves aim by knocking the base of the bow with the butt of his axe, causing the arrow to fly off into the greyness, its destination now far from the dark bird.

The elf couldnt speak Common tongue,but spouted a string of strange sounding elven words at the dwarf. Thradin picked up the word 'Crebain' in the elves speech.

'Crebain?!?! You've spent too much time in your golden wood staring at nightingales and butterflies! Crows are smaller you fool', Thradin gesticulated with his hands trying to get the elf to understand, ' Crows, Crebain NO! Thats a Raven! R..A..V..E..N...understand??'

The elf stood there giving the dwarf a bored look, but slowly lowered his bow.

The Raven landed nearby on the broken wall of Ost Galadh, seeking shelter for the night Thradin thought. Reaching into his pack, Thradin threw the Raven a scrap of bacon. The raven firstly flapped away a few metres, but kept a dark eye on the gift, before hopping close and snatching it up in its beak and swallowing it whole.

Thradin watched the raven, and the raven seemed to keep an eye on Thradin, waiting for the next piece of meat to fall its way...

Part 2

Thradin always had an affinity with Ravens, indeed his family were the custodians of the Ravens of the Lonely Mountain, both before the coming, and after the death of Smaug. Thradin cared a great deal for the birds, indeed dwarves saw them as a kindred spirit - ravens had a love for shiny objects, were cunning, and were found wherever war was fought.
Thradins armour was as black as the plummage of the raven as per family tradition, and watching the black bird was making the dwarf think about his family, mostly his father once more.
A lot had happened recently, the Grey Guards attack on Mirkwood had been like the first falling stones before an avalanche, the elves of Loriens counterattack had bought the free people not only to the gates, but to the very tower of Dol Guldor.
Thradin had now accepted his fathers fate, he had searched the dungeons of the Necromancer with both the Malledhrim and companions of the 'Guard. He discovered that the prisoners of DG do not live long in that dark, airless hellhole, slowly falling into madness and decay. Only the more recent captives were in any state to be set free, the others were found either dead or insane. Since his father was taken to the prisons a quarter of a century ago, he must have long since died and his bones fed to the wargs of Dol Guldors pens. The wraith warden of the prison was laid to rest by Thradin's axe, as was the Orc Mazog, and the human sorceror Gorothul, only the Nazgul of the tower resisted, but he was under constant siege from the elves of Lothlorien.
'Now what?' Thradin said to the raven, earning him a strange look from the elven sentry, the only response from the raven was a loud quork.
Thradin had recently been considering the future..should he go and fight in the War that was brewing to the South?, or return back to the Lonely Mountain in the North and defend his people from attack?
'I was told i could find you here!' came a voice from the stairs behind him, a voice he hadn't heard for while. Thradin turned around to face the speaker.

Part 3

Standing before Thradin was an elderly Dwarf, his white beard long and platted, richly dressed, his body aged and crooked, but with eyes shining with intelligence.
‘Good evening Uncle Myrkvi’ , Thradin said flatly, with slight disdain.
That statement was not entirely accurate, as Myrkvi was Thradin’s Great Uncle, being that Myrkvi was the youngest brother of Thyrnir Ravenstone, Thradin’s Grandfather that died in the Battle of the Five Armies, but the ancient dwarf made no move to correct Thradin.
‘At your service!’, Myrkvi replied, ’Dear me where are your manners, are you going to offer me refreshment and a chair after making me come up all these damn stairs! And I’ve been looking all over for you from Thorin’s Hall to Rivendell,then across the Mountains to here, and don’t say you didn’t know! You’ve been avoiding me Son of Thyrdin!’
‘I’ve nothing to say to you Uncle’, Thradin replied, ’except to ask what you want?’
Myrkvi was seen almost as the black sheep of the family, seen as a loner and dabbling with things that were not seemed acceptable, strange and yet feared. From an early age he had the power of foresight, indeed at 5 years of age still an infant, it was Myrkvi who warned the Ravenstones of a coming darkness. Other families of the Lonely Mountain saw him as a doom-monger and moon-touched, but the day the Dragon came his family heeded this warning and escaped the coming of Smaug. As Myrkvi grew older, instead of learning the traditional arts of war, history and music, he spent time studying signs, omens, weapon enchantment and rune-lore deep in the Iron Hills. He had the power to occasionally foretell someone’s death, for that reason he was ignored and ostracised by his own race. Yet he was now over 250 years old, a very respectable lifespan for a dwarf, but near the end of his days.
‘You are thinking about returning home.’ He answered. It was a statement not a question.
‘You are correct, my vengeance is fulfilled. And with all this War I think it’s time I returned to the Lonely Mountain to prepare for the inevitable assault from the Enemy.’
‘Then you are a fool!’ What will you be at the Lonely Mountain? I’ll tell you!’, Myrkvi scoffed,’ You will be just another blacksmith adding yet more armour to a pile that is already over-stocked! Or yet another fighter that hides behind his shield, trying to fight back the tide as the water-level rises over your beard!’
‘How dare you speak to me that way Uncle!’ Thradin’s eyes flashed with anger, the nearby elf sentry looking on with slight disdain at the arguing dwarves, yet holding an arrow strung in case of violence, ‘What do you expect of me, that I give up on my own people to ride to War in the South? Rohan and Gondor have armies of their own, they don’t need me!’
‘And yet your own alliance, The Grey Guard makes jokes that you are a One-dwarf army assaulting Isengard by yourself! I foresee..’ Myrki answered but was interrupted by Thradin.
‘You’ll foresee yourself kissing my axe in a minute!’
‘Now, now Thradin, the fact I’m family should amount to something at least. Please listen. If you return home now, you will die, that I know. And so will many friends and family who you hold dear. If you go south, then the future is still uncertain, but look at your achievements, everywhere this Grey Guard Alliance has travelled has bought stability and safety to those regions. Elrond has asked us to aid the Rangers that march to war from the North to the Gap of Rohan. If you hurry, you could pass through Moria and meet them just south of Eregion. Choose wisely.’
‘Damn you Uncle! You are asking me to choose between dying among my people, or dying in a hopeless assault on Mordor? I should go home to prove you wrong,’ Thradin paused and stared at the nearby Raven. The Raven almost looked as if it was listening to the debate, its head cocked to one side. Thradin took a deep breath and composed his next words as the anger seemed to drain from him. ‘But like this raven here, I will follow where there is battle, my axe as red as their beaks as they both feast well on this damn war. I will leave tonight and head across the Anduin, through Moria, and then south to join these Rangers.’
‘Good lad!’ Myrkvi smiled grimly, ’I’ve not much longer for this world, but I will not die in my sleep waiting for the end to come. I will follow you, just at a slower pace. Look for me in Gondor, if we both live that long.’
Thradin looked out across the dark forest, turning his head south, where in the distance he thought he could see a faint red glow.
‘You mentioned the raven Thradin’, Myrkvi said softly,’ like the bird, the remains of our family will fly south to war. Do you know what they call a group of Ravens? They call them an Unkindness of Ravens. Let’s give the enemy a reason to remember that!’
Both dwarves went quiet, as darkness finally descended over the Forest of Mirkwood.

Chapter 5 - The Mad Dwarf

Answering Elrond’s summons, the dwarf, Thradin travelled from Mirkwood through Lothlorien and Moria, and caught up with the Grey Company in South Eregion. The Grey Company were Dunedain, the rangers of the north, about a few dozen strong travelling south to aid their chieftain Aragorn believed to be needing aid in Rohan. Travelling with the Grey Company were also other freefolk, offering their aid to the rangers, and Thradin spotted a few faces travelling with them he knew.

After passing through Eregion, the Grey Company continued south, avoiding Saruman’s half orcs and dunlending patrols, and passed into an empty space on their map named Enedwaith, a grassy, windswept region west of the mountains with many ruins of men, but nowadays frequented by wildfolk in scattered small villages and communities. Most were hostile to outsiders, and it was relief that they found a friendly village named Llanuch populated by a tribe that named themselves the Algraig. Gaining the Algraigs friendship by culling a large number of wargs and half-orcs to the south, Thradin and many of the freefolk were welcomed and befriended by the tribe, meanwhile the rangers of the Grey Company travelled ahead to scout the roads for threats and alternative paths.

Early the second morning of their stay in Llanuch, Thradin broke his fast with the elders and wisemen of the village, and he found himself in a conversation about metal-forging with an old smith. The conversation drifted into dwarf history, the old man then asked if Thradin was kin to the old dwarf that lived that up the mountain in an area they named ‘Thror’s Coomb’. Thradin’s eyes lit up when he heard this, made his excuses, and an hour later the dwarf rode out the village on route east to the Misty Mountains to investigate, travelling with a local guide.

Riding east Thradin explained to the guide that many of his people settled in this region with Thror after the Sacking of the Lonely Mountain by Smaug, and named these halls Zudrugund but they all moved from here many years ago after Thror’s death, during the Great Dwarf-Goblin War that were fought over ( and under ) the Misty Mountains. ‘There shouldn’t be any of my folk left here’; he explained to the Algraig, ’They either went to War to avenge Thror, moved west to the safety of Thorin’s Halls, or to the White Mountains in the south.’

Travelling east towards the mountains they came across the remains of an old broken road, it followed the south bank of the River Araniant, and where the road once crossed the river, the bridge was broken, but now a fallen tree conveniently crossed the span allowing passage across. The path then wound up a mountain punctuated every few yards by obelisks of pyramidal stone marked with dwarven runes.

The guide waited patiently while Thradin examined yet another piece of dwarven stonework, the excitement evident on his face. ‘Yes! 200 to 250 years old I would approximate! The runes here speak of entering the territory of Thror!’ he exclaimed.

Finally the path terminated at large worked wall of stone, evidently dwarven architecture, a door allowing passage inside. But it was evident some of the Grey Company were also here to investigate as a few of their distinctive horses were tied outside. The guide stayed outside while Thradin passed into the Hall.

What struck him at first was the sheer amount of bookshelves creating a maze of corridors and filling every wall of the available large open space inside, stair cases running up to higher levels also contained rooms filled with books, the centre of the hall was dominated by a large statue of a dwarf king.A few rangers could be seen investigating the hall, taking down and looking through the many books, among them Coronir, a ranger who until recently was posted in Angmar, who when spotting the arrival of the dwarf came over to speak to him.

‘Ah! Thradin. Your timing is perfect.’ said the Ranger.
‘What’s going on here? And I’ve never seen so many books!’ Thradin replied, looking around open-mouthed at the room.
‘Strange that, you’d think when your people abandoned these halls they would have taken these books with them, but yet they remain.’ Said Coronir shaking his head, ‘but there are two dwarves still living here in these halls Thradin, and no matter how hard we try we are getting no sense from the older one. Could you have a talk with him? He may respond better to one of his own race.’
‘Who are they?’
‘They are called Frithgeir and Nar. Nar seems very ancient, his mind isn’t all there and Frithgeir seems to be caring for him in his old age’.
‘Did you say Nar?’ said Thradin, his face looking puzzled
‘Yes’
‘There was once a Nar who lived here that was the servant and friend of Thror, the grandfather of Thorin Oakenshield, do you know the story?’
The Ranger shook his head so Thradin explained, ‘Thror one day decided to try his luck in Moria, foolish, but some say it may have been due to the influence of the Ring of Power he wore. He took with him one companion, his friend and servant Nar. It was Nar that was spared by the orcs of Moria to bring back tidings of Thror’s beheading at Azog’s hands, and to warn the dwarves to stay away. This was the incident that caused the Great Dwarf-Goblin war, where Dwarves wiped out all goblins throughout the Misty Mountains which ended at the Battle of Anulbizar, but Nar must be well over 300 years old if that is him! Not many dwarves live beyond their two-hundred and fiftieth birthday in these times. Let me talk with this Nar.’

Nar and his companion were sitting around a table near the rear of the hall, and Thradin thought that Nar certainly looked old, he looked even older than his Uncle Myrkvi. Bowing before them he introduced himself,

‘Thradin Ravenstone at your service.’
‘Roast Mutton!’ exclaimed the older dwarf ignoring the greeting and staring at the plate in front of him.
The younger dwarf spoke up, ‘ Frithgeir at your service. Please take no offence at Nar, he is old and his mind cannot focus as it once did.’
‘Ah Ravenstone!’ Nar looked up, glancing at Thradin with his one good eye, his other eye filmed over like a grey mist. ‘On your way back home at last? How was the south?’
‘The south? I have never been south of here.’
‘The mountains! But are they really white? Did you head my warning about Moria! I told him not to go. He did not listen to his faithful servant.’
Thradin looked puzzled,’ You have me mistaken for another, sir.’
‘Ravenstone! I am no fool! I know you, you’re from Moria yes? On your way back after trading Mithril with the White Mountains! Is your mind addled from drink or had too many knocks to the head?’
A cold chill spread down Thradins back and slowly he said, ‘When was this sir?’
‘Last winter, maybe before.’ was the reply.
‘Tell me, what was different about me when you last saw me?’ Thradins voice started to rise at the same rate as his temper, Frithgeir stood and started to protest,’ Please Thradin, let him be! Please do not take offence!’
Nar looked Thradin up and down,’ Remarkable! You had only one arm when I last saw you, but I see its grown back!’ Nar replied, then looking back at his plate, muttering ‘roast mutton’ under his breath.
Thradin went white, paused and asked many more questions despite Frithgeirs protestations, but Nar seemed to have withdrawn back into himself, all the answers given were complete nonsense and completely unrelated. Nar seemed to have difficulty living in the present; Thradin caught fragments of history, and names long dead. Once he had enough he thanked the two dwarves and went back to see Corunir.

‘So did you learn anything?’ Asked Corunir.
Thradin looked grim, and replied,‘I think Nar is the Nar, friend of Thror, but his mind has gone due to age and grief. I can only assume he was too ill or too stubborn to leave here so remained after the others left. Frithgeir is holding his cards close to his chest, and I think he knows more than he says, but without Frithgeirs care Nar would be dead by now.’
‘Was there anything else?’
‘I learned something personal to me. Nar mistook me for my father, despite the fact that my father lost an arm in the Battle of the Five Armies. Balin’s colony records recovered at Mazarbul in Moria mentioned that Mithril was discovered during its third year, but the colony was also destroyed in its fifth year. Now if traders made it here from Moria trading Mithril then they must have been one of the, if not the last to leave Moria. After three or four years, supplies must have been low at the colony, so it’s likely they were trading Mithril for food, equipment and perhaps looking to lure more colonists to join them to boost numbers. Now the closest dwarf settlements are not to the west at Thorin’s Hall or east at Erebor but south at the White Mountains, and Nar also assumed I was returning from there. Now if I was returning to Moria, surely I would have returned here for friendly shelter in these unfriendly lands, and to take some of these books back with me? So it was probably unlikely they made it back to Moria.’
‘Interesting Thradin, which means your father may still be alive?’
‘Like a fool I’ve been looking in the wrong place. A captured orc told me that dwarves were taken from Moria to Dol Guldor, and Galadriel showed me in her Mirror that my father was imprisoned. I should have headed the warning from Cornelius that her Mirror doesn’t always show you the truth, or only shows you what you expect to see. So the fool I am I went chasing ghosts in Mirkwood when I should have been heading south!’
‘Just because your father was in a cell, doesn’t mean it had to be Dol Guldor.’ Corunir replied .’ If dwarves travelled south from here, then Saruman may have had something to do with your fathers disappearance, or there are many enemies that could have waylaid them, especially when carrying such a valuable cargo as Mithril’
Thradin looked the Ranger in the eye, ‘I’ll continue travelling south with you then at the least as far as the Gap of Rohan, then a good starting place for me will be speaking to the dwarves of Ered Nimrais to find out if they spoke to my father and these traders. I will find out what happened!’

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