When Olorin woke from a peaceful slumber, he found the Captain of the Galadhrim by the tiny iron stove, boiling tea and....preparing a plate of eggs and bacon! A small table was dressed with wooden plates, something that looked strangely like fresh way bread and even a lump of salted butter. Haldir carried the hot iron pan over to the table and distributed equal shares of the sustaining delicacy on the plates.
'I presume, you slept well, Gray Wanderer!' He greeted Olorin good-naturedly, his warrior braids freshly pleated, grey tunic crisp and straight and boots as neat as if he was expected for guards' duty at Celeborn's and Galadriel's talan in Caras Galadhon. The Istar pursed his lips, gave a baleful look to his wrinkled grey robes in which he had slept and quickly pulled a hand through the tangles of his long beard and mane.
'That seems to be a good start for today,' he said slightly embarrassed by such a display of morning alertness , sniffing longingly the crispy roast bacon and appetizing eggs.'
Haldir folded his legs under the wooden bench and pulled a clean, white napkin from one of the pockets of his tunic, draping it delicately over his dark grey buckskin breeches.
'As long as we can afford it, I do not see any need to deprive you and I of creature comforts, Mithrandir. This will be a hard day, my friend and before long you shall be grateful for sustenance and hot tea.' He took a spoon full of eggs, munching contently. It was a long and very difficult road up to the mountain top and having been a warrior for his whole life, Haldir appreciated even the smallest bit of comfort to its fullest. He took a piece of warm way bread and buttered it generously.
'Will you tell me your plans, Captain.' The Istar asked between two bites of breakfast. He loved hot eggs, bacon and a good mug of tea to start his day and since Haldir seemed to be in a good mood he decided to use this intimate moment for some questioning.
The warrior swallowed, taking his napkin and delicately cleaning his lips. There was no reason to forget good manners and breeding, because one was out in the field and on duty. He never admitted this with his wardens and he never went easy on himself. He dropped a wooden spoon deep into a small jar of honey and sweetened his tea. 'We shall avoid the dwellings of Durin's people in Khazad-Dum and take the crest of the Misty Mountains,' he explained patiently, ' this chain has come into existence when Beleriand was destroyed during the War of Wrath and it is full of holes, caverns and passages. Since the creatures of the shadow shun the light, the safest way to approach them is by complete surprise. They will hide during the day and come out after nightfall only. And the Naugrim never venture so far from their dwellings. They prefer to criss-cross the Misty Mountains from inside.'
Mithrandir followed Haldir's lead, buttering a piece of way bread and adorning it generously with crispy hot bacon. The tea was delicious, a subtle mix of mint, melissa, elder flowers and dried apples. He drank with relish, before he replied.
'Will you tell me of your recent hunt, Captain?'
The warrior finished his plate, cleaning it with a piece of crispy bread and poured himself another cup of tea. 'There is not much to tell, Mithrandir: The came at night and assaulted my kin. The Naugrim went to their succours, but there were too many yrch. They slew everything alive, leaving only smouldering ashes. We followed them for days at end until we managed to encircle them in a small ravine with no way out. We destroyed them to the last yrch and burned their carcasses. I send a messenger to the Naugrim, informing the Lord that his warriors had been avenged and another to Thranduil's Captain Thirion. Then we returned to Caras Galadhon with our wounded!'
Haldir's storm-grey eyes darkened, when he said the last sentence. Olorin saw many things at this moment: Guilt, pain, passion, hatred! The elf in front of him had multiple layers and it would be quite interesting to find out what lay at the very bottom; Celeborn's rotten-spoiled foster-son or the noble warrior, Elrond had spoken off!
The Istar finished his breakfast. He had learned as much from Artanis and he felt, that there would be nothing more from his companion. The gloomy expression on Haldir's fair face indicated, that the discussion was over and the time to leave this safe cavern was neigh. He would not insist, feeling that his companion mayhap did not understand the full extent of his question.
The youngest prince of the Great Greenwood reined in his horse and turned around in the saddle to throw a last, baleful glance at the place were he was born and raised. Once this had been a place of joy and laughter and many merry feasts under the silver starlight; now it was a bald hill, where trees that had held Elven dwellings for ages crumbled before the eye of the terrified observer and soft green grass turned to evil weed between sunrise and sunset. The cool waters of the Forest River parted for the last wagon and horses that would take his kin away from there home and further north into the Black Mountains. His father had left many days ago on a stretcher. Thranduil the Mighty, strong and unbending, had been brought to his knees by the sight of a newborn elfling fading in his mother's arms. In a folly of rage and hatred the King had taken his blade and fought with a shadow that all could feel but none could see. When he had fought himself into complete exhaustion and something that resembled strangely a fading stupor. Legolas and his elder brother Orodhrim had constrained Thranduil and dispatched him together with his life guard further north. The young prince gave a deep sigh, then he lifted his fist in defiance and shook it against the nameless terror that had chased his kin from their home. First they would see to their peoples' safety and to their father, then he and his brothers would ride out and search for the nameless bane that had brought despair and horror into their fair land.
'My Lord!' A gentle voice brought Legolas back to reason, 'T'is time to go. You should come, for thy kin looks to you and your brethren today and there is no use to tarry.'
The youngest son of Thranduil threw a last, vicious glance at the Amon Lanc. Then he turned his steed and galloped after Thirion, his father's Captain. For now they would give up their home and dwellings and bring their people to safety. But he made a silent oath, that one day they would return and chase the evil that had claimed their lands.
Olorin understood, why his companion had insisted on such a sustaining breakfast. He breathed heavily, feeling a painful sting in his side and another, more painful sting in the muscles of his thighs. The path was pure torture: A rather low and fairly narrow tunnel that went straight downwards into the bowels of the earth. The descent was very step and the ground slippery, as if some made team of Dwarven craftsmen had employed all their skills to polish the rock like the surface of a mirror. Every now and then even Haldir slipped and battled for balance. Once more the Istar was rather grateful, that his companion had offered to carry his bag and his staff. At least he could keep his hands against the walls and find a little bit of safety there. He did not dare to ask the question, that had been tormenting him for quite a while: How long would they have to walk on this terrible path.
'We are almost there, Mithrandir!' Haldir as if he could read Mithrandir's mind and feel his pains and troubles- halted and placed his lantern in a small niche. From underneath a strange noise filled the tunnel. It almost seemed, as if there was a waterfall in the mountains. Olorin pressed a hand to his painful side, bend over and grasped.
'That's wonderful news!' He replied breathless. A nasty little voice inside his head repeated at the very instant the Captain's warnings of the other day: ' Will you be able to cope with these efforts for days at end?' And they had not even slept out in the open, but in a warm, sheltered and pretty cosy place.
Haldir turned around. The lantern, lightening his fair face showed a pair of slightly concerned eyes. 'There is still time to turn back, Mithrandir.' There was absolutely no sarcasm or glee in his voice. 'It will not become easier, but ever harder.'
The Istar, damning his elderly, human body, tried to straighten up, but the stitch in his side still hurt. 'No!' He said, with rather more sting, then he had intended. 'I cannot turn back.'
'Very well.' The Captain knew that he had to accept his companion's choice, even if he believed , that the stubborn determination of the old wizard bordered folly and would endanger them both. He took the hithlain rope from his shoulder and made a solid sling. 'We must get down to where the water falls.' He stated. 'You will go first. I will let you down, then the packs and my weapons.' He took a pair of solid leather gloves from his sash and put them on. Then he attached Olorin around his waist in a secure harness. When the Istar threw him a doubtful glance, he simply slung the end of the hithlain rope over his shoulder and back. 'I can hold you, Gray Wanderer. There is no need to worry.'
Following the initial shock to let himself drop, back first into the void, Olorin realized very quickly, that the Captain of the Galadhrim did not even intend him to climb. He let him down, like a burden. When he touched the ground with his feet, he only felt a gentle tucking of the hithlain and the rope was immediately drawn back up. Within the moment, the packs, Haldir's weapons and his staff followed and the rope dropped obediently, curling itself into a neat heap. Lothlorien's hithlain was well known for its magic, for all ropes contained hair strands of the ellyth of the Golden Wood. While Olorin still wondered, how the Captain would get down, without his rope and nobody to help him up in the tunnel, a heavy hand was placed upon his shoulder and he turned around startled.
Haldir chuckled softly. 'We cross under the waterfall!'
At around midday, they finally halted. Olorin was once more breathless and his side stung like fire. He readily accepted some food and water from his companion and stretched his aching legs. The ferocious descent of the morning had been surpassed by an even more violent ascent. They had dragged themselves through another tunnel, stepper and possible even more slippery then the first. But this way went straight upwards. Occasionally sideways would part to the left and to the right and Haldir explained patiently, that some of them could bring a determined traveller even to the other side of the Misty Mountains and into what had once been Eriador. Others were simple dead ends and one or two turned towards the Dwarven halls of Khazad-Dum, but the Galadhrim had blocked these passages with stones and rabble, hopping that this was enough to discourage the curiosity of their Naugrim neighbours. When they had finished their small meal, Haldir led Olorin for another hour through the tunnel until they stood under a chimney. Hesitant beams of light made their way down to the stony ground.
'And this is the way out!' The Captain informed the Istar with a smug grin.
Olorin gave a deep sigh. He was a powerful Maiar, second only to Curumo and even in his diminished human form, he held strong and powerful magic. But this did not include eagle's wings or spider legs. He inclined his grey head and shrugged his shoulders. 'This is indeed a most interesting approach for one who wishes to reach the peak of the Misty Mountains. I believe, you will lead the way, Captain and I will follow.' He was rather curious to see, how his companion would get them up and into the sunlight. From what Haldir had told him, this passage was used by his wardens regularly. Would some strange Elven magic reveal some metal handles, as in the chimney they had taken to descend under the earth by the shores of the Celebrant?
His companion smiled, obviously highly amused by Olorin's disgruntled face. Then he took off his sword belt, quiver, sash and over tunic and packed all together in a neat bundle. The hithlain rope was slung around his midsection and tied with a solid not. His fingers then looked for a first hold inside the chimney and he swung up with ease. Placing his feet against one wall and his solid back against the other, Haldir started his ascent.
Olorin found that it looked quite easy. His companion made good way and moved higher and higher. When he had reached midway, the Istar nodded and told himself, that this should not be all too difficult. It was just a matter of first pushing one's backside up with one's hands and then follow with the legs. He was confident that once freed of his long and ample robes and stripped down to under tunic and pantaloons, he'd be more then capable to repeat the Captain's deed. He started to undo the stays and slipped his garment off, folding it and attaching it securely to his travelling bag. The pointy hat was rolled into a sleek tube and his long, silver grey scarf stuffed into a pocket.
While Haldir was two thirds up, Olorin stretched out his hands and searched for some place in the stone wall, where he could find a hold. He searched...and searched! But he found nothing. The Istar stood on tiptoe and stared at the stonewall: It was almost flat. How, in the name of Eru, had this naughty sprite managed to get his rather heavy carcass into that chimney? There was not even a granite splinter to hold on!
Before Olorin started another, more thorough scrutiny of this strange chimney, a soft whistling sound caught his ear. He looked up and saw Haldir's booted legs dangle over the edge. His ever present hithlain rope snaked downwards.
'Tie all our stuff with a good knot to my rope!' The Captain shouted.
'I cannot find any hold for my fingers to climb up.' Olorin replied.
'I did not intent to make you climb!'
'You are not going to abandon me here, Haldir!'
Olorin shouted with an itch of panic in his voice. He had been well aware from the very beginning, that the Captain of the Galadhrim was not very happy to take him onto this quest and he did not put it beyond that sprite to leave him here, stuck and with no way out. He even considered for a moment, that such a plan had been made between him and that Sinda Prince from Doriath. Olorin remembered that silvery glaze in the eyes of both Ellyn before he and Haldir had passed the city gates of Caras Galadhon. While he had been speaking with Galadriel, Celeborn and Haldir had had a mental exchange. So much was clear. There were probably already a handful of Galadhrim wardens somewhere in the tunnels....with strict orders to return the stray wizard -no matter how- to the safety of Caras Galadhon and Galadriel's keeping.
Haldir laughed heartily. He seemed to imagine what the Istar was thinking down at the bottom. 'Come on. Tie those packs and weapons to my rope and stop fussing, Mithrandir!' He shouted.'....and I will not leave you behind, as you seem to believe. You will climb with the rope. That is much easier.'
The Istar gave a deep sigh and did Haldir's bidding. Elves were children of the light, but they were also Fay sprites and could never be entirely trusted. Serious one moment, they could literally turn into children of nature the very next and dance and make merry without a second thought. He had seen it all in Valěnor: Their deep passions and excessive pride, their lust for life and their capacity to destroy it, without a second thought. They were Iluvatar's first-born and as such had all the qualities and all the faults imaginable. Tremendously wise, and terribly childish all at once. Fierce warriors and soulful minstrels. Vain to the point of ridicule and capable of the utmost sacrifices....hard like adamant and soft like the lush green grass that covered the lands of Laurelindórean. He saw their baggage ascend quickly through the chimney and being pulled over the ridge by strong hands. Now he was on his own and of no more worth to Celeborn's clever Captain!
A sharp whistle brought Olorin ought of his reverie. 'Careful, Gray Wanderer!' Haldir shouted and the hithlain fell down and landed in front of his feet. A solid branch was fixed to its end and two slings for handhold had been knotted into the rope. The Istar shook his head, understanding immediately the purpose of that curious contraption. His companion intended to give him a lift -literally! He pursed his lips in a smile.
'Did you enjoy the trip!' Haldir brushed some sweat from his brow and unslung the rope from over his shoulders. Mithrandir -surprisingly wiry and thin without his heavy set of grey wool robes - tried to look dignified. But the healthy red on the old wizard's cheeks indicated, that he had never flown through a stone chimney and up to a mountain peek.
The Captain chuckled softly and massaged his aching muscles. The secret passageway out of Laurelindórean was a kind of initiation rite for all his young wardens. There was no physical danger, only a challenge to the body. But elves hated secluded places and they were uprooted, when they could not see the stars at night. Oh, they employed this passage for serious purposes, too. But most of the time, the way through the Misty Mountains was just a game...a game, that allowed him to separate the hesitant from those who had a stout heart and strong body. He allowed himself a short moment of pleasure, stretching his arms to the deep blue skies and inhaling deeply the clean, cold air of the peek.
'Look, my friend!' He exclaimed, pointing at the giant mellyrn tree far away in the heart of his forest. ' Caras Galadhon, the heart of Elvendom on Earth and the Realm of my Lord Celeborn and Galadriel, the Lady of the Light! T'is beautiful to behold from this high peek. Look at it and keep the view close to your heart, for it will be long, before thou shallst see these blessed lands again. Cormamin niuve tenna' ta elea lle au!1'
Olorin followed the ellon's indications and gazed amazed at the beauty and majesty of the forest underneath. He saw the mellyrn in all their splendour, sparkling golden in the bright sunlight and suddenly he understood, why Illuvatar's first-born children had been so reticent to abandon Aman and follow Oromë into the West.
It was a rich land that lay before him, full of life and joy and bathed in an unearthly beauty that would enthral to no ends even the children of the light, who relished in this green and golden splendour. He averted his gaze from the beauty of Laurelindórean and looked at the Captain of the Galadhrim.
Haldir's storm-grey eyes sparkled with a sudden fire and Olorin realized how deeply these lands were rooted in his soul and lifeblood. He loved that forest and this love was so strong and deep, that he would go into the heart of the shadow, if this was the prize to pay to keep evil away from his land and his kin.
The Istar tarried for a moment on the fair face that was bathed in sunlight. It reminded him of someone he had seen in the Undying Lands, another elf lit by the fires of passion and life...and it was not the one, who had held Haldir’s mother's hand and gazed at her with tender love and caring!
But the moment passed and the Captain of the Galadhrim dropped his arms and reverted into his former dutiful self. With a kindly smile he unpacked the Istar's robes and pointy hat and held them out to Olorin.
'Here my friend! For I believe you feel more at ease with your clothes on. I beg your pardon for this fanciful ride through the bowels of the earth and for the discomfort I may have caused you, but it was the shortest and safest way into the mountains and I thought, you may enjoy a beautiful view, before we take our leave from the fair lands of Laurelindórean.'
Olorin gave his companion a strange glance, still absorbed with his memories of another elf on the shores of Valěnor. Then he took his clothes, hat and staff and prepared himself for the next part of their quest.
(1) My heart shall weep until it sees thee again!