The sun reflected almost painfully in the virginal snow, covering the peak of Mount Celebdil, but Fanuidhol the Grey was settled in great clouds. And the peak of Caradhras was melting with the sky. In a rare moment of peace, the cruel mountain had taken the colour of the setting sun. Olorin spied several eagles surfing playfully on the winds and a little bit lower a merlin stood still in stationary flight over some soon-to-be prey.
Haldir's chosen path overlooked a deep ravine, as it wound up the eastern side of Fanuidhol's smaller brother, whom the elves called Amras Calmcacil - the Maiden Head. It was a very narrow passage, but less dangerous then the Redhorn Gate of Caradhras and it allowed the two companions to outflank the Dwarven realm of Khazad-Dum together with its well-travelled path leading to the Doors of Durin. And while the friendship between elves and dwarves was no longer as strong as in the days of the two great craftsmen Narvi and Celebrimbor, the traffic from and into Khazad-Dum was still considerable.
Haldir threw Mithrandir an amused sideway glance. The old fellow was confident and marched at an easy step. He supposed that the wizard had already negotiated Caradhras and the Redhorn Gate on his travels between the Elven realms on both sides of the Misty Mountains and that passage was indeed more difficult then their leisurely walk from Laurelindórean. And since they had left the tormented paths through the bowels of the Thôl Talagand, Mithrandir had proven himself a likeable companion; he neither complained, nor did he indulge in meaningless chit-chat.
Haldir discarded the idea of a short rest and quick luncheon and decided, that Galadriel's fishy friend was more then capable to keep up with him until sunset. Turning his attention back to the pass and the small bushes that grew down into the ravine, the Captain pulled his huge Galadhrim bow from the quiver and strung it easily, without even pausing his steps. He fingered one of the lighter and smaller hunting arrows from his quiver and placed it on the bowstring. Tonight's hosts would welcome a tasty morsel of fresh meat, and the ibex that lived here where not difficult to hunt. He decided to try and take down a young male, if he had the choice.
Olorin had fallen into the daily routine of following his companion and paid more attention to the beautiful countryside, then to Haldir and the sudden release of the arrow, followed by a dull thud startled the Istar out of his revelry. But before he could ask Haldir what had happened, the elf disappeared from the path, leaping easily from stone to stone until he came to a small copse.
The ibex had taken the iron point through the shoulder right into its heart and died instantly. Making a small incision with his hunting knife, Haldir recovered the arrow and put it back into the quiver. He threw his prey over the shoulder and returned highly pleased to the path and his elderly charge. 'Diner!' He informed Olorin happily.
'Although on occasions I do appreciate red meat off the bone...Isn't that a bit much just for the two of us?' The Istar enquired. The primary surprise of the unexpected arrow shot and sudden disappearance of the elf had passed.
Haldir smiled, a twinkle of mischief in his storm grey eyes. 'We will not be alone for diner tonight, Gray Wanderer! After some ten days of living rough, I believe that you appreciate some creature comforts, a roof and a hot bath.'
Olorin looked at the Captain quizzically. They were in a literal no-man's land halfway between Laurelindórean and the river Gladden and the elf spoke of a hot bath, a roof and creature comforts. Who would dwell in such a rough and forsaken place and offer them these conveniences? For sure, he knew of a small hobbit-like people that dwelt in the Gladden Fields and were fishermen. They were broader in build than the Harfoots and Fallohides he had encountered south of Elrond's haven Rivendell and called themselves Stoors, but he was unaware of any of them dwelling high up in the mountains.
Haldir read his thoughts. The mischievous twinkle in his eyes became brighter. Under normal circumstances it would not have hurt to leave the old trickster to brood over what or who would keep a settlement close to a mountain peak, but such a little joke could backfire, considering the quality of their soon-to-be hosts and Mithrandir was running a fair risk to end up in their cocking pot!
He knew them well and a certain level of trust , even a strange friendship existed, but this did not exclude occasional misunderstandings that ended at sabre's point. He was not so sure that his wizard would be able to appreciate Orthrod and his clan to their fullest without some prior advertisement and explanation.
'When we left the pass way through Thôl Talagand, I told you about a small band of renegades. T'is them we will stay with tonight.' He said matter-of-factly. 'They own me a favour and I intend to call it in.'
'Are they of the second-born?' Olorin asked intrigued. He had almost forgotten the casual remark of the Captain.
Haldir shook his fair head, adjusting the ibex more comfortably over the broad of his back. 'Nay! I would not tolerate them so close to my borders. We have already sufficient troubles with bandits, riding out of the eastern lands of Gondor and who are attracted by the hilarious lore that the elves of Laurelindórean hide great treasures in their lands. Tonight, 'He said, and his voice was all of a sudden very serious,'...we shall be guests of Orthrod and his clan.'
Olorin's eyes widened in surprise. 'Orthrod?'
Haldir nodded thoughtfully. 'Indeed a darker tale some of the wise of my kin yet tell, saying that the Orcs were verily in their beginning of the Quendi themselves, a kindred of the Avari unhappy and whom Morgoth cozened, and then made captive, and so enslaved them, and brought them utterly to ruin. But deep inside a very few always faintly remembered, who and what they once have been and some of these fought at our side against the Great Deceiver in the Battle of the Last Alliance, for they hate Morgoth and his lieutenant Sauron more then they ever hated us! All living things were divided in that day, and some of every kind, even of beasts and birds, were found in either host, save the Elves only. They alone were undivided and followed Gil-Galad.'
Olorin shook his head slightly, as in disbelieve. His eyes were rifted on the warrior in front of him. Haldir meant what he said! And moreover, he had spoken without the slightest hint of revulsion or scorn. The Captain of the Galadhrim, who in Galadriel's garden had spoken with high emotions of the failures of the second-born through the ages and would not suffer them close to the borders of the Golden Wood allowed a band of renegade yrch to dwell there in peace and seemed even in regular contact with them.
'What?' Haldir enquired. His voice was soft, but underneath Olorin felt steel.
Since he had succeeded his scheme and talked Artanis into ordering the Captain of Laurelindórean to help him unveil the mystery of the shadow of the Misty Mountains, the ellon had seemed rather subdued, a warrior into whom obedience and duty were so deeply engrained that he'd jump from the peak into the crack of Mount Doom if this was his Lord's and Lady's command. Obviously he had misjudged his unwilling travel companion. He lifted a hand in sign of appeasement.
Haldir gave a curt nod, but the steel did not leave his storm grey eyes. He watched the wizard intently, but refrained from another attempt to creep into his mind. Had he not been Galadriel's friend, he would not have refrained from such brutal scrutiny, with or without the consent of the subject, but he would not trespass the boundaries of oath and fealty to the Lady, not even for the sake of his own skin.
For the instant of a heartbeat he resented her power over him and considered to consult with Celeborn, for Laurelindórean was still in the reach of his capacities to farspeak with his adar.
Almost immediately he rejected the idea and called himself a fool. He was much to old to run and hide behind Celeborn’s back in such a ridiculous situation. Some thousand years ago, on the Dagorlad and in a desperate attempt to save the skins of two fools, he had thrown an entire heavy Elven cavalry and several thousand lives into a battle without the orders of Gil-Galad. He was quite capable to stand up to a meddlesome old trickster and take his own council yet and now.
'You requested something of me, Gray Wanderer!' He said in a firm voice.' You wanted my memories of the past to shed light on your suspicions concerning the shadow that haunts these mountains. Some of these memories may not please you, but this will not make them disappear. You can either take it or leave it Mithrandir, but if you truly desire to have good intelligence concerning that supposed foe who seems to try and invest our lands with his malice, then you better accept the hospitality that will be offered tonight with good graces. You can protect yourself well and I can protect you against many dangers, too, but nobody will protect you against your own foolishness!'
He turned on his heel, getting a firm grip on the venison on his shoulders and marched off into the direction of Orthrod's cavern without even a second glance at Mithrandir. If Galadriel's meddlesome friend was a pretentious fool and too stupid to seek out a good occasion for reliable intelligence and handy service, than he could not be helped. Anyhow, Laurelindórean was still visible down South and could not be missed, even by a stubborn old fellow with overly bushy eyebrows and a very crocked and dangerously long nose.
Haldir marched on, brooding in silence. It was already hard enough to keep his inhabitual partnership with Orthrond's clan working with Thirion's rambunctious Greenwood Wardens and Durin's Naugrim warriors on the romp. He would not allow over and above another meddlesome creature to envenom this fragile relation.
Olorin stared angrily after the Captain of the Galadhrim. This elf was neither particularly subdued nor especially cooperative. As to his ingrained obedience and sense of duty; he started to have serious doubts.
Celeborn left him probably free reign over the defences of Laurelindórean, to do as he pleased. The glorious warrior of Elrond Half-Elven's tales was nothing more then a rotten-spoiled, haughty and arrogant princeling, who had had his ways ever since the infamous day, when he had managed to snake-charm that bore Celeborn of Doriath, with whom bright Artanis had had the bad taste to consort. He threw a last, wistful glance at the towering high mellyrn of Laurelindórean, bit his tongue and drudged after Haldir in a mood that would have made a cave troll look like prince charming.
The sun was setting right over the mountain tops and a soft, red light flattered the still abundant vegetation. It also seemed to have a calming influence on his bad mood. For the last three and a half hours, the continuous 'tock-tock' of the old trickster's staff on granite stone had been nagging on Haldir's nerves, dissolving into nothingness the small amount of good will towards Mithrandir and his mad quest, that had slowly grown since the chimney of Thôl Talagand.
He was no coward, but the very idea to be forced to relive once again his worst childhood nightmares had been enough to unhinge Haldir and wear away his hard won peace of mind and balance. Only with a tremendous effort had he been able to contain his fears in front of Silraen and Celeborn had almost managed to tear off his mask, when he had told him about Galadriel's vision in the 'Birdbath of Doom'.
Haldir hated the stone basin and the silver pincher and the forest well all together passionately, knowing against his own better judgement, that almost all the things she foresaw in the clear waters came true one day or another. He could not care less, if ever she predicted his own doom in battle. He lived by the sword for almost five thousand years now and he knew very well, that one day or another he too would met his match in a skirmish or on a field of battle. He had seen many a so-called invincible captain fall!
Mablung had been only the first and he still remembered the strokes of the axes of the Naugrim of Nogrod that brought Elu's captain to his knees before the light faded forever from his eyes in the guarded treasury of the Thousand Caves of Menegroth. Haldir had been some thirty years old then...and he had just slain his first foe.
His memories of bloodshed, gore and horror from the Fall of Doriath through the Sundering of Beleriand, the destruction of Eregion and Hollin, the slaughter on the Brandywine, the massacre on the Dagorlad and the battle of Mount Doom were unbroken and as lively as those of yesterday eve's diner.
Long before the day when Sauron was finally destroyed by Gil- Galad and Isildur had he given up the count of his own wounds and his sullen acceptance of danger and pain had contributed more to his continuing existence in the Hitherlands then Elrond's and Silraen's prowesses' as healers. But the idea of seeing his Galadhrim maimed and slaughtered upon the battlements of a dark fortress in some god-forsaken, dark forest of shadows and evil was beyond his capacity to endure. Only for their sake and because of the faint hope that even the wisest could not truly tell what the Mirror showed, had he gone with Mithrandir upon this mad quest!
He lifted his face towards the dying sun, closing his eyes and relishing for the time of a heartbeat life and the beauty of the lands that surrounded him. Then he straightened and squared his shoulders defiantly. Forcing upon his face a mask of calm composure he turned and looked at the wizard.
'Khila Amin, Gray Wanderer!' He heard his own surprisingly disimpassioned voice. 'Follow me! We are almost there and perhaps already tonight you shall find a few answers to your questions about the shadow!'