"It's going to rain," Halbarad said, looking darkly at the sky.
"More than just rain, I think," Aragorn replied.
They had been keeping an eye on the approaching clouds the whole afternoon, knowing from cold and wet experience how fickle the weather could be this close to the Misty Mountains.
"Aren't you supposed to be the optimistic one of us two?" Halbarad asked.
"I am being optimistic. I haven't mentioned either mudslides or flash floods."
Halbarad sighed. "And you just had to go and say it now... I suppose we should try to find shelter before that storm breaks."
"And before nightfall. I don't want to take the Dimrill path at night either."
"So, what do you have in mind? We won't get shelter from the poor scraggly excuses for trees I see here. Not that I haven't become used to calling bare branches shelter," Halbarad grumbled. "This journey has been worse than the Ettenmoors patrol for comfort. When was the last time we slept under a roof? Dale?"
"Dale," Aragorn agreed, then pointed west. "What do you see over there?"
Aragorn nodded approvingly, "And what do you find in the mountains?"
"Possibly, but not what I had in mind. What do Orcs live in?"
Halbarad realised he might as well play along. "Filth?" He ducked just in time to avoid the clump of dirt his kinsman threw at him.
"True, but not what I was thinking of. Guess again."
"What are you going to throw at me if I get it wrong?"
"I'll think of something, but give me an answer first."
Halbarad looked pensively at the mountains. "Caves?"
"Well done... Now what does one find in caves?"
Halbarad briefly considered replying 'Orcs' again, but he did want to be under cover before the storm broke, so thought better of it. "Shelter... and if you want to find any before nightfall, we'd better keep walking."
It had started to drizzle, and for the next hour or so they merely walked in silence, until they found the ancient road that led to the Dimrill Stair. As they climbed, they followed the road as it wound its way up to the mountains straight in front of them, rather than turn right past the lake and towards the waterfall and the path that ran beside it.
By the time they reached the mountain, not only had the rain increased to a steady downpour with the occasional thunderclap to be heard, but it was starting to get dark as well.
"We're so soaked already, it hardly matters whether or not we find a cave," Halbarad complained.
Aragorn said nothing, but walked on ahead. "Halbarad! I found something," he called.
Halbarad came running up, nearly slipping on the wet stone of the ancient steps underfoot.
"I think we've found our shelter," Aragorn said as lightning lit up the sky and they saw that the steps he had found led to a dark opening in the mountainside.
They rapidly went up the steps, eager to get out of the rain, but as Aragorn wanted to enter, Halbarad pulled him back. "Wait," Halbarad whispered, "we don't know if it's safe," and he drew his sword before looking inside.
"By all accounts there have hardly been any Orcs on this side of the Misty Mountains since the Battle of the Five Armies," Aragorn said.
"Other dangers than Orcs may dwell in caves," Halbarad replied. "If there's a bear inside, I doubt it'll be willing to share."
"It doesn't smell like a bear's den, or anything else. I think we can risk it," Aragorn said as he stepped across the threshold.
Halbarad followed quickly, trying to make out the inside of the cave by the uncertain illumination provided by the lightning. "There's a piece of wood over there in the corner. Looks like some kind of broken beam. I'll see if I can get a fire going." He carefully made his way across the debris on the floor. He swore quietly as he searched his pack.
"What is it?" Aragorn asked.
"My tinderbox is drenched. Hand me yours, will you?"
Aragorn did, and while Halbarad managed to coax a few hesitant flames from the wooden beam, he went to check the darker corners of the cave for more wood.
Something rolled away after Aragorn struck it with his foot, causing Halbarad to jump at the sudden noise.
"Halbarad, come look at this. It looks like a skull."
Halbarad quickly joined him. "Dwarf," he stated at first glance. "Wait. What is that?" he wondered as he picked up the skull and walked over to their small fire to examine it closer.
"Those burned markings on the brow?" Aragorn asked, following Halbarad.
"They're very faint, but they look like they could be runes," Halbarad said.
"A bit closer to the fire," Aragorn said. "Now turn the skull this way. Stop. That first part could be an A, then a Z, an O, and either a K or a G."
"Azog," Halbarad muttered.
They looked at each other.
"I don't think this is just a cave..." Aragorn concluded.
"Moria," they said almost in chorus.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.