Somehow, someway, Khamul always drifted south. She would catch herself and go back north, but it was pointless, she knew. Isildur's Heir would be in Rivendell, like they always were. But there was the possibility – the smallest, tiniest chance – that he might be wandering the lands. And Khamul would catch him.
She was heading south again, and she had crossed the Greyflood. She was in the lands that had once been Eregion. Now she was heading east.
Khamul knew where her horse was taking her, where she was letting it steer her. She let the horse take her there, let Caradhras's lure take them both in.
Maybe the horse would even go up the path this time.
Khamul smirked. She doubted it. But then again, things were happening in the world. Perhaps it was time.
Azanulbizar was deserted, as usual. The water of Mirrormere had gone from beautiful to a sort of rotten state. It looked dangerous and ill, almost green. Khamul stayed far from the edge of the path. If the stone gave way, she didn't want to fall into the fetid water.
The wind began to pick up as they went higher. The Redhorn Gate loomed near. This was the third time Khamul had been here in her too-long life. There was something different about it. She could feel it.
Glancing to the side of the path, Khamul saw the shrines. Only one was still standing, and it still had flowers on it. Was it Khamul's imagination, or were those the very same fresh flowers that had been there almost a thousand years ago?
"The arrow's gone," Khamul muttered, glancing to the shrine immediately to the left of the last. It had once held a Haradrim arrowhead, which Khamul had tried unsuccessfully to take. The arrowhead was gone.
Her horse kept moving, to Khamul's surprise. It usually stopped by now.
The beginning of the pass was right in front of them. Only a few more steps… And there they were, on the pass itself.
Khamul tensed. This was it. Destiny time. Perhaps a dozen rogue trolls would attack her. The balrog itself, maybe, come crawling out from Moria.
She expected Caradhras to say something, warn her, give another prophecy. The mountain was quiet though. Snow drifted down from the black clouds above. The wind whistled, but all in all it was rather pleasant.
Frowning, hand tightly clenched on her sword, Khamul watched and waited for something to happen. So far, nothing. Her horse just kept plodding along, having no great difficulty in navigating the snowy path.
"What is it?" Khamul muttered. "What could it possibly be?"
They had almost reached the peak of the pass. Still nothing. Perhaps Caradhras was asleep, or its attention was diverted. Maybe it didn't want to waste anymore time dissuading her from passing.
"What is it?" Khamul hissed again.
Khamul looked around, half-drawing her sword. "Who's there?" she snarled. Stupid, she thought. It's a child's voice. But what's a child doing here?
Seeing no one in the blinding white landscape, Khamul hopped down and began poking around in the large lumps of snow. Most of them were rocks, but when she poked one, it gasped.
"Who are you?" Khamul muttered as she dug out a half-frozen boy. He couldn't be much more than ten years old, she thought. Almost dead by the looks of him.
The boy didn't answer. His head lolled to one side. He was blue from cold. If Khamul hadn't come along, he'd have been dead within the hour.
"Where's a cave when you need one?" Khamul grumbled, looking around.
A large icicle fell from an overhanging rock. It smashed through a huge pile of snow, revealing a large crack in the mountain's face.
"I knew you were paying attention," Khamul said with a smirk. Caradhras wanted the boy to live. Or it had interest in her finding a cave.
A blizzard started in earnest once Khamul, her horse, and the boy were inside. It was rather spacious, but not suspiciously so. Khamul could see all the walls. There were no secret entrances to the goblin tunnels that riddled the mountain.
"You going to wake up?" Khamul asked as she started a fire. It cast eerie shadows on the walls, but it quickly warmed the cave. Soon Khamul thought it was almost too hot.
It was nearly two hours after she'd found the cave that the boy woke up.
"Where am I?" he muttered.
"You're awake," Khamul said. "That's good, I suppose. How in the name of every Vala did you get up here?"
"Where am I?"
"Is that all you can say?"
"I'm in a cave." The boy sat up and looked around. He was short and skinny with shaggy brown hair, grayish eyes, and two front teeth that were a little too big. He looked like he could be either a resident of Eriador or maybe a Dunlending.
"How'd you get here?" Khamul asked. She wished she had some food. Firstly, because she herself was hungry, not having eaten since she'd left Dol Guldor about fifteen years ago. Secondly, this boy looked like he could do with a decent meal. When it came to men and women of all races, classes, and creeds, Khamul would slaughter with abandon, but children… She wasn't about to just leave some stupid kid to die. He reminded her of Eorl a little. Eorl had been more trouble than he was worth though.
"I walked here," the boy said. He smiled. It didn't improve his looks. "My name's Firin. Who are you?"
"Khamul. Why'd you come here? Are you mad?"
"Are you a Haradrim? I've never met a Haradrim before. I thought they all lived down south in Harad. Are you from Harad? Is it very hot?"
Khamul rolled her eyes. "Yes, I'm from there. It is hot. There's lots of sand, too."
Firin's eyes widened. "Wow," he said. "I'd like to go there someday."
"They don't really like visitors."
"Oh." Firin sighed and looked hurt. "No one really likes me."
"It's not you specifically. It's just visitors in general."
"Is it because of Hyarmendacil?"
"How do you know about him?" Khamul snapped.
"I read a lot," Firin said. "It was him, wasn't it? That was a terrible thing he did, killing all those people. You shouldn't do that in war."
You know, Firin, Khamul thought, we might just be able to get along. "Why did you come here?" she asked. "Wanted to hear the prophetic mountain?"
"Prophetic? It gives prophecies? I didn't know about that. I came to rescue my mother."
Khamul raised an eyebrow. Was the mountain kidnapping people now? Well, she wouldn't put it past it.
"My mother was crossing the mountain, and she got kidnapped by goblins," Firin explained. "I've come to rescue her."
"You do know you're only nine or something, right? Or are you a midget?"
"I'm ten!" Firin exclaimed.
"Oh, ten. Well, you're certainly qualified for fighting off hordes of goblins not to mention surviving winter on Caradhras. What do you think you're doing?"
Firin hung his head. "I…I thought it was a good idea," he muttered. "She never pays attention me, Mother doesn't. She always talks to my older brothers. She loves them. She hates me."
Khamul rolled her eyes. "No, she doesn't," she snapped. "She just…" Stupid mother, she thought. "I don't know."
"My brothers think I'm worthless. And my father hates me as well. He can't even look at me sometimes."
This kid either has some major issues he's not telling me about, or he's got about as rotten a family as you can get, Khamul thought.
"So you think getting yourself killed trying to save your mother's going to make everything better?" she asked.
"I thought it might," Firin said. "Won't it? Do you know something about things like this?"
"No," Khamul said. "Well, I mean, it probably won't." She suddenly remembered being a child herself, desperately wanting to please parents who didn't think a girl should be a hunter.
"You know what I'm talking about!" Firin smiled, then he turned deadly serious. "Can you help me rescue my mother? Please? It's the only way they'll ever love me. Maybe even my brothers would be nice to me then! Please!"
"What happened?" Khamul asked.
"Tell me about it. Are you sure she was captured on Caradhras?" If so, then this mountain had a hand in it.
"Yes," Firin said, nodding. "She was trying to cross, but…the goblins."
Grish, Khamul thought. The damn goblin's behind it, I bet. Well, it's time to settle a score, I think. "Tell you what," she said.
"What?" Firin asked. The eager look on his face was almost sickening.
"I'll help you," Khamul said. "I think I can…'reason' with these goblins." She smiled, imagining striking Grish's head off in one blow.