So here they were in northern Rhudaur. Further north, Mhulo could make out the Ettenmoors, and the Coldfells to his east. Memories returning, he lifted his armored gauntlet to rest on his chest plate, still feeling the Orcish sword that had somehow penetrated his defenses that day, tearing into the upper torso near his shoulder. Aiwendil, the Brown Wizard, had worked miraculously to mend his ailments, and here Mhulo stood this eve- awaiting the company of Men that sought him.
Though the sun was still setting, the moon was already visible in the eastern skies. Amber and violet hues danced across the heavens, and pinholes of light that were the stars had just begun to make their nightly appearance. Soft, warm winds lifted the limbs of the scattered woodlands surrounding Mhulo and company, creating a distant rustle that reminded the dwarves of an ocean break.
The rock formation they inhabited was an arch of stone, and steps had been carved onto the ascending sides that led to the flat platform at its apex- which is where Mhulo took his watch. Patches of green weeds and sparse grass sprouted here and there through the cracks in the mineral, as father time had settled the conglomeration into the soft dirt. Govadmiluin Sarianu was its namesake, Mhulo believed. The letter he had received from the Gondorians, delivered to him by Cooper the Dunedain Ranger, had stated as much.
For the time being, it seemed as if the letter was accurate- Thalrir, the newest member of their battle company, keenly spotted a throng of armored figures eastward making their way to the stone arch, and gave alert. Soon enough, the Tree of Gondor could be seen enameled across the broad shields of the foremost warriors as they made their approach. Mhulo counted nine men, one of them mounted, and two of them were carrying what looked to be a heavy crate between them- his heart skipped a beat.
So it was true…Torvim shall be pleased indeed.
From the throng of visitors came a deep voice, and Mhulo discovered it belonged to the mounted warrior Ondoher, their leader as described in the letter.
“To be sure, I did not believe you’d have arrived so soon Master Dwarf. It is good to see friends in these cursed parts indeed!” exclaimed the man, dismounting his steed.
“We Dwarves are natural sprinters, dangerous over short distances! A few breaks were had along the way, however.” chimed Duk. Some chuckles rumbled through Mhulo’s company at the jest.
“Well met, Gondorian.” Came Mhulo’s meted reply, hand on his sword belt. “It seems we have crossed paths most fortunately. If all you say is true, you and your men have done a favor large to the folk of Durin’s lineage.”
The Gondorians approached, and the setting sun gave a muted glow to the steel they bore across their engraved bosoms. A few were covered by cloaks, rangers perhaps? Nasek leapt his goat down from the steps onto the rocky dirt below and dismounted, his mount’s hooves *clopping*. Ondoher’s mouth gaped briefly at the sight of such an animal, incredulous, but was shortly able to compose himself.
Two of the men ascended the rocky base and laid the Dwarven chest beneath the bridge. Mhulo descended the stairs of the archway to lay eyes on the contents of the chest.
“It was most favorable that my Lord Beren got word of it!” stated Ondoher. “Assuredly, we would be more than happy to pass on these relics to you folk of the Iron Hills. They are of gorgeous make, indeed, even more beautiful than we could have ever guessed in the South. We’ve had such little dealings with Dwarves ourselves, forgive our manner.”
“Aye, and for good reason, meaning no offence. Our people are most solitary. Now, our Loremaster sent us leagues from home for such a gift. Let’s see what that gift be…”
Duk and Dolvin followed Mhulo, shields slung, and even Nasek’s curiosity could not be sated. Speaking in Khuzdul, the three quietly and excitedly conversed as their leader opened the crate, and removed the contents within. Nasek’s war goat bleated, hopping back up the archway to feed on a patch of green leaf.
“By the beards of the Old…” whispered Mhulo.
A cloak of impeccable make fell like water over Mhulo’s armored hands. A brilliant blue the color of the Great Sea shimmered and shone, the cloth soft as a newborn calf. Furs lined the rim and shoulders of the cape, but all such features were simple compared to what appeared suddenly on the back-
As Mhulo stood to measure the cloak, holding it out before him, there shone a beam of starlight from the skies lighting up the cloth and showing its true nature. Silver lines grew along its face, crawling and curving until the final embroidery was revealed- a vast and intricate family tree that went all the way back to a single name at the top.
“Durin the Deathless!” exclaimed Dolvin. “Aye these Gondorians deserve a round of ale on our coin, at least. Kingly make, suppose it could be from the reign of Brilo the Blue?”
Nearly breathless from wonder, Mhulo took great care and handed the cloth to Duk, who stood motionless and quiet, seemingly afraid he would scare the cloak away simply by looking at it. Mhulo reached further into the chest and withdrew the final contents.
A set of three bound, leather tomes revealed themselves, plated in dark iron and bejeweled with dazzling sapphires in the spines. Shining Dwarvish runes framed the bound books, and they were all locked.
“Indeed, these are work for the Loremaster.” Mhulo said softly.
Placing his hand on the front of the first reader, Mhulo closed his eyes and meditated shortly. After a minute or two, when the Men of the West begun to murmur in the background, Ondoher silenced them curtly, and Mhulo finished his musings. Nasek had climbed back to the stairs of the bridge, shouting in Khuzdul, as his goat was curiously approaching the Gondorian warhorse, causing a ruckus. Nasek wrestled his goat away from the bystanders and remounted.
“Ondoher, my friend, wordless I stand.” Mhulo spoke as he approached the man.
Mhulo reached out to Ondoher and together the leaders clasped forearms, a show of solidarity and brotherhood.
“Indebted to your cause, we Dwarves of Durin be, leader of these free folk. These gifts will further enrich our history and culture, cementing an alliance between our people. Where we failed in our mission to retrieve these artifacts of old, you were victorious. How would you have us repay such a gift?” Offered Mhulo.
With a wide wave of his arm, Ondoher motioned towards one of his men.
“Mablung! Quick, lad.”
The warrior stepped forward, spear in one hand, shield in the other.
“This is the man to whom you owe gratitude, Master Dwarf. He went to grievous lengths to retrieve what you sought, and here we stand. He was mighty valorous in fighting off many a servant of evil, and to that end, he is your hero.” praised Ondoher. “Otherwise, simply provide what aid you can to our Northern kin.”
Mhulo looked over the boy (compared to the Dwarves, he was young at least).
“Ne’er a finer example of bravery in the face of such adversity, I’m sure.” beamed Mhulo. “Mablung, a noble name indeed. You are forever welcome in the halls of our people young pup. Mead or meat, gold or glory- If you seek it, I will lay myself down to ensure you have it. Nasek! To me! Reach into that saddle bag of yours, I wish to reward this man in the moment”
The war goat bleated as Nasek spurred it forward, still munching on some grass it had found earlier. Mablung stood tall, chest out- he was clearly flushed, but proud he was indeed. Mhulo reached into the saddle bag and pulled out a scabbard, flourishing the fine blade then sheathed it.
“Here my boy. This is no broad sword by your folks standards, but the smiths at home in the Iron Hills rival all those across the land. This should be by your side for as long as you wish, a reminder of how you’ve done us a great service. A good short sword it will make for you.” offered Mhulo.
Mablung bowed and took the sword graciously, with a smile as wide as the River Running.
“Many thanks, my lord.” replied Mablung.
“Songs will be sung of you Mablung. You are a hero to our people.” ended Mhulo.
And with that, the Dwarves of Mhulo’s company and the Men of Gondor set watch as their leaders pulled together privately. Gaieties aside, plans needed made, for there were evil winds stirring behind every hill and every bush.