I knew it should be no more than a short journey. I also knew that stretch of the pass was often home to wargs. No matter. Unless it was more than half a dozen we should be fine.
And so we proceeded, I still leading the way, though I suspected Estarfin knew it well enough from patrols.
A few Longhorn crossed our path, a touch skittish that made me think there was a warg or two nearby. Estarfin had narrowed his eyes as the snow started falling more heavily, and swirling in his face. I pulled my warm woolen cloak more tightly about me.
Then the Longhorns were away at a fine pace, silent as the snow, and running from a pursuit we had not heard. Estarfin turned swiftly, sword drawn. Gilastor pawed at the ice as in wanting to break it. The horse’s breath came forth in large plumes of mist. Pelorian turned also, and stood her ground, ears twitching. Then it came, a spear thrown fortunately wide that Gilastor side stepped it effortlessly.
“Goblin patrol,” hissed Estarfin. “Turn and ride them down,” he commanded Gilastor in Quenya, and the warhorse obeyed.
I saw but six, three armed with spears, three with bows. I neither saw nor heard any wargs. Pelorian needed no encouragement. She remembered the combination of heavy snow and goblins, and liked it not. I headed her at a bow bearing creature, and moved to take on a second archer. My mare ran the first one down. The second archer seemed to run onto Sarphir in his excitement. It saved me effort. But then I dodged back as I saw two arrows protruding from my saddle bags. The third archer was aiming at the horses. And he was half way up the cliff.
Estarfin had already dispatched the spear wielders. He called to Gilastor, as an arrow flew near the Warhorse’s shoulder. He drew his bow in annoyance. I made a large snowball with plenty of sharp ice in it.
I don’t know which one of us brought the goblin down. He fell from the height with blood and snow all over his face, and an arrow in his chest.
Estarfin gave me a look of surprise, ‘I will remember she can do that,’ he seemed to be thinking, and I briefly thought then I had lost my advantage in any future snow fights with him.
“Check Pelorian,” he said.
So we checked both horses, and they were fine, though a touch disconcerted. The speed with which Estarfin moved told me he was uninjured.
“There may be more?” I asked.
“Maybe," he replied briefly, looking around the rocky outcrop for any further surprises.
We continued to walk, moving carefully over patches of ice, but our horses were steady of foot. Within ten minutes the stones of Dwarf-built Vindurhal were in view. We passed the narrow path to the left that we would later have to take to avoid goblin camps, and approached the steps. Atop those steps there was the glow, crackle and smell of a small fire.
We led the horses to the most sheltered part of the building. There were six stout ponies, a goat and a large horse there already, and a small amount of food. We fed and watered Gilastor and Pelorian from the provisions we carried, and covered them with the caprisons before seeing to ourselves.
“Up here, up here travellers,” a deep rumbly voice called out.
Then “Welcome, you are travelling from Imladris to the Golden Wood?” an equally deep but far more musical voice.
We looked briefly to each other. The occupants obviously included a Dwarf and a fellow Elf. Their greeting sounded as if they would not object to sharing shelter with us. That was acceptable to me, but Estarfin’s expression was unsure.
Atop the open ledge there was the one small fire, two tents pitched close by, four dwarves, one rather finely dressed Elf with luxurious furs, and a large hulking being that could only be a man. I stopped in my tracks.
The heavily bearded man looked up from a bowl of some gruel type meal, and nodded politely. Estarfin glared back, hatred in his eyes.
“I will not take rest here!” he spoke in Quenya to me, anger plain in his voice.
One of the dwarves took a step forward, sensing Estarfin’s reluctance. “We are all travellers in need of rest,” he said. "All who are not servants of the enemy are welcome. I am Eyewind, a trader and supplier. These others are my men. There are six Dwarves out on patrol protecting us so that we may sleep.” He gestured to the man. “This is Grimbeorn, one of the bear-folk out of the Vales, and the quiet one is Nogmeldir.” The elf smiled and bowed to us, obviously very much at his ease. Estarfin nodded briefly in return.
“We leave,” Estarfin said.
I saw his hand hover near his sword, I saw the looks in the eyes of the Dwarves and the man. Nogmeldir laughed a little. “I am a trader and messenger, crossing back and forth between Lothlorien and Imladris. These Dwarves I have encountered many times. They mean no ill.”
I stepped forward. “And we also journey from Imladris to the woods on the further side. But we are both most tired, and wish not for conversation. We will camp by the horses, and be gone at first light.”
The man rose to his feet. He was nigh seven foot tall that even Estarfin had to look up.
“Whatever your reason, none of us will force you to share our fire and food. Do as you will. You will be safe here.” he almost growled.
Estarfin ignored him, turned and descended the steps. I followed, giving but a swift nod of 'thanks' to the others.
And so we made camp as best we could. My companion was mostly silent, the encounter having taken any edge off comfortable conversation that night. We ate a little of our supplies, and then curled up in our cloaks and tried to sleep. At least I did.
When I awoke there was a faint pink hue to the east. I could hear quite raucous snoring from the ledge above, and my face felt like ice. Yet the rest of me was warm enough. I moved my arms, to find I was covered in Estarfin’s thick, fur-lined cloak. I sat up and looked for him. He was not in sight, though there was still a nearby indentation in the snow from where he must have lain. There was also a thick dwarf cloak tossed halfway up the steps.
I hurriedly rose to my feet, concerned that Estarfin would be freezing. I could only guess at what had happened in the night, that perhaps a Dwarf had taken pity on me and leant me a cloak, which Estarfin had found and discarded. Whatever had happened, I needed to find him and we needed to depart swiftly.
I knew my voice would not carry far in the snow. There was little point in calling out, save to alert any goblin watchers we prepared to depart. So I walked round the building, trying not to alert the inhabitants there either.
Then I saw him, a dark figure trudging towards me through deeper snow.
“All is well?” I asked, taking the cloak and wrapping it over his shoulders. I knew it would not be well till we were away from the man.
He nodded a little curtly. “I would rather we move on if you are rested?”
I nodded back. I smiled at him, though noted he looked tired, and suspected he had been awake all night keeping watch. “Thank you for the cloak,” I said. He smiled just a little. Just enough to reassure me.
“Are you ready to ride?”
“A little waybread and I will be as good as new. “
I went back to collect my saddle bags, and silently took up the Dwarf cloak and deposited it at the top of the stairs. The intentions had been kindly meant, even if Estarfin had found them unacceptable.
We brushed snow from the horses faces, but left the caprisons on. We would be moving, but it was unlikely to be at any speed.
So we mounted the horses and rode to the side path that would take us around the mountains and above the Goblin camps. That path would soon narrow so that we would have to lead the horses single file, but we would ride while we could.