Mothlin woke at sunrise, with the sun’s light glaring in his eyes. He threw up a hand to shield them, rolled onto his side, and sat up. Tari was peacefully sleeping under a tree. A patch of grass was cropped bare around her. Mothlin smiled at the sight.
He stumbled to his feet and made his way down to the stream he had spotted last night. Kneeling on its pebbly bank, Mothlin scooped a handful of cold water and threw it unceremoniously into his face. He gasped with the shock of cold, but it woke him up. He stretched his cramped limbs and rolled his head to get the kinks out of his neck. “Once this is over, I am never sleeping on the ground again,” he vowed to himself.
When he judged himself sufficiently awake to appreciate food, Mothlin went back to the spot where he and Tari had made camp. Tari was still slumbering, and Mothlin hated to wake her – but he had to. He crouched beside her and stroked her smooth brown flank, murmuring under his breath. When she did not stir, he played with her ears and thumped her side gently. Finally she blew out a breath and lifted her head to regard him, her eyes full of injury. “I am sorry,” Mothlin sighed, “but we must be moving on, and we both need to eat.” He had tethered her to a tree during the night, but he untied her now and let her graze. He himself opened his pack and pulled out a wafer of lembas. He had brought other food, but he thought it would be best to eat the lembas now, before he grew to hate the taste. He broke off a piece and ate it, watching Tari nibble delicately at the blades of grass. When he had had enough, Mothlin rewrapped the remainder of the wafer and stuffed it back in his pack, pulling it shut. Then he whistled, and Tari came to him. Mothlin saddled her, attached the pack, and climbed onto her back. At a nudge from his knees, Tari headed for the Misty Mountains at a brisk canter.
Arwen’s version of the rescue of Cilyawen had glossed over the mountain journey, and Mothlin wondered sardonically why Arwen had made so light of it. If any of his descendants ever asked him about this adventure, he would fill their ears with horror stories of the endless plodding up mountains and down hills, the whistling wind that froze his ears to the tips, the backache, footache, neckache – every single detail, in hopes that those descendants would not be so foolhardy as to rush off to travel through the Misty Mountains and think it would be easy.
Tari, lagging behind him, gave a plaintive whinny. Mothlin turned around and bit his lips at the sight of his weary horse. “You should have asked to stop sooner,” he informed her, willingly plopping down onto a rock. “I would have said yes.”
She came over to him, whickering, and Mothlin rubbed her nose tenderly before taking off her saddle. He unlaced his pack and removed a hard green apple and some lembas. He cut the apple neatly in half, fed Tari one half, and quartered the other one for himself. Lembas was losing its charm even sooner than Mothlin had expected it to, and the tart, crisp apple was a welcome change. Mothlin half wished he had not given the other half to Tari – but only half wished it.
The rock was not comfortable, but it was flat. Mothlin lay back and pulled his cloak over himself. I’m so tired, he thought as his eyelids slipped over his eyes. I’ll just rest for a short while…
When he woke, the sky was darkening, and Tari had drifted away. Mothlin shrugged off his cloak, shivering at the chilly evening air, and whistled for her. She trotted up from a lower level of the mountain and thrust her nose into his hands. Relieved, he patted her nose before he picked up his pack, put it back on the saddle, and threw the saddle over Tari. “Let’s see how far we can go,” he told her, drawing his cloak closer around him and spreading a blanket over Tari to help her keep warm.
They trudged through the growing darkness, stepping carefully over the dangerous ground until Mothlin found that he could barely see his hand in front of his eyes. Then he stopped, and Tari gratefully found as comfortable a spot as she could and fell asleep. “I always knew you were smart, girl,” Mothlin muttered to himself. He spread his cloak down on the ground and soon slept himself, a dreamless sleep.
Sounds were drifting to his ears – not loud sounds, but not silent ones. Mothlin sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, blinking to see the source of the noises. His movements jostled a few rocks, and a light swung in his direction. Mothlin dropped, pressing his chest against the ground, breathing hard in fear of discovery. The fright had fully woken him, and as he listened to the bearers of that terrible light move away from him, he heard their speech, and a wave of cold fear washed over him. They were goblins.
I should have known! Mothlin berated himself. Arwen told me of her capture when she went through the Misty Mountains. I should have been more alert. I should have been ready. I should have – Tari! He realized with a start that if the goblins found his horse, they would drag her off and eat her. And she might not know to hide herself until they were on her.
Nothing for it, Mothlin thought grimly. And I have to escape from them anyway – otherwise they’ll come over here and find me. He took a deep breath to steady his wits, clenched his fists – and stood, in plain view of the goblins, and whistled for Tari.
They saw him, dropped their torch gladly, and came racing over the rocky ground to him, blades out. Mothlin whipped his two daggers out of their belt sheaths and fell instantly into a fighter’s crouch, wishing he had his sword or his bow – the two daggers did not look sufficient to fend off the goblins’ heavy swords. The goblins were nearly upon him when he heard the welcome whinny of his horse running toward him, her mane flying as she ran.
The first goblin flailed wildly at him with his sword – Mothlin parried the blow with one dagger and sent the other one into the goblin’s guts. Wrenching his bloody dagger free, he kicked the goblin’s body to one side and pinned the second goblin’s blade between his daggers. His muscles strained as the goblin exerted pressure, but Mothlin’s foot flew up and into the goblin’s belly. A quick slash across the throat finished that opponent, and Tari was drawing level with him.
Mothlin sprang onto a small mound of rocks, keeping the rest of the goblins at bay with daggers and feet. Tari pulled up behind him and reared in defense of her master. Her hooves found their marks. Two more goblins tumbled to the ground. Mothlin whirled around, launched himself onto Tari’s back, and kicked his heels into her sides. She plunged forward into the darkness.
The goblins shrieked behind Mothlin, and he heard them clatter after him. Shoving his daggers back into their sheaths, Mothlin fumbled at Tari’s saddle for the place he had hung his bow. Once he had it in his hand, he caught her mane and pulled her to a stop while he strung and loaded it. “Go!” he whispered when he had it ready and his quiver at hand, and Tari obeyed.
The sound of crashing rock was closer – the goblins were catching up. Mothlin swung his leg around to one side so he was riding sidesaddle, took careful aim, and loosed his arrow. He saw it plunge into one goblin’s eye before he leaned back and pulled another arrow from his quiver. Again he loaded, aimed, and shot – again his arrow sped true to its mark. Once more he shot an arrow into a goblin, and then the sounds ran in the opposite direction. “They’re only going to get reinforcements, Tari, my beautiful girl,” he whispered, gasping heavily. “Neither of us will get much sleep tonight.” Mothlin unstrung his bow – no need to put unneeded pressure on the wood – and moved his leg back to the other side of Tari. “Run,” he said, “and don’t stop until we’re out of here.”
Sunrise found them still running, but both Mothlin and Tari were newly energized. They had happened upon a rough trail by sheer luck during the wild run of the night, and following it had led them through the Misty Mountains with much more ease than they would otherwise have had. Looking ahead, Mothlin could see a flat plain, not another towering peak. “I think we’re nearly out of here,” he called happily to Tari. The mare, though slathered with sweat, quickened her pace and neighed eagerly.
They passed through a cleft in the mountain – and emerged on the other side of the mountain range. Mothlin’s eyes widened with relief as he looked at the flat expanse of land and the river that cut through it, but his relief was put to an end as he realized there were three rivers that that could be.
“What do you think, Tari?” he asked, pulling her to a well-deserved halt and dismounting. “That’s either the Sir Nindor, which Men call the Gladden River, the Nimrodel, or the Celebrant.” He cocked his head at the mare, who lowered her head to the ground and began grazing, ignoring him utterly. Mothlin raised his eyebrows. “Well, I suppose I’ll have to figure it out on my own, since you don’t seem inclined to help me.” The only response he received was a whicker and the sound of chewing.
He sat down on the grass and stared at the river. “Whichever one it is, it joins the Anduin, which runs near Mirkwood, so it won’t be disastrous if I take it,” Mothlin muttered to himself, thinking aloud. “And since I can’t see another river near it, it must be Sir Nindor.” He sighed with disappointment – his journey would have been so much easier had it been Celebrant or Nimrodel. Well, since it was so much longer, he had better get moving. Cilyawen did not have much time, after all…
Tari lifted her head from the grass and regarded Mothlin with a reproachful gaze. He burst out laughing. “All right, Tari, I won’t make you get up and start running again. In fact, I could do with some food myself.” He removed his pack from the saddle and broke off some lembas for himself. “I wouldn’t do Cilyawen much good if I arrived at Dol Guldur half-dead from hunger.”
When he finished, Mothlin lay back on the grass, his head cradled on top of his hands, and stared at the sky. It was so wonderful to simply rest, especially after last night. He released a heavy breath, closed his eyes, and slept.