Chapter I: Strike the Earth!
The wagon heaved and creaked as it rumbled westwards along the Men-i-Naugrim
, the ancient road built millenia ago by the Longbeards from the East towards the Misty Mountains and the High Pass into Eriador. A pass which had been cleared of orcs and goblins countless times since; and after every war, every expedition, ever the Creatures of Melkor returned to their old hiding places once the attentions of the Free Peoples moved elsewhere. Though the Great Goblin had been slain during the reclaiming of Erebor, his descendant, Muzluk of Goblin-town, had returned from Mount Gundabad, rebuilding the nest of raiders and bandits. Everywhere the agents of the enemy were on the move.
But to Burin son of Balin, the great designs of the Wise and the Enemy were of little consequence. His heart burned for vengeance for his father, Balin - lost, presumed dead, while trying in vain to retake Moria. None had heard from them in over three years, and all who tried to go near found themselves waylaid by wargs and orcs. The East Gate was shut when last a dwarf made it that far; so far none had tried the West Gate through forgotten Eregion, where once the Noldor dwelt. It was a desire for vengeance he knew he could not quench without more knowledge - but there was no way now to find it. Not yet.
Instead, he had petitioned the King, his cousin, for permission to found a new outpost upon the fringes of the High Pass, to better defend the traders, travellers and messengers which were often waylaid by roving bands of orcish, and even human bandits. It was a bold move, yet of little immediate risk to King Dain - the resources required were not great, and Burin, his father lost, was allowed some privilege in putting his case thanks to his royal blood. It was lost on none that his father had, after Dain's son and grandson, been next in line to the throne, and Dain's heart also no doubt thirsted for an answer to yet another of the House of Durin being lost in the dark of Khazad-dum.
The King had duly granted Burin his request.
So here was he with his several dozen companions, armed to the teeth and glad of the fresh light of day, now that they had passed beyond the forest. The wagon was large, unwieldy and prone to breaking down, but carried with it provisions enough to last them through the next winter. Woodsmen had given them - for some gold - information on an abandoned fortress on the eastern slope of Eithel Ninglor. With luck, they should arrive within a few weeks, and begin delving lodgings fit for the Sons of Durin.
The weather became wetter and damper as they climbed westwards towards the mountains, and more and more they were forced to stop to rest the wagon, or to repair a section of the road damaged by rain and rock. Only once were they attacked - two dozen orcs tried to surprise the camp at night, but were driven off with great slaughter and no losses to the expedition. The fortress lay overlooking both paths of the High Pass, and not far from the eyries of the Great Eagles. Some among the party might have resented that, were it not for Dain himself swearing friendship with them some fifty years prior after the Battle of the Five Armies.
Burin's mood only darkened as they came closer, though. He had long suspected there was more to his father's quest for Moria than naked ambition or a desire to restore the glory of Durin's first halls, and the sight of the mountains stirred his restless mind. The more he thought, the more he remembered his father's brother's words - Dwalin, another of Thorin's companions, and now lord of Tamnogoth in Ered Luin.
"Balin never forgot the night beneath the eaves of Mirkwood, nor the journey west without our king. More than any of us, he could not forgive himself for Thrain's disappearance."
The fate of Thrain II was only ever guessed at. Servants of Sauron, it was said, took him in the night, and Balin, Dwalin and his other companions awoke to find him gone. With him went knowledge of the Ring of Durin's possession. Guilt for his lost liege, who had himself wished to retake Khazad-dum after the Battle of Azanulbizar and the War of the Orcs and Dwarves, led him to seek not only to reclaim Moria, but perhaps he had also hoped to reclaim the last of the Seven Rings of Power given to the dwarflords.
He could but guess; his mind soon found occupation upon their arrival at Eithel Ninglor. Orc raiding parties, it seemed, were indeed active in the area; Muzluk of Goblintown had sent a force to seize more of the lower passes, and further south, over the winter, Gazog, heir of the line of Azog the Defiler, seized the Redhorn Pass as well. Few were surprised when Mordor took advantage of this to raid Rohan, Theodred, son of the king, being killed by one of the Nine, who now rode abroad. But, whether through luck or skill, they managed to hide their initial delving from all the agents of Sauron in the Misty Mountains. Eventually, on the cusp of summer, word was sent back to the Lonely Mountain. Burin, son of Balin, was now Lord of Eithel Ninglor.