'No, no. Not about pipeweed at all. I never said it was. I really don't know what it is about, but I know it is not about pipeweed.'
'If you do not know what it is about, how do you know it is not about pipeweed?'
'Oh bother! I'm sorry. I mean it has nothing to do with pipeweed. Why would Cirdan send an urgent message via a wizard to a king about pipeweed? It's absurd. I have ridden 125 leagues without rest, through rain and fog and I don't know what else, and I assure you that I would not have done so to deliver a message about pipeweed! Now if you will please inform your King that I have arrived, I would be eternally grateful. And some dinner and a fire would also be kindly appreciated.'
'My dear halfling. Mr. Fairbairn. We do not lead every passing tradesman into the presence of our King, distressing as that may be to you. Do you, ah, do you have some sort of proof that this letter is from Cirdan of the Havens. . . whoever he is?'
'What do you mean, "whoever he is"? Don't you know of Cirdan, the ancient shipwright, in the Havens, Eldest of the Eldar? Even I knew who he was, and I'm nobody. Here, look at this inscription.' Tomilo took the letter out of his pack and laid it on the table in front of the dwarf, never taking his hand from it. The dwarf tried to grab the letter, but the hobbit held it tight. 'Just read it there on the table, if you please.'
Gnan read the script but did not seem convinced. He kept his hand on the letter as well, to the rising irritation of the hobbit. 'That's fancy writing, all right. But I'm no judge of whether it's from the "eldest of the eldest," as you put it. Leave it here and I'll have someone look at it. We'll get back to you in the morning.'
'I'm sorry,' answered Tomilo firmly. 'That's impossible. Why don't you call in someone to look at it now. Someone in the King's retinue. Someone who might know what he is talking about.'
Gnan jumped up and looked at the hobbit harshly, still with one hand on the letter. 'Look here, Mr. Fairbairn, you're not in the Shire anymore. I recommend you act less proud. One word from me and you may spend a bit more time in Khazad-dum than you may like, and a bit deeper than may be good for your lungs.'
Tomilo's anger was rising, but he didn't know what to do. This was a tighter spot than he cared to be in. He stared at the letter for a moment and tried to think what Radagast would do. But that did not raise his confidence either. He saw Radagast drawing a complete blank, or stating his name again, or something equally outlandish. Well, what would Cirdan do? he wondered. This, however, was beyond the imagination of Tomilo. He felt utterly out of his depth. Suddenly he snatched the letter from Gnan's hand and ran into the hall.
'Help!' he cried. 'I'm being robbed. Fear, Fire, Foes! Call the shirriffs! Call the King! I have a letter for him from Cirdan, from the elves. From the Hav. . . .' Just then he was grabbed by the ankles and taken down. A dwarf hand was clapped roughly over his mouth. Three or four dwarves bound and gagged him and put him in a sack.
Moments later Tomilo found himself being carried roughly down many steps. He was carried like this for about five minutes and then put down. A few minutes later he was picked up and the dark journey continued. It was getting colder and colder. After at least half an hour of climbing down and down and down, his captors finally stopped. They pulled him roughly from the sack and untied the gag from his mouth.
'Now, my noisy halfling, you may call out all you want,' said the nearest one, a very heavy dwarf in mithril mail and a low helm. Tomilo had not seen him before, or any of them. The dwarf continued, 'No one will hear you down here, I assure you. But I recommend you review your manners. We are not accustomed to visitors being so vocal, and so accusing. You should have plenty of time to think. And no light to get in your eyes, to confuse your thoughts.'
With that the dwarf shoved Tomilo roughly into a cell and slammed the iron door upon him. The hobbit fell to the stone floor on his hands and knees. The dwarves left the hall quickly, taking the only torch with them.
The hobbit knelt there dizzily for a moment, letting it all sink in. This was bad. Oh, this was very bad! The worst possible thing. He could die here. He really might die here. Why had he run out and called for the shirriffs? That was the most preposterous, most ridiculous, most utterly absurd thing he could have done. That he had ever done, in fact. Did dwarves even have shirriffs? Oh dear! He thought that if he hadn't been so cross about the rain and the lack of sleep and the hunger, he might never have acted such a fool. But it was too late to remedy that.
Finally he stopped thinking about the recent past and began thinking about the present. Where he was now. Not being able to see anything, he crawled straight ahead until he hit a wall. Then he crawled at right angles until he found the other walls. He was in a very small cell. About ten feet square. Stone walls, stone floor, ceiling too high to touch. The cell contained only one thing. A straw mattress, four feet long and two wide. No pillow. No blanket.
And no food and no water. Tomilo's stomach was gnawing at him already. He wondered if he would be fed dinner. And if it would be hot. He was still not dry and he was very cold. He considered taking his clothes off, to help them dry. He thought he might be warmer without them. But he didn't want to be naked if the guard brought him dinner. He thought that would look rather odd. If he only had his pack!
Just then it hit him that he had nothing. Nothing. His hands were empty. Where was the letter! He must have dropped it when they had grabbed his ankles. It was gone. Oh dear. Without that letter he had nothing to bargain with. They had no reason to ever let him out. He might be here forever. Oh dear, oh dear.
Tomilo lay upon the mattress, looking up at nothing—total blackness. All he could think about was his hunger. He did not think about his foolishness with Captain Gnan anymore, or the rough guards, or Drabdrab standing in some cold stony manger. He only thought of food. He had been lying there many hours. He did not know how many, but it must be night outside by now. They were not bringing him any dinner. Maybe breakfast? He began to think of eggs and toast with lots of butter and potatoes swimming in gravy and other tasty things. He had just run through all his favourite breakfast things seven times, when suddenly he sneezed.
Oh dear. He was so cold. So cold. The cold now began to take over his mind. His clothes were still wet, after hours and hours. It was too cold to dry them and his body was not producing any heat either. He simply must get out of the wet things, the guard be bothered. If he didn't he would surely catch his death. He stripped off his cloak and his weskit and his breeches. Then he curled up into a ball on the mattress and pulled it over him, like a pig in a blanket. At first it didn't want to stay: it was too stiff. So he held it down with one arm.
After maybe a quarter of an hour, this got to be too tiring. Besides, he could never sleep if he had to hold down the mattress all night. So he got up, refolded the mattress and sat on it for a while. Then he got up and jumped up and down on it for several minutes. This gave it a permanent crease; and the exercise also warmed him a bit. When he climbed back into his shell, it stayed put this time, and in a little while he was warm. A few minutes later he was asleep.
He slept for a very long time. He slept for about eight or nine hours; and then, having no reason to get up, and feeling terrible anyway, he went back to sleep. He slept for several more hours. Still no guard. No food. So he slept for several more hours. Finally he got up and checked to see if his clothes were dry. His cloak was almost dry, but the other things were still damp. So he took the cloak into the bed with him, to warm it. He had a slight cough and felt dizzy whenever he stood, so he stayed in the bed, turning himself every few hours to keep from making his ears sore. The mattress was so hard that if he had stayed on one side, his shoulder and hip and ear would have been crushed into a permanent dent.
He had fallen asleep again when the guard banged on the iron bars and yelled at him. 'Get up! Food!'
Tomilo pulled his cloak about him and ran to the door. The guard had a torch, but he was even then going out. There was just enough light for the hobbit to see the food and then it was dark again. The food was not hot. It was a square of cold brown. . . something. And there was a can of water. Tomilo drank off the water in one long pull. It was cold and good. But the food was awful. It tasted like rusty sawdust. Or moldy dirt. It was barely edible. Tomilo choked it down regardless. He needed nourishment, and something told him there was nourishment in this slab of foul stuff. It was a form of 'cram', the waybread of Dale (although Tomilo did not know it). But it was the dwarves' own recipe for cram, and was much worse than the tasteless kind eaten in the north and baked by men. The cram of Dale was as much tastier than this dwarvish waybread as lembas was tastier than cram. That is to say, the difference was very great indeed.
This diet only increased Tomilo's troubles. Already cold and tired and malnourished on his arrival, he had added to that a crushing setback to his spirit—caused by the loss of the letter—and a complete loss of light. He fell into a fever that night and suffered from delirium for many nights after. He moved only in order to eat his daily dose of cram and drink his can of water. At the height of his fever, he did not eat at all, but hid the cram under his clothes for later.
It was now many days later. The hobbit had been feeling somewhat better, and was beginning to wonder what sort of life he should settle into here. He was thinking of what he could possibly do to keep his mind and body from completely failing him in this tiny dark cell. A routine might save him for a few months; but he could not imagine living much longer than that without sunlight or conversation or hot food. That idea made him feel dreadful again. What if no one ever rescued him or asked about him or sent for him? How long would it take Farbanks to miss him? To send inquiries to Moria and to Radagast? And what of Radagast? Would Radagast remember to check on his messenger, or would he be too busy with greater things—kings and councillors?
Just then Tomilo heard a noise. It rather surprised him, since he did not feel that it was time for his one meal of the day. At first he feared it might be some deep cave animal, nosing about in the dark. A great rat with sharp whiskers—or worse. But then he heard a clinking. Rats did not carry keys or wear mail (it was to be hoped). Finally he heard heavy footsteps coming right up to his cell. He shrunk back against the far wall. It was not the guard. The guard always carried a torch and called out to the prisoner to stir himself. This was a two-legged creature, with metal on it or about it, and it was now staring into the cell, trying to hear his movements.
Then a voice whispered, 'Mr. Fairbairn?'
Tomilo was too frightened to answer, although the voice sounded somehow familiar.
The voice continued, 'It's me, Mr. Fairbairn. Galka, from the bridge.' A lantern was uncovered, and light streamed in through the bars of the cell.
Tomilo walked toward the lantern, but still could not speak. He had not said a word in more than a week, and his tongue would not loose itself.
So Galka began again, not waiting for the hobbit, 'Oh, Mr. Fairbairn, thank Aule I found you! I have been searching these cells for days. It is a very honeycomb down here, and I couldn't often risk a light to look at a map. Not to speak of avoiding the guards. There aren't many, and that's one thing. I believe you are the only one down here in the lower chambers. There are a few dwarves in the airier cells above, and the guards seem to prefer to stay up there and talk to those prisoners. Discipline here is bad. Yes, things are very bad. I shall probably find myself among those prisoners, for what I am doing. But I couldn't leave you down here to die.'
All this time, Galka had been working at the lock with a metal file or some similar device. Dwarves were very good with such tools, of course, and it was difficult to keep a dwarf in a cell. In the cells above, where dwarves were imprisoned for local infractions, the locks had been reinforced and made dwarf-proof. But these lower cells were not so strong. At last he forced the lock open and signalled for the hobbit to follow him. At this point Tomilo found his tongue and began to whisper something to the dwarf. But Galka quickly stopped him, indicating with his hands that they must be absolutely quiet for the next few moments. He took Tomilo's right hand and put it on his own shoulder, as a guide; then he replaced the cover on the lantern. The dwarf and the hobbit crept almost silently along the dark stone passage: the dwarf making some little noise with his boots and the hobbit following like his shadow. The hobbit was so quiet that if he had not had his hand on Galka's shoulder, the dwarf would not have known he was still there.
They made a few turns, left and right and then left again, and then began to climb a long flight of stairs. They had passed more than two hundred steps when suddenly the hobbit felt a draught from his right. They had just shot by an open doorway. This happened again some hundred steps beyond, on the left. Then Tomilo looked up and saw a dim light falling down the stairwell from far above. As they continued to climb, the light got brighter and brighter. It was orange and still rather dim, being but the light of a single torch in another room off the stairs, but it seemed dangerously bright to the dwarf and the hobbit. They went a bit slower and stopped to listen every thirty steps or so. About ten steps below the light, they stopped again. Neither could hear a sound coming from the room. So they inched their way up the next nine steps, holding their breath. All at once Galka leapt forward and Tomilo followed. They were past the doorway in an instant.
But even that instant had not been fast enough. For the room was not empty. The voice of a dwarf cried, 'Who is that?' And then, 'Gnorin? Is that you?' And then the guard came to the stairs and looked up. He saw the retreating figure of the hobbit closely following the dwarf.
'Halt there! I say, stop!' he cried. But Galka and Tomilo only increased their speed. So the guard gave chase. Galka was young, and Tomilo, despite having just recovered from a fever, was sprier than the lightest and youngest dwarf. He did not have to carry gigantic boots up those steep and winding stairs, for one thing. And he weighed a good deal less than any dwarf, even when he was not limited to rations of cram and water. Soon he was pushing Galka up the steps, urging him on faster. This only made the dwarf topple over, so Tomilo moved ahead so that he could pull the dwarf along behind. Soon they were out of sight of the guard.
Just as they began to think they might be out of immediate danger, they heard a horn blow from down in the depths. Then a horn answered far above them. They could hear, very distantly, the sounds of many boots moving above them. Galka stopped for a moment. At first Tomilo pulled on him, but then he also stopped. He was not sure he wanted to continue racing upwards. It was again completely dark, and the hobbit did not know what to do. So he risked a bit of speech.
'What now?' he began. But Galka again put his hand over Tomilo's mouth and put Tomilo's right hand back on his shoulder. The dwarf breathed deeply for a time or two and then regained his place ahead of the hobbit. They climbed only about forty steps before another dark doorway opened on the left. Galka pulled Tomilo through it. It was not a room. It was a short hallway to another flight of steps, these also going up, but not as steeply. The two ran up these as the sounds from above got closer and closer. Just as it seemed to Tomilo that they must meet the dwarves coming down, Galka led him through yet another doorway to the left and along another passage. This one was level and straight. They made excellent time and soon the sound of boots began to recede. This level path did not last long, however. After maybe five minutes it began to go down. It was only a slope at first, but then it broke into shallow steps. Galka took them through a passage to the right and they hit another flight of steep steps, these also going down. They went perhaps two hundred steps almost straight down into the earth before Galka stopped. He was breathing hard. He sat and pulled the hobbit down beside him. It took several minutes for him to compose himself, but then he leaned close to the hobbit's ear and began to whisper.
'They will not find us here,' he said. 'Most of the chambers and passages below the third level are not much used on the north side of the West Gate, save for holding cells and the like. The air is not as clean down here, as you have no doubt noticed.' (Tomilo hadn't noticed anything, but he had no means of comparison, of course). 'It cannot even be used to store provisions—they spoil so much quicker here, you see. We have drained the water down to the twelfth deep, but it is still not fit for habitation. And the mining is mostly poor in this direction. Most of the dwarves of Moria also fear this area. They say that the den of the balrog is somewhere below the eighteenth deep, away northeast of here. Where there are fires depths rather than water depths. I have been part of the way down there, past where anyone else ever goes, and I think it is all bogey stories. Besides, the balrog was killed hundreds of years ago, on the bridge below the East Gate.
'Once we have rested, we must go a bit further in that direction,' he continued, pointing invisibly down into the solid blackness. 'But nowhere near the fires, don't worry. From there we can climb to the first deep far from the West Gate. They will not expect us there. No one would be expected to flee in this direction. Especially a hobbit who did not know the depths of Moria and who would only be looking for the gate.'
This did not sound especially promising to Tomilo, but the hobbit felt he must trust in his guide. He certainly had no hope of escape on his own. He did not fear fire monsters in the bowels of the earth, whatever they were called, but he definitely did fear being lost in this endless cave. Whatever Galka's plan might be, it was better than starving in a deep sunless cell or lying lost at the center of the earth.
'What will we do at the first deep?' asked Tomilo. 'Won't they simply put me back where I was, with you to join me?'
'No. At least I hope not. There are some royal chambers at the first deep. The only ones on the Westside where the King's family spends any time. I know a few fellows in the King's service, minor courtiers and whatnot. I hope to get you a hearing, if not with the King or his household, at least with someone with some connections.'
'But why are you doing this? Why risk your freedom for me?'
'It is not just you, Mr. Fairbairn. The letter has not been sent at all, you see. I have kept my ears open. It's like this. Once you mentioned elves, back on the road, I could not get them out of my head. I was keen to know what the message from the elves could be. When you first said it, I hoped that King Mithi would tell us soon—I was that curious. But you made Gnan so angry that he resolved to hold the letter as long as he could. As long as the letter was not sent, the King would not need to be told anything, and you would be miserable and forgotten. You see the letter was not dated. Captain Gnan opened it and saw that. So he still has it. He must send it eventually, of course. He would risk much by not sending it at all. But there are some of us who think he is doing a great wrong. A few of us young ones in the West Guard who know of the letter. I thought of sending a message myself to the King's Guard, but I feared it would be intercepted and I would be charged with insubordination.'
'You don't think you will be charged with insubordination for letting a prisoner out of his cell?' answered Tomilo.
'It is mad, I know. But I couldn't think of what else to do. This way you are free, at least for now. And I have you as proof that my story is true, when we are caught.'
'Well, I suppose that makes some sense,' admitted the hobbit. 'I just hope we are not caught by Gnan, or his men. . . dwarves, I mean.'
'Yes. Well, we better be going. They may begin searching all passages before long, likely and unlikely.'
Galka and Tomilo hurried down the steps. The hobbit now had one hand on Galka's shoulder and one hand on the near wall. The staircase was quite narrow and the stone walls were a comfort to a free hand in this mad rush down. Despite the utter darkness, Galka did not seem to fear falling into a hole or tripping on a loose stone. Tomilo assumed this meant he had been down these steps many times. In this he was right. Indeed, Galka had been on a maintenance team five years before—one that had scoured all these passages from the second deep to the twelfth. Below the twelfth, Moria was still flooded near to the West Gate. And further east there were fires. Maintenance below the twelfth deep had therefore been left off for many decades, except on the Eastside. Near the East Gate, below the permanent halls of the King, the dwarves had excavated and thoroughly explored and repaired to a depth of 65 fathoms and more. There were livable chambers at the 21st deep. The Kings of Khazad-dum had not wanted any unclean air coming up from below, nor any risk of attack by tunneling orcs. All water had been sealed off and all fire had been shafted into vents that often rose more than a hundred fathoms to release their smokes above the Misty Mountains.
But here, less than three miles from the West Gate, things were not so tidy. Galka discovered this when he suddenly plunged waist deep into icy water. Tomilo held fast to the wall, only getting his feet wet.
'Ugh!' cried Galka, climbing back dripping onto the stairs. 'This was not here when I last came this way. The waters must be rising. And it is dirty too. Can you smell it?'
'Yes,' answered Tomilo. He had smelled it for the past quarter of an hour, but assumed it was just more 'bad air'.
'We are not even to the tenth deep, if my calculations are correct,' said Galka. 'Obviously we must go back. There is an alternate route, not to worry. We will have to climb back a little way, I am afraid, but it may actually save us a bit of time. It is more direct, but it goes slightly nearer the fires. I must admit I could stand a bit of heat right now. I can barely feel my legs!'
Tomilo stamped his feet and shook the water off them. 'Ick! There's some kind of slime in the water, too! Let's go away from this place. It feels unclean. There are things living in these deep waters, if only blind fish and frogs.'
They turned to go. But they had only climbed four or five steps when a voice came down from above. 'Stand where you are! I place you under arrest in the name of King Mithi!'
A lantern was uncovered and a large dwarf in full mail and brandishing an axe could be seen standing maybe ten steps above. He was alone.
Tomilo expected Galka to surrender immediately. He appeared to be no match for this huge guard. The hobbit did not even think his new friend was armed. But he was to be surprised on both accounts. Galka leaned into Tomilo and whispered, 'Stay at my side. Back up slowly to the water's edge and then stop. Duck when I say, and then run when I give the signal. He is alone and I think we can outrun him. I just have to dodge him into the water. He can't see it in our shadow.'
Galka then drew a short sword from under his cloak. The hobbit stood firm. In answer, the guard set the lantern down and grabbed his axe with both hands. He strode confidently down the staircase. The flickering flame of the lantern threw huge shadows down the stone steps, lighting only the ceiling and parts of the walls. As the guard advanced, Galka and Tomilo feinted retreat, backing slowly down, step by step. On the step above the water, they stopped. But the guard came on. Without pausing he lit on the second step above them and swung the mighty axe at Galka's head. He and the hobbit both ducked and the axe rang out against the wall. Shards of rock splintered down upon their heads and on the steps at their feet. Galka thrust his sword at the guard halfheartedly. Seeing such slight resistance, the guard laughed and advanced to the step above them. He swung the axe again, but even at this close range, the two smaller adversaries were too quick for him. They ducked, and when the axe hit the wall again, Galka put a shoulder into the guard's exposed right side, near the ribs. As he did so, he cried 'run!' to the hobbit.
Tomilo scrambled out of the way of the wrestling dwarves, but only climbed a step or two before turning to wait for Galka. The guard now dropped his axe and closed with the smaller dwarf. Galka was making no further attempts to stab him, and the guard thought the fight nearly won. He leaned his weight into Galka, using his added advantage of being a step above. But his boot met a shard of loose rock and slipped, just as Galka was turning to the wall to counter his advance. The guard lost his footing completely and fell past Galka into the water in a full dive. Even as he hit the water, Galka was scrambling up the steps and yelling, 'Now, run. Go!'
The guard came spluttering to the surface, and the two could hear him puffing and huffing. Suddenly he screamed in terror and began calling for help. Galka and Tomilo had risen to where the guard's lantern was still alight on the stone steps, and the young dwarf was about to kick it over, to cover their tracks. But instead they both stopped and looked down into the shadowy stairwell. Just below the well-lit ceiling at the water's edge, they could see a mass of shiny wet arms, like a hundred snakes, churning in all directions. The guard was already completely entangled in them. A huge tapering one was winding about his neck, and as the two looked on in horror, the guard's cries were cut short and he fell back into the water.
If the dwarf and the hobbit were wondering what to do next, they did not have to wonder long. Another long slippery arm or snake began feeling its way up the steps, and Tomilo and Galka did not stay to find out its length. They fled with all speed up the dark steps, throwing the guard's lantern back into the searching arms.
They did not speak again for some time. Galka led them up again to the eighth deep, where they turned left, bore left again through a level passage for perhaps ten minutes, and then turned left a third time down another narrow stairwell. It was much like the one they had just fled, save that it was both warmer and fresher. The smell was gone, although the memory of it lingered. They had gone some way down this passage when Galka stopped.
'Sorry,' he said, almost out of breath, 'I am beginning to get dreadfully tired. That last. . . um. . . experience makes me a little faint, too, I think. Not the fight with the guard, but the other . . . thing. What happened down there? Did you see that. . . creature . . . or creatures?'
Tomilo only nodded. He was glad to stop. His head had been pounding for half an hour, at least. He was hungry and tired and now in shock. He doubted that he could go much further, although he said nothing to the dwarf. The vision of the guard going under, wrapped in slippery arms, kept running through his mind. Once his thoughts had settled a bit, he said, 'I think . . . I don't know, but I think . . . maybe it reminds me of the slimy thing that grabbed Frodo in the story. I have been wanting to ask, ever since we approached the West Gate from outside, whatever happened to that creature. Did the dwarves kill it when they drained the valley?'
'No. I don't think so. Nothing was found in the lake bed but rocks and bones and old refuse. Some of it is in the Gate Museum. But no creature.'
'You know the story I mean, then?'
'Of course. We are all taught of the Nine Walkers, and the words at the Gate, and the breaking of the doors, and the fight on the bridge. But if there is a record of the death of the creature that broke the doors and killed the old holly trees, it is no longer passed on. I always supposed that it was a sort of fish—that could not live without water, and that sunk into some crevice and died in the drying mud.'
'It may have sunk into some crevice, but it either survived or spawned somehow. If that is not the same creature, it is one like to it.'
'Perhaps you are right. It seems the most likely explanation. But why would it wait until now to re-emerge? We have had no sightings of such a creature in all the years that we have worked here, that I know of.'
'It could be that the creature's existence is known, but that it has been kept hidden from general knowledge so as not to alarm the entire community. From what you have told me, there is already some nameless fear of the fires. If there had been an equal fear of the water, no one could be convinced to come down here for any reason, maintenance or mining or otherwise.'
'Well, if the creature has been here all along, I should think we would have been encouraged to stay away. Why risk drowning by snakes in order to maintain an area that yields no ore? It makes no sense.'
'Your King may have his reasons for keeping these parts open. I do not know.'
'Or, the creature may have chosen this time to awaken, for reasons of its own.'
'That thought is even more unsettling, especially to me. Let us not talk of it further.' Tomilo shivered and rubbed his toes. 'Do you have any food on you, Galka? A crust of bread? Anything at all?'
'I'm sorry, my dear Mr. Fairbairn. I have nothing. I can steal a bite for you once we get back up toward the main passages. But for now you will just have to tighten your belt and think of the future. It should only take a couple more hours, at most. If we are successful, the King will probably stuff you full of anything you like. Both of us, even. Let us think of that for the next hour!'
As they continued down the steep steps, it became warmer and warmer. A very dim glow began to rise from the depths. It was red and its intensity ebbed and flowed. After twenty minutes of steady descent, Galka paused.
'I have never been this far down. We are near the twelfth deep, I think. Perhaps even lower. We are looking for an opening to the right, that will take us to the southeast. I have seen the link on a map. There is a main rise somewhere to the east of us, a large winding stair that ends in the Great Chamber of the Midlights. There is a parallel passage to the one we seek, that runs from the stairwell we were on before to the winding stair. I have taken that link before. It is at about our present depth. But it does not link to this stair. We must go a bit lower. Are you all right still?'
'I can go on. The sooner we get there, wherever it is, the sooner we eat. Even prison food, a bit of cram, is starting to sound good.'
'Don't say that! I'll get you out of this yet, Mr. Fairbairn.'
As they descended, the light began to die out. This was a bit of a surprise. They both had expected it to get hotter and redder as they went down. But as they went round a slight bend, the light went out altogether. It was pitch black once more. What was worse is that they could feel the steps beginning to worsen beneath them. No longer was the way perfectly maintained and even. Small cracks opened up, and then larger fissures. Galka was forced to go slower, for fear of stepping into a hole, or into a chasm. The hobbit was beginning to grumble about this, for the sharp openings in the stone floor were cutting his feet. The dwarf turned to comfort him. 'Just a bit further. I know the turn must be at this depth. . . .'
At that very moment Galka stumbled and fell. He cried out and then was quiet. Tomilo stopped immediately. He feared the dwarf had fallen into a hole. He could see nothing at all, of course, and Galka was not saying anything—not even groaning. The hobbit went down on his knees and felt his way forward. The dwarf was right in front of him, in a heap. He shook him gently and called his name.
'Galka. Are you hurt? Can you speak?' But the dwarf said nothing.
It couldn't be too bad, thought Tomilo. At least Galka was not still falling down some open shaft. What could be wrong? He reached forward to the dwarf's head. He felt no blood. But there was a large rock near Galka's head. He had probably struck it on the way down. Tomilo checked the dwarf's heart. It was beating. Galka was simply dazed.
Tomilo sat on the stairs and waited for him to recover. He sat. And sat, and sat. His stomach growled and his head swam. Finally he decided he must go for help. If he ended up back in the dwarf prison, that was still better than this—his new friend wounded and unconscious and himself starving and nearly unconscious. He got up and shook Galka one last time. 'Galka. Wake up! Please wake up, won't you?' But the dwarf did not stir.
So Tomilo started climbing down again. Suddenly he stopped and went back to the dwarf. He took the dwarf's small lantern from under his cloak and relit it. He was not so concerned about concealment now. With the lantern he could safely make his way down the broken steps. He kept his eyes on the right wall. Galka had said there was a passage to the right to a winding stair. And this stair led to some large chambers. That didn't sound too difficult. Not with a lantern.
But the passage to the right did not present itself. He had gone some five hundred steps below Galka, and still nothing. So he continued on. And on and on and on. His head was now swimming and he had long lost count of the steps. He was about to turn round when the passage suddenly ended. He raised the lantern. Below him about twenty steps the stairs appeared to stop at a dead end. He thought this strange. Why would a nearly endless flight of stairs be built to end in a stone wall? He continued down to the very end to be sure.
It was not a complete dead end after all. To the right there had been a narrow passageway, but it was now filled in with stone and mortarwork. It looked to Tomilo to have been a hasty job—the stones did not match properly and the nogging was incomplete. Several holes and cracks remained in the obstruction, and a dull red glow could be seen eking through. One of the holes was almost big enough to crawl through. Not big enough for a dwarf, but perhaps for a hobbit. A hobbit on short rations.
Tomilo worked at the edge of the seam with his fingers, breaking away crumbling bits of mortar and bagshot. Finally he had an opening that looked large enough to crawl through. The hobbit was too dizzy to question the wisdom of this. Galka had told him to turn right, and this was the only right turn available. He was going to take it if he possibly could. So he scrambled through and continued on.
The passageway was flat. It ran off into the distance and then turned a corner. In the red light Tomilo could see that the ceiling was high and curved and that the walls were worked with tracery. The floor, too, although cracked and covered with a layer of soot, had been finely worked and showed many signs of tooling and ancient decoration. This must be the link Galka had been looking for. Tomilo proceeded down it in some hope of finally reaching the winding stair. He made good time, now almost racing along the level ground. After several furlongs the way began to descend again, though, in a gradual slope. The walls widened and the heat began to be really uncomfortable. There was also a gradual brightening beyond any light his lantern was casting. Before long the whole wide corridor was lit with a red flickering light. The hobbit extinguished the lantern and tied it to his belt.
Suddenly he popped through a low archway and found himself in a great hall. The ceiling rose above him to thirty or forty feet. A grey smoke filled the air and obscured the far walls. Huge carven stone columns ran out into the midst of the hall in a double row, but he could see that they had been blackened and disfigured over the ages. There was a dim constant hum or rumbling from somewhere ahead in the smoke. Tomilo did not know what to do. Galka had said nothing of a great hall.
Tomilo stayed close to what he thought must be the southern wall and made his way across the large open space. He hoped to find another passage running east on the other side. The smoke was too thick to see if he was right. As he began to lose sight of the archway he had entered, he stumbled on something. It was a shield. A mithril shield, scarred and dented. He studied the floor. All about him, partially obscured by the smoke and covered in places by ash and dust, were helms and axes and piles of still-shiny mail. Within the mail were the disintegrating bones of dwarf warriors!
The hobbit shuddered. He almost fled. He would have fled but he did not know which way to flee. To go back seemed to admit defeat. If the winding stair was just ahead, he had come too far to give up now. He would at least make it to the far wall, and see if the passageway continued on.
The signs of an ancient battle continued. The bodies were piled up against the wall and strewn out across the open space of the hall in every direction, as far as the hobbit could see. Here and there the bones of an orc or other strange fell creature added to the carnage. Scimitars, curved and stained, lay next to swords and axes by the hundreds. A great stone troll, now only stone, lay on top of a mound of warriors.
By this time, Tomilo was delirious. The only thing that drove him on was hunger. To go back was to climb a thousand steps for cram. To go forward was to climb with the possibility of hot food. Tomilo was a hobbit to the last. He was sure anyway, in his swirling mind, that the winding stair was just ahead. So he followed the wall into the dim red air and the grey smoke.
What he had not noticed is that the wall of this great chamber was curved—slightly concave. He was now following it northward, and getting farther and farther from the arch he had entered. There was no 'far wall'. Only this wall. About half a furlong from the arch he reached a crevice in the floor. The crevice appeared to cut all the way across the hall. Low flames leapt out of it to about knee height. Beyond, he thought he could see—distantly through the heavy smoke—a dark wall with darker shapes in it. Those must be archways, he thought. One must be the passageway to the winding stair! He jumped lightly over the flames and continued on toward the dark wall. As he got nearer, though, the shapes coalesced into wholly different images. They were not archways in a wall. They were men in tombs!
The dark wall was a wall of dark flame—flame that seemed to suck the red light into it, rather than emit it. And in this wall were vertical recesses, like statuary recesses in a gallery. Standing in these recesses were huge grotesque figures. Tomilo had thought they were men, from a distance. Now he thought they were figures carved in black stone. They were too large to be men. And their eyes were closed. Two of them had wings folded in front, like sleeping bats. These were the largest. The smaller figures—still taller by half than the tallest man—had heads curiously shaped, almost wolfish. Their hands and feet were abnormally large, with blackened nails—as if the stone had been scorched after it had been carved, blacker than black. They wore no clothes, but seemed to be encased in some sort of horny shell, like a beetle.
Still almost delirious, and beginning to be overcome by the smoke, Tomilo walked unsteadily another pace forward. The hum had increased and it now filled the air. It seemed to be coming from the wall. From the flames. Suddenly Tomilo realized with horror that the hum was coming not from the flames, but from the figures! He was close enough now to see the chests rise and fall in long shallow breaths. These figures were alive! The hum was the hum of their horrible breathing! Wisps of smoke could now be seen passing from their nostrils!
The hobbit reeled. His stomach lurched. He nearly collapsed in fear. For several moments he was frozen. Finally the fear helped to clear his head. He turned and walked away as silently as he could. Never had he been so aware of his stealth. He untied the lantern from his belt, fearing it would rattle, and set it noiselessly on the floor. Even though the hum and smoke covered all his movements, the hobbit could not be too careful. He did not know who these people were, these terrible apparitions; but his instinct told him they were worse than any orc, more deadly than any troll. Once he was well out of sight of the dark wall he broke into a run. He leapt across the fallen dwarves and their scattered weapons and rushed beneath the archway. Without pausing—in truth increasing his speed—he passed the level passageway in minutes, squeezed through the hole, and scrambled up the stairs. Very soon he was back at Galka's side, shaking him and crying, 'Please wake up, please wake up, oh, please, please!'
The dwarf did wake up. He opened his eyes to. . . nothing; but he could hear that Tomilo was in tears, absolutely distracted. Galka became upset as well. 'What is it, Mr. Fairbairn! What's wrong? Just be calm and tell me straight. That's it, breathe. I'm all right. Just tell me what the matter is.'
The hobbit was talking in a blur about orcs and demons and dark flame and bones and statues. Galka could make nothing of it. The dwarf felt his own head. 'I must have fallen and knocked myself out,' he thought to himself. 'Maybe Mr. Fairbairn fell, too, and just woke up. Maybe he is raving.
'Come on, Mr. Fairbairn. We've still got to get to that winding stair. Pull yourself together.' He put the hobbit's hand on his shoulder again, and started down the stair.
But Tomilo grabbed him roughly and whispered grimly in his ear, 'You can't go down there! I've just been there. We've come too far down! We missed the right turn in the dark, somewhere up there. I swear. I'm fine now. Please trust me. We can't go down there. I'll tell you why later.'
Galka touched Tomilo's arm. The hobbit was trembling. He was still distracted, but his speech was no longer raving. 'Well, Mr. Fairbairn, I don't think we passed any doors on the right. Are you sure of what you say? You haven't hit your head, have you?'
'No, no. You fell, Galka. Not me. You fell and then I went on. I couldn't wake you so I went on, to get help. I went down. Down. . . down there. That is not the way!'
'Can't you tell me why? Is there more water?'
Tomilo stopped and listened for a moment. He could hear nothing from down below. There was no smoke, no red light, no hum. 'No,' he said at last.. 'No water. Just fire. Fire and . . . firepeople.'
Galka said, 'What?'
'Remember you were telling me about what the dwarves feared down here? About the thing that Gandalf killed? What did you call it?'
'Yes. A balrog. I have just seen a sleeping balrog. Seven of them.'
'Seven balrogs? Asleep? Are you sure you didn't hit your head?'
'I didn't hit my head. I'm fine I tell you. Now I insist you come up with me to look for the winding stairway. We must have missed the passage. During the time in the dark. After we lost the red light. If you will come up with me a way you will see. There is no way below. Please come now before they wake up!'
Tomilo really was almost mad. Not in the way Galka suspected. He was not making things up, or confused. But he was dizzy with hunger and fear and exhaustion. He began pulling on Galka again, and weeping. Galka thought it best to humour him for the moment. So they began climbing slowly, each with a hand on the wall to the left. In less than three hundred steps, they came to an opening. Tomilo had been right. Galka began to think that maybe the hobbit had been down to the bottom of the stairs. If he had, maybe he had seen . . . well, something.
But that was all neither here nor there now. They had found the link, through shrewdness or luck, and the only thing to do was to go on. Galka resumed his place in front and the hobbit followed wearily. A quarter of an hour passed on level ground and they reached the winding stair. It climbed, but not too steeply. Wide, triangular steps rose up and up. The dwarf and the hobbit took two strides for each step, keeping to the inside to make the distance as short as possible. After another hour they had made it to the fourth deep. They could hear commotion above and in some of the passages to the side now.
Galka stopped. He told Tomilo to sit and rest. 'I will get us something to eat. You will feel better after a bite. Then we can tackle the next step.'
When Galka returned the hobbit was asleep. He shook him awake and gave him a small loaf with butter and a rasher of still-warm bacon. Also a large tumbler of water. Tomilo drank the water first, all at once. Then fell to the bacon greedily, like a dog that had not eaten in days. He followed that with the bread, which was soon also gone. He felt better almost immediately. Still sleepy and groggy, but not so dizzy. He felt he could now make it up the final stairs.
The two did not delay. As they worked their way up the last flights, now well lit and airy, Galka told Tomilo to stay close. The dwarf would look for someone he knew outside the royal chambers. If guards from the West Gate recognized them, they would have to make as large a commotion as possible, and shout 'King's men, King's men!'* Tomilo was too tired to ask why, so he just nodded.
They were now at the first deep. Dwarves were everywhere. Some few looked at Tomilo curiously as he and the dwarf emerged into the open and strolled along the corridor outside the Hall of the Midlights, but no one stopped them. The royal chambers were nearby, and guards in blue and black livery and gold-plated mithril were a common sight here. They continued down this crowded passageway. At the gate of the King's Third Hall stood two guards in full mask. That is, rather than helms and cheek guards, they wore mithril masks painted gold and black, with only the eyes uncovered and a slit for the mouth. The masks had been fashioned by the dwarf smiths into a horrible grimace to terrorize enemies. The chin especially was huge and long—it served to make the face larger and more terrible and also to protect the neck from weapons.
Galka stood at this gate for a moment, looking round hurriedly. But he could see no one familiar. Finally he asked one of the masked guards if Captain Laki was on duty. The guard didn't know and told him to be off. Tomilo could feel the eyes of the guards looking at him through the holes of the masks. He shuddered.
He was just following Galka back along the wide corridor when a horn sounded nearby and four or five armed guards came rushing up in the livery and mail of the West Gate. Galka grabbed Tomilo and ran back to the gate of the masked guards. He began yelling at the top of his voice, 'King's men, King's men!' and Tomilo joined him. Several of the King's guards rushed up at the same time as the guards of the West Gate, and the masked guards stepped into the fray as well.
The leader of the West Gate guards spoke first. 'This halfling is a prisoner of the West Gate and has escaped from his cell. This dwarf is a renegade member of our guard who has helped the prisoner escape and we claim his
*The actual phrase was 'King's khazad', of course. But I find 'King's men' to be a more expressive translation here (LT).
punishment as our own.'
'If you are a guard of the West Gate,' one of the King's guard said to Galka, 'Why did you cry "King's men, King's men"?'
'I pledge myself to the King and ask to be judged as a King's man rather than a guard of the West Gate!' answered Galka.
'You cannot do that,' said the West Gate guard. 'You are one of us, and must be judged accordingly.'
'Nay,' interrupted the King's guard. 'All of the Khazad are King's men and may invoke the right to be judged in our court. But ours is the harshest court, Guard (to Galka). You would do well to appeal for clemency to your own superiors.'
'I ask no clemency. I ask for justice. We are falsely accused.'
The guard of the West Gate pushed the other guards roughly away and stood next to Galka. 'Did you not just flee from this halfling's cell, which lock you broke? Did you not disregard orders to stand? Have you not disregarded orders from Captain Gnan to speak to no one of this halfling?'
'This halfling was falsely imprisoned by Captain Gnan.'
'That is for Captain Gnan to decide, not a guard.'
'Nonetheless, I plead as a King's man.'
'I will not allow it,' cried the guard, pulling his axe from his belt and standing in front of Galka.
'That is for the King's judge to decide, not a guard of the West Gate!' answered one of the King's guard. He and all the King's guards raised their axes and the masked guards lowered their spears. The other guards of the West Gate blew their horn and also fingered their axes. Many other boots could be heard running up.
At that very moment the gate of the King's Third Hall opened and a chamberlain emerged in long blue and black robes. A tiny mithril hammer on a slender chain hung about his neck. Emblazoned on his robes in silver and red thread were a hammer and anvil—the emblems of Durin.
'May I help you?' he said quietly. Immediately all axes were lowered and the spears taken back up. The guards all began talking at once, but the chamberlain raised his hand and they all became quiet once more.
'Guard,' he said to the masked dwarf to his left, 'What seems to be the matter?' That guard began relating the recent events, but he was soon interrupted by the chamberlain.
'If you would be so kind as to raise the mask. I can't hear a thing you are saying.'
'Yes, Sir. This West Gate guard in the middle has done some mischief and asks to be judged as a King's man.'
'And is that a halfling?'
'Apparently, Sir. He has escaped from the cells of the West Gate.'
'Guard,' the chamberlain now said to Galka, 'I recommend you to your own court. They have experienced your duty as well as your abrogation of that duty, and I think they will be more likely to pass a balanced judgment.'
'That's what I told him,' began the King's guard.
'Guard,' the chamberlain replied to the King's guard, raising his hand again, 'I do not require your corroboration.'
'I nonetheless ask for your protection and judgment,' interrupted Galka.
'Then it is settled. Take them in and we will dispense with this at once. The rest of you will return to your duties.'
The guards quickly dispersed and the gates of the King's Third Hall closed with a clang behind the hobbit.
Of Minecarts and Stout Beer
Two King's guards were retained to escort Galka and Tomilo into chambers. The chamberlain led them all into a small subroom and asked them to wait. In a few moments he returned with a scribe, and the six of them proceeded to 'court'—that is, an inner chamber where cases were heard in the name of the King. There were three such courts in Moria: this one and one at each gate. The King himself rarely sat as judge. He never sat at the West Gate, rarely at the East Gate, and occasionally here at his Third Hall. King Mithi was thought to be in the apartments of his First Hall, near the East Gate. So the chamberlain had no idea of disturbing him on this occasion, for what looked to be a minor incident. Only ranking members of the King's family could sit in judgment, according to the dwarvish law, so the chamberlain had sent for Mithi's youngest son, whom he knew to be nearby. This dwarf now entered the court, and the chamberlain rose to meet him. They exchanged a few words and then the chamberlain left the room.
Mithi's son was wearing decorative mail above and civilian dress below. He wore no helm or headgear. Only a brooch of seven stars above the crown of Durin. He also wore a dark blue cloak with silver trim.
'I am Prince Kithi,' he said in a businesslike manner, looking at the far wall with no expression. 'You will state your names.'
'Galka, Lord, guard of West Gate and King's man.'
'Tomillimir Fairbairn, My Lord, of Farbanks, messenger for Radagast of Rhosgobel and Cirdan of the Havens.'
'Now Galka, I want a brief description of your case and a plea. I have sent for Captain Gnan of the West Gate, so do not think your testimony will go uncontested.'
'I would welcome Captain Gnan's presence here, Lord, as I'm sure Mr. Fairbairn will agree. The case is simply stated. Mr. Fairbairn carried a letter from Cirdan of the Havens to our King Mithi. Captain Gnan intercepted that letter and imprisoned Mr. Fairbairn without cause or hearing. I myself, Lord, simply helped bring Mr. Fairbairn here.'
'Wait a moment. We have heard nothing of a letter. How many days ago did you arrive, Mr. Fairbairn?'
'I am not sure, Lord. At least a week, I should say. I fell ill.'
'He arrived nine days ago, Lord,' corrected Galka.
'Well, this is more serious than I thought,' said Kithi, turning to look at the two and pulling on the hem of his cloak.. 'But why would Gnan fail to send on a letter? I suppose we are about to learn.' At that moment, Gnan arrived, looking rather wide-eyed.
'My Lord Kithi, you requested my attendance.'
'Yes Captain. Thank you for your promptness. You were not at the West Gate, I take it?'
'No, Lord. I was nearby, leading a team of searchers.'
'Captain Gnan, have you a letter from Cirdan to King Mithi? Yes or no?'
'Why has it not been delivered?'
'It was to be sent over today. I couldn't find a runner yesterday.'
'Is it true that you have had this letter for nine days?'
'No, Lord, not that long, I think,' answered Gnan, looking at the floor. 'A few days maybe. I couldn't find a runner yesterday or the day before.'
'Captain Gnan, Sir, do you take me for an absolute fool? Yes or no?'
'All right, then. I don't want to hear anymore about runners. Have you anything else to say before I decide your case, Captain?'
'Yes, Lord. This halfling arrived with a letter, saying it was for the eyes of the King only, and acting high and mighty, as if he was a king himself. I informed him I would be glad to send it on. He insulted me to my face and then ran into the hall, crying that I was robbing him. I put him in a cell for a few days to teach him some manners. This elf he was talking about I took to be an invention of his. A letter from a halfling didn't seem urgent, but I was forwarding it to the King today, Lord.'
'The urgency of the King's correspondence is not for you to decide, Captain Gnan. Your explanation is not at all satisfactory in other respects either. You will deliver the letter into the hands of my personal guards immediately. I will look into this matter further. For now, you are stripped of all rank and relieved of your post. You will be detained until the King has seen the letter and spoken to your lieutenants.' Lord Kithi rang a bell and an attendant rushed into the chamber. 'I want twenty guards fully armed,' he said to the attendant.
The attendant returned within a count of thirty with the guards. 'Please take ex-Captain Gnan to the West Gate,' continued Prince Kithi. 'I require a letter he has there. It must be delivered to me personally. I want him gagged in transit to prevent him from calling his guards to action. I want a level-three warning to be sounded in all the West halls. I want his lieutenants sent back to me now. And I want a message taken to the King immediately. You may go.'
The guards gagged Gnan and took him from the room. Lord Kithi scribbled a note and handed it to the attendant. Then he returned to Galka and Tomilo.
'I must beg your pardon, Mr. Fairbairn. I am afraid we have paid you a poor welcome. Can we offer you food and drink? All we have is at your service. And I assure you you will sleep in the finest chambers tonight. Would you like a bath?'
'Thank you, Lord Kithi. May I ask first how long it will take, do you think, for the letter and the King to get here?'
'Not more than a few hours, I should say. The letter will certainly be here within that time, unless there is more trouble. The King was on the Eastside until recently, and has not returned. He may take a bit longer. He was expected here tonight, though, and I think he may be nearby. Let us hope so. If he is still at First Hall, it will take more than two days.'
'I would like a bath, and I need a bath, no doubt, but I think I will wait. I still must see the King as soon as possible, whatever state I am in. I think I have time to eat, though, if you have anything at hand.'
'My dear Mr. Fairbairn, you may give your order to my attendant for anything that you desire—food, beer, pipeweed, absolutely anything. And that goes for you as well, Galka. Please excuse for me for a moment. I must leave you to my attendants. Make yourself at home and we will talk much more in a little while.'
As it turned out, the King was on the road between First Hall and Third Hall, but was more than a day away. This gave Tomilo and Galka time to eat and bathe and sleep and talk, and then eat some more. Dwarf food did not compare to hobbit food (in Tomilo's opinion), but the hobbit was given the finest Khazad-dum had to offer, and he received it gladly. It was much superior to cram, at any rate. Tomilo tried some dwarvish delicacies, like roast badger and pickled bat bellies, but returned immediately to standard fare: sweet cakes and honey, ripe cheeses, mutton and hot potatoes, and cold beer. The dwarves were second to none in the fermentation of grains, and their stout beers were the match of any in Middle Earth. Tomilo had to be careful not to have too much of this beer, lest he meet the King in a swoon. After their troubles, though, he and Galka felt deserving of a pint or two (or three). They made certain to make their three pints last the whole day, and they also drank a good deal of water as well—'to take some of the head off it,' as Galka put it.
Galka had been told by the chamberlain to stay with Tomilo at Third Hall, not only as a companion for the hobbit, but also because the King would no doubt want to see him as well. This whole matter, they were told, had grown into a rather weighty concern. A mine cart had been sent east to inform the King of the urgency, and to bear him back west with all speed.
Tomilo had been ignorant of the existence of the mine cart, and Galka explained it to him. The dwarves had used simple carts to aid them in the extraction of ore or dirt, or whatever might need to be excavated, since time immemorial. They drew the carts toward the surface with ropes, and then allowed them to return down the shaft by their own weight, with the same ropes to keep them from hurtling unchecked. Since the passages in Moria were of such great number and length, some ingenious dwarf had devised a method for transporting not just ore, but dwarves as well. The trick was to make every journey a downhill one—but not too steeply downhill. Therefore a dwarf who wanted to travel quickly from west to east would climb to the Fourth Level. The mine cart would then travel gradually downhill to the Sixth Deep on the east side. From east to west this method was reversed. A traveller left from the Third Level above and arrived at the Seventh Deep on the west side. The small grade of the incline (about ten levels change in forty miles) made it easy to handle the speed of the cart. A quicker trip could be managed by pushing the cart at each checkpoint. And a brake allowed for slowing, should things get out of hand. At the checkpoints were failsafes, to avert any catastrophes. That is, every few miles the cart could be diverted up a short uphill run, to save runaways.
These main cart runs from east to west and back were the only ones used by dwarves to carry themselves; and even they were mostly used for payload. In fact, many if not most dwarves refused to ride the cart, and only the King and his family were regular travellers. The King had business on both ends of the mines, and often needed haste in going from one side to the other. The vastness of Moria made the mine cart a necessity, even though it was a grudging one.
The speeds achieved by this mine cart should not have caused much alarm. The dwarves never allowed it to equal the pace of a running horse, say, or even a canoe racing with the stream. A trotting pony might have passed the cart at most times. And yet even this seemed breakneck to the dwarves, who never rode horses and never ran themselves, even into battle. Still, the cart allowed for a journey from east gate to west gate in twenty hours, less than half the normal walking time. And even that time could be improved, with pushing at the checkpoints. The importance of this fact had never been recognized, but it was to play a major role in events even then unfolding.
King Mithi arrived with his retinue early the next day. After a bit of sleep (the dwarves could sleep at any time, and paid little heed to night or day—there being no sunlight in much of the caves) he called Tomilo and Galka to his chambers. Neither the hobbit nor the young dwarf had ever been in the King's Chamber of the Third Hall of Khazad-dum. Prince Kithi had questioned them in court, which chamber was much smaller and humbler. But the King's Chamber was magnificently adorned with many of the greatest treasures of Moria. Only First Hall, on the east side, outshone it, and then only in size. Glittering jewels of every imaginable color and shape were set in precious metals in a multitude of devices and utensils: goblets and saltcellars and plates and horns and standards. Weaponry hung the walls like pictures in a crowded museum—swords and axes and spears and shields and maces competing for dwindling space among corselets of mail and fabulous helms and grotesque masks and studded gauntlets.
The light from the innumerable flickering torches reflected from the metal and jeweled surfaces in a thousand colored shapes, dancing on the walls like a kaleidoscope. The whole room seemed to move among the shifting hues. As he entered the great chamber, Tomilo's eyes widened, and for a moment he staggered. All the stories in all the books he had read had not prepared him for such magnificence. Galka, too, was awestruck, and he looked for many minutes at all these treasures of his kingdom. At last, though, he remembered his King and pulled on Tomilo's sleeve to proceed. The King had not noticed them yet, or he would not have been patient with their goggling (especially after a night's rushed journey in a mine cart).
The two small friends advanced timidly up the great aisle, between a double row of columns running from one end of the chamber to the other, supporting the ceiling far above. Galka's boots echoed in the vast hall, and even the hobbit's soft footfall could be dimly heard as subtle hiss, like the leaves of distant trees moving in a gentle wind.
The King sat at the far end of the chamber on a stone seat. It had no cushion to add to its comfort. No rug was at its foot. No curtains or other hangings were behind the dais, or on the walls. Nothing in the room bespoke of ease or of softness or of subtle grace of any kind. The hobbit noticed this as for the first time, and wondered at it. Neither the King, nor indeed any other dwarf, seemed to have any use for textiles beyond rough clothing and even rougher blankets. This brought to mind something else. Tomilo wanted to ask Galka about dwarf women, their duties and preferences. Did they not sew? Did they not care for fabrics? As he stood waiting for the King to notice them, he thought of other questions. Where were the dwarf women? He hadn't seen any in the passageways or in any of the halls. Did they stay in domestic quarters, in the living chambers, whatever the dwarves called them? Were they not allowed to leave? And what of dwarf children? Where were they kept? Did they even exist? Or did the dwarves spring full-grown and fully armoured from the mountainsides?
The King looked much like the Prince Kithi, save that he was older and broader. His beard was completely white, however, hanging down to his broad belt and curling into his lap. He wore the emblem of Durin on his breast, with crown and seven stars, but was otherwise unadorned. He wore no crown and bore no sceptre. Only his cloak betrayed his full rank. In colour the deepest sable, it was trimmed at the bottom with finest mithril leaf, at the collar with otter fur.
'You are the halfling?' began King Mithi*, speaking rather slowly.
'Yes, Lord. Tomillimir Fairbairn, of Farbanks, messenger of Cirdan of the Havens and Radagast of Rhosgobel.'
'And you, good dwarf, are Galka, guard of the West Gate.'
'I have read the letter. I thank you, Mr. Fairbairn, for delivering it. And you, Galka, for seeing it into my hands.'
'Lord,' they both said, in answer.
'I apologize for our poor welcome of you, Mr. Fairbairn. It is inexcusable. Gnan has been sent to the mines in Krath-zabar, and will not be delivering any mail for quite some time. As for this letter. . . . May I ask, Mr. Fairbairn, if Radagast said anything to you of its meaning—beyond what is contained in the letter, I mean?'
'I have not seen the contents of the letter, of course, My Lord, so I cannot say, really. Radagast told me nothing of the matter except veiled hints. I know that there has been bad news of some kind. Something so bad that it put Mr. Radagast out of balance. I suspect it is all beyond my understanding.'
'Perhaps. Perhaps it is beyond anyone's understanding. The letter states no more than what you have just so succinctly stated. Bad news. That is all. And a meeting. A council at Rhosgobel. A council the likes of which haven't been seen since. . . well, not in my lifetime. Since the White Councils of old, or since the Council of Elrond, I suppose. The same message has been sent to the Glittering Caves and to Erebor and to Krath-zabar and to Minas Mallor and to Lorien and to Imladris and so on. Representatives are expected from beyond the Sea of Rhun and Far Harad. It is as if Aule himself, or Manwe, were arriving by ship and we all needed to greet him. But it is bad news. Large news, and bad. More we are not told. I hope you can see how disconcerting it all is, Mr. Fairbairn.'
*Mithi was the son of Durin VII, son of Thorin III Stonehelm, son of Dain II Ironfoot. He had been the Lord of Moria since FA211. He was therefore quite old at the time of this story—227 years old, to be exact.
'Yes, Lord. It would be better just to be told, and be done with it, I would say. But maybe Cirdan and Radagast have some reason. Maybe it is especially volatile, like. Just think what might have happened if Gnan had read the letter, and if everything Cirdan knows had been in it.'
'Yes, I had not thought of that. A letter may be lost, or stolen. A council, however, is closed to its invited members. Are you a councillor, or a prince of the halflings, Mr. Fairbairn? You must pardon my asking: I know nothing of your customs.'
'No, Lord. We do not have kings or princes. We have a Thain, and we have mayors and wardens. But we do not train armies or keep any guards, save the shirriffs. I am just a messenger. But I believe Radagast sent the message to our Thain.'
'That is well. I suppose those who desire more information must go to this council at Rhosgobel. Thank goodness it is not too far away. According to the letter, Rhosgobel is almost due east of here, near to the Anduin. Have you been there, Mr. Fairbairn?'
'Then there is nothing more to say, is there? I can only apologize once more for your troubles. I have a gift of parting for you so that you may find your journey to Khazad-dum was not completely without worth.' With that he handed Tomilo a beautiful belt with a small mithril buckle. And hanging from the belt was a short axe, also of mithril. 'May this axe cut you from some tight situations, in future. Use it well. It will cleave wood—and other things—like air, and will never dull or tarnish!
'As for you, Galka, I believe that you are also deserving of some reward. Prince Kithi and I would like you to have this.' King Mithi reached into a bag at his feet and pulled from it a mask—one like to the horrible mask worn by the guards at the gate of the King's Third Hall. Then he waved at an attendant, who approached carrying a long spear. The King took the spear and presented it to Galka. 'You are now truly a King's Man, a guard of the King's own chamber. Your duties begin in a week, Lieutenant Galka. Until then, please act as an escort to Mr. Fairbairn. If he is not in a great hurry to return to his home, you might give him a tour of our halls. We do have other sights worth seeing than the tavern, Mr. Fairbairn.'
The King said this last with no smile at all, but there was a slight twinkle in his eye, nonetheless, and Tomilo couldn't help but laugh. Galka took his spear and the two of them turned and walked back together down the aisle in high spirits.
And they did begin a tour of Moria at that very moment, a tour that commenced (I am almost afraid to admit) at the tavern, where they nodded again and again, professing an almost artistic admiration for the stout beer in their mugs. The rest of the tour somehow got itself put off for many hours.
The next day, Galka and Tomilo began a tour of the Dwerrowdelf in earnest. They still remembered to eat well and drink deeply along the way, but Tomilo was beginning to feel stronger and he felt somehow guilty spending all day in the tavern. So first thing after breakfast they walked out the West Gate to check on Drabdrab. The dwarves had cut a recess in the hillside some way from the gate: this they used as a manger. It sheltered several ponies. The other beasts were short and shaggy, like the ponies Bilbo and Gandalf and the dwarves had lost in the goblin cave. But Drabdrab stood proudly (if uneasily) among them. He looked quite relieved to see Tomilo, and he swished his tail and shook his head when he recognized the hobbit. Then he commenced to a neighing and a blowing. The short dwarf with the blue hat was also there with the ponies, still sporting hay in his brim. He paused in his mucking duties and addressed the hobbit.
'That one there feared you was as good as gone,' he said with a wrinkle of his brow, motioning toward Drabdrab. 'Can't say as I had much hope neither, to disabuse him of the notion. Onc't you was down under, I thought I had a new permanent tenant, and told him so. But he wouldn't believe it: he refused to give up all hope. He's been a waiting as faithful as may be. You look as you might be feeling a bit better, Sir, if you don't mind me saying so. I heard about the whole harum-scarum. It'll be a bit yet, though, I suppose, before we can put you back together as was.'
'Yes, it's true. I can't seem to fill up, Mr... ah Mr...?'
'Ermak. Just Ermak.'
'Yes. Ermak. Well, as I was saying, I can't seem to eat my way out of this dizzy feeling. I mean to keep trying, though—I will tell you that.'
'Keep at 'er, Sir, that's it! Lieutenant Galka will see to it that the tavernkeeper takes care of you.'
Tomilo laughed and shook the groom's hand. Then he reached into his pocket. He had an apple from the tavernkeeper for Drabdrab. The pony took it from Tomilo and made a great mess in disposing of it. He sniffed the hobbit's pockets to see if there were any more.
But Ermak continued, looking at Galka in his new livery, 'How do it feel, Galka my boy, to be a lieutenant? And at your age! I guess I can't be calling you boy anymore. You outrank your own dad and granddad, now. You'll make captain sure now.'
Galka blushed. 'I don't know. It just happened. But I get to wear the mask, Ermak, did you hear?'
'That I did. Don't wear it around here, though. You'll scare the ponies away and I'll have to go a hunting for 'em.'
After leaving Drabdrab and Ermak, Tomilo and Galka walked down the Sirannon to the falls. There, they looked out over the rolling hills of Hollin. The day was clear and sunny, and Tomilo squinted as he studied the distant horizon. Far down below them, beyond many a line of blue-grey hill, he could just see the flash of the little gate stream as it neared the Hoarwell.
The hobbit thought to himself that it felt good to be outside for the first time in a week and a half. He breathed the crisp air of approaching winter and thrilled to the sharp breeze from the north. He wanted to stay in the sun all day, basking under the open sky. But Galka had other plans. They were to ride the mine cart part of the way to the eastside, and then climb from there to the 21st level. At that point they would emerge out of one of the first low peaks of the Misty Mountains, where Galka promised they could see the Hoarwell itself. Tomilo looked forward to the view, but not the climb. He told himself he needed another week of food and drink and rest before he returned to normal.
Just then, as Tomilo took one last look at the sky before they prepared to return to the caves, he saw a black speck against some high gauzy clouds. As he watched it got nearer. It was a bird flying from the west and making directly for Moria, by all appearances. He pointed it out to the dwarf, and they both watched for many minutes as it flew directly over them and seemed to settle in the mountain crags over Khazad-dum.
'That's right where the look-out is!' cried Galka. 'That's right where we're going. It must be a messenger. I wonder what it means?'
'I wager we'll find out soon enough.'
But they didn't find out immediately. The courier of the message (from the bird to the King) passed them in the west mine cart as they went east in the other cart. But since the carts were in different tunnels, they did not know this. When they had finally climbed out on the mountainside, the bird was gone. Only the guard remained, and he would tell them nothing.
This lookout point was not fortified. It was only a low stone parapet and a small tower. And the ledge overhanging the precipices below was shallow. There was room there for less than a dozen to stand. Behind them the peaks continued, up and up. Some still had snow from last winter in small patches. Above the tree line it was bleak and bare. Even a troll would be lonely up there, thought Tomilo. He wondered if any strange creatures of Middle Earth could make a home in such a place. Then he remembered the stone giants from 'There and Back Again.' What sort of giants were they? What did they eat? Did they have children? Did they only throw huge rocks when it was stormy?
Galka interrupted this chain of thought. 'I wonder if that black bird brought another message from Cirdan? It seemed to come from the west.'
'Yes, it was definitely the west. At least by the time we saw it.' But Tomilo could not keep his mind on the bird. His eyes wandered back west, though, to match Galka's. Then he looked down into the vale below them. He could clearly see the line of the Cypress trees. 'Did you tell the King about the creature in the water?' he finally remembered to ask the dwarf.
Galka's attention was pulled from the sky, and he looked at the hobbit. 'Yes. Yes I did. He didn't seem to know about it already. I'm not even sure he believed me. He may have thought I was trying to cover having to kill the guard. He seemed more concerned about the rising water. At least he believed that part.' He paused for a moment. 'Did you say anything about. . . . you know?'
'The balrogs? No. I have been so happy to get the message from Radagast delivered and all, I haven't wanted to ruin my welcome again. Besides, I am not so sure what I saw myself. I was in a pretty bad way that day. I suppose I might have been dizzy enough, what with no food and all that climbing, to have started imagining things.'
'I don't know. You were bad, but I can't say if it was from weakness or from fear. I have to admit I thought at first you might be raving. But anyone who told me they had just seen balrogs, I would think was raving. I think you ought to warn King Mithi anyway. If it is true, it is something he needs to know. If it is not true. . . well, you had every right to be delirious that day. And it won't do any harm to be wrong. You'll be home soon, and won't care what we think of you here.'
'Perhaps. But what if I'm right? What will you do? I mean, what will happen to Khazad-dum? Will you all leave again?'
'I don't know. There are a lot of us. Maybe even a balrog would not want to attack an entire dwarf city.'
'I hope you are right. But remember what I told you about the signs of battle. That dwarf army didn't look like it fared too well last time. Is it possible that King Mithi has sent an army down there since the fall of Sauron? Or are those dwarf soldiers from another age?'
'Again, I don't know. There has been no muster in my lifetime. And I know no tales of battle like that in the past three hundred years, since Moria reopened. If those warriors were sent down by King Mithi, it was done secretly.'
'Hmm. I guess I will say something to the King. I have been sitting on it, thinking I might have a flash—you know remember for sure what I saw, and whether I really saw it. But my mind is still not clear.'
'Well, wait then if you think it will help. But do not wait too long!'
The next day the King called Tomilo into chambers. The hobbit wondered at first if there had been some rumour of the balrogs. But King Mithi had news from the Shire.
'I have had a message from your Thain. From a place called Tuckborough. He desires that you travel on to Rhosgobel as a representative of the halflings. He says there is no time to pick and equip another representative.'
'Oh dear!' cried the hobbit, at first. Then he caught himself and shut his mouth quickly. He realized that was not the proper response. But he could only think that now he was not going to get back to his hole before winter set in. He might not make it back to Farbanks before March or April. It was quite upsetting.
Suddenly he thought of something. 'Did you get the message from a bird?' he asked. 'A large black bird?'
'Yes, I did,' answered the King in some surprise. 'A raven. How did you know that?'
'We were out at the falls when it flew in. We thought it might be coming from Cirdan.'
'No, it was from your own country. I am sorry that this news does not please you, but you should feel honored to represent your people at this great council. Perhaps you are only concerned that you are not qualified. If so, I will be happy to assist you in any way I may. We will be riding down to Rhosgobel together, at any rate.'
'Yes, thank you, that will be fine,' said the hobbit distractedly. He was still thinking how he could get out of it. 'I wonder why Cirdan didn't send his message with a bird, instead of me?' continued Tomilo, surprised to find that he had said this out loud
'I should think because he found you and Radagast to be more trusty than a bird. Also because the letter you carried, though more important, was not so urgent. We won't be leaving for Rhosgobel for several days yet, you know. The council is on the first day of quelle, or, in Steward's Reckoning, Narquelie 28*.'
'That makes sense, I suppose,' admitted Tomilo grudgingly. Still, he did not like thinking he was only a useful substitute for a raven. He was regretting again that he had ever agreed to leave Farbanks. Not for the last time!
*October 29. For Tomilo it would have been Shire Reckoning Winterfilth 28. But all hobbits were by that time taught the Westron months as well their own. The calendars were similar enough that the math was easy: even the least clever hobbit was never more than a day off (the first three months and the last three had the same days, so those were the easiest).
The dwarves used the Westron calendar—at least when dealing with outsiders. King Mithi gives the elven date first because he is speaking of the letter from Cirdan. He converts to Steward's Reckoning rather than New Reckoning, since the New Reckoning had been rescinded by Eldarion in Fourth Age 196. March 25th (the fall of Sauron) was kept as a special holiday—it became the extra day tuilere. And Frodo's birthday (September the 22nd) was celebrated on yaviere (the day after 30 September). But the people who relied on the new calendar—mainly Men and Dwarves—did not like having their mid-year holiday in late September. They fondly remembered all the mid-year celebrations of High Summer, when the weather was at its warmest and merriest. Under popular pressure, the King found it easiest to simply return to the calendar of Mardil.
'Does it snow much here at the base of the mountains—in winter I mean—or only up in the higher elevations?' asked the hobbit, still trying to think of a way to get back home before spring.
'It snows down here, too. Though not as much. Still, we get many feet, and may be snowed in for weeks at a time.'
The hobbit groaned. By the time he got back to Farbanks there would be foxes living in his hole! There would be rabbits in the pantry. His garden would be gone completely to seed and weed.
Meonas and Phloriel
It was now several days after Tomilo's meeting with the King, and preparations were in full swing for the short ride to Rhosgobel. A small group of dwarves had arrived the evening before from the Glittering Caves, including Gnadri, nephew of Glindri, King of the Mirrors. Several other important-looking dwarves were also among the host. All in all, the dwarves of the Glittering Caves seemed to Tomilo to be more richly encrusted with jewels, and less richly adorned with mithril, than the nobility of Moria. They shone out perhaps a bit more brilliantly, but somehow never managed the prestige and bearing of the dwarves of Khazad-dum.
Galka had been chosen to walk as a King's Guard in the escort to Rhosgobel. Tomilo suspected he was also chosen to act as a friend and guide for the hobbit. He hoped Galka would be far enough away from the King to talk a bit on the way. The hobbit had been feeling somewhat glum since his interview with the King, and did not look forward to a procession of much ceremony and pomp. He was more than ready to get out of the caves for a while—to walk out in the fresh air—but he couldn't imagine what purpose he would have at a council of the wise. He hoped he would just be expected to listen and take notes for the Thain. He had no idea what he would say if anyone asked him anything. He would probably spill his water or scrape his chair, or faint altogether. Now he began to understand how Radagast must feel. A little hobbit in a soiled weskit at a table of worthies from Rivendell and Minas Mallor and Lothlorien. Preposterous!
Tomilo had already polished Drabdrab's saddle and strapped his beautiful new axe on the outside of his packs for all to see (besides, it was too heavy to wear on the belt). It was his only adornment in a company of glittering and armoured travellers. Galka had his mask and his spear and all his dwarvish regalia. He looked quite heavy. But Tomilo supposed that dwarves didn't really mind all that weight. They seemed constitutionally fit for great burdens. The other ponies had been likewise burdened with dwarvish provender and excess weaponry; but all the dwarves themselves would walk. It was a march of only three days, and no dwarf would think of riding such a short distance, not even on a pony. Tomilo was therefore the only rider. This had the benefit of making him somewhat taller, but it also set him apart even further. He felt his oddness sorely.
Not sorely enough, it is worth adding, to walk. No, he had had enough of that, climbing about in the caves—fleeing guards and balrogs and whatnot. Besides, he still felt tired. The effects of the nine days in the cell, and the lack of food, and the fever, had not left him entirely even now. It is true, Galka had continued to see to his nourishment in the preceding days. He had lacked for nothing. He had eaten and drank and smoked to his heart's content. And yet he still was not back to his old self. He was thinner and gloomier and crosser. His experiences in the depths still weighed on his mind and made it difficult to achieve a full recovery. He considered that he might never fully recover from such shocks. That is, he might never be exactly the same hobbit he had been back in his garden weeks ago, when Radagast rode up. At other times (usually after a pint or two) he thought, Yes, well, but give him another week of food and rest: he might not be the same, but he would be as strong. Or stronger!
Tomilo and Drabdrab left from the West Gate with a small company of dwarves and all the pack ponies. They were to ride over the Redhorn Gate and meet the remaining travellers at Mirrormere. The King and all the important dwarves who were going to Rhosgobel were of course leaving from the East Gate. The ponies could not go through the caves, though, and so were to be taken over the pass. Galka would not accompany Tomilo on this short trip. He was busy learning his new duties, and was required to stay close to the King.
Ermak, however, did go along with Tomilo and the ponies. The little company found the pass invigorating but not at all dangerous. The air was cold—Tomilo got his heavy cloak out of his pack for the first time—but the bad winter weather was still weeks away. Or so the hobbit hoped. He would need to return over this pass on his way back to Farbanks after the council.
A couple of days later, the group descended the Dimrill Stair into the Dimrill Dale and left the triple peaks behind them. Tomilo had found Redhorn, Silvertine and Cloudyhead to be majestic and beautiful; but he remembered the Nine Walkers troubles there and was glad to be past them without incident. The company from the East Gate was already waiting beside the beautiful lake, and Tomilo saw the reflection of each and every dwarf perfectly mirrored in the still waters as he rode down the last slope.
The number of travellers had been kept small. Only three were invited to the council proper: one representative each from Moria and the Glittering Caves and the Shire. That would be King Mithi and Prince Gnadri and Tomilo. The others were only attendants and guards. Since there was no enemy, the guards were really only for show. Tomilo counted about twenty in the King's retinue, and there were another eight from the West Gate. A rather large party, really, for a council; but it was the custom of the dwarves to protect a king—even in a short peaceful jaunt like this one. Besides, the council was an announcement of bad news. Who knew what that meant.
The hobbit only had time to find and quickly greet Galka before the dwarves were off again. They kept to the main road for about half an hour, marching almost due east. At that time the road split, one fork going toward Lothlorien and the other northeast. This northeast leg was fairly well-travelled, being the beginning of the route between Moria and Erebor. About ten leagues further on it turned due north and headed for the Gladden Bridge. From there it continued north all the way to the Old Forest Road (which was now the New Forest Road, open and maintained year-round) and beyond.
The present party had been instructed, however, to leave the road soon after it turned north, and to instead bear east, toward the Anduin. If everything went according to plan, an eight-hour march from there would bring them to Rhosgobel.
Two long uneventful days passed as the company made their way across the wide lands between the mountains and the river. Rolling hills were interspersed with lightly wooded areas, hugging the fertile valleys. Many little nameless streams wiggled and wagged their way down to the Anduin, and the road hopped over them in countless little bridges of stone.
They had been walking all day (or riding, in Tomilo's case), and now were preparing to stop and make camp. They were near the turn-off for Rhosgobel and had planned to make that their camp for the night. But before the King's sentinel could call out the signal to halt, the company heard a sound coming up from behind. All turned to see who was following them. What they had heard was the sound of bells tinkling and of song. So no one was surprised when they saw that they were being shadowed by the council invitees from Lothlorien. Many were on great white horses hung with rich fabrics. Others walked, playing strange and lovely instruments. These instruments accompanied the song, which was, of course, the song the high elves have always sung at moonrise ever since the Noldor left Eldamar and the beautiful Queen of the Valar.
A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
silivren penna miriel
o menel aglar elenath!
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, si nef aearon!(1)
The reason this contingent of elves from Lothlorien was singing a song of the Undying Lands (despite the fact that none now left in Lothlorien had seen those lands) is that they were led by their lord Meonas—one of the last of the Noldor remaining in Middle Earth.
Meonas has not come into the earlier tales of Lothlorien, or indeed into any of the tales of heroism of Middle Earth.(2) He had been a counsellor of Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel during their long reign in Lothlorien. But despite his rank, he was never a prominent leader of the elves during the Second or Third Ages, due in part to a long-standing grievance between himself and Lord Celeborn. This grievance concerned the love Meonas had borne for the Lady Galadriel since he first saw her in Hollin (in the time when his cousin Celebrimbor yet lived, and before the forging of the rings).
Meonas had left Hollin to follow Galadriel over the mountains to Lothlorien, although she was already at that time wed to Celeborn of Doriath. He had said then, even to himself, that the move to the Golden Wood was due only to discontent with Hollin, and its growing tension. But in the long years in Lothlorien this love could not forever remain hidden. Not from himself; and not—as it came to pass—from Galadriel and Celeborn. It was not the Golden Wood he loved, but the Golden Lady.
(1)Oh Varda, Star-kindler,/your silver light falls like jewels/from the glorious heavens!/Seeing your remote beauty/from my tree-woven land,/I sing to thee, Snow-maiden,/from afar, the far side of the Ocean!
(2)The following story has been added by the editor from another (elvish) source in the Farbanks Folios. It was felt that this information was necessary to a contemporary reader's understanding of the narrative.
Meonas was the second son of Meomir, son of Caranthir. This made him the great grandson of Feanor. Meomir was killed in the attack on Menegroth with his father and two uncles*, but Meonas was at that time still a child and took no part in the assault. After the battle he and his elder brother were taken by their mother to the birchwoods of Nimbrethil in Arvernien to live with the other remnants of the house of Feanor, including Celebrimbor. Meonas became one of the followers of Celebrimbor to the Misty Mountains in SA750, when mithril was discovered in Moria. He was a central figure in the establishment and building of Ost-in-Edhil—the beautiful elvish city of Eregion—although his quiet acts of administration do not come into any of the great tales of the Second Age. He had already long tired of the squabbling between elf and dwarf even before the meddling of Sauron; and when Galadriel and Celeborn arrived some time later from Lake Nenuial he was immediately drawn to their calm prestige. Early on he gave way to them politically—which was in part to blame for the strife that followed. Being accustomed to leading, the Lord and Lady gathered many followers in Hollin in addition to Meonas. But Celebrimbor (and behind him, Sauron) did not divest power willingly. With the help of the enmity of the dwarves—who had ever hated, and been hated by, Celeborn)—Celebrimbor and Sauron finally managed to drive Celeborn and Galadriel from Hollin. They departed in about SA1350 and removed to Lorien, where they had already prepared a welcome for themselves and their followers. As I have said, one of these followers was Meonas.
Meonas was both welcome and unwelcome in Lorien. As a ranking member of the house of Finwe, and as a powerful elf of long-standing, he could not well be refused a place in the government of that region. He had also been
*Celegorm and Curufin. The Sons of Feanor sought the Silmaril from Dior. The escape of Elwing foiled them.
loyal to the Lord and Lady, and was an able administrator, with much experience. But being of the line of Feanor he was yet anathema both to the line of Finarfin (Galadriel) and to the line of Elwe and Dior (Celeborn). To Celeborn the memory of the assault of Meonas' father and grandfather upon Doriath, and the slaying of Dior Eluchil and Nimloth, and the abduction and starving of their young sons Elured and Elurin, was still fresh. For Galadriel, the burning of the ships by Feanor at Losgar, the betrayal of Finrod and Orodreth (her brothers) at Nargothrond by the sons of Feanor, and the attack upon the Havens* could never be forgotten. Meonas therefore carried a heavy burden. The oaths of the seven sons of Feanor, and of Feanor himself, followed him still. The Silmarils were no more, it was thought, but the evil they had wrought remained even in the Fourth Age.
But in the Second Age, during the flowering of Lothlorien, this burden was fresher still. Celeborn hated the sight of Meonas, even before the rumour of his secret love for the Lady Galadriel came finally to his ears. If not for the pity and wisdom of Galadriel a civil war might have erupted; for the Lady perceived that Meonas was well-liked by the people. Indeed, half the elves in Lorien loved the Lady of the Goldenhair, and they scorned not the blameless Meonas. In his love, Meonas was not their rival or enemy, he was their representative. He was the secret standard bearer of hopeless passion. Galadriel understood this in her way. She also understood that the passion of Meonas was something that could be controlled—at least by her. He had made no advances, had shown his feelings in no way (save in loyalty and good deed). Celeborn was asked to ignore the rumours, or take them in stride. This he did for many years.
But when Galadriel left Lorien after the downfall of Sauron, Celeborn decided to leave also. He did not, however, go with her across the sea. It may be that there was more to this separation than his desire to remain in Middle Earth. There was no ban on Celeborn. He certainly might have gone with Galadriel. The invitation to Eldamar was not just for High Elves, but for all elves who tired of an earthly existence. And why, even admitting that he simply was not tired of his existence, did he not stay in Lothlorien—a place where he had ruled for an age and a half? A place where he could expect to remain Lord for as long as he liked? Why go to Imladris, where he would be second to Glorfindel?
The answer to all these questions can be found in Meonas. Celeborn may have felt that Meonas had driven a wedge between Galadriel and him; and now that the Lady was gone, and he himself alone, the Lord felt this bitterness sorely. Once: because Galadriel had left without him. Twice:
*The sons of Feanor (this time Amrod and Amras, Maglor and Maedhros) again sought the Silmaril. They were again foiled by Elwing.
because his rival remained to gall him. Now he and Meonas were alike—they both must live without the great love of their lives. This likeness to his enemy became too much for Celeborn. Also, he watched the popularity of Meonas wax as his waned. Much of Celeborn's power had been tied to Galadriel. Without her, he could not keep the hearts of his own people.
For Celeborn had always been difficult. He suffered from an excessive pride. This pride had at first attracted Galadriel, who was likewise proud and ambitious. Also, Celeborn was very handsome: dark and mysterious—so different from the golden winning ways of the house of Finarfin. Celeborn's raven hair (in the early years) and dark grey eyes had fascinated Galadriel from the beginning. But as the years and centuries passed, disharmony had grown between them. Not only the disharmony of Meonas and the love of a thousand strangers for the beautiful Golden Lady of the Wood. But the disharmony of characters wholly unlike—characters which mitigated the shortcomings of the other, but which did not grow more harmonious with time.
Just the opposite, in fact. Look at their dealings with the Eight Walkers who came to Lothlorien after the fall of Gandalf in Moria. Celeborn was impatient and quick to judge, and his hatred for the dwarves had not cooled in a thousand years. Gimli was blindfolded at his insistence, despite the assurances of Galadriel. And the dwarf must face his temper even so. The Lady, however, was icily circumspect; kind but distant. She was tempted by the ring. Her ambition desired it, and she was sorely tested. So much so that she admitted this to Frodo. Frodo, though, was not yet wise enough to see how strange this was. Elrond had not been so tempted by the ring. Nor Gandalf. For evil has no charm except for evil. This is how it snared Saruman. But how could it tempt one so beautiful and pure as Galadriel?
We are off the subject, however. Galadriel had proved herself. At the end she was no longer the rash young granddaughter of Fingolfin who could defy the Valar and look upon the Kinslaying at Alqualonde with equanimity. She had earned the lifting of her ban from the West, and had returned in peace.
Celeborn, however, had perhaps not yet met his final temptation. He had grown older but not wiser. His pride had not been tempered by defeat and by true heroism—as had Elrond's, for instance. He had remained mostly an observer in the wars of the First Age. Nor had he a primary part in the battles of the Second Age. If he was standing by at the fall of Gil-galad and Elendil in Mordor, no tales tell of it. And in the Third Age he had enjoyed the safety of impenetrable Lothlorien.
So Celeborn had taken his bitterness and his pride to Imladris—where these continued to fester under the lordship of Glorfindel. But Meonas became the Lord of Lothlorien. Without the unrequited love of Galadriel to tie him down, Meonas had finally come into his own. Always popular for his quiet dignity and long-suffering ways, he was now also powerful. No one of a rival nobility remained to challenge him.
This change in circumstance had wrought an even greater change in Meonas. His confidence swelled, and with it his pride. Until then, all the slights he had suffered due to his ancestry—all the times he had been passed over for consideration—he had suffered in silence. But these slights had not been forgotten. They had festered for countless years. Outwardly Meonas—seemingly humbled by his love for Galadriel—had taken no offense. Inwardly he was only biding his time. He had never yet schemed: Galadriel had always kept him from mischief, both explicit and implicit. But now he was free to let his secondary passions—the ones that love had kept in check—take the stage. He remembered how he, a Noldorin Prince, a great grandson of Feanor, had been relegated to being a feckless counsellor to Celeborn—Celeborn, a dark elf, a lowly kinsman of Thingol, an elf who himself had lived in a cave! Now that Galadriel was gone, Meonas could admit that he hated Celeborn. Aye, even more than Celeborn hated him. For Celeborn at least had had the solace of the Lady's love. What did Meonas have? Until now, nothing.
But now he was the Lord of Lothlorien! He was one of the three most powerful elves in Middle Earth—the leader of the largest remaining elvish enclave anywhere. And he was free to admit to himself that he had taken it poorly when the rings of power had been dealt out to lesser elves. Galadriel and the ring Nenya he could understand. Galadriel was much older than him—though she did come from the third house of Finwe. And Gandalf (having the ring Narya) was tolerable: certainly much to be preferred to Cirdan—another dark elf of low blood. Gandalf was a Maia, and fully capable of wielding a ring of power. But Elrond? A half-elf descended from that debased house of Tinuviel! Meonas should have been chosen as the High King of the Noldor and Leader of the Quendi at the death of Gil-galad, instead of this upstart herald. His only solace was that the Elvish house of Elrond had finally ended: all of Elrond's children had chosen to be pathetic mortals and were now dead.
Worse was yet to come, though. For the Valar had refused to allow the rings to come ashore at Alqualonde; they had returned the Three to Cirdan. The fool had doled them out as indiscriminately as before. The mighty blue ring Vilya had been given to Glorfindel. Glorfindel was a Prince of the Noldor, but lacked the lineage of Meonas. Gil-galad's only daughter had married a silvan elf of Ossiriand, and their second daughter had married a great-grandson of Aegnor. These were the parents of Glorfindel. But there was silvan blood on the father's side, too. Glorfindel's maternal grandmother was the granddaughter of Beleg Strongbow. A famous lineage, surely, but Beleg, too, was but a dark elf.
If that wasn't bad enough, Narya, the ring of fire, had been given to Erestor. Even Celeborn had found this difficult to stomach. Erestor had been born in the Second Age. He was a Noldo due to his descent from Orodreth. After Gwindor was lost to Morgoth, and before the arrival of Turin Turambar, Finduilas bore an illegitimate child. The father of this child was rumoured to be one of the sons of Curufin and Celegorm who had remained in Nargothrond after the brothers were expelled. It is not known who exactly was the father, except that it is assumed that it was not Celebrimbor. This maid child was taken to Eglarest after the battle of Tumladen (and the kidnapping and murder of Finduilas). There she grew to maidenhood and married a silvan elf fleeing the ruin of Doriath. Several generations later, Erestor was born in Lindon, again to mixed parentage. He spent time with both Cirdan and Elrond, finally settling in Imladris after the Last Alliance. There he became one of the chief counsellors of Elrond. Only Gildor Inglorion and Glorfindel claimed precedence over Erestor in Rivendell. But Gildor had passed over the sea with Elrond and Galadriel. When Glorfindel had become Lord of Imladris, Erestor moved to the Havens of Belfalas, taking with him a small number of elves from Imladris. They were joined there by a sizable contingent from Mirkwood: wood-elves who had been fired by the stories of Legolas and wished to live by the sea.
But the final blow to Meonas' pride came when Cirdan gave Nenya to Nerien, daughter of Galdor of the Havens. Cirdan had done this at the request of Galadriel herself. But Meonas did not know this. He only knew that he had once again been passed over. Passed over for a elf girl born after the Fall of Numenor! A girl having no high-elven ancestry. A girl of lesser lineage and age than Arwen Evenstar.
The dispensation of the rings was of course supposed to be a secret. Only perhaps a dozen elves in Middle Earth knew that they had returned. But because of his position, Meonas was one of this small number (Thranduil also knew, for instance; and of course Galdor). Galadriel had sent warnings from Eldamar with the rings, cautioning Cirdan of what Meonas might be capable of. But Cirdan had not been active in the politics of Middle Earth since his presentation of Narya to Gandalf. And no one had ever heard a bad word of Meonas, the warnings of Galadriel notwithstanding. Cirdan did not see how the entire realm of Lothlorien, the largest host of elves in Middle Earth, could be kept wholly ignorant of so important a decision as the refusal of Manwe and Varda to allow the rings across the sea. If the Lord of Lothlorien was apprised of that fact, he must needs be apprised of their present bearers. Meonas, he thought, must be trusted until he prove himself untrustworthy. The peace of the Fourth Age could not proceed under a cloud of suspicion. Especially of elf by elf.
This is how things stood as Meonas' retinue approached the bevy of dwarves at twilight on the road to Rhosgobel. The elves stopped their merrymaking and made proper greetings to the travellers from Khazad-dum. There was no ill-will between the two parties. The elves of Lothlorien were on good terms with the dwarves, and had been for over a century. Meonas, remember, was the grandson of Caranthir, who had been friendly with the dwarves of Nogrod and Belegost. The Noldor, and especially the house of Feanor, had always paid a grudging respect to the dwarves. They were also keen enough to see the benefits (to themselves) of an elf/dwarf alliance. Meonas had led the way in re-establishing the good relations the two peoples had enjoyed in Eregion. The current compromise was in fact very similar to the one begun by Celebrimbor two ages ago, save that now the elves lived on the east side of the Misty Mountains rather than the west.
Tomilo and Galka both looked on in awe as Meonas embraced King Mithi and the two parties joined together without incident or ill-feeling. The elves invited the dwarves to join them in an evening feast, a feast as only the elves could manage it. There would be singing and dancing and piping and harping and storytelling and food beyond the description of mortal tongue. The elves led them off the road into a small copse of beech trees. It was just large enough to act as a tent for the merriment. The elves hung lanterns and faery torches with lights of gold and silver from the boughs, and then unlade their horses of plate and cup and all manner of provision. There were sweet airy cakes made of honey and soft magic. There were ripe berries and subtle cheeses. Flavorful meats were heaped upon the fires to roast as the company drank a light elvish mead, transparent as winter ice and scented like a summer meadow of wildflowers. Seats appeared—as if just by wishing—moss-covered logs and tuffets and rocks perfectly concave for sitting.
Tomilo blinked a couple of times to wash away the dream-feeling that seemed to be before his eyes like a mist. But it was to no avail. He looked through the mist at Galka and the other dwarves. They, too, seemed to be dazzled by all around them. The dwarves (except perhaps the King) were as amazed as Tomilo because, like him, none of them had ever seen an elf. The two kingdoms lived in close proximity, and had been trading now for many years. But the elves did not care for the caves of Khazad-dum, and the dwarves were not ones to go willingly into any forest. So only a few guards at the East Gate had dealt with messengers from the Golden Wood. And only a few team drivers had been to the borders of Lorien to make various deliveries, or to haul off supplies of dead wood for the fires of Moria. The vast majority of those living in the caves of Khazad-dum had never seen an elf despite living within a day's march of thousands. So that those living and working near the West Gate, like Kavan, might come to believe that elves were no better than storybook characters. Fictional explanations of the source of firewood or of fantastic birthday presents.
As the fire burned mysteriously in the midst of the camp, sending its coloured smokes up through the canopy, an elf-maiden—looking to Tomilo to be not yet out of her tweens—approached, offering the hobbit a cup of mead and a plate of autumn strawberries. Then she sat on the log beside him. Galka leant forward to stare at her across Tomilo's meal; and the elf maiden catching him at it, laughed.
'Your friend has strange manners, to my eyes,' she said to the hobbit. And then to Galka, 'Have I lost a button on my dress, Sir Dwarf?'
'No ma'am! I apologize, I surely do,' answered Galka, blushing. He looked quickly at Tomilo for help, but the hobbit was now staring at the elf maiden, too, and he was worse than useless.
'I don't know what came over me,' continued the dwarf. He straightened his mail and pushed his hood back into a proper point. Then he looked down at his boots. 'I haven't ever seen someone so beautiful, is all. I was looking at the colour of your hair. No dwarf ever had hair that colour, and I was kind of mesmerized by it, and well, the torches and the singing and everything. I hope you won't think I'm a fool.'
'No, my good dwarf. Your pleasant words have earned your forgiveness, impertinent though they might seem to an elf of greater seriousness. I am not so stern as all that, though. I was afraid I was staring at you two as well, and might be about to be accused of impertinence myself. I haven't seen a halfling in a very long time, and then only once. Though I have read about them, of course. And I did not know that halflings and dwarves rode together as friends. Is this common on the west side of the mountains?'
'Not at all common,' answered Tomilo. 'I only arrived at Moria a fortnight ago. Before that I had never seen a dwarf in all my life—except once. And I never saw an elf at all until tonight'
'Well.... your life is changing fast, is it not? I do hope for the better? Are elves as you imagined? Do we look in life as we did in your imagination, I wonder?'
'I don't know how to put it, Lady... um, Lady....'
'Pfloriel,' she said. 'You pronounce the first syllable like "flower," but start with the lips closed, like this.' She showed them how to shape the strange consonant correctly. When she did it, it looked like a little kiss. Galka always remembered her name as a flower begun with a kiss.
Once the three of them had gotten past the little game of pronouncing her name, Tomilo continued. 'Where was I? Oh, yes. I think the way I should put it is that you seem even more imaginary sitting there before me than you did in the books. In the books I could get some kind of hold on you. . . elves, I mean. But here before my eyes you are more like dragonflies, or like mosquitoes (if you'll forgive the comparison). They always move just before you can get a good look at them, flying away in the opposite direction you expected. It isn't a very good description, I know, but I haven't had much time to think it through, yet. My head isn't working too well right now, if you know what I mean.'
'I think I do,' Pfloriel answered, smiling. 'And what of you, Galka? Are elves as strange to dwarves as to halflings?'
'The strangest thing is how you know our names without being told. How is that? Is it magic?'
'No, no, not magic. We simply listen very well. We hear all those around us speaking, even those far away, and we notice words of address. We heard all that your company had to say, for many miles back. And we remembered it, each of us, even as we conversed with one another. It is our way.'
'That explains many things. We had best speak in signs from now on, Tomilo, if we want to keep our conversations, and our identities, to ourselves.'
'That would not help you. Our eyes are even keener than our ears. And we are very clever at decoding signs. The wise resort to speaking only with their eyes if they happen to be near elves, and if they have this talent. But even eyes may be read, and the wisest keep their inmost thoughts to themselves, or converse with their allies only within walls. But Galka, again, what is your opinion of elves, if it is not too private a matter to speak of?'
'I think you are very strange. I do not know what to think.'
'That is honest, at least. And does our beauty suffer for the strangeness, do you think? Has my hair dulled in the past few minutes, in dwarvish eyes?'
'Not at all, Pfloriel. It is as rich as ever. What colour is it, by the way? Is it red or blond? Or light brown? It seems to change with a turn of your head.'
'In Lothlorien we call it rhesseme. It is the colour of a kind of grass in the autumn. I do not know if you have this grass in Moria. Or outside Moria. It would certainly not grow in the caves. We do not call it red. Red hair we name rhodisseme, after the leaves of the maple before they fall. We do not have the maple in Lothlorien, but it grows across the river in Greenwood, especially farther north. Very very few elves have hair that is rhesseme, and even fewer have hair that is rhodisseme. It is more common with the Rohirrim and the men in the far north. For this reason it is thought by some that any elves who do not have black hair or golden hair must have an ancestor who is a mortal. I do not believe this, however.'
'It is wavy like a hobbit's hair, but I do not think you have any hobbit ancestors,' joked Tomilo.
'Do halfling's have hair that is rhesseme, Tomilo?,' Pfloriel asked, suddenly quite serious. 'Or grass of that colour?'
'The colour of your hair, you mean? Maybe. It is hard to say in the torchlight. Your hair may look redder than it is. I will consider it again in the morning. But I would say now that your hair looks about the colour of what we call foxhalt—because foxes like to stop there and hide, you know. It grows quite tall, almost as tall as me. In the summer it seeds out at the top, soft and frondy. But in the winter it is like straw at sunset. Like the mane of a chestnut mare in the midday sun. Some hobbits have hair almost this colour. Never as long as yours, of course, and not likely as rich. But certainly curlier.'
At that point a tall black-haired elf pulled Pfloriel away from her new friends. Apparently her flute was needed for a song by the fire. Tomilo and Galka finished eating and prepared to listen to the entertainment. The song was a long wavering one, with the flute and a harp leading the words in lovely patterns. The patterns were all the more lovely, and noticeable, since neither the hobbit nor the dwarf could understand the words. The song was in Sindarin, and so gave the friends only the faintest hints of trees and of the sea and of the winds blowing clouds across the moon. Galka and Tomilo's heads began to nod as they pictured a ship sailing under a dim sky, the foam cresting on the prow shaped like a great swan. As the ship flew across the calm water and a distant shore came in sight through the mists, they fell asleep upon eachother's shoulders.
The next morning they awoke very early. The sun had not yet cleared the trees in the East, but the dwarves were already preparing their packs. The elves were bright eyed and yet singing, as if they had not slept at all. Their instruments were still at hand and the torches were still lit. The moon shared the sky with the rising sun, and the elves left its charms slowly and with regret.
At last the combined groups departed, travelling at a leisurely pace and speaking little. Before noon they reached the turning. They left the road and made due-east. There was a horse path, narrow and overgrown, save that there were signs of recent travel: broken twigs, crushed grass, and fresh hoof-prints in the dirt. Galka pointed out these telltales to Tomilo as they passed; there was no doubt they were on the road to Rhosgobel. And there was no doubt that they would not be the first to arrive.
A message was passed back from the front: they expected to reach Rhosgobel within an hour after sunset. Tomilo and Galka found this cheering. The road was now moving through empty fields and tall waving grasses, and there was nothing to do but talk. They had remet Phloriel that morning, and they had continued to converse with her on the road. But mostly she was preoccupied with the other elves, and Galka and Tomilo were left to fend for their own entertainment. About an hour before sunset she returned. She said she had been speaking with the Lord Meonas. Meonas had told her that Tomilo looked much like the ringbearer Frodo, but she had answered the Lord that he had a poor memory. According to her, Tomilo looked more like Pippin, except that Tomilo was older and so a bit heavier. Then she corrected herself. Of course, she said, she was speaking of Peregrin Took as he had been in Lorien, before the meeting with Treebeard. She had not seen him after that, but she had heard that he had grown tall and hale on the draughts of the ents.
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