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Disclaimer: Tolkien created 'em, I'm just borrowing 'em.
Summary: The 21st century is no place for Elves ... or Dwarves. When a crisis threatens the few remaining Elves both races must finally confront their destinines.
A/N: This is not going to be a *nice* fic, in any sense of the word. It's dark, angsty, unpleasant and includes a lot of original characters, most of whom are also dark, angsty and unpleasant. The chances of romance or happy endings are pretty much next to nil.
This fic starts from the premise that Middle-Earth has evolved to become the modern world, with Lindon having broken away from Eriador to form Ireland and the Hebrides, and the Lune of Eriador being, well, the Lune of Lancashire, thus locating Lancaster on the ruins of Mithlond (the Grey Havens). The Misty Mountains have been skewed by a bad case of continental drift, and now form the Alps running through Southern Europe, with the White Mountains running down the length of Italy. Mordor has been all squashed together and become Greece.
Um, because this is a WIP, topology may be subject to change.
PROLOGUE: 14 September 2002, Durin's Day.
Carousel Cards Ltd, White Lund Estate, Lancaster.
It was five minutes to five when the telephone rang.
Daniel halted for a moment before he realised it was his own extension, sounding with the dual ring of an external call. A customer, he supposed idly, who had been charged incorrectly, or possibly a supplier who hadn't been paid. Daniel's colleagues would have sworn at the phone; Daniel merely picked it up, not letting any mannerism of face or body betray his irritation.
"Carousel Cards, Daniel speaking." How may I help, they were supposed to add, but he could never bring himself to utter those words. It was a servility too far, even after his millenia in servitude to a race altogether unlovely.
"Good afternoon. Would that be Mr Daniel Evans?"
It was a woman's voice, with an accent he could not entirely place. Northen, of course, but not Lancastrian; though that meant nothing these days. She spoke briskly, with an authoritarian edge that seemed slightly out of place.
"WPC Clark of Cumbria Constabulary here. Would you by any chance have a brother by the name of Rory Evans, of 23 St George's Quay?"
The office seemed to lurch abruptly about him as he felt a sudden stab of panic. "Why? What's happened?" he asked sharply. "Where is he?" The words came out in a hesitant dry staccato, and he saw, or rather felt, his colleagues turn to stare at him.
The voice on the other end of the phone became gentler, slightly apologetic. "We have him here at Barrow Police station. He hasn't been charged with anything yet-"
Daniel closed his eyes for an instant, letting the false reassurance wash over him. "What's he done?" he asked. He was aware anew of his colleagues' interest: of Suzy Lomax sitting opposite him, staring with fake concentration at her monitor, and two of the other sales reps exchanging glances. Only Toby the sysadmin seemed oblivious to the potential drama, swearing blue murder at whichever part of the network had failed today.
"We were contacted by the Cumbrian Coast Guard Service at 2.35 this afternoon. I understand they found your brother adrift in a fishing boat two miles west of Walney Island, drifting out to sea. I'm afraid he became very agitated when they tried to tow him to land."
Daniel stared blankly at his monitor for a moment, remembering for a moment all his own abortive dreams of sailing West. The twenty-first century, with its filthy air and withered land, held no place for the Elves ... not any longer; but the paths to Valinor had been closed for more generations than even the human palaeontologists could reckon. He could never now travel West, no matter how long or how dearly he wished it to be possible.
They had chosen to stay freely, had wished it, even, he and his brother and a handful of other Elves together; they had never dreamt that the Earth would come to this.
The policewoman was still speaking, repeating words he had not registered with a touch of impatience. "We're still trying to trace the owner of the boat. You wouldn't happen to know, by any chance?"
"No. No, I'm afraid I don't." They were asking *him*; and that could only mean that Rory wasn't speaking to them. "I suppose he must have walked as far as Morecambe and taken one of the boats there. Could my brother not tell you?"
The hesitation could have meant anything. Daniel waited. "He ... won't speak to us - not in English at any rate. He keeps lapsing into some kind of trance. May I ask if he-?"
"He ... he's not well," Daniel said wearily.
The policewoman obviously took that to mean mental illness. He was not about to contradict her; he wasn't even sure she was wrong. "I understand," she said erroneously. "And you would be his chief carer?"
The voice on the other end of the phone became brisker, as if she trod now on firmer ground. "Tell me, Mr Evans, has this happened before?" There was a slightly aggressive edge to the question. He had ceased, in her eyes, to be the beleaguered next of kin and become the neglectful carer, leaving his charge at home without adequate protection.
"He's never tried before to leave home without your supervision?"
He had left his brother this morning, as he did every morning, lying on the sofa in their flat, locked in the same distant dreams that kept him all the hours of the day and night. It was all that he could do merely to rouse Rory for long enough daily to keep him fed and washed, and clad in clean clothes. "Never," he said hollowly. "He never does. He doesn't like to go out."
"Hmmm." It was not a contemplative sound. It was the pondering of one who did not believe but would leave challenging until later. "Mr Evans, I must ask you to come to Barrow-in-Furness Police Station to collect your brother. I expect one of my colleagues will want to speak to you. We also have a lady from Social Services who will wish to interview-."
"I'll be along as soon as I can," he said, and rang off before she could say more.
He sat staring at the telephone, daring her to ring back, his shoulders slumped and his eyes shadowed.
They had cast everything away - their families, their people, even their names - to live in a world that had become as Mordor, twisted and tainted beyond the reach of any healing, at the mercy of its false gods of wealth and politics, and fake, tawdry glamour. What escape was there, except the way of death?
But that particular cowardice was not one in which he could indulge. He had his brother to consider, and others of his people. He was the eldest now of the remaining Elves, and many of them looked to him for leadership he was ill-suited to provide. He could hardly leave them so lightly.
He straightened briskly, closing down his computer and standing up, pulling on the jacket that was draped over the back of his chair. "I'm going home," he said to nobody in particular. Toby the tecchie looked up from the server cupboard and grunted; the sales reps merely looked at him, their faces dull and bovine.
"What the fuck was that about?" one of them asked, when he had not quite closed the door behind him.
"Who cares? Ignorant Welsh tosser," Toby grunted, and turned back to his work.
Khazad-Dûm, Austria. 14 September 2002.
The drums sounded slowly, in a soft, almost-even rhythm, echoing closely the rhythms of the Dwarven heartbeat, resonating to the high roof of the Dwarrowdelf so that the vaulted ceiling rang with the force of it.
There were seven drummers, poised at the seven corners of the hall, their strokes on the drums so poised and synchronised that they sounded as one, a beat that surged through the minds and bodies of those within until their hearts beat as one.
Nothing else moved. Even the new King stood motionless at the heart of the hall, as if for a moment he had forgotten or abandoned the rigid ritual steps of the Dwarven Crowning to dwell in some other place entirely. Nobody rebuked or contradicted him; none was eager for this coronation to be completed.
It was customary to rejoice, at the crowning of a new King, to play raucous songs and drink strong liquor late into the night, drinking toasts to the old King who was gone, and the new King who had arisen, to the prosperity and future of Mahal's people. But this - this was no celebration.
The last remaining people of the Dwarves stood before their new King in a cluster that was too, too small. Mike wondered how many of them were now left. Two hundred? Perhaps as many as three hundred, but he doubted it. The huge hall felt like a mockery to so small a group.
It was the first Crowning to take place in the halls of their fathers for tens of thousands of years, a bitter, sorry celebration, tasting of ashes and tears; it was the last Crowning, and the last king, that the Dwarves would ever see. Durin, by Dwarven prophesy last of the Dwarrow-Kings, was to be crowned this day; and his people mourned for the death of their race.
Mike could feel, rather than hear, his sister crying, bent low over her baby son. Durin, so the tales told, would be the last of their number to die; did that mean that little Dave would die young? Was his nephew doomed already? He slid an arm round his sister's shoulder, the faint rustle of his leather jacket loud in the stillness, and he felt faintly guilty for disturbing the solemnity of the moment. He looked up, meeting for an instant the gaze of his King.
Ancient eyes, in a face no older than his own.
They did not give names like Durin any more. The common-names were for use among the outside world, and followed the conventions that the peoples around them used. When the old King had named his firstborn Durin, the people had doubted him.
It was only later that they had despaired.
Durin had left the halls at Bowland the day he came of age, to travel, some said, in search of Khazad-Dûm. Most did not believe it; and of those who did, none had expected him to find them. After the twisting of the world that had brought the Fourth Age to its end, what chance was there that the ancient halls of their fathers lasted still, that it still stood sound and habitable?
Few had expected him to find them; none had expected him to find them almost unchanged, and to receive his Crowning there before the year was out.
But so it was. They said that Durin's father had died the moment Durin had looked on Kheled-Zarâm, as the ancient prophesy was fulfilled by his return. Others said it was nonsense. King Ivan had been ailing for many years, as everybody knew, and it had been an unusually hard winter for one who refused to go above ground or to seek the help of medics. Mike was not inclined to believe in any such mystical coincidences.
Mike looked up from his musings to find that the drums had grown soft, and one of the scribes stood before Durin, reading from the scroll of the law which ordained the King's duties and his responsibilities to his people. They always read it, from the copy that was kept in the library under Ingleton; this, though, was the original, preserved as if by some miracle from the earliest ages of the world.
"...in peace as in war, to be the protector of your people as long as your life shall last. Do you swear to this?"
"I do so swear." Mike shivered involuntarily, tightening his grip around his sister's shoulders. He had not remembered Durin having had so deep a voice.
"That you may prosper them in their business and in their crafts, bringing them wealth in both body and mind as long as your life shall last. Do you swear to this?"
"I do so swear."
"And that you may follow the edict of Mahal in all things both new and old, in the nurturing of your people, by teaching and by example, as long as your life shall last. Do you swear to this?"
"I do so swear."
"By what authority do you swear these oaths?"
The drummers, for the first time, fell silent, the last muted echoes of the last strike dying softly into the descending stillness, before being muted by cloths or bare hands. Durin waited until the last of the sound had died away. The assembled Dwarves had been motionless before; they stood now as statues.
"I swear it by my Maker."
Durin did not speak loudly, or make an effort for his voice to be heard, but each syllable rang out clearly in the silence. Mike lifted his head, and saw others do the same, a dark light shining in their deep-set eyes.
"I swear it by my fathers."
The silence deepened. Mike realised he was holding his breath, but could not bring himself to release it.
"I swear it by my name."
The last oath, and the deepest, the one most binding upon heart and soul, the one most fell should ever it be broken. It hung poised in the air for long seconds before the tension broke and he found himself able to breathe again.
"Then be welcome, King Durin Ivanul, first and last of Durin's line."
The scribe bowed; the crown was set on Durin's head; the drums rolled in crescendo and then in diminuendo, and fell again to silence. The King looked up, and Mike saw a new light in his eyes, like a living flame. Something about his expressions stopped the breath in his throat, and he watched as Durin lifted the crown once more to hold it above his head, and said in a deep, sonorous voice:
His words came from no ritual; they were ordained by no lore or legend; but they were there, setting aside lore, legend and history, as King Durin VII, last of the Dwarf-Kings, spoke for the first time.
"I remember the beginnings, the making and the hands of the Maker. I remember the learning of language and of lore, and the teaching of crafts. I remember the hammer, I remember the giving of life at the hands of Mahal's maker...
"I remember our first making and our first building, the early years of our race. I remember how our people gathered to me when first I hollowed this hallowed place. I remember the growth of our Kingdom.
"I remember the coming of the Elves to Khazad-Dûm, and their going, torn at the hands of Sauron. I remember the Last Alliance of the free peoples, in which we fought. I remember the fall of our halls into shadow and flame."
He paused, and again there was silence. Mike shuffled a little closer to his sister, even though she had now ceased her tears. He felt, ironically, as if he was now the one in need of closeness.
"I remember what is written: you gathered to me in the early days of our race. Now we are ending, and you shall turn away. That is my destiny, and my grief.
"I am your King, and I am your executor; I am your parent, and your sexton. When all is done I shall be there, extinguishing the lamps and damping the forges, sealing the caverns behind me. And when my own end comes, none shall there be to build a stone tomb around me. And I shall come to Mahal at the last."
He lowered the crown once more, and bowed his head, as though the weight of it was too great for him. They watched him in silence, but he said no more, and gradually, one by one, they turned away, as ones who have witnessed a great defeat.
Mike could not bring himself to move, even when his sister moved away from him, her dreadlocked hair and beard glinting in the torchlight.
They had fought so long against their dwindling, with the fire and passion that had been Mahal's gift to them, ever seeking out safer dwelling-places, and gathering there together, fortifying them against the uncaring humans with whom they mingled, mocked for their strangeness even as they were courted for their skills.
It was unfair; there was no other word for it. After everything they had done, that it should all come to nothing. It had been Mike's own father who had been employed to maintain one of the early computers, back in the sixties; who had built a better one in the caves at Ingleton before two years were out; who had begun the establishment of the network of such machines which his children had finished, an attempt to link together once for all the remnant of the Dwarvish people.
No, it was not just.
He had still not moved from the spot, and as he watched he saw the King lift his head once more, and beckon him forward, his eyes bleak and sad. [And I thought *my* life sucked,] Mike thought bitterly. [At least *I* wasn't born to be the last ever Dwarvish undertaker.]
Close to, Durin looked at once older and younger than his current age, a youth with ancient eyes. "You do not turn from me."
Mike shrugged. "What would be the point?"
"It is the Dwarvish way, to reject the inevitable."
"It wasn't inevitable before, was it?"
"Oh, but it was." Durin's voice was low and soft, close to his face. "It was inevitable from the beginning."
Mike took an involuntary step backwards. "Well - yes - I suppose. If you say so." He wondered for a moment if the previous Durins had been quite this morbid; he couldn't quite imagine it. "Will you stay here? In Khazad-Dûm?"
"Not yet. It is not yet time. When the time comes, I will return here, with those who will come with me. In the meantime, I shall stay with my people."
"Oh." Mike turned away, looking among the other Dwarves for his sister and brother, leaving his King standing alone.
Flat 4, 23 St George's Quay, Lancaster.
The telephone rang for a long time in the deserted flat, its shrill tones just audible through the floor in the flats below. It rang for a minute, two minutes, before the ancient ansaphone kicked in, and the caller heard the recorded message, a young male voice sounding depressed and weary.
"Hello. There's nobody here at the moment. Please leave a message."
A brusque, graceless message, considering its speaker was one of the Eldar, the caller reflected. He listened to the single high *beep*, and then began to speak softly.
"I am trying to reach the sons of Elrond. My name is Mr Felix Jones, and I have a proposition that I believe will be of interest to them. I will be in touch again soon."
He paused for a moment, as if listening to the quality of the silence on the other end of the telephone, and then replaced the handset softly.
Silence returned to the deserted flat once more.
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Issue No.: 2.6
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