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Axe and Bow

A Legolas and Gimli fan archive

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Warg Hunt

by Honesty

Warnings: Angst, Chanslash
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JRR Tolkien. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
Feedback: Yes
Summary: Sequel to Bargaining for Beginners. Elven politics, Dwarven families... how many people can Celebrimbor fall foul of in one day?
A/N: With thanks to Adina, whose ideas saved this fic from a watery grave.
Ardil - Lover of royalty, a fitting name for a Sindar of Doriath.

The leader of the hunt was named Ardil, and Celebrimbor was beginning already to dislike him.

He had been a Sindar of Doriath, which excused nothing but explained much; and he was not at all minded to behave with equanimity towards a descendant of Fëanor. He did not even acknowledge Celebrimbor's presence; and of his companions, only the Silvan Elf who attended them as servant nodded his greeting.

They had been on the lower slopes of Caradhras when Celebrimbor had found them, a little way to the North-West of Khazad-Dûm, They were four in number: three in the grey cloaks of the Sindar, armed and dressed for hunting, the fourth a little apart - the Silvan Elf of the party, seemingly there only to carry weapons for his companions. In the manner of Silvan Elves he had made no allowance for the wintry weather, wearing only his customary green and brown leather jerkin and hosen, with light shoes that were not even soiled by the snow on whose surface he stood.

Coming closer, he recognised Ardil's two companions as his kinsmen, nobles of Doriath and distant kin to the Lord Celeborn. They turned and watched him as he approached, their eyes hostile and unwelcoming, a small, closed group, sheltering beneath the overhang of a large snow-covered boulder. What was he doing here, instead of buying meaningless mithril at Khazad-Dûm? Why was he intruding in their labours, this son of Fëanor's line?

The Silvan Elf looked away quickly, back to the Warg a hundred yards away, and Celebrimbor followed the direction of his sudden glance. The hunt had clearly been successful, for but a single Warg remained, leaping and snapping round the base of a withered rowan tree. Judging by the spent arrows around it, the remainder of its pack was dead. They had left this one alive - for sport, it seemed.

"What are you doing?" Celebrimbor demanded angrily. He could see the figure in the tree clearly now - the short, squat figure of a Dwarf, its cloak twisted and tangled round the tree's branches - and something that was half-recognition, half-dread woke in him as he stared intently at the leaping Warg. The figure in the tree tried to edge higher, but only succeeded in slithering further down the icy branches. The Warg leapt higher, almost clipping its ankles.

He looked towards them as the figure hooked an arm over a branch surely too thin to hold it, and Celebrimbor's breath caught as full recognition dawned. Narvi - ai! no - this could not be-

He had sought Narvi in Khazad-Dûm, once his business there had been completed, and found only a much smaller Dwarf-child named Gróa, who must surely have been one of Narvi's brothers. Narvi had gone off to check his brother's snares, and hadn't come back, the Dwarf-boy had said, and Ma was going spare looking for him, 'cos he was always going off an' not coming back, but it'd been six hours, an' they were starting to get worried. The boy was obviously thoroughly enjoying the crisis, and Celebrimbor had left him to his ghoulish speculations.

He'd sought the hunt only to ask them; he'd not expected-

"What are you doing," he asked a second time.

"Taking my ease," Ardil said indolently, leaning back against the rock that sheltered him. "The hunting of Wargs is tiring work. The Naug can wait until I am rested."

One of his kinsmen giggled, and Celebrimbor glanced at him, and then back to Ardil. "No," he said angrily. "You cannot leave it thus."

"Can I not, son of Fëanor?" Ardil asked disinterestedly. "But I can, with great ease."

Celebrimbor saw the Silvan Elf thin his mouth at that, and shift uneasily on the spot. From unease at the cruelty of the notion? Or from the awkwardness of the encounter? Celebrimbor recognised him as Brethilion of Lindon, a slight, brown-haired Elf who had never known Beleriand and was too young to know aught of the slaughter at Doriath.

And so was Narvi - the actions of his forebears were no fault of his, any more than Celebrimbor could lay claim to Fëanor's guilt. He stared at the Dwarf once more, troubled beyond measure by the signs of weariness he saw in him. The struggle was clear, writ large in the curve of the shoulders and back, the slight unsteadiness of his hands.

"Why do you wait, Ardil?" he demanded, desperation sharpening his voice so that the Warg hesitated to stare towards them. "Will you let the Warg live?"

Ardil straightened up and looked him in the eye. "And what gives you the right to command me, spawn of Fëanor? *Your* hands are hardly free of blood - any more than those deformities you seem to admire so much. I should almost say that like cleaves to like."

Celebrimbor stilled, halted for a moment by the force of his own pain and past. He stared silently at Ardil.

"Blood upon blood," he whispered. "You would pour blood upon blood, and further conflicts that should have been left to die." Ardil edged away from him, along the side of the rock, but said no word. "The Dwarf you hurt is a child in the reckoning of his people. Is it just to torment a child of Khazad-Dûm, for the actions of the Dwarves of Nogrod?"

"You tell me that creature is a child?" Ardil raised his voice incredulously. "Why, he is as bearded as an elder!"

"Do you know nothing of the Naugrim? Dwarvish children wear beards - youths and maidens both. Dwarvish women wear beards. Even their babes go bearded. This Dwarf is a child - and say you your actions are just?"

He thought he saw something like pain flicker in the Elf's eyes, but it had no sooner come than it was gone. "As just as what they did to us, when they came against Doriath - Dwarf-lover."

It would be so easy to let the anger take over, so easy to take his grandfather's path and let his rage drive him on to who knew what folly. So easy -

He could feel the start of anger building in him, uncoiling like a monstrous snake, endeavouring to steal his control from him, threatening to turn him into what Ardil and his kinsmen believed him to be. He stilled, and held himself motionless, letting only his eyes speak for him, holding Ardil's gaze, as the Sinda shifted his posture awkwardly, his face carefully blank as if in an attempt to hide the unease his body betrayed.

"You think I would let even a Dwarf come to harm?" Ardil asked him suddenly. "Knowing that we have an alliance with them. I have not caused it harm."

He could hear the grief in Ardil's voice - grief unassuaged through many years as a wound left to fester, wakened again by the alliance newly held with those whom the Sindar opposed. Some rational part of his mind urged him feel pity, counselled that a few gentle words could turn the situation to good.

He watched Narvi slip a little further, almost falling, hooking one foot over a broken branch to stay his descent, and what little remained of his good intentions was torn brutally away.

"Then shoot it," he said coldly. "And go from hence."

It was folly - he knew that even as he gave way to it. Ardil turned on him even as he bore down on him, his eyes blazing with icy rage. "My master is the Lord Celeborn," he cried, "and his master of old was Elu Thingol, whose realm you would be deemed unfit to enter. What right have *you* to command me?"

Narvi, his heart reminded him, tearing him as abruptly from his rage as it had forced him into it. This was no time for such wars of words. The desertion of his anger had weakened him, leaving him adrift, and ashamed of his loss of control.

There would be no help from Ardil now. Celebrimbor glanced around, taking in the rest of the party.

"Brethilion," he said briefly, and the Silvan Elf met his eyes for an instant, wordlessly placing his bow in Celebrimbor's outstretched hand. He shrugged off his quiver and handing that over also, seemingly indifferent to Ardil's harsh hissing sigh as he did so.

It was fully a hundred yards, though there was no wind to deflect the shot. Celebrimbor strung the bow quickly, his eyes already on the Warg ahead, not letting his mind dwell on the many deficiencies of his marksmanship. He strung a bow before those who were far more able than he; and this dire situation could not make him forget that he would be judged on it. He paused an instant before setting an arrow to the string, and then again once it was in place.

A wounded Warg would be far more dangerous than a healthy one, to both Narvi and himself.

Surely, he thought in fervent supplication, there must be one among the Valar who aids indifferent archers. He paused, measuring his path once again, and then loosed the string. The bow sang, and Celebrimbor watched the arrow fly from it, momentarily oblivious to his companions' keen scrutiny of his sloppy bowmanship.

The keening wail of the Warg's dying scream both relieved and distressed him. It should have been the meaningless call of a beast, but when it came it was an oddly sentient sound like the scream of an Elf or Man, echoing and reverberating off the silent mountains; and then he saw it fall and the carcass vanish, fading and paling into nothing against the churned snow.

Celebrimbor started forward instantly, treading as lightly as Elf could over the surface of the frosty snow. Behind him he heard Ardil taking an insolent farewell of him, and bidding him enjoy the walk back to Ost-in-Edhil. He ignored him and hastened his steps. He called out, and saw Narvi turn to look at him, still hanging from his tree branch for an instant and sliding a few inches down the branch before dropping heavily to the ground.

Celebrimbor started running then, sliding clumsily over the ice-covered rocks to reach him. "Narvi! What happened?" he asked breathlessly, crouching by him and reaching down to help him up. "You - Are you well?"

The only answer he received was a contemptuous look that in one stroke both set his heart at ease and set it fretting anew.

"As well as you might expect," Narvi said scathingly, his breath formibg a cloud of white in the freezing air, "given that I've had Wargs after my hide for the last six hours, and Elves shooting at me for the last hour."

"They shot - at you?" Celebrimbor asked, shocked. "For an hour?"

"Yes. They did," Narvi said angrily. He ignored Celebrimbor's offered hand, balling his own hands into fists underneath his torn cloak, seemingly oblivious of the snow in which he was sitting. "You should know. You were there, weren't you?"

"No! Narvi, I would never-"

Narvi had never judged him before, he realised with a shock of selfish grief, never condemned him, never accused him of anything more fell than naivete. He reminded himself miserably that Narvi was cold and tired, and in no case to view anything so close with equanimity. "No, I was not there," he said slowly. "I would have never had you come to harm."

"They're friends of yours, aren't they?"

He was staring behind Celebrimbor, and the Elf turned to see that Brethilion had approached them, walking with light steps over the surface of the snow. With a sudden shot of embarrassment, Celebrimbor realised that he still held the Dark-Elf's bow and quiver, and he handed them back quickly, uncomfortably conscious of how it might look to Narvi's eyes.

"No - They are not," Celebrimbor said. He could bring himself to say nothing more.

"They are your people."

[They are not my people, who do such things.]

But that was a falsehood, as generations of his forbears could have told him. No kin of Fëanor could in honesty distance himself for those who did violence. He was conscious of Narvi staring at him through narrowed eyes, the snow caked in his hair and eyebrows, and then turning his gaze on Brethilion, who dropped his eyes at Narvi's scrutiny. He seemed older, suddenly, and more weathered; a sudden hostile stranger in the place of the youngling Celebrimbor had liked so dearly; and Celebrimbor was struck with the sudden certainty that he had lost irrevocably the friendship he had valued so much.

"Narvi - Do you truly believe I would harm you?"

"How *should* I know?"

"But Narvi-"

"I don't want to discuss it." Narvi struggled to his feet, his eyes burning with suspicious anger. He could barely stand with the cold, and Celebrimbor saw as he rose that he was shaking violently, threatening to unbalance himself even as he regained his feet. Celebrimbor all but leapt forward, catching him by an arm and supporting him before he could fall again, trying not to heed the wary, doubtful eyes that glanced swiftly at him and then as quickly looked away. He unfastened his cloak awkardly, one-handed, and crouched to offer it to Narvi, thankful that he had brought only a short, half-length garment, rather than his usual, longer cloak, which even the tallest of Dwarves could not have used.

"Take it. Please."

"I don't need it."

Celebrimbor almost cried out aloud at that: a pox on the Dwarves and their foolish pride; but restrained himself in time. "You have been here long. I would not have you perish of cold," he said with almost evenness of tone.

"I told you - I don't need it," Narvi almost shouted at him, his shoulders raising and tensing under the torn folds of his own cloak, pulling its threadbare tatters tighter about him and turning away from him. "I'm going home - now!"

"You shall not travel alone, Narvi. Not in such climes as this. It is an hour's journey-"

"Let me go home - Celebrimbor of Eregion - and I will trouble you no longer."

He turned at that, and stalked away, his torn, shredded cloak pulled tight around the tense shoulders. So lightly was the bond of friendship broken.



A/N: This fic, interestingly, was inspired by rather a condescending review to Bargaining for Beginners which informed me that I obviously knew little LotR history as Celeborn was from Doriath and would never have put up with an alliance with the Dwarves.


Someone - Celebrimbor, he supposed - was shaking his shoulder, almost pulling him out of the snow he was resting in. Narvi swiped reflexively behind him, connecting glancingly with a stick-thin arm and breaking its hold. He rolled over, out of reach, instinctively drawing his knees up to his chest and huddling down further into the snow, as he looked up into Celebrimbor's face.

"I told you to leave me be," he said in what he had meant as a growl but sounded, he realised in disgust, more akin to a whimper. "Just let me rest a moment, and I'll go."

He saw Celebrimbor hesitate, drawing back slightly, dismay colouring for an instant the fine, symmetrical features. Then the other Elf, his companion with the bow and quiver, brushed lightly past Celebrimbor's arm, a bundle of sticks and twigs held carefully in his arms.

"I'll make fire," the Elf murmured softly, crouching down just over an yard's distance from Narvi to sweep a small area clear of snown and lay his sticks down, arranging them in a layered pyramid with quick, steady fingers, seemingly untroubled by the cold.

[That's fine! So you've caught me and now you're going to cook me,] Narvi thought confusedly; but even he had to admit that that was hardly reasonable. He forced himself up into a sitting position, wrapping torn fragments of his cloak around his hands to protect them as he levered himself upright. He had stopped feeling the cold now, but it had been replaced by a thick weariness that robbed him of coherent thought and left him desiring merely to sleep - to hide away and sleep until the storm be over.


Celebrimbor was kneeling in front of him, his fine, well-made face barely a foot away, and Narvi felt himself go hot and then very cold, the sight paralyzing for a moment his already addled brain. The Elf-Lord seemed to have tears in his eyes, and Narvi stared at them in incomprehension. For a curious frozen moment, they stared at each other, motionless; then Narvi wrenched his gaze down, staring at the shreds of cloth he still held bunched around his fists. He felt a garment of some kind being placed round his shoulders, and realised suddenly that Celebrimbor was now cloakless.

"Won't you be cold?" he asked instinctively.

"I do not feel it." Another unwitting moment of contact. He looked away quickly, towards the other Elf who had been one of his tormentors.

The core of sticks was complete, and the Elf was trying vainly with flint and dry grass to get them alight, chipping the flints repeatedly and unsuccessfully against each other, cupping the grasses with his hands to protect them from the wind. His movements were quick and sure, unselfconscious, very patient with the failure of his fire-making.

The Elf looked up suddenly, perhaps feeling the weight of Narvi's stare.

"That thing's useless," Narvi said, indicating the Elf's flints. "Use mine." He fished inside the voluminous folds of his two cloaks and brought out his tinder box, tossing it across.

"I thank you," the Elf said breathlessly, not quite meeting his eye, looking at the wrought-iron device in his hands with dubious wonder as he turned it over, apparently trying to solve the riddle of how to use it.

Narvi watched him for a moment as he located the mechanism, starting unreasonably as he felt a hand catch his wrist.

"Your hands," Celebrimbor breathed, kneeling beside him. "What happened to your hands?"

Narvi tried to snatch his hand away, but found he couldn't break the Elf-Lord's grip. He had been trying not to look at his hands ever since he'd been up that accursed rowan tree, but now- They were cut and bloodied, scraped raw in places, and pale and frost-bitten in others. Celebrimbor caught the hands before could hide them again, and inspected them, seemingly shocked into silence by their damaged state.

"I think it might have something to do with trying to hold on to a frozen tree for the last six hours," Narvi said witheringly. "It doesn't tend to strengthen the constitution."

Celebrimbor said nothing, and looked again at the hands, his face distressed. "But - will you still be able-?"

"Will you stop fussing?" Narvi snarled, trying again to force his hands from Celebrimbor's grasp. "If you have nothing useful to do, leave me alone."

Celebrimbor stilled, and sighed. "My apologies," he said. "I fear I have abandoned my wits."

He drew out a water bottle and cloth, and began to clean the damaged hands with the quick care that Narvi had only before seen him give to his craft. He washed them as best he could, and then tore a strip from the hem of his tunic, checked it was clean enough, and bound each hand in turn, mindful of the flinches Narvi could not suppress when the fabric touched raw flesh.

Narvi carefully did not look at him. [I don't understand,] he thought miserably. [I don't even know that I want to understand.]

* * *

"How fare you?"

Brethilion straightened up suddenly, Narvi's tinderbox sitting uselessly in his hand, the pitiful fire still unlit before him.

"It is too cold for fire here," he said unhappily, "and I can feel the breath of blizzards in the air. I fear there are storms coming."

Celebrimbor lifted his head, and sniffed the air. "You are right," he said. "We should seek shelter."

"We are too far from the city to return there. And nowhere else-"

"Khazad-Dûm is not far," Celebrimbor said quickly. "Would your people be willing to shelter us, Narvi?"

And it would be small blame if they did not. It was unseemly at best, after all that had just passed; at worst it would seem deliberate treachery.

Narvi hesitated for long seconds, and then nodded. "Then we must go there" Celebrimbor said impatiently. "None of us are equipped to survive this."

Brethilion looked dubious, and Celebrimbor wondered for a moment if he might refuse. It took effort even to get a Silvan Elf within doors; how one persuaded him to go under ground Celebrimbor did not know. He could hear the wind rising, a sharp, icy edge to its blasts. The sudden gusts seemed to banish Brethilion's doubts. "Then we must be swift," he said. "One of us will have to carry-"

"I can walk, can't I?" Narvi asked in a low growl.

"But you are weary and injured, and you cannot go as swift as we over snow-" He halted in confusion, seeing Narvi's glower.

"I do not know what you name is, Elf, and I do not care. But you would do well to heed the saying of the Dwarves," he paused, glowering at the Silvan Elf. "When in a hole, *dig no further*."

Brethilion accepted Narvi's words with meekness. "Then we must leave immediately," he said. "The storm will be upon us before long."

Knowing that Brethilion had been one of the hunting party, the last thing Narvi would wish to do would be to show weakness before him. "Shall we go?" he asked Narvi and Brethilion. Both nodded, tersely, and they started off, the two Elves moving lightly over the snow's surface as the Dwarf's feet shuffled through it, leaving deep furrows in their wake.

The blizzard started twenty minutes later, when they were on the most exposed part of the slope, still half-an-hour from the mouth of the Sirannon. Without conscious decision the three moved closer together, Celebrimbor keeping as close as he could to Narvi as he could. He misliked to admit it, but the wind was cold and he was beginning to feel it. How Narvi would endure it he could not know.

He had seen him stumble twice, and find his footing again, and was well aware that it was only the Elves' pace that had kept him from slowing. It would be harder work for him, of course, having to pull his feet through the snow and ice rather than walking on its surface. He looked weary, and Celebrimbor could see his determination beginning to waver. He stumbled again, as Celebrimbor watched, and Celebrimbor reached out to steady him before he realised what he was doing.

He got an angry look for his pains, and was surprised at the pain it caused him. He wanted to pull Narvi aside, explain to him that he had not been one of those tormenting him, that he would never wish to hurt him, but he could hardly do that. Not here - not now. And certainly not after all that had passed between them in Ost-in-Edhil.

Narvi had avoided him since; had avoided speaking with him, meeting his eye, had avoided above all being left alone with him; and his body languague had spoken unease and awkwardness in Celebrimbor's presence.

The snow became more intense, and he heard Narvi choke out what must surely been a swearword - a harsh, guttural word spat out in disgust, slipping and losing his footing. Celebrimbor reacted without conscious thought, picking him up to carry him, wrapping the folds of his cloak around him tighter and continuing on.

Shame it might be to a Dwarf; but he was not going to have Brethilion see him fall.

"My apologies, Narvi," he muttered in response to Narvi's unrepeatable comment, and quickened his pace.

* * *

The snow whirled up higher around them, and for an instant Celebrimbor almost lost his footing, catching his boot against a rock that was invisible in the swirling snow. He stumbled for an instant, and straightened, feeling Narvi tense, and take hold of his neck more tightly.

Celebrimbor muttered an apology, acutely conscious of the weight of the injured Dwarf against his chest, and of how cold the heavy body felt.

He had felt so warm, so vivid-

Celebrimbor almost cursed himself aloud, for dwelling so much on such an ill deed - and worse, to think on it without feeling guilt or shame, as was only seemly. Blood always shows, Ardil had said; but Celebrimbor had never sought to emulate the works of his kin. Was it foreordained, then, that he should feel the heat of other sins?

He quickened his step, feeling the brittle-crisp surface of the snow under his feet. It could not be far now; he could feel the steep descent into the valley beginning, and he cautioned himself to have a care. He was, after all, no Silvan Elf to bound lightly amid the drifts, and he was carrying many pounds' worth of Dwarf.

The end of the slope was a relief, bringing them as it did within the shelter of the West-Gate. Even with the snow-sharpened winds howling and skirling within it, it was a haven, and Celebrimbor gave his thanks for it. Brethilion waited a moment for him to catch up.

"We are almost there," he called. "Will the Dwarves of Moria receive us, after-?"

Celebrimbor paused a moment, setting Narvi again on his feet, taking care not to look at him until he caught his balance.

"Listen," Narvi said in a low voice. "If you are planning to come within, I strongly recommend that you do not refer to my home as the black pit."

"But-" But the King himself had said they were free to use that name, had laughed at it, and deemed it flattery.

"I don't give a bent nail that King Durin finds it amusing. He may say that we are greater than the names the ignorant give us, but most Dwarves object violently to it."

"I shall heed it well," Brethilion said earnestly. "Are there other rules that we should know before we enter?"

Narvi stopped to glare at him. "If you think before you speak - no."

He turned and stalked towards the West Gate, only the concentration in his movements revealing his discomfort. So much effort, to avoid being thought weak. Celebrimbor smiled softly, remembering the long years when he too had been ruled by the opinions of his elders, and laboured long and futilely not to disappoint them.

"Must everything be a sop to Dwarvish pride," Brethilion asked him, a touch peevishly.

Celebrimbor pondered it a moment. "Not pride, if I understand their people correctly," he said thoughtfully. "Rather it is considered a matter of acceptable behaviour, to show no weakness before others."

Brethilion said nothing, merely turned to follow Narvi towards the mouth of the Sirannon, where the crude western entrance to Khazad-Dûm stood.

* * *

They had no difficulty gaining admittance. Elves at the West-Gate had lost by now whatever interest they had once held, and the guards spared them barely a glance as they passed through. Celebrimbor wondered, irrelevantly, what Narvi would make of the crude gateway, were he given leave to shape it as he wished. He turned suddenly to see that Narvi had hastened ahead, and he had to quicken his step to close the distance between them.

"Are you coming," Narvi said abruptly, and turned down a side passage. He seemed steadier on his feet now, though Celebrimbor rather thought that it owed more to a desire not to be seen weak than to any strength he possessed. His weariness was clear enough to any who looked closely, not to mention his bruised face and dirty, torn clothing

Brethilion gave him a doubtful glance, and Celebrimbor shook his head. "Their ways are not ours," he murmured softly. "Let him do as he will."

He could see Brethilion bite off his half-formed protest at his words and glance uneasily at the heavy rock walls around them. It was hard enough to persuade a Silvan Elf to set foot inside one of the stone houses of the Noldor; how much harder for Brethilion here, where the walls were thicker and heavier by far than any built structure could be.

"Goes it well with you, Brethilion?" he asked softly.

Brethilion looked around him nervously. "I - I mislike these walls. They bury us from the world like tombs."

"Yet you could not have remained above ground."

"No. I know it."

He lapsed into silence, still eyeing the walls uneasily, though his step was sound enough.

"Here," Narvi said suddenly, indicating a tunnel to their left that was little higher than he was. It seemed unlit from where they stood, dark and dingy, and even with the benefit of Elven sight Celebrimbor could barely make out the heavy stone door with which it ended. The arch was plain and unadorned, lacking any of the finesse of the caves around them, and Celebrimbor wondered for an instant that a stone-wright's dwelling should be thus left plain.

"Ai - I cannot-"

Celebrimbor saw Brethilion baulk visibly and back away slightly. Narvi gave him an incredulous glance.

"You can't camp out in the street. Not in this neighbourhood."

"But why?"

"Most of the Firebeards live down there." He indicated down the tunnel ahead. Celebrimbor's puzzlement must have shown on his face, for he added scornfully, "Steel-workers - from Nogrod. They don't care for Elves. Now, are you coming or not?"

"I will come," Brethilion said tightly.

"Good," Narvi said, and turned to go in. Celebrimbor crouched down to follow him, and heard Brethilion do the same, his breathing shallow and unsteady.



A/N: All the Dwarvish names are from Old Norse with the exception that the -ul suffix (from Khuzdul) is used to form the patronymic. Turg Mahalul would translate as Aule's beard.

The ceiling beyond the stone door was higher, in places almost tall enough for Celebrimbor to stand upright, and the room was lit by tallow candles, set on high shelves on the walls. It was dominated by a large fireplace which seemed unsure as to whether it was cooking stove or domestic forge, and a treadle lathe which stood against the wall furthest away from the stove, a pile of unfinished wood leaning neglected against the wall. One shaded corner seemed to serve as a larder, for Celebrimbor could just make out a string of onions hanging from a hook high in the wall, and the shapes of a number of canvas sacks below, one of which was misshapen as if filled with potatoes. The room was empty, save for three Dwarvish children, one of whom Celebrimbor recognised as the ghoulish Gróa.

"Ma," Narvi called out, & Celebrimbor watched a taller, broader Dwarf walking quickly out of an inner room, bearing down rapidly on her son.

She looked - well, she looked little different to any other Dwarf Celebrimbor had yet met, though she wore floor-length skirts rather than the more usual dark breeches, though paired as they were with mail shirt and long braided beard Celebrimbor could not have told her gender from her appearance. She wore a pouch on her back, and in it Celebrimbor could just make out the wide eyes and streaky chin-hair of a very young Dwarf indeed. Narvi's brother with the teething problems, he assumed.

"Narvi!" she cried, cuffing him round the ear, and then pulling him into a tight embrace. "Where have you been, idiot child? Your dad's been worried stupid over you."

She held him at arm's length and inspected him, taking in with narrowed eyes the cuts and scrapes along his face and arms, the wet, torn clothes, and the clumsily bandaged hands, her eyes narrowing until they were mere black sparks.

"What happened, Narvi?" she asked in a low, taut voice. "Where have you been?"

Narvi did not quite meet her eye.

"I got caught by a Warg, ma," he said miserably. "I was hiding up a tree for six hours. Khalebrimbur killed it."

Celebrimbor could feel Brethilion shifting uneasily behind him, and hear the sudden hitch in his breathing. He was young, of course - barely three centuries old - and had not Celebrimbor's experience of lies and liars, living an honest life where such artifice was superfluous - of course he would feel uneasy with such falsehood. There were times when Celebrimbor envied him, and longed for such a life with a force that could hardly be wholesome.

The Dwarf-woman seemed to notice him for the first time, meeting his eyes with accusatory force. "So," she said, "You are this Khalebrimbur of whom my son speaks so much."

"At your service," he said courteously, uncomfortably aware of the narrow-eyed gaze assessing him. "Though I fear we intrude here. If we may be of some assistance-"

"Keep from under my feet and you can stay. You can sit there." She indicated a stone bench by the entrance, and Celebrimbor seated himself on it, grateful that he no longer had to bend his neck for the low ceiling. Brethilion hesitated, and waited for a sign from Celebrimbor before he seated himself beside him.

"Now - you -" she said to Narvi, picking up a length of sackcloth, "hold still while I get you dry."

"I can do that, ma."

"I told you to sit still. Sigdís, get your brother some clean clothes. And Nóin, go and tell that husband of mine that Narvi has returned."

The smallest of the three Dwarf-children stood up and scuttled into an inner room, nearly tripping over skirts that were too long for her. The tallest of the others stood up also and raced past them out of the door, subjecting Celebrimbor to a curious, insolent stare as he passed. He was taller than Narvi, Celebrimbor noted with surprise, although the soft, unformed face betrayed his younger age.

Narvi's mother had stripped off his shirt, and was drying him - none too gently - with a length of sacking. Celebrimbor looked quickly away, for some treacherous part of him could not help but notice the pallor of Narvi's skin, or how it was reddened by his mother's vigourous drying. They lived underground, he reminded himself, and Dwarven skin seldom saw the sun. Was it truly to be wondered at?

He watched instead as the little Dwarf-girl returned from the inner room, a bundle of garments held tightly in her arms in her arms. She scuttled over to the fireplace, and put them down on a stool one by one, counting them out breathlessly as she did so. "Shirt ... jerkin ... underthingies ... britches ... sockses ... an' more sockses."

"Good. Now go, you two, and stay out of my way. Go and see if your father's workshop needs sweeping."

Gróa stood up, folding his arms, and glared at his mother. "Why can't I go with Nóin? I'm old enough to go above. And I'm strong enough."

"Gróa Norinul, just you mind your manners! Just because you run around in your brother's breeches all day doesn't mean you can behave like him. It's not seemly for a maidchild, and don't you forget it. Now go!"

"Come on, Sigdís," Gróa muttered resentfully, grabbing her smaller sister by the wrist, and disappearing out of the door, totally ignoring the two tall strangers seated beside it. Sigdís paused to wave a plump hand at them as she passed.

"Where's dad?" Narvi asked suddenly as he struggled into a clean shirt.

"Out looking for you - where else? Along with Nár and Nori and your cousins Ori and Snori and two of the militia."

Narvi said nothing to that; he hardly needed to. The guilt and embarrassment in his eyes said it for him. Celebrimbor looked carefully away, mindful not to embarrass him the more. Not that he needed to, with a Dwarvish mother on the rampage.

"Turg Mahalul, Narvi! Are you stupid? What did you think you were doing? Haven't we taught you how to deal with Wargs by now?"

"I tried! Ma, I did, but-" It sounded as though Narvi was close to tears, and Celebrimbor saw his mother grip his shoulder fiercely and say something in his ear in Khuzdul, and glanced down once more.

He was looking carefully at the floor, and so he never saw Brethilion spring to his feet, his head almost hitting the stone ceiling.

"It is not so!" the Silvan Elf cried out, his voice trembling. "It is not so - I cannot let the truth go untold."



A/N: Thank you everyone for the reviews! Am total feedback junkie, and they're much appreciated.
Ishkhaqwi ai durugnul - far be it from me to translate this one.
Tolkien on Dwarvish parents and their children: 'To these they are devoted, often rather fiercely: that is, they may treat them with apparent harshness (especially in the desire to ensure that they shall grow up tough, hardy, unyielding), but they defend them with all their power, and resent injury to them even more than to themselves.'

For fully half a minute, there was silence.

"Mahal," Narvi muttered dejectedly, staring down at his bandaged hands.

His mother was staring at Celebrimbor's companion intently, her hands on her hips. He couldn't see her expression, but he had a clear view of the Elf's face. His hands were trembling, and his expression was anxious and distressed. Narvi suspected that he was in the process of losing a staring match. It seemed to happen frequently when his ma was on the warpath.

[Why can't you just leave it be?] he thought resentfully, but there was no chance of that now. The moment ma knew something was awry... well, she was not one to wait for the truth to reveal itself. He slumped back against the wall of the cave, resting his cheek against the cool stone, consoled slightly by its calm touch against his skin. Stone was easy; stone he could understand. It made no demands and it told no lies, and it had beauty in a way that no living thing did - save one.

Celebrimbor was staring up at the other Elf in anxious awe, looking as if he too might arise and reason with him. Not that that would help anything, at this stage. [Told you to think before you spoke,] Narvi thought glumly. He did not have the strength to be angry.

"You accuse my son of lying," he heard his mother say bluntly. "Explain yourself."

The Elf's trembling, if anything, grew more pronounced his eyes darting round the room, but he stepped forward boldly, his face pale even in the red glow of the firelight. "Forgive me, good lady," he said tentatively, "for I mean no dishonour to you or your house, but there are events that my conscience bids me must be told, though they are great grief to me."

Narvi's mother stared at him in silence for a moment. "Then speak," she said bluntly.

[This bis going to hurt.] Narvi braced himself.

"My name is Brethilion of Mithlond," the Elf began tentatively. "and I am body-servant to Ardil Halmirion, who is of the Sindar of Doriath." He shifted his weight slightly, his hands clasped before him, and Narvi would have been no Dwarf, had he not noticed the tensing and unclenching of the muscles in them. "It was this morn that my master heard word of Wargs on Carhadhras. Hunting is his duty, good lady, so it fell to him, and his two cousins, to hunt them down. I went with him at his command, to be his weapon-bearer, and to assist him at need."

Another pause. Brethilion's eyes darted again around the stone walls, as if he feared them, and Narvi supposed that he was seeking an escape route.

"We came upon Wargs two hours after noon, but two miles from the West Gate of your great city. A great pack they were, of sixty beasts, and they were gathered round a rowan tree on the southern slope. Your son had taken refuge in its branches, and the Warg pack were surrounding it, endeavouring to reach and devour him."

'Devour'. Narvi winced. His ma turned and glanced sharply at him, and then turned back to Brethilion.

"Continue," she commanded. "But be quick. I have an injured son to tend."

Brethilion bowed his head. "It had been my lord's first command to destroy the pack, but leave one alive to trace back to its lair and destroy any that had remained behind. I had thought those orders to be superceded when it was known to my lord that your son was in danger from them, but it was not so." He halted awkwardly. "We slew the pack, save one, but the one remaining did not flee, and my master bade me slay it not. I tried to persuade him otherwise - I spoke openly against my liege-lord in defiance of all propriety! - but he would not hear me, and nor would my lords his kinsmen. They would let me only prevent it from jumping, and fire my arrows above its head when it would leap."

"You say this Ardil is of Doriath."

Brethilion nodded slowly. "My lord does not love the Dwarvish folk," he said in a low voice. "Good lady, I could not speak before him and I dared not defy him. Then the Lord Celebrimbor came among us and bade him end the matter, but he grew angry and would not hear him. When he would not slay the creature, Lord Celebrimbor took my bow and slew it himself."

The Elf came to a halt abruptly, as if he had run suddenly out of words, and there was left only the crackle of the fire to fill the void. Narvi watched his mother absently, as she examined first the Elf Brethilion, and then Celebrimbor with an intentness she reserved only for wrongdoers. Surprisingly, it was Celebrimbor whom she made her first victim.

"Why did he not heed your words, Lord Khalebrimbur? Did you not outrank him? I understood from my son that you were of high standing in the city of the Elves."

[My mother,] thought Narvi moodily, [asks the questions noone else would dare.]

Celebrimbor, he noted with surprise, looked uncomfortable, even pained, as if her question had caused him genuine grief.

"I am of high standing only among our artisans," he said softly.

"Yet you are called lord. Is that not your status? Does this Ardil then outrank you."

"No." The word was almost inaudible in the still room. Narvi looked up suddenly, but Celebrimbor was staring straight ahead as if he did not see any one of them. His grey eyes had become suddenly dull. "I am of the highest family of the Noldor, of the line that would bear the kingship - had my grandfather and his sons not forfeited it by their evil works." His eyes focused again, on Narvi's mother, and then on Narvi himself. "There are many who regard me not for the ills my fathers did. I fear Ardil is among them."

He sounded subdued, saddened, though whether for his family's deeds or Ardil's opinion of them Narvi had no idea.

"Very well." Narvi could almost see his mother dismissing the matter, returning her attention to Brethilion as she did so. "So," she said at length. "Your master, whom you serve as body-servant, treated my son with negligence and cruelty, although he is but a child-"

"I am not a-" Narvi protested weakly, but his mother cut through his words before they were even half-spoken.

"Be silent, Narvi. You are not of age, and this matter is no concern of yours. It is for your father and I to avenge the injury done you in fitting manner."

Brethilion started as if he had been struck. "Speak not thus of vengeance, good lady, I pray you!" he said in alarm. "It is not my lord's way to be cruel in his dealings - it is only his grief for Doriath that makes him thus harsh."

"Then why did you speak," Narvi heard his mother demand angrily. "Why speak disloyally before strangers against your master if it is not to bring vengeance upon him?"

"I meant no dishonour to my master!" Brethilion cried, greatly alarmed. "I wish no ill to befall him - but I could not hear you think ill of your son without cause."

"And yet you must know that I would seek vengeance, Brethilion of Mithlond. Our law demands it. My son's honour demands it, and the honour of his kin."

Narvi sighed, as loudly as he dared. Yes, it was irrevocable. His mother would insist on vengeance, his King would hardly disallow it, and fragile things like peace and friendship, and the sharing of skills would be discarded without thought, like droppings down a garderobe. *Everything* stopped for a matter of Dwarvish honour - and right now he didn't have the strength to care.

He must have been drifting into sleep for his mother's voice had begun to sound quite jarringly loud. [Ishkhaqwi ai durugnul,] he thought vexedly, [all your son's honour demands at the moment is enough peace and quiet in which to rest! Can't you leave me be?] He closed his eyes, and settled himself more comfortably against the stone wall, leaning into its gentle, impersonal touch, and let himself sink into sleep.



A/N: OCs galore. Sorry. And - oh dear! - another child enters the narrative.
Nerwen: Galadriel's mother-name, when she was a child. It translates 'man-maid'.
Thanks to Lisa and Little My for the Doriath info - much appreciated.
I have no idea how or when Ardil's cousin might have met Fëanor, or whether he's talking out of his backside.

The horses came to them the moment they reached the river-path. They were fine beasts, of Elven breed, and were no more troubled by snow than by long meadow-grass in May, not even made restive by the rising snow-storm. Ardil had mounted without word, and taken the lead more by habit than inclination, his cousins Amandil and Gilfin following silently behind.

The force of the storm was reserved for Caradhras, and along the course of the Sirannon its touch was fresh and clean, not frenzied or harsh. On other days, in other circumstances, the ride would have been a joyous thing. The snows of the blizzard whirled around them; the snows of the ground, set dancing by their horses' hooves, rose cloudlike behind them - but Ardil, unusually, was ignorant of its beauty.

It had been centuries, not years, since he had last felt shame, and he was not enjoying its return.

Amandil and Gilfin had said naught to him since they had parted from Celebrimbor. On their return to the river-road, Amandil had mounted his beast, ready to depart, and Gilfin had busied himself immediately with the remaining horses - a duty that should by rights have been left to Brethilion, and that he took on without a word of thought.

[Even my servant is shamed of me,] Ardil thought bitterly.

The remembrance of Brethilion dismayed him further. To leave him on Caradhras - and with one so fey and changeable as Celebrimbor - could be seen only as dire neglect. To have charge of a servant was more than a privilege: it was a duty of care - and Brethilion was only newly out of his second century.

Ardil glanced back, to where Gilfin rode. Brethilion's mare galloped with them, a little behind his younger cousin's horse. She had come as meekly as the others at his call, and followed as readily as if her master were present, not obtrusively, but humbly, as if ever conscious of her lower status beside the lords of Horses and Elves who rode with her, her dun coat self-effacing behind the white-silver hides of her companions.

* * *

The city before them was a welcome sight, though with the swirling snows they were but a bowshot away before they could make out its walls. He slowed his stallion to a walk while he was yet a stone's throw away, dismounting before the empty gateway.

His cousins did likewise, walking with him, the younger, Gilfin leading the four horses. He walked a little apart, and did not look his cousin or his brother in the eye.

"You blame yourself Ardil," Amandil murmured by his ear.

"As I should."

"Yet you were in ignorance; and was a Fëanorean to instruct you?"

"There are deeds for which ignorance is no defence. To treat so with a child-"

"A child! How do you know that Celebrimbor did not lie?" Amandil said. "His father ever worked by lies and subtlety."

"Because he is Celebrimbor," Ardil said sharply. "You have seen how he walks, how he shoots - he takes care over nothing save the melding of metals! He would not think to lie, over so small a thing! And in my folly I let my rage overmaster wisdom."

"Yet so did he," Amandil said softly. "Did you not see his face when he grew crazed? Did you not see in him the face of Fëanor?"

Churlishness - base churlishness, to use the crimes of others to excuse his own. On aother occasion he might have chided his cousin, but who was he, to look askance at others' deeds? "I saw only the face of my own rage," he said wearily, "and it did not please me." He paused, looking around the snow-clad courtyard. "I grow weary. We will talk on this another day."

They walked in silence some way, following Gilfin and their steeds to the stables through the snowy streets. None passed them; none spoke with them until they were almost at the door of the stables.

"Good even, my lords."

"Good even, my Lady Celebrían." It was Gilfin who answered first, calling across the courtyard, to where she sat, heedless of the weather, upon a high wall. She jumped down and ran to join them, her silver hair glittering amid the snowflakes, her white linen dress floating barely above the drifts.

His liege-lord's daughter. She had beauty, of course, almost equal to her mothers, though she had yet to learn her mother's dignity. She would be a great lady very soon, when she was come to maturity and lost her boyish ways. She was only two years shy of adulthood now, and still she darted about the town like a street-urchin; but then had not her mother been called Nerwen? "My lady," Ardil said, bowing his head respectfully. "Should you not be within doors?"

She shook her head, oblivious of the snowflakes that danced out of her hair at the gesture. "Perhaps when it grows cold. Did your hunt go well?"

He could not yet answer her. She glanced around, at Amandil and Gilfin, and the four horses eyeing their stable covetously, and answered her own question, more quickly than he could have done. "But Brethilion is not with you! I hope he has not come to harm?"

"He has not," Gilfin said quickly. "We met with the lord Celebrimbor, and Brethilion went with him - we believe to the city of the stunted ones."

Celebrían walked swiftly to the dun mare, running her hands lightly along the horse's head and neck. "Where is your master, fair one," she asked softly, and looked up swiftly. "She is anxious - but she does not fear for his life," she said, "so I shall not either. But I do wish he will return soon. I was with Mírieth earlier today, and she will miss him sorely."

She darted away, as abruptly as she had come, and Ardil saw her run swiftly through the streets and up one of the distant holly trees, to the flet where Brethilion's wife Mírieth made her home, and her newborn daughter Míriel.

"I shall tend the horses," Gilfin said sombrely, and turned into the stable. "Will you join me, Amandil?"

It was relief to Ardil to be left to true solitude, and he turned back, and walked slowly to his home, and to the knowledge of his guilt.

His home lay on the West side of Ost-in-Edhil, in an area that his fellow exiles from Doriath had made their own, building low houses of stone and decking them with tapestries in silent reminder of the kingdom they had lost. Such artifice could never regain the Halls of Menegroth. He wondered why they tried it, what they had thought to achieve.

Small blame that they felt such anger against the Dwarves!

No; blame indeed, if it brought forth deeds against children. How would it have been felt here, had one such as Celebrían been injured? Grievously, he knew; and so would they feel it there, he supposed. The Dwarvish youth had clearly been a commoner and no lordling, but there would surely be one to speak for him. Ardil almost hoped that there was.

There would surely be retribution; and his heart told him he would not be the only one to feel it.

* * *

Brethilion felt the interrogation cease as abruptly as it had begun.


The Dwarf-woman turned to her son abruptly, and strode over to him and cuffed him hard round the ear.

"Ow! Ma..."

"You stop that, Narvi Norinul. Don't think you're going to sleep until I've fed you."

"Yes, ma," Narvi grumbled, but Brethilion could already see his eyes drifting closed once more. His mother sighed loudly, and turned instead to Lord Celebrimbor. "Khalebrimbur! If you want to make yourself useful, keep him awake for me - at least til I've got some food down him." She turned back, and flung a log on the fire with quite unnecessary force. Then she turned back to Brethilion. "And you - I suggest you sit down and stay out of my way."

Brethilion watched dumbly as Celebrimbor rose quickly to his feet, almost striking his head on the low ceiling, and crossed over to where Narvi was sitting with rather more caution and sat down by him, folding himself cross-legged onto the floor. It left them level, and Brethilion noticed absently the unstated courtesy of the gesture.

He sat down slowly on the stone bench again, his legs trembling and unsteady under him; the rock aroound them an overbearing, crushing heaviness. To be here - so far from the light of the sky and the purity of living things!

He watched the Dwarf-woman moving briskly round her fireplace, listening with scant attention to the conversation on the other side of the room.

"Well, master Narvi? How fare you?"

"I'm fine. Now will you let me sleep?" Narvi was rubbing his head slowly where his mother had struck it. It seemed wrong, thus to strike a child, and for so little reason; but Dwarvish ways were different. He would never strike Míriel so.

He realised with a pang that Mírieth would be putting Míriel to bed soon. He would miss it. Perhaps he had already.

"I dare not," he heard Celebrimbor say. "It would be grave incivility for me to disobey your gracious mother."

Narvi huffed impatiently, and paid no heed to the pleasantry. "You know this wrecks everything we worked for?" he said under his breath.

Brethilion bowed his head. He knew of the lord Celebrimbor's works, and his treaty with the artisans of Mor- of Khazad-Dûm. The trading of apprenticeships, the friendships, the mixing of Elven with Dwarvish crafts, the unprecedented peace between the peoples. But the Dwarf-child had said 'we', he realised, wondering. Did that mean that he, too, had played some particular part in Lord Celebrimbor's bargain with the Dwarves.

"Yes," he heard Celebrimbor say gravely, and saw him place a hand on Narvi's arm in an unthinkingly intimate gesture. "I know it. And I am sorry for it."

Brethilion bowed his head lower, and covered his face with his hands.



Dwarvish food seemed to run to potato and onion soup, made with what smelled like rabbit stock - it was certain that it contained no rabbit-meat. Narvi, of course, insisted on feeding himself in spite of his bandaged hands, and Celebrimbor was relieved to see that he accomplished it with reasonable skill. Narvi's mother left him to it, moving briskly around them to clear the area around the stove, though Celebrimbor fancied that he could feel her eyes on his back, watching him closely.

Narvi managed most of the soup before he laid his bowl down, nearly spilling the remainder before Celebrimbor took it from him and laid it down on one of the flatter areas of the stone floor.

The *clink* of the bowl being set down brought Narvi's mother over to them instantly. She gave the remainder of the soup in the bowl an irked glance, annoyed, perhaps, by the wastage of good food.

"Sorry, ma," Narvi mumbled instinctively as his eyes drifted closed once more.

"No matter," she said absently. "Sleep now, if you can."

The command was unnecessary: he was almost there already as the warmth and the hot food took it toll on him, sinking down until he was huddled against the unforgiving hard rock of the walls, his breathing slowing and deepening. Narvi's mother bent over him and Celebrimbor moved out of her way as she bent down slowly to pick up her son, the rings on her mail shirt glinting softly in the half-light. He murmured something, but did not stir.

He looked younger in sleep than he did waking, his face smooth and unlined, the long eyelashes dark against the slight pallor of his face. It seemed, though, as if he had aged visibly since Celebrimbor had first met him. His hair was longer and thicker, and his face had lost some of its softness, perhaps some of its innocence.

And who was to blame for that?

Narvi's mother straightened up, seemingly unconscious of Narvi's heavy weight, and for the first time Celebrimbor saw in her eyes a glimpse of a fierce, protective love. Then she turned to carry him through to the other room, holding her son with a tenderness Celebrimbor felt sure she had never shown him waking.

He felt envious for a moment, and then angered with himself. He was hardly an orphan, after all. His own mother still lived, in the West to which he had chosen not to return. He had not been banished for ever - he could have returned to Valinor, and she would have received him gladly.

One day, he hoped, he would again, able to tell her that he had not shamed her - tell her that he had forsaken his father's obsessive quest, that he had taken no part in the shedding of blood or the making of feuds. And more - his great joy - that he had gone beyond such passive virtues, that he was here, helping to make peace between the peoples when his grandfather had sought only to destroy it, that he was helping to build a community that would unite the free peoples and further their wisdom and their skills, a community that would stand for thousands of years, creating beauty and strength in equal measure.

He wondered if she would be proud of him, when he told her. He wondered if she would welcome him back, if she would forgive him.

A woollen curtain separated the rooms beyond from the kitchen/forge, and Celebrimbor watched as Narvi's mother pushed it aside and vanished. Some change seemed to have taken place in her since he had first seen her - or perhaps some awareness had woken in him. She had looked mannish before, with her long dark beard and mail shirt, and the hatchet she wore tucked in her belt, so mannish that the long skirts she wore seemed out alien and wrong. But now, when he looked at her she could not have been mistaken for aught but a woman, aught but a mother.

[An angry mother,] some more prudent part of his mind reminded him, [with more than just cause for grievance against the Elves.] He sighed. It looked like there would be much work before him before peace between the people was truly achieved.

* * *

At least Narvi would sleep now.

Guthr had put him the bed nearest the fire, piling the furs and blankets around him carefully, and he'd not made so much as a token protest. He'd shifted in the bed, leaning his head against the rock walls, as he had in the kitchen.

He did that, whenever he slept, whenever he was even weary. It was something he'd done from an infant, when he'd been ill of the wasting sickness, and thought likely to die, and the habit had lingered on, almost unnoticed. It almost was as if he was listening for some sound, deep in the walls of Khazad-Dûm.

There were rumours among the stone-wrights that there were some who could hear the sounds of the mountains themselves, the very bones of the earth, and Norin had even joked that maybe Narvi would someday be such a one.

But that was superstition, and nonsense, and there were things to be done. Guthr walked briskly back into the kitchen area, and began to clear away the things that Narvi had used, watching the two Elves covertly as she did so.

The one who had spoken so unwisely was sitting on the bench by the door, with his head in his hands. He had not moved for many minutes, not even when Lord Khalebrimbur had moved over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder, bidding him be strong.

Khalebrimbur had gone to sit beside him then, his posture relaxed, but Guthr could not help but notice that his eyes were alert and very watchful. [My son speaks of you,] she thought, as she bent to pick Narvi's wet clothes from the floor, [far more than is seemly.] Not to mention the way his eyes had kept straying to the Elf-Lord, as though fearful he would leave.

Were it not for his youth she might almost have thought it the onset of the love-longing.

An unlikely notion! Narvi was 38 - not even battle-ready - and was she to think him ready to court? The love-longing was uncommon before the ninetieth year, and almost unheard-of before the sixtieth.

But not impossible. It was the way of Dwarves that some aged early and some late, and some lived far longer than their span or came to maturity far earlier than others of their years. And Narvi never had been quite the normal child.

But an Elf-! That *was* unknown, in all the annals of their fathers. And the Elf a great lord by birth, whatever he said about the shame of his family. Guthr had heard some tales of the Elves, and they seemed to expect that high birth brought with it virtue and wisdom, to an impossible extent. Why, every family had its share of knaves and fools, whether they be King or vassal.

No Dwarf chose the direction of his heart - but she could not help but think Narvi's leanings strange and foolish.

She was just clearing away the remains of Narvi's soup when the door opened and Norin entered, with their sons Nár and Nóri behind him, muffled in cloaks and hoods. Nóin had been left at the workshop, she supposed, with the two girls.

"Guthr? Is Narvi here?"

His words were in Khuzdul. "Here and sleeping," she answered in the Elven-tongue, to let him know there were strangers present. She saw him glance around, and his eyes darkened with suspicion when he saw the two Elves.

"Oh? And who are our guests?"

"Elves," Guthr said shortly, shooing Nár and Nóri away to take their boots off. "This is Lord Khalebrimbur, of the Elven-town. He brought Narvi back here."

Khalebrimbur rose and bowed. "At your service," he said with impeccable Dwarven courtesy. Guthr nodded in unspoken approval. Gracious, for an Elf, and mannerly.

"At yours and your family's," Norin answered dubiously. As well he might. It was the master of a house's privilege to welcome guests to his home, and there were some who thought that no other of his family should do so. Not that Norin would want to be at home for every one of Sigdís's playmates or Nár's drinking companions. Like all males he ignored the rules until it suited him. Guthr crossed over to the fireplace and stirred the soup. Norin followed her, but she ignored him.

"What is this?" Norin said in her ear, speaking in low-voiced Khuzdul, "A bawdy-house, where even Elves come paying court?"

We have had this conversation before, Guthr thought angrily. How my cousins can feel flattered by their husbands' jealousy-

"Have you no eyes?" she said irritably. "Is there no mind behind that beard? Our guests are hardly giving me covetous glances."

"What, then?"

Guthr gave an ill-tempered sigh, wondering anew at the stupidity of the male. She contemplated briefly telling him of what had happened, and then thought not. This was not the time, nor was it the place. "Khalebrimbur is Narvi's friend. He saved our son from the Wargs."

"It was he who saved Narvi-? Why, then he is our honour-guest! Why have you not-?"

To Norin, everything was simple. The prospect of explaining did not fill Guthr with joy. "I've been busy," she said shortly, passing a bowl of the soup across to him, and dipped the ladle in again to fill bowls for Nár and Nóri. "Now sit down and eat before your soup gets cold."

Norin sat down meekly, and dipped his spoon into his bowl.


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