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Warnings: Major Gimli Angst
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.
Summary: Gandalf comes across Beorn on his way to the Lonely Mountain, and Beorn shows him something he’s found in the woods. Takes place during ‘The Hobbit’, a story about a certain Dwarf, that would later become one of the Nine Walkers. His past and the hardships that he’s had to endure.
A/N: I haven’t read the ‘Unfinished Tales’ yet, so if you’re a real ‘canon’ stickler think of this as AU. Also I’m stretching Tolkien’s whole Dwarves only love once thing. I do think Dwarves only fall in love once and once they find that someone they won’t settle for anyone else. But in tell then (like most guys) all bets are off. Sex is not Love, it can be a major part of it but the act its self is not love. Big thanks to my wonderful beta reader Morrighan and all her helpful nit-picking ~_^. More Notes: If you find yourself saying “I don’t think it happened that way!”. Well, then go do your own. This is only one version and there is a crying need for more Gimli centric fics ~_^.
It was early dawn as a tall figure with a staff made its way on a path through the trees of Mirkwood. He walked swiftly, for he still had a ways to go and his mission was important, and, more to the point, he was incredibly hungry.
If he hurried he would be able to spare a little time with the Elves to rest a while and get something for his gnawing stomach.
Pulling his dark cloak tighter about himself to ward against the early morning chill. Gandalf cursed not for the first time for his lack of a horse as he walk briskly towards the Lonely Mountain. And more specifically the camp of the Elves and Lake Men waiting to lay siege to the mountain.
He would have to hurry for he brought tidings from the north of the massing of a Goblin army that was already on its way. He also needed to check up on Thorin’s company.
Confound it! How that party got into such mischief with him not there!, he snorted to himself.
“If it’s not trolls, or getting lost, it’s instigating a war!” He grumbled aloud.
Not to mention watching out for little Bilbo in the coming battle.
He’d heard from some Elves (for Elves are always ones for gossip and the latest news) that the Elven King’s greed had gotten the better of him and he had taken an army to the Lonely Mountain for a share of the treasure. He had taken not only two of his older sons but also his youngest to this battle. Obviously thinking it would be a good experience for the young archer.
“As if I need more to worry about!” he groused to himself.
The young Elf’s part in the tapestry of Middle Earth did not come into play yet, and not for many years. Gandalf could not explain it but something tolled him, a feeling in his marrow, that Thranduil’s child would play a key role in a coming storm that grew, even now, unknown to all except a few such as himself. A dark storm that would change Middle Earth and shape its destiny.
And he had made it his prerogative to look out for these key players in that coming destiny, and hope they managed to stay alive to fulfill it. Luckily for Gandalf a few of those key players were not even born yet. But for now his main concern was to the coming battle and stopping those fool Men, Elves, and ‘soon-to-arrive’ Dwarves (from the Iron Hills, not Thorin and Company) from destroying each other, and to some how work together to fight the real enemy.
So lost in his thoughts was Gandalf that he almost walked right by an enormous man standing to the left of his path. He came to a halt at the man’s seeming sudden appearance. It was the skin-changer, Beorn. He chided himself for not sensing the man earlier.
“Beorn, I was not expecting to see you around here,” he said, mildly surprised. For truth was, he had thought he had seen the last of the skin-changer for some time, after he made sure Thorin and the others had returned the ponies they’d borrowed before entering Mirkwood.
Beorn let out a loud laugh and walked up to the tall wizard giving him a friendly whack on the back (nearly knocking Gandalf off his feet).
“Gandalf! I almost didn’t recognize you with that cloak. Luckily I recognized that wizard stink of yours!” He said with a grin on his big face with it’s bushy black beard, not seeing or caring about the Wizard’s insulted reaction to his comment about his ‘stink’.
“As for why I’m here, there’s the smell of a coming battle in the air. The birds are all singing about it. And I intend to be a part of it!” He boomed in his loud voice, crossing his large arms over his huge chest as if stating an obvious fact.
“Well, good for you. I too wish to take part, and I am on my way there now - with urgent tidings, in fact,” Gandalf said as he straightened his tall pointy hat, preparing to leave. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I must be goi-” but he was interrupted by the were-bear.
“Hold up now! I stopped you for a reason, not because I wanted to say ‘good morning’ or a ‘hello’”, he said rudely. “I stopped you cause I have a question to ask. And I figured it might answer a little riddle I found in the woods yesterday.”
Gandalf was feeling decidedly put out by now, not to mention somewhat irritated (though you would never have guessed by looking at him, and even if he had Beorn would probably not have cared anyway). But being a Wizard, and a fairly wise one at that, he decided to see what Beorn wanted to know. And, with luck, answer it quickly and be on his way.
“Oh now? And what question is that?,” asked Gandalf as he leaned against his staff, peering up at the great bear of man that towered over him.
Unfolding his great arms Beorn put one hand on his hip while he stroked his thick beard in thought.
“Those dwarves, fourteen I believe it was, with that small rabbit one.”
“Yes, that was Thorin’s company and Mr. Baggins.”
“Yes, them! Now, did any of those Dwarves have cubs?”
Both of Gandalf’s bushy eyebrows shot up in genuine surprise at this. This was definitely not the question Gandalf was expecting from the hulking man. Cubs? It took him a moment to answer the large Man as he got his mind back on track.
“Well yes,” he started. “Fili and Kili are Thorin’s sisters-sons but he has non of his own, the same for the others. But Balin has two daughters and one boy. Dori had two boys but they were killed by plague. Then there’s Gloin‘s boy-” only to be rudely interrupted again.
“If I wanted to know about all of that I would have asked! All I wanted to know was if they had any cubs. And now I know.” Beorn snorted then turned and started to walk back into the forest.
Gandalf watched his retreating form until it disappeared into the trees. Shaking his head at the strange encounter he started walking once more, then stopped to glance again to where Beorn had disappeared.
He was a bit befuddled at such a queer question, and though he hated to admit it, he was quite intrigued as to what had made Beorn ask it.
I have no time for this!, he chided himself and started again down the path leading to the Lonely Mountain.
If I want to get something to eat and rest awhile before that fool Thranduil starts brandying threats about with Thorin . Then I must leave this strange business for another time, he told himself as he walked on.
The Mountain looming ahead was painted orange and pink from the rising sun, flocks of birds swirling and circling in the distance.
But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get Beorn’s question out of his head. Did any of those Dwarves have cubs? Why would Beorn ask such a strange question? Beorn was not the kind of person to wonder, let alone care if someone he’d only met had children. Gandalf suddenly stopped eyes going wide. Unless…..
“Beorn!” he yelled as he ran back to where he had seen Beorn disappear into the woods.
It took much rushing and searching but Gandalf finally found Beorn again lumbering threw the wood. Gandalf matched his pace to Beorn’s, walking to his right and a little behind. Beorn had spared him a glance and then seemed to ignore the wizard’s presence.
“If I may ask?” Gandalf started.
“You may,” Beorn said, not even bothering to look at the wizard as he continued to lumber along.
“What was it, pray tail, that brought about your question?” he asked. Though he had a terrible feeling and an was quite anxious to find out. He made his question sound as trivial as if he was asking Beorn what he thought of the weather.
“If you follow me I’ll show you,” Beorn rumbled and began his story. “I was out yesterday afternoon making my way to the mountain, when I came upon some tracks and a strange scent - one I hadn’t smelled before, but there was something familiar about it. And since the tracks were headed in the same direction I was headed, I decided to follow it.” Beorn told him as they continued threw the trees and brush. Gandalf could now see a clearing up ahead, and it was obviously where the skin-changer was headed.
“I followed the tracks to this clearing. And what do I find? But a friend laying murdered!” he growled.
They then entered the clearing. It was fairly small but with enough room to accommodate an eight man camp with horses. A medium sized tree grew near the center of the clearing with what appeared to be a large sack tied to one of its branches. Occasionally Gandalf could see movement from the sack as something thrashed in it. There was some grass and a few weeds growing but the clearing’s floor was mainly of light gray sheet rock. There also appeared to be the start of a small fire with bits of wood scattered about the clearing. It looked as if a struggle had taken place, as if someone had been in the process of building a fire when they were suddenly attacked.
“Look! There she is, poor thing. I had talked to her just three days before.”
Gandalf turned his eyes to where Beorn pointing to one side of the clearing where the carcass of a deer was lying, its head at an odd angle. At this Gandalf raised an eyebrow. It was now clear that whoever had killed the deer had made the camp in the clearing with intentions of lighting a fire to cook it.
“I see,” he said. Before turning his attention back to the tree and the hanging sack, and more importantly its struggling contents. “I don’t suppose that sack over there contains this ‘riddle’ of yours?” Gandalf asked.
Beorn looked up from where he had been shaking his head sadly a the dead doe. “What?” he said in confusion before catching Gandalf’s meaning. “Oh, yes! That’s the riddle and a very mean one at that. The most ill tempered creature I’ve ever come across! If I didn’t know better I would say he was half badger!” and that must truly have been something for Beorn to say something like that. For Beorn was well know for his own ill temper. “I was wondering what to do with him when I spotted you,” he said.
Gandalf watched as the huge Man walked over to the tree and untied the large sack from the branch, then picked it up one handed as if it weighed nothing. Whatever was in the sack stopped struggling and went still.
On closer inspection of the tan-colored sack, Gandalf realized it was a goblin’s kidknapsack (a special type of sack that had a small spell it which muted anything in it. So as soon as the sack was closed no sound could escape from it, no matter how loud. Perfect for kidnapping people). Obviously Beorn had gotten it from one of his many Goblin victims.
He watched with anticipation as Beorn began to untie the sack, though you couldn’t tell by looking at him leaning casually on his staff.
Beorn finally opened the sack and they were both greeted by a truly menacing growl from its contents. Beorn reached into the sack with surprising speed and grabbed hold of it’s growling contents, for it started to thrash madly, and cursing that could peel the bark off trees could be heard. Having apparently gotten a firm grip on who or what ever it was, Beorn lifted his arm from the sack. What he pulled out was one of the scruffiest, downright wildest looking Dwarves you have ever seen.
Beorn’s large hand held the young Dwarf by his long thick hair near the back of his head as if he had tried to get hold of him by the scruff of the neck. He wore an old faded and ripped red shirt with no sleeves ,a pair of simple britches that had been mended many times by the look of them, and only one scuffed up brown boot on one of his kicking feet. He also wore a simple thick leather belt specially made so one could attach and carry heavy weapons and pouches, though none were attached just then. It was the only thing on the Dwarf that was not falling apart.
As for the Dwarf himself he was filthy with dust, dirt, and what looked to be the remains of some coal soot. His hair and short beard (because of his young age) were tangled with leaves and dirt, obviously having not had a proper grooming in some time. Beorn had also apparently managed to tie his hands behind his back with some thick rope. The Dwarf glared balefully at Beorn with deep glittering brown eyes, white teeth bared in a snarl, growling, all the while being held only by his hair many feet above the ground by the huge man.
Gandalf almost dropped his staff, he knew this Dwarf! He had known him since before he could crawl. And what happened next almost made the wizard’s heart stop.
“Well cub! What do ya have to say for your self! You little killer of innocent deer!” Beorn boomed. The Dwarf had stopped struggling and Beorn made the mistake of holding the young Dwarf closer to his face (to intimidate him).
“Cub! I am no cub! I’m probably older then you are! You Ass! And as for what I have to say. GO BOIL YOUR HEAD!” the Dwarf bellowed. And with that he kicked Beorn right in the face (with the foot that had the boot on it, of course).
Beorn let out a deafening roar that made him sound more like a bear then a man. He stumbled back, nearly dropping the Dwarf as he clutched at his now very broken nose with his other huge hand. He roared and cursed for a while, then he went quiet, and the air seem to become oppressively thick.
No one had ever dared talk to Beorn that way. Let alone break his nose. Beorn dropped his hand (the one holding his nose) to his side where it clenched into a fist. Then he looked at the glaring Dwarf, still dangling from his other fist, with a strange light in his eyes. Blood from his nose dribbled thickly over his mouth running into his beard staining the lower half of his face red. It made him look truly savage. Then Beorn spoke in a deep menacing voice that made a shiver run up even Gandalf’s spine, powerful wizard though he was.
“What would you say, Dwarf, If I told you that I’m going to rip you limb from limb, grind your bones into flour, and eat you?
“I hope you choke and die of poisoning!” spat the Dwarf seeming not the least bit frightened. ~~~
There was deathly silence as they glared at one another. Everything was quiet-even the air seemed to hold its breath. Gandalf was sure that in a moment he would be forced to watch as Beorn ripped the young Dwarf apart…he hurriedly searched his mind for a spell that he might use to rescue the Dwarf without having to kill the enraged skin-changer.
But Beorn suddenly threw back his head a let out a deep rolling laugh that seemed to echo all around. Then he turned to Gandalf still chuckling.
“What did I tell you! He’s a regular badger! Ha, ha, my opinion of Dwarves keeps getting higher and higher.” He laughed loudly, then turned back to the Dwarf who was now struggling again. “I like you cub!”
“Well I DON’T LIKE YOU! And who the hell are you talking to!? You witless, mangy-”
The Dwarf suddenly noticed the tall wizard out of the corner of his eye (since he could not turn his head with Beorn’s grip on his hair). “Gandalf?!”
“So you two know each other,” Beorn asked looking between the two. “Well, good.” And with that the huge man dropped the Dwarf, who landed with a thump and a colorful curse.
He managed with some difficultly (his hands still tied behind his back) to climb to his feet. Then throwing a withering glare at the still chuckling Man he stumbled over to the wizard, keeping a weary eye on the skin-changer before the wizard grabbed his shoulder and turned him around. Without a word Gandalf unsheathed Glamdring and cut the ropes binding the Dwarf before re-sheathing it again.
The Dwarf gave a sigh of relief at having his hands free and began to rub his wrists to get the circulation back into them.
“My thanks Gandalf” he said. If he had been paying more attention to the strangely silent wizard and not glaring at Beorn (who was watching with amusement) he might have been able to avoid a painful bump on the head. *Whack*
But he did not.
“Ow!” he yelped rubbing his sore head giving the wizard a glare which earned him another one.
“Ow!!!” this time a few muttered curses followed, as he rubbed his now twice aching head.
“Gimli, Son Of Gloin, Grandson of Groin!! What in Aule’s name are you doing here?!” boomed Gandalf angrily as he loomed over the Dwarf.
“What I’m doing here is no business but my own!” He grumbled as he crossed his arms in defiance. Needless to say this was not the smartest thing for Gimli to say to the shocked, frustrated, and now quite angry wizard.
“Then that Bastared sat on me! And shoved my face into the dirt, twisted my arms behind my back and tied me up, then tossed me into that damned sack!” Gimli grumbled, as he finished tying his long dark copper colored hair into a lose pony tail, except for two long forelocks which were also unbraided. It had taken him a whole hour of grooming before his hair and beard were completely combed and free of tangles, twigs and other things with the use of Gandalfs borrowed comb. He had even managed to wash most of the dirt and grime off in a nearby stream that Beorn had showed them.
“Then you came along,” he said getting up, a bit embarrassed remembering his behavior that morning. “I thank you again Gandalf, I am at your service” he bowed low in proper Dwarf fashion to the wizard before sitting back down. Then he turned a troubled gaze to the flames and their cooking lunch. Gandalf sat quietly, listing thoughtfully and smoking his beloved pipe across the fire from the now silent Dwarf.
That was not the whole story. What was Gimli doing on his way to the Iron Hills? And where are his supplies? Gandalf asked himself, puzzled. All he seems to have are his axes and the clothes on his back. There’s something different about him as well, something in his eyes that I can‘t place.
Something was troubling Gimli- something that was weighing heavily on the Dwarf’s heart, but Gandalf decide to let Gimli keep his secret until after their meal. Gimli looked underweight as if he hadn’t been eating regularly, he also had a few new scars on his arms and shoulders that he did not have last Gandalf saw him. He would get to the bottom of this mystery, but for now he left Gimli alone.
Beorn had left them to their own devices earlier. Gandalf suspected it had to do with the two large cuts of meat roasting above the flames and the deer carcass Gimli had butchered lying not a yard away. Beorn did not eat meat for he could talk with animals and considered them his friends and he their guardian.
It had been quite the scene when Beorn had tried to take the deer carcass off to bury it. Needless to say, Gandalf’s hat now had a rip in it, Gimli had some new scrapes and bruises. Beorn had found out the hard way that not only are Dwarves immensely strong for their height, but that their beards hide powerful jaws and rather large sharp canine teeth. Beorn now sported some nasty bite wounds when he’d tried to grab the enraged Dwarf in the fight over the deer (never take a starving Dwarf’s food).
It was only after much yelling and bellowing that Gandalf managed to carefully explain to Beorn that Dwarves are primarily meat eaters and need to hunt for food occasionally. So with grudging assurances from Gimli (under glare and threat of Gandalf’s staff) that, yes, the deer’s death had been as swift and painless as possible, Beorn reluctantly left the carcass to them.
It was late morning, almost noon in the small clearing. The sun was out but the Fall air was still crisp, even in the light of the sun’s rays.
‘So much for rest and good Elvin food with the Elves and Lake Men’ He grumped to himself taking in his surroundings. ‘Oh well, nothing to be done about it now. Could be worse, food could be better though.’ eyeing the roasting venison. But the company’s good, even though they’re not suppose to be here’ he thought observing the young Dwarf sitting across the fire.
It was hard to imagine that the copper haired Dwarf thoughtfully cleaning the blade of one of his axes, was the same one that Beorn had pulled scruffy and snarling out of that sack- or who had later attacked the skin-changer “bare-hand” when he started to walk away with the deer carcass. Gandalf still could not figure out how Gimli had managed to knock the huge Man to the ground. Gandalf shook his head in amazement at the memory; Gimli truly was his mother’s child.
Gimli son and only remaining child of the late Lady Nei Burkdis of the Iron Fists and of Gloin son of Groin of the line of Durin. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth at the fond memories and old adventures that name brought up.
While females are rarely seen and rarely mentioned when above ground with outsiders, it was actually the Dwarrow-Dams that held true power in Dwarven society. The head of most families was the Matriarch rather then a male like most ‘other’ Middle Earth cultures, Dwarrow-Dams were fierce warriors as strong and sturdy as the males (if not more so). Most Dwarrow-Dams held high stations of power and many acted as enforcement in keeping the safety and peace of the various Dwarven communities. For even a King must bow before the wishes of a Matriarch. Truly one of the few female-dominant societies in Middle Earth.
The Great Lady Nei Burkdis or more commonly called Lady Nei the Axe Goddess! She was a veteran of many battles including the Great War of Dwarves and Orcs (in fact it was the last great battle, the Battle of Nanduhirion, that she and Gloin met). She was considered very beautiful, even with the jagged scar that ran threw her right eye and up into her hairline. While Gimli had inherited his father’s deep brown eyes, his ‘Fire touch’, and unfortunately his sharp tongue. He had inherited his mothers deep copper colored hair, her good looks, and her axe skill. It was now apparent to Gandalf that he had also inherited her terrible temper! Nei was know to be a true Hell Cat on and off the battle field.
Lady Nei was also one of the few Dwarf women to spend most of her life above ground (though not intentionally, owing mostly to the troubles Thorin’s people had suffered in recent years, as well as other factors beyond her control) though most non-Dwarves would most likely have mistook her for a young male.
Her weapons of choice had been twin single-blade axes called ‘Fire Ripper’ and ‘Star Smasher’ along with a heavy double-bladed battle axe called ’Blood Screamer’ (so called for the sound it would make if it was swung at high speeds). All three weapons had been past down from her father and he from his mother and so on. And they now belonged to Nei’s son Gimli.
It was actually the return of these three axes that had truly calmed the young Dwarf down earlier. Beorn having hidden them along with Gimli’s missing boot under a bush for safe keeping after he had “sacked” Gimli. It was incredibly lucky that Beorn had come upon the young Dwarf when he had. It had been the one time he had not been near any of his weapons, all of them leaning against the tree waiting to be cleaned. Otherwise their encounter would have definitely been much bloodier.
It is common knowledge that almost all Dwarves are excellent fighters with or without weapons. But there are some truly gifted Dwarves and Nei as well as her brother, Ni Vigfuss, were from a long line of gifted fighters. In fact Nei’s two favorite sayings were “Anyone can swing an axe! But it takes a Master to wheeled it!” and “An axe is cruel and speaks ugly. So it is up to us to make up for its crudeness and wheeled it with grace!”. It is said that Dwarves cannot dance, except in the heat battle. And woe to the being they choose to dance with! Lady Nei’s dancing was both truly wondrous and terrible.
She had started to teach her children as soon as they were old enough to hold an axe, but only one inherited her gift for ‘dancing‘.
Gandalf carefully tapped the old ash out of his pipe before packing a little more weed carefully into its bowl. He caught Gimli eyeing his pipe longingly.
“Would you like to take a few puffs?” he said, offering his pipe.
“My thanks Gandalf” Gimli said with no little disappointment. “But no, I’m still getting over black-lung” he said, waving off the offered pipe, and moving to start on the next axe to be cleaned. It was ‘Fire Ripper‘, the wizard could tell by the intricate flame design on both sides of the blade. Gandalf gave an approving nod at Gimli’s choice to not partake in a few puffs, while Dwarves are one of the few species that could recover from black-lung, an almost guarantied fatal affliction to other species, it could still kill them. So smoking was wisely avoided in tell the body had rid its self of the ‘black tare’ in the lungs. Gandalf took a few more puffs before all fell quiet again as they both returned to their own thoughts.
Nei had given birth to five children- a good number by Dwarf standards. Their first baby was a boy who had black hair like his father and eye‘s like his mother. They named him Daira. After Daira was five years old Nei gave birth to twin boys Nin and Gimli (twins being quite common for Dwarves), then two years later a much wished for daughter they named Minal, who took after her father in features and temperament. She was the apple of Gloin’s eye, many a day they would sing as Gloin went about his work, little Minal trotting behind, helping as much as she could, giggling and humming happily. Then finally three years after Minal came little Mano who had his father’s hair and shocking light gray eyes (very rare for Dwarves).
They lived simply, most would say poorly, no better then wandering peasants. Food was not always plentiful, their clothes worn and mended often, all of the clothes the children wore where hand-me -downs, the labor was hard, and they where always on the move from place to place. Being looked down upon by many, Men, Elves, and occasionally even well-to-do Dwarves as they tried to sell their meager wares.
But they were happy and even many, many years later when Gloin was wealthy, well fed, a lord and hero living in his nice comfortable home in the Lonely Mountain. He would quietly sit in front of his large stone fireplace gazing into the dancing flames, remembering back to simpler days. Back to days when he would sit with his Beloved Nei in his arms on sunny days, laughing and whispering sweet nothings into the shell of her ear. Giving and getting the occasional playful nip or tug on his beard as well as stealing a kiss when ever the opportunity arose. Watching his younger brother, Oin, swinging a giggling Minal around in his arms as her raven hair whipped about in the air. Daira giving little Mano a piggy-back ride as he pointed out the yellow and blue flutter-wings (butterflies), Mano watching with delight and fascination as they floated by. While Nin and Gimli raced around the flowered meadow playing a game of tag, their loose copper hair flying behind them as they dashed and dodged one another.
Gloin would gladly give up all his wealth, possessions, even his standing to go back to being poor and homeless. Just to simply be happy with all his loved ones again (but this is a story for a different time).
Alas, Fate had not been kind to Gloin and Nei. Their family lived in a caravan with several other families, eking out a living delivering goods, selling their skills and wares to local towns. In fact many Dwarves were homeless since the Worm Smaug stole and took up residence in Erebor. The few who survived were forced to become “the Wandering Folk”… and there were even fewer of them after the Great War of Dwarves and Orcs.
Gandalf could not help feel the sorrow in his heart at the thought of that terrible war. Half- half!- of an entire people gone! Trying to wipe out an evil that affected all the peoples of Middle Earth. And they almost did it, alone with no help from Elves or Men. He had been there and had paid witness to the mass slaughter.
As for Gloin and Nei, fate seemed especially cruel. Their caravan was attacked by Orcs and most of the other Dwarves in the caravan were killed, their possessions burned or destroyed. The family managed to get away, along with Gloin’s brother, Oin.
Later that year on a cold rainy day, Gimli’s twin Nin had been trampled to death by a horse where they had been playing by the road. He had been six years old. The rider’s excuse- before Gloin slit his throat- had been that the little “Dirt rat” had been in his way. Gandalf remembered how Gimli was mute for over a year from the horror of his twins death. He was also terrified of horses. He had no problems with ponies, but horses were another matter. Even after he was older and got over his fear of them he was never comfortable around them.
Two years later Little Mano died of fever sickness. Not even an Elven potion Gandalf had gotten from Elrond himself could save the little boy. Nei and Gloin were grateful to him anyway for trying to save him, even if it had been futile in the end. Thankfully the potion did ease the little one’s suffering, Mano passed peacefully in his sleep as Nei rocked and sung to him. Nei and the rest of the family were able to take comfort in the fact that Mano only knew love in his short life, he would never have to face the cruelties and hardships of Middle Earth.
Then the whole family almost starved to death years later when the Blue Mountain area suffered a massive drought causing famine to run rampant. Minal died of hunger even with Gloin and Nei’s shares of food. The loss of Minal was so hard for Gloin he took a vow never to sing again, and he never did. He loved all his children fiercely, but he always had a special place in his heart for his one daughter. She had taken after him in all things, looks, mannerisms, even skill (that was still developing), she adored her ’Da’ and would always help him set their fires (only she, Daira and Gimli inheriting Gloin’s Fire touch). One day she had tottered off to pick some light blue flowers that where growing in the small meadow they had set up camp in, she never came back. When they found her, she was laying peacefully in the grass as if she had just fallen asleep, except she never woke up.
Several years later Daira was killed by a raiding party of Orcs as they where delivering lumber to a town near Lindon. They literally tore him to pieces before Gimli and Nei could get to him. Daira and Gimli where close, after Nin’s death Daira had taken it upon himself to watch out for his younger siblings. It had been Daira who managed to get Gimli to start talking again after over a year of him being mute. Gimli looked up to Daira, even when they were older and his axe and fighting skills had advanced to where he could easily beat his taller bother (Daira being five foot one, Gimli being five feet even) he still adored him. Gimli was devastated at his brother’s loss and swore vengeance on any Orcs he would forever come across.
Then about three years ago came the family’s greatest loss: the loss of Lady Nei, she died in Gloin’s arms, yet another victim of the Red Plague that was sweeping the area. The Great Lady Nei Burkdis, a war hero, wife of Gloin son of Groin, and mother to Gimli, died, huddled in a cold rain-soaked alley between two inns with her husband, his brother and her son, because the inn owner’s didn’t want a bunch of greedy and dirty Dwarves in there establishment.
‘An ignorant shame’ Gandalf thought disgustedly to himself. ‘Is it any small wonder Dwarves are so secretive and suspicious‘? Then with a final long puff on his pipe Gandalf blew a large smoke ring which both he and Gimli watched as it floated up turning a deep blue then a dazzling bright white before fading into nothing.
“I still can’t believe they did it,” said Gimli looking at the mountain that stood proudly in the distance in the noon sun. “I never doubted they would make it. But I was sure Bombur would have died of a stroke or at least Fili the Fool and Kili the Slow would have killed themselves with their own lack of wit!” snorted Gimli.
“Never?” said Gandalf, regarding Gimli with a cocked eyebrow.
“Of course I knew they would make it! My Da and Uncle Oin are with them!” said Gimli with pride in his voice. “Not to mention good old Balin and this Hobbit, Bilbo to keep the others out of trouble” he said as he got up and took the two ‘now cooked’ chunks of meat from the fire. He gave a curse when one slipped off the stick, falling to the ground. He carefully handed Gandalf the other stick with the meat still on it before gingerly picked up the fallen piece, brushing off of the ash and dirt as best he could before sitting back down. “I still wish I could have gone” he sighed quietly, more to himself then to the wizard, before taking a big bite off of his chunk of meat.
And Gandalf noticed a troubled look come back to the young Dwarf’s eyes once again. Something had happen while Gloin and the others were out on their quest. Gandalf wondered not for the first time if he should have let Gimli come along. They could have used him several times, for he was a very fit and active Dwarf (and would always remain so, threw out his life). He also had a better head then most, though by his behavior earlier one would not have thought so. But it had been up to him, and his and Gloin’s final decision on a dark night a year ago had been no. For like young Estel in Rivendale, and Legolas, Gandalf had a feeling in his bones that Gimli had a key roll to play in a coming storm.
“You’re too young!” said Gloin, firmly.
“I’m sixty-two! I’m not a child!” yelled Gimli.
“You’re still too young, Gimli” said Gandalf calmly as he tried without success to find a more comfortable position on his chair, if a upside-down bucket can be called a chair.
A small fire provided the only light in the dark, old barn that Gloin, Oin, and Gimli called home. They shared the barn with seven other Dwarves, some of whom were sleeping in the un occupied stalls or were on their shifts in the mines. They as well as Gloin, Oin, and Gimli were almost completely black from head-to-toe from the coal soot, having come off their shifts an hour ago and not having had a wash yet. The barn’s other residence were two ponies, one cow and an old sway-back nag, as well as a few barn cats (one of which was purring, undisturbed by the noise, on Gandalf’s lap).
A few of the Dwarves who were going on the quest were also present in the barn for this meeting huddled around the small fire in the center of the barn (carefully made so it would not catch the barn on fire).
“Fili and Kili get to go!”
“They’re twenty years older then you,” sighed Gandalf, absent mindedly petting the contented cat on his lap.
“So? I’m still faster, and stronger then those two spoiled sods! And except for Thorin I’m the best fighter here! You know it!” Gimli argued heatedly.
“Oy!” yelled both Fili and Kili in unison from where they were sitting a few feet away. But a glare from Thorin silenced any insult they might have thrown back.
“No!” said Gloin crossing his arms.
“Da! You know I could help! Gandalf, Thorin, come on! You’re taking that useless glob of lard Bombur! What good is he? What are you going to do? Feed him to the Dragon and hope Smaug dies of constipation?” Gimli asked flippantly.
To this almost all the others broke out laughing except of course for the red-faced Bombur. Gandalf, Thorin, and Gloin just barely managed to keep a straight face.
“Why, you little peck! I’m twice the Dwarf you’ll ever be!” said Bombur, puffing out his chest angrily.
“I’d say more like three times” said Gimli eyeing the fat Dwarf’s ample gut, not the least bit intimidated.
That had every one howling, and not even Gandalf, Thorin, or Gloin could hold back the smirks and chuckles after that.
“You…you!” Bombur was livid.
“Sit down Bombur.” said Thorin now getting his chuckling under control.
“But Thorin-!” grumbled Bombur.
But Thorin only shook his head and pointed to where Bifur and Bofur were sitting trying to stifle their laughing. With one last glare at Gimli (who ignored him) he stomped off mumbling under his breath about ‘flyweights and their loose tongues‘.
“We know your skill, Gimli, and I would take you along if it were my choice. But it is your father’s and Gandalf’s decision that you stay. Besides, if we fail, someone will have to tell the tale of our folly,” he said, trying to lighten the mood. Thorin sympathized with Gimli, for he thought Gimli would make a fine addition to their quest. What with having his father’s ‘Fire Touch’ and a remarkable skill with weapons, that far surpass Gloin’s and the others, maybe even himself (though he would never admit it, not even to himself. Being too well aware of his own importance to even consider the possibility). He could understand why the young Dwarf was upset after all he himself had marched to war at the age of 53. Thorin gave Gimli’s shoulder a fond pat, then moved off, collecting the others before exiting the barn, leaving only Gandalf, Gloin, Oin, and Gimli in the now quiet-barn (except for the occasional snore).
“But-” Gimli started.
“No buts, boy! The decision is final! You’re staying!” said Gloin with his arms crossed over his chest daring Gimli to say more. Gimli held his tongue but it was clear to all that he hated their decision.
“I’m going to check and make sure all our flint supply is good for the trip” Oin said to Gloin, who nodded in reply. He gave Gimli’s shoulder a comforting squeeze and an apologetic look before leaving the barn as well.
Then Gloin softened. “I know it’s hard to stay behind Gimli. I would like it if you were with us as well,” Gloin said with a softer tone now, unfolding his arms and pulling Gimli into an embrace. Gimli retuned the show of affection but with a confused and hurt look on his face. Gloin stepped back, and looked at Gimli, studying his face.
“There’s a good chance your uncle and I won’t be coming back“, he said. Gimli opened his mouth to say something but Gloin shushed him. “That’s why I want you to stay here, so that if something does happen you will still be here to go on and to remember us. You’re the only child I have left, Gimli. My heart cracked every time I lost one of you, and when I lost your mother my heart turned to coal. If I lose you my heart would surely crumble to dust!” Gloin said with a sorrowful look in his deep brown eyes.
At one time Gloin had been know for his light-hearted and optimistic attitude, but after suffering grief after grief, it darkened his light, and now he was known only for his sharp tongue and gloomy disposition. All the anger and confusion drained out of Gimli, and he reluctantly nodded his acceptance of their decision.
“I still don’t like it,” he grumped.
“You don’t have to,” smiled Gloin giving Gimli’s cheek a fond pat before stepping away from him. “Now, if all goes well, I’ll send back a message for you to come to Erebor some time next Spring. If not Gandalf will come and tell you of our demise. You know what to do then. But until then I want you to save up your earnings. I’ve cut a deal with Brayak about you staying here so don’t worry about the rent as long as you help him out with a few chores. No DRINKING and No FIGHTING! I don’t want to hear from Hanar that you and that loud mouth Ulfr have been running wild while were gone. And I don’t want to hear about you messing around with that black haired filly working at the inn!
“You mean Myia? We’re just friends,” Gimli said innocently, though the lecherous gleam in his eye at the mention of her name said otherwise.
“Yes, her!” Gloin said, swatting the now smirking Gimli upside the head. Gloin did not approve of fornicating outside one’s own race. He was still quite miffed at finding his son and the human wench on several occasion “hammering the anvil“ when said son was suppose to be on break, or worse, working! Must be from his mothers side, he thought sourly remembering all of Nei‘s suitors and the fights that followed. Gimli, taking after his mother, was quit the Dwarven ‘looker’, and could be considered comely even by human standards. So there was no shortage of Gimli‘s ‘friends‘ about. “Think of your mother! She’s probably rolling in her tomb as we speak! I swear one day you’ll find your self between some Elf’s legs!” groused Gloin.
Just at that moment Gandalf seemed to suddenly suffer a coughing fit. He waved off their questioning looks, muttering something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like “you have no idea”, before returning to his pipe with a humorous twinkle in his gray eyes, as if he knew some humorous secret. Considering that he was a wizard it was probably the truth. The striped cat on his lap only opened one eye, annoyed that they would ruin such a perfect nap, before going back to sleep.
Gloin shook his head at the wizard and the cat before he returned to lecturing his son.
“Since those Orc raids on the coal shipments stopped, the mine work should be constant. But if something does happen, make for Turquoise Hill (Turquoise Hill was a small permanent dwarf camp to the west, past a small town called Shiprock, yet still in the Blue Mountain region, it was set up in front of a small hill that was actually the mouth of a turquoise mine.), Master Drow owes me a favor so he can give you work. If I don’t find you here I’ll check there,” said Gloin as he started to walk in the direction of the barn door. “Remember to keep your axes sharp and clean, do your Forms, don’t forget to keep your wages hidden, and watch out for Rowell! There’s a something dark to that Man, not to mention he’s up to something.
“Yes, yes, I know!” said Gimli impatiently, rolling his eyes, annoyed that his father would think he needed reminding. He followed Gloin out of the barn, leaving the watching Gandalf, ‘still smoking his pipe’ and the snoozing cat behind.
Gandalf ate about half of his bit of venison before he gave the rest to Gimli, who gladly finished it for him having finished his portion of meat in four large bites. After that, Gimli busied himself by stocking the fire and smoking the rest of the venison (so he could have something to eat later), while he listened as Gandalf told him about his rescue of his father and the others from three trolls, stopping Gandalf every once in awhile to make a comment or ask a question.
It was now a little past noon, by the angle of the sun.
The two had lapsed back into comfortable silence and the only sounds that broke the silence was the cracking and pop of the fire, the creak of leather and the occasional clink of the axes now attached to Gimli’s belt as he moved around their small camp.
Gandalf decided that now was a good a time as any to get to the bottom to why the young Dwarf was here and not where he should be, and to find the cause for the unexplained scars, some of which were still an angry red. He was beginning to become greatly concerned about what had happened to the young Dwarf in the past year.
“Gimli, come over here and sit down,” said Gandalf, waving to a space beside him. Gimli finished stoking the fire, then reluctantly came over and sat down as he was told. By the uncomfortable look on his face and the way he looked every where but at the wizard, he knew what was coming.
“Gimli, what are you doing here?” asked Gandalf calmly.
“I told you. I was on my way to the Iron Hills when a Raven called Vok stopped me and told me about Smaug’s death and the Elf King-” but Gandalf interrupted him.
“Gimli, I have known you since before your honorable mother birthed you- and I know when you are not telling me the whole truth!” Gandalf said sternly. His tone causing Gimli to flinch.
“What were you doing going to the Iron Hills, anyway? You are not dressed properly for traveling, not even the proper time of year,“ continued Gandalf motioning to Gimli’s thin sleeveless red shirt. “You have no supplies with you,” he continued, but Gimli kept his face turned to the fire, silent. “Gimli, why are you not at Black Hollow like your father told you? And how in Aule’s name did you get those scars? What happened?” he said softly.
At first Gandalf thought Gimli would say nothing, for the Dwarf sat stiffly, staring into the flames of their fire not looking at the Wizard. The silence stretched as Gandalf studied the silent Dwarf, patiently waiting for Gimli to speak.
Dwarves expressed emotion and feeling mainly through body language and their eyes. In fact Dwarves had an entire language of just body language alone (extremely helpful when one found themselves in a situation that called for silence yet still needing a way to communicate). At the moment Gimli sat beside him with his knees up with his arms resting crossed over them, and his chin resting on his arms. His deep brown eyes were almost completely black, ringed by only a small band of rich brown from under thick eyelashes. The flames from the fire seemed to dance in the depths of their glassy surface. It was then that Gandalf finally recognized the strange look in those eyes that he had noticed but could not identify. He had seen that same look in Gimli’s eyes when he was six, mute from the loss of his twin; it was horror and anguish.
Just when Gandalf decided to break the silence, Gimli spoke quietly, hardly above a whisper..
“It started a month after you and father left“….
In case you were wondering about the strange names for Gimli’s family here’s what their mannish names mean. Mother = Lady Nei Burkdis = Lady Nei Axe Goddess Older brother = Daira = Earth Gimli’s Twin brother = Nin = Water Gimli = Fire/Stars Gimli’s sister = Minal = Heaven/Sky Baby brother = Mano = Spirit
“It started a month after you and father left…
Old Bara, the mine owner, finally died. Everyone knew his health had been deteriorating over the last year. I was amazed that he’d lasted as long as he had. If you ask me, I think someone was slipping poison into his nightly ale.
Well... that meant Rowell, that snake son of his, was now in charge of the mine. We all knew nothing good would come of it, but we needed the work, so what could we do?” said Gimli, with a small shrug of his shoulders.
“Strangely, it seemed that our fears had been for nothing. He didn’t change the hours or cut our wages, he even closed the mine for two whole days during the Sickle Moon festival. Except for his unexplained trips away from town, nothing seemed amiss. Everything was running as smooth glass.
Since Da and Uncle Oin had left, Ulfr moved into the barn with me to keep me company. Shala finally had her third baby, and Brayak finally finished that ugly sword he’s been making for the last year. Some people left and Nidi’s father was finally able to buy that old shack behind the bakery, but otherwise everything was just the same as it always was,” he sighed, still staring into the flames of their fire.
Gandalf listened quietly from his seat next to the young Dwarf his staff lying next to him as he watched two birds some distance away swoop and glide in the clear afternoon sky. Any who knew Gandalf knew he was an excellent storyteller (and he never passed up the opportunity to tell a story ‘properly’) but he was also an excellent listener, absorbing everything that was said, as he was doing now.
“Then we got word that the coal mine to the south of us, Green Ridge, had been shut down because of a sudden outbreak of plague. So now the demand for Black Hollow coal had doubled. We thought nothing of it, outbreaks of plague being so common and all. Their loss would be our gain, the work was now constant, the Orcs seemed to have disappeared, and the profit was up.
One thing though… a week before we got news of Green Ridge, Rowell replaced all the coal wagon drivers with some Men he’d hired on one of his ’absence‘. Strange lot- always kept to themselves, never had anything to do with us working the mine or even the towns folk.
But aside from that, everything seemed fine. Some of the town elders even started thinking that maybe the responsibility of running the mine had mellowed him. But we Dwarves kept to our suspicions. A snake can change its skin, but it’s still a snake.”
“I really wish that we had been wrong, Gandalf,” Gimli said quietly, turning his troubled gaze to the silently listening wizard at his side. Gandalf only nodded, urging Gimli to go on with his tale. Taking a deep breath, the Dwarf turn his gaze back to the fire and continued his story.
“For weeks things were quiet as usual, but then that all changed…
I was on the day shift in the mines that week. We had only a couple more hours to go before the shift was over and the next shift took over. Me and Ulfr were talking about doing some sparring after we got off, maybe see if Svior wanted to join us, when Morris, one of the Men, yelled down the shaft that the town’s meeting bell was ringing. These town meeting had become all too common since Rowell inherited the mine, and they were almost always a waste of time. So we all stopped our work and made our way back up the shafts…”
“I wonder what this ones’ going to be about?”, asked Ulfr, with a yawn, as he and Gimli trudged side by side up the maze of dark tunnels with all the other mine workers, the tunnels echoing with their voices and footsteps.
“My guess is that there was a raid on one of the coal wagons. Either that, or Rowell just wants to make another speech on how to mine coal ‘properly’ again,” snorted Gimli, shifting the heavy pickaxe he was holding to his shoulder.
“Telling Dwarves how to mine coal ‘properly! Can you imagine!?” grumbled a short Dwarf walking behind the two.
“Has that spoiled brat ever even set foot in this mine?”, asked a Man walking in front of them, looking over his shoulder.
“And get all dirty?! Are you mad?!,” snorted Ulfr, in a snobbish high-pitched voice. Walking with his head held high, nose in the air (as if there was a bad smell), and a swagger in his step, while he held his shovel at his hip like a sword in its scabbard. This had the other workers walking around them laughing as they watched Ulfr do a very good impression of the snobbish mine owner.
Ulfr was Gimli’s best friend, a rambunctious Dwarf and a bit of a clown, (or as Gloin would say, a loud-mouthed, smart-ass) Ulfr was always up for some fun and adventure, with Gimli usually along for the ride (which thrilled the longsuffering Gloin no end).
Some of the duo’s more interesting stunts included getting drunk and having a fistfight on the roof of the town’s tavern, being chased by an angry pack of traveling monks (something Ulfr apparently said upset them), having occasional games of ‘drunk tossing’ at the local tavern. And their most infamous incident, when the duo tied a local pimp to the back of a large pig (after spotting said pimp beating one of his hookers, then they proceeded to ‘teach him some manners’ as they put it). It took six Men almost an entire day of chasing the squealing pig through the streets of Black Hallow before they were able to corner it and free the rather ’worse for wear’ pimp. It was still a local mystery as to how the two done it.
When they finally reached the entrance to the mine, the large sweaty and soot-covered group of Dwarves and Men stopped for a few moments to let their eyes adjust. Even on an overcast day such as that one, the light still stung their eyes after so long in the black of the mines. Following that came the usual spitting, picking, and hacking in the vain attempt to dislodge the day’s accumulated dust from their eyes, ears and noses. When their eyes had finally adjusted they continued on down the incline to the road, laughing and joking with one another. Gimli and Ulfr throwing the occasional dirt clod and friendly insult at one another, enjoying their shortened work day.
But as they reached Black Hollow they began to notice a strange quiet. Everything looked deserted. Even with a town meeting going on their should have some activity- people running errands and such, children playing, something, but there was nothing. Only the occasional gust of wind stirred in the empty street as the now quiet group made its way threw the small town.
Then they smelled them…
Gimli knew that reek only too well.
“Orcs!” he and several other Dwarves shouted in warning to the Men of their group, who’s poorer sense of smell would have noticed nothing amiss. They couldn’t see them, just the empty dirt road and the shabby gray cobble stone buildings of the town, but their stench was thick in the air.
Gimli supposed there must have been an attack on the town while they had been down in the mines. Yet strangely nothing looked destroyed, no burning buildings, no bodies, everything was just empty.
All was tense as they prepared for the Orcs to spring upon them at any moment as they crept through town. Gimli wished for his axes as he tightened his grip on the pickaxe he held, scanning the town for any movement. A quick glance to his left showed Ulfr doing much the same, his shovel at the ready as he looked about with narrowed eyes. Luckily most of the mine workers still had their picks and shovels. They weren’t proper weapons but they would do. Gimli could see the determination in his companions: they would not go down without a fight.
Several of the Men and Dwarves who had families wanted to go to their homes to check on them, but the shift leader ordered them all to stay together and not split up.
All was deathly silent as they reached the town center in front of the Blacksmith’s shop. The town bell hung near the open shop, still lightly swinging from its earlier ringing.
“Who rung the bell? I still see noone”, said a large Man by the name of Erick, in a whisper as he looked warily about.
“Maybe it was an Orc”, said Buri, a Dwarf to Gimli’s right.
“Hush!” Ordered Hanar, the shift leader. Hanar Fastgeirr was the oldest Dwarf in Black Hollow and well- respected by Dwarves and Men alike.
He was heavily scarred from old battles, including a massive disfiguring scar along the whole left side of his face, from when a troll had cut off part of his face (it was still a mystery as to how he lived to tell the tale). Those who worked the mine looked to him for leadership, even the Men (which displeased the town elders to no end). He reminded Gimli a lot of his relative, old Balin, except Hanar was actually older and more of an old warrior then Balin ever was.
All seemed completely silent… when a sound came from the dark depths of the open shop. It was the solitary tread of boots and what sounded like the hiccupping whimpers of a crying child coming their way.
Hanar motioned for the group to hold and stay silent. They all tensed, ready to attack as a tall figure made its way out of the shadows and into the light just outside of the open doors of the shop, yet well away from the stunned, confused, and agitated group of mine workers.
The man was tall with a slim build, dressed in fine, well-made clothes. He wore long black boots, black breeches with a deep blue tunic, and a finely made white cloak over his shoulders. He also wore several gold chains about his neck and rings on his uncallussed hands, a gold handled sword in a intricate scabbard at his hip. Clean shaven with long wheat colored hair, and a straight nose, he would have been quite handsome if not for the ugly sneer that seemed forever etched on his face.
In his arms he carried a small curly-haired toddler, she was crying as she pushed and hit the man with all her might. But she was so small the man holding her hardly took notice, instead he looked over their group as one would a pack of mangy, begging dogs.
“NeNe! What are you doing with my child!” cried a heavy set man by the name of Farin, as he pushed his way to the front of the group to stand by Hanar. The child recognizing her father’s voice turned, then held out her short chubby arms to him in a futile attempt to reach him, whimpering.
“What is the meaning of this, Rowell?!” demanded Farin angrily as he moved to take his daughter from the Man holding her. Yet all Rowell did was smile and move the struggling tot to his hip, then snapped his fingers with his free hand. At the snap Orcs suddenly boiled out of everywhere, yelling and shrieking.
“Stay together! Back to back!” ordered Hanar, as the Orcs swarmed around them blocking any escape. They were surrounded, yet the Orcs did not attack. Instead they shrieked and cursed at them in their foul tongue, shaking their scimitars. The ones with bows had them bent at the ready. The motley group of Dwarves and Men roared their own challenges, daring the Orcs to come within striking distance of their picks and shovels.
“Enough!” came an order in a deep hissing voice, and all the Orcs immediately quieted, still keeping their weapons trained on the soot-covered group.
Some of the orcs moved to make room for the smugly swaggering Rowell and a large powerfully-built Goblin that towered at his side. The Goblin wore dark ill-repaired, mismatched armor. It was clear that this must have been the Goblins chief, as well as the one to give the order for silence. NeNe, whom Rowell still carried, had stopped crying, her small form shaking in fright, her large blue eye wide as she stared in terror at the monsters around her.
“Son of a whore!”
“ Murder!”, several of the group bellowed in rage, at the bored-looking mine owner.
“Now, now! Such language in front of one so young! What do you think about that, child? Very rude, don’t you think?” He asked the terrified toddler sweetly as if he were some kindly uncle. When she didn’t acknowledge him he took hold of her face and forced her to look at him, causing her to cry out.
“Don’t you touch her, you bastard! I‘ll kill you!”, shouted the enraged Farin. Only the swords and spear points of the Orcs kept him from charging the mine owner.
“What is the meaning of this, Rowell? You worm! Have you no honor!? You have betrayed us all to the Goblins- is that not enough? Now you must terrorize an innocent babe? Leave her be!” demanded Hanar, his feet planted firmly, head held high in challenge. If there is one thing that most Dwarves can not tolerate is the harming of a child or a woman.
Rowell let go of NeNe’s face and turned to glare at the old Dwarf, ignoring the enraged Farin.
“Hanar” he spat the name as if he had a bad taste in his mouth. “If you wish to keep that hideous head of yours on your shoulders, you will watch your wagging tongue! I am in control, I give the orders! Not Father! Not you! Not those senile old fools that think they rule this town! I rule!!” He shouted angrily at Hanar and the others, and little NeNe started whimpering again. Then seeming to realize his outburst he calmed and the sneer returned to his flushed face.
“As for the ‘why’, its very simple; profit. Now that the Green Ridge mine is out of the way and the Gillnine mine in the east very soon, Black Hollow will be the only reliable source of coal for the whole region. With coal being in such high demand, and me not having to share the earnings…well you get the idea.”
“You’re a fool! Who will mine the coal- you? These Goblins?”, asked Ulfr sarcastically, standing next to Gimli holding his shovel at the ready.
“O’ course not. You will!”, laughed the chief Goblin, at Rowell’s side.
“I’d rather be dead!” growled Gimli, eyes flashing with a barely controlled fire. Ulfr and many of the others echoing his sentiments.
“He speaks for all of us! We will not work for traitorous filth like you!” said Hanar, glaring angrily.
“Oh, you’ll be very good workers… won’t they child?” he said turning to the silently shivering tot on his hip. “If they don’t, I’ll just have to let the orcs have their sport with your mother and all the other women and children, won’t we?” It was clear to all what he meant to hang over them to get them to work.
“How-w do we know if you-u haven’t k-k-killed them all r-ready?” stuttered one of the Men.
To this Rowell let out a longsuffering sigh, then he gave the Goblin chief a nod of his chin. Seeing this, he bellow out a few orders in the grating Black speech.
There came a sudden commotion from further down the street to their left, in the direction leading out of town. They could not see what was happening (the Orcs around them blocking their view) but they could hear the sound of many running feet and the snapping of whips with the occasional grunt. A few Orcs to their left moved out of the way to let another group of battered Men and Dwarves to be driven in to join their surrounded group, the Orcs closing the gap as soon as the last Man was through.
It was the workers from the night shift as well as a few Men in town that didn’t work the mines. Most were beaten and bruised, and some Men and Dwarves from the night shift were missing as well. No doubt there had been a struggle when the Goblins took over.
“We couldn’t stop them, they came upon us so fast! He has all the women and children in the tavern under heavy guard”, said the night shift leader as the Man limped over to the old Dwarf.
He was only about a foot taller then Hanar and much more wiry in build compared to the broad-shouldered Dwarf. He was a dark-skinned Man with deep black eyes and short brown hair by the name of Noko. He was usually good-humored in nature, slow to anger, and a bit stuck in his ways.
“Where are the others?”
“My wife, is she okay?”
“My children are they all there?”
“Where’s my brother?”
There was a flurry of questions as many of the day shift workers bombarded the newcomers for news of their loved ones. But Rowell broke in, silencing them.
“They’re safe… for the time being. But we unfortunately had some casualties, Orcs can get a bit carried away, but that was to be expected,” he said with a shrug, as if it was no great loss.
“Traitorous pig!” Noko spat at him, hate shining in his dark eyes, the others shouting their own insults. Rowell’s blue eyes narrowed in irritation at the glaring group.
“If you wish them to stay safe, you’ll do as your told!” he snapped, then a big grin stretched over his face. “Won’t you…?”
“And that’s just what we did,” Gimli said quietly to the flames of their small fire.
Gandalf listened beside him, picturing the small gloomy mining town nestled between two small eroding mountain that seemed nothing more then two huge piles of cracked and broken stones. Only a few gnarled black trees lived there, their bent forms seeming to weep from their gray surroundings.
Altogether a miserable place, the wizard thought to himself.
Gimli’s broad hands were clenched into fists, their thick knuckles white from the strain. But aside from that and the haunted look in his eyes, their was no outward sign of the turbulent emotions that Gandalf knew must have been rolling just under the Dwarf’s quietly brooding surface.
“The Orcs clapped us in chains, and we were forced to go back and mine the coal for that black-hearted worm. Most of us would have gladly chosen death rather then be a slave, maybe try and take out as many of those foul creatures as we could before being cut down. But we couldn’t- he’d kill the women and little ones. Almost all of them were Humans but they did have Lady Hildr, and her three little ones as well as Nidi’s mother and baby brother. So we could do nothing but do as we were told. I don’t know how long they kept us down there, felt like years, not letting us see open sky or get fresh air.
“They beat us for anything they liked, we weren’t working fast enough, we were talking, or just cause they felt like it. They only gave us their leftover scraps to eat- I don’t even want to imagine what half of it was. For our water they brought down a horse trough. Most of the time it was brackish from the coal dust, and they delighted in us seeing them spitting or pissing in it. Thankfully we had jugs and canisters of food hidden throughout the mine, in case of cave-ins that they didn’t know about. Probably the only thing that kept us all alive,” said Gimli, closing his eyes for a moment before continuing his story.
“Rowell would visit occasionally to gloat, telling us about all the fabulous amounts of gold he was making because us, and to ‘keep up the good work‘. Always reminding us what he held over our heads, some times he’d even bring news of the others, or a message from someone’s wife or child.
At the same time everyday the Goblins would let us all rest for three hours, but that was it. I only suppose we were allowed that was because they still needed us to mine the coal for them. By the first week we all took to only using Iglishmek (1.) to talk with one other. Those stupid filth eaters had no idea that we were insulting them and plotting our revenge.
After the first couple of weeks it then became clear why Rowell had replaced all the wagon drivers, the Men he hired where in league with him,” Gimli snorted in disgust, still gazing at the fire. They’d continue delivering the coal and bring back the supplies and food (that we never got), like everything was normal in Black Hollow.”
As you know, not many people go to the Hollow, bypassing it for Shiprock in the valley, and those that do come are mostly looking for work. The few poor souls that did come were ether killed by the Orcs or thrown in with the rest of us.
After about the first two weeks most of the Men had started to drop, the soot and work was too much for them. So Rowell made them shovel and carry the coal down to the storage sheds in town- under strict guard, of course- so’s they’d last longer. They kept us Dwarves chained in the lower shafts, mining, most of the time in complete darkness. I was chained at first with seven other Dwarves and Men but after several weeks, it could have been months for all I knew, but by the end of that time only Ulfr, Svior, Nidi, and me where left shackled together. The others had dropped from exhaustion to be dragged away by the Orcs or moved and chained to another group.”
“That day they had my group in shaft six, the two Orcs watching us had set up a table with two stools, on the other side of the tunnel. Those two lazy scavengers sat there talking and arguing, drinking ale (stolen out of the town tavern) out of good pewter mugs, as we labored, hungry and thirsty.”
The ceiling of shaft six was low, low enough that a tall Man would have to duck his head, but it was also one of the wider tunnels. The orc’s table was set up against the far wall of the black tunnel, across from the prisoners. This allowed the two Orcs watching the chain-gang of four to sit and drink without worrying about flying debris from the workers.
The only light in the tunnels were from small clumps of luminous lichen growing in a small glass cups specially fitted to the sides of the walls throughout the mine. It cast the tunnel in a soft milky light, giving just enough light to work by. The lichen or what the mine workers called “Pixy-hair”, was what they used for light instead of torches for fear of setting off the coal dust and the rest of the mine.
The group of four Dwarves worked steadily at the wall, three using picks and the fourth shoveling the coal bits into a large coal cart. The four were bare from the waist up and completely black, looking almost identical if not for their varying heights and eye color. They each wore a large, thick collar of heavy iron about their necks to which a length of chain connected them to the other three’s collars. The sound of chains clinking and the ring of pickaxes on stone with the occasional crack of a whip was a constant noise throughout the tunnels and shafts of the mine.
A sudden commotion started down one of the other tunnels, shaft three, if the echoes told true, drawing the Dwarves and the orc’s attention. As the commotion continued they could start to make out what sounded to be a fight going on- yelling, cursing and the clash of weapons.
The two Orcs got up from their stools and ran quickly down the tunnel and around the bend leading to the other mine shafts, leaving their unfinished ale and the unguarded Dwarves behind. The Orcs had no fear of the them escaping, the end of their long connecting chain being locked to one of the tunnels thick wooden support beams, that were placed strategically throughout the mine shafts to keep the tunnels stable.
“What’s going on?,” signed Svior in Iglishmek to the other three, motioning with his shovel. All of them had stopped working to take advantage of the unexpected break from the back-breaking labor.
“Sounds like a fight to me. What do you think Gimli?” signed Ulfr, dropping his pickaxe in relief before looking to the listening, black figure beside him.
“It’s a fight all right,“ Gimli signed back with a nod, tossing down his own pickaxe as well.
“Maybe its an uprising and the others are trying to overthrow Rowell”, suggested Nidi, still holding on to his pick with uncertainty. He was a soft-spoken Dwarf by nature, and was generally considered a bit of a soft touch.
He was also the youngest of their group at fifty-eight though they were all young, the oldest being the sixty-four year old Svior, Gimli and Ulfr being the same age at sixty-two. It was strange luck that the four found themselves chained together now, when they had friend long before Rowell’s treachery. Being young and of similar ages, the older Dwarves not giving them much notice, they hung around together getting into all kinds of mischief. Or more precisely, Ulfr and Gimli got into trouble and dragging the other two along.
“No, listen to the ring of the strikes. That’s orc blades on orc blades,” Gimli signed in answer, though his attention was no longer on that of the commotion but on something across the tunnel from them.
“He’s right, you can tell by that creaking twang of their scimitars. Shoddy work,” sighed Ulfr, shaking his head.
“But why?”, sighed Nidi back, finally dropping his pickaxe.
“Maybe they realized they’ve been wiping their asses with fire leaves. How the hump should I know?”, signed Ulfr back exasperatedly (if one can ‘sign’ exasperation) and in turn getting a warning glare from Svior.
All three of their shoulders slumped in disappointment, Nidi let out a disappointed sigh, but a tug on their collars distracted them from their disappointment. Turning their attention in the direction of the tugging they saw Gimli making his way to the small table the Orcs had abandoned, chain dragging behind him.
“Gimli! What are you doing!” signed Nidi frantically.
“Getting some ale”, he signed back with a roll of his eyes. Reaching the table he bypassed the two pewter mugs and picked up the large half full pitcher. Then with great flourish he took a large swig out of it, closing his eyes to savor the taste. With a toothy smirk, his teeth seeming a brilliant white, he offered the pitcher to the stunned three.
“Want some?” he asked, his deep brown eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Are you daft!? The guards could be back any moment! What if they catch you? They’ll beat you again for sure, Gimli! Maybe all of us!”, signed Nidi frantically, working himself up into a panic. “They’ll shave off our beards, maybe all our hair! Cut off all our fingers and toes, bite off our noses and ears, hang us up by our testicles, boil us in oil, stick hot pokers in are eyes, peal off all our skin while we’re still alive!” He gave a yelp as Ulfr smacked him upside the head, cutting off his tirade.
“Damn, Nit! I don’t know what’s worse- you or the Orcs,” he signed as he glared at Nidi, who was rubbing the back of his smarting head, looking embarrassed under the miffed scrutiny of the others (except Svior who was glaring holes through Ulfr). Then Ulfr turned and swaggered over to Gimli with a wide smile, chain clinking behind him.
“I think I could use a drink too. Hand it over”, he signed taking the dirty pitcher from Gimli. Then he took a long swig of his own before handing it to Svior who also took a drink before moving off in the direction of the commotion down the tunnels, still in full swing, to keep watch in case their guards came back. Gimli and Ulfr even managed to get the nervous Nidi to take a few sips of the ale as well.
Nidi being the youngest the other three, the others always tended to look out for him like a little brother (much to his great annoyance). But what the Orcs and Men didn’t know was that Nidi was also a hermaphrodite, though it was quite obvious to all his fellow Dwarves, what with his scent and softer facial features.
“Oye, remember when we stole Bombur’s clothes while he was in the smoke house at the Bronzing festival last summer, and he had to run naked through the crowed to get to the supply tents to find some new clothes?” signed Ulfr in an attempt to lighten the mood and take their thoughts for a little while away from their dark circumstances. Gimli put the pitcher back on the table so as not to drop it, the memory of that sunny day sending them all chuckling, even in their oppressive surroundings.
“I still have nightmares!” signed Gimli, grimacing and giving a shutter at the memory.
“Or when he stopped at the honeyed meat stand on his way,” signed Nidi, shoulders shaking in suppressed mirth.
“I thought for sure Old Fjalar was going have a stroke!” signed Ulf, slapping his knee.
“What I want to know, is why he took off his clothes to begin with! What was he doing in the smoke house?” signed Svior from where he was still keeping watch.
“I think some thing’s should be left a mystery!” signed Gimli, and the other nodded their heads in agreement.
That was when Nidi noticed the pitcher again. The four of them had drunk a noticeable amount of the ale, and the sight of it sent all his fears rushing back again.
“What will we do?! The Orcs will come back and notice we drank their ale for sure!” he signed hurriedly.
“He’s right. It was horribly rude of us, wasn’t it?” signed Gimli with mischief in his eye, catching Ulfr’s eye. There seemed to be a silent communication taking place between the two… then wide toothy grins split both of their faces.
“Very rude”, Ulfr signed back, picking up the pitcher again.
“Hurry up with whatever you’re going to do! The fights dying down and those two ‘snot-for-brains’ guards will be back soon.” signed Svior from his lookout position. Nidi came over to him and looked nervously over the older Dwarf’s shoulder, ignoring the occasional clinking of chain and tug at his collar as the other two behind him did, whatever it was that they were doing. His hand on Svior’s bare shoulder trembled ever so slightly, and he jumped slightly when he felt Svior put a hand on top of his and give it a reassuring squeeze. Just a simple touch that yet conveyed so much.
With a clinking of chains Gimli and Ulfr suddenly appeared behind the two, crowding them to look down the tunnel as well. As the four listened they could hear the fighting stop altogether and the cursing and shouting die down to the usual constant, the sounds of mining returning, then came the sound of the returning guards. As soon as they heard that, they quickly scrambled back to their places, picking up their dropped tools again.
Nidi took one last fearful look at the table and the almost empty pitcher of ale and did a double-take. The pitcher was half full again.
“How did…?” he signed, looking at Ulfr and Gimli in confusion, only to be greeted with looks of complete innocence. Svior slapped his hand over his face shaking his head with a groan. That’s when it sunk in.
“What’s this?! Back ta‘ work!!” bellowed one of the orcs, as the two came into view, one carrying a club, the other a whip. The one with the whip then proceeded to give each of them a few harsh lashes, causing them to grunt and yelp in pain, while the other orc yawned sleepily as he sat back down on one of the stools by the table. After the other orc was done lashing the four, satisfied that the pained and glaring Dwarves were working at a proper pace, he joined the other at the small table.
“Stupid dirt-diggers! They‘ll taste the lash again if they don‘t keep working!” he snarled to the other orc, who was pouring himself a mug-full from the pitcher, before it was snatched from him. Some of it splashing on the table as the second orc pouring some into his own mug. The first orc took a long draft from his mug soon followed by the second orc, before slamming his mug down.
“I’ve had piss that taste better then this here beer!”, complained the one with the club, glaring at his mug.
“That be the last of the beer in town, so if ya’ don’t like it, tuff tit!” said the orc with the whip, taking another swig of his mug.
“Ah, shut your yap!” snarled the other orc before gulping down the rest of it, then refilling his mug and having the pitcher snatched away again. Neither orc noticed the Dwarves that watched them with pleased looks in their eyes as they continued working, watching them as they finish the last of the ‘ale’ as they argued and talked.
Later that day the four were resting, along with all the other prisoners. The Goblins had crowded them all into a large chamber on the second level of the mine, most were sleeping in complete exhaustion on the floor. The workers had originally used the large chamber to keep the coal carts and coal ponies (the ponies long since eaten by the Orcs) while they worked. The chamber allowed the Goblins to watch all the prisoners and only have worry about guarding one entrance and exit during the prisoners one rest period.
Gimli lay on his side in the dark, arms crossed, trying to ignore the steel collar digging into his neck, as he listen to the snores and coughing of his fellow prisoners in the dark. Exhausted as he was, he couldn’t sleep for some reason, so he let his mind wonder to other things.
What would Daira, his brother, do if he was here? Had his father and the others made it to the Mountain yet? How would they kill Smaug? Where was Myia now? (And how glad he was that she had run off with a young man by the name of Dreak only a week prior to the Orc’s take over.)
He had been there along with Ulfr, and Myia’s sister Shala to wish them luck and to warn Dreak to take good care of her and to always make her happy. Or ‘Gimli son of Gloin’ would track him down and rip off his arms, to which Myia laughed (and gave him a playful swat) but Dreak looked quite pale. Then with a final hug for Shala and kiss on the cheek for Gimli, they watched the couple ride away leaving them and the gray town behind.
Gimli lay back to back with Svior, who in turn was spooned up with Nidi. The occasional soft moan and small rustle of movement from behind Gimli spoke that at least two of his fellow prisoners were trying to taking some small measure of comfort in one another, despite their bleak surroundings. Being as cold, tired, and wary as everyone was, no one begrudged those that found comfort in another’s arms. Ulfr, who lay with his back to him, kept fidgeting before finally turning around to face Gimli.
“Can’t sleep either?” he signed, Gimli gave an affirmative nod. Ulfr lifted his head and looked over Gimli’s shoulder to the couple behind him before rolling his amber colored eyes and laying back down, his collar making a muffed clink as it made contact with the stone floor.
“Those two at it again! I don’t know how they find the energy”, he signed with a tired yawn, Gimli gave another nod and a yawn of his own.
“I don’t know about Nidi, but Svior told me a while back that Nidi might be ‘the one‘, so leave them be”, he signed back. Both of Ulfr’s eyebrows shot up in a look of surprise.
“Really?” Then he frowned and gave a sad shake of his head thinking of their circumstances, knowing that they’d probably be dead soon. They both fell still, the quiet stretched out, broken only by the occasional grunt or cough from one of the other prisoners around them.
They could hear Hanar, the old shift leader, arguing heatedly with one of the higher-ranking Goblins about something, right out side of the chamber they were all crowded in. Hanar and Noko both wore iron collars like the other prisoners, but unlike the rest they were not chained so they could move around. Even the orcs were aware of how dangerous the mine was, so there was still a need for someone with experience and an intimate knowledge of the mine to keep a look out for potential disasters. After all, the orcs were in the mine too, and would share their prisoners’ fate if the mine collapsed. So the two shift leaders, Hanar and Noko, were allowed to roam free in the mine. Doing what they had done before Rowell’s betrayal, supervising and keeping an eye out for potential dangers. But after Noko had been beaten to death two weeks prior, for stepping in to defend a fellow prisoner from two drunk Orcs, Hanar had been forced to do the job of two.
“Where are you?” Ulfr asked, shaking Gimli from his thoughts.
“Thinking,” he answered, turning his focus back to Ulfr’s amused amber-colored eyes and soot-covered face.
“Da, Erebor, Myia,” signed Gimli with a shrug.
Ulfr thought about Thorin’s company and their quest, with their wizard guide Tharkun (Staff-man or better known as Gandalf), to take back the Lonely Mountain. It seemed like it had been another lifetime ago that he had stood by Gimli watching his grumpy father Gloin and the others walk away down the dusty gray road and finally out of sight. Watching them disappear over the horizon anything had seemed possible, and both he and Gimli had been full of certainty that the quest would succeed. It all seemed so futile now, he thought to himself as he studied the brown-eyed Dwarf lying just a few inches in front of him, knowing he must look similar. Tired, hungry, tan skin now completely pitch from the coal soot. Long, dark copper colored hair was now tangled and black from filth. The whites of his eyes, startling in the black, strong-featured face, surrounded deep brown pools flecked with gold. They blazed with a fire that burned undiminished, maybe even hotter then before.
“We could sure use some of Tharkun’s magic about now”, Ulfr sighed, Gimli gave a grunt in agreement. The oppressive reality started to creep back again before Ulfr broke the silence (except for the background noise of the argument still in full swing) again. “As for Myia, she’s probably doing better then us. Probably causing a ruckus some where with Dreak along for the ride,“ he smiled. “Remember when you two first met?” he signed, laughter crinkling the corners of his eyes.
“How could I forget? This shapely raven-hair woman gives me a free ale with a wink. Then when I’m not looking, she grabs my bum, making me spit my ale on uncle Oin,” Gimli signed back with a wiggle of his eyebrows, chuckling softly.
“The look on Oin’s face alone was worth a bag of gold!” Ulfr signed barely suppressing his laughter at the memory. “Or how about when she punched that drunk right in th-”
But whatever he was going to say was lost as the large Orc that Hanar was arguing with suddenly stomped into the chamber, kicking any of the exhausted prisoners not fast enough to get out of his way. He was followed by several smaller Goblins and a red-faced Hanar, who was growing even more angered by the large Orc’s callous treatment of his fellow prisoners. Many to tired to even wake at the ruckus that was happening around them.
“You can’t have six! Two, I told ya! Ya can have two! Ya stupid dirt grubber!” The hulking Orc stopped in the middle of the chamber, and turned to yell at the Dwarf. His ugly face with its black and twisted rotting teeth was only centimeters from the furious Hanar’s face, who was only barely restraining himself from beating the sneering orc’s face in.
“This is a job for six, at the very least five Dwarves!“ he ground out threw clenched teeth, glaring daggers.
“I told ya! Ya can onl-,”
“If you don’t want to be buried alive in the next hour, you will let me have the workers I need, before this mine collapses around us all, NOW!!” Hanar bellowed back at the massive orc, fists clenched.
The orc seemed a bit taken aback by this, the danger perhaps finally sinking in, before his ugly rubbery lips twisted back into their frown. Then the orc straightened to his full, looking imperiously down his long scaly nose at the glowering old Dwarf. There was a long pregnant pause, then the orc spoke.
“Fine- ya can have four”, he said, then he turned to one of the Goblins standing behind him. “Hey you! Go get four prisoners, now!” he ordered. Then he turned back to Hanar, his voice dripping with menace and threat.
“If yous’ ever speak to me like that again, I’ll fix the other side of ya face to match the left one! And don’t think about tryin nuthin!“ the orc hissed, as Hanar glared right back. Then with an impervious turn the orc stomped out of the crowded chamber, prisoners and Goblins alike scrambling to getting out of his way.
“What’s going on? “ asked Svoir, who had sat up like Gimli and Ulfr at the large Orc’s loud entrance into the chamber. Nidi sat wide-eyed next to him as they tried to make out what was going on in the darkness of the chamber.
“I don’t know, but Hanar said something about a colla-” Ulfr’s words were cut off with a strangled yelp.
A large Goblin they hadn’t noticed slinking about in the dark had grabbed the chain connected to Ulfr’s collar and given it a sudden yank. The Goblin then began dragging him away. The other three being connected on the same chain were dragged along by their necks as well.
“Here’s four of these here Dwarves over here!” yelled the Goblin, giving their chain another yank.
“They’ll do, bring um’ over,” answered one of the orcs at the chamber’s entrance
Gimli held on to his collar, trying not be choked as he tried to get to his feet, but he kept tripping as he and the other three were dragged over their fellow prisoners in the dark by the uncaring Goblin. The large Goblin dragged them out of the crowded chamber and into the main tunnel leading to all the intersecting mine shafts as well as the two tunnels that led to the first level and the surface. The four finally come to a stop in front of two bored looking Orcs and Hanar, who was glaring holes through the Goblin dragging them.
“There you are- four. Now get ta work!” the Goblin sneered at the old Dwarf, dropping their chain, before walking, followed by the other two Orcs, back to a rowdy group of Goblins in the entrance of one of the intersecting tunnels. It looked like they were playing a game of some sort with stones and what appeared to be rats (alive and biting rats).
“You lads alright?” asked Hanar.
With a few groans and growls Gimli and the others climbed tiredly to their aching feet, Hanar having to help up a wobbly legged Nidi to his feet.
Out of the corner of his eye, Svior noticed some movement as he got to his feet. He turned just in time to watch a man walk quickly down one of the intersecting tunnels that led up to the north entrance to the mine, before disappearing into the dark.
That was odd, he thought to himself, for the Man couldn’t have been a prisoner, he was too clean and wore good quality work clothes. For a second he thought it was Rowell, but he remembered that Rowell had long wheat colored hair, and the Man he had just seen had short, dark hair. Then it struck him, the Man had to have been one of the Men working for ‘the’ traitor, one of the wagon drivers, perhaps. But what’s he doing down here, delivering a message or such? he thought. He decided not to ask the others about it, figuring that it was nothing important, and let the train of thought drop as he made sure Nidi was okay after being dragged from their shortened rest.
“Come on, lads. I know you’re tired but this is a task of the utmost importance,” Hanar sighed tiredly to them, giving them an understanding look. “Come on, we must hurry,” he urged, before starting at crisp pace down the main tunnel leading to the upper level and the east exit of the mine.
The four shot each other questioning looks, getting only shrugs in reply. Then with a few last murderous glares at the uncaring Orcs still playing their game, the four trotted (single file) tiredly after Hanar, their chains clinking like bells in the tunnels.
“So now I need you four to help me haul down one of the extra support beams we keep just inside the east entrance, down to shaft four,” Hanar explained to them as they made their way steadily through the maze of shafts and tunnels.
They only past only a few orcs in the tunnels, most of them being in the lower level playing their strange and cruel games as the prisoners rested. The orcs knew they would not try anything in fear of endangering the hostages, so the five were generally left alone as they walked uncontested up the mine.
“Who would want to damage one of the mine’s support beams?” Nidi asked.
“I don’t know, but whoever it was knew exactly where to damage it, and knows that if that section goes it will collapse the entire mine,” Hanar answered, with a growl.
“Maybe it was one of the orcs that damaged it”, suggested Svior, as he gave Nidi a playful bump with his shoulder (which Nidi returned) not really paying attention to what was being said.
“They wouldn’t still be down here if they planned on collapsing the mine on us. Also the damage to the wood was not from a Goblin blade it was the clean cuts of a good axe,” Hanar said shaking his head.
“Then it couldn’t have been one of us. All we have is our picks and shovels. Not to mention none of us is that daft,” said Gimli, as he steered around the rotting remains of some unidentified creature on the floor.
“But how could someone damage it without being caught by the orcs, or at least being seen by one of us?” asked Ulfr, his lip curled in disgust as he and the others stepped over a half eaten dead dog (orcs were not picky in the least about what they ate).
“Whoever it was must have snuck in and done it when all the Goblins were fighting over that gold coin they found”, said Hanar as he stroked his normally silver (now black) beard in thought.
“So that huge fight was over a gold coin?” Svior signed in disbelief.
“That’s right, you should have seen them. You would have thought it was a couple of mithril ingots, the way they tore at each other,” Hanar signed back, his eyes narrowing in disgust at the memory as he led them up the dark tunnel.
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit. Greedy beasts, may their eyes rot out of their empty heads!” growled Gimli, hawking a spit on an unconscious orc, a broken bottle on the floor next to it, as they walked past.
“Who would want to collapse the mine? If it’s not one of one of the prisoners or the Orcs, maybe it’s Rowell?” signed Nidi, as he twisted his earlobe in thought. The tunnel had widened enough so that the four no longer walked single file- Hanar leading, Gimli and Ulfr followed by Svior and Nidi.
“I don’t know…Rowell is making a ton of gold with this mine. Why would he want to destroy it? Where‘s the profit in that?” Gimli said.
Hanar was now a little farther up the tunnel as the four lagged behind. It was then that Nidi, who was deep in thought, stumbled over something that used to be part of a pony’s spine in the dark, causing him to accidentally shove Ulfr from behind, almost knocking him down.
“Oye! Watch it, Nit! Clumsy fool! Svior, can‘t you keep a leash on your wench?” Ulfr quipped sarcastically, before shoving Nidi away from him then quickly ducking Svior’s swing that was aimed for the back of his head- this in turn caused Gimli’s collar to be yanked sharply, who in turn shoved Ulfr, who shoved him into Svior. Nidi barely managing to stay out of the now escalating three-way shoving and insult war.
“Watch your mouth, yo- oof!”
“Ouch! Ulfr you ass-face!”
“Come on, stop it!”
“Don’t make me get ugly!”
“This, coming from the son of dragon dung!”
“Go hump a troll!!”
“Go suck an Elf!!”
Hanar waded into them, boxing ears and yanking the three growling and cursing combatants apart, stopping the sudden fight. The three now stood quietly, shooting one another glares as they nursed sore ears and smarting heads, except Nidi who stood next to Svior looking nervous.
“What is this? I find you four fighting! Fighting like chil-”
“Nidi wasn’t fighting, Hanar,” pointed out Svior helpfully, the other two nodding their heads in agreement, their spat just a moment before seeming completely forgotten. This was probably not far from the truth, considering that the four, especially Gimli and Ulfr were constantly getting into fights about something or another.
“Shut up! We have no time for this foolishness- now get going- before I tan ALL your hides!“ Hanar bellowed angrily at them, switching to Common. The four wisely hurried up the tunnel, trying to avoid a swift kick in the bum from the old Dwarf now bringing up the rear.
They walked in silence for a while as they made the final turn into the main tunnel. They could now see the mouth of the east entrance. The light at the end of the tunnel was almost blinding even at their distance from it, but as they came closer the light became less glaring as their eyes slowly adjusted, and they could now see two sleepy Orcs guarding the door.
They finally got to where five large solid wood beams were stacked against the side wall of the tunnel, about seventeen yards away from the entrance. The two guards only gave them a bored glance before they went back to talking in the black speech. The five Dwarves could now see that it was some time late afternoon outside by the length of the shadows, and they gazed out with longing into that world of sunlight.
“Come on my lads” said Hanar, bringing the four young Dwarves’ attention from the outside world just beyond the entrance, and back to the task at hand.
With sighs of disappointment and groans at seeing what they would have to carry back down, they went to work. The five shuffled into a line and prepared to pick up one of the heavy beams and carry it over their broad shoulders. The beam was so thick and heavy it would have taken nine to ten Men to lift it, but it only took five Dwarves. They had just gotten their thick hands under it, braced to lift it at Hanar’s command, when they were all almost knocked off their feet by a sudden blast of gale force wind coming from the entrance.
They, along with the two surprised Orcs, gave varying yelps and curses of surprise as they just barely managed to stay upright in the force of the air suddenly being sucked into the mine like a vacuum. The five Dwarves instinctively lowered their compact forms into crouch, bracing against the wind as best they could, the chain connecting the four whipped around like a ribbon in a sharp gust. They huddled together, trying to protect their eyes and faces against the stinging hits of small rocks and dirt from the seeming hurricane-force winds as they tore at their hair and what was left of their clothes down the tunnel.
“WHAT’S GOING ON!!!?” shouted Gimli to Hanar, trying to be heard over the wind as he shielded his face with his thick muscular forearms.
But before Hanar could yell back an answer, the wind stopped as suddenly as it had started, just as if it had never been. They slowly lowered their arms and straightened from the brace positions, looking around in bewilderment. They could now see that the force of the mysterious wind had sucked the two guards more then ten feet into the tunnel.
“What in Mordor was that!?” yelled Nidi, eyes wild, speaking out loud and not in Iglishmek.
The four young Dwarves turned to Hanar for answers, but he wasn’t paying attention to them, or to the two now arguing guards. Instead he stood stock-still, staring hard down the tunnel the way they had come.
“By Mahal’s hammer… protect us,” Hanar said in a hoarse whisper.
“What’s wrong, Hanar?” asked Svior.
“Do you know what that was?” asked Nidi, as Ulf gave Hanar’s shoulder a shake.
The four fell into confused silence around the silent old Dwarf, waiting for him to answer as they peered down the tunnel as well, trying to see what had Hanar‘s rapt attention.
Then they heard it, and it sent icy fingers of fear threw their hearts and bone-chilling shivers up their spines. Something was coming. It sounded like a strange wailing cry from down in the tunnels, growing louder as if more strange voices were joining it. Whatever it was, it was coming.
Hanar then turned and look at them, fear and dread in his dark eyes as the wailing grew to a scream. He bellowed the one word that would freeze the heart of any mine worker.
He shoved them towards the entrance, breaking them out of their fear-induced paralysis. He didn’t need to tell them what to do- it was pure instinct. They ran as fast as their legs would allow towards their only chance for escape. The two arguing guards were long gone, having turned tail and run at Hanar’s bellow.
The screaming wail was now a roar, seeming to shake the very floor beneath their running feet. With a flood of adrenalin now pumping, all pain and weariness was forgotten as they ran towards the rapidly approaching entrance and the outside world. The sound of their rapid heartbeats pounded in their ears as they raced for their lives. The walls of the tunnel began to illuminate around them with an ominous orange glow. Yet the five didn’t dare look back, they knew what was now chasing them, hot death itself.
Svior had a crushing grip on a stumbling Nidi’s wrist, and Gimli and Ulfr were right behind followed by Hanar, chains clinking as they ran. They were within six feet of the entrance, when a massive force from behind blew them right off their feet, hurling the five Dwarves those last few feet out of the tunnel and into the blinding light of the surface world. They landed hard, roughly nine feet outside the mine entrance, before tumbling down the incline leading to the road.
A jagged gray stone that stood out of the ground of the incline, like some long dead dragon‘s tooth, caught the chain still connecting the four as they tumbled past. With a vicious yank on their necks it halted the four to a sudden bone-jarring stop, Hanar continuing to tumble until coming to a stop at the end of the incline on the gray road.
There they all lay sprawled, smoking and still, like discarded toys. The fire seem to scream in rage at their escape, as great dancing pillars of flames spewed from the mine entrance to lick at the sky.
(1) Iglishmek = A non-spoken Dwarven language, made up of body language and sigh language.
It was several long moments before any of the five bodies began to stir.
Gimli lay sprawled on his back, just trying to get his wind back after having it knocked out of him on impact. Slowly he became aware of a painful compression around his neck and the feeling of sharp stones digging into the tender skin of his back.
As his breath returned he carefully blinked open his eyes, the light at first making them water and squint but slowly they adjusted and he found himself eventually staring into a beautiful blue sky. For a few moments he let himself drift in that cloudless afternoon sky, blues, light-blues, deep-blues, a veritable feast of color for one who had been living in a world of darkness.
With a groan Gimli finally forced himself to look away from that sky and roll over onto his stomach before levering himself slowly up onto his knees. The thick collar cut painfully into the side of his neck as well as the underside of his jaw. He could now see that the chain connecting the four was taut, still hooked on the jagged rock sticking out of the incline.
But just as he was going to crawl over and unhook it, Svior to his right, crawled over and did it, causing instant relief as the chain went slack. With Gimli’s neck now free to move he looked to the others, seeing that they too were all alive and in relatively one piece, slowly getting up.
“Feels like Dori tried to pull off my head,” grumbled Ulfr, as he crawled slowly up to kneel next to Gimli. “You okay?” He asked, rubbing the skin under his collar.
“No,” Gimli grumbled tiredly, rubbing his own neck. “You?” He asked back, looking at the soot-covered figure now sitting beside him, Ulfr just gave a shrug.
“The others! What about the others!?” cried Nidi, snapping their attention back to mine entrance they had escaped from.
Their dire situation came crashing back down on them like a heavy rockslide, the four could only watch in silent shock as the flames continued to spew angrily from the mine’s blackened entrance. The faces of friends and enemies, alike, flashed in rapid successions in their minds. Their stomachs twisted in dread at the thought of those faces. Knowing they were still down there, in the mine…burning.
“By Mahal! They were all down there, Anar, Buri, Veig- everyone,” said Ulfr in a hoarse whisper. Kneeling frozen beside him, Gimli couldn’t even bring himself to speak as he watched the dancing fire, instead he felt numb.
None of the four heard or noticed as Hanar climb slowly up the incline behind them.
“Do you think any…“ Ulfr let his question trail quietly off, realizing the futility of it.
“They’re dead,” Hanar said simply from behind them. The four slowly tore their gazes from the roaring flames to look at the grizzled old Dwarf standing behind them.
“No! My father! The others! May- maybe some escaped, like us! Right…right?” Nidi pleaded to Hanar, before looking desperately at the others for some hope. Ulfr looked down unable to bear the desperate pleading in Nidi’s glassy honey-brown eyes, Gimli sadly shook his head, and Svior just looked sad.
“Nidi, they were all in the pony alcove, they couldn’t have gotten out,” Svior said softly.
“No! There’s a chance, the north entrance!
“They’re dead! Poor bastards, never knew what hit them. Incinerated they were.” Hanar said gravely, glaring at the mine entrance with his dark eyes. He looked down at the four young Dwarves sitting in front of him, watching him with wide eyes. “Take comfort in the that! It was probably instantaneous,” Hanar said, snapping his thick fingers for emphasis.
“What are we to do now?” Ulfr asked, voicing the question on all their minds.
“We can be of no assistance to the dead, but we may still be of some use to the living!“ Hanar barked, sharply to the four. Before turning his main focus on Nidi, who had his face now buried in Svior’s neck, the black-eyed Dwarf rubbed his back trying to comfort him. Nidi was the only one out of the five that still had family. Hanar had no children and his mate had been dead for eight winters now, Svior still had some family, but they all lived in Ered Luin. Ulfr had been an orphan since he was thirty-two, and Gimli’s only remaining family were on the quest to take back Erebor.
“Nidi, nothing can be done for your father, but think of your mother and brother, there may still be a chance to save them.” Hanar continued, sympathy shining in his dark eyes. Aside from that, he made no move to comfort the shaking Dwarf in Svior’s arms.
The old Dwarf then looked to the other three, Ulfr, Gimli, and Svior were watching him, being the oldest they were looking to him for guidance and leadership. Taking a deep breath, Hanar gave them one piece of advice that had seen him through hardships in the past.
“Remember you must be alive to grieve. Grieve later, for now we must fight and survive!” and with that he turned and climbed down the incline again, stopping to wait for them on the gray road.
Gimli, followed by Ulfr, quickly got to their feet. Svior slowly tugged a now quiet Nidi up before they both climbed down the incline with the others to join Hanar on the road, their chains clinking merrily as they moved.
“Hanar’s right, we have to help Lady Hildr, Shala, and the others!” Gimli urged, a new determination coming into his eyes.
“What about the rest of the orcs?” Svior said, eager to make their escape.
“With luck, most of the beasts where down in in the mine when it blew. But that still leaves the ones guarding the town and the others,” Gimli said as he tried (unsuccessfully) to rub off some of the black soot on his muscular arms. Ulfr, next to him, was doing the same but also without success, The five dwarves had been down in the mine so long, the coal soot had worked it’s self in to their skin. Only a long soak and a rough scrubbing could get rid of it, so until then the five would have to remain pitch black.
“Not to mention, those two guards must already be at the Hollow by now, sounding the alarm,” Ulfr pointed out, resting his elbow casually on Gimli’s shoulder.
“Which means, we should be long-gone before they come and check it out for themselves.” Svior said. Nidi stood quietly beside him chewing on his thumb nail, not paying attention.
“We just have to get out of this whole area. With all the coal veins running threw here and the fire going, this whole area is unstable,” Ulfr said, as he scanned the gray rocky landscape around them.
“Okay, so we free the hostages, kill all the goblins we can find. Then grab some supplies, and make for Shiprock,” Gimli said confidently, looking at the other four, eager to get going. Ulfr nodded his agreement with Gimli‘s plan, Hanar was busy thinking, not really paying attention to what was being said, Nidi was still chewing on his nail, and Svior looked at Gimli as if he had suddenly sprouted a new head.
“Did something jar loose in your head?!” Svior said in disbelief, Gimli raised an irritated eyebrow.
“There are only five of us!” Svior continued.
Gimli was now glaring at Svior. “So?”
“So!? We are still chained together!” Svior snapped back, picking up a length of their connecting chain and shaking it in Gimli’s face. Gimli knocked his hand away with a warning growl before Svior dropped it in disgust.
“We’ll find something to break the chai-” But Svior cut Gimli off, the black-eyed Dwarf looked on the verge of attacking him.
“We don’t even have weapons! Not even our tools! What in Mordor are we suppose to use?!” Svior yelled in frustration.
“I don’t know, a rock or something!” Ulfr snapped back at Svior, the yelling finally getting to him. All their already frayed nerves, were dangerously close to snapping. Svior gave a growl of frustration. Neither Hanar or Nidi seemed to notice the dangerously rising tempers as the three squared off.
“We have to get out of here! There’s nothing we can do! We’ll go to Shiprock, get help-”
“The others will be dead by then!” Gimli snapped, shaking off Ulfr’s hand.
“If we go into that town it will be suicide!” Svior growled back, going into a fighting stance.
“We can’t abandon them! And only a coward would run off without trying to save them!” Gimli growled right back, fists clenched, he too was in a fighting stance now.
“It is only stupidity from a empty headed fool, that kills themselves for a useless cause!!
“Svior? Do you think Nidi’s going to walk away with you, when there’s still a chance to save his mother and brother?” Ulfr asked in Svior in a surprisingly calm voice. Ulfr glared back at the black-eyed Dwarf from beside Gimli, he motioned to the silent figure at Svior’s side with a jerk of his chin.
Svior slowly looked at the quiet, light brown-eyed Dwarf next to him for several long moments. Then with a tired sigh, he dropped his stance and rubbed at his eyes with the one broad hand. Svior knew the answer. For long moments none said anything, the silence stretched then was broken as Hanar finally looked up and spoke.
“Gimli, where are your axes?” Hanar asked, Gimli looked up from watching Nidi chew on his now bleeding nail.
“I hid them along with my earnings on the old barn’s roof, where no one can see them,” he answered before reaching out and knocking Nidi’s hand away. “Stop it.” he ordered, Nidi only giving him a blank look.
“Leave him alone,” Svior hissed at Gimli. Stepping protectively closer to Nidi who had started to chew on his nail again, before Svior gently took hold of it and pulled it away, this time he kept Nidi’s hand firmly clasped in his own.
“What about you Ulfr, Svior? Where are your swords?” Hanar asked, stroking his beard in thought as he tried to devise a plan of rescue and escape.
“My sword is with Gimli’s axes,” answered Ulfr, as he tried (unsuccessfully) to finger-comb his tangled and filthy hair. Unable to do anything with his own he started to mess with Gimli’s hair, before Gimli smacked his hands away in annoyance.
“Mine’s under the floorboards in the store house, behind the tavern, along with my travel pack.” Svior said.
“Nidi, what about your knife? Nidi? Nidi!” Not getting a response Hanar reached over and gave the young Dwarf’s shoulder a hard shake. This seemed to work, for Nidi blinked a few time and seem to ‘wake-up’ and become aware of his surroundings again.
“Wha-what?” He asked, first looking at Svior who still held his hand, blinking in confusion before realizing it was Hanar who spoke.
“Your knife, where’s your knife?” Demanded Hanar, short tempered.
“Th- the orcs took it before they put me and Father in chains,” he answered, unconsciously reaching up to touch the collar still around his neck. Nidi was surprisingly good with a knife even with his lack of ‘warrior-spirit’. Nidi’s father was a ‘tanner’ by trade, specializing in leather goods from belts and wrist-guards to saddles and tack, Nidi was learning the trade, so he and his family where one of the few Dwarves that didn’t work in the mine, instead they worked in town.
“Damn, you’ll just have to use one of mine,” the old Dwarf grumbled to himself, as he glared at the chain still connecting the four soot-covered Dwarves. Still stroking his beard in deep thought, he looked over the entire length of chain before stopping and looking at a particular link in the chain between Svior and Gimli. The four fidgeted silently as they waited for Hanar to tell them his plans, the fire still roaring behind them. Finally Ulfr just couldn’t take the silence any longer.
“Come! What is your plan Ancient One? We are just a bit pressed for time!” He urged flippantly.
Hanar looked up and speared the amber-eyed Dwarf with a withering glare, to which Ulfr only rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath that caused Gimli to give a snort of amusement (being the only one to hear it).
“Shut up, whelp! Both of you,” Hanar snapped, now glaring at both Ulfr and Gimli. “First thing, we have to do is get rid of this, before we can do anything else,” he said, picking up the length of chain between Gimli and Svior. He then bent down and took a small metal file out of his boot, the four watched in surprise, each wondering how the old Dwarf had managed to hide it. For the goblins had been incredibly thorough, to the point of embarrassingly so, when they checked the prisoners for weapons and such. Hanar said nothing (one did not live as long as he had with out learning some slight of hand) and quickly filed at one particular link in the chain, when he finished he looked up and motioned to the others.
“Gimli, Svior, twist the chain until you can’t anymore. Twist it hard!” he ordered, Gimli and Svior quickly did as they where told twisting the chain, each in a different direction until it would it wouldn’t twist any farther. “Nidi, Ulfr, grab hold. Now, pull!” He ordered, stepping back as they pulled with all their might.
“Put your backs into it!”
For several long moments it looked like a strange game of tug-of-war as the four strained and grunted as their feet scrapped the gravel under their booted feet as they tried to gain traction. Gimli and Ulfr at one side, Svior and Nidi at the other, groaning with effort as the rough metal chain dug into their bare hands.
“Pull! That’s it lads, pull!”
Then with a squeal of metal and a resonating ‘clink’, the thick chain broke, causing the four to stumble back before regaining their balance. Now they understood why Hanar had been glaring so intently at the chain before, he was looking for weak spots. The four were now free, they still unfortunately wore the heavy iron collars but at least they could now move independently of one another.
“Finally free of that damned chain!” Svior said in relief. Giving the now broken chain a kick for good measure, Nidi next to him giving a nod of agreement as he rubbed his sore hands.
“Agreed, now I can finally get away from your stink!” Gimli joked, as he gave Ulfr a playful push away from him.
Ulfr only laughed and chucked a few pieces of gravel at Gimli, who only threw some back at him. Before they both finally wandered over to and gave the broken chain a hard look.
“Maybe we should keep it- (seeing the other’s incredulous looks) so we can shove it up Rowell’s arse when we see him.” Said Ulfr with a wicked grin.
“Maybe shove a couple of orcs up there as well,” suggested Gimli with a smirk of his own, as he scratched under his thick collar.
“I-I say we gut him like the traitorous swine he is!”
“That’s the spirit Nidi!” Ulfr crowed, giving Nidi a friendly whack on the back (who looked a bit shocked at his own outburst), the others nodded and voiced their whole-hearted agreement with Nidi’s idea.
Hanar just shook his head at what was being said, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth on the good side of his face. He said nothing, slipping the small file back in his boot as he watched pitch-black figures in front of him. The whites around their eyes and their flashing teeth was startling, making them look a touch demonic.
“Alright lads!” Hanar said getting their attention again, motioning for them to come closer, they formed a small circle as they listened intently to Hanar’s plan.
“Here’s the plan, lads. We sneak into town, when we get to the coal sheds we split up. Gimli, Ulfr, get your weapons and any traveling supplies you got. Meet us behind the tavern as soon as you can, avoid any skirmishes with the goblins. We need to keep the element of surprise as long as we can.” He ordered, watching as Gimli and Ulfr each gave a sharp nod that they understood, before he turned his attention to the other two. “Svior, you and Nidi will come with me. Now come, we must hurry! Rowell could be killing the hostages as we speak!”
With that last dreadful sentence they broke the circle and hurried back towards Black Hollow, Hanar leading with the other four right at his heels.
Staying off the main road and ducking behind any cover they found along the way, the five cautiously made their way back to town.
As they got closer to the Hollow they began to see more evidence of the town’s orc infestation, broken dishes and bottles, torn clothes, destroyed carts, even two dead goblins (killed by their fellow goblins in a petty squabble). But worst of all was the occasional carcass, mangled usually to the point of being unidentifiable, most crawling in maggots. Like the carcasses littering the floor of the upper tunnels in the mine, Gimli noticed (and wished he hadn’t) that most of the rotting carcasses looked as if they had been fed on.
When they finally reached the Hollow the sun had started to make it’s descent, Gimli guessed they only had about two ours of light left. Strangely enough they hadn‘t run into any orcs on the road (except for the dead ones), and even now as they hid in the shadow of one of the coal sheds they still hadn’t seen any orcs or any of Rowell’s Men yet. If they didn’t know better they would have thought the town was abandoned.
But as Gimli’s mother used to say ‘Just because you can’t see a goblin, doesn’t mean it’s not there‘.
Gimli also figured that most of the goblins were probably holed up in some dark hole, waiting for the sun to go down. It was common knowledge that goblins don’t like the day light, preferring the cover of darkness.
Hanar motioned that it was time to split up. Gimli gave a nod, then getting the ‘all clear’ sign from Ulfr (who was looking around the corner of the shed) both he and Gimli darted off in the direction of the old barn, Hanar and the others went the opposite way towards the tavern.
As Gimli and Ulfr made their way cautiously to the barn, they could see the damage the Goblins had done to the town. All the gray stone buildings were damaged in some way, most with gaping holes, doors hanging of their hinges (many times completely gone), window smashed. Some showed signs of having been burned, and they even passed a building that was completely collapsed, nothing but a pile of rubble. The two also had to be careful where they stepped, refuse and other debris littered the ground, from broken bottles to bodily wastes (needless to say orcs and goblins aren’t cleanest of creatures). But still they saw no orcs, even though the creature’s foul reek hung heavy in the still air and the evidence of their destructive occupation was everywhere.
“I don’t understand, this place should be swarming with orcs,” Ulfr signed next to Gimli as the two squatted behind a half knocked-down wall. They had switched back to Iglishmek deciding not to take any chances.
“I agree, something’s wrong,“ Gimli signed, scanning the empty street with narrowed eyes, looking for any movement. Seeing none the two quickly darted to another hiding spot, all the while suspiciously looking about.
They finally reached the barn that they once called home, without incident. Silently they slunk (or as silently as two Dwarves can ‘slink‘) to the side of the barn where the empty rain-barrels where usually stacked. Having used the barrels in the past to climb up to the roof. But as they got to where the barrels were kept, they saw that they had all been broken into and smashed. Lucky for them, they had other means of getting onto the roof.
Jabbing his thumb upwards, Gimli signed for Ulfr to give him a boost up. Ulfr gave a nod, putting his back to the barn wall then he held his broad laced hands out for Gimli to step into. With a hop and a push, Gimli pulled himself onto the roof. He then held out an arm to the amber-eyed Dwarf below, with a jump Ulfr grabbed hold and pulled himself up with Gimli’s help.
And none to soon, for just as Ulfr pulled himself over, a goblin walked around the corner below them. The two on the roof froze, watching the goblin sniff around suspiciously, where just moments before they had been. Another goblin soon appeared and walked up to the other one.
“What?” It snapped in a scratchy voice to the first one.
“Heard somethin *sniff, sniff* but can’t smell nothin’- ‘cept coal *sniff*,” the first goblin hissed, looking around in suspicion while the second one started to sniff around as well.
Only moving their eyes, the two Dwarves on the roof looked at one another, both coming to the same realization. Not only did the coal-dust cover them from head to toe, staining them completely black, it was apparently masking their scent as well.
The two goblins continued to sniff around, when suddenly a large gray skinned orc stomped around the corner. Snarling something under it’s breath as it yanked a dirty ringed shirt of chain mail over its scalely head, a large rusty (and probably very dull) scimitar hung on a belt at it’s side. The two goblins below froze and began to cower at the sight of the orc.
Catching sight of the new comer, Gimli’s jaw dropped as the large orc yank the chain mail over its large bare chest and pair of breasts.
‘It‘s a female?! By Gandalf‘s beard! A female orc!! He thought in absolute shock, still not quite grasping the concept of what was right in front of his eyes. He had always believed the stories that said all orcs where male and that orcs and goblins where ‘formed’ from disgusting and rotting things brought to life by dark magic weelded by some evil hand.
She was hideous just like all the other orcs and goblins he had ever seen, just as ugly and twisted like the rest. Unlike the obvious differences between male and female Dwarves or male and female Humans, Gimli could see no difference between the sexes of the three creatures below him, now that the chain mail hid the female’s chest.
Gimli felt queasy, the thought of male and female orcs and more importantly, orc children, very disturbing. Orc and goblin families. He didn’t like those thoughts. The thought of orcs and goblins as a people rather then a bunch of faceless monsters. Gimli didn’t want to think of them as a people, not after all he had suffered at their clawed hands, his vengeance wouldn’t allow it. The image of his family’s old caravan, the wagons burning as orcs leapt about in glee, destroying everything they could, killing any they caught trying to escape.
Daira’s bloodied and mangled body, his limbs scattered about the forest floor. The hollow feeling in his gut as he and his mother searched and picked up those heavy limbs and bits of flesh, so the crows and other scavengers wouldn’t get them.
No, they weren’t people! Just monsters…monsters that should be exterminated!! His turbulent thoughts were interrupted as the new arrival below, spoke in a loud grating voice.
“What ya’ doin’ ere!? I toll alls youz ta’ get over to the mine!” The female orc bellowed, spittle flying as she stomped over and punched the first cowering goblin right in the face. With a shriek and a crunch, the goblin went flying back, landing heavily several feet away, unmoving. She then turned her attention to the second one, who was now cowering submissively at her feet.
“Weze eard’ somethin! Weze just cheackin, then weze go to the mine like youz say!” The second Goblin whined, groveling at her clawed feet.
Seeing this her thin rubbery lips pulled back form her rotting black and yellowed teeth, into a nasty smile of pleaser. Deciding that she liked the way the goblin looked cowering at her feet, she decided not to rip off his face, just yet. Grabbing the second goblin by it’s greasy hair she started to drag him away, the goblin squealing the entire way as it scrambled on its hands and knees to keep up.
“Tolled youz, puss face! I’mz in charge while Illzogs gone!” She screeched, giving the goblin a couple of hard shakes for emphasis as she stormed away in the direction of the mine. Gimli and Ulfr could now see other orcs and goblins appear out of various shadowed hiding spaces to trail groggily behind the large female as she continued to rant (all of them keeping well out of grabbing distance, in case she decided to grab one of them) .
“I stuck with all youz shit-for-brainz, toads! Can’t waits for Illzog back, back with lots of loot and meat! Then we eats white-cloak and take all his gold! Wherez he at anyway? Not seenz im or other meat. Wherez he at?!” She demanded, giving the goblin she was still dragging a vicious shaking, who only squealed louder.
What ever else she said, the two on the roof weren’t able to hear or understand as she and the goblin she dragged, disappeared out of sight and their hearing range. The other goblins and orcs trailing quietly behind her before they too disappeared.
The two on the roof waited a few more moments before they both relaxed with a sigh. Looking out in the direction the orcs went, Gimli could see a large column of black smoke in the distance where he knew the mine was. From their vantage point Gimli could also see that a large sink hole had opened up on the north side of the destroyed town, and he knew it was only a matter of time before more sink holes appeared (he hoped they’d all be long gone by then). The two eroded mountains, like two huge piles of rocks stood guard to the north and south on ether side of the town. The Blue mountain range watching in the distance as a red sun was slowly sinking in the east, painting everything orange and red.
“Damn, now that was one ugly bitch! Hold up now… Gimli! I think I found you a new women! Once you get past the smell and the rotting teeth I’m sure she’s a lovely girl!” Ulfr snickered, laughing at the completely disgusted look on the brown-eyed Dwarf’s face, next to him.
“Shut your face, Ulfr!” Gimli hissed, punching the laughing amber-eyed Dwarf in the shoulder. “I’d rather burn off my beard and stab out my own eyes!” He said, with a grimace of disgust. The very thought of it made him want to vomit. Ulfr only laughed harder as he rubbed his sore shoulder.
Giving the still laughing Ulfr a ‘glare of death’ Gimli got up an walked carefully over to a locked wooden chest. It was sitting towards the center of the roof, well out of sight from anyone on the ground.
Both he and Ulfr had decide that the roof was a perfect place to hide their valuables, after all no one would ever think to look up for a Dwarf’s stash, everyone knowing how ‘ground’ oriented Dwarves are.
Ulfr joined him by the chest (his laughing now under control), Gimli no longer had the key for the lock (having lost it in the mine when a particularly ill tempered orc had decided that he needed a ‘lesson‘ about not insulting his captors), so with a strong kick with his booted foot, he knocked a hole in the side of the chest. Once a the hole was made both he and Ulfr stuck their thick hands in and began to break and pry the thick wooden chest apart with their hands. In a matter of seconds the chest was completely destroyed, revealing a large leather wrapped bundle inside.
Quickly unwrapping the bundle Gimli revealed Ulfr’s sword with it creeping vine patter etched on the blade, both his and Ulfr’s money pouches and his three beloved axes. Each axe with it’s own unique pattern, their clean crescent blades shinning red in the light.
Gimli paused as he reached for his axes, maybe it was a trick of the light but for a second he could have sworn they looked covered in blood, red blood. He had a sudden strong sense of deja vu as he looked at them. Giving a quick shake of his head he pushed the image out of his mind.
Picking the three blades up he gave each a reverent kiss as an almost giddy feeling fluttered in his stomach. Now he felt whole again! Look out orcs, Gimli son of Gloin is coming for you! He thought, as he put the double-bladed axe down before standing up and doing some swings and blocks with his twin axes, one in each hand, going threw a couple of Forms.
The axes felt like extensions of himself, each perfectly balanced, their heavy weight giving him a sense of comfort, always reminding him of those who wielded them before him. His Mother, his Grandfather, his Great-Grandmother, and all the warriors before them, and now they were his to weild. Ulfr too took a couple of practice swings with his sword, fighting some invisible opponent, and for few moments one might have thought the two soot-covered figures were dancing in the red light of the sinking sun.
“I think I hear some orc throats begging to be cut!” Ulfr said, as they both finally came to a stop in a defensive position.
“Then let’s not keep them waiting!” Gimli replied, in a rather artful looking defense pose, called the ‘dragon’s shield‘.
Ulfr reached into the leather bundle and handed Gimli his thick weapons belt before picking up his own, buckling it around his waist and slipping his sword into its sheath at his side. Gimli did the same buckling his belt tight about his hips before attaching Blood Screamer, his double-bladed battle axe, to the back of his belt, then his two single-bladed axes, Fire Reaper and Star Smasher to his side holsters at his hips. Both Dwarves quickly picked up and put their money purses into a pouch on their belts (the pouch had a small buckle on it that they could buckle close), as Gimli finished putting his money purse away, Ulfr noticed something in the distance.
“Gimli, look!” He said as he pointed to the west where they could see a cloud of black smoke rising in the distance, in the valley beyond.
“That’s coming from Shiprock,” Gimli said in a low voice, as they both watched knowing what that black cloud of smoke meant. The town in the valley was burning. Both their hearts dropped a little further at the sight.
“I’ll bet my right ball that’s where that Illzog and the rest of the orcs are,” Ulfr said with a growl. “And I’ll bet this Illzog, is that Goblin chief, Rowell’s been bending over for. Remember what the orc bitch said, ‘white-cloak’ that could only be Rowell.”
“It sounds like Rowell’s pulled one of his disappearing acts again, too,” Gimli said taking out his two axes.
“Probably took the gold and ran, the two faced snake” Ulfr spat, taking out his own sword.
”With most of the orcs on a raiding party at Shiprock and probably most of the other ones dead in the mine. Tis the perfect time for us to rescue Shala and the others. Come, let us make haste!” Gimli urged, taking notice of the fading light.
Trotting back to the roof’s edge they both looked down, making sure the coast was clear, they only saw the first goblin still lying on the ground, unmoving. Seeing this, a big grin split Gimli’s face, with both axes in hand he walked a little further along the roof’s edge before stopping right above where the goblin lay. Then he jumped off.
Gimli heard a satisfying snap of bones, as his full weight crushed the goblin’s ribcage under his feet on impact. He quickly hopped off the body, then Ulfr landed with a slight crunch and more of a squishing sound.
“You broke him, before I could have a proper bounce! Hrumpf!” Ulfr joked, with mock disappointment.
“Will just have to find you a new one,” Gimli suggested, a wicked gleam in his eye.
Gimli then looked to the goblin’s face and felt a pang of disappointment, the goblin had been dead before they had used it to land on. It’s beak like nose had been smashed into it’s face, the bones piercing its brain (needless to say, the orc wench had a killer punch). Ulfr gave a grudging whistle, impressed, as he looked over Gimli‘s shoulder.
“Come on!” Ulfr said, giving Gimli’s shoulder a shake before he started off carefully in the direction of the tavern, Gimli right behind, axes at the ready as he jogging after him. The two disappeared between a few gray buildings, leaving the old barn they used to call home and the dead (and now much more worse-for-wear) goblin behind.
The two could now see the front of the tavern (one of the only two-story buildings in Black Hollow), but just as they were going to dart across the gray gravel road- they threw themselves back against the wall of the building they were hiding behind.
Peeking around the corner they could see a thin goblin with a bow creeping quietly around the building, making it’s way around the side of the tavern. It’s head cocked at an angle, obviously listening to something as it made its way slowly to the back of the tavern, its sharply pointed ears twitching. Gimli realized that it was probably hearing Hanar, Svior and Nidi, who where probably already there waiting for Ulfr and him.
Gimli motioned for Ulfr to be quiet before darting as quietly as he could across the road to the front of the tavern, Ulfr following a few moments later. Then as quietly as he could, Gimli snuck after the goblin who still hadn’t noticed him, or so he thought.
For in truth the goblin had heard the two them, but luck was with the two young Dwarves this time. The goblin was paying more attention to the sound of hushed talking and movement coming from behind the tavern. Just assuming, since it was obvious whoever it was coming up behind him was armed and trying to keep quiet, it was two orcs or fellow goblins come to check out the same sound he had heard. It was a mistake that would cost him.
Gimli was feeling quite proud of himself, both he and Ulfr had managed to sneak up on the bow carrying goblin with out it even knowing it. He was about three feet from the goblin’s back when the goblin carefully looked around the corner of the building at what was in the back before stepping back. Gimli and Ulfr where struck dumb when the goblin held up a hand, signaling for them to hold back, it then held up three clawed finger signaling that it saw three targets around the corner.
The goblin felt a tap on its shoulder, it turned to snarl an insult at the orc behind him.
“Wha-” except it wasn’t an orc or a fellow goblin. It was two, short, pitch-black creatures, with glittering eyes, and gleaming white teeth. Then the world suddenly tilted, the ground came rushing up to meet him and then
he was looking at the two creature’s feet before something heavy fell on him, blocking his view. It’s last thoughts were the realization that his body had fallen on his own severed head.
Gimli looked down at the decapitated body at his feet with a raised eyebrow before glancing at Ulfr, who just gave a shrug. Gimli calmly bent down and wiped the blood on his left axe off on the goblin’s stained tunic. Both he and Ulfr making sure to step on the body as they walked over it to the edge of the building before turning the corner.
And walked right into a nightmare…
The smell hit them full force, making them almost stumble back with its strength, making them gag, their empty stomachs twisting, the stench of rotting flesh making them almost light-headed. A small part of Gimli wondered how they could not have noticed it before.
Hanar quickly turned their way, startled, a big double-sided battle axe clutched in both hands, before realizing it was them. They could see Svior sitting on the ground trying desperately to hold on and keep quiet a now completely hysterical Nidi, who was alternating between screaming and pulling at his hair.
Scattered all about the ground, where the women and children…or what was left of them.
Bodies were everywhere, scattered about like garbage. The dying light of the setting sun painted everything blood red, Gimli thought it strangely appropriate.
The depths of Rowell’s treachery and greed now lay before them, in all its horrible glory. Their rage and sorrow knew no bounds. They were disgusted with what lay before them and at themselves, bitter at their own naivety, angry that they had clung to so false a hope. It had all been for naught, they had slaved and suffered in the depths of the mine for a false promise, given by a serpent tongued traitor. Should they have expected anything less? Now everyone was gone, everyone was dead, Black Hollow was dead.
All the bodies showed signs of being fed on, many with visible bite marks on them, some completely stripped of flesh, mutilated, bits and pieces of half eaten arms or legs where everywhere. Some of the bodies where festering having been dead for weeks, crawling in maggots, like the carcasses on the road, but others looked fairly fresh only maybe a day or two old, at the most.
It was then that Gimli noticed that there was something under his foot, with dread in his heart he forced himself to look down and moved his left foot. It revealed a small child’s hand bitten off at the wrist, a small Dwarf child’s hand.
Seeing the hand was too much for Ulfr, his sword dropped with a clatter as he fell to his knees and started to retch, retching so hard he was almost choking on the force of it. Gimli saw Svior turn to look over his shoulder at them, with an accusatory look, Nidi taking no notice, still thrashing about. Hanar just looked at them with unreadable eyes, to Gimli the old Dwarf looked suddenly very old, brittle, even with the large axe clutched in his hand. Just a weak old Dwarf at the end of his years.
As for Gimli, his emotions where all fighting for dominance, rage, despair, and hopelessness all burned inside of him. He walked slowly over to where Svior was, as he got to where Svior sat with Nidi he could now see the remains of Nidi’s mother. From the horrible condition of her body, Gimli could tell that she went down fighting hard.
“Nothing grows around here… the coal- there’s so much of it. It’s like a poison, killing anything that grows, leaving everything gray, desolate. Not much game. The supplies and food the coal wagons brought back weren’t enough…not for so many. They couldn’t eat too many of the workers, needed them to mine the coal. So they ate the hostages,” Hanar said in a strange monotone, speaking more to himself then to the other four. Gimli just listened as he gazed at the nightmare scene in front of him, his axes still clutched tightly in both his hands, now feeling completely useless.
Looking closer he could now identify some of the other bodies, an arm with a coiled snake tattoo, Farin’s wife. A decapitated head with a long thick braid of brown and silver streaked hair, tied off with a strip of red leather, Lady Hildr. The upper head and torso of a raven haired young women, her hair parted into two pleats. Shala, Myia’s older sister, mother of three and a dear friend.
Gimli remembered how she would always cook extra when she made cinnamon tarts, knowing that he loved them, always asking how his Da was doing. Constantly clucking and worrying that he and Ulfr weren’t eating enough, gently scolding Myia for not acting like a ‘proper‘ lady, or mothering even the crankiest old Dwarf if given the chance. She was a kind soul and everyone adored her.
She didn’t deserve this.
Many a night one could find Shala, her little ones, Leon (Shala‘s husband), Myia, Gimli, Ulfr and their friends having dinner or just laughing and joking at the small table in their home. Talking about their dreams to get out of Black Hollow and start better lives somewhere else. Shala wanted to start up a bakery, or maybe an inn of her own in a town somewhere.
I guess some thing’s were never meant to be, Gimli thought sadly.
Slowly Gimli carefully stepped over a few bodies before coming to kneel at Shala’s side, her gray eyes staring dully at nothing.
“I’m sorry Shala, I was too late…forgive me.” he whispered softly, he put one of his axes down before reaching down to gently close her eyes. Picking his axe up he then got up and looked around for her three children, the least he could do was put them beside her he thought numbly. But after searching around the other bodies and still not finding them, before he remembered that goblins prized the tender flesh of children, so their was probably nothing left of the three little ones.
Defeated he walked back to where Ulfr was still kneeling, his retching over with, his face in his broad hands. The smell of bile stung Gimli’s nose as he stood silently next to the amber-eyed Dwarf, letting him know he was with him, it was the only comfort he could provide. Ulfr kept muttering to himself over and over again “It was for nothing, nothing.”
Nidi had finally stopped screaming and flailing in Svior’s arms, only now he was limp, staring into space as Svior was whispering nonsense words of compfurt in Khuzdul to him. Gimli thought there was a good chance that Nidi’s mind had broken, as he watched the limp Dwarf stare glassy-eyed into nothing.
‘Just like Shala’s eyes, dead,’ a small voice whispered at the back of his mind. Hanar slowly walked over to stand by Ulfr’s other side, the old Dwarf kept rubbing at the scarred side of his face with one of his calloused hands, as if it ached, looking defeated. For long moments no one could bring themselves to say anything.
The light was almost gone now, the stars where already out, and hanging low in the sky was a red sickle moon.
“We have to get out of here…get to Shiprock.” Gimli almost jumped at the sound of Hanar’s voice, at first not recognizing the quite unsteady voice.
“Can’t- they’re already there,” Ulfr said in a shaky voice, as he slowly got up. “Me and Gimli saw the smoke, overheard some orcs talking about it. Rowell’s gone too.”
“The rest of the orcs are checking out the mine,” Gimli put in, his voice sounded strangely calm (even to his own ears).
“We have to get out of here!” Svior hissed urgently, the three jumped at the Dwarf’s seeming sudden appearance. Neither of the three noticing when he’d gotten up (managing to get Nidi up as well) and walked over to them. Nidi just looked small and broken beside him, allowing himself to be lead around by the taller Dwarf as he stared blankly into space. “I told you, it was a mistake to come back here!”
“Don’t. I warn you, Svior,” Gimli warned quietly, hold a broad hand up to stop any further words, a dangerous gleam in his eye. Svior just shot him a murderous glare and continued.
“This place is unstable, and ‘they’ll’ be coming back! We must leave, now!” Svior demanded, his black-eyes looked more like deep holes, making him look disturbingly ‘hollow’.
“And where will we go?!” Ulfr snapped, a strange look between anger and fear on his face.
“What is the care where we go!? As long as it is not here!” Gimli shouted, startling the others with his outburst. Gimli could feel a cold rage growing in his heart, all the fear, despair, frustration, loss only fed the flames, he clutched the axes in his hands so tightly they ached. “We have come this far, let us not give up now! We must tell others of what has happened here. Then we find that traitor and avenge the dead!” Gimli demanded looking at the others, fire burning in his eyes.
“Yes...yes, we must leave,” Hanar said thinking furiously of where they could go, a trembling hand stroking his tangled beard. They couldn’t go to Turquoise Hill, knowing that their fellow Dwarves of the mining camp, would go to the aid of the town of Shiprock and in turn share it’s fate. The town of Pine Falls had been abandoned for the last twenty years, Harlond was too far and they’d have to take the main road, and Dwarves were greatly unwelcome in Lindon. Damned Elves! Damned the orcs! Damned everything! Where could they go!?, he thought furiously.
“What about Green Ridge?” Suggested Svior, looking around nervously.
“The plague is there, remember?” Ulfr reminded him, not even looking up as he stared tiredly at something on the ground at his feet, his shoulders slumped.
“Too far anyway, and we’d pass to close to Shiprock,” Gimli said, shaking his head. He then clasped Ulfr’s shoulder, giving the amber-eyed Dwarf a searching look. Ulfr looked up at Gimli and gave a nod that he was okay, Gimli gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze of reassurance that was as much for himself as it was for Ulfr.
“We’ll go north-east to Telgor,” Hanar said, finally coming to an answer. He looked up at the four with commanding in his eyes, standing up straighter. Once again he was the Hanar they knew, the leader, the strong, and wise. “We’ll have to have to go through the old limestone quarry to save time and to avoid the road. It’s a good distance, but I see no other course. Ulfr, did you or Gimli bring any traveling supplies?”
“No, just what’s on are belts,” Ulfr said, shaking his head.
“I have my traveling pack, but not much in the way of food ,” Svior said.
“We’ll make do with what we have. Come, let us go before they return! For I have no intentions of staying a moment longer in this accursed place, to look for supplies!” He said before turning to look at Svior. “What about Nidi? Can he keep up?” Hanar asked Svior, a hard look in his eyes and an underlying meaning in his words.
Svior visibly bristled at this, his teeth bared in a snarl, knowing exactly that underling meaning meant. But right as he was going to snarl back a retort. A soft voice spoke, causing them all to look surprised at the smaller Dwarf at Svior’s side.
“Yes, I can keep up,” Nidi said quietly looking up at the other four, with strange unreadable eyes. The look in those honey-brown eyes made a shiver run up Gimli’s spine. Corpse eyes, he thought silently to himself, a quick glance to the left showed that Svior too was watching Nidi with obvious worry.
Hanar seemed a bit taken aback before he quickly recovered. “Good…good,” Hanar then reached for his belt and took out a large hunting knife before handing it to Nidi. Who gave a small nod of thanks, but with an otherwise blank expression. “Now let us make haste!” the old Dwarf said, giving them all a once over before taking off at a run towards the north-east, the others right behind.
None looked back as they tried to get as far away from that gray desolate place as they could. Yet all five of them knew that no matter how far or fast they ran, they’d never outrun the ghosts of Black Hollow, that would no doubt haunt their nightmares forever.
The thin sickle moon hung high in the dark sky full stars. In the gray rocky land below, five dark figures ran as fast as they could with only the light of that those stars to guide their way.
They had been running non-stop at a good clip, since fleeing Black Hollow. Trying to put as much distance between them and the horrors of the dead town behind them. None spoke, the only noise being the tread of their running feet and their heavy breathing, as their heartbeats pumped in their ears as they struggled to maintain their pace. They all knew they had to get to the quarry and the cover of the sparse forest that grew around it as soon as possible for the rocky desolate land around the Hollow had little to no cover, leaving them vulnerably exposed. For once they were glad for the coal-dust that covered them, for in the dark they could hardly be seen, little more then shadows themselves (albeit noisy shadows).
Gimli ran beside Ulfr, both of them bringing up the rear, Svior and Nidi ran in front of them. Surprisingly, Nidi was actually a little ahead of Svior, Gimli noticed that unlike the rest of them who had put their weapons away to make running easier, Nidi still clutched Hanar’s knife in his right hand.
Leading the four was Hanar, the old Dwarf’s breathing was becoming ragged and he was starting to stumble, Gimli could tell that Hanar would not be able to maintain their speed for much longer.
They had gotten a good distance away from the Hollow, only the small brush and the occasional windswept tree dotted the landscape around them. The vegetation though sparse was becoming more common as they neared the quarry and the land beyond. But they still had a ways to go and they all knew it was only a matter of time before the orcs noticed their tracks.
Hanar knew he couldn’t go much further but he was determined to go as far as he could, pushing himself to keep on. He cursed to himself as he stumbled over another rock, exhaustion, hunger, and as much as he hated to admit it, old age was catching up with him. The others too, were having to fight to maintain their punishing pace, sore muscles combined with mental and physical exhaustion was dragging at all of them.
After seeing Hanar stumble again Gimli knew they would have to decrease their speed soon, he was just about to call to Hanar- when a warning bell went off in his head.
With the skill of one who’s handled axes since he could crawl, both his axes were out and at the ready in the seeming blink of an eye as he came to a skidding halt, scanning the darkness for danger. Hanar too must have felt it, for he suddenly stopped, his breath coming in loud pants as he took out his large axe and scanned the dark landscape around them for danger. Ulfr and the others came to a stop as well, pulling out their own weapons, listening. There they waited, listening with baited breath as they scanned the darkness (Dwarves have excellent night vision, but they still couldn’t see nearly as well as a goblins could in the dark). They could all now hear movement in the distance, as several ‘something’s’ were running full tilt in the dark after them.
“Goblins?” Svior asked in a hushed whisper, his sword in both hands. Nidi next to him with his knife at the ready, that same blank look on his face.
“No, wargs!” Ulfr warned pointing to their left, the others whipped around to see to where the amber-eyed Dwarf was pointing.
In the darkness they could see two pairs of glowing red eyes in the distance rushing over the desolate rocky landscape towards them. As if sensing they had been spotted a blood curdling howl pierced the night air, making their hair rise on the back of their necks.
“Shit! They’ll bring the goblins right to us!!” Gimli cursed, stepping forward to confront the two large shadows racing towards them. Gimli hated wargs almost as much as orcs. Wargs looked like large twisted wolves, and like wolves they traveled in packs, but like noble and shy wolves they were not. As Gimli watched the two come closer, a small nagging thought kept tugging at the back of his mind. Wargs travel in packs…packs. I only see two…
Ulfr stepped up next to Gimli (yet far enough away to not have to worry about any of Gimli’s swings hitting him by accident), his sword in hand as he got into a fighting stance. The other three stood near bye, weapons at the ready, watching the two wargs get closer, their mottled gray fur and snapping jaws now visible from the starlight above.
“There’s only two! We can take them, easy!” Ulfr said, confidence in his voice.
But when the warges got within six yards they suddenly veered to the side running back into the darkness.
“Ha! We scared them off!” Ulfr crowed, watching the two run away. Gimli heard a sigh of relief from one of the three behind him, but something wasn’t right he could feel it. His eyes widened as an old memory of something his father had once told him when he was younger, struck him like a bolt of lighting.
“It’s the warg you don’t see, that will be the one that rips out your throat.” Gloin said seriously to the copper hair five year old, who watched with big eyes as Gloin made a clawed slashing motion across his neck to demonstrate.
The two wargs where a distraction! Came the sudden realization.
Gimli whipped around as fast as he could, to warn the others.
“Behind us!” He yelled, just as three large wargs from seeming nowhere, attacked them from behind. These were large wargs, the smallest being the size of pony.
Everything turned to chaos then, as growls, bellows and the swinging of weapons filled the night air as the five Dwarves fought for their lives. The two original wargs come back to join the fray.
One of the wargs let out a gargling yelping sound as Svior manage to thrust his sword between its ribs, piecing it’s lung. Nidi darted in close, slashing it’s throat before jabbing his knife into its eye, killing it.
A warg’s head went flying, its jaws still snapping, spraying hot blood everywhere as Hanar’s axe chopped it from its still bucking body.
A dark grey warg, the size of a small horse, that could only be the alpha of the pack lunged for Ulfr. The amber-eyed Dwarf was just barely quick enough to throw himself out of the way of its snapping jaws. Seeing its pray had escaped for the moment, it turned it’s sights to a different target. But unfortunately for Ulfr, to avoid one warg he had thrown himself into the path of another.
With a murderous growl the new warg sprang at him, Ulfr brought his short sward to bare, slashing it in the neck. It gave a yelp, but quickly recovered to lunge for him again. This time he slashed it under the jaw, followed up with a hard thrust, deep into it’s shoulder, causing the warg’s leg to buckle under it. Unfortunately the warg was too close before Ulf could get out of the way. Using it’s one good front limb the warg lunged low catching the Dwarf’s leg, knocking him off his feet.
Ulfr let out a yell of pain as the warg’s steel trap like jaws clamped onto his leg. He stabbed slashed desperately at the warg trying to get it to let go, but the warg seemed to refuse to die. Just biting harder into the flesh of his leg, causing him to cry out in pain. The others where to busy dispatching the other wargs to help, but Hanar was able to quickly came to his aid. With two powerful swings of the old Dwarf’s axe the warg was decapitated. Hissing in pain Ulfr (with Hanar’s help) then proceeded to try and pry the mouth open to free his badly bleeding leg. Hanar finally had to chop the base of the warg’s lower jaw off, to free Ulfr’s leg.
Gimli had just dispatched one of the other snarling beasts, lopping it’s front legs out from under it, followed by a blow to its back- severing it’s spinal cord. Hearing Ulfr cry out, he was going to turn and go to the aid of his friend, when he caught movement in the corner of his eye. Alerting him just in time to side step the alpha warg’s attack.
With a speed that would have impressed even an Elf, Gimli used his momentum, to pivot and bring both axes to slash deep rows into the warg’s side, as it passed. It gave a howl of rage and pain, then came around for another attack, its teeth gnashing, ears back, piercing red eyes blazing with murderous intent.
As it lunged at him, Gimli swung his right axe into a hard swinging block, knocking the large warg’s head aside with the weight of the blow. He then fallowed through with the left axe, bringing it down for a killing blow to the neck.
But the warg’s head swung around unexpectedly, recovering faster then Gimli had calculated. Instead of the axe splitting the wargs neck open, it landed with a sickening *thunk* in the right side of the warg’s face, from cheek to eye.
The warg gave a blood curdling howl (worse then the one before) as blood spurted every where. Maybe it was strange fate, but the thick bones of its face didn’t brake under the force the Dwarf’s powerful swing. Instead for a horrible few moments the axe was stuck, lodged in the thrashing creature’s face.
Gimli held on furiously to his axe, unwilling to let go, his teeth bared in determination. He could smell the copper tang of blood in the air as a hot shower of blood fell on him, as he strained to not let go. Using his still free right axe, he swung it back, sinking it into the warg’s thick chest as hard as he could before ripping it back out for another swing.
With could only be described as a scream, the warg raised up onto it’s back legs, thrashing madly back and forth (nearly lifting Gimli right of his feet). With a wet scrapping sound the axe dislodged, the warge bolted, leaping away to disappear back into the darkness, yowling in agony.
Gimli watched it go, it’s pained cries ringing in his ears, a part of him took great pleasure in the sound. Looking at his left axe, inspecting it for damage, he noticed a bloody mass of ball-like flesh stuck to the blade of his axe. On closer inspection he saw that it was the remains of the warg’s right eyes, other then that and being covered in blood, the axe was in perfect shape.
With a disdainful curl of his lip Gimli flicked it off the blade, hearing it land with a wet squish a few feet away, before he turned and quickly made his way to Ulfr’s side where the others were gathered.
“Ulfr, are ya all right?” Gimli asked, coming to kneel by Ulfr’s side and putting his axes back in their holsters at his hips.
“No, you fool!” Ulfr snapped irritably, grabbing Gimli’s hand and holding it in a iron-tight grip. He grimaced in pain as Hanar tried to bandage the wound as best he could with some strips of material from Ulfr’s ripped trouser leg.
Gimli said nothing but squeezed the hand grasping his own, offering as much silent support as he could. Svior and Nidi stood near by, keeping watch. Ulfr’s leg didn’t look good; Gimli could tell it was serious by Hanar’s dark look as he worked. Gimli knew that they had to hurry; with their cover blown by the wargs, the goblins where probably on their way.
Ulfr gave a another sharp hiss, his grip nearly crushing Gimli’s hand as Hanar tied the final strip tightly around his leg. Finished, the old Dwarf sat back on his heels and looked gravely at the young Dwarf sitting, panting, on the ground,. He let out a tired sigh; he was not looking forward to what he was about to say. Getting up slowly, Hanar then looked at the four Dwarves now watching him expectantly.
Gimli knew whatever Hanar was going to say wasn’t going to be good, but he steeled himself, and listened.
“It’s bad, lads, the muscles are torn. He can’t walk on his own, and with the goblins coming he’ll only slow us down,” stated Hanar, in his deep gravelly voice.
“We are not leaving him!” shouted Gimli, shooting to his feet, eyes blazing- only to be yanked down again by the hand still clutched in his own. Ulfr gave him a hard look.
“He’s right. You have to leave me behi-”
“Shut up, Ulfr!” snapped Gimli, interrupting him.
“You, shut up!” Ulfr snapped back, irritated at being interrupted.
“No. You, shut up!”
“Don’t tell me to shut up!”
“I’ll tell you to shut up when you being stupid, you witless fool!”
“Who are you calling a fool, you idiot?!”
“BOTH OF YOU SHUT UP!!” bellowed Hanar, glaring at the two Dwarves with a mix of anger and exasperation. Both Gimli and Ulfr wisely fell silent. Nidi and Svior watched them, wide-eyed with looks of disbelief, leave it to Gimli and Ulfr to squabble at a time like this.
Gimli rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, the darkness and coal-soot covering up his blush of embarrassment. Ulfr, on the other hand, knew exactly what to say in a situation like this.
“He started it!” he said, pointing a finger at Gimli, trying to look innocent (and failing miserably). This earning him a ‘glare of death’ from the brown-eyed Dwarf he was pointing at. Hanar was now rubbing at both his temples like he had a sudden headache, then after a few moments he let out a big sigh and let his hands drop to his sides. He then looked at all four of them with hard yet compassionate eyes as he looked into each one of their young soot-covered faces, their eyes, each with their own unique color, watching him intently.
“We split up,” he told them. Both Svior and Gimli opened their mouths to say something, but before they could say anything Hanar held up a hand, cutting them off.
“Svior, you Nidi and Gimli will continue on. I will stay with Ulfr, he can’t walk on his own and I…I am old,” he said bitterly, his pride balking to admit it. “I can no longer keep the pace of our flight. We will follow as best we can. Remember to make for Telgor! If we don‘t meet up with you there in three days time, then you‘ll know our fate. Now go!” he ordered.
But none moved, until Gimli’s voice broke the strained silence that had fallen over them.
“I’ll not be leaving Ulfr or you behind,” Gimli said calmly, as if it was a simple statement of fact, before yanking Ulfr’s arm over his shoulder and hauling the protesting Dwarf up, careful of his injured leg. Svior was looking at Nidi- who was looking at the old Dwarf with a strange look in his eyes. Yet still Gimli, Svior, and Nidi didn’t moved.
“I said, go!” shouted Hanar, pointing angrily in the direction of the quarry and the land beyond for emphasis.
“Get out of here, leave me!” demanded Ulfr, leaning heavily against Gimli’s side. He glared right into Gimli’s face, so close their noses were almost touching. But Gimli only glared right back, defiance and determination shinning in his deep-brown eyes, completely ignoring Hanar and the others.
“We’ve come this far, and I’ll not be leaving now. So you’d better just except that I’m not leaving- and there be nothing you can say or do that’s going to make that change! Besides, you’re the closest thing I have to family beside Da and Uncle Oin, and I don’t abandon family, ever.” he said fiercely.
Ulfr looked back at him with wide eyes, Gimli‘s words sinking in. He then gave a defeated sigh, knowing it would be no use trying to change Gimli’s mind when it was made up (besides everyone knew Gimli had a stubborn streak a mile long).
“You idiot!” Ulfr finally shouted, not knowing what else to say, his deep amber eyes shining with emotion. He gave Gimli’s shoulder a light punch, trying to cover up how much he was touched by Gimli’s words. Having been a orphan since he was young, it meant a great deal that someone loved him enough to consider him family and stay by his side in such a dire circumstance.
Hanar let his arm drop; as he watched the two, he knew it was useless. Gloin’s son would stay. Hanar actually would have been surprised if Gimli had listened and continued on. Snorting in defeat, Hanar looked at the other two Dwarves, standing to the right; Gimli and Ulfr too looked over to the others to see what their choice would be.
“Well? Are ya both going to be stupid like Gimli here, or be intelligent and go?” Hanar barked, causing Svior to jump a little and turn his attention away from Nidi to the old Dwarf.
The black-eyed Dwarf looked at the three with an apologetic yet stoic look in his shining obsidian eyes.
“Forgive me, but I will not stay with you…I have my priorities,” He said in a quiet voice, stepping back from the three and pushing Nidi away from them as well. Nidi only turned his blank gaze from the three to look at Svior in question, but Svior was still looking at the three.
“If there is a chance… I- we, we will take it.” Svior said simply, no apology in his voice, just stating a fact. Their friendship was not enough for him to stay; his ultimate loyalty was not to them. The other three said nothing, they did not think him cowardly, understanding and excepting his choice.
“There is nothing to forgive, now go!” Hanar barked, motioning for them to go.
“Good luck to you both! Find that traitor and make him pay!” Gimli told them, holding up a clenched fist for emphasis. “Beat his face in!”
“Make it out of here and live to fight another day. Good luck to you both!” Hanar wished them luck.
“Take good care of Nit now, and Svior?” Ulfr asked, his amber eyes twinkling.
“When you make it to Telgor, promise me something.”
“Promise you’ll pry that axe handle out of your arse, and relax!” He laughed, Gimli chuckling next to him, Hanar only rolled his eyes and Nidi just looked puzzled.
“Your insane, you know that?” Svior said, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, despite the annoyance in his voice .
“After all this, I think we all are,” Hanar said dryly. “Now go!” he demanded.
As if in answer, they heard an angry bellow in the distance, in the direction they had come. Svior gave a sharp nod, then turned and grabbed Nidi’s hand.
“Nidi, we have to go,” he told him quietly. Nidi looked up at Svior with an unreadable look in his honey-brown eyes, just gazing at him. Then Nidi looked at the others for several long moments, studying them each in turn. Closing his eyes, he let out a soft sigh, then opened them again. Only his eyes seemed different now, more aware, older, more mature. It was still Nidi, yet he had changed; his eyes were still disturbingly emotionless.
“We’ll tell others of what happened here and we will find Rowell,” he promised, in a soft voice. Then he turned and looked up at Svior, who was watching him with almost a look of wonder on his face. Nidi gave the thick hand in his own a squeeze.
“We must go, Svior,” he said, barely above a whisper. Svior shook his head as if clearing it from a spell and nodded yes. He turned and gave the three other Dwarves one final look, raising his hand in farewell; the other three did the same.
Then off the two went, side by side, their black forms melting into the darkness.
Nether one looked back at the three they left behind.
The three made their way as swiftly as they could in the dark over rocky terrain. The stars above were still twinkling happily as the red moon floated lazily across the sky. Gimli and Hanar were on to either side of Ulfr as he limped one legged, as best he could.
It had been an hour since they had split up with Svior and Nidi. Gimli and Hanar scanned the surrounding area for danger as Ulfr concentrated on moving. Every now and then, they’d hear a howl or shout in the distance, each time getting closer. Gimli was actually surprised that the goblins hadn’t over taken them yet. Aside from the first warg’s attack, they hadn’t run into any other obstacles. In his free hand Gimli held one of his axes, just in case.
The vegetation was definitely picking up and they had to dodge the occasional bush or shrub. Trees had also started to appear (actual trees, not the small bent, black and wind-swept trees that lived around Black Hollow), getting consecutively more numerous as the neared the quarry. If they kept their pace, Hanar told them, they’d reach it in about a half hour.
The three talked freely, knowing it made little difference now if they talked out loud or whispered, considering that the orcs knew where they were headed. Ulfr was making full use of this to get some things off his chest.
“I swear, I didn’t know it was raved!” Ulfr said, earnestly.
“How could you not have known?! It was foaming at the mouth! As soon as my Da opened the box, it attacked him!” Gimli said in disbelief, as he ducked a low hanging branch of a tree they were passing. Hanar was flat-out laughing on Ulfr’s other side as he listened.
“Ha, ha, ha, *snort* Gloin almost done in by a raved rabbit! Ha, ha, imagine having to carve that on his tomb. Here lies Gloin, son of Groin. Who fell in battle with the long-eared scourge! *snort*,” he laughed, wiping the tears out of his eyes, the laugh lines around his eyes deepening with his amusement. Ulfr started sniggering, and soon even Gimli couldn’t contain his laughing after that. Perhaps they were going mad, but it felt really good to laugh after so long. They knew that they were probably doomed, but what could they do about it? Better to laugh and accept it, then deny the inevitable.
They had now made it to the lightly wooded area around the quarry. Hanar even pointed out a footprint that could only be Nidi’s, by the size of it, in the lose dirt near a gnarled oak tree.
“Remember when Lady Frior beat the stuffing out of you in front of the Smith’s shop? Then sat on your face until you passed out?” Ulfr asked, a guilty look on his face. As they continued to make their way through the now lightly wooded forest, Ulfr still ‘confessing‘.
“Aye,” Gimli answered slowly. His eyes narrowed as he glared at Ulfr now, picking up his guilty tone.
“Well…I sort of tolled her that you…”
“Ayeeee,” Gimli urged, through clamped teeth. The memory was still fresh in his mind, the confusion of suddenly being attacked by the dark-haired Dwarrow-Dam for no reason, then being smothered as she held him down in a rather painful hold. Hanar just listened quietly, also remembering the incident.
“Well, I was trying to nick a pair of her knickers- on Loini’s dare, remember? Well she caught me, and I sorta’ panicked. I told her…her that…“
“What did you tell her!?”
“I told her that I was stealing them for you.”
“She was going to pound my head in! I panicked! I told her you had this weird knicker fetish. And that you like to wear them or eat them- or something like that. I can‘t really remember,” Ulfr said, looking apologetic.
“WHAT!?! That was a complete lie!!!”
“Aye, but it was the only thing I could come up with at the time!”
Gimli was grinding his teeth, trying to resist the sudden urge to strangle the limping Dwarf. It was taking everything in Hanar’s power not to burst out laughing.
“If it makes you feel any better, she beat me to a pulp anyway. You’re not mad, are ya?” Ulfr asked, looking at the fuming brown-eyed figure next to him, only getting a ’glare of death’ in answer.
“Hanar, come. We must hasten our speed.” Gimli suddenly urged, tighten his grip on Ulfr as he picked up their pace, a new determination flashing in his eyes. Hanar just raised a bushy eyebrow in question.
“What’s going on, Gimli?” Ulfr asked in confusion.
“I have to make sure we live and make it to Telgor. So I can kill you myself!!!” Gimli snapped, glaring at the amber-eyed Dwarf.
For several moments all was quiet then Ulfr very theatrically stuck his bottom lip out in a pout, and looked at Gimli with big beseeching eyes, trying to look deeply wounded -and failing miserably at it.
“I thought you loved me!? *sniff*” he said in a high-pitched falsetto, making his voice waver as if he was going to cry. Gimli just rolled his eyes, not the least bit impressed with Ulfr’s antics. Hanar just laughed; if these two youngsters were anything, it was entertaining, the old Dwarf thought to himself.
Twenty minutes had past and the three now found themselves making their way through the forest just before the quarry. It was slow going, the trees making it harder to walk abreast, and they jostled Ulfrs’ leg once or twice on the way . They kept looking about in suspicion, jumping at noises that where nothing.
After jumping at the umpteenth shadow and only seeing a tree moving in the wind, Gimli decided he definitely disliked forests. The trees played tricks on them: too many shadows, to many things that could hide in them. He also knew that the goblins should have caught up with them by now, and it set his nerves on end, his instincts buzzed with danger.
The three gave a sigh of relief as they finally broke through the tree line surrounding the quarry. All the vegetation stopped about good kilometer from the quarry’s edge, leaving only the limestone sheet rock until the edge dropped off.
The quarry itself looked like a steep cliff, dropping off into a vast darkness below, stretching along distance to either side of them. They couldn’t see it, but they knew that the bottom of the quarry lay below in that darkness, many feet below. Past the quarry was a forest, then somewhere in that forest was a major traveling road, and beyond that- the small farming town of Telgor.
They knew that the goblins would probably not follow any farther then the road, for the road was frequently patrolled by Rangers. If they could just make it past the road, they might have a chance. But first they must get down to the quarry’s floor.
“Go to the left- there should be a large platform we can winch our selves down with.” Hanar said. The three slowly made their way to the left, looking for the platform. The quarry had been in disuse after all the good limestone had been mined out of it; now only occasionally did people used it. But the system of pulleys they had used to haul up the stones should still be there.
Gimli’s instincts were screaming at him that something was wrong, that they needed to get out of here.
They continued to look for the platform, but after long minutes of searching, they still couldn’t find it. Hanar was at a loss as the three now stood where the platform should have been. But it wasn’t there. The old Dwarf kept muttering under his breath about a torch, for some proper light, as he searched about tugging on his beard.
Gimli didn’t like this one bit, he tightened his grip on the comforting weight of his axe as he continued to scan the tree line around them. Ulfr stood next to him, looking quietly over his shoulder at Hanar behind them. Gimli could feel a minute trembling in Ulfr’s body; even though he hadn’t said anything except for the occasional hiss, Gimli could tell that his friend was in a great deal of pain, not to mention blood loss. They had to get help, and soon.
Gimli continued to scan the darkness around them, jumping every now and then when a dark shadow would move, convinced it was a goblin before he would realize it was just a branch or shrub moving in the wind, or just another trick of the starlight.
“Curse those creatures! Must they destroy everything!?” Hanar yelled angrily from behind them, startling the two, as the old Dwarf looked at something near the edge.
“What is it, Hanar?” Ulfr asked tiredly, still holding on to Gimli for support.
He was just going to walk himself and Ulfr over to the old Dwarf- when he caught movement off to his left. He quickly whipped around, causing Ulfr to hiss in pain at the jarring of his leg, Gimli held his axe at the ready. But once again, all he saw was the black silhouettes of the trees, their branches swaying in the wind. Taking a cue from Gimli, Ulfr remained quiet, scanning the darkness as well, but he also saw nothing. Gimli could have sworn he saw something creeping along in the tree line.
‘Something moved… and it was no tree,’ Gimli thought to himself, as he readjusted his grip on his axe. Ulfr’s warm weight on his other shoulder was oddly comforting as it was heavy.
“Did you see something?” Ulfr asked in a hushed voice, his free hand rested on the handle of his sword at his hip.
“Yes…but I still see nothing, except damned trees,” Gimli whispered back, they both continued to look suspiciously about for several long moments. They could hear Hanar behind them shuffling about, muttering under his breath; finally they both gave up.
Reluctantly he and Ulfr turned their attention back to Hanar, who looked up at their approach.
“The dammed goblins tore it down, look,” he said pointing out the large chipped and crumbling cracks in the rock that they hadn’t noticed before. “Those accursed creatures somehow managed rip out the platforms foundations. Probably threw the it over the edge,” he continued, anger and disgust in his voice as he glared in to the dark abyss over the edge, his scarred hands clenched in fury.
Then suddenly he stiffened, his eyes going wide as a terrible realization struck him. He then backed away from the edge, forcing both Gimli and Ulfr to back up as well. Both Gimli and Ulfr managed to scramble out of the way, avoiding a collision with the old Dwarf; both regarded him with confusion, neither understanding his sudden change of behavior.
Hanar quickly turned and looked around the clearing with greatly troubled eyes, as if searching for someone. But there was only the dark trees that seemed to watch them, the oblivious stars twinkling merrily above, and the two confused, anxious young Dwarves watching him. Hanar could feel his heartbeat speed up in his chest. The platform had been destroyed some time ago, probably a month ago by the dust and moss growing in the broken cracks in the stone. There is no sign of Svior and little Nidi, and no doubt those foul creatures are already slither about the woods. Now we are trapped, I was wrong to pick this way. I have failed us, I failed us all, he thought to himself. Slowly he turned to the two Dwarves behind him; rich brown and amber watched him, anxiously waiting.
“I’m sorry, lads. That was the only way down.”
“But…how did Nidi and Svior get down?” Ulfr asked in a whisper, looking at Hanar’s deathly still face. Gimli watched and waited, his own heartbeat speeding up, his senses crackling with warning. He knew the answer; he could read the dread in the old Dwarf’s eyes.
The unanswered question hung in the air, yet none spoke. They all knew the answer, but none could bring themselves speak it. A cold chill seemed to roll up their spines, as the three black soot-covered figures just stood there, staring at one another, dread in their eyes.
There was no other way down, and their two companions were no wear in sight.
A loud snickering laugh floated from somewhere in the trees behind them.
The three whirled around, weapons drawn, hearts now racing.
Yet they saw nothing, just the dark shapes of the trees, the wind making their branches sway and moan. With baited breath they continued to scan the tree line, each tightening their grip on their weapon, standing stock-still, searching… waiting.
Ulfr stood straighter, ignoring the pain as he put weight on his injured leg, knowing he would have to stand on his own if he wished to fight and not weigh Gimli down. Unwinding is arm from around Gimli’s neck, he carefully stepped away from him and stood on his own. A grimace of pain curled his lips as he stood with his sword at the ready. Hanar had moved up on Ulfr’s other side, so now the three Dwarves stood side by side, Hanar’s battle axe in both his callused and scarred hands as he glared out into the darkness.
Now that he was no longer holding Ulfr up, Gimli took out his other axe, and held them both at the ready, his heart feeling as if it was trying to pump right out of his chest. His deep-brown eyes were narrowed as he scanned the darkness, looking for the danger his instincts were screaming was there. He kept looking, waiting. But still nothing, just trees, shadows, and wind. Then as he was going to look in a different area of the tree line- he saw something.
There, there right beside a tree in the dark, was a pair of green slitted eyes.
They were fairly low to the ground, right next to a tree. As if sensing Gimli’s gaze, the slitted eyes turned and looked directly at him. A sudden line off sharp pointed teeth appeared under the eyes; it was grinning at him. Just a set of bulbous green eyes and a grin, in the darkness.
He heard Ulfr give a curse beside him, that was when he noticed the other eyes that were now appearing in the darkness. To Gimli it suddenly seemed as if hundreds of them were shinning out from the darkness of the trees. All with varying shades of milky yellows and sickly greens, floating in the darkness at varying heights, some small, some big. All of them glaring back at the three soot-covered Dwarves with eager, hungry eyes.
“Looks like some meat escaped the fire after all!” Cackled a hissing voice from the darkness. Followed by hissing cackles, and snickering.
With that, the tree line seemed to seethe and ripple as dark creeping figures poured out of the trees like crawling insects, disturbed from their nest. With shrieks of glee they raced towards the three like a spiny black tide, hunger and hate fueling their horrible frenzy.
As they watched the orcs swarm towards them, adrenalin flooded their systems, a calm seemed to come over them. A prideful smile suddenly split Hanar’s face as he adjusted his grip on his battleaxe.
“I want you lads to know, that I’m proud of ya. And if your fathers where here… they’d be proud of ya too. Now lets make these bastards work for their ‘meal‘. Then, we can join our loved ones at Mahal‘s side!” With that, Hanar took a deep breath and let out a roaring battle-cry, both Ulfr’s and Gimli’s voices joining his deep call.
Each of the three poured their anger, pain, and despair into the cry. Their combined voices nearly downed out the answering shrieks and bellows of the twisted creatures racing towards them. The quarry amplifying and distorted their combined voices, making their voices echo about like one strange single voice, calling out in the night.
Then at some unspoken command, both Gimli and Hanar charged forward to meet the shrieking mass of orc and goblins. Ulfr stayed behind, waiting for the goblins to come to him.
Racing forward, Gimli ran and met the first goblin head on; with ease it was quickly dispatched, soon followed by one of its shrieking brethren. The sound of combat now filled his ears; he knew the others where also engaging the orcs, for he could hear the ringing strikes of Ulfr’s sword and Hanar’s axe clashing against the rusted and poorly made blades of the orcs and goblins around him.
An orc gave a gurgle as it fell, it’s head almost completely severed by one of his crescent blades.
Gimli let himself fall into a rhythm, his blood singing in his veins, his movements quick and graceful, belaying the deadly unforgiving power behind them.
A goblin’s arm went flying, still clutching a broken scimitar.
He flowed, his movements fluid. He threw himself into the rush of it.
A large orc managed to block one of his axes, but was unable to block Gimli’s almost instant counter, which neatly lopped both of the orc‘s clawed hands off.
His began to dance, the primal dance of death. A dance that made his mother so feared, his grandfather revered and his great-grandmother remembered with dread.
A goblin gave a shrill shriek as Gimli blocked it’s sword, and gave a powerful kick directly to its knee, causing the joint to bend backwards with a ‘cracking’ of breaking bones, followed a moment later with a crushing blow to it’s temple with an axe haft.
His twin axes rang out, swinging in intricate and graceful patterns of slashes and blocks.
An orc’s eyes bulged obscenely as an axe sliced through the side of its thick ribcage, the blade plowing through the thick muscle and bone with frightening ease.
All wariness had left Gimli; he was in his element. The occasional hot splash of blood hitting his body was more refreshing to him at that moment then the coolest spring water. The pained shrieks of the orcs and goblins were like sweet music to his ears. If he were not so enwrapped in his ‘dance’ he would have noticed that the heavy ringing strikes of Hanar’s axe were now silent.
More of the Evil Folk fell, most with massive fatal injuries; others where dead before they even hit the ground.
The orc’s and goblins were growing a bit more wary of this ‘meat’ now, giving him a little more space. Gimli could also tell that the orcs and goblins who now attacked were better fighters then the ones before. Some even managing to trade and block one or two of his blows before joining the rest of the bodies now littering the starlit clearing.
He was just dispatching another orc when he heard Ulfr’s voice cry out somewhere to his left. He whipped around and looked in the direction he had heard the cry. There near the edge of the quarry was his friend. Gimli’s heart gave a leerch at what he saw.
Ulfr was on his knees, grimacing in horrible pain; one of his hands was just a bloody stump, his sword nowhere in sight. Towering behind the Dwarf was a large orc who had a cruel grip on Ulfr’s hair, pulling his head sharply back, a large rusty scimitar poised to cut the Dwarf’s throat. Ulfr knew he was defeated, but he still glared his defiance and hate at the grinning orc above him, steeling himself for the bite of the orc’s blade. Gimli recognized the large orc as the orc female they had seen from the barn’s roof; she still wore the same rusted and filthy chain mail shirt from before.
“Ulfr!” Gimli shouted, without a second thought, he took aim for the tall figure above his friend. No goblins or orcs were near enough to be in the way, giving Gimli a clear shot. Bringing back his right arm, he threw his axe with such force it made his arm ache. The axe flew true, spinning with deadly accuracy towards its unsuspecting target.
Just as the orc was going to slice her victim’s throat she paused, hearing a strange whistling sound. She jerked her head up to look -only to see Gimli’s axe flying at her. Her small pale yellow eyes narrowed and she let out a angry hiss, her lips drawing back from her sharp rotting black and yellow teeth. Then, she did something that would haunt Gimli for the rest of his life.
Seeing that there was no time for her to dodge out of the way, she suddenly grabbed and yanked a surprised Ulfr completely off the ground and held the struggling and cursing young Dwarf in front of her like a shield.
Gimli watched in horror unable to do anything as his axe slammed with unforgiving force into his best friend’s body. The force driving the air from his lungs, throwing his head back, thick red blood flying out of his gasping mouth. The shocking splash of red on his other wise black-covered body was startling even in the low light of the stars. The strike of the heavy axe on her living shield caused the orc holding Ulfr to stumble a step back.
Gimli watched wide-eyed, frozen to the spot, as everything seemed to slow down around him, his entire focus on his fiend’s shocked face. Gimli’s despair knew no bounds as Ulfr’s amber eyes somehow found his own deep brown ones across the distance between them. Shock turned to confusion, then to realization. Then the corner of Ulfr’s blood covered mouth twitched as if he was trying to smile, as if he just thought up something funny. Gimli could almost hear Ulfr’s voice in his head, cracking some joke about irony. Those eyes started to lose focus and then the light began to slowly fade from those amber depths, until there was no light in them. Then he was gone, hanging limp in the orc’s grasp.
It was Gimli’s axe, his throw; he had killed his best friend. He had murdered his best friend with his own hand.
With a snort of annoyance, the orc tossed the Dwarf’s body away from her, Ulfr’s body fell boneless to the ground near the edge of the quarry. Just tossed away like a piece of garbage. What had seemed like an eternity was actually only a few seconds.
A goblin taking advantage of Gimli’s frozen distraction, slammed a kick into the Dwarf’s unprotected side, knocking him off his feet, driving the air from his lungs and sending him tumbling several yards. A couple of the orcs and goblins roared their approval, shaking their scimitars and swords in delight.
Gimli limp body came to a skidding stop by a dark motionless body, he lay there stunned, his world spinning around him. A part of him was aware of several orcs running over to finish him off, he knew he should get up, but what was the point? His whole body hurt, Ulfr was dead, killed by his own hand, and he was just so tired. It felt like there was a gaping hole where his heart used to be. It was over, just let them finish it, a small voice whispered in the back of his mind. But another part of him could just hear his mother’s voice bellowing ‘Get up! Get up!’. A memory from long years past, suddenly came to him…
He fell back, crashing to the hard dirt, kicking up a big cloud of dust. His breath was completely knocked out of him. His head was swimming, the metallic taste of blood was in his mouth, his muscles aching from punishment. As he lay there, trying to get his breath back, he could hear the heavy tread of his opponent’s footsteps coming his way.
“What are you doing? Get up!” Demanded a deep feminine voice.
“I…*gasp*…I trying to…*cough* to get…my breath back,” he wheezed, squinting up at his mother in the glare of the afternoon sun. She was glaring down at him as she walked over to him.
Her dark-copper hair, the same color as his own, was held back from her strong-featured face in a thick knot on the back of her head. She wore her beard braided with several small red beads that hung down to the middle of her chest (female Dwarves, like the males of their race, have beards, but unlike males who have full beards, usually with mustaches, Dwarrow-Dams only had hair on their chins, like a thick goatee, leaving their cheeks and upper-lip bare). Her dark almond-shaped eyes were narrowed in disapproval; her face seemed sculpted in stone, showing no emotion.
She was dressed like her son, who was now on his hands and knees still trying to get his breath back. She wore a beat-up pair of her husband’s trousers and a scuffed-up pair of simple boots that had seen better days. She was bare from the waist up, except for a thick strip of coarse cloth tied tight around her chest and over her breasts. Her shoulders were broad, her long arms thick with corded muscles, as strong as any male’s. Her waist was smaller then a male’s and her hips where larger as well. Both of her broad hands were balled into fists; neither she or Gimli held weapons since they were sparing in hand-to-hand combat.
“Get up, now!” She ordered, stomping over to him.
“Please… a moment. Just giv-ooof!” He had his almost-recovered breath knocked out of him again, as his mother gave him a swift kick in the ribs, knocking him back a few feet.
“Get up, boy! Do you think an orc is going to patiently wait for you to get your breath back?! Nay! In this world you must be on your feet to fight! With or without breath!” she bellowed angrily, storming over to kick him again.
But this time he had learned his lesson. When she got close enough, he swiftly rolled to a crouch and grabbed hold of her ankle, yanking her off her feet. With a surprised grunt she fell to the ground before immediately rolling back to her feet and into a low fighting stance. Gimli was also in a fighting stance now, still struggling to get his breath back, but his full attention was on his opponent, at the ready.
“Now THAT is what I want to see!” she barked. Gimli could tell by the twinkle in her eyes that she was pleased. “Remember! ‘Tis the quick and the dead! No breath, too bad! In pain? Good! Take that pain, use it! Pain lets you know that you still live!” And with that she threw a punch at his head; he ducked it and counted with left jab to the ribs, which she blocked.
Gloin and Daria sat watching nearby, watching from under a tree, occasionally giving a cheer to the opponents. Gimli’s older brother was dressed the same as Gimli, only in a pair of trousers that had seen better days, with equally beat up belt and boots. Gloin was the only family member of the four wearing a shirt (a faded and ripped shirt, but a shirt nonetheless) as he polished a group of newly-finished silver bracelets he had made to sell in the next town they stopped in. Daira was nursing his own set of bruises, having had his daily sparring lessons from their mother earlier. Gloin never sparred with his wife; Nei, being a female, was the more dominant of the pair. Besides Nei would only say with a roguish grin and a twinkle in her eye that Gloin did plenty of ‘sparring’ at other times, to which Gloin would wiggle an eyebrow or give her a peck on the cheek. To which her children would only wrinkle their noses or roll their eyes, making both Nei and Gloin laugh.
They continued to trade blows at a furious pace, and he was hard pressed to defend against her attacks, for she had stopped pulling her punches and kicks after he was twenty and gave no slack. It was the same, if not worse, when they sparred with weapons. They finally came to another pause, both still on guard.
“Don’t ever stay down unless you be dead or limbless! After I’m dead and in the halls with our ancestors, if I find you there, newly arrived, because you would not get up in a fight! I will beat you until Mahal will be forced to make you a new arse before the final battle! Understand?!” She barked.
“Yes, Mother,” Gimli groaned, having grown up hearing similar threats.
“Good! Now defend yourself! I was going easy on you before!! Hraaaghh!!!”
His eyes snapped open. He couldn’t stay down. His mother wouldn’t allow it; his pride wouldn’t allow it. He had to kill as many of ‘them’ as he could- he had to kill that orc bitch for Ulfr!
He became aware of an orc standing over him, a look of pure malicious glee on its ugly face, preparing to bring its scimitar down to finish him off. Gimli rolled quickly out of the way just as the orc’s scimitar stabbed down where his chest had been just moments before. Getting to his feet, he quickly lopped the surprised orc’s head off before it could raise it’s weapon again. Then he turned and threw his remaining axe at the lanky goblin running up with its sword raised. It gave a howl as the axe sunk into its chest, knocking it back.
Then with a deft move Gimli reached behind him and took out the double-bladed battle axe from his belt, he gripped the haft of the heavy axe with both hands. He felt the familiar thrill that always ran up his spine whenever he held the ancient weapon. The orcs and goblins were still advancing, but after seeing this particular ‘meat’ in action, they were more bit more cautious.
Gimli took a step back to get in a better stance, and stepped on the body behind him. The body was face down, and at first he assumed in was a dead goblin. But a closer look showed it to be the bloody and mutilated body of a Dwarf, a broken battle-axe still clutched in a broad hand. It was Hanar’s battle-axe.
Hanar was gone.
Now he knew he was truly and totally alone. It was just him and the advancing group of orcs and goblins, with their hungry and eager eyes.
His heart beat a pounding tempo within his chest as he watched them get closer. But it did not beat in fear; no, it beat with his hate, his vengeance. His deep brown eyes blazed with a consuming fire, his white teeth bared in a fearsome snarl; blood trickled thickly, and unnoticed from the side of his mouth. He could feel a hot burning ball of all his combined hate, sadness, fear, despair, anger, and hopelessness gather and rise within him.
Rowell’s betrayal, all the beatings and insults they had suffered at the hands of the goblins, the others still down in the burning mine. Shala, all the women and little ones, the terror they must have had to endure. Nidi, Svior, Hanar, and Ulfr, to have come so far only to fail. Images of his lost family forever seared into his mind flashed before him. The terrified look in Nin’s eyes before the horse slammed into him and his twin fell under the pound hooves. Mano’s small fevered face as the toddler slipped away in his crying mother’s arms. The lost and tired look in Minal’s dark sunken eyes as she tottered off to pick the last flowers she would ever see. Daira’s broken and ripped apart body, his limbs scattered about the bloody forest floor. His mother’s horribly pale and pained face, as she fought against the plague eating away at her body. The hopeless sorrow he felt as he watched, unable to help her as the huddled together in that cold rain-soaked alley, listening to his father’s sobs of grief, as he clutched her limp body.
Old pain and new pain merged into one. His vision went red, everything seemed to go quiet, and an electric charge seemed to strum through him. Then that ball of emotions, old and new… burst.
“I’LL KILL YOU ALL!!!” he screamed his rage, as he charged forward.
An armed Dwarf in a full berserker rage is truly something to dread. He fought them like a thing possessed; like a horrible demon he tore into the orcs and goblins, his axe screaming like a wraith, warning of death. Everything seemed to become a blur, black blood flew, the howls of agony filled his ears like a chorus. Nothing seemed to hurt him. He showed no mercy, for his white-hot rage would stand for nothing less. His axe screamed and seemed to demand more blood! More sacrifice! More death! Limbs and heads went flying, intestines spilled from opened bellies, ribs and bones broke like wet twigs under Blood Screamer’s thick crescent blades.
Gimli fought on, not even aware of the injuries he was taking, though they where nothing compared to the massive injuries he was dishing out to the twisted and shrieking creatures around him. He had a goal, and it was to reach the large orc female, who watched with a smirk on her ugly face, simply waited for him to get to her. She had heard that axe’s wail before, on a crowded battle field many, many years ago, and was thrilled at the thought of taking the weapon for her own.
Gimli had just eviscerated another howling orc when the remaining handful of orcs and goblins backed away, unwilling to test their mortality against the dark, snarling, fire-eyed demon now in their mists. Some of the more cowardly ones quickly scuttled back to the darkness of the tree line.
Now nothing stood between him and the orc bitch, who now stood with her scimitar at the ready, a malicious smile on her face.
She couldn’t wait, for surly this Dwarf must be one of the offspring of the feared wielder of the ‘Soul Ripper’ (what the goblins and orcs called Blood Screamer, during the Great War of Dwarves and Orcs). If she took that feared weapon as her own, then not even Illzog would challenge her! She would be leader! She would take the weapon, then feast on the flesh of that long feared warrior’s offspring, and take his power for her own!
“Comez to me little dirt-rat! I lookz forwardz to feasting on your entrailz!!!” she bellowed with glee. With eyes blazing he charged forward to oblige her, they met with an echoing clash of weapons.
They traded rapid and heavy blows, straining against each other’s strength. While having no grace, the orc was skilled and monstrously strong, even for an orc. She was not like the other orcs or goblins that were left to guard the town; she was a warrior and survivor of the Great War of Dwarves and Orcs, second only to the absent Illzog.
But even she was surprised at the young Dwarf’s speed and ferocity.
Gimli swung his axe aiming for her torso, but she managed to sidestep it. He leapt back to barely avoid a downward hack by her scimitar, then deftly danced out of the way of her counterthrust. He tried to catch her in the side but she blocked. He countered with a quick spin, slashing low, trying to catch her legs.
She tried to jump out of the way of the axe’s blades but it caught her left ankle, cutting it clean off. She gave a roar of pain and stumbled back, swinging her sword out in several of wild slashes, mainly in the hope of keeping him at bay. Unfortunately one managed to slash the left side of his face before he could block in time.
“Aargh!” he yelled in searing pain, stumbling back, clutching at his bleeding face. He had been blinded in one eye. The hot flow of blood was alarming, he could feel it cascade down the side of his face, the coopery metallic taste as it seeped into the corner of his mouth, the feeling of it seeping into his beard, staining his face red. He could feel a jagged rip from his eye to his hairline. What irony! A small voice laughed in the back of his mind, that he should get a wound in the exact place as his mother‘s scar. Just then something warned him to duck.
He barely missed the orc’s rusty scimitar just in time to save himself from being decapitated. The orc gave an enraged growl at his escape. She reversed her swing and lunged at him again; he brought his axe to bare and blocked her powerful strike with a grunt.
They broke apart and clashed again, the orc limping around on the bloodied stump of her left leg, her rage dulling the pain for the moment, cursing and screaming obscenities the entire time. Gimli tried to work with his now-limited vision, ignoring the pain, not knowing if his left eye was destroyed or not.
The female’s rage was making her sloppy; her attacks were more erratic, becoming more desperate. Instead of taking Blood Screamer as her own, she was becoming another one of its victims, and she did not like it one bit.
They continued to trade blows, both trying break through the other’s defense, straining against the other’s strength. Gimli had avoided another wild downward swing, when he saw an opening. For the orc had made the grave mistake of over-extending herself with the last downward sing. With a frightening fast move of his axe, he severed her arm, before she could recover from her blunder.
She gave a horrible shriek as it flew off, still clutching her sword, the stump spraying black blood. She fell to her knees in front of him, clutching the stump in pain. For several moments all was quiet. Noticing the calm, she looked up to see Gimli standing in front of her, axe at the ready as he watched her drinking in the sight of her defeat. Her yellow eyes narrowed in hate; realizing that she was defeated, she gave an enraged hiss then spit right in Gimli’s face. One last insult.
With a look of disgust and rage Gimli swung his axe around and brought it down with all his strength. With frightening ease the axe cut through her shoulder, her chain-mail shirt offering no protection against the screaming blade of the axe and the pure power of the Dwarf wielding it. The axe sliced through her thick torso, plowing threw bone, muscles and organs alike until it was finally free, her body severed in two.
Her black blood fountaining almost drenching him as the two parts of her body fell to the ground, a black pool of blood quickly forming under the twitching body. Seeing that she was now finally dead, Gimli quickly turned around, his axe dripping with gore, ready for the next orc or goblin.
But there was none, they were all gone, having all run off after the female orc lost her arm (there was no loyalty among these evil folk).
It was only him and the dead bodies littered about the clearing, with only the moon and stars as witnesses to what had taken place. For long moments he didn’t move, just stood there, panting from his exertions, the adrenalin and battle frenzy draining from him. Leaving him feeling light-headed as minute tremors of exhaustion began to rack his body. He started to become aware of other injuries that just now decided to let themselves be known.
The side he had been kicked in was painful, and he was finding it hard to breath, probably a couple of broken ribs. There were deep bleeding cuts running all along his back and arms, and of coarse, the searing pain on the left side of his face that throbbed with every beat of his heart. But his physical wounds were nothing like the dark well inside him. The anger and hate were gone, leaving him feeling horribly hollow.
Mechanically, without thinking about it, he bent down to wipe Blood Screamer clean of blood and gore, of on his trousers leg before replacing it back in it’s holster on the back of his belt. Then he walked, slowly numbly, over to the body of a lanky goblin, Gimli’s axe still sticking out of it’s chest. He put his foot on the body and grabbed hold of the axe; with a yank he ripped it out of the corpse. Cleaning off the gore, he put axe back in the holster at his side before slowly walking back to the quarry’s edge where Ulfr’s crumpled form lay.
He fell to his knees by the body. It took himself several long moments to work up the courage to touch his friend’s body. Carefully he turned Ulfr’s body over and on to his back. Seeing the extent of the damage his axe had caused, another wave of guilt washed over him. With shaking hands, Gimli began to pry the deeply-imbedded axe from his friend’s chest as gently as he could, whispering nonsense words of comfort that fell on Ulfr‘s deaf ears.
Finally the axe was free and Gimli looked at it like one would look at a poisonous creature. Thick red blood dripping from it’s crescent blade, and he suddenly remember the sense of deja vu from earlier, on the barn’s roof. It had been a sign. He let the axe fell from his shaking fingers- to clattered heavily to the ground, but at the moment Gimli did not care. He gathered Ulfr’s still warm body to himself, and slowly began to rock, not even aware he was doing so.
“Please, forgive me…I did not mean… I got her for you, Ulfr. I killed that bitch. The other…ones ran off. Hanar’s dead…but you knew that. Old bastared… I never got the chance to ask him how he escaped from the troll.
“It’s funny, I…I don’t know what to do. I didn’t think I’d live. Still can’t get down, and I can’t go back.
“I… I don‘t know what to do!“ He said with a laugh that sounded more like a sob. Ulfr said nothing; his dull amber eyes stared unfocused at the stars above them.
“You…if…if only you hadn’t let that damned warg get your leg. You could have easily defeated her, and you…you’d be here with me now. And I wouldn’t be hear alone, talking to your corpse!” He yelled, giving Ulfr’s body a shake, a ring of hysteria in his voice.
“Why…why do I lose everyone?” he asked aloud in a small broken whisper, his pleading, brown eye wide, staring at nothing as he continued to rock. There were no tears; he didn’t have any more to give. The fire was gone from their glassy depths; all that remained was a young Dwarf hurt, frightened, and horribly alone.
For over an hour he stayed like that, just rocking until the rocking slowly cease and he finally put his friend’s body back down and reverently closed his staring eyes. He neatly arranged Ulfr’s limbs as best he could before he got up and dragged Hanar’s heavy body next to Ulfr’s. He numbly went about his task, having to hunt around for Hanar’s right leg and forearm, as well as Ulfr’s missing hand. But he eventually found them and arranged their bodies properly, until the two lay side by side, their the arms holding their weapons over their chests.
A few feet away, Gimli stood quietly near the quarry’s edge, the dark forest at his back, gazing out over the dark abyss and the stars that stretched into infinity above. His axe stained with his friend’s red blood, and now held in an equally bloodied hand, hung limply at his side. As he listened intently to the sounds of the wind and the creek and moan of the trees as the sound was bounced and amplified by the stone walls of the quarry.
He stood there lost in that sea of stars, the red sickle mood still making its lazy journey across the night sky. When his was younger, and the hour was late and their campfire was only smoldering ambers, his mother would sometimes say, “Remember, when even the hottest fires burn out and the night is dark- look up! For the fire in the stars still burn. The stars burn on. The stars burn always.”
Mother…I’m lost. What do I do now? The stars don’t have answers, he thought sorrowfully to himself.
As he stood there, staring up- he became slowly aware of a sound behind him.
He froze, listening more closely to the sounds.
*wheeze, scrape, drip, drip*
A heavy something, quietly making its way towards him, the steady sound of dripping liquid hitting the clearing’s limestone floor. Deep labored breathing that gurgled wetly, the kind of thick gurgle that one only gets if there’s blood in the lungs.
*drip, drip, scrape*
Then came a deep menacing growl that raised all the hairs on the back of his neck.
Whipping around, he turned just in time to see a flash dark gray fur and of a single burning red eye, as a gapping, bloody mouth full of gleaming razor teeth came rushing at him- he felt a hot blast of rancid air on his face and neck. He tried to raise his axe for a block, but it was to close- too fast.
He hadn’t even lifted his axe halfway up before it slammed into him. His air was suddenly cut off as an incredible pressure suddenly clamped around his throat.
The alpha warg, came the realization. Should of finished it off when I had the chance.
He felt his booted feet lose contact with the ground as the warg’s heavy body plowed into him and suddenly he was staring up at the stars spinning above. The sensation of falling.
He realized the force of the warg’s attack had thrown them both over the edge of the quarry. Everything seemed to narrow, until there was only the sound of wind rushing past his ears as he fell, the growls of the warg and the strange sensation of those growls vibrating through his neck. The rancid smell of the Warg’s hot breath stung his nose, his axe still clutched tightly in his broad hand, now useless. His lungs screamed for air, mouth open in a silent scream, his one good eye wide staring up at the last thing he knew he would ever see.
Not many knew but Gimli loved stars; he had even been named partially after them. They alone seemed to have remained a constant in his life, the one guarantied beautiful thing he could always count on.
The stars burned bright, the stars burned always…
The pressure around his neck suddenly increased, and he heard a cracking, followed by a sudden snapping sound.
A quietness seemed to take hold of him then, as he calmly watched the red moon float serenely in a swirling sea of stars. The sensation of the warg’s growls reverberating through his neck faded, the wind rushing past his ears was suddenly silent. The rancid smell of the warg’s foul breath vanished, his lungs no longer burned for air, and the pain from his numerous injuries seemed to slowly float away.
I’m dying,” he thought calmly.
It was over, no more fighting, no more hunger, no more pain...
I’m sorry, Da. I did want to see Erebor. I’m glad uncle Oin is there to keep you company…wait for me Ulfr…I’m coming…
Everything continued to fade until it was nothing, but the stars above.
Just the stars…until they too faded away and he was swallowed by the darkness.
“Remember. When even the hottest fire has burned out and the night is dark-look up! For the fire in the stars still burn. The stars burn on. The stars burn always.
Remember that, Gimli. My child of fire and stars…
A/N: Yes, I am evil.
“Since they were to come in the days of the power of Melkor, Aule made the Dwarves strong to endure. Therefore they are stone-hard, stubborn, fast in friendship and in enmity, and they suffer toil and hunger and hurt of body more hardily then all other speaking peoples,” (pg. 39, Ch. 2 Of Aule and Yavanna, Silmarillion.)
*Caw! Screek! Caw! Caw!*
A young crow squawked angrily while flapping her wings in agitation, she still had the matte black feathers of a juvenile rather then the shiny black feathers of adulthood. Her bright beetle-black eyes glared as a large group of older crows swarmed over the carcass, shoving her and the other younger birds out of the way.
Their sharp beaks tore through the Dwarf’s thick hide to the flesh beneath, jerking their heads to rip and swallow hunks of meat, their beaks shiny and red with blood. Others worked together; ripping and pecking digging frantically at the Dwarf’s muscular abdomen working their way through the dense muscle and sinew to the body cavity within that contained the tender and nutritious organs they sought.
A particularly old crow perched on the body’s head, his gray-black wings spread out veiling the dead Dwarf’s face, as if shielding it from the sun or the prying eyes of his fellow crows. But no, the old bird merely did so to keep the other crows back so he could pluck and eat the soft eye-balls from their sockets at his leisure. As for the young crow, when ever she or one of the other juveniles tried to get a share of the meat they where chased off.
///Not fair! Not fair! Me find first! Me eat first!/// The young crow squawked, giving her wings another agitated flap as she sulked, completely ignored by the other birds.
While she and others watched the swarm of older birds feed on the two Dwarves bodies, the younger crows like herself hopped around nearby waiting for their turn, hoping for some scraps. The clear sky above and the fresh morning air did nothing to lighten her dark mood; or fill her empty belly.
Some of her fellows idly picked at the orc and goblin carcasses that lay scattered about, but none where really interested in eating the “dark-meat” for it tasted foul and spoiled even to their carrion eating pallets. They would eat it if there was nothing else but not when there was ‘red’ meat available- fresh red meat.
From her perch atop an orc’s decapitated head, the young crow watched as a squabble broke out when one of the bolder young birds managed to steal a large piece of meat before being driven off by the older birds. He was immediately mobbed by his fellows when he made it clear of the older ones.
With a bird equivalent of a huff the young crow flapped her wings and took to the air, completely disgusted by the whole situation. She cursed her foul luck and the unfairness of it all while circling the body littered clearing. Food was scarce in this gray rocky land and ‘red’ meat was even harder to find. Most of the left over ‘red’ meat back at the gray town was too spoiled to eat or infested with the white worms. The ones that where still fairly fresh were being picked clean by the older crows (who weren’t sharing), so she had left to look for more food else where.
And what luck! Miles away, in a gray clearing between some thick woods and the steep edge of a deep quarry, she spotted the remains of a recent battle and two dead Dwarves! She and a few other crows quickly descended to take part in the unexpected feast. She had only just plucked out a rather tasty looking amber colored eyeball (a delicacy, to any self-assured crow) when she was suddenly chased off by another gang older crows, the eyeball snatched right out of her mouth.
Not fair! She had been the one to find the two Dwarf bodies-she should be the one eating! Not those lazy old ones! She thought bitterly to herself.
She continued to circle the clearing, pouting as she rode the morning breeze in ever widening circles. She was on her sixth loop, still grumbling to herself, when her sharp eyes spotted something below, down in the quarry. With nothing better to do and her curiosity sparked, she decide to check it out.
As she descended into the quarry she could now see two bodies below, a large warg and …a Dwarf! What luck!
On the gray stone floor of the quarry below lay the two bodies, about seven feet from one another. The large warg was sprawled on its right side, one red eye still staring balefully into space, it’s muzzle drawn back from it’s bloody teeth and gums, still frozen in a snarl. Its thick black tongue hung partially out of its mouth, and one of its front legs was at an odd angle, bits of the shattered bone sticking up out of the fur covered hide. Grey-matter and thick congealed blood had formed a large pool from where it had oozed from the warg’s partially collapsed skull onto the gray limestone ground under it.
A few feet away, the body of the Dwarf lay crumpled on its left side in an almost fetal position. Like the two bodies in the clearing above, the crow could see that this one too was bare from the waist up, it’s skin stained black from coal soot and blood. As the crow descended closer something flashed, grabbing her attention, looking she saw something shining dully on the ground next to the Dwarf’s body. About a foot or so away was a piece of broken and twisted metal.
Landing between the two bodies, she quickly hopped over to take a closer look at the piece of metal- crows love shiny things, on closer inspection she saw it was a broken collar like the ones still around the necks of the two carcasses above. Losing interest in the broken circlet of metal (crows are not known for having very long attention spans), she made her way over to the body of the Dwarf, completely ignoring the warg’s body even as she uncaringly waddled through the pool of gore leaving her prints behind. Hopping up to perch on the dead Dwarf’s head, the crow paused for a moment to look down into the face of her next meal.
Like most crows, she didn’t particularly care for Dwarves (live ones that is). A crow had to be careful what one said around Durin‘s folk, especially if said Dwarves had any stones nearby that they could throw. For unlike Men and some Elves who would hear their name calling and insults as only squawks and chirps, Dwarves could understand it (1). If that wasn’t all, Durin’s Folk were also friends with the snobbish and arrogant Ravens. And if there is one thing above all others that a crow dislikes, its Ravens!
Like the rest of it’s body the dead Dwarf’s face was dirty, incrusted with dried blood and other foreign matter. One eye had swollen shut, a jagged seeping wound ran through the eye and up into it’s hair line, causing most of the left side of the Dwarf’s face to be horribly swollen. The Dwarf’s long messy and filthy hair was loosely tied back in a greasy rope that lay on the ground behind it like a dead snake. There were angry wounds all along its arms and back, as well as other various injures. A blood incrusted axe was still clutched in one of its hands, the crow could also see two more axes attached to a thick belt around the body’s hips. The only clothes it wore were a pair of ripped-up trousers that were black from coal soot and blood, with a pair of beaten and scuffed-up boots.
Stupid dog and stupid dirt-digger! Must fallen over edge in fight. Ground-walkers, they all dumb! Oh well, they all just meat now. The crow thought to herself, but then most birds thought ground-walkers (all ‘speaking creatures that could not fly) quite lacking in proper wits.
A loud screech from above broke the young crow’s musings, she realized it was only a matter of time before some of her fellow crows noticed her discovery. She would have to hurry if she wished to eat the best parts herself before the others mobbed her again.
That decided, she was just bending over to jab her beak between the thickly lashed lids, to pluck out the corpse’s right eye- when that one brown eye suddenly snapped open. The crow gave a squawk of surprise and fright, quickly flapping away in her sudden panic.
///Not dead! Not dead!///
The eye just continued to stare unblinking and unfocused at nothing. Then slowly the widely dilated pupil began to shrink coming back into focus as the mind the behind it became aware, before finally closing again. Then with a low moan the ‘dead’ Dwarf began to move.
From her perch, some twelve feet away on a pile of stacked stones, the young crow watched as her meal so rudely decided to come alive and move about!
The ‘corpse’ inhaled deeply as if it had been holding its breath for a long time before a series of lung wracking coughs shook its body. When the coughing subsided it lay still just breathing deeply. Then that brown eye opened again and slowly the Dwarf lifted its head. It looked about with confusion on its face, its one eye blinking owlishly before catching site of the dead warg.
The sight of the warg seemed to jog the Dwarf’s memory for confusion gave way a moment later to realization, then crushing sorrow. It all flashed across the Dwarf’s face before it closed its eye again and laid its head back down, a whimper escaping its now tightly clenched teeth. There it stayed, unmoving for long moments fighting some kind of internal battle with its self.
The crow continued to watch from her perch still grumbling to herself, hoping the Dwarf would decide to go back to being dead soon. But she was sadly doomed to disappointment.
For with another pained groan, the Dwarf began to uncurl from its crumpled position and rolled slowly on to its stomach. Collecting its self it then began to try and lever itself up, but with an agonized cry it found that the arm still holding its axe was unresponsive, most likely broken in the fall. Finally with several hisses and grunts of pain it managed to get into a slouched sitting position, holding its limp arm. The filthy rope of its hair hung down to the middle of its bare back, some hair that had escaped the braid hung loose on either side of its face, curtaining it from view. Its attention then turned to its broken arm, which seemed to refuse to relinquish its white knuckled grip on the axe. Nothing seemed to work, forcing the Dwarf to begin to try and pry its own fingers from around the weapon
By this time the quite miffed crow, whose stomach looked as if it would continue to be empty this day, decided to voice her feelings. ///You stupid! You dead! Dirt-eater! Raven groomer (which was a particularly foul insult, if you were a crow)!/// She called, her feathers ruffling in righteous anger.
Finally taking notice of the insults, the Dwarf slowly looked up and turned its head towards the source of then the annoying name-calling, wincing as its neck seemed to protest at the movement. Finally a deep brown almond-shaped eye peered through the curtain of its greasy black hair to see only a young crow perched some twelve feet away, glaring back at him.
///Dirt-eater! I teach you, I pluck out that eye out of your head when you dead again!/// the crow challenged, how dare this corpse glare at her! Though hers was quite an empty threat (unless the Dwarf was dead of course), for while crows talk big, they are notorious cowards.
The Dwarf’s eye narrowed as he sent the bird a chilling glare before going back to prying the axe out of his other hand. With harsh hiss, its soot covered face twisted in to a terrible grimace of pain, it finally managed to pull his thick fingers away from the axe handle. Panting with its exertions the Dwarf held the axe in its good hand, staring at it. The broad hand that held the blood covered weapon shook ever so slightly as it continued to stare at it with an expression the crow couldn’t place.
The Dwarf then closed its eye and began to murmur in a low tone, still holding the bloody axe. The crow did not know what the Dwarf spoke for she did not know the language of Dwarves. She assumed it was a prayer of some kind, but to who? She did not know or particularly care.
After a time the Dwarf fell silent and opened its eye again. The crow watched as the Dwarf tried to wipe as much of the dried blood off the axe as it could, using its own pant leg since there was nothing else at hand before putting the axe (with some difficulty, hampered by his broken arm) into the holster an his left side. Then, some how, the Dwarf managed to slowly and awkwardly climb to its feet.
There it stood, swaying a bit with a dazed look on its face, one arm hanging limply at its side. Squinting in the bright light of the sun over head, it then looked up the steep wall face of the quarry to the edge above. Then looking down at the warg on the ground nearby, the Dwarf put a hand unconsciously to his throat.
A sudden look of surprise came over its short bearded face as the hand around its neck seemed to be feeling for something, but what ever that something wasn’t there. The Dwarf then began to look frantically about the ground around it before finally spotting the broken and twisted collar. Shocked realization came over its face as it stared at the bit of metal, hand still at his neck before glancing back to the dead warg.
The crow watched in agitated confusion as the Dwarf’s hand dropped back to its side and its head slumped forward, the hair curtaining its face from view again. All was quite for a time… then the Dwarf’s shoulders began to shake and a strange sound broke the silence.
It was like a series of soft dry gasping noises that began to gain in volume, and at first the crow thought the Dwarf was crying… but as the sound got louder she realized. The Dwarf wasn’t crying it was laughing. Its shoulders shook in its strange mirth as the laughter continued to bubble out. Soon the laughing was echoing through the quarry, amplified and distorted by the tall stone walls so that it sounded more like the call of some strange sorrowful creature.
Then as suddenly at it had started the laughing suddenly stopped and the young Dwarf stood there silent and unmoving. The crow watched confused as a single drop of water fell to the gray stone by the Dwarf‘s boot. Rain? The crow glanced up to the sky above but saw no clouds.
Thoroughly mystified by the Dwarf’s strange behavior, the crow watched as it finally looked up again, a strange expression shining in its one eye. Then giving the broken and twisted collar one final glance, the soot-covered Dwarf turned and simply began to walk away.
///Hey! Where you go?! Stupid!!///
The Dwarf never looked back as he continued to walk away, out of the gray limestone quarry and eventually disappearing into the trees of the forest beyond.
The enraged and hungry crow continued to throw calls and insults after him. /// Where you go!? Worm-face! Mud-rat! You not get far! You already dead! You Dead!!!/// she shrieked after him, hopping up and down and flapping her wings all the while in her frustration and anger. She was still hungry!
What neither the Dwarf nor the crow knew was that the durability of Anule’s design had been tested and proven once again. For if Gimli had been of any other race other then a sturdy child of Anule, he would be dead. For no Elf, Man, or Hobbit would have survived that fall- let alone walked away from it.
The day was sunny and bright. Birds sang and insects hummed in the canopy above, the clean scent of loam and living wood was in the warm air. The braches and green leaves of the trees above filtered the sunshine so it showed in a dappling of moving and shifting shapes on the lush green of the forest floor. Forest creatures happily went about their business; squirrels playing chattering games of ‘tag’ among the treetops as graceful deer grazed upon the tender shoots of the grass below. But one creature took no notice of the sunlight or the pleasant surroundings of the woods.
For how long he had walked and stumbled through the woods, he did not know. His broken arm hung limply at his side and he clutched his injured limb with his other good arm, attempting to keep it from swinging. Trying not to jar his other numerous injuries, it was all he could do to just keep going but it seemed to be a losing battle. He knew he didn’t have long; the wounds from the goblin and orc blades alone would finish him off soon.
It was common knowledge that the orcs and goblins that infested the Blue Mountains did not poison their arrows and blades. They did however, have the nasty habit of slathering their blades with the rotting and foul flesh of corpses, insuring that any cut or wound inflicted by their weapons would be guarantied to become horribly infected.
He had begun to wheeze, as the muscles on his wounded side stiffened and tightened around his broken ribs, making the task of breathing ever harder. A painful ache was in his belly, no doubt due to some internal damage caused by the fall. His left eye was a pulsing agony that nearly made him dizzy with the pain of it.
He tripped several times, almost falling as he tried to navigate through the woods with his limited vision, but still he pushed himself on. All he knew was that he had to get as far away from… that place, as he could.
The crows final calls kept ringing in his head as he continued to force his body forward.
///You not get far! You already dead! You dead!///
He knew that the crow was right, he could feel it. A frightening numbness was creeping over him, he could feel it curling slowly about his heart, calling for him to stop and rest. It would be so easy to stop and just lie down for a little while…
He was torn; one part of him didn’t care anymore- so tired… just let the darkness come, it whispered. Another part of him, the prideful Dwarven part of him, demanded he keep going- I will die in a place of my own choosing! Yet another part of him rallied against the darkness, crying out in fright as his body slowly began to shut down. No! I want to live! that part of him raged, trying desperately to fight against the sucking darkness that was creeping over him.
He continued on lost in his own thoughts, as half-remembered memories and daydreams danced through his head. His pace got slower and slower but still he continued on. Then as if by magic he was out of the woods-there was no longer grass under his feet but dirt. He was on a dirt road.
He stood there blinking dumbly for several long moments, not comprehending what he was seeing, before he realized that he had made it, he had reached the road. Somewhere down this road was the farming town of Telgore where they where supposed to meet up.
“Yes that was it…suppose to meet up with the others…it will be good to see Svior and Nidi. I wonder why Ulfr’s not here with me? Strange…must be waiting with Hanar and the others. That’s it! They’re waiting at Telgore for me, that’s it...better hurry. Maybe Da’s there too…waiting..,” Gimli thought to himself, his one eye glassy and dilated with fever as he stood there swaying a bit.
The wide dusty road cut through the forest like a deep scar, thick trees lining the road on both sides for as far as the eye could see in either direction. As he stood there on the side of the road he heard something off to his right, and he looked slowly up to see two Men with large travel packs and walking sticks. They wore the simple clothes of peasants and wide brim straw hats, most likely farmers, Gimli thought to himself. They both hurried past him, throwing curious and disgusted glances over their shoulders as they walked away.
“Did you see that?” One hissed to the other.
“Yah. Stinkin’ Dwarves, this area be full of them,” A ring of disgust was in the Man’s voice as they whispered amongst themselves.
Gimli watched them go, a dazed look on his soot and blood covered face. At any other time he would have taken it upon himself to beat the stuffing out of anyone who would have dared say something like that within his hearing. But at the moment he didn’t care- instead he was just trying to stay upright as a sudden wave of severe vertigo took hold. He clutched at his head with his one good hand as the world began to spin wildly.
He swayed dangerously and stumbled; then his back came into sudden harsh contact with the trunk of a large Oak tree. He let out a groan, grimacing in pain as the many cuts running along his back flared to agonizing life. That was the last straw as his shaking legs finally collapsed under him and he slid down the tree, leaving a stain of dirt and blood on the trunk, into an ungraceful heap on the ground. His axes, still safely in their holsters, gave muffled clinks as they hit the ground. He gave a pained yelp at the harsh jarring of his ribs and arm, and there was but a moment a of panic before the darkness came rushing up to plunge him into unconsciousness. No! I…
There he stayed, insensible, his legs sprawled out in front of him, the tree at his back propping him up in a slouched sitting position. He looked like some strange, filthy soot-covered doll, broken and forgotten. And there he stayed.
The noon sun continued to shine cheerily above in a cloudless blue sky, as the birds sang undisturbed in the branches, with only the occasional traveler walking down the road to give the dirty slumped figure a curious look as they walked past.
“Gimli…Gimli. Awake child!” A deep voice whispered.
The small child blinked open tired brown eyes to see his mother kneeling over him as she gently gave him another shake. She wore a thin sleeveless undershirt that was a deep green and pair of brown trousers, tucked into a pair of scuffed up boots. Her two axes ‘Fire Reaper’ and Star Smasher’ hung at her sides on a thick leather belt buckled about her waist. Her beard hung from her chin in a simple braid, and her thick copper hair was tied back from her face in a loose ponytail that hung below her waist. With a face-cracking yawn Gimli sat up from the cocoon of blankets he and his brothers were curled up in.
“Mother?” he asked in confusion, scrubbing tiredly at one of his eyes. He did not understand what was going on as his mother picked him up, plucking him out from the warm nest of his blankets and siblings. Nin mumbled something in his sleep before rolling into Gimli’s vacated spot, but otherwise did not wake. Nor did his older brother Daira who slept undisturbed, curled up on his side.
“Mother, *yawn* ’is time to get up?”
“No, ‘tis still late,” she told him in a whisper, mindful of the other sleeping occupants of their wagon (and most especially his baby sister) before setting him down again. He watched her tuck the blankets back around his two brothers before moving away towards the back of the wagon where the chest that held all of the children’s clothes was kept. As his mother opened the chest and began rooting around for some clothes, Gimli let out another yawn and looked tiredly about the dark interior of their family’s home.
The wagon’s main door was open, allowing the starlight to come in as well as the night sounds of singing insects. The wagon was large with four small windows on either side; the walls as well as the roof were made of wood, rather then canvas like some wagons. There were several large chests that held their clothes and other things like valuables, and materials such as semi-precious stones, bits of silver and other supplies for the jewelry that both Gloin and Oin would make to sell at towns and villages. Half of the wagon’s floor was covered in a large thick fur rug made of bear skin, and it was on this half that the family slept with their thick blankets. On the other side was a small low table along with a several cushions and pillows scattered about, as well as most of the chests. Two lamps (at the moment unlit) hung from the ceiling along with various tools and a scattering of bundles of sweet smelling herbs. Hidden about the wagon were several weapons with in easy grabbing distance- there was even a trapdoor in the floor incase of emergency.
His father slept in his usual spot near the door, snoring softly on his back. Both Gloin and Nei always slept nearest to the door; if any intruder tried to come in, they’d have to deal with the two of them first. His Uncle slept farthest in, by the hidden trapdoor. The children slept between the three adults- Gimli’s baby sister slept peacefully bundled up in the large whicker basket that sat next to the tangled nest of blankets that he and his brothers slept in. When little Minal outgrew the basket that doubled as a basinet, she’d join her brothers on the floor.
“Here we are,” his mother said, coming back over to kneel next to him with a small blue tunic and a bit of rope in hand. “Off with your nightshirt,” she ordered him.
He did as he was told and pulled the threadbare smock over his head, causing his copper hair to stick up at odd angles. Nei gave a soft laugh before taking his nightshirt and tossing it into the basket they used for clothes that needed washing.
“You are a scruffy looking one, aren’t you?” She chuckled, running her thick fingers through his hair, smoothing it back down. “There, that’s better. Alright, arms up.” The blurry-eyed child did as ordered and Nei slipped the blue cloth over his head, tugging it down. The tunic hung down almost to his knees and was made of coarse fabric of cheap weave, but it was warm and durable.
“Mother, this is Nin’s tunic! Mines red!” the little boy grumped, glaring down at the blue material as his mother tied the bit of rope around his small waist.
“Sshhh! I know it is, but I don’t think your brother will mind. ‘Sides, yours needs a good wash, after you jumped in that mud puddle yesterday. There now,” she said, finished with tying his makeshift belt.
“Well I mind. Humph! Reds better then blue!” Gimli pouted- he always got a bit cranky when he was tired. Nei just smiled, ruffling his hair before walking towards the door. The noise had apparently awoken Gloin for he shifted and raised his head.
“Nei?” He called in question, his eyes blinking tiredly as he sat up, the thick blankets pooling around his waist. The starlight from the open door painted his bare chest and face a pale blue, while his long inky black hair seemed to blend perfectly with the dark shadows.
“Go back to sleep. There be no cause for alarm. Back to sleep, my Love,” she told him in Khuzdul, before leaning down to give him a deep kiss on the mouth.
“Can I have another one of those?” Gloin asked with a lazy smile when they broke apart. Nei let out a soft chuckle.
“Greedy, are we?” she said, in a husky voice.
“Very,” Gloin agreed with a devilish grin, before gently tugging her down with a grip on her beard while he leaned up to claim her lips once more.
“Mmm, mmmm.” The kiss was deeper and more heated this time.
“Now, back to sleep,” she ordered when they had finally broke apart again, and gave Gloin one final nip on his swollen lower lip. With that Gloin gladly did as he was told, a contented smile on his face as he lay back down and within a few moments he was softly snoring again. Nei shook her head in amusement as she stood up, mumbling something under her breath about “Males”.
“Come, Gimli,” she then called softly over her shoulder, before stepping out the door and down the wagon’s three steps. With one final longing look at his warm bed and blissfully sleeping sibling, the little boy turned and trotted after his mother.
When he got out the door he paused, then jumped off the top step instead of using the stairs, landing with a light thump on the cool grass below. His mother just rolled her eyes from where she stood waiting nearby- Gimli was her only child that seemed unable to ‘walk’ down stairs and other similar obstacles. Even regular ‘walking’ meant ’running‘, usually with lots of yelling; in other words, Gimli was what we would call a rather hyperactive child.
“Come,” she called again, holding out a broad calloused hand for him to take. Gimli quickly trotted to his mother’s side, taking her hand. Then off they went as she led him away from their caravans camp.
Their camp consisted of the caravan’s six wagons arranged in a defensive horseshoe shape with a large campfire in the center. Aside for the two guards, Nei and Gimli were the only ones up. Nei gave a final wave to Thekk as they passed the blond hawk-noses Dwarf who was on guard duty that night. He returned the wave before going back to carving on a piece of wood by the fire, a large battle-axe next to him.
With the exception of the singing cicadas, the night was quiet as Nei continued to lead Gimli further away until their camp’s fire was but a small flickering light in the distant darkness behind them. But that did not disturb Gimli as the four year old trotted next to his mother, happily swinging their linked hands, completely unafraid with the confidence only a child can have. Safe in the firm belief that as long as their parent is there, nothing can really go wrong, nothing can hurt them.
Now that Gimli was more awake he started to take more notice of his surroundings- the cool grass under his bare feet, the warm breeze that ruffled his hair and the sweet smell of the purple flowers that grew with abundance in this area perfuming the air. As well as the comforting sounds of his mother’s heavy footsteps, the creak of leather and the occasional clink of the two axes at her sides.
“Remember to always keep one eye out for danger, young one, even in a seemingly safe place like this. For danger can lurk anywhere. So we must always be alert.” She reminded him, scanning the darkness around them as they walked.
“Fear not, Mother! I’ll protect us from any monsters that dare show their face!” Gimli told her, in all confidence. He puffed up his small chest before throwing a few punches at some invisible opponent, nearly tripping over his own feet while he ducked and dodged. Nei let out a deep laugh as she peered down at him, still in combat with his invisible foe.
“Only peach fuzz on your face and already the fierce warrior, I see. I don’t think Middle-earth is ready for Gimli, King of the Wall Climbers,” she laughed, lifting up her hand that still clasped Gimli’s small one, until the now giggling little boy was completely off the ground.
“Not, Wall Climbers!” He told her indignantly. “I’ll be Gimli, the Dreaded! Like in the stories!” he told her, swinging his legs in the air as he dangled from his mother’s muscular upraised arm.
“Oh forgive me! Gimli, the Dreaded!“ She laughed as she continued to walk, the little boy giggling happily as Nei began to ‘bounce’ him by letting his feet touch the ground so he could push off back up into the air. She did this a few more times before letting him walk on his own again.
They continued on their way through the grassy meadow, Nei’s steps unhurried as the child next to her continued to happily swing their linked hands as he alternated between skipping and walking. He could now see that his mother was leading him to a small hill that stuck out of the middle of the meadow, like some long sleeping turtle (both he and Nin had found it a perfect place to play “King of the Mountain”). The shadowed forms of the Blue Mountains watched in the near distance beyond, while a sea of stars swirled overhead. There was no moon that night so the stars twinkled uninhibited in all their grandeur.
Finally they reached the hill and climbed to the top, giving them a perfect view of the night sky above. Nei sank down to sit comfortably cross-legged, before tugging the now hopping Gimli down to sit on her lap in front of her.
“Now, all we have to do is wait.” she told him, while taking out a comb from a pouch on her belt.
“Wait? Wait for what?” Gimli asked, confused as he obediently sat still as his mother began to comb his hair. Grooming was a very important part of Dwarven family life.
“Something special, just keep your eyes to the heavens.” she told him cryptically, giving a knowing smile when the little boy in front of her gave an impatient *huff*.
“But, what is it? All I see are stars!” He whined, squirming a little as Nei worked at a tangle.
“Patience! You will see,” She chuckled as she continued to brush his hair, taking a special pleasure in seeing that her son had hair so like her own.
There they sat for a time in comfortable silence. Gimli dutifully watched the stars twinkling above as Nei combed his hair and deftly braided it into a thick tail, before reaching back into the pouch on her belt for a small strip of leather, tying it off.
“There! Now you’re Gimli, the Handsome!” She chuckled, giving his hair a final pat before tucking the comb back in to her belt as Gimli looked up over his shoulder.
“Mother?” He asked, turning around.
“Aye?” she answered, taking in the thoughtful look on his young face.
“How come, you didn’t bring Nin and Daira with us? Why just me?” he asked, and for several moments Nei said nothing as a strange expression came over her face. Gimli waited patiently, his head tilting curiously, not understanding his mother’s expression.
Finally Nei gave a sad smile and cupped his face in her broad hands. Calloused hands that were easily capable of bending metal and crushing bones held her child’s small face, gently brushing his soft cheek with a thumb as she studied him. Gimli said nothing as he watched his mother with big curious brown eyes, until she finally spoke again.
“I had a dream,” she said finally, releasing his face.
“Was it a good dream?” he asked.
“I know not,” she told him truthfully, with a shrug
“What did you dream?” He asked, his childish curiosity peaked. She seemed to debate with herself whether or not to tell him, idly stroking her braided beard before finally deciding that there would be no harm in it.
“I dreamt of a warrior, walking alone. I know not why but there was a great sadness to him, as if he carried the weight of the very mountains on his shoulders.
“He was off to war, marching on a deserted gray road with only black-burnt land about him. A single great mountain stood at his back as he marched towards a dark foreboding mountain in the distance, that spewed smoke and flame. He carried ‘Fire Reaper’ and ‘Star Smasher’ on his belt, and “Blood Screamer” at his back.
“He was of good height and fit, broad of shoulder and trim of waist. A thick braid of copper hair trailed from under his helm with a comely braided beard on his handsome face. But it was his eyes… They were nothing but flame! As if he was nothing but fire inside,” she told the child on her lap, his big liquid eyes wide, listening intently.
“The warrior marched on and suddenly the gray road was no longer, now it was a place of rivers and trees in the reds and browns of autumn. Then a frosty land of screaming winds and snow an ice. Once again things shifted and he then walked in a dark ancient place of cold stone and terrible sorrow! The darkness receded and he walked in a gigantic forest of strange golden light, the sound of foreign singing in the air, that melted away into rolling fields of tall golden grass. The land continued to shift and change, a dark frightening forest, a bloody battlefield, wondrous caves of incredible beauty, more battlefields and then a white stone city. Until finally he stopped and stood on the sandy shore of what could only be the great sea.
“It was then I noticed that there was a single set of light foot prints in the sand; they were particular, not made by a Dwarven foot- like Men yet…something else. They led into the sea, disappearing into the waves.
“Then over the roar of the waves and the crying of sea birds, a fair voice in some strange tongue rang out. And all other sound seem to cease in its wake. It called to the fire-eyed warrior and he looked up and paid heed as the voice sang. Then he began to walk forward into the sea until…he disappeared beneath the waves. Then all that was left were his footprints, next to the strange ones. Leading into the sea,” she finished softly, her gaze turned inwards as a frown marred her face.
A sudden shiver ran up Gimli’s spine as he watched his mothers face, with her almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbone and strong jaw.
“What does it mean?” he asked, in a hushed whisper.
“I know not, little one. But I liked it not,” she told him, her eyes narrowing at her own thoughts.
“After that, was when I awoke,“ she continued, looking back down at him. “Then I remembered that tonight there was something very special that would take place. I was going to take both you and Nin, but it seemed important I show you alone… for the warrior in my dream was…” she trailed off, seeming to struggle for the right words. She opened her mouth again as if she would say more but nothing came out, and she gave her head a shake before quickly changing the subject.
“Do you know what your mannish name(2.) means?” She asked suddenly, giving an internal ‘thank you’ that Gimli was still of the age where he could be easily distracted. She watched him give a few confused blinks before switching gears and answering her, the moment before seeming forgotten .
“Da says my names means ‘pain-in-the-arse’ and he said Nin’s means ‘head-pain‘!” He told her proudly, a big smile on his small face while he scratched at an itch on his arm.
“Remind me to have a long talk with your father when we return.” Nei said, an eyebrow cocked. “But as true as it seems at times- ‘that’ is not what your or your bothers names mean.”
“What do they mean then?” He asked, his head cocked curiously.
“Nin does not mean ‘head-pain’, it means “Water”. As for you, it has two meanings- for your name means two different things in two languages of Men. Gimli, means ‘Fire’ in one and ‘Star‘ in another.
“It was on a night much like this, that I birthed both you and your brother.
“I know not why, but your brother’s birth was near pain free with almost no blood. “He came out a smooth as water” Lady Frost , said, while helping me clean him up. So quiet, nary a cry out of him.” Nei said, a wistful smile on her face as she recalled the memory. She then looked back down at Gimli with raised eyebrow, the smile still on her face but it was now rueful.
“That all changed when it was your turn, though.” She said wryly. “Child, I thought you would be the death of me; Lady Frost thought so too. There was so much blood and the pain! I have never felt its like! I screamed so loudly I thought I would shake down the very heavens!”
“I found out later from your uncle that your father fainted twice!” She added, with a bark of laughter.
“Males, Hrummff! You would think ‘he’ was the one doing all the work!” She snorted, before continuing her story.
“Well, after hours of pain and straining, you were finally born. Covered in blood, and kicking! Not but seconds from the womb and already fighting! And such a wail! A creature so small should not be able to make such a loud noise!” she laughed again, giving Gimli’s chin a gentle tug.
“But it was when I finally held you both in my arms, under the stars that night. That I named you. While you both looked identical, you where clearly opposites already. ‘Nin‘, water would be your brothers name. For he never cried once, and has been to this day my easiest birth, just sleeping peacefully, blissfully unconcerned about anything.
Then I turned to you; you had stopped crying so I had thought that like your brother you too where also asleep. But you were not, instead your eyes were gazing above so intently at the stars; the light of our fire reflecting in those brown eyes of yours.
It was then I decided. Gimli, ‘fire’ would be your name. For you where the opposite of your brother, and ‘Gimli’ for the stars above. May they guide you no matter what road you walk nor how dark it gets,” she told him, a deep love shining in her dark eyes as she bent down touching her forehead to his.
“Gimli, my child of fire and stars.” She said softly.
She then gave an excited gasp as she moved back, catching sight of something over Gimli’s head.
“Its time!” She told him suddenly, picking him up and turning the confused child around in her lap.
“Wha? I don’t… ” What ever else Gimli was going to say was lost as he gave a gasp of surprise and delight. A shooting star streaked through the night sky soon followed by another, then another, until the heavens where alive with them. Gimli watched in awe at the barrage of colors as blues, greens, reds, and brilliant whites streaked over head in a dazzling display (3.).
“This is what I wanted to show you, little one. For this night, the stars are at war!” she whispered in his ear, a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her lips. She was enjoying the show as much as the delighted child in her arms, both giving periodic gasps of delight at particularly brilliant flares or pointing out the occasional star to each other.
And there they stayed until the dawn, mother and child watching the heavens above as the cicadas serenaded them…
Awareness began to slowly creep back over him.
//“Ugly little hairball, isn’t it?”//
//“Is it dead?”//
//“Are you deaf, Mirkalo? Can you not hear it wheezing?”//
//“Look at it… looks like its been living in a coal bin.”//
//”Or a coal mine, perhaps? There are several in this area, if I remember correctly.”//
//“Well, they do like holes in the ground, probably doesn’t matter what kind.”//
*sniff*//“It reeks of goblin!”//
*sniff, sniff* //“Warg too.”// *Phew!*
//“What could have happened to him…look at his injuries.”//
//“We best be careful. Where‘s there’s one naugrim, there’s usually more.”//
The comforting darkness began to recede and Gimli found himself returning slowly to the conscious world. At first he thought he was still caught in another dream, but no dream was ever so painful. So surely I must be awake, he thought.
Strange voices were speaking around him. He couldn’t understand what was being said but the voices were light and lilting, the foreign words strung together like a poem or bits of broken song. It was like a soothing music to his ears after hearing only the shrieking of Orcs or the screams of rage and pain.
//“Eh, eh, Naug, awake! ‘Tis a wondrous day”, // said a singsong voice in that strange language near him.
//“They don’t care about the weather.”//
At first when he tried to move- he couldn’t. Only the solid presence of the oak tree at his back kept him upright, his muscles stiff from abuse and exhaustion. The dull thrum of agony rippled through him in waves; the searing pain in his ribs flared with every shallow breath along with the great throb in his eye on the left side of his swollen face.
But he was so exhausted and weak he couldn’t even grimace in pain anymore, let alone speak. It all acted as a terrible reminder of what had happened under the stars at the quarry, and the horror back at the now burning remains of Black Hollow.
//“We should give him some water.”//
//“Yes, it will definitely take more then all our combined water-skins to wash that filth off.”// Peals of silvery laughter followed.
//“If you do not wish to assist the poor creature, then why in Arda did you insist on stopping, Altseld?”//
Finally Gimli was able to slowly turn his face up in the direction of the silvery voices, then with a monumental effort he managed to open his one good eye. At first he could see nothing; the light was blinding in its intensity. Rich tinkling laughter greeted his ears as one of the voices that had spoken earlier apparently took notice of his movements.
//“I’d almost forgotten just how ugly these creatures are!//
//“Stop it, brother!//
//“Hey look, it’s coming around.”//
//“By Iluvatar it stinks! How can you stand to get any closer, Altseld?”//
Slowly the blinding haze faded from his eye and three figure came into focus. They stood about six feet away from his out stretched legs, they were tall like Men. Yet elongated, finer…sleeker. Not Men …but…Elves, a small voice whispered in the back of his mind. They were Elves!
Truly the tales had not lied- they were beautiful. When he was younger his father had once pointed out some Elves to him but they had worn concealing cloaks, and when Gimli was older he would see them occasionally but always at a distance. But now seeing some of the Elvish folk up close, he could see why they were admired as the fairest of beings.
Delicately leaf shaped ears, high cheek bones and inviting lips were set in smooth elegant faces. Their skin was fair like polished alabaster with an almost opalescent sheen. All three had flashing eyes that could rival any gem of sapphire or emerald dug from the earth. Two had hair of cascading white gold while the other had that of deep flowing onyx, spilling about his shoulders. The smaller of the blonds wore his hair tied back into an intricate braid, interlaced with green ivy that hung down his back. The taller blond, whose hair was loose save for two small braids behind his ears stood closer to Gimli than his two companions. The three beings seemed to radiate a glow, as if there was a light emanating from within them. Like quicksilver and moonstone come to life.
Their clothes were of deep flowing greens and rich browns like that of the forests they no doubt roamed, finely made boots of soft leather molded to their long slender legs. All three carried well-crafted bows with quivers full of leaf thatched arrows on their backs, and the taller blond also carried an intricate sword of Elven make, belted at his slim waist. Their bodies were lithe like elegant cats, graceful as swans and as fleet footed as deer. Gimli thought they belonged more in a beautiful painting or some fanciful poem rather then standing on the dirt road in front of him.
He could only gaze upon them in wonder as they talked and laughed amongst themselves in their flowing silvery tongue.
But as he watched and became more aware, their glamour began to fade and the realization finally started to come to him, and his heart sank. He knew not what they spoke but he knew now that they were laughing at him.
Where once he had seen smiles, there were now sneers. Their flashing jewel-like eyes, now critical as they took in his filthy and haggard form. The soothing laughter was now mocking as they motioned to his torn clothes, little more then dirty rags. While he had been looking at them in wonder, admiring them (for all Dwarves admire things of beauty), they had been looking at him in disgust and jest.
He felt hurt, betrayed, and for the first time in Gimli’s life he wanted to cover himself up in shame and crawl away to hide somewhere. For the first time, Gimli felt small, pitiful… ugly. Yet all he could do was continue to wheeze as he struggled to breathe; only his one eye gave away what he felt.
“He’s probably a drunk- got robbed or picked a fight. You know how ‘they’ are,” suggested the one with black hair, switching to common as he waved his hand in front of his face as if to ward away Gimli’s stink. “Elbereth, it reeks! Come! Lets us go.”
Gimli now knew why his mother and elders talked with such bitterness about Elves. They were truly marvelous to look upon but they were arrogant in their standing, vain in their beauty, and cruel in their amusement.
“Hold up, Ilsasinyo,” said the blond closest to him. The tall Elf crouched down, balancing gracefully on the balls of his feet, looking at Gimli with the same gleam in his eye as that of a child who rips the wings off insects and terrorizes small animals.
“If he were a drunk we’d smell the ale, but that’s one of the only things I’m not smelling,” he said, his straight nose wrinkling in disgust before he gave a truly nasty smile. Strangely it reminded Gimli of the sneering faces of the Orcs.
“I know what it is. It’s a beggar! You’re a beggar, aren’t you little naug?” He asked the limp Dwarf, who could only glare balefully back at him with one flashing brown eye.
//“Leave him be, Altseld! Stop it!”// pleaded the other blond Elf who was standing the farthest away. Unlike the indifferent and uncaring black-hair Elf and the insulting blond Elf that stood peering down at Gimli, this one looked at the wheezing and dirty figure with pity in his sapphire-blue eyes (though Gimli could not see it from his position nor understand the language). // “Come! Let us go!”//
“Wait a moment!” Altseld snapped at the other two before turning his attention back to Gimli. “Well, little Beggar-beard, you are in luck! I’m feeling generous today and I know what would make you feel better,” he said, pulling a small purse from the green folds of his tunic. He took out a single gold coin before tucking the purse away again.
“Look- gold!” He smiled condescendingly, waving the coin in front of Gimli’s face like a treat. The black haired Elf looked bored as he picked at one of his nails, while the second blond with the braid looked away, disturbed at what he was seeing.
“Dwarves like gold, yes? Well, here.” And with that he tossed the coin at him, it landed with a soft ‘clink’ next to Gimli’s left boot.
But the Dwarf only glared at the smirking Elf, taking no notice of the coin, his one eye burning with rage.
“Go on, now. It’s yours…go on! Reach for it. Pick it up… come now, you can do it!” The Elf said in a sweet condescending voice, as if encouraging a dog to do a trick.
“Go on, it’s gold. Dwarves like gold, don’t they? Isn’t that what all your kind want? Gold?”
Yet, still the wheezing Dwarf didn’t move.
*tisk, tisk* “You’re not a very good beggar if you don’t take the kindness that’s given to you!” The blond Elf scolded, looking Gimli right in the eye, seeming to drink in the sight of him.
Gimli hadn’t looked at the coin even once, instead he continued to glare balefully at that beautiful face. With it’s jewel blue eyes, dancing with cruel amusement, and it’s elegant face pulled into a condescending smile.
It’s true! Elves are heartless, condescending creatures! He thought, bitterly.
Another part of him was disturbed and disgusted that a being so beautiful could say and do things so ugly, and it made him remember something his mother told him once.
“Nothing can disguise the ugliness of the soul. No matter how beautiful the face.”
“Hmm… Maybe it’s a simpleton, as well as a beggar?” The blond laughed, glancing over his shoulder at the other two. The black-hair Elf gave an amused chuckle, but the other blond said nothing.
Gimli’s heart burned with fire, as rage and humiliation swept through him like maelstrom. After all he had been through, to listen to this mocking!? By these hollow, uncaring and cruel beings! Curse Elves, curse them all!!! He would have spit right in that pretty face if he could have, he would have gladly killed all three of them. But all he could do was internally scream his rage at the insults and humiliation.
The strain of his emotions was to much for his already over-taxed body to take, and the black tide of darkness came rushing back to swallow him again.
The three Elves watched the Dwarf’s one eye suddenly roll-up in it’s socket before his head slumped back onto its chest. The blond Elf seeing that his fun was over, gave a shrug and turned to his fellows with a laugh.
“How about that, he was so grateful he fainted! Well, I’ve done my kind deed for the day,” he laughed, getting up in a graceful motion while he knocked imaginary dust off his leggings.
//“Your kindness is awe inspiring,”// said the dark-haired Elf, sarcastically while shaking his head.
//“What do you mean by that? I gave him a gold coin and he didn’t even thank me properly for it, I should have taken it back! Yet I let him keep it- if that was not kind of me. What else could it be?”// snorted Altseld in mock indignation, but the dark-hair Elf only rolled his emerald green eyes.
//“You were cruel.”// Said a quiet voice full of scorn, from behind them. They both turned in surprise to the young blond Elf with the braid, who was watching them both with a look of disgust on his fair face.
//“What?”// The other blond Elf said, his blue eyes showing his surprise in his other wise blank face. As if not believing what he had heard, the dark Elf also looked a bit surprised at what the younger Elf had said.
//“I said you were cruel! Why do this!? Why did you do that, taunting him? You cou-”//
//“You do not know of what you speak child!// Altseld hissed defensively at the younger Elf, who flinched at the force of the older Elf’s sudden anger. //“Cruelty? You know nothing! I was there at the sack of Menegroth! I know these creatures and they are little better then orcs or goblins! Living in the dirt like greedy badgers! Raping the earth for their own gains, destroying anything that is not their own. They care for nothing other than gold and ale. And they would happily slit any throat to get it!”//
//“If that is so, dear brother. Why did he not take that coin you so generously gave him? The look in his eye, did you not see it? The wounds on his body? He must have been in a fight! Look at the black blood… can you not see it?”// Said the young Elf quietly, disappointment and accusation shining in his eyes. //“I am disgusted by what you did!”//
//“What?! How dare you judge me!”// Snapped Altseld, his eyes wide and flashing with anger as he stormed over to the younger Elf.
Seeing the growing tension, the black-hair Elf decided to step in and play ’peace-maker’.
//“So Altseld got a little carried away, is was all in fun.// he said, stepping in-between the two fuming brothers. //What is the matter? I agree ‘twas not nice, but remember, little Mire. Naugrim are soulless. Merely Aule’s puppets to keep him entertained- you remember the story of Iluvatar letting Aule keep them.
//“So why this anger between you?“// He said calmly looking between the two. He was surprised again when the younger Elf turned and gave him the same look he had been giving Altseld.
//“I find it even more unsettling that you truly believe that,”// Mirekalo said quietly. //“I do not care for Dwarves and I agree that they are crude, ugly, and unpleasant beings. But there is no excuse for ignorance or cruelty! That is the way of Men…not Elves.”// He stated, now glaring at the two older Elves.
Just as Altseld was going to step up to his young brother, his eyes burning with a truly frightening anger, the three heard something coming their way down the road.
The three Elves immediately froze and listened intently. They could make out the creaking of wooded wheels and the clopping hooves of oxen and a small horse, as well as the voices of people talking, getting closer in the distance.
//“Humans, with two wagons…four or five humans.”// Said Ilsasinyo, looking in the direction of the sounds further down the road.
//“This is not over, young one! We will speak of this matter when we reach Lindon!“// Altseld promised gravely to the younger Elf, anger still smoldering in his eyes. //“Now, let us go!”// he ordered, and with that he stormed away, followed by the dark-hair Elf.
Mirekalo watched them go before giving the short slumped body a final pitying look. He had learned something here today. But it was a hard lesson for the young Elf to swallow. He watched the Dwarf for a few more moments before he too sprinted lightly off after his companions.
The three elegant forms bounded away as graceful as deer, disappearing into the thick woods like fluttering lights. Leaving the road, the Dwarf and the gold coin behind.
So ended Gimli’s first real encounter with Elves…
The creak and groan of wooden wagon wheels along with the slow clopping of hooves filled the air. As the sound of wagons got closer, voices raised in song could now be heard.
“The road goes ever on and on down in th-”
“Mother! Mother!” cried the voice of a young boy, interrupting the singing.
“Aye. What’s wrong with ya’ now?” answered a smooth feminine voice.
“There, by that tree, look!”
“Where, I don’t - oh! Now I see.”
“Momma? What’s wrong with that man?” asked a small high voice of a young child.
“I don’t know…”
“That’s not a Man,” stated a gravelly female voice. “Tis a Dwarf, young one by the looks of im’.”
“He looks dead!” Said the boy’s voice.
“Looks like it- whoa, whoa now! Blasted oxen! Whoa! Harrumph! There now, lets get a better look.” Said the gravelly female voice, followed by a creak of wood then the crunching of gravel.
“Mother! Come back here! Mother! Istan, get down and get your Grandmother away from there!”
“Calm down, Raya. I’m old, not senile! Now what do we have here…”
“Wow! Look at those axes! Think he was in a battle?!” cried the boy’s voice, in excitement.
“By the looks of im’ I’d say; yes.”
“He smells bad- look! A gold coin!
‘Might as well take it, I don’t think he’ll be using it,” the gravely voice sighed.
“Is he dead?”
“No, he still breathes. But not for long; looks like bad infection in those wounds. Broken arm…broke ribs… fever, *sigh* it won’t be long. Shame, one so young…,” the voice of the old woman answered gravelly
“Look black blood- orc blood! With those axes, I bet he killed lots and lots of ‘um! Like whoosh! Wham! They’re dead, guts all flying out, blood -”
“Istan! What have I told you?” Scolded the smooth female voice.
“Sorry, Mama. Still though- I be he could have taken all those crooks that robbed us the day before! The shit-eating bastards!”
*sigh* “Sorry, Mama.”
“Hmmm…lots and lots… ,” The gravelly voice murmured to itself, before calling out again.
“Aye?” The boy’s mother answered.
“Get down and give me a hand. Istan, get hold of his legs.”
“Mother? What are ya doing!?” Cried the younger woman.
*grunt* “Trying to break my back, what does it look like? Now get over here and take his arm. Istan, you better go get your sister to help.”
“This seems like the perfect opportunity to give your skills a challenge.”
“And just why are we doing this? *Ooghf!* He’s heavy!”
“Grandmother? What is that!?” yelled out a new feminine voice, in shock.
“Oh good, Surya. ‘This’ is our new patient. Now help your brother and get his legs. Careful, Raya! That arm’s broke. As for the why? It will be a chance to test our skill; it has been many long years since I healed a Dwarf. And a first for you, Raya, *grunt* and if he dies anyway we can always use him for parts.”
*gasp* “Mother! You don‘t mean that!”
“In a Elf Lord’s eye, I do! There be areas in the east and south that pay handsomely for real Dwarf parts- twice that for Elf parts. Lets see…powdered Dwarf bone for strength, Dwarven hair for courage and battle prowess, *grunt* there are even some areas where they believe that a special ‘Dwarven penis soup’ will guarantee potent virility for life. *snort* Need I go on?”
“Point taken; yet I hope it does not come to that.”
“As do I. *grunt* Dwarves are a pain to dismember. Now let us get him in the second wagon.”
It was sunny, the sky filled with white puffy clouds that drifted lazily above. Below, the land was in the full blush of spring, with meadows of tall grass and flowers, fragrant shrubs of dark green and a scattering of flowering trees dotting the hilly landscape. Outcroppings of rocks and boulders also rose from the sea of green, like islands of stone. The area was surrounded on either side by the tall reassuring shapes of mountains in the distance, their peaks still white capped.
A long hollow call of an owl cut through the air, followed by another series of calls. At one of these rock islands, the head of a Dwarven child popped up from behind a large rock (a small boulder really), its exact mirror image popping up a moment later beside the first.
“That was Da!” Said the first child, turning to his twin who wore a simple blue tunic.
“Think lunch is ready?” The second asked, rubbing his nose on the back of his arm. Both of them were grubby with dirt and dust from their earlier rough-housing and searching.
The other six-year-old just gave a shrug of his shoulders while he wiped his dirty hands off on his simple red tunic before tucking a stray copper lock behind an ear. They both wore simple brown breeches that ended about mid-calf, with large patches on the knees, and both went ‘Hobbit style’ for neither wore shoes.
“I hope so.” Gimli answered.
“Come on, Minal!” Nin called, as both he and Gimli scrambled over the large rock, behind which they had been searching for semi-precious stones.
A little raven-haired girl looked up from where she had been sitting nearby, playing with something in the grass near the outcropping of rocks where Gimli and Nin had been searching. She whispered to something in her hands then clasped them together, before getting up and dashing off after her two brothers in the direction the calls had come.
The two dark copper-haired twins raced one another through the tall grass that came up to their waist. Nin’s long hair was tied back in a loose pony-tail with two thick forelocks in front of his ears, while Gimli’s hair snaked behind him in a braid also with two thick forelocks left loose. Little Minal raced after them, her loose raven locks whipping behind her, what ever it was still held safely clasped in her hands as she ran.
In the distance they could see two adult Dwarves, both had raven-black hair and beards. They were clad plainly in simple trousers and sleeveless shirts that they wore when the weather was warm, with sturdy boots and belt. They both wore long brown stocking caps on their heads and the more broadly-built of the two had a long red pheasant feather in his cap; marking him as the elder of the two and as head male of their family.
Gloin was just cupping his hands around his mouth again to let out another call, when Oin smacked his older brother lightly on the shoulder.
“Here they come,” Oin said, as he gestured off to their left. They both watched as Gimli and Nin came over a rise in the near distance, racing through the tall grass of the field towards them soon followed by their younger sister. The sound of movement from behind them alerted Gloin and Oin to Daria’s arrival, and the two adults turned to their attention to the older boy as he walked up to join them.
“Oye! Time for lunch, Da?” Daira asked, a smile on his short-bearded face as he came to stand next to his father’s other side. Similar to his younger siblings, he wore a pair of simple brown trousers and a light tan colored tunic, but he wore boots (unlike Gimli, Nin, and Minal). Like his father, his thick dark-hair was tucked into a dark brown stocking-cap, his clothes were dusty and he carried a small sack over one broad shoulder his hands still covered in dirt.
“Should be, we also have a visitor at camp.” Gloin told him, before gesturing to the sack Daira was holding. “Any luck?”
“Aye, I found four geodes(4.) and some rose quartz near some limestone boulders over there,” Daira said, jabbing a thumb back in the direction he had come before handing the sack over to Oin.
“So…who is it?” Daira asked, curious. Not many people visited wandering folk like them and the list of possible visiting relatives was even shorter. Gloin just waved him off as he looked over his younger brother’s shoulder.
“You’ll see,” he said.
Oin, who had opened the sack and was looking over his nephews findings, picked up a medium sized geode and held in the palm of his broad hand with his thick fingers wrapped around it. He gave it a few taps, checking the quality and resonance of the crystals inside.
“Purple crystal this one, no space. Should be perfect for that necklace and earrings you’re making, Gloin.” he said before putting it back, then repeating the process with the other ones. “Blue- some space, white- no space, another purple- solid! The rose quartz- a bit clear. Good for charms, though,” Oin said, looking up at Gloin who gave a nod, stroking his beard in thought.
“Good job, Daira!” Gloin then praised his beaming son, giving him a loving whack on the back.
“Excellent! If the purple crystal is dark enough, I might be able to make that gold necklace and bracelet I’ve been planning.”
It was then that Gimli and Nin finally reached them, and the three Dwarves looked up to see the copper-haired twins in front of them panting from their race.
“I won!” They both chorused at the same time, then frowning they turned to glare at one another.
“No, I won!” The yelled simultaneously again, still glaring at one another.
“Did not! I won!”
“No you didn’t!”
“STOP COPPING ME!!!!
“Quiet, both of you!!! Gloin yelled, in exasperation. He stepped forward to yank the twins apart, who were now face-to-face yelling at one another. It was a bit disconcerting that they were still speaking (or yelling) simultaneously.
“Yah! Ya losers! Sides, I was first.” Daira said, crossing his arms over his chest. He sighed- little brothers where so embarrassing.
“Oh…” the twins simply said, seeming almost to deflate. Gloin just gave a roll of his eyes at Oin, who snorted, remembering how competitive he and his brother had been in their childhood. Competition between children is common in all races and it was a given when dealing particularly with Dwarven children that there would be plenty of rough-housing, fighting, with lots and lots of yelling (and that was when they were acting nice and on their best behavior).
“Any luck finding anything?” Gloin asked, and the twins shook their heads in the negative.
“We looked but-“ Gimli began.
“-couldn’t find anything.” Nin finished.
“That’s alright, better luck next time” Their father told them, ruffling their hair.
“What in Arda! Is taking you all so damned long to get your lazy arses back to camp?!” Nei roared, causing the six Dwarves to jump as she stomped over to them. No one had noticed her storm over the hill from the direction of camp).
“Ow!” Daira yelped, getting a cuff on the ear, and Nin and Gimli gave matching yelps as they each got a whack on the bum from the dark copper-haired Dwarrow-dam.
Dressed much like her husband, she wore a sleeveless red shirt and dark brown trousers, with boots and belt. Her hair was held away from her face in a long thick complicated braid, two braided forelocks hung before her gold-ringed ears (she had three graduated loops of gold on each ear).
“What was that for?” Daira grumbled, nursing his smarting ear.
“That’s for not coming sooner, when you are called.” She scolded him, as she stood next to her husband.
“But, Mother-” Gimli started, while rubbing his sore rear end.
“Don’t ‘but’ me, child.”
“Nei, come now we were- Ow! What was that for!?” Gloin demanded, glaring at his wife as he now nursed his own cuffed ear. Oin was now chuckling beside him, laughing at his older brother’s indignation.
“For lollygagging about, when I’ve had lunch ready and a guest waiting! Both just sitting around! I told you to get them, not to stand around and flap your lips!” She scolded her husband, hands on her hips daring him to say the other wise. Hearing chuckling to her right she turned to give her brother in-law a dark look, and Oin sobered immediately in the wake of her glare.
“You want one too, Oin?” She asked, an eyebrow cocked. Oin quickly shook his head in the negative, holding his hands up in surrender. It was just then that little Minal finally reached the group, immediately going to her father.
“Ah, there’s my sprite!” Gloin chuckled , a smile splitting his face, his smarting ear forgotten.
“Da! Da! Look what I found!” Minal shouted excitedly. Her clasped hands held up for Gloin’s inspection. The little girl was literally jumping with excitement, and with a deep chuckle Gloin caught the child mid jump. The raven-haired girl gave a happy squeal as her father picked her up, tickling her with his mustache and beard while he gave a rumbling mock growl in her ear before giving her a peck on her rosy cheek.
“Now then, what is this that you have found?” He asked the giggling girl in his arms, no doubt thinking she had found a interesting stone, or maybe even something of worth like a bit of quartz or lapis. Nei, her anger spent and her curiosity was sparked, stepped closer to see what the little girl had found.
Minal, wanting her father to have a good look made sure to put her clasped hands right in front of Gloin’s face before unclasping them.
Gloin found himself face to scalely face with a dark green rock-lizard, that glared at him with its big yellow slited eyes.
“His names, Master Thorin!” Minal chirped happily.
“The resemblance is astounding!” Nei said, in false astonishment with a wry look in her eyes. She was barely able to keep a straight face) as she watched ’Master Thorin’ puffed out his neck and began jerking his head up and down in challenge.
“Nei,” Gloin began to admonish, making the mistake of taking his eyes away from the agitated lizard. Seeing his chance for escape, Master Thorin made a leap for freedom into the nearest cover he could find.
Gloin let out a surprised yelp, almost dropping the giggling Minal as the lizard leapt off the girl’s out stretched hands and dived into Gloin’s beard.
With a deep laugh Nei stepped forward, plucking the little girl from her husband’s grasp as he held the child out for her to take. While her three sons and brother in-law convulsed with laughter, little Minal gave another giggle, clapping her small hands as she watched Gloin squirm about making strange faces.
“He can be,” Nei chuckled. “Come Minal, lets go get lunch ready as ‘Master Thorin’ and your father get to know one another,” she said to the three-year old on her hip. Her eyes sparkled with mirth as she watched Gloin digging franticly through his thick beard for the escaped ‘Master Thorin‘. He shot her a glare, but Nei just let out another laugh, giving him a wink before walking away with Minal back to camp.
Oin finally managed to get himself under control enough to get up from the ground (where he had fallen in his fit of laughing) and help his older brother.
The two continued to try and catch the agitated lizard until Oin let out curse of pain, yanking one of his hands back from Gloin’s beard. Master Thorin was firmly attached to one of his thick fingers.
“Look, Uncle Oin caught him!” Gimli cheered, as both he and Nin watched in fascination as Oin frantically tried to shake the fierce lizard off (rock-lizards have small, but very sharp teeth).
“I think it’s the other way around!” Daira laughed.
Now it was Gloin’s turn to laugh at his younger brother’s expense. Eventually ‘Master Thorin’ decided that he had enough of battling these strange creatures and let go. They watched the lizard (except the cursing Oin who was now nursing his wounded finger) land nimbly on the ground then scuttle away before pausing on top of a large rock a few feet away. He puffed himself up and gave another series of head jerks. Then with a flick of his tail ‘Master Thorin’ dived into the grass, disappearing from sight.
“I think he just insulted us, Da” Daira laughed, wiping tears from his eyes.
“That or stating his victory,” Gloin laughed, before looking sideways with a smirk at his brother who was grumbling under his breath, still clutching his injured digit. “Master Thorin, was definitely the victor of this battle.” He gave a another laugh as Oin shot him a glare.
“Last time I help you, brother. You can just dig the next vicious beast out of your beard, by yourself!” Oin grumbled indignantly to his sibling.
“Minal’s’ not going to like-” Nin started.
“-that you lost her pet.” Gimli finished, from where they stood side by side.
“She’ll get over it,” Gloin said, as the five began to walk back to camp.
“Easy for you to say. You’re not the one she bit last time she got mad!“ Daira grumbled, from where he walked flanked by Nin and Gimli.
“Yah! Minal gets away with everything!” Gimli grumped, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Just cause she’s a girl! Its not fair!” Nin agreed, with a pout also with his arms crossed.
“She’s a female, its just the way things are,” Oin said simply, as if that answered all, while looking back over his shoulder at the three children behind them.
“Life is not fair my boys. We have our place and females have theirs, and its mostly above ours. So get used to it,” Gloin said.
They could now see their caravans wagons and the smoke from several fires rising into the air. As they neared camp they began to pick up the smell of cooking food and the strong sent of their guest. The smell of Hobbit-grown pipe weed (the best there is), fire powder, and the sharp smell of ozone, like after a lightning storm.
“I see the old gray fart is back,” Daira grumbled, after taking a long sniff of the air.
“Gandalf!!” Gimli and Nin yelled happily before racing ahead. Soon they had reached camp, dodging other Dwarves of their caravan who were talking or having lunch around their own fire with their own families. The two ran to the small fire in front of their red roofed wagon where their mother, sister, and a tall gray robed figure stood with a large pointy hat and staff.
“Gandalf!” Gimli and Nin shouted again, nearly toppling the Wizard as they each hugged a leg.
“Woa! Goodness, you two are getting strong!” He said while recovering his balance as the twins stepped back, still grinning happily up at him.
Gandalf gave a soft chuckle while straightening his hat. “It is good to see the both of you, too.” He said smiling, giving each of them a fond pat. It was then the Gloin and the others arrived.
“And as for some…” Gandalf continued, now looking at someone over the twin’s heads with an eyebrow raised in irritation.
“Some would do well to watch what they say within a Wizard’s hearing. Isn’t that right… young Daira?” Gandalf said as he gave the young raven-haired Dwarf a withering glare.
Daira winced. “Sorry, Gandalf,” he apologized, giving the Wizard a bow. Gandalf gave an approving nod at the apology, before snorting with amusement.
“Old gray fart, indeed!” The Wizard chuckled to himself.
“Da? Where’s Master Thorin?” Minal asked, noticing that her father was empty-handed.
“Uh…sorry, sprite, but…uh-”
“Master Thorin had to go home; his mate was calling. So he’s out rounding up the hatchlings for their meal of insects,” Nei said, coming to her husbands rescue as she prepared their meal.
Gandalf’s big bushy eyebrows shot up in genuine surprise at hearing this.
“Hatchlings? I was not aware that Thorin had married, sired offspring or had come to dine on such…exotic fare.” he said. Nei looked up at him in surprise then threw back her head with a deep rolling laugh, Gloin and Oin joining in.
Gimli, who was still standing by the Gray Wizard (who was still much taller then the little boy even though he was now sitting down) noticed Gandalf’s still quizzical expression.
“Not Thorin Oakenshield. Minal, found a stupid lizard and named him Thorin.” Gandalf turned his attention to Gimli as the little boy explained, hearing this the Wizard gave a hearty laugh of his own.
Minal, however, did not apparently like hearing the news of her pet’s departure, family business or no and was on the verge of pouting. She crossed her arms over her small chest with a scowl on her face that looked remarkably just like Gloin’s when he was particularly irritated. Seeing this Gloin (getting his chuckling under control) walked over, knelt down, and gave the little girl a consoling rub on the back.
“You don’t want Master Thorin getting into trouble with his mate, do you? I hear she can be quite vicious when angry,” He said, sending a rueful look over Minal’s head to his wife, who was now rolling balls of dough. Nei looked up, and catching her husband’s smirking gaze she bared and snapped her white teeth at him, though her dark eyes flashed with amusement rather than anger. Gloin only wiggled an eyebrow, signaling that he found her fierceness rather…stimulating, and Nei gave a promising wink before going back to preparing their meal.
With Minal now placated Gloin went about preparing the coffee with Daira’s help, while Gimli and Nin bombarded Gandalf with questions, which Gandalf ether answered or laughed at. Finally when everything was prepared and ready, Nei looked up.
“Daria, Gimli, Nin, Minal- Minal!” The little girl, who had up until now gone unnoticed, jumped guiltily caught in the act of preparing to swing Gandalf’s staff at Nin (who like Gimli, was paying attention to something Gandalf was telling them). Dwarf children even at such a young age are much stronger than children of other races, so while the staff was incredibly large and unwieldy in her hands, she did not have much trouble lifting it.
“You put that down this instant! You glare at me like that again, child, I’ll give you something to glare about. Now go wash up, the lot of you!” Nei said as the children quickly did as they were told. They crowded around a large bucket specifically for that purpose, by the stairs of their wagon.
“How is it that you always manage to show up around meal time?” Oin asked the Istari as he sat down across the fire from the wizard.
“Tis an ancient Wizarding secret” Gandalf deadpanned while peering back at the younger son of Groin from under the brim of his large hat. All the adults let out a bark of laughter at that, as Nei started frying up the flat bread on the griddle over the fire.
She had made a simple flour-based dough that would cook into a type of thin flat bread. A large pot also hung over the fire simmering, containing tenderized strips of beef, tender tubers, and carrots soaking in a spicy sauce. When the bread was ready, she would spoon some of the meat and vegetables into it and wrap it up. Called ’meat wraps’ or more often ’wraps” they were a common yet popular recipe with Dwarves, and apparently Wizards were quite fond of them as well.
“Coffee or water, Gandalf?” Nei asked, motioning to the pitcher of river water and the steaming kettle of coffee, as Gloin passed out simple tin cups. The children, done washing up, had come back and had sat down by the fire. They got water to drink- when they where older they could get coffee, but for now it was water.
“Coffee, thank you,” Gandalf answered, holding his cup as Gloin poured him some. Gandalf didn’t bother asking for sugar or cream, for he knew there was none anyway.
Nei handed the wraps to her husband when she was done and Gloin passed them out, starting with the Wizard. Soon everyone had one and they ate.
“Gimli, slow down! Its not going anywhere. I swear you get more food in your beard, than in your mouth,” Nei scolded. Gimli looked up from his half-devoured wrap, sauce and bits of food on his chin, before wiping his mouth with the back of his arm.
“Let the boy be, Nei. Better out than in, I say.” Gloin said, between mouthfuls.
Nei gave a huff, grumbling something under her breath before taking another sip of her coffee. The meal continued, Nei eventually getting up when baby Mano woke up and started crying from where he had been sleeping in the wagon. She came back a few moments later, sitting back down in her spot by her husband with the crying baby in her arms.
Gloin and Oin were asking Gandalf about news and points of interest the Wizard had come across on his wanderings. Soon they had all finished their meal, their bellies full as they sipped at their coffee or water, Mano had finally stopped crying and was now suckling contentedly at his mother’s breast. His big gray eyes closed in contentment, his little hands clutching the material of Nei’s red shirt while his mother occasionally stroked her calloused fingers through his fine black hair.
“Gandalf! Tell us a story!” Minal demanded seeing that every one was now done with their meal (except Mono).
“Yes! A story!” Gimli agreed enthusiastically, looking up from where he had been poking idly at the fire with a stick.
“Yes! Tell us about the Twin Warriors, Elladan and Elrohir! And their adventures orc hunting!” Nin said.
“No, we heard that story last time! Tell us a different one, Gandalf!” Daira said, while picking something out of his teeth.
Nei gave a laugh from where she sat next to Gloin, baby Mano still suckling contentedly at her breast. Finally she turned to explain to the Wizard (who had a mildly surprised look on his face), “Since you told them that story, its all Nin and Gimli seem to play. Running wild, playing Elladan and Elrohir.”
The Grey Wizard chuckled, his eye positively twinkling with some unknown secret at hearing that, and a gray bushy eyebrow rose as he turned to look at the two young copper-haired twins.
“Liked that story now, did you?” He watched them both give enthusiastic nods, their big brown eyes aglow with barely suppressed excitement.
“Yes!” Both Gimli and Nin said at the same time.
“They’re like us! I’m Elladan! And Gimli’s Elrohir!” Nin told the Wizard, Gimli nodding his head in agreement with his twin.
“That right! One day me and Nin will go orc hunting too!” Gimli added.
With their meal over, and little Mano burped and contentedly dozing again Nei had gotten up, disappearing into their wagon to put the baby down for his nap, appearing a few minutes later to sit back down. Now that the baby was asleep and safely tucked away, the adults (including Gandalf) brought out their pipes. And soon the air was filled with the smell of pipeweed, dancing wisps of smoke and the occasional smoke ring.
“Elladan and Elrohir… I have never heard of any stories about Twin Dwarven warriors wandering the wilds, hunting orcs. I’m telling you, those are the strangest Dwarf names I have ever heard!” Oin muttered under his breath so only Gloin could hear, who gave a nod in agreement before snorting smoke out of his nose.
“They don’t sound Dwarven at all. Knowing Gandalf, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were not even Dwarves!” Gloin grumbled sourly.
“Hmmm. Lets see…something-” Gandalf was thinking aloud, blowing a large smoke ring before his thoughts were interrupted.
“New!” Daira interjected, glaring at his two brothers who where both going to yell something just then.
“With battles!” Gimli yelled after, from his seat between Daira and Nin.
“Yah!” Nin agreed.
“And lots of Heroes!” Minal added.
The three adults still puffing contentedly at their pipes, were also listening with half an ear while they began idly discussing something amongst themselves.
“As I was saying.” Gandalf continued, pausing to see if anyone would interrupt him again before continuing. “A new story with battles and heroes. Hmmm, lets see…” He blew another smoke ring, only this one was green, as he searched his memory.
“Ah, Yes! How about a story of ‘The Last Alliance‘?” Seeing that he had his audience’s complete attention, Gandalf began his tale.
“You all remember the story of the One Ring?” He asked them, and all four of them gave nods of their heads.
“Seven for the Dwarf-lords, in their Halls of stone! Nine for the Men, Doomed to die! Three for the Elf-lords. And One Ring to rule them all!” The four chorused.
Gadalf gave a nod of his head. “Correct, not quite in the right order…but correct, nevertheless. Now then,” he began, making a sound in the back of his throat as if to clear it.
“A terrible darkness created by the Dark Lord Sauron was spreading across the land, threatening to take over all the lands of the free-peoples of Middle-earth, and in fact many had already fallen beneath his heel. With an army of darkness and The Ring of power at his command, his victory seemed assured.
“But there were some who resisted! A Last Alliance of Men and Elves was all that stood-” But Gandalf found himself interrupted once again.
“And Dwarves,” Nei said, looking up with a glare from across the fire where she sat puffing on her pipe.
“My ancestors did not give up their lives in that battle and others, just to be forgotten, Wizard. Tell the story true and not through the lofty eyes of Elves. Or tell it not at all,” She told him, a note of warning in her deep voice. Wizard though Gandalf may be, he was still a guest at her fire and it was she who ruled here.
“Forgive my lapse, Lady Nei,” Gandalf apologized, with a slight bow of his head. Then with a gruff cough he continued the story.
“As I was saying. A Last Alliance of Men, Elves, and Dwarves were all that stood in the way of …” Gandalf continued his story, but Gimli was no longer listening. Instead his attention was on his mother, if Nei had a tail it would have been lashing from side to side. But Gloin was murmuring something into her ear, and what ever his father said seemed to work for after a few moments she gave a smoke-filled huff and relaxed, leaning against him as he wrapped a arm around her.
Gimli didn’t know why but his mother always got very agitated when there was talk of Elves. He knew of his mother’s disliked of Men, letting Gloin or Oin take care of most of their dealings with them. The only Men she would deal and freely talk with were the strange Men called ‘Rangers‘. But he didn’t know why she would only deal them, or why she got so agitated about Elves; he decided to ask his father why when the chance arose.
The day wore on- Gandalf’s entertaining story was long over, Nei’s daily lessons and axe practice were over and dinner had come and gone. Now the stars were out and Minal was sleeping peacefully in the wagon with Mano. His mother, Lady Frost, Gandalf, Old Althiof, and Thekk sat by the fire discussing something, an occasional laugh going up from the group. Daira, and his uncle, with some of the other Dwarves of their caravan were playing ’Chops’ (a game similar to darts, only instead of darts they used hatchets) on the other side of camp, using a large tree with a bulls eye carved crudely into the trunk of the tree. Others went about their own business.
Gimli watched it all from where he and Nin lay on their stomachs under their family’s wagon. He decided that now was the time to go find his father, and he turned to tell Nin but saw that his twin was fast asleep.
“Nin, Nin!” He called, shaking his brother’s shoulder. But Nin only mumbled something in his sleep and shifted.
“Nin! Come on!” He yelled giving his twin another shaking, Nin only grumbled and pushed him away.
“Mmmrrr, leave me ‘lone,” he mumbled irritably, curling into a ball.
“Fine, be a lazy lump!“ Gimli pouted- he could never understand how his twin could happily take a nap anywhere or at anytime. With a final glare of annoyance at his sleeping brother, Gimli decided to go ahead and look for his father anyway. He scrambled out from under the wagon and left, leaving his blissfully sleeping twin behind.
After some searching he finally found his father lying on his back under a wagon, only his legs sticking out, while he was fixing something on the underside of Lady Frost’s wagon.
“Da?” the little boy asked, squatting down to peer under the wagon at his father.
“Aye?” Gloin answered, as he continued to work, hammering a nail. A small lit candle on the ground next to him provided light as he patched up a hole on the underside of the wagon.
“Da, why does Mother get so mad? Whenever anyone talks of Eves or… why she don’t like Men?” he asked.
Gloin stopped working, cocking his head up to look at the curious child peering under the wagon at him. He gave a sigh before putting down his tools and scooted out from under the wagon. He tucked a few escaped strands of his dark-hair back into the brown stocking-cap as he sat up, turning his full attention the copper-haired child now sitting next to him, the wagon at their backs.
“Why? Well, no self-respecting Dwarf associates with Elves if he can help it. They maybe fair but they’re arrogant, flighty, and their pretty faces hide cold, cruel hearts. Most Men are weak, greedy, and lazy-not to be trusted. They will stab you in the back if there’s gold or jewels to be had. Not all are so, but most.
“As for your Mother… Everyone has their own reasons to dislike others, be they Dwarves, Elves, Men or even Hobbits. It is all up to that person.
“But I think your Mother dislikes Elves and Men mostly because of the War. The War where your Mother got her scar,” Gloin told the little boy, tracing a line over his left eye with a finger. “After the battle, there were so many dead; we could not properly bury them all. We knew the orcs would dig them up and the other scavengers would feast on them. So we burned them.
“Seeing the mountains upon mountains of burning bodies of our people…the light from all those fires turned night into day as ash fell and covered the ground like snow. Ash- that was all that remained of over half our people. The sight of it turned your Mothers heart bitter towards Elves and Men.
“If Only they had come to our aid! We might have been able to storm the Gates and root out the very heart of the Orcs! Purge Middle-earth of their foul breed and take back Khazad-dum! Dwarves have fought in every war against the darkness, asked or not. But the one time we could have used them to help exterminate the goblins and orcs once and for all, did Men or Elves come to our aid? No! They sat back and watched! For six years they watched as over half of our people where decimated! Nothing…nothing but ashes scattered in the wind,” Gloin finished quietly, his brown-eyed gaze turned inward as he remembered his own experiences during that last terrible battle.
Finally looked down at his son again who had been sitting quietly listening beside him.
“Does that answer your question?” He asked, and Gimli gave a solemn nod of his head. They sat quietly together for a while when Gimli gave a sudden yelp, breaking the silence.
“What’s the matter?” Gloin asked, tuning his head to give Gimli a curious look .
“I don’t know, somethins’ in me eye-ow!” Gimli yelped again, scrubbing at his left eye with one hand.
“Here, let me have a look,” his father said, shifting to face his son so he could look into the child’s eye.
“I- ow! It hurts- ahh!” The copper-haired child cried out, pitching forward clutching his eye.
Hold him down!
“Gimli, what’s wrong ,boy!?” he could hear the concern in his father’s deep voice, feel his father’s broad hands trying to lift his head and pry his hands away from his face.
“I- ahhh! I …I don’t know!” He cried curling into a tighter ball as the pain intensified.
Tighten that rope! He’s fighting!
“Da, the-the pain!!! Ahhhhh!!!”
“Gimli! Boy wha…wrong! …tell…Gimli…“ He could hear his fathers voice, but it seemed to be getting farther and farther away. And everything began to spin and distort.
Suddenly Gimli found himself plunged into a dark blurry world of pain and confusion. Strange shadowed shapes moved around him as warped sounds assaulted his ears; he felt like his whole body was burning up.
He couldn’t get up- he became aware of bindings of some sort that were holding him down and hands, he could feel strange hands holding him down as well. He began to panic. Everything hurt, he could hardly breathe, something was sitting on his chest! Trying to suffocate him! Pain, like molten a dagger stabbed at his eye. He tried to get away from it but couldn’t- he couldn’t get away! He tried to move his arms to claw at his face and try and fight off his tormenters, but the bindings and hands kept his arms down. What’s going on!? The Elves? No the…the orcs! The orcs and goblins must have found him! Going to finish him off- they were torturing him! Have to get away!
“Hold him down!”
Gimli could feel one of his torturers trying to hold his face still, no doubt trying to rip out his eye. No! Stop!
*grunt* “I’m trying! But for something half-dead, *huff* he’s awful strong!”
“Surya, for the love of- just sit on his arm! Istan, hand me that blue bottle.”
Voices? He could hear strange distant voices around him as he continued to try and struggle against the creatures holding him down, but the voices were muffled as if he was hearing them from underwater. Unhand me! Let me go!
“Good! Now help your sister hold his legs.”
“Hope those ropes hold.”
“As do I- *grunt* Curse you! Stop fighting! We are trying to help you, lad! Damned fever has him fighting shadows.”
No! No, leave me alone! Gimli continued to struggle in his fevered state, not understanding what was happening.
*oomph!* “If this one if half-dead, I’d hate to see what a healthy one could do!”
“Get a good grip now and brace your selves. This will not be pleasant!”
The pain before was nothing compared to the sudden white-hot agony that now seemed to sear through his very being. Gimli in all his life had never known such pain; all thought fled as a horrible tortured scream suddenly filled his ears. Then the darkness came rushing back, plunging him into the safety of unconsciousness.
Yes, I’m still evil.
Some comments from the weird chick writing this fic.
I do not condone racism or bigotry of any type! Even in fantasy worlds, be they Elf or Dwarf.
There were parts in this fic I used purposely to illustrate just how ugly and wrong bigotry is, in any form! Be it from hate or ignorance… There is no excuse!
To all those people out there (including Peter Jackson) that think Gimli is fat, ugly, stupid, clumsy. Pick up the Books and find me anywhere in it, that J.R.R. Tolkien describes Gimli as fat, ugly and or stupid. If you can find it and show me the proof; I’ll draw you a pic of your choice.
And because some people asked me what I thought of the movies…
My thoughts on the movies: Like most of us here I loved the movies too and I even liked Gimli. Very entertaining and I loved the special effects (very cool) But that is not Gimli from the books! PJ has purposefully butchered Gimli’s characters ‘worse’ then he did with Faramir. And I find it a bit sad that so many people buy into this old, fat, ranting, clumsy ‘butchered version’ in the movie. Its quite obvious that PJ does not like Dwarves. He got rid of almost all of Gimli’s lines, and put the whole friendship between him and Legolas on the back burner so he could push this ‘Elf and Man’ friendship. Worst of all we get this completely one-sided ‘negative’ view of Dwarves. There are two sides to every story but PJ didn’t want to show that. The Elves are just as bad in their own ignorance and bigotry as the Dwarves are! But no, can’t have people thinking that maybe Elves aren’t perfect or that Dwarves aren’t all greedy and ranting all the time! What makes the whole friendship between Gimli and Legolas so special and important is that they both push aside all that they’ve been taught and accept one another. J.R.R. Tolkien wanted to show that if these two people can overcome their differences and prejudices, and see the other as an equal, to see beyond the stereotype. If they can do it, a Dwarf and a Elf, can’t we?
The Gimli of the books is brave and courageous, Elrond himself picked him at the council in Rivendell. Gimli is a young Dwarf in his prime, in great shape, never had any problems keeping up and fighting along side the others (not like in the movie), he had a sharp mind and silver tongue and charmed Galadriel with his words and manner (not bumbling about stupidly). He also was fairly quiet during the journey (not constantly grumbling (except occasionally like when they where trying to get over the mountains, but can you blame him) and while he didn’t like Legolas or Elves in general, he wasn’t constantly ranting about them ether (he was not yelling “Never trust an Elf!”, once again another thing PJ just had to throw in there). Tolkien never gave us a good description of Gimli or anyone else for that matter (except Gandalf and Frodo), hell, people can’t even agree if Legolas has blond or dark hair! So for all we know Gimli might have been a major hunk and Aragorn could have been ugly. We just don’t know! Tolkien left it up to our own imaginations. So have an open mind, people!
“Peace, Love, and naked Elves ~_^ !”
(falls off soapbox)
(1.) In “The Hobbit” after Bilbo and company make it to the Mountain, we learn (thanks to Balin) that Dwarves can talk to Ravens and can apparently understand the language of Crows as well.
(2.) Mannish names: Dwarves keep their ‘true’ names a secret, so they use ‘mannish’ names when above ground.
(3.) Gimli and his mother where watching a Meteor shower.
(4.) Geodes: A rock, usually globular, having a cavity line with crystals.
“He beat his fists against the post, and still he swore, he saw the ghost.” (writer unknown)
Consciousness decided to slowly begin to seep back. He fought it off as long as he could, not wanting to leave the peace and safety of the dark embrace of sleep.
The first thing he became aware of was a rocking motion, followed by the creaking sound of wooden wheels. He lay there quietly, simply listening to his surroundings.
By the sounds of it, he was no longer sitting at the side of the road. He was in a wagon of some kind; having grown up in one he knew by heart the way they sounded- the way the wood underneath would creak and vibrate with the road, the way the wheels would screech and groan.
Slowly Gimli managed to force open an eye, giving a few blinks until the momentary disorientation had passed, and he found himself staring up at the rough wooden beams of a wagon’s ceiling. Various herbs, bunches of exotic plants, and what looked to be dried animal parts (some unidentifiable) hung from the ceiling, swaying along with the motion of the wagon. Light poured in from two windows on either side of the wagon, illuminating various bundles, baskets, pots and jars, as well as several large chests stacked about the wagon’s wooden floor.
He was lying on his back on some kind of coarse blanket, and he could feel the wrapped compression of bandages over his left eye, as well as around his neck, chest and shoulders. There was a dull ache in his left arm, and when he tried to move it he found it completely immobile. Panic overwhelmed him before he realized that it was immobile because it was heavily wrapped in bandages and in some kind of splint. He felt an immediate surge of relief when he found he could freely move all his fingers. His other arm lay partially resting on his stomach, and he could feel that there was a light wool blanket covering him
He continued to stare blankly up at the wagon’s ceiling, realizing that he felt almost disappointed that he was still alive. He felt horrible empty, like there was a hollow in his chest. He really should be dead.
Did I survive?
He continued to stare up, watching the various bundles of herbs and animal remains sway with the motion of the wagon.
No, he decided. He was not the same Dwarf that he once was, so in a way Gimli son of Gloin had died alone on the side of that road. Would any mourn him? His father and Uncle-- no they were probably dead too. No one was alive to mourn him… not even himself.
What…Where am I? The last thing he could remember was waking up in the quarry with that stupid crow, then the forest…reaching the road and then…the Elves. The image of the blond Elf’s beautiful and sneering face flashed before his eyes and he felt an instant flash of hot anger. Cursed Elves! Next time I see one of their kind it will be to soon! he thought bitterly.
But the anger soon faded in the wake of his more pressing feelings of confusion. How did he come to be in his new surroundings? Who had saved him, tended his wounds? Gimli was no healer, but he knew his wounds should have been fatal-- how was it that he was still alive? Surely the Elves hadn’t…
It was then that he became aware of someone humming. Listening closer, he could now hear it to be the soft, happy, high voice of a small child. It seemed to be coming from nearby, to his right.
Slowly he turned his head in the direction of the humming and was greeted with a shock.
He watched the vision of his little sister sitting next to him as she played with a cloth-stitched doll, humming happily to herself as she made the floppy stuffed doll dance to the accompaniment to her tune.
But this can’t be real… Minal was older-- nineteen winters when she…she died. He closed his eye against the memory, against the image of his little sister’s gaunt body lying peacefully amongst all the pretty blue flowers. He had been the one to find her…
No! This can’t be real.
With some difficulty he managed to push the memory back-- he had no time for memories, for the past. When next he opened his eye, the image of his little sister was gone and he found himself gazing at a little human girl, about four years of age he guessed. He could now see that this human child was also larger then Minal had been, when that age. Where once he had seen Minal’s thick raven-black hair, there was now fine mousy brown, and instead of Minal’s big dark-brown eyes, there were now sky-blue ones.
Even though he knew the image from before to be false, he could not deny the painful twinge in his heart. It would have been wonderful if it really had been Minal.
It was then that those big blue eyes looked up from the doll, and the happy humming stopped as the little girl took notice that she was being watched. She turned her head and looked at him, giving a blink of those big eyes.
Silently, they both studied one another for a long moment before a big smile split her round freckled face. There was a gap where one of her front teeth should have been; she had apparently lost one of her baby teeth early.
“You awake!” she chirped happily, with a noticeable lisp to her words.
“Wh...where?” Gimli managed to croak- it was then he noticed how terribly sore and parched his throat was.
“You’re with us, Grand-mama and Mama be making you better. I’m helping too! I’m Ayla! And me and Nezry been keeping you safe! Just like Mama said.”
“N…Nezry?” Gimli croaked in mild confusion- he didn’t see or smell anyone else in the wagon besides the child.
“Yes, Nezry. See! Meet Nezry!” she said proudly, presenting the floppy doll with its red yarn smile and two small blue shell button eyes. “Nezry, meet Mister uh…um, mister…”
“Gimli… Gimli, son of Gloin.”
“Nezry, meet Mister Gimy! Gimy, son of Goin!” she said gaily, making one of the doll’s arms wave at him. Gimli couldn’t help it as an amused smile tugged at one of the corners of his mouth, at the little girl’s lispy pronunciation of his name. It was nice to be around such simple cheerfulness.
There came a noise from the round door of the wagon, and they both looked (Gimli moving only his eye) to see a young boy scrambling inside, before closing the door behind him. Gimli guessed him to be about twelve years of age, though it was hard to tell with human children, and he had brown hair like Ayla’s, only cut short. He wore a simple green tunic, gray trousers and simple brown shoes, and like his younger sister he too had blue eyes and a light dusting of freckles on his round face.
“Oh! He’s awake! Mama will be pleased!” he said with a big smile coming over to sit next to his little sister. She glared at him, her small lips in a pout, before turning her attention back to the bandaged Dwarf.
“That’s Istan, he’s dumb!” she told him with complete conviction.
“Am not! You little mud bug!” he said, glaring at his little sister.
“Are so!” she chirped, sticking her tongue out at him before hiding her face in her doll. “Not a mug bug… you’re a dumb,” she mumbled from behind her doll.
“I’m gonna take that stupid doll and toss it out the wagon!” Istan threatened, making a grab for the doll, but Gimli could see it was an empty threat, to scare her. He remembered employing similar tactics with his own little sister, especially when Minal was being particularly bratty. Ayla gave a high-pitched squeal, crushing the poor cloth-stitched doll against herself.
“No!!! Leave Nezry alone!” she cried.
“You gonna stop bein’ a pest?” he asked, glaring at her suspiciously. She peeked out from behind ‘Nezry’ and gave a small nod, but as soon as Istan turned his attention away, she lowered the doll and stuck her tongue out at him again.
“Hi, I’m Istan! That’s my little sister Ayla-- she’s a real pain. Wow! We thought you were just dead when we found you! Mama and Grandmother said you near died after she sewed you up that first night. You’re real strong! We had ta tie ya down and everything, when the fever dreams took you! Oh! Your axes are in the other wagon, Grandmother be watchin’ them,” the boy explained, amazingly, in seeming one breath.
“We saw all the orc blood! Bet you killed lots of em! The battle! It-- must have been something!” he said in a rush, his blue eyes sparkling with barely suppressed excitement as he looked expectantly at the silent Dwarf.
Gimli just continued to stare blankly at the excited boy, who still waited for him to say something. But Gimli’s thoughts where suddenly full of screams and shrieks, of flying hot black blood, maggots, the stench of rotting flesh. Of hungry, bulbous, slitted sickly green eyes, of Nidi’s dead honey-brown eyes, of roaring battle cries, swirling stars and a red sickle moon. The dying light in a pair of amber eyes, his axe slamming into his best friend’s body, red blood, fire and stars…
“S-something…like that,” he managed to whisper, before a sudden racking coughing fit took him. The boy waited until the fit had passed, before silently handing him a rag so Gimli could wipe his hand of the thick black mucus he’d coughed up from his lungs. Istan then got up and picked up a basket from one corner of the wagon, holding it out for Gimli to toss the rag in, before putting it back.
It was then they felt the wagon give a lurch and come to a jarring stop, soon followed by muffled swearing and talking, then the crunching sound of footsteps. The three in the wagon turned their attention to the door as it opened and an old broad-hipped Woman climbed in muttering about something under her breath.
“That’s Grand-mama,” Ayla explained with a big smile.
The old Woman’s face was heavily wrinkled, especially around her thin mouth and the corners of her surprising bright-blue eyes, eyes that looked like they had seen a lot of things in their time. Her long steel-gray hair was tied away from her aged face in a series of simple braids, carved bits of blue shell earrings hung from her small ears, and she wore the traveling dress of a simple peasant. She looked like any other old human Woman he had seen, except, that she had strange blue runes and patterns tattooed on her hands and even parts of her face. The tattoos looked like they continued down the body as well, though he couldn’t see with her brown clothes in the way. Tattoos where nothing strange to Gimli, in fact they were quite common with Dwarves, but it was unusual to see any of the other races having them, and in even more so on a human female.
“Well… I see our patient has finally decided to join the land of the living,” she said in a rough gravelly voice, as she stood in the doorway, looking at the three. “Ayla, Istan, why don’t you go outside and help your mother set up camp,” she told the two children.
“Can I stay, Grandmother? Please?” the boy begged.
“Oh, forgive me! I must have made myself unclear. GO!” she ordered, her voice leaving no room for argument as she pointed at the door. With a disappointed groan, Istan got up and trudged out the door. Little Ayla paused in the doorway before turning to give Gimli a wave goodbye.
“Bye bye, Mister Gimy!” she said chirped before disappearing out the door, which the old Woman closed behind the child.
“Well now, I’m sure my two grandchildren have been keeping you entertained,” she said, coming over to stand where Istan and Ayla had been sitting. Gimli just looked up at her.
“Let me be making things clear for ya, lad,” she explained, while towering over him
“You’re more worth to me dead then alive. So if ya keep your trap shut and do what you’re told… You just might walk out of ’ere in one piece. Understand?” she demanded. To Gimli she seemed to suddenly grow very tall and intimidating as she stood over him, hands on her broad hips as she gave him a hard look, waiting for his answer…
A large smoke ring floated serenely in the crisp air as a small smoke horse galloped through it, before both the ring and the horse dissipated into nothingness. Gandalf took another long drag from his pipe and calmly waited for the Dwarf to continue, watching the shadows lengthen as the late afternoon sun started its early descent into the west.
In the distance he could see a large murder of crows circling about near the foot of the Mountain; the Wizard knew they probably circled the camp of Elves and Lake Men, in eager anticipation of the battle to come. The Lonely Mountain itself stood proudly in the afternoon light- Gandalf knew that Gimli’s father and uncle, along with the rest of Thorin’s company, were probably busily trying to fortify the Mountain as best they could.
He glanced at the young brooding Dwarf out of the corner of his eye, and gave a soft snort of amusement; Gloin would throw a complete fit if he knew of Gimli’s being here. Gandalf had no doubt that if he knew, Gloin would march out of the Mountain, storm right through both the armies of the Wood Elves and Lake Men to get to here, then box his son’s ears.
Long moments continued to pass by, and still the young Dwarf remained silent, gazing into the hissing and popping flames of their fire. Finally, after blowing his sixth smoke ring and still hearing nothing but silence, Gandalf turned his storm gray eyes expectantly to the Dwarf.
“Gimli?” he asked, both in question and in urging for the Dwarf to continue. One did not have to be a Wizard to know that this dark tale was far from over.
“Forgive me, Gandalf. But I can tell you no more. I gave my word to the Lady Razel and the Lady Raya that I would tell no one of what happened when I was with their company,” Gimli said, his voice apologetic as Gandalf watched the Dwarf shift uncomfortably under his piercing gaze.
“I can tell you that I should have died on the side of that road… but by whatever herbs or sorcery, they healed me. Somehow, within only one half cycle of the moon, my body, my arm… my eye, they had healed completely. See? Not even a scar,” he said quietly, turning to face the Wizard while gesturing to the left side of his face.
“I should be blind in this eye, have a scar…like Mother’s,” he said quietly, more to himself than to Gandalf. Unconsciously he run his callused fingers over his left eye as if feeling for a wound that was not there, before letting his hand drop back on to his pulled up knees.
“They purposefully left these scars- said that they would act as a reminder. As if I could forget!” he snorted with a note of bitterness in his voice, motioning to the scars that were visible on his arms and shoulders.
Gandalf opened his mouth to say something, but closed it, seeing the futility of it. Once a Dwarf gives his word few things, aside from torture or threat to family, could break it. Still though, Gandalf found himself terribly curious about this ‘Lady Razel’. If what Gimli said was true, and he had no reason to doubt him, this strange healer and her family must be practitioners of some type of magic (1.).
“Now I am forever in their debt,” Gimli continued, and bitterness was again evident in his tone.
Gandalf noticed this with some surprise, for Gimli’s words were spoken not in seeming gratitude but more in resignation. It became obvious now to the Wizard that whoever these strange benefactors of Gimli’s were, they had demanded a payment of some sort for their incredible healing. What that price had been was anyone’s guess, but he intended to find out (if not now, then definitely later). The Wizard sat quietly, his gaze turned inward while he thoughtfully stroked his long gray beard, listening as Gimli reluctantly once again continued his story.
“I found out later from the Lady Raya that we had passed Telgor, many days before I had finally awoken. I decided that there was really nothing in Telgor for me… not anymore, so I traveled with them for a time, until they reached where the road splits to the north road and the town of Ocendade. It was there we parted company…”
Gimli held up a hand in farewell, watching four sets of hands wave back as the two oxen-pulled wagons moved away down the road, before he turned and began walking the other way. His pace was unhurried as he walked down the dirt road, his thoughts turned inward.
He wore a simple, thin, sleeveless, buff-colored shirt that his healers had been able to find amongst their stores of old clothes. The Lady Raya had also mended and washed his ripped trousers, which were tucked into his boots. His thick weapons belt with the comforting weight of his three axes hung about his hips, and his long clean copper colored hair was tied back into a loose ponytail that hung down his back.
He had decided that he would go to Ocendade, where Ursla lived. Ursla was the elder sister of both Shala and Myia; she worked at a brothel by the name of ‘The House of the Red Blossoms’ in Ocendade. He decided that he owed it to Shala to tell Ursla what had befallen her younger sister and her family, as well as all the others of Black Hollow.
The well-trodden road continued to meander through the pleasant forest (though Gimli thought it just like any other forest he had seen) before the trees receded and the open fields and hills of various farms could be seen. In the distance, Gimli could now see the smoke from many chimneys rising in the air from the large town, that in all rights could have been a small city by its sheer size.
The sun was shining high in a blue sky full of puffy clouds, and a gentle breeze tugged playfully at his hair and short beard as he continued his journey. Gimli glanced up irritably, the glare causing him to squint, before giving a snort of annoyance. It was a far too cheerful day in his opinion, the sunshine doing nothing for his dark mood or the constant ache in his heart.
His back and left arm were still a little sore, but thankfully not really painful. As he rotated and flexed his left arm, he thought of the incredible healing that Lady Razel and Lady Raya had done. Looking at him now, except for being a little pale, underweight and a bit wrung out, one would never have thought he had been at Mandos’s door only but one cycle of the moon ago.
A frown marred his face as a memory of something Lady Razel had said and done came back to him then.
“I have given you back your eye and your life, lad. You now owe me and my family a life debt. One day you may be called upon to fulfill that debt… And if you should decide to not honor your debt…remember this. I can take back what was given,” the old woman warned, her voice holding an ominous promise.
He nodded his head at her words but remained silent, watching with a strange feeling of dread as her thin withered fingers with their intricate tattoos calmly put a small braided lock of his hair into a small, round silver locket. It was covered in strange red runes in a language that Gimli had never seen before. Perhaps it was a shift of the light or maybe it was just his imagination, but when the locket was closed it looked almost as if the red runes flared momentarily with an inner light.
Gimli unconsciously rubbed his left eye before giving a shake of his head, pushing the memory away, locking it in a far corner of his mind.
Nothing to be done about it now, besides she is old… human; with luck she’ll be long dead before she finds use of my debt, he thought to himself(2). It was a strange thing to feel both gratitude and apprehension towards someone, for he genuinely liked the Lady Razel and her family. But he also knew that few kindnesses are done for free, and for her healing of him, Gimli found himself forever indebted….
It was then that the sickeningly sweet odor of rotting flesh reached his sensitive nose and immediately he was on guard. Without even realizing that he had taken them out, he found his two axes in hand and had dropped into a defensive position. The smell instantly conjured memories of the horror back at the Hollow, of the rotting and mutilated corpses, the red light of a setting sun bathing everything in bloody crimson.
His dark eyes scanned the area, looking for any sign of danger, all the while his heart pounding in his chest. To his right- an open field of golden barley, rippling like water in the gentle breeze. To his left was a large wood fence that ran a good distance along the side of the road, enclosing a rolling green pasture where some horned sheep grazed.
That’s when he spotted the cause of the smell- the decapitated head of a warg was hanging from one of the large wooden fence posts, some twelve feet away from him. Dropping his defensive stance he let out a rough sigh of relief, immediately relaxing. He gave himself a mental kick, feeling the complete fool as he sheepishly looked around, thankful that no one was nearby to see his overreaction. He put both his axes back in their holsters at his hips, running a broad hand through his hair before continuing on down the road.
As he walked closer, he saw what he had automatically assumed was a warg, was not. Getting a better look, he realized it was in fact the head of a large wolf. He now stood before the fence post, his thick muscular arms crossed over his chest, head cocked in confusion. Hanging by a large nail on the rough wooden fence post hung the wolf’s head, a few flies buzzing about the remains. Gimli could tell that this had once been a very handsome animal, male, full-grown but young, with a thick luxurious black coat. Gimli knew that someone was probably wearing it at this very moment, as a fur-lined cloak or other such clothing.
He was confused- why would someone do this to a wolf? They were beneficial, and like the Ravens they were a noble race in their own right, shy, keeping mostly to themselves. They were not evil like the wargs or goblins, so why do such a thing? he thought, while rubbing his short cooper colored beard.
As if in answer, Gimli heard the bleating of the sheep, and he looked past the fence post and into the pasture to see the previously grazing animals being rounded up by two dogs and a boy carrying a stick. So, stealing livestock? Still though, what did Men expect when they moved into their territory? The loss of some animals was an acceptable trade off for the land they took from the Wolves; or so Gimli thought.
With its closed eyes and its partially open mouth, the wolf’s face seem to be frozen in a moment of sorrowful anguish. Was it from the agony of its death? Or something else--things not done or simply the sorrow of dying alone at the hands of some uncaring Man? Gimli felt a sudden pang of sadness for the loss of such an elegant creature. No doubt his pack missed him, maybe even a mate or cubs. Would they go hungry because of his loss? Did his family mourn their loss…or was he alone? A lone wolf, with no pack…no family…dying alone.
With a final sad look at the wolf’s remains, Gimli uncrossed his arms and continued once again on his way.
As Gimli got closer to town he could see more people walking about, working the fields, running errands. He even had to get out of the way of people on horseback (who he steered well clear of) and several mule-drawn carts, coming and going from town, filled to overflowing with bags of grain, hay and other such things. Before long Gimli had finally reached town.
Ocendade was a cross-roads town bustling with activity, surrounded by pleasant farms and green forests, with the Blue Mountains standing guard in the south. The town was very prosperous, so prosperous that much of what the surrounding farms produced was exported, and there was much trading with the Elves of Lindon to the west and the various settlements of Men to the north and east. Gimli had no doubt that some of the grain and barley would even be headed for the Halls of Ered Luin in the Blue Mountains.
Dwarves were rare in this area, it being mainly an agricultural region and so near the Elven lands of Lindon, but he had traveled here once before, about two summers previously. Myia had somehow managed rope him and Ulfr into accompanying her on a visit to see her eldest sister, as well as picking up some barrels of special ale for Old Man Grad, who owned the tavern in Black Hollow.
It was then, to Gimli’s utter jaw dropping shock, that Myia had happily explained that her sister worked at one of the local whorehouses, and that she herself had also worked there before moving to Black Hollow to be with her other sister Shala (who too had also worked there for a time). When they had finally reached town, Myia had literally dragged him into ‘The House of the Red Blossoms’, with Ulfr tagging along. It was then and there that Gimli had finally met and gotten to know Myia’s sister Ursla, who like her younger siblings had black hair, a shapely figure, and an easy going attitude.
He now, once again, found himself headed for the ‘The House of the Red Blossoms’, dreading what he was to tell Ursla. But it was his duty to inform her and she may even be able to get word to Myia.
As Gimli walked down the main road he let his eyes take in the town and all its bustling activity. Ocendade was much bigger than Black Hollow, and much nicer. The buildings here were clean, well-constructed wooden, and plaster structures with thatched roofs and even tile on some of the nicer buildings. Shops and vendors lined the main streets, tempting potential customers with their various confections and wares.
Unlike the Hollow, where most of the people either worked in or provided support services to the coal mine, this town’s inhabitants had a varying range of occupations. From merchants, tailors, and butchers; to bakers, hunters, and farmers, and many others besides. Walking through, Gimli was surprised to even see several light-haired Elves in gray traveling clothes. No doubt some of them were merchants, by the way one argued heatedly with a tall human over the worth of a large cart full of wine barrels, most likely headed for Lindon. Gimli made sure to steer well clear of them, his hand on the handle of his axe, keeping a wary eye on them until they were out of sight.
Even the ground under Gimli’s scuffed up boots was different; unlike the dirt and gravel roads of Black Hollow and many other towns, the streets here were cobblestone and there were even several fountains, both large and small, scattered about (for drinking and decoration). Musicians, jugglers and various other street performers awed small crowds of onlookers for coins, as young pickpockets helped relieve the unwary of their money purses. Yes, this was definitely one of the largest and nicest towns Gimli had been in.
Gimli immediately headed for the west side of town, leaving the main area through some alleyways and side streets, to where ‘The House of the Red Blossoms’ had been during his last visit here. This area was definitely more run down- the buildings were drabber, and laundry lines, full of clothes, hung above from various windows strung across the alleyways. Children and dogs played below, as tired looking Women swept or simply stood leaning in their doorways. This section of town, being poorer, was also frequented by the more shady residents of Ocendade, thieves, prostitutes, muggers. Luckily most were unwilling to mess with an armed Dwarf, and so most kept their distance.
But when Gimli got to his destination, for some strange reason the brothel was no longer there. In fact nothing stood there but an empty space where some vendors had set up shop. He searched the area, checking other side streets and alleys, even going so far as asking a few people.
Some just shook their heads, others ignored him and some even yelled at him- one particularly vocal Man (who reeked of cheap ale) made the mistake of yelling at him and then insulting his parentage. Being already not in the best of moods, Gimli decided that it was his solemn duty to teach the rather rude Man some much needed manners.
With any luck someone was bound to find the unconscious Man soon. After all Gimli had made sure to leave the Man in the middle of the street, face down in a pile of horse dung.
Gimli decided to wander back to the center of town and get something to eat, before going out and trying again. He strolled around the various shops and stalls, his stomach growling with all the delicious smells, before stopping at one particular vendor. He watched as a red-haired Man with an equally red-haired toddler in his other arm walked away from a large booth, eating what looked like strips of cooked beef put between a sliced bun of bread, with lettuce, tomatoes, and other such accoutrements. Never having had it before, and deciding it looked pretty good, Gimli decide to try it.
“Ah! What can I do for you?” asked a rather jolly Man behind the counter as Gimli stepped forward. He was a great bear of a Man, dressed in simple working clothes with a large belly hanging over his thick belt. His small dark-round eyes were surrounded by heavy laugh lines and a large bush of a beard.
“I’ll have one of those,” Gimli said, pointing to one of the crudely painted pictures on the wooden counter that depicted the food item he had seen the Man with the toddler eating.
“Ah! Excellent choice, Master Dwarf! Than be me ‘house special’!” he said, and Gimli watched him lumber off to make his order.
As he waited by the counter a large jovial Woman, who was no doubt the Man’s mate, came over. Her long blond hair was parted and pleated, and her bodice seemed near overflowing with an impressive bosom. Her round blue eyes zeroed in on him.
“Ooooh! And what a precious young Man we have here!” she squealed, which was quite impressive, considering how deep her voice was. Faster than the eye could see, she had reached over the counter with a thick arm.
Gimli gave a rather undignified yelp as his cheek was suddenly caught in a painful pinch- she continued to coo, before he was finally released. He stood there in dazed shock, rubbing his sore cheek; he had definitely not expected that.
“Brunhilda, leave the poor lad alone! You’ll be scaring the customers! That be the third one today!” the Man admonished his wife, coming over with Gimli’s meal. “Here you are, my good Dwarf!” he said, handing the food over, which Gimli gratefully took.
“My thanks,” Gimli said, handing over two copper shillings. He kept a wary eye on the happily smiling and oblivious Woman who stood next to her husband, just in case she tried to attack him again.
“Enjoy!” the Man said happily, and both he and his wife waved as the Dwarf walked away, before turning their cheerful attention to another customer.
Gimli wandered around for a little while before finding a good spot where he could eat his lunch. He sat on the thick edge of a large stone fountain, watching the various people pass by, going about their business as he ate his meal. The fountain was large, with a circle at its center of several stone maidens holding large jugs over their shoulders, from which water poured continuously.
Several other people rested at the fountain, sitting at the edge or standing nearby, out of the way of traffic. As he sat there he planned out what he would do next, deciding that he would see about getting a job while he was here. He knew that he would go through his saved wages rather quickly, if he wanted to get lodgings and food while here.
He would try the local Blacksmith’s shop to see if they needed help, before going off and trying to find ‘the house of ill repute’ again. If he had no luck there, then he would try the local grain dealer- they were usually always looking for strong able bodies to help toss and load the heavy bags of grain.
He finished the last bite of his meal, and knocked the crumbs off his hands. He leaned over the edge of the fountain, and caught some falling water in his broad cupped hands, drinking several handfuls before stepping back, refreshed. He shook the water from his hands, wiping the excess on his trousers before once again moving back into the bustling crowd, heading for the Blacksmith’s shop he had seen earlier when he was looking for the whorehouse.
A large bald Man with a big bristly mustache, carrying a butchered pig over his beefy shoulders, forced his way through the crowded street. Gimli watched as he shouldered past two chatting middle-aged Women, who were obviously out shopping. Not paying attention, they both gave a squawk of surprise and anger as the Man uncaringly hit one with his shoulder, almost knocking her down. Her full basket fell out of her hands, scattering various vegetables on the street, but the Man didn’t even look back as he walked past. In fact Gimli noted that with the exception of her friend with whom she had been chatting, no one stopped to help the Woman pick up her groceries.
They just simply walked past her and her friend, some not even bothering to avoid stepping on the poor Woman’s vegetables.
As he was near, and deciding to be honorable and help them, Gimli bent down and picked up a green apple that had rolled away and managed to rescue a head of cabbage before it was walked on.
“I have your cabbage and apple here. Are you all right, my Lady?” he asked, holding out the cabbage for her to take as he walked over to the two ladies. He stood before them as they finished picking up the last of the poor Woman’s groceries.
“My thanks, dear!” she huffed gratefully, glancing up just briefly enough to see a set of large booted feet and the shadow of someone standing in front of her. She and her friend finally got up, full baskets in hand.
“At least someone around here be having some decency to help…” Her cheerful voice trailed off when both she and her friend finally looked up from dusting the last of the dirt off their long skirts, to see a young Dwarf standing expectantly in front of them, holding the cabbage out for her.
Their smiles immediately disappeared and they stared at him blankly for a moment before their eyes narrowed suspiciously. Then the first Woman, who just moments before had been thanking him, stepped forward and snatched the cabbage from his grasp. She jabbed it into her basket before impatiently throwing her hand out again, silently demanding the apple in Gimli’s other hand.
At first Gimli was simply stunned, then a spark of anger flared to life. Fine! If that is the thanks I am to be given, he thought.
With that, he put on his most winning smile and held the apple out for her to take. But just as she was going to snatch it back he clamped his strong fingers around it; juice and pulp went flying as he crushed it with no effort. Then he opened his hand again, offering her the dripping pulpy remains of the crushed apple.
The two Women gave matching gasps of shock, their hands flying to their mouths as they stared wide-eyed at him. Maybe it was the sudden show of strength or perhaps the spark of something dark in the Dwarf’s eyes, or maybe they just then noticed the three large axes hanging from his belt. Whatever it was they backed away, fear now in their once haughty eyes, as Gimli calmly dropped the apple’s remains on the ground at their feet. The two Women quickly fled, leaving the still smiling Dwarf behind.
That will teach them! Gimli snorted to himself, his smile fading as he licked the apple juice and bits of pulp off his hand, watching them scurry away into the crowd. With a final glare at the remains of the crushed apple, he plunged back into the busy and fast moving crowd. The crowds would have been daunting and downright dangerous for a child or a Halfling, but Gimli had no problem, shouldering his way past all the tall bodies as he moved towards his destination.
Many an ignorant Human made the mistake of thinking of Dwarves as being only short, ill-tempered, stubby-limbed, and round-bellied beings, who stood only as high as a Man’s waist or as high as the average Hobbit. But the truth was far different, for it was Aule who had designed the race of Durin, and Aule was the ultimate craftsman.
Most Dwarves stood between four and five and a half feet, coming up chest or shoulder height to the average Man. Shorter than Men, yet taller than Halflings. Dwarves were usually heavier and broader built than Men. Their muscle mass was larger and denser than that of Men and Elves, giving them incredible strength and endurance. They could also move with surprising speed if there was a need, making them excellent fighters.
With their oversized upper bodies and thick powerful legs and short torsos, they looked terribly ungainly next the slim and lithe bodies of the Elves. Then again, all races looked ungainly when compared to the Firstborn of Iluvatar.
Gimli made his way over to the local Blacksmith’s shop where an old Man was single-mindedly pounding out a horseshoe on a horned anvil with a hammer. Gimli stopped just inside the large doors and gave the shop and its occupants a once-over, before deciding that this looked like a promising place to find a job.
The Man was old with white stringy hair on his nearly bald head, and he wore a thick apron and heavy gloves. He had a rangy build but his arms were strong, corded with muscles from years of pounding out metal. It was a nice shop, clean with the smell of fresh hay and burning coal from the forge.
Business must have been booming, for Gimli could see about five horses and two ponies in the stalls lining the right side of the shop, waiting to be shoed. As well, there was an assortment of weapons hanging up on the far side of the left wall, near a grinding stone, awaiting to be repaired or sharpened.
Gimli patiently waited until the smith was done hammering the shoe and had thrown it into the cooling barrel next to the anvil, before stepping forward, letting his presence be known. Having been around enough temperamental Dwarven smiths, Gimli knew most hated being interrupted while they were working, so it was best to try and talk to them when they were done or in-between projects.
The Smith finally looked up at him with a glare, as he yanked the heavy work gloves off his gnarled hands before shoving them into a large pocket in his apron.
“What do you want?” he snapped in a scratchy voice.
“My pardon, Master Smith. But I’m looking for work and was wondering if--”
“No Dwarves!” the old Man snapped loudly, rudely interrupting him.
“Wha--?” Gimli said, confused and a bit taken aback by the Man’s outburst.
“I said, no Dwarves! Can’t ya read the sign?!” snapped the Man, jabbing a gnarled finger at something behind the young Dwarf. Gimli looked to where the old Man was pointing and saw a tattered old sign nailed to the open door of the shop that he hadn’t noticed before. In bold letters written in common it read: ‘DURIN’S’ FOLK NOT WELCOME’.
For long moments Gimli just stood looking blankly at the sign; this was not the first time he had come across people and places that did not welcome Dwarves. But it still came as a bit of a shock after living in such fully integrated places like the Hollow, where only one’s abilities and hard work counted.
“See, you ain’t welcome! Your kind…always stealing the good work…smithy and masonry…thinking’ you’re better than us!” The old smith continued to rant, but in his fervor he made the foolish mistake of stepping around the large anvil and stomping over to the now quite irate Dwarf, his forging hammer held threateningly in a white knuckled grip (apparently forgetting what else Dwarves are known for).
“Now get out of here! Ya dirty stinkin’ dirt--” Whatever insult the smith was going to say was cut off with a sudden gasp. His small eyes went wide in fear as he suddenly found the edge of a very sharp axe under his scraggly chin.
“Watch your tongue, you senile old fart! Or I’ll remove it for you!” Gimli warned him, his deep voice now full of sudden menace, his eyes glittering with anger.
“Pissing off the wrong people again, I see. When are ya going learn, Bliddyn?” came a sudden cheerful voice, nearly causing Gimli to jump. Not moving his axe from its position, Gimli turned his head in the direction of the new voice.
Standing in the doorway was a Man, but one like he had never seen before. Gimli could only stare in surprise- the newcomer looked like a Man with short brown hair and a pleasant face; he carried a walking cane and was well-dressed, with a short coat and blue vest with gold buttons. What was strange was that the Man’s body seemed disproportionate, his arms and legs were far too short for his torso. He was also severely bowlegged and leaned heavily on his cane for support (3).
The old Smith seemed to immediately recognize the Man. “I didn’t do nothing’! Just asked him to leave!” the old Man screeched piteously, still not daring to move for fear of the axe still held under his scraggly chin.
“Liar!” Gimli spat, head snapping back to the Man again. He gave a deep menacing growl- not only was this Man a bigot, but a liar also! If it was possible, the old smith’s eyes seem get even bigger, his adam’s apple bobbing on his thin neck as he gave a nervous swallow.
“That he is,” the small Man laughed. “But please, peace, Master Dwarf!” He waddled over, a hand upraised, until he stood in front of them. Gimli could now see that he was about the size of a tall Hobbit or a very short Dwarf, coming up just below his own shoulder height.
“He is but a crotchety, ignorant old Man,” the small Man said, motioning to the old Man with a stubby arm towards the Smith, who shot him a glare but remained silent. “Please allow him to apologize. Bliddyn here meant no insult…did you, Bliddyn?” he drawled, looking expectedly at the old smith, who shot him another withering glare before turning his beady-eyed attention to the Dwarf.
My Dwarven ass he didn’t, Gimli thought to himself.
“My apologies….Dwarf,” Bliddyn said, fairly spitting out the word ‘Dwarf’. Gimli continued to glare, watching the wrinkled Human grow increasingly nervous as the silence stretched, before giving a curt nod, lowering his axe and stepping away. The old Man immediately let out a gasp of relief, before scrambling quickly back behind the anvil, his scowl returning to his withered face.
“Now get out, both of ya!” he yelled in a wavering voice, pointing out the door with a gnarled hand that still held his forging hammer. Gimli just glared in disbelief at the old coot, but the small Man with the cane only gave a laugh and a shrug, before motioning for Gimli to follow him as he turned and ambled out of the shop.
His curiosity sparked, Gimli put his axe back in its holster and followed the Man out of the shop and a little ways down the street, all the while intently watching this curious creature with the cane. He gave a few tentative sniffs of the Man’s sent, trying to decipher what race he hailed from, but all his sensitive nose could smell was the reek of Men. Finally the Man stopped and turned to face him.
“Greetings! I am Rhaenye. I’m the town’s records keeper and librarian, at your service,” the diminutive librarian said, with a short bow.
“Gimli, son of Gloin, at yours,” he said, giving an answering bow.
“I was out on my daily walk, when I happened by and saw you. You must forgive him, Master Dwarf. He is but a foolish old man, who blames everyone else for the troubles of the world,” Rhaenye said, starting to walk again at a more sedate pace, Gimli falling in step beside him.
“Forgive my ignorance, Master Rhaenye. But… I have never seen one such as you before; what race do you hail from?” Gimli asked, his deep brown eyes studying the librarian that walked beside him. “You smell like a Man, yet…”
“Think nothing of it, my good Dwarf!” Rhaenye said with a laugh. “I assure you I am of the race of Men- I was born this way,” he explained.
“Are there others like you?”
“Why yes, there are. My wife is also as I am. Though of our three children one, my eldest, is of ‘normal’ height. But in this day and age of Middle-earth who is to say what is ‘normal’ and what is not, eh?” he said with a jovial snort, coming to a stop by another fountain before sitting down with a grunt on the stone bench in front of it. This was one of the several smaller fountains around the town, used only for decoration.
“I had heard that Men such as I, are called ‘Nelwens’ in some places. Some have even formed small villages of nothing but people just like me,” Rhaenye continued. “I have even heard that in some far off places, where Elves, Dwarves, and Dragons are considered nothing but fanciful stories, they call folk born such as I ‘Dwarfs’.”
Gimli immediately balked at the very thought. “Dwarfs!? Preposterous! Forgive me, Master Rhaenye. But you are no Dwarf-- far from it!” Birth defects were very rare in Dwarves, and the few that were born with severe defects, of a nature that would pose a serious hindrance to work or any type of future manual labor, usually did not live past the first hours after their birth. Infanticide was a dark element of Dwarven society, a society that had no place for the weak who could not work or fight. It was carried out only by females, usually by the actual mothers- males had no say in the matter.
“And don’t I know it,” Rhaenye said, with a good-natured chuckle. “If I was, I certainly would not put up with half the stupidity that I am forced to deal with.”
“I see you must be new in town, yes?” the small Man asked, taking a small handkerchief from his coat pocket to dab at some of the sweat on his brow, before tucking it back in his pocket.
“Aye, though I have visited here once before,” Gimli answered, deciding that this Man, being the town’s records keeper, might know the location of ‘The House of the Red Blossoms’, if it was still in existence.
“Very good,” Rhaenye said, looking out into the crowds as he enjoyed the sunshine, both his short hands resting on the hilt of his cane.
“Could you help me? I’m trying to locate a certain place,” Gimli asked.
“By all means! I know just about every nook and cranny in this town,” the Man said proudly, seeming to puff up with pride. “What be the place you seek?”
“Could you direct me to ‘The House of the Red Blossoms’? The place where it once stood houses nothing now but a row of vegetable vendors.”
“The whorehouse?” Rhaenye said in astonishment, and both of his eyebrows shot up as he turned to give the Dwarf a surprised look.
“Nay! Not for that!” Gimli said quickly, shaking his head and holding up his hands, knowing what the Man must be thinking. “ I need to speak with one of the Ladies who works there…. I bring grave news of one of her sisters,” he explained.
“Oh…oh. Well then, nothing wrong if you were going for a ‘visit’. Getting the itch and all, eh, eh?” Rhaenye said with a laugh, making a clicking noise out the corner of his mouth, a twinkle in his eye. Gimli rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment, trying to keep a blush from his face, but the librarian just gave another laugh.
“They moved to the old inn on the south side of town; the old place got gutted by a fire. Just go down that street until you come to the fountain with the stone fish, then go right, three blocks,” he directed, pointing down the street.
“Best be careful, that be a bad area of town. Though I imagine you won’t be having a problem. Then make a left down the third alleyway-- then just look for the big inn with the red flowers painted on the door. You can’t miss it!”
“My thanks, Master Rhaenya!” Gimli said gratefully, giving the strange Man a deep bow before trotting away in the direction Rhaenye had directed, quickly disappearing into the crowds of people.
“My pleasure! Good luck, Master Dwarf!” the diminutive librarian called after him with a smile.
Gimli stood before the door of what had once been a large distinguished inn, that was now the new home of ‘The House of the Red Blossoms’. Someone had painted crude designs of crawling green vines with small red flowers on the side of the door, adding at touch of whimsy to the otherwise drab looking building. He gave the thick door three heavy knocks to let the residents inside know that whoever was at the door was there to visit or speak to someone; just walking in without knocking meant that you were a prospective ‘client’.
Like most Dwarves Gimli found places like these completely repugnant. The blatant mistreatment of females, children (and some Men) was utterly barbaric, in his opinion. But he was not the kind to cast judgment on other races and their strange cultures, though he greatly felt like it at times.
Gimli waited patiently for several long moments before he heard some movement followed by someone’s angry muttering. The door was finally opened by a rather harsh looking middle-aged Women, who gave him a pointed glare. Was everyone in this damned town of such sour a disposition? Gimli thought tiredly to himself.
“What ya want?” she snapped, as she wiped her flour-covered hands on her noticeably food stained apron, obviously having just come from the kitchen.
“I need to speak with the Lady Ursla,” he answered simply.
She gave a snort, mumbling under her breath something about ‘Lady, my sore foot,’ as she stepped aside and ushered him in, before slamming the door behind him.
“Ursla! Someone here ta see ya!” she bellowed before storming away, leaving Gimli standing in the main entrance.
The interior of the place was fairly dark, and the cloying scent of burning incense hung heavily in the air. Many red pillows, fabrics and drapes were scattered about; the walls were cluttered with numerous tapestries, some of which were quite explicit, depicting various sexual acts and escapades. A few Men, no doubt clients, lounged about in the outer rooms with a few the working Women. Several of them gave him strange looks, which Gimli ignored. The more private rooms were located on the second floor, accessed by a long broad staircase.
Some might have thought the interior decor to be rich and sensually mysterious, but Gimli just thought it horribly tacky--the tapestries were so vile and crude they were something to be looked at with amusement. The incense did nothing to disguise the musky, sickening smell of Men and the various ‘activities’ that constantly took place here, from Gimli’s sensitive nose. He knew his father would take his axe to him if he knew of his son willingly going into such a place as this, let alone previously been here… Gimli didn’t even want to imagine what his mother would do if she were still living- probably skin him alive.
It was then that a curvy raven-haired Women, wearing nothing but a black laced-up bodice and a long green skirt, appeared at the top of the stairs, looking only mildly curious as to who wanted to speak with her.
“Gimli!” she cried, a big smile spreading over her face as she spotted him. An answering smile spread over his own face as he watched her quickly descending the stairs, her large gold hoop earrings ringing merrily as she went.
“Well! If it ain’t Myia’s ’ansome Dwarf friend. Come in, come in! What can I do for ya, Lov?” she greeted him warmly, giving him a quick embrace and a peck on the cheek, and taking hold of his hands before stepping away to have a look at him. He watched as her smile melted into a worried frown, concern shining in her dark eyes as she took notice of the difference in his appearance since last she had seen him.
“Have you seen Myia? Is she well?” he asked hurriedly before she could say anything, a pleading look in his eyes as he gave her slim hands a squeeze.
“She be more than well,” she answered, her smile back in place as she gave his hands an answering squeeze, knowing that he had only asked to avoid her unspoken question.
“That girl! Wilder than a Wood Elf, I tell ya! Drivin’ that poor lad, Dreak, to an early grave! Surprised he don’t already have gray hairs,” she laughed.
“That I have no doubt,” Gimli said with a chuckle, letting go of her hands.
“Speakin’ of wild, where’s that wild friend of yours-- Ulfr, wasn’t it?” she asked, looking behind him as if expecting the amber-eyed Dwarf to be lurking about.
Gimli felt his heart give a hard lurch at the mention of his friend’s name, and taking a deep breath he opened his mouth to say something… but found that nothing came out. He tried again before giving a harsh shake of his head.
“I--forgive me Ursla, but… May we go someplace more private? I have grave news to tell you,” he said, his tone near pleading.
“Oh dear, this must be serious,” she said, her frown back as she unconsciously touched her bottom lip with her fingers. “Come on, up to me room, and you can tell me all about it,” she said, motioning him to follow her. Gimli gave a simple nod, and followed as she led him further into the dark interior of the bordello.
“Merry, can you cover for me, for a bit?” Ursla asked, walking up to a very bored looking Woman who was filing her long nails as she leaned against a wall. Gimli decided that she was probably one of the most beautiful (human) Women he had ever seen; her body was almost Elvish looking, her skin a deep rich chocolate brown, and a long mane of thick black tightly curled hair fell down her back.
“Sure thing, Ursla. But it be a bit slow today, so I don’t think ya really hafta worry about it none,” she said, looking up with a smile, before going back to her nails.
“My thanks, anyways,” she said, flashing the statuesque Woman a grateful smile before turning and heading for the large staircase that led up to the second floor and the private rooms. Gimli couldn’t help another look back at the dark-skinned Woman, before following Ursla up the stairs.
A willowy dark-haired Woman in a purple robe, a small elegant smoking pipe held in one of her long-fingered hands, walked out of some shadows where she had stood unnoticed. She took a drag from it as she casually strolled over to the bottom of the stairs to get a better look at the two ascending figures.
“Oh, that’s a first! Didn’t think their kind came into places like this,” she said in an amused voice, taking another drag on her pipe as she watched Ursla and the young Dwarf disappear to the right, down the hall at the top of the staircase.
“What’s a first? I didn’t see,” said a petite blond Woman, walking over to stand beside the smoking brunette as she leaned against the stair railing. Her blond hair was parted into two long pleats and she wore a simple long skirt and bodice, the laces left half undone.
“Ursla’s got a Dwarf client!” said the taller Woman with a laugh.
“A Dwarf!? Poor girl…”
“Poor girl, me arse! Did you see him? Downright handsome that one--and that hair! I’d kill for that kind of color,” she said with a wistful shake of her head.
“But--‘andsome? But you said he was a Dwarf!?” May said, blinking in genuine confusion
“Careful, May. Your gaping ignorance is showing,” the first snorted, before explaining. “Dwarves be like Men, some be ugly… some be fair,” she said with a shrug.
“I am not ignorant!” May huffed, affronted. “Besides, I know these things! Dwarves can’t be ‘ansome, ‘cause they’re only a race of short, hairy, mean and ugly Men. They don’t even got no women of their own, so they gotta carve their children from stone! My father used to tell me so,” she said with complete conviction.
“Really now? And just how many Dwarves have you seen?” the other asked, looking at the small blond from out of the corner of her heavily coal-lined eyes.
“Plenty! There was that one, uh…umm….you know on the road, and…umm--”
“Oh, do shut up,” the brunette interrupted with an impatient roll of her eyes, as she blew some smoke out of the corner of her mouth. She gave the top of the stairs one more look, then finally sauntered off, saying something under her breath about ‘ignorant farm peasants’. Her purple robe flowing artfully behind her, as she left the confused and insulted blond behind.
“I am not ignorant!” May called after the brunette, giving her foot a stomp and folding her arms over her chest angrily.
An hour later in Ursla’s room…
She lay crumbled in the middle of the floor, her face in her hands as she sobbed, her body shaking with racking tremors. Her green skirt lay in disarray about her, and her long dark hair hid her face as it trailed on the floor from her bowed head, exposing her pale long neck. Gimli sat on the floor nearby, his back against the wall by the room’ only window. His head rested against the wall behind him as he stared up at the cracked plaster ceiling, his terrible story and the fate of Ursla’s sister now told.
“That foul--! The…the… BEASTS! Oh, me poor Shala! Her little ones! It ain’t right!” Ursla cried, smashing a fist against the hard wooden floor, then again, and again, with escalating force. Soon she was pounding on the floor with both fists with all her might, as she near howled in her grief, her large hoop earrings ringing merrily all the while.
When it became obvious that she wasn’t planning on stopping anytime soon, Gimli, concerned that she would hurt herself, got up and came over to her. He put a calming hand on her back, calling for her to stop and calm down. When she continued to ignore him, he finally grabbed her gently by the arms and picked her up, away from the floor. No longer having the floor to take her frustrations out on, she turned her blind rage and grief on him, smacking and beating on him with her fists. He winced and grimaced as she fought, scratched and yanked his long hair.
“Why, WHY!?!” she screamed. Her face, her red lip paint was smudged, her black hair in complete disarray, her pain-filled eyes wild as tears streamed unabated down her face.
“Stop! Ursla!! Stop this!!!” he yelled, trying to hold onto her and talk some sense into her. He let out a loud curse in Khazdul, when she grabbed hold of his short beard and gave a particularly vicious tug. It was then that he tripped on her long skirt and down they both went with a crash. Luckily Gimli recovered quickly and getting to his knees, he grabbed the still thrashing Ursla by the upper arms again, dragging the screaming and crying Woman up to her knees with him.
“Ursla! Stop this--damn it all! Ursla!” Still she fought, and finally Gimli had had enough.
“URSLA! STOP THIS!!! he bellowed, giving her a hard shake, causing her head to fly back and forth. Gimli gave an internal wince- he hated to do it, the Dwarven part of him balking at treating a Woman in such a manner, but he saw no other choice.
The shake seemed to work for she stopped; her screams fell silent as she stared at him with wide, bloodshot, but aware eyes. They both stayed that way, staring at one another, their heavy breathing the only sound in the now deathly quiet room.
Seeing that she was now back in control of herself, Gimli slowly let go of her arms, sitting back on his heels. Wordlessly Ursla raised a shaky hand to his shoulder, her long fingers ghosting over some of the thick scars there, before putting her cool hand on his cheek over the red imprint where one of her wild hits had found its mark. It had not been hard enough to bruise his tough skin, but it stung nevertheless. She studied his strong-featured face, his long hair in disarray from her pulling on it, but it was his eyes that held her attention, for in those deep brown pools she saw her own pain, and more, mirrored there. They looked at one another and saw an ally, a friend, and a fellow lost soul.
“Oh Valar! Forgive me! Please forgive me, Gimli!” she sobbed on his shoulder, crushing him in an embrace. She held on to him, her hands fisting the material of his buff-colored shirt, as if he was the only thing keeping her grounded.
“I--I’m so angry! I should be sad, grievin’, but I’m only angry. So angry… It’s not fair, me Shala… her--her babies…” she sobbed.
Gimli said nothing, staring off into space, his own emotions a whirl. He calmly patted her back and unconsciously began to rock her gently in his arms, both of them taking the simple comfort of being held.
“I feel like there’s a wind storm, Gimli.” Ursla said in a soft voice, barely above a whisper, after her sobs had finally stopped. “It be feelin’ like I’m being carried away, like a dried up old leaf.”
Gimli stared unfocused over her shoulder, his dark, now hollow-looking eyes dry of tears, his true gaze directed at old memories that flashed through his mind.
There they stayed in silence, their thoughts far away- from the room, the whorehouse, and the town of Ocendade. Away south, to the smoking ruins of a small coal mining town.
It was long moments later that they heard the sound of hurrying feet out in the hall, and they both turned to look at the door, right before it burst open. Three Women stood in the doorway; one was armed with a broom, another with a rolling pin, all with expectant and concerned faces (4.).
“Ursla!” yelled the small brunette, with the broom.
“What in Mordor is going on in here?!” demanded the one brandishing the rolling pin.
“Ursla! Are you alright, girl!?” asked the small blond one that had opened the door.
The Women’s eyes visibly bulged as they took in the scene of the two on the floor before them. With their disheveled hair, their clothes in disarray, both of them flushed and in a tight embrace on the floor, it was not hard to imagine what they must look like to the three. The silence stretched as the two groups continued to stare at one another, before Ursla began to tense and her temper snapped.
“GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OOUUUUUT!!!” Ursla screamed angrily at them, all of a sudden. Gimli grimaced, his eyes scrunched shut at the sheer volume, her screams being almost right in his ear since she still clung to him. The three jumped and quickly scrambled out the door, which slammed after them. The two on the floor looked at the door for a moment, before turning to one another.
“You know, they were only worried--it should be comforting knowing that they would come to your aid,” Gimli said, a small smile creeping at the corners of his mouth. Ursla rolled her eyes with a snort as she finally released him from their embrace.
“What took ’em so bloody long?! I’d be long dead, if ya really ad been killin’ me!” she said, while angrily wiping at her tears. “I imagine I be lookin’ a complete fright,” she said, giving the Dwarf an embarrassed glance, before stumbling up and going over to her dresser that doubled as a vanity.
“I imagine I’m no better,” he said, running his hands through his thick hair as he got up as well, before walking over to the wall and taking a seat by the window.
Ursla’s room was medium-sized, with a large bed pushed against one wall near the room’s one large window. There were several chests, a small writing desk, and a large wooden dresser. A smaller dresser, the top of which was covered in various bottles and brushes, was equipped with a large polished silver mirror and a stool in front of it, where Ursla now sat as she cleaned herself up and fixed her makeup.
Gimli looked out the window, watching a clothesline hung with numerous undergarments sway with the breeze. A small finch was perched on the line, grooming its feathers.
“Forgive me, Ursla. I was unable to--,” he started to apologize, but she cut him off.
“You be stoppin’ that, this instant!” she demanded, whipping around on the stool to spear him with a look that would take no argument. “It wasn’t your fault! The fault be with that vile snake Rowell, and them drivers, them bloody goblins! Not with you or anyone else!
“What I did--Oh! Just ignore that! I was bein’ an idiot, gone plum out of my mind!”
“No… You were just in pain…shock,” he said softly, from where he sat leaning against the wall. Silence fell once again as she turned around and began fixing her hair, running a thin bone brush through her dark locks.
“My poor Shala--she’d gone so far… Only to have such a thing happen…. It’s not fair, them’s getting away with--, ” She suddenly froze, her eyes going wide with a sudden realization, and a moment later her bone brush dropped to the floor, forgotten.
“Wait! One of them wagon drivers comes here every two weeks!” she said, in a near breathless gasp.
Gimli immediately sat up at hearing this, his complete attention locked on her as she quickly got up and began to pace. He felt his heart rate speed up in his chest; he’d pretty much given up all hopes of ever finding Rowell or any of the other wagon drivers, of being able to take revenge for what they had helped do. He got to his feet as well, waiting expectantly for her to continue, a new fire coming back to his eyes.
“Bastard! Goes by the name of Tir. He’s not one ‘o my clients, but he be one of Ruby’s regulars! Always makes a point of comin’ in, always flirtin’ all the girls up. Flirtin’ me up. All this time and he knew…knew about Shala, her babies…talking me up, with that slimy smile ‘o his!” she growled, her hands balling into white-knuckled fists as she seethed with anger.
“If we can get him alone--get him to tell where the rest of them snakes be at!” she said excitedly, the flames of retribution flashing in her gray-blue eyes as she looked at Gimli.
“Where Rowell is at!” Gimli added. “I’ll make him pay for the agonies he and all the others caused!” he promised, a malevolent grin splitting his face.
“I’ll ask Merry to have a talk with Miss D--she’s the headmistress of this here place. Merry be D’s lover. And if anyone can get Ruby to talk, it will be her!”
“Why not simply demand it from this ‘Ruby’ Woman?” Gimli asked in confusion.
“’Cause that cancerous bitch can’t stand me. Sooner be cutting’ off her own hand, than help me.” Ursla said with obvious venom, as she gave herself one final look over in the mirror. Gimli open his mouth to ask something, but she cut him off, seeing his expression in the mirror.
“Trust me. Ya don’t wanna know,” she said, turning around. One would never have been able tell that she had been crying and in hysterics only a short time ago. Her hair, coal-lined eyes, and lip paint were once again perfect, though her eyes now glittered with pain and a hot anger that had not been there before.
“Fair enough,” Gimli relented with a shrug, running a hand through his thick hair.
“Come on, Luv, let’s get some food in ya, for the time bein’. I think Mavis made a big pot ‘o stew this morning’,” she said, walking to the door while re-tying the laces of her black bodice that had become loose earlier.
The kitchen was very spacious and airy, with several large windows and a sizable cooking hearth. A long heavy counter sat in front of it- this was where most of the food preparation was done. There were several entrances that led to various parts of the bordello, and a door in the back opened to a small courtyard where a tall tree stood. Many shelves and cabinets lined the walls, and a large wooden table with several chairs dominated the center of the room.
It was here that Gimli sat, his boots dangling but a few inches from the polished flagstone floor, as he voraciously finished up a bowl of simple rabbit stew. Surrounding the table were a few Men and a large group of Women, some of whom were fully dressed and others only partly, brazenly not caring about their nudity. They chatted amongst themselves, as they watched the newcomer that Ursla had introduced before leaving to talk with the headmistress.
Having finished his bowl, Gimli turned big beseeching eyes to the blond older Woman beside him, who was wearing an apron. “My Lady Mavis, truly only your loveliness could surpass your wondrous cooking. Please, I must beg another bowl of your delicious stew,” he said, laying on the charm as he held out the bowl.
Lady Mavis, a pleasantly plump and round faced Women, gave a delighted laugh as a blush colored her cheeks prettily. She took his empty bowl and ladled some more into it before setting it in front of him again.
“My eternal thanks, my Lady,” he said, giving her a roguish smile and a wink.
“Ooh! Best be careful, ladies, this one here could charm the knickers right off an Elven Queen, I reckon!” she said with a laugh, as the Dwarf began to dig in with gusto.
“That’s not a problem-- some of us aren’t wearing any!” said a tall beautiful Woman, holding a slim pipe carved with complex designs, who was standing nearby. She had coal-black hair that hung loose nearly down to her waist, and she was pale, long-limbed and stood brazenly in a red robe left open (leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination). “Hey there, handsome. If the nights get too cold, I can help warm you up. No charge,” she cooed with a promising wink, blowing a small smoke ring.
Gimli would have flushed beet red if he had been paying attention, but he was so focused on eating at the moment, the Elven King of Mirkwood could have been on the table dancing and doing a strip tease, and Gimli would not have noticed.
“Pearl, you bring new meaning to the term ‘whore’! Child, do you have any decency?” said a fully dressed older Woman, with tightly bound brown hair that was shot through with gray.
“Oh, shit on your ‘decency’” Pearl said, rolling her eyes.
“There is no need to be vulgar!” sniffed the other haughtily.
“Vulgar? Ha! This is a whorehouse, if you haven’t noticed,” said the younger Woman sarcastically. She took a long drag on her pipe and exhaled purposefully in the older Woman’s face, who coughed and waved her hands before her, trying to ward away the smoke.
“Don’t see what all the fuss be about. It’s just some mangy Dwarf,” sniffed another Woman disdainfully. She was the same dour Woman with the stained apron, who had let Gimli in earlier.
“Careful, May! You keep staring so hard and you’re going to burn a hole in his head!” a lithe young Man laughed, poking the small blond in the ribs. He was fully dressed in a simple gray tunic and leggings; he was one of the three male prostitutes that worked the brothel.
The small blond Woman gave a startled jump, before turning and shooting him a glare. Then she turned back to stare mystified at the Dwarf, who was paying absolutely no attention to any of them as he continued to nearly inhale his stew.
“I don’t understand… they’re supposed to be ugly… old …fat…” May mumbled, clearly not able to comprehend the strange copper-haired Dwarf in front of her. The young Man beside her only giggled at her mystification.
“I don’t like Dwarves, they’re just so…well you know,” said another Woman, looking down her nose at him while filing at one of her long nails.
“Oh! He’s adorable! Can we keep him?” squealed a young lady who was sitting on the side of the table, her near-red hair gathered in a ponytail at the back of her head with a ribbon.
“This one just ain’t my type--I like them Elves better. What think you, Elise?” asked another, looking to the Woman beside her, who shook her head in disapproval.
“Elves, Dwarves--Bah- to the lot of them! Stick to your own kind, I say!” she grumped, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Aye, he’s handsome alright, but I like me Men a bit taller. This one only comes up to my chest,” said a tall blond Woman, standing on the other side of the table, on Gimli’s right.
“Doesn’t sound like a problem to me- just the right level,” said a plump dark-haired beauty with a smirk, giving her impressive bosom a shake.
“I don’t know, I like my Dwarves a bit older--more beard, and with a bit more meat on their bones, too. This one’s downright skinny,” said a handsome brown-haired Man clad only in a patterned brown robe, his long hair falling past his shoulders, as he watched Gimli start on his third helping of Mavis’s stew.
“What are ya talking about, Draco? We ain’t never had any of Durin’s folk come here as-- well, none as actual ‘clients’ anyways,” said a short Woman with equally short auburn hair.
“Not here- when I was living in Shiprock, working at the local tavern,” he said, his voice holding a note of annoyance.
It was just then that Lady D, followed by Ursla and Merry, swept into the kitchen, and all chatter immediately ceased.
She stood there, her folded fan in both hands, an arched eyebrow raised as she regarded the large group around the table with her storm-gray eyes. She was a tall older Woman who still had a regal beauty about her. Her flame red hair was held high on her head in a complicated bun, the color being the more orange type of red hair that humans had (not the truly deep reds of the Dwarves), shot through with silver at her temples. She wore a dress and bodice of deep forest-green with a black shawl over her thin shoulders, and a dainty pair of black laced-up leather boots.
“Elizabeth, your regular is here. As for the rest of ya-- standing around like a gaggle of geese. Get going. Shoo! Shoo! Get out of ‘ere, the lot of ya!” she ordered, as the various ladies and Men drained quickly out of the kitchen, leaving only the four in the large room. Gimli had gotten up from his chair, having pushed his empty bowl away at the three’s arrival, and now stood in front of them.
“So this be the Dwarf?” the older Woman asked, looking the young Dwarf over with a critical eye, her gaze lingering on his axes.
“Miss D, meet Gimli, son of Gloin,” Ursla introduced them, coming to stand by Gimli’s side and putting a hand on his shoulder.
“At your service,” Gimli said with a deep bow.
“At yours,” she greeted back. “Please, have a seat,” she said, motioning for him to sit back down, which he did. The lovely dark-skinned Merry also took a seat at the table, in an empty chair opposite from him.
As he sat down, he noticed that someone was peering unobserved through the entrance to the kitchen, behind the standing Lady D, obviously trying not to be seen. By the small delicate hand, the mass of wavy brown hair, and the large pair of liquid black-eyes, Gimli guessed it to be a young Woman. Why she was hiding he couldn’t guess- perhaps she didn’t want to be caught eavesdropping on a conversation? Whoever it was apparently caught sight of him watching her, for she gave a little jump and disappeared. Gimli turned his attention to the red-haired Woman when she began to speak.
“So… Ursla here tells me that you would like me to hand over Tir. So you both can get information and some form of…retribution, yes?” she asked, watching as both Gimli and Ursla gave sharp nods.
“I will be perfectly honest with you--including you, Ursla. I don’t give a ‘Hobbit’s ass-hair’ about this Black Hollow, or any of the people in it. I care only for those under this roof, and under my care. But!” She held up a hand, effectively stopping the tirade that Gimli and Ursla had begun to voice. Both of them were visibly bristling at her words and dismissive tone.
“Dastardly villain or not, he’s a regular customer who pays well… So, why should I let you have him, when he is a steady and valuable resource?” she asked, once again holding up a hand to stop them from saying anything. “I’ll give you Tir, but… you must do something for me in return,” she said, tapping her fan against her palm.
“What do you propose?” Gimli asked warily, one copper eyebrow cocked, after looking at Ursla and getting an eager nod.
“I want you to help me take care of a continuing problem, by the name of Crasus,” she said, before explaining further in a calm and businesslike manner.
“He works over at the granary, comes here almost every week. He cut up one of my girls. Cut up her face…bad. Just ‘cause she gave a little giggle at how small his pecker was. She didn’t mean nothing by it. She didn’t know no better. She’s just a girl, seventeen summers--“
“A child!? You let a mere child work in a place like this!” Gimli roared, now glaring at the headmistress in angry disbelief. What was wrong with these people!?
“Don’t you dare be getting that way with me! What would you prefer? Her out on the streets, begging? She’d be a lamb for the wolves out there!” she snapped angrily at him, as they both glared at one another. “This ain’t no little mining town or village; this be a whole other world, full of its own dangers, just like any of those in the wilds.”
Gimli held his tongue, wanting to say more, but caught Ursla’s gaze; she gave a small shake of her head, motioning for him to stay quiet.
“Here she has a bed, food, friends. People who look out for her, she’s safe under this roof-- ”
“Sounds like you haven’t done a very good job so far of keeping’ her ‘safe’,” Gimli said sarcastically, looking her right in the eye.
Her thin painted mouth tightened, and the color drained from her face; she suddenly looked as if she might lash out and strike him for his words, as she stared down at him with eyes of pure ice.
If she had been a Dwarf female, Gimli knew he’d probably be sprawled across the room by now, but instead she kept her storm gray eyes locked on his. They both continued to stare at one another, the heavy tension causing both Ursla and Merry to shift uncomfortably as they watched the two face off.
With a defeated sigh, Lady D finally broke away, turning to stare out the door leading to the small courtyard for a long moment. Finally she turned back to him, her eyes flashing with pain and anger that was directed more at herself than at him.
“All I want is justice!” she demanded angrily, her hands fisting around the folded black fan.
Gimli watched her, saw the tension in her shoulders as she struggled to replace her mask of cool uncaring. So… the Ice Queen has a heart after all, he thought to himself. Merry looked concerned and was going to get up and go to her, but Lady D saw this and motioned for her lover to remain seated.
The silence remained unbroken, and Gimli decided to speak, cutting the tension in the room.
“Tell me more about this Man.”
“The bastard be an old friend of Clots--cut some deal with him. Damn him anyway!” she spat, pulling her shawl tighter about herself and feeling grateful to the Dwarf for breaking the silence. “So he comes back here, always asking for her--don’t want anyone else, always her. Thinks he owns her or something, now.”
“Aye! Sam’s dragged him out of here more times than can be counted. And that Crasus is always allowed back!” Ursla, added from where she stood next to Gimli’s chair.
“As long as he’s lining Clots’s pockets with gold, Clots will keep letting him back,” Lady D said with a note of finality in her voice.
“Clots?” Gimli asked in confusion, looking back and forth between the two Women.
“Master Clots be the owner of this place,” Lady D answered.
“Can you not stop this Crasus?” demanded the Dwarf, rolling the strange name over his tongue like a bad taste.
“We’ve tried everything. From literally standing in his way, to begging, my others girls even offering themselves--nothing works,” she said with a tired sigh, unconsciously rubbing a large ring on her finger.
“Aye, the local authorities and even our clients don’t care. They don’t be caring about a bunch of whores--‘specially not in this section o’ town,” Urlsa agreed sadly, taking a seat on the table next to Gimli’s chair.
“Just when I think I have the race of Men understood, their strangeness is only driven further home. Women not knowing how to fight--kept more like servants!?” he said, shaking his head in utter bafflement. “Treating Women as such…it’s, it’s utterly barbaric!” he said angrily, slamming his fist into his palm.
“I must agree with ya there, Master Dwarf!” Lady D said with a laugh, an approving look on her face. “I can now see why Ursla and Myia are so fond of your kind.”
“Told ya!” Ursla chirped with a wink, and gave one of Gimli’s thick forelocks a playful tug, earning her a mock glare from the Dwarf.
“So…we have a deal then? Crasus for Tir?” Lady D asked.
Gimli got up from his chair.
“Aye. Crasus, for Tir,” he agreed, giving her a bow, sealing the deal.
“Good! Now then. Sam, my usual bouncer, is out sick for a few days. You can fill in for him until Master Tir shows up. Some of our clientele can get a bit rowdy,” she explained dryly.
“Until then you can stay in one of our spare rooms. I’m not gonna pay ya-- but I can guarantee you a good bed and three square meals a day while you’re here.
“I’ll expect you to do your job at ‘any’ hour of the night or day! You hear a shout, you come running. Got it?” she asked, spearing him with a firm gaze.
He gave a curt nod of his head, not particularly relishing the idea of staying and working in this place, but seeing no other option at the moment.
“I understand,” he said with a small bow, getting up from his chair.
“Good. And don’t be expecting any ‘freebies’.
She gave a bark of laughter, the other two Women also laughing as a deep red blush burst over his face and he started to sputter in staunch denial.
“Peace, Master Dwarf!” she said with a laugh. “Dwarf though you be, Ursla tells me that you are still a Male. So I must lay out some ground rules, yes?”
Gimli gave a nod of understanding, but kept his mouth closed, still a bit flushed. He shot Ursla a withering glare as she still snickered behind a hand, and crossed his muscular arms over his chest.
“Good, Ursla will show you to the spare room. Get some sleep,” she ordered, shooing them both out of the kitchen.
“D, what if Master Clots comes back? And even if he don’t, he’s bound to find out about Crasus,” Merry said, coming over to stand by the older Woman, a worried expression on her elegant face.
“Don’t worry none about Master Clots. He won’t be out of bed for a few days…and very soon we won’t have to worry about him at all,” she said simply.
As Gimli followed Ursla to one of the entrances that lead up to the second floor, he watched as Lady D unconsciously stroked the large ring on her finger. To anyone else it looked like a large intricate silver ring, but to Gimli’s Dwarven eyes it was clearly a ‘poison’ ring. Specially made so that none would suspect that the beautiful ring stored a deadly poison, it could be opened by its owner so they could slip said poison into their victim’s food or drink.
Gimli suspected that the brothel owner, Master Clots, was not destined to be in this world much longer. He said nothing as he followed Ursla out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
It was two days later when Crasus finally came for a visit. As usual he demanded that young Gwen wait on him, not taking no for an answer, shoving aside anyone in his way. He tossed a small bag of gold coins at a scowling Lady D, and with a smug smirk, he then stomped up the stairs to Gwen’s small room to wait impatiently for her.
Crasus was a Man of average height and a skinny build, with sandy blond hair and blue eyes. He was neither good looking, nor bad looking- he was just very nondescript. None of his family, friends, or even his fellow coworkers, would ever have suspected that the nice jovial Crasus had a mean sadistic streak, and that he took great sexual pleasure from hurting Women. The weaker, the better.
When she still hadn’t arrived at the ‘proper’ time his anger began to rise, he started to grumble, while sitting heavily on the small simple bed.
“Where is she?! Damn whore, making ‘me’ wait! I pay good money and here I wait!” he ranted, working himself up into a real rage as he pulled off his dirt-incrusted boots, his back facing the door.
He’d teach that little cunt a thing or two! he thought heatedly to himself. He could feel himself harden as he thought about dominating her, hitting her, her pathetic cries as he beat her frail small body. Her plaintive pleas for mercy, begging for his forgiveness as he bruised that pale young flesh. Showing her that she was nothing! That she was his, his alone!
Oh yes. He’d put her back in her place! he thought to himself, closing his eyes as rubbed his hardened erection through the rough fabric of his trousers with one of his hands. On her back like the whore she was…she and all women. Women-- they were all whores, only good for--”
Crasus’s thoughts were interrupted as he heard the door creak open behind him, then close. If he had been paying more attention to his surroundings and not to his dark sadistic fantasies, he might have heard the heavy ‘click’ of the door being locked from the outside.
“There you are, you little bitch! Making ME wait, I’ll teach you to make me wait--” he snarled, getting up and turning around to glare at the frightened girl.
Except it wasn’t a seventeen-year-old girl standing in front of the door.
Crasus stared open-mouthed and completely dumbstruck. Instead of the cowering and waif-like form of Gwen, there was a short bearded, young Dwarf; a mad looking Dwarf.
“What the--where’s Gwen!? Who the fuck are you?!” he demanded angrily, recovering from his initial surprise, but the Dwarf ignored his words.
“I hear tell you like to hurt people, especially a mere girl-child at that,” the Dwarf said in a deep rumbling voice.
“What?! Listen, I have no quarrel with you--”
But the Dwarf wasn’t listening-- instead he calmly pulled his sleeveless shirt over his head, before tossing it on the small table by the bed. Crasus took a step back as the Dwarf moved a few steps closer.
“This be some kind of mistake--”
But the Dwarf said nothing, just continued to glare at him with his frightening dark eyes, full of fire and blatant disgust. The play of thick powerful muscles flexed and moved just under the Dwarf’s tanned skin as he began to crack his thick knuckles, one at a time.
Now Crasus was starting to panic; he was trapped- the Dwarf stood blocking his only exit, for he knew the room’s only other door, leading to an adjoining room, was always locked. He felt his heartbeat speed up as warning bells went off in his head. Hitting and beating a small Woman or girl was one thing; taking on a Dwarf was an entirely different story.
“I warn you, Dwarf! I have no--” he threaten, trying to sound calm. But once again the Dwarf ignored and interrupted him.
“Let’s get started, shall we?” the Dwarf suggested, shaking his hands out before lowering his muscular compact form into a loose fighting stance, both hands now balled into large fists.
In the adjoining room next door, a small group had gathered to listen to the huge commotion coming from just on the other side of the wall. Bangs, thumps, and all sorts of violent noises continued interspersed with the occasional yell and scream.
Eventually the ruckus died down, and someone knocked on the adjoining door three times. One of the group unlocked then opened it, revealing Gimli standing there, putting his sleeveless shirt on again.
The young Dwarf gave a big yawn, apparently not even having broken a sweat. “This Man has got to be one of the saddest fighters I have ever seen,” Gimli said, shaking his head in disappointment while smoothing out his shirt.
“Figures… Would you kindly bring Master Crasus in here?” Lady D asked, stepping aside from the door to make room for him.
Gimli disappeared back into the room, and a few moments later a beaten and bloodied Crasus came literally flying though the door, to land with a crash and a loud ‘Ooughf’! Gimli leisurely strolled back into the room and, closing the door behind him, walked to stand by the moaning Man lying in the middle of the floor.
Lady D, stepped forward and tossed Gimli a length of rope, which he caught. “Tie his hands,” she ordered, and Gimli did as he was told, quickly tying the Man’s arms behind his back.
There were three other people in the room besides the older red-haired Woman. Sitting on the bed was the long-legged Merry, her long curly black hair held away from her elegant face in a loose bun. Ursla stood next to the window; she flashed Gimli a smile before turning a piercing glare at the panting Man on the floor. Standing in the protective circle of her arms was a small thin Woman-child. Gimli immediately recognized her as the one who had been eavesdropping several days ago in the kitchen.
She was petite, pale and willowy, with a full mane of loose wavy brown hair, and she was clad in a deep blue skirt and a sky-blue laced bodice. She was clearly frightened, near trembling as her large doe eyes watched Crasus with fear, her heart-shaped face bearing the marks of Crasus’s crimes. When Gimli saw her face he felt a new flash of hot anger- Lady D and Ursla had not been exaggerating.
A large, still healing, pink scar ran from the corner of her small rosebud mouth, pulling up the side of her face in a hideous mockery of a grin. Another ran across her brow, and several smaller slashes on the left side of her delicate face had been gouged out deeply by a knife. It was obvious that she had once been truly lovely, but Crasus had viciously ruined her looks forever.
“Beg for her forgiveness, wretch!” Gimli demanded, then proceeded to grind the Man’s face into the floor before yanking him up and onto his knees facing Gwen.
“You little cunt!” the Man spat, glaring at the trembling girl. “This be all your idea, wasn’t it!? When I get hold of ya, I’m go--oughf!” Whatever else he was going to say was lost as Lady D calmly hiked up her long skirt and kicked him squarely in the ribs, causing him to crumple to the floor again.
“I’ve been waiting to do that for quite some time now!” she said cheerfully, looking at Gimli, who gave an amused snort. She calmly motioned for Gimli to pick the now wheezing Man up again. “If you would, dear?”
Gimli simply grabbed a handful of the Man’s hair, forcing him again up onto his knees, causing Crasus to grimace in pain.
“Now… let’s try this again, shall we?” she said sweetly, her black fan under his chin, propping his head up. “Good boy! Now apologize,” she ordered, steel in her words as she stepped back, waiting expectantly. But all he did was glare at her, and she was just going to step forward to hit him in the face, when a soft voice stopped her.
All turned to look at Gwen as she stepped away from Ursla, before slowly walking over to stand in front of the glaring and bloodied Man. Her body visibly trembled and one of her thin arms wrapped around her self as if she had a chill.
Strangely she reminded Gimli then of little Nidi, who was also very timid and soft -spoken by nature. He felt a pang of loss as he remembered his sweet-natured friend, before forcing it to the corner of his mind again. Now was not the time or place for memories.
“Why?” she asked Crasus in a whisper, lifting a trembling hand to her scarred face.
All was quiet in the room save for the Man’s heavy breathing, then a sneering smile crept over his face, the blood from his split lip and two missing teeth coloring the rest of his teeth pink and red.
“Because I could,” he said finally, even giving a shrug of his shoulders as if it were no big deal.
Little Gwen’s body went perfectly still, the whites of her eyes growing, and seeing this Crasus gave a chuckle. The chuckle was apparently the last straw.
“I HATE YOU!!!” she screamed as she launched herself at him, slapping him with all her might. That seemed to open the floodgates and she attacked him with a barrage of scratches and slaps, even kicks, all the time screaming a litany of “I hate you!”, over and over.
Crasus tried to move away from her attack but Gimli’s iron grip on his hair kept him from doing so. Eventually she began to wear herself out, then Ursla stepped forward to pull the sobbing girl away. Gwen immediately turned and buried her red and tear-stained face in the older Woman’s chest, holding her in a crushing grip. Crasus definitely wasn’t smiling anymore, and Gimli made a point of shoving his face into the floor, before stepping back.
“Come on, Luv. Lets go get some tea and clean you up, while Miss D and Gimli take care of this filth,” Ursla said, looking down her nose in contempt at the moaning, bloodied and scratched Man, while calmly rubbing the sobbing Gwen’s back.
Gimli watched as she led Gwen from the room, their footsteps disappearing down the hall. Lady D waited until their footfalls were completely gone, before hiking up her thick skirts over a long shapely leg. She took out a knife from a leather garter belt that was strapped to her leg, before letting the skirts fall back in place.
Gimli, hearing some movement behind him, turned around just in time to see Lady D calmly walk over to the cursing Crasus-- stepping over his back, she grabbed a hold of his hair and yanked his head sharply back. Crasus only managed to get out an angry squawk of surprise before she slit his throat from ear to ear, his eyes bulging obscenely before she dropped his head, letting it fall with a loud thump.
“Finish your enemies or they will only come back, all the more vengeful,” She said simply, glaring down at the still twitching Man. Her words hung in the air and all remained quiet, except for an occasional soft gurgle from the sprawled body. For a moment, no one moved, then she bent down to calmly wipe her knife off on his shirt, before putting it back.
Merry watched with wide shocked eyes from her seat on the bed, a hand clamped over her mouth, her chocolate brown skin growing pale. Gimli only stared, giving a few blinks at what he’d seen, but otherwise felt nothing. The Man got exactly what was coming to him.
A large pool of blood slowly spread under the now dead Man, but Lady D simply stepped over the body before it could get on her shoes. She then calmly held out an elegant hand, beckoning Merry to her.
“Merry, my Love… Come, let us go.”
Merry silently got off the bed and quickly came to her side, giving the body on the floor a wide berth, then took her hand before they both walked past Gimli to the door. The older Women paused, turning to look back at the Dwarf, motioning with her other hand for Gimli to follow as well.
“Come, Master Dwarf. There is still work to be done. Not to mention disposing of this… refuse,” she said, before leading Merry out the door, their heavy skirts swishing behind them.
As he followed the two statuesque Women down the hall, Gimli couldn’t help wonder just how many times the headmistress of this bordello had done this.
Within a half-hour, the floor was cleaned and all the bloody rags burned in the cooking fire in the kitchen, destroying all evidence of foul play. Meanwhile Crasus’s body had been dumped in an alleyway; when he was found, it would no doubt be thought that he was just another victim of a mugging or robbery.
It was anyone’s guess if it had been justice, but at the very least young Gwen would never have to worry about Crasus again.
Now with his part of their bargain fulfilled, Gimli waited for Lady D to fulfill her half of the deal…
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Issue No.: 2.6
Site Last Updated: 11 May 2003