Hanky Warning and one more after this.
The Wraith in the Mist
There’s an old and feeble man not far behind
Ages back, Gabilgathol was the glittering jewel in the Dwarven crown of Durin. A legend. Great weapons were forged in the fires of the Dwarves. Now, it was a poor substitute, compared to the Dwarven cities to the East. After seeing the threads of mithril still embedded in Moria’s walls, as well as the obvious wealth of Erebor, Gabilgathol was in comparison, a cave. A cave filled with iron. It was not as busy or as populated as Erebor. Tauriel could see why Thorin Oakenshield considered himself a poor relation when she silently compared the two.
They approached the great gates at twilight, the mountains fireflies coming home for the evening. Although unfamiliar, Dwalin was openly welcomed, while suspicious eyes followed his companion. “Who is the Lord o’ the Blue Mountains?” Dwalin’s voice echoed through the grand central chamber.
“By my beard,” an elderly – although not as elderly as Dwalin – dwarf cut through the gathering crowd. “Dwalin, son of Fundin. aye wuld think ye be dead ‘n buried long ago.” He stopped in front of the much taller dwarf, blue eyes gleaming. “Aye wuz a small child, but aye do remember ridin’ yer boots!”
Dwalin stared for some moments at the powerfully built, yet stately dwarf before him. “Streta?”
Dwalin shook his head in disbelief. “Ye were a lad when we left. A small one.”
“Aye, but aye still remember ye. An’ Thorin Oakenshield,” he added soberly. He now turned to Tauriel, his smile and welcoming bow a sharp reminder to Dwalin of his brother. “An’ who be this beautiful elleth traveling with such a crotchety old soul as Dwalin?”
Tauriel had the decency to blush as she quietly repeated her name. “I am Tauriel of the Woodland Realm.”
“One o’ Thanduil’s?” The dwarf’s grin grew bolder. “Ye be a jewel o’ the Greenwood.”
Dwalin groaned and pushed his way forward. “Who be Lord of the Blue Mountains?”
Streta rushed to catch up. “Aye be the Lord.” He caught Dwalin’s glare and hurried to continue. “When Thorin left, he took all we would consider in charge, save Gimli an’ he be long gone. None of ye came back.”
“So how did ye become Lord?”
“We voted. It were only right!”
Dwalin through his hands up in the air and barreled further into the cave, Streta following. “We vote agin in sev’ years!”
They wintered in the Blue Mountains, visiting the various settlements within the caverns. The Blue Mountains were not as populated as the Iron Hills or Erebor, nor were they wealthy, like the Eastern Dwarves, but they were busy, mining iron and welding weapons and swords that the Lindons and Gondorians cherished. Dwalin remembered spending many a season forging bits, horseshoes and stirrups for the Rohirrim. He’d heard rumor that the sword carried by the current Rohirrim King was forged by Thorin himself, some generations before.
Tauriel spent some time in the old and empty Durin chambers – where Fili and Kili were raised under their uncle’s steady hand. But as the worst of the winter set in, she began to venture through the caverns, trying to stay out of everyone’s way and failing miserably. The older dwarves were cautious, but the little ones were fascinated by this tall creature with the delicate features and musical voice. Before long, it wasn’t unusual to find her sitting in the middle of a group of young dwarves, telling them stories of the Greenwood, The Battle of Erebor, and yes, the legendary sons of Durin, Fili, Kili, Dain Ironfoot, and Thorin Oakenshield, whose names were only words to them. She told them of their daring escape from Orcs, riding down the river in barrels. She regaled them of the Dwarves’ great Hobbit friend, Bilbo Baggins and told them of his bravery and courage.
She told them many things, and in the process, began to heal.
When Dwalin began to prepare for the final leg of their journey in the spring, she was ready to go.
But the question was, where exactly were they going?
The Grey Havens was a busy port. Many boats, ships, both passenger and cargo, routinely came in and out of the docks.
As well as Cirdan’s boat. It was not docked when the two arrived, with their pack ponies in tow, but by the sheer number of Elves in the town, Dwalin knew the boat was due to arrive.
Tauriel was quiet for the most part, taking in the sights, the smells. There were shops along the harbour, the pier and when Dwalin encouraged her to purchase trinkets and ribbons, she turned on him in a fury.
“Such unnecessary frippery will weigh me down when we-” Her finger came up in the dwarf’s face and she strangled on an inhaled breath. “You intend to put me on Cirdan’s boat!”
“Aye, that aye do.”
“You can’t make me get on that boat, Dwalin, son of Fundin.”
Dwalin’s visage became grim. “Aye believe aye kin.”
Tauriel gently put down the bright shell necklace she was holding. “Please tell me Kili did not ask you to put me on that boat.”
“‘e wuld not whan ye grievin’.” Dwalin shook his head. “But no, ‘e dinna.”
Tauriel scowled. “Thranduil?”
The dwarf scoffed. “As if aye wuld do anythin’ tha’ pointy eared princeling wuld ask o’ me, which he dinna!”
Dwalin’s shoulders drooped. Taking her by the elbow, he drew her to a quiet corner and then out of the stall and into the thoroughfare. There was a commotion and as the two of them looked out into the waters, Cirdan’s ship crested the horizon.
“I don’t understand.” Truth was she did understand, but like many, she wanted to hear it.
The two were in a tavern that served hearty fare, well barely hardy to dwarven standards. The corner they occupied was in the back, dark and cool and out of people’s way and earshot. Cirdan’s ship was docked and would be booking passage in two days. Already, elves in fine velvets and jewelry were jockeying for the best cabins.
“Tuh time o’ th’ elves is over. Inna few centuries, none o’ yer people will be seen. Tuh dwarves tew. Each decade, there be fewer and fewer o’ us. More o’ our dwarrows ar as Gin, Thorin’s wife. Barren. We will be as myth. Legend.” Tauriel opened her mouth, but Dwalin hushed her. “Dwarves will go deeper in our caves. Thranduil will shut himself from the world. T’ gates o’ the Greenwood will be closed and elven magics will hide it from men. Same w’ Rivendell. Yer people will become folklore an’ then fairy tales. Forgotten, save a rare mem’ry.” He took a long draw from his mug. “Yew’ve no kin, no family. No’ here. Yer no’ royal enough fer th’ king. Yew wastin’ on th’ mountainside. Yew’ll waste in Thranduil’s gilded hall. Tha’s no life fer a bonny lass as yerself.” Tauriel blushed. “Kili wouldn’t want ye t’ grieve this long, wouldn’t want ye ‘t live like this. He’d be heart-broken t’see yew grievin’ like ye have.”
It was silent for some minutes, while the two drank.
“Master Dwarf, I do believe that is the most I’ve ever heard you speak.”
“Yer a bad influence,” he murmured into that tankard.
“I will think on it.”
“Yew’ll dew it.”
“If I choose not to go on board, you cannot stop me.”
Dwalin ignored the elves slowly going around the two, trying not to eavesdrop obviously. It wasn’t every day one watched a dwarf and an elf argue in the middle of a crowd.
Truthfully, it wasn’t every day anyone watched a dwarf and an elf do much of anything together. As such, they were either ignored or were oblivious to the staring, the tsking, as stately members of the First Race quietly judged the twosome standing on the dock.
“What are ye gonna dew? Travel back tew Erebor an’ cry onna mountain agin?” Tauriel looked at him sharply. “Ay’m no goin’ back an’ ye canno go wit’ me!”
“But, my arse! ‘Tis annoyin’ and ar wee ones fear ye ar an evil, elven spirit, left by a wereworm!”
Tauriel looked up at the tall masts and then back to the harbor, towards the Blue Mountains and the Tower Hills, far east of the city. “There is really nothing for me here, is there?” She reached into her jerkin and removed the dwarvish stone. She held it out to Dwalin. “I suppose I should return this.”
Dwalin cupped her hand, closing long, slender elven digits around the keepsake. “’Tis yours, as long as yew need it.”
Tauriel stared at her fist for a moment, before putting it to her heart. “I cannot return it if I take it with me.”
“Aye dinna want it. Aye ‘ave no need fer it. No’ whar aye’m goin’.”
She put the stone back in her tunic. “Where will you go now, Master Dwarf?”
There was a half-smile on the dwarf’s face, one so rarely seen ever, and yet, she felt she’d seen it more than any being on Middle Earth. “Aye’ve a few places yet to see. Muh journey ’tis near o’er.” He nodded to the ship. “Yer family is waitin’, so no, aye dinna need nor want yer comp’ny. Find t’Lady o’ Light. Tell her the Silver Lord will be onna last ship an’ tuh look fer ‘im. Git onna boat, lass.”
She did and he stood on the dock for many hours, watching Cirdan’s boat disappear into the sunset.
It was late summer when Dwalin stood at the Gates of the Redhorn, at the bottom of the Dimril Stair. The snows were just starting to come down the mountain, although they weren’t far enough to make the climb impossible. Dwalin figured in a few more weeks, he’d have been too late.
He’d not returned to the Blue Mountains, bypassing them, the Shire. He found the old stone Trolls, those that near ate Thorin’s Company, had it not been for the quick wit of Bilbo Baggins. In the leaves, the rubbish, he found something he’d completely forgotten about and picked it up. He passed Rivendell, many settlements.
One bandit attempted to waylay him in the Tower Hills. He learned quickly that an old dwarf was still a tough, mean dwarf and not to be tampered with. Unlike man, the older dwarves became the more dangerous in battle.
He was watched, had been watched since he exited the Shire. Not evil eyes, just elven ones. He unloaded the pony, taking stock of what he needed to take with him. He ate well that night, out in the open, what he figured would be his last meal. He didn’t need food where he was going. No need to prolong the agony.
He woke up at daybreak. He loaded the pony with the items he wasn’t taking with him, which wasn’t so much now. Pocketing his personal items, the things he took note that he would need when he visited Moria the previous spring for this final, return trip, to the things he wanted with him, he chewed on a strip of jerky, before turning Buttercakes towards Rivendell and smacking the mare on the rump. There were several armed elves watching from afar, mounted on swift horses. They did nothing, simply watched and Dwalin spent a minute watching the pony he loved and his rear-end hated for a year trot towards fellow equines. He did not acknowledge the elves; that tended to lead to trouble, uncomfortable conversation, and long, extended stays in places Dwalin didn’t care for. The water was clean in the River Bruinen. True to its nickname, the water was loud, pouring down from the mountainside. From where he stood, he could see portions of the destroyed mountainside, where Gandalf fought the Balrog. Again, his heart hardened for a moment against the Grey Wizard, who brought so much grief with him.
But he quickly released the anger. The Balrog was dead and at some point in time, the Sons of Durin would return to this mountain, to reclaim their riches, add to their home in Erebor.
Maybe. Perhaps a son of Durin would rebuild the Eternal Stair and once again the Crown of Durin would shimmer in the waters of Kheled-zâram. Mirrormere.
But he would not live to see it.
It was not an easy climb, he knew it wouldn’t be, and he turned several times to shout down the elven twins following him. Once they answered, the echo informing him they simply wished to make sure an elderly dwarf as himself, made it to his destination safely.
He threw rocks at them. Told them to go find a boat and sail it long and hard.
There were more elves waiting on the other side of the Dale. Celeborn was waiting at the gate. What Dwalin shouted at him in his native tongue was rude, crude, and socially unacceptable. The Silver Lord simply smiled and nodded. Dwalin didn’t hear the elven whispers that followed and sealed the way. Celeborn made sure he would not be disturbed for a long, long time.
He went straight to his brother’s tomb. The rats made way for him and he felt an unfamiliar enchantment closing the way behind him. It would be many years, centuries before a dwarf, or anyone, passed this way again.
As he made his way into the burial cavern, he again marveled at the ray of sunshine that shown on Balin’s tomb. Despite being in a hurry, orcs sealing them in, the tomb was dwarven art, a thing of beauty. It was something his brother more than deserved.
He made his way around the left, picking around the discarded arrows and ignoring the orc and cave troll bodies. He stood in front of the body of Ori and looked down.
“Tew gentle fer a dwarf. Always. Aye ‘ave sumthin’ o’ yers.” Dwalin reached into his tunic and pulled out the rotting corpse of a slingshot. “Aye found it. Still wit’ tuh mountain trolls.” He leaned over and set it down in his lap. “Aye tole ye many times, t’ keep yer weapons close. Ye don’ want them tuh fall into tuh wrong hands.” He stood for a moment before walking to the end of the tomb.
“Balin. Son of Fundin, Lord of Moria. None o’ that matters t’ me. Wha’ matters is yer muh brother. Aye miss yew, Balin.”
And the tears Dwalin wasn’t able to shed the year before when he stood in this same spot, he shed that night.
Dwalin had sampled lembas many years before and he decided he now disliked jerky as much as he disliked lembas. The water had run out a few days before and now he was reaching the last of the jerky strips. He was tired, tired of living, tired of waiting to die.
The Chronicles of the last days of Balin lay open on the end of the crypt. The dwarf made sure there was a quill and a jar of ink in his ruck sack and when he was able to see after the outpouring of grief that he had previously corked, he went to the empty pages in the back and chronicled the lives of The Company.
What was real, life, has become Legend. I am Dwalin, son of Fundin, younger brother to Balin, who was Lord of Moria, friend and cousin to Thorin Oakenshield.
There was a bottle of ale at the bottom of his satchel, saved for this auspicious occasion and Dwalin sank to the floor, the book in his lap. He’d sung every song he remembered. For not the first time since arriving, he took the small framed portrait of a beautiful dwarrow from his vest and gazed at it longingly, before replacing it next to his heart. Grabbing the bottle, he broke the seal and began to drink.
Who ever thought, when they were children, that they would live so long that those they grew up with, played with, fought with, would become legend, pass on to myth? Who thought they would live long enough to see those days come to pass?
“Those are deep thoughts, brother.”
Dwalin looked up. “By my beard!” He reached out, Balin, looking younger than he had in decades, extending a hand and pulling him forward. “Death becomes yew!”
“Death becomes us all. Including you.” Dwalin started to look back over his shoulder, but Balin stopped him. “Nay, do not. You have spilled your ale all over your crotch!”
Dwalin turned around anyway. “Gud! Aye didn’t spill it on the book!” He swung back towards his brother. “It’s not t’ firs’ time!”
“And it won’t be the last.” Much like he had when they were children, Balin took his brother by the hand and led him up the ray of light. “Our fathers wait for us, as does Thorin, Fili and Kili. As does Dis. Thorin could use your help.”
They rose higher.
“Fili and Kili. They died young dwarves. They are still and forever will be young dwarves!”
And even in death, Dwalin’s laughter rang through the halls of Moria.
And it surely will catch up to him