11. The Lord of the Glittering Caves
Once they had passed the Fords of Isen, they kept to the road; it was the shortest route to Edoras, where Radagast hoped to find the King. Frodo quailed inwardly at the thought of Eomer's welcome; he had met the King before, of course, and there could be no thought of hiding his identity. I'm glad I told Nano, he thought. I would hate to have him find out in the banquet hall at Meduseld, when someone stood up to toast the Ring-bearer! He sighed, wishing he could disappear into the wilderness permanently.
There was a sound of heavy tramping behind them, and Frodo turned to look over his shoulder. A little way back was a confusion of bright colors, steel helmets flashing in the sun; without discussion he and his companions left the road and waited on the grassy verge for the travelers to pass them by.
It was a party of Dwarves, twenty or more, marching along the road and singing as they went. They were followed by a string of donkeys, heavily laden. Frodo felt suddenly warmed in spirit; the Dwarves in their cloaks of scarlet and emerald green seemed so stout-hearted and filled with strong joy, as if it had been heady, full-bodied ale. He remembered Gimli, not the grim, militant Gimli of the Quest, but after the War, at Cormallen: his eyes alight with good humor, his voice like a glad, deep gong as he ordered Pippin off to bed.
He thought they were unobserved, off to the side as they were, but suddenly one of the Dwarves broke ranks and came running, hailing them. "Hammer and tongs, it is Frodo Baggins! Now then, small one, what are you doing so far from home? Not Questing again, I hope, on some desperate mission I shall feel compelled to join, for life and honor?"
He lifted Frodo from the pony and hugged him with exaggerated care before he set him on the ground. "I thought it ill-fortune that we took so long upon our road, but I see there is some blessing in it, else I would have missed you! What are you doing here, Frodo?" he asked again.
Frodo laughed and straightened his rumpled clothes. "How if I answer, waiting for you, Gimli son of Gloin? What are you doing here yourself -- I thought you far away in Erebor, fashioning a casket for Galadriel's hair!"
"As to that, it is finished long since, my friend. See here." The Dwarf fumbled at his throat and drew out a narrow chain of hammered gold which had been concealed under his tunic; from the chain hung a gleaming crystal teardrop. He held it up and Frodo took it in his fingers: the crystal caught the light and flashed in his eyes, and it was a moment before he could see the braided golden hairs twined in an intricate knot inside the jewel.
"Her hair is brighter even than the crystal that contains it. You have crafted a masterpiece, Gimli," he said in awe.
"It took me a year," the Dwarf said. "A year to think how to do it justice, and bring it to reality -- but it was a year well-spent. My eyes will not look again on the Lady of the Golden Wood, but some part of her remains in Middle Earth, and is with me."
"You are fortunate among mortals," said Radagast, and Gimli noticed him for the first time.
"Are you this wanderer's companion, sir? I fancy I know who you are, though we have not met until now. The Brown Wizard of Rhosgobel, is it not? You had your dwelling north of the Old Ford, where the Forest Road climbs into the mountains and so to Rivendell; I remember my sire told me of you, when we journeyed thither. You also are far from home."
Radagast smiled. "You are well-informed, son of Gloin. I knew your father aforetimes, before you were born, I guess. I have taken to the road since those days, and it is some years since I saw Rhosgobel." He nodded to where the Dwarf company still stood in the road, awaiting Gimli. "Can you persuade your folk to break their journey for a little, while you visit with Frodo? I can provide some small refreshment, if you will permit --"
Gimli raised bushy eyebrows at him. "Refreshment, is it, for a score of stout fellows? But never ask a Wizard how he performs his wonders! We would be churls to refuse your kindness, so we will not do so. And we may hope to repay your hospitality, if you will come with us another day's journey to the Glittering Caves, for that is where we are bound."
The Dwarves gathered around them in the field next to the road, letting their heavy packs fall to the ground and sitting on them, while the drovers among them staked out their donkeys to feed on the rough grass. Radagast reached into his sack, and soon Nano and Frodo were busy passing around mugs of beer and platters of cold meat, and small, crusty loaves of bread to go with them. The guests fell to with good appetite, and it was some time before the small servers had leisure themselves to sit down and eat.
"Come here, Ring-bearer!" Gimli said at last, setting down his mug and wiping his moustache with his sleeve. "What am I about, letting you run your legs off serving all this crowd, when it is we who should be waiting upon you! Sit now, and Gimli shall see to your needs." He would not be dissuaded, and Frodo, hardly knowing where to look for embarrassment, found himself enthroned on Gimli's pack while the Dwarf piled meat on a loaf for him.
"Quiet, Durin's Sons!" Gimli shouted, and all eyes turned to him. "It is my pleasure to present to you our host, Radagast of Rhosgobel, the Brown Wizard of whom you may have heard, and Frodo Baggins--"
"Gimli, no!" Frodo said in anguished tones, and the Dwarf stopped mid-sentence to stare at him. "I am Radagast's companion, that is all! If you bear any love for me, say no more than that!"
Gimli's face was a study, his eyebrows drawn down nearly to his nose, but he nodded and lifted his voice again. "Frodo Baggins, a hobbit of the Shire, who travels with him. Let us hear it, Longbeards -- thanks for this fine luncheon in the wilderness, and a welcome to these generous friends!"
There was a roar of voices shouting thanks and booted feet stamping on the ground. Then the Dwarves rose and shouldered their packs, and the donkeys were rounded up and led back to the road; Nano held open Radagast's sack, and the guests dropped mugs and platters into it as they passed him.
"Will you come with us, Frodo? You were not here during the War, to see these caverns; they are well worth seeing, I promise you! And you are welcome, as well." Gimli bowed to Radagast. "Wherever you are bound, Sir Wizard, you will not be sorry to have seen the Glittering Caves."
"These are the caves you made Legolas promise to return to?" said Frodo. "Assuredly we will come -- won't we, Radagast? A cavern that can tempt an Elf underground to see it, must be worth a visit!"
The caves, indeed, were all that Gimli had said of them. The Dwarf led them through one narrow passage after another, opening on vaulted rooms where the upper region was lost in darkness until torches were lit all around: then the crystaline walls and ceiling caught the torchlight and threw it back again, till it was like being imprisoned inside a diamond. There were countless chambers of like glory strung like beads along a chain, some that cast a clear light and some glowing in hues of sapphire or ruby. Frodo was dazzled, his heart leaping at the unimaginable beauty of this underground realm; time and again he caught his breath, amazed, as the torches were lit and a new cavern blazed to life around him.
But Nano became more silent, the deeper they penetrated under the mountain. His eyes were round and his mouth half-open; he looked dumb with wonder, running his hands over the shining towers that rose from the stone floor, and tracing with his fingers the veins of gold and gemstone in the rocky walls. After a time Frodo took him by the hand, as the child lagged behind them, but he seemed hardly to notice. At last they turned back, and Gimli ushered them into a workroom, peopled with many Dwarves, each at his own table, bent over his work. Windows had been cut into the ceiling here, and the room was flooded with daylight; these were not metalworkers, but gem-cutters.
"Go ahead, lad, have a look around," Gimli said to Nano. "I'll call you when it's time to go on." Nano drifted away to stand first by one workbench and then by another, silent as a shadow, utterly engrossed in what the craftsmen were doing.
"What are you intending for this lad?" Gimli asked Radagast in a low voice. "You are his guardian, I take it? Do you mean to place him with a master, to learn a trade, or what?"
"I had meant to take him to the King of Rohan. He is high-hearted and rides as one born to it -- he should do well in the King's service. Have you other counsel to offer me, son of Gloin?"
"Look at him." Gimli's glance flicked over Nano, leaning against a table and following every move of the worker with his eyes; unconsciously, the lad's hands were mimicking the movements of the Dwarf whose labor he observed. "He's gem-struck, Bird-Tamer. He may ride like the Horselords of old, but now he's seen the birthplace of jewels, his heart will hunger for a workbench of his own. If you will entrust him to me, I'll find a master for him, who will teach him to cut rubies and emeralds, till they are jewels fit for the brow of a queen. I trow this is the work he was born to."
Radagast nodded thoughtfully, and Frodo went to stand beside Nano, putting a hand on his shoulder. Nano cast him a half-smile, acknowledging his presence, but hardly taking his eyes from the craftsman before them.
"Show him how to make a cut, Dali," said Gimli; he had come behind them unnoticed. The Dwarf workman raised his head for the first time, looking Nano over, his eyes lingering on the lad's hands.
"Come here," he said gruffly. Nano moved to stand beside him, and the Dwarf rummaged in a box on the side of the workbench until he found a rock the size of Frodo's fist. It was dull and rough; nothing to suggest beauty hidden within. He held it out to Nano on the palm of his hand. "Where would you make your first cut?" he asked.
Nano took it, turning it this way and that, feeling it as if there were eyes in his fingertips. "Here," he said at last.
The craftsman gave the ghost of a smile; he held out a small, sharp tool and a wooden mallet. Nano took them and braced the rock against the bench, striking it sharply. "Not like that, lad, or you'll be missing a finger!" The Dwarf put his own hands around Nano's, guiding them. Together they struck twice, thrice, and the rock began to split; another sharp blow and a large chip fell away.
"Look at it now," said the craftsman, and Nano examined the facet he had exposed, running his finger over it, then touching the smooth surface with his tongue and polishing it with his finger. He looked up at his mentor with shining eyes.
"It's red!" he exclaimed, and they smiled at one another with perfect understanding, the master gem-cutter and the gem-struck lad.
Radagast spoke in Gimli's ear. "I will leave him with you, son of Gloin. Indeed, I am not certain I could drag him away!"
Nano was ecstatic when they asked if he wished to stay at the Caves and learn gem-cutting. "I can see the King later on – Dali is making a necklace for the Queen, and when it's finished he'll deliver it to Edoras himself. He already told me, if I were here I could go with him. Will he be my teacher?"
"I see he has taken a liking to you," said Gimli. "Dali is one of the best; if he consents to be your master, you are fortunate indeed! But you will have to obey him absolutely, lad. We are building a new colony here in the Glittering Caves: there is work for every pair of hands, and no time for foolishness. Radagast tells me you are somewhat wild." He glowered down at Nano, and there was no mistaking his meaning.
"I will not be wild!" Nano's voice was eager. "I will do whatever Dali tells me, if he will only teach me. I promise, Lord Gimli!"
Gimli's lips twitched. "That title sounds well, but I have not earned it yet. Wait fifty years, till we have made these caverns the wonder they are going to be! For now, see you do as you are bid, and I will ask Dali to take you as apprentice."
"Thank you, Gimli." Frodo set down his mug, covering it with his hand to prevent the Dwarf from filling it again. "I've had enough; you make a heady brew here in the Caves; any more and you will have to roll me to my bed! Thank you for giving Nano a home and a future." He grinned. "The lad barely has time to speak to me when I meet him in a passage, he is so caught up in his work with Dali. I hope he will do well for you."
"He'll do well, I have no doubt of it. I'll be watching him; if he seems restless, I'll send him riding off on some errand, and in any event, he will have to exercise that horse of his every day. That should use up the high spirits, I think, when he grows weary of standing by his workbench. Nano does not worry me." Gimli stared broodingly at Frodo, and the hobbit's heart sank.
"You have not told me, Frodo, what you do so far from home."
Frodo's hand sought the jewel at his throat, playing with it as he considered how to answer. Gimli reached out to cup the glittering star in his hand and leaned over to examine it. "Elven make, this is. Where did you get it?"
"Arwen gave it to me. She said it would be a comfort…" Frodo wished he had kept the jewel inside his shirt; he disliked having anyone touch it, even a friend. He forced himself not to draw back.
Gimli held the jewel up to catch the light. "Will you take it off a moment, let me have a closer look? No?" His gaze sharpened on Frodo, but then he smiled, letting the Elven star drop from his hand. Frodo quickly tucked it out of sight.
"Well, I do not blame you. You and I both know what became of the Silmaril, in Thingol's treasury."* Frodo's eyes widened in horror; he opened his mouth to protest, but Gimli waved him to silence. "No, it is a lovely thing, but not so precious as that was – and I am no thief. But I think, Frodo, that you are not as well as you pretend to be."
Frodo looked down. "I am well enough. I am much better than I was when I met Radagast, a year ago. I was hardly sick at all this spring."
Gimli refilled his tankard and took a long drink. "Were you expecting to be ill?" he asked.
"Well, I had been, every spring and every autumn, ever since the Quest. Last spring was the worst, and then I met Radagast and followed him. I am better now, Gimli, if not as well as I pretend to be!" His smile was rueful.
"Hmph. Well, that is good news, at any rate. So where do you and the wizard go from here, eh? Although you are welcome to stay, Frodo, as long as you desire; the rest of your life, if that would please you."
"Thank you," Frodo said, reaching out to grasp the Dwarf's hand. "You are a staunch friend, Gimli, and truly, I did not fear that you would steal my trinket! I cling to it, you see; Arwen was right, it does comfort me. But it is not enough, and Radagast is a good physician. If there is any hope of healing for me, real healing, I am sure it lies with him. I will follow wherever he takes me."
They stayed a month, as it fell out. Time enough for Nano to be well-settled in his new home, time for new clothes to be sewn for Frodo in hidden workrooms deep inside the Caves.
"You look a ragamuffin, my Hobbit," Gimli told him. "Some of my comrades have wives here; they are deft seamstresses, and they shall make garments for you to withstand your travels in rough country. It is not fitting that the Ring-bearer goes about looking like a beggar."
Frodo made a face. "I am only Frodo Baggins, Gimli; I carry the Ring no more! But if your goodwives will make a suit of clothes for me, I'll receive the gift gladly."
He never saw the seamstresses, but the clothes were brought to him a few weeks later, a good fit and the most comfortable he had ever worn. His Elven cloak, too, was returned to him clean and fresh as the day he had received it in Lothlorien.
"Ready to go on?" Radagast asked him a few mornings after. "Summer is coming in, and we have errands to the North."
"In these garments, I feel ready for anything!" Frodo said. "I think they must have put a measure of daring and love of adventure into their stitches, Radagast; I am ready to go out and fight dragons!"
The wizard gave a shout of laughter. "Now I believe you're Bilbo's cousin! Very well, my bold one, let us go adventuring!"
Nano shed a few tears at their departure, and Frodo held him close. "Be good, laddie, and give Dali cause to be proud of his apprentice."
"I will. I'll make you proud of me, Donkey!" Nano's hug was fierce, and Frodo held him off, pulling the lad's head down so he could kiss his forehead.
"I am already proud of you. Perhaps I will see Queen Arwen again one day, and I shall look, mind you, to see if she wears a gem of your cutting!"
Nano giggled through his tears. "How would you know if it was mine?"
"Why, I'll ask her, of course! You will be a famous gem-smith, and queens will be proud to wear jewels of your making!" So he left Nano grinning and looking to a bright future, but he and Radagast left the Caves and rode into the East, where the sun was just climbing above the trees.
*Thingol called for Dwarves of the Blue Mountains to set the Silmaril in the necklace Nauglamir, but the Dwarves were enamored by their own work; they slew Thingol in his own Treasury.
from The Encyclopedia of Arda
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.