The great doors were standing open when I arrived at the West Gate--my doors, mine and Celebrimbor's. I almost stopped and checked with the guards, making sure they opened smoothly that morning, that nothing had gone wrong, but they had worked flawlessly in the two months since Celebrimbor and I finished them. I had not such a poor opinion of my skill as to think they would fail now, much as I might welcome the short reprieve that repairing them would grant me.
An escort of elves was waiting for me outside, an honor guard. I tried not to wonder what their orders were if I showed myself unwilling to accompany them. My services belonged to the elves now, the price Durin paid for stable food prices in the face of the current drought, and I could only shudder at the results if I refused to honor the dwarvish side of the bargain.
But no, they were only an escort, Lady Galadriel's courtesy, protection on a road still dangerous, nothing more.
"Narvi Kundinul, at your service," I said, bowing to the leader of the five elves.
"Rohirriel Roccondurion, at yours and your family's," she said with a matching bow. She nodded towards the dark-pony whose lead I held and another elf stepped forward. "Cenyon will load your goods onto our pack horse and we may be off." I hesitated before passing on the pony's lead-rope. My tools
were in those packs. She saw my hesitation, lifted up one perfect elvish brow. "Unless the beast is yours and will travel with us, Master Rockwright?"
I shook my head. The pony was not mine, and dark-ponies, adapted to life inside the mountain, were too valuable to use above ground. It was foolish: I could not carry the heavy packs to Ost-in-Edhil myself, nor would I hesitate to entrust them to another dwarf, even a stranger. Yet it was another bit of control, slipped out of my hands. I passed the lead to the other elf without a word.
Rohirriel held up a hand and stopped him when he would have led the beast away. "Load Master Narvi's goods carefully and secure them well so there may be no accidents," she said for my benefit. The words gave me no comfort. The tools of a rockwright are not fragile--my hammers and drills, chisels and saws would not be harmed if they were kicked from Khazad-dum to the northern ice--yet it was still hard letting them out of my hands. I dragged my eyes back from the pony's retreating back to find Rohirriel watching me with a puzzled look.
"Master Narvi? If you will come this way?"
She stepped through the doors, the doors I had made, and led the way to a beast, a pony unlike any I'd seen. It was no taller than a dwarven pony, yet it was as graceful for its size as the enormous beasts the elves rode.
"Even elf-children must learn to ride," she explained, laying her hand on the pony's neck and smoothing its already tidy mane. "We are not born knowing how to ride, no matter what some may say." She gave a chuckle, as if at some private memory.
I looked at the pony, dubious. "I am not much of a rider, my lady. If yon beast has a spirit to match its larger counterparts, perhaps I would be best off requisitioning a pony from the guard stable as I had planned."
She laughed, but not in derision or condescension. "I am no lady, Master Narvi. You may call me Rohirriel, or Guard Commander if you must. As for Dolly here, Lord Celebrimbor asked me to select a gentle animal for you. This is my daughter's own pony, on which she learned to ride when she was barely five years old."
I wasn't sure how old that would be in a dwarf-child, but it seemed very young. "You value children as much as we ourselves do," I said with another bow. "You would not endanger your daughter, nor me. I thank you and her for the loan."
"You are most welcome, Master Narvi." She stepped aside so that I might approach.
Rohirriel had her company on the road again with little delay. At her invitation I rode at the head of the column beside her, Dolly content to trot beside her giant counterpart with little direction from me. At first the ride was not too bad, the mountains a comforting bulk at my back, but later the mountains retreated into the distance and the sky opened up in front of me and all around me and it was big, very big....
I looked up at Rohirriel, trying not to look at the vast emptiness behind her.
"Are you well?" she asked. "We've been riding for several hours now. I live much of my life a-horse, but I know you cannot be used to it. Only let me know if you wish to rest."
I looked down at my pony's neck, trying to focus only on mane and reins. "I am well, Guard Commander," I assured her. If I didn't look up I needn't see the sky or the wide plain around us. "I need no rest." Truly the elven pony had a smooth, comfortable pace.
Rohirriel rode in silence for a moment and then spoke again. "If I were to swing your hammer for but a few minutes, I doubt not that my hands would be torn and bloody," she suggested gently.
As if I would be embarrassed by a sore rump! "It's not the saddle or the pony!" I snapped.
"Then what?" she asked, still gentle.
Shlak. I turned to glare up at her--and shut my eyes, hard, clutching at the saddle. We were crossing a bridge and there was nothing behind her but open air. It was only a bridge, only a little bridge over one of the many streams that ran out of the mountains and joined the Gate Stream. Only a bridge....
"Do you know Master Fundin Thrainul?" Rohirriel asked suddenly, apropos of nothing. "He makes the best metalwork for harnesses. And the best bits. He sells out of Third Hall South, First Deep. I love that hall," she added, as one confiding a secret. "It has one of those windows of yours, and when the sun is right it casts a line of galloping horses on the opposite wall. Beautiful. How does that work?"
Third Hall South. Despite myself I smiled. "My master's master worked on building those windows, and my own master was fond of using them as an object lesson in making virtue of necessity. A--a difficult characteristic
--" The reminder of Celebrimbor and Lady Galadriel made me smile again, "--of the rock caused a crack and a collapse, widening the hole too greatly, letting in too much light and weather. The master rockwright in charge closed up the opening with steel and cut stone, but took the opportunity to work the horses in."
"Why horses, though? I have yet to meet a dwarf who loves them as we do," she said, chuckling. "We're across the bridge," she added softly.
I opened my eyes, but kept them firmly on Dolly's mane. "We may not wish to hoist ourselves astride the beasts, but even a dwarf may admire their grace."
"There are some of my people who would claim that dwarves have no sense of beauty, of art," Rohirriel said ruefully. "None who has seen Khazad-dum can believe that lie."
My horror of the empty sky did not abate the next day, and indeed grew worse. By the afternoon of the third day I was riding in a fog of misery, unaware until Rohirriel roused me even that we had entered the gates of Ost-in-Edhil. Rohirriel stopped at a shouted hail, my pony following suit as always, and I looked up to see Celebrimbor approaching. I should have been glad to see him, I knew that, but I couldn't feel it.
"Narvi," Celebrimbor said, his mouth turning up in a broad smile. "Glad I am--"
"Lord Celebrimbor," Rohirriel interrupted. Celebrimbor turned an annoyed gaze on her. "We must get Master Narvi inside, quickly," she continued, ignoring his gaze. "He has...the enclosure sickness, only the other way around."
The next few minutes were a blur, until suddenly I was in a stone-walled room, not just inside but underground as well. We had passed through a doorway set in a hillside into the most unelflike room I could imagine finding in Ost-in-Edhil. It was windowless, built of square-cut stone, not a natural cave. Sturdy furniture, too low and heavy for elven comfort or taste, defined a sleeping area and a small seating area. The only elvish touch was intricate woven hangings that obscured most of the stone.
"It was a storehouse once," Celebrimbor said with a shrug of one shoulder. "I had it cleared and prepared for you when I returned from Khazad-dum."
"Thank you." Already I felt better, content in the knowledge that there was thick stone and several feet of earth between me and the naked sky.
He smiled. "No thanks are necessary, my sister."
I smiled at that. "My brother."
Celebrimbor's face lit up, but before he could speak a tap sounded at the door. Celebrimbor opened it and Rohirriel stood revealed. She gave a shallow bow, mindful of a cloth-wrapped bundle in her arms. "Lord Celebrimbor, Master Narvi."
I took a few steps closer to the door. "Rohirriel. Be welcome to my new-found home."
She entered, stooping to place her burden on a table that was much too low for her. "I am pleased to see you looking better, Master Narvi." Unwrapping the bundle, she looked up at Celebrimbor, who was scowling slightly. "Master Narvi has not eaten this day, nor--if I am any judge--" She gave me a jaundiced look, "--had he eaten much yesterday." Peeling the last of the cloth off her bundle, she revealed a bowl and uncovered it. The smell hit my nose and went straight to my stomach as I discovered that I was ravenous, having been too ill to eat on the journey. "I thought soup would be easiest on your stomach," she said to me.
"I thank you." My stomach growled and I chuckled. "As does my stomach." Moving to the table, I stood beside the chair nearest where she set the soup and waved to one of the chairs across from it. "It is rude to ask you to sit and watch me eat, yet I would still invite you to be my guest if you will."
She gave a glance at Celebrimbor and shook her head. "Ah, no, I should be returning home."
"Of course. You have been gone for some days. You will want to return and see your daughter." I had forgotten her family.
A faint color rose on her cheeks. "And my husband, yes."
Well I had known that feeling when Andvari had been alive! "Then go, my lady, and take my thanks with you."
"You're most welcome, Master Narvi." She bowed, including both Celebrimbor and me in the sweep, and let herself out. I lost no time in sitting down to the meal she had left.
Celebrimbor sat across from me and watched silently as I wolfed down half the soup. That took enough of an edge off my hunger that I could slow down and taste the food. It was good, some kind of bird, a lot like Celebrimbor's cooking--lots of different things mixed in, many that I couldn't identify.
"I've missed you," Celebrimbor said after I slowed down. "There's no one to tell me to keep my head out of the clouds."
Smiling, I shook my head. "And you're how old that you haven't learned to do that yourself?"
He smiled too. "Not old enough, it seems."
I wondered again how old Celebrimbor really was, but it was one of the questions I could never bring myself to ask. "Will you be working with me on this project?"
He made a face but nodded. "Walls and gates. Only for you, Narvi. We've done
"Not really," I thought it wise to point out--Celebrimbor hated to do the same thing twice. "Unless you have rock faces I don't know about, these gates will be set in walls of cut stone. There's little point in concealing them, and less chance of succeeding at it, so the doors will need to be stronger to withstand siege." Not that there was any enemy that could threaten Ost-in-Edhil.
"True--" He considered that while I finished eating. With a full belly the long ride caught up with me. Celebrimbor noticed me nodding and stood up. "Rest, my sister. We can talk later."
I awoke to a tapping on the door and a momentary panic when I couldn't remember where I was. Bolting upright, I recognized my surroundings and tried to calm my heart. I called an invitation and wasn't surprised to see Celebrimbor enter.
"I'm sorry to wake you," he said, obviously noticing my sleep-tousled hair and beard, "but I didn't think you would want to sleep through supper." He smiled--dwarvish appetite had been a source of jest for Celebrimbor since early in our partnership.
I yawned and shook my head. It was sever hours later and I should not sleep more if I wished to sleep that night. "You, I suppose, would be content with air and moonbeams." I began smoothing down my hair and putting my beard in order.
"Oh, I think we can do better than that for you." He hesitated. "Do you want to eat in here, or--" He stopped, gesturing vaguely towards the door.
I shared his embarrassment. "If we don't leave the city walls I'll be fine." My earlier panic seemed absurd--nothing could hurt me in the elven city, any more than it could by the West Gate.
Smiling, he bowed me towards the door. Displaying a confidence I didn't feel, I opened the door...
...and could not bring myself to set foot over the threshold.
The door stood part way up a long, shallow hill that sloped down to a stream or river at the bottom. Beyond the water, the ground stretched unbroken to the horizon, with only a faint blue smudge in the distance that might be mountains. Backing up, I bumped into Celebrimbor, letting out an embarrassing squeak as I did so. He drew me back from the door and shut it.
"Stay here," he said, giving me a gentle push towards the seating area. "I'll get Lady Galadriel."
Sitting, I hung my head, staring at the end of my beard. Much good I would do the elves if I could not leave this room. Would the elves declare us in default of the trade agreement due to my idiocy? Would they take offense at the insult?
"Narvi!" Celebrimbor said sharply. I looked up at him. "Over half the elves here suffer some form of the enclosure sickness. You saw how little time I spent within the doors of Moria."
I only shook my head. Celebrimbor little liked the halls of Khazad-dum, but he never failed of his duty out of fear.
"Bide." Celebrimbor disappeared out the door.
Why couldn't I leave this refuge? I was no more exposed here than I had been outside the West Gate. What kind of coward was I that I couldn't master this fear? I was no use here, and I couldn't even return home--even if given leave, my heart quailed at the thought of repeating that journey. I was trapped and useless.
Sunk in misery, I didn't hear the door open, nor soft footsteps coming to my side. The first I knew of Lady Galadriel's presence was a soft hand on my cheek. "Dear Narvi."
"Lady Galadriel!" I blushed and my heart lifted, neither for any reason I could name. I had met Lady Galadriel twice, each time for minutes only, so why should I feel that I knew her well? Yet I had missed her in Khazad-dum almost as much as Celebrimbor.
"I am pleased to see you again, my friend," she said softly, hand still resting on my cheek. "Yet I am sorry to see you in such distress. Perhaps I should have left you in Khazad-dum where you were well and happy."
Less place remained for me in Khazad-dum than I had thought. After two years at the West Gate, two years working with an elf, returning to Khazad-dum was like re-donning clothes long since grown too small. "I do not regret coming here, my lady, only that my cowardice makes me useless."
She smiled at that. "You could never be useless, my dear Narvi, no more than coward. You found the strength to leave the inn this morning, did you not, even knowing the fear you faced? I do not doubt that you will find that strength again, yet even if you didn't, you would be far from useless if you could not leave this place. It is the labor of your mind we need, more than the labor of your hands."
My face was hot with her praises, yet I could not look away form her eyes. She was beautiful and wise, and I knew that she meant every word. The knot of fear in my breast crumbled.
Releasing my eyes, she took my hand instead, drawing me to my feet. "Come, Celebrimbor will have supper ready." I could no more disobey than a moth can resist the flame, even when she drew me out the doors. With her hand on mine I could stare at the very horizon without fear.
"Look," she whispered. I followed her finger into the sky and saw enormous bird, impossibly far away. "An eagle," she said. "A great eagle. It is considered good fortune to see one."
I stood in Khazad-dum again, high on a builder's walk over Third Hall South. I wasn't alone, I felt Lady Galadriel's presence at my back, as comforting as the rock all around me and the murmur of dwarvish voices in the distance. I leaned over the narrow parapet separating this walk from the drop to the floor a hundred feet below. Dwarves and the occasional Man or Elf walked through the market below, too distant to make out faces or individual voices.
"We could walk among the people below," Galadriel said, coming to stand beside me. "But they would not see us, would not hear us."
I had been a ghost in Khazad-dum for a month between finishing the West Gate and leaving for Ost-in-Edhil. "No, up here is fine." I turned to look at her. She was so beautiful, even without a beard, the wealth of silver-gold hair on her head more than making up for bare chin. I dared to lay a hand on one smooth cheek and felt the muscles bunch as she smiled.
"I've missed you," she said, turning her head so her lips graced my palm. "Dear Narvi."
"An eye blink to an elf," I said, my voice not quite steady.
"Never that," she countered. She turned to look over the parapet, and my hand, no longer resting on her cheek, trailed to the pulse-point at her throat. "Does this please you? I thought it might ease your distress. I did not know it would trouble you so to travel or I would not have--" I felt her pulse race a little faster.
"It pleases me." I didn't want to think about the journey or my service in Ost-in-Edhil. I dropped my hand lower to her breast and felt her nipple harden under my palm. I looked up to her face. "I've missed you too."
Celebrimbor brought me tea in the morning, like he always had in Khazad-dum. We started arguing over plans for the new gates before breakfast, which was also traditional. He didn't want to "waste" time on proper planning--he never did. We were halfway to his workshop and home before I realized that I had gone outside without the slightest qualm. Celebrimbor smirked when I stopped mid-sentence, realizing what I had done. To spite him I resumed speaking as if nothing had happened, but he only gave a pleased smile.
After breakfast Celebrimbor took me on a tour of the city. From a rockwright's perspective the city had little to recommend it--no exposed bedrock to speak of and only a few small cliffs, none higher than twenty feet, to work with. It would be all cut-stone work here, and there was little joy in that. Those few buildings I had seen were wood, as Celebrimbor's house was, blending almost invisibly into the surrounding forest. Nowhere were the soaring towers Celebrimbor had described from the great elven cities of the past.
"How deep is this?" I asked, kicking at the dirt under foot. Only a wooden palisade, little more than a fence, marked that a wall might someday be built here. Only the fence marked that there were people living here. We could have been in virgin forest for all my eyes could see.
"How deep?" Celebrimbor asked.
"How much of this--" I stomped with one boot, "--before you get to honest rock?"
"Ah." He studied it for a moment, staring at the dirt as if he could see through it to the rock below. Maybe he could--after two years of working with Celebrimbor, elves were still a mystery to me. "I don't know," he said at last.
I nodded. We would need to do some test digs. More work.
"The aldalindrim might know the soil depth."
"Aldalindrim?" I'd never heard the word before. I could almost pick it apart, but it made no sense when I did.
Celebrimbor turned to leave and I followed, presumably to see these 'aldalindrim.' "Those--" Celebrimbor stopped and considered. "Those who concern themselves with growing things and their place in the world."
"Farmers." Yes, if anyone cared about dirt they would.
He laughed. "No, farmers only concern themselves with growing food. Aldalindrim advise the farmers and those who would build or hunt or dig, so that we might avoid disturbing the--the song, the trees, the plants, the animals...." I gave him a look
and he laughed. "I know, elves are crazed."
If these aldalindrim knew how deep the dirt was, it would save time, avoiding test digs. As it was, if the elves wanted a stone wall around the entire city I would not live to see it finished. It was too big, the homes and workplaces of the elves too spread out.
We found the aldalindrim in a clearing, a clearing furnished as a room, though I saw no roof or walls. A half-dozen elves stood in conversation, with their backs to us. We made no great noise entering the clearing, but one of the elves turned from the group to face us.
"Lord Celebrimbor," he greeted Celebrimbor with a bow.
The group parted at the name to reveal Lady Galadriel. Crossing the clearing in a few quick steps, she nodded to us. "Celebrimbor. Dear Narvi." A well-dressed male elf, clad in what looked like white velvet, crossed the clearing more slowly. She drew him forward with one hand on his arm. "Lord Celeborn, my husband," she introduced him. "This is Narvi Kundinul, Master Rockwright."
A flash of jealousy, as inexplicable as it was irrational, seared my soul, but burned out as quickly as it had been born. Here was a lord worthy of my lady. I bowed low, "At your service, my lord."
Lord Celeborn smiled and returned my bow. "Welcome to Ost-in-Edhil, Narvi, daughter of Kundin." He raised his brow at Celebrimbor before I could stammer out my thanks or my surprise that he knew my sex. "And what need you of the aldalindrim, Celebrimbor? You are seldom one to seek advice."
Celebrimbor scowled. "Master Narvi asked about soil depth. I thought the aldalindrim might know."
"Perhaps you have maps?" I added, unsure which way the stress-line ran between these two. When an injudicious hammer-tap would bring down the mountain it is best to speak warily.
They had maps. The maps were innocent of all depth markings, but they had maps. Individual elves came forward to point to this place or that and give their personal knowledge of the area. After it became clear that no one else would, I asked permission and began carefully annotating dirt type and depth on the map. Elves! They would never die and take their knowledge with them, so why should they write it down?
The picture that emerged as I filled the map in was not encouraging. "Is there a problem, Master Narvi?" Lord Celeborn asked.
I hadn't realized my scowl had been so obvious. "The dirt's too deep."
"Soil," Lord Celeborn corrected with a frown. "Dirt is that which one tracks into a clean house. Soil is that in which plants grow and flourish."
Did it matter? Dirt was dirt. Except that to an elf it was soil. "Yes, my lord."
Lady Galadriel smiled at me from behind her lord, a tiny lift of one shoulder suggesting that she didn't find the matter of great import. "The soil depth?" she prompted.
"It's too deep. To dig to solid rock around this perimeter--" I traced it on the map with my finger, "--would take the life-work of every dwarf in Khazad-dum." I shrugged. "There are techniques to...float...the stone on the--the soil
--but it won't be as strong."
"Does it matter?" one of the aldalindrim said with a shrug. "We've done well enough with a wooden wall. The time of great armies is past." Lady Galadriel looked troubled at this, but did not speak to contradict it.
We were walking beside a stream at the edge of a forest. From the nearby mountains, as familiar to me as my own hands, we were no more than half a day's walk east of Khazad-dum.
"This doesn't bother you?" Galadriel asked, resting a hand on my shoulder, gesturing with the other to the woods and open field.
I shook my head. "Even if I were still troubled by the open spaces, the mountains are near enough to comfort me."
"They are so important to you?" She studied the mountain peaks with something like amusement. "They are only mountains."
"They are my mountains," I corrected her. "We live nestled in their roots and they are as familiar to us as a mother's arms."
She pointed to Barazinbar. "We call that one Caradhras. It shows no kindly face to those who would cross its pass."
"And yet he shows a true-silver heart to those who know his depths," I countered. "It is under Barazinbar that mithril is found."
"Perhaps Barazinbar is a dwarf, turning a sometimes harsh face to the world and hiding strength and beauty inside," she said with a smile that warmed my stomach.
Not only dwarves had secrets. "And what is in your heart?" I asked. "What do you fear?"
She gave me a sideways glance. "Many things." Amusement rippled in her voice. I shook my head.
"Ost-in-Edhil has survived for my lifetime and more with naught but a wooden fence. Yet you brought me there to build stone walls to guard against some foe only you can see."
"All our battles were won long ago," Galadriel said, shaking her head. "I do not know what I fear, yet I mistrust this present peace." She stopped by a great tree, taller by far than those around it, and rested one hand against its trunk. "I have seen too much evil to believe it vanquished with Morgoth's fall." She sat down with her back resting against the tree's trunk and patted the earth beside her. "But enough of evil. Tell me the names of the other mountains and their stories."
I sat beside her and I told her of Zirakzigil and Bundushakur. My head slipped lower as I spoke until it rested in her lap. Her fingers traced over my face as if studying it for a sculpture.
"Zirakzigil," she repeated when I fell silent. The name sat awkwardly in her mouth, the consonants too harsh.
"Zirakzigil," I corrected, softening it. "You must say it as the name of a beloved."
She laughed. "
I joined her laughter. "Better." She shook her head. "No, truly," I assured her.
Bending down she whispered seductively, "Barazinbar. Bundushakur." She bent further. "Kibil-nala." I pulled her down the rest of the way.
I was awake and dressed before Celebrimbor knocked on my door the next morning. Except that it wasn't Celebrimbor who stood there when I opened the door.
"Lady Galadriel!" I had dreamed about her last night, hadn't I? Confused images of her face and body whirled through my head. I bowed to hide my confusion.
Lady Galadriel returned my bow with an ironic smile. "Master Narvi." Entering at my gestured invitation, she continued, "Celebrimbor is detained on a matter of the craftspeople that cannot be delayed." She gave a thin, almost sour smile. "Cannot be delayed further
." She shrugged and her smile lightened again. "I thought to appoint myself your guide for the morning if you will."
Lady Galadriel my guide? I looked at the floor, determined that my blush would not rise up and embarrass me. "You do me too much honor, my lady."
"So formal, Narvi?" she asked with a ripple of laughter.
Breaking our fast was the first order of the day. Lady Galadriel led me to a light, airy house built of silvery wood, with pillars carved to suggest soaring trees and real trees and other plants growing up to its very walls. Dappled sunlight cast shifting patterns on the walls, oddly familiar in ways I couldn't name. A servant brought us fruit and small pastries, and endless cups of strong, dark tea to wash it down. I stared at my plate to avoid staring at the lady.
I had met Lady Galadriel twice before in Khazad-dum, both times for mere minutes. I have no cause to feel I knew her, no cause to feel anything
for her. She was nothing to me. No, she was my employer, the ruler whose deal with Durin compelled me to leave my home and travel here.
Lady Galadriel chuckled. "I must remember that mornings are no your most voluble times."
I looked up, meeting her gaze. "My lady?"
She shook her head and then gave a little gesture to the food. "Have you eaten your fill?" I nodded, realizing I had eaten, though I could little say what. "Have you thought what you would see of this city?"
I considered this for a moment. One virtue of elves was that they gave you time to think. Celebrimbor and I had traced only a fraction of the perimeter of Ost-in-Edhil yesterday, but it was enough. The maps would tell me more than a visual inspection, and I had copies in my converted storeroom of a home. "I think I've seen what I need, my lady. It's time for paper and calculating slate now."
Lady Galadriel looked at me in silence for a long moment and shook her head again. "You would return to your chamber now? You would see nothing more of the place where you will live this little time, nothing of my city?" I started to stammer out an apology, but she laughed. "No, Narvi. I am your host and I cannot let you retreat into your shell like a hermit crab just yet."
I wasn't sure what kind of creature I was being compared to, but her intention was clear. "Um. There is the issue of the stone for the walls," I offered. "Khazad-dum is too far to provide it. Is there a closer source we might use?" Except for my own chambers I had seen nothing built stone in this city.
She looked thoughtful for a few moments. "There is a rock outcropping a few miles south of here along the river that should do well." She hesitated. "I can take you there is you would like, but there is another thing I would show you first." She ended on a rising note, almost a question. I answered with a seated bow.
"I am at your service, my lady."
She frowned at that but didn't respond beyond standing and gesturing me towards the door. Leading me by a route even a dwarf's eyes could see was not direct, she showed me the farms that grew food for both Ost-in-Edhil and Khazad-dum, and the workshops--more like comfortable parlors--where elven ladies wove cloth while another of their company recited poetry. Neither of these places was Lady Galadriel's goal, but I heard voices ahead that never came from an elven throat and suspected we neared our destination.
The trade caravan had camped in a small clearing. Four dwarves stood talking to various elves, showing them their wares. From the edge of the clearing I could see metal--mithril, silver, and gold--everything from armor to tools whose purpose I could not name to jewelry. Lady Galadriel advanced on one of the dwarves when he closed the deal with the elf to whom he had been speaking. I vaguely recognized him from the times he had passed the West Gate, but had never had cause to speak with him.
The meeting was awkward. Lady Galadriel introduced him, Grer Berlingul, and seemed to expect us to converse, but what had I to say to a trader, even if he was of my own race? The journey that troubled me so was a monthly routine for him. The ways of rock and stone was as foreign to him as the calculus of trade was to me. After a few stammered words from me, the lady and Master Grer fell into a discussion of the price of weapons and armor while I looked over his other wares.
A little silver horse, small enough to lie in my palm, caught my eye. Picking it up, I marveled at the detail of mane and tail, even the veins showing on its legs. I wondered what Rohirriel would make of it. This was a horse such as an elf might ride, but the love of beauty behind its making was very dwarvish.
Grer turned from his conversation with Lady Galadriel to see me holding the horse. "This is something new," he said, taking it from my hands. He lifted the tail several times and I saw that it was hinged from the body. When he set it down on the display table it took several tottering steps forward. "The mechanism is similar to that in the trip-hammers the steelwrights use," he explained. "Only somewhat smaller, of course. It can travel further, but one must be careful not to over-tighten the spring."
After a quick haggle the toy was mine. Lady Galadriel gave me and the toy a bemused look as we left the clearing.
"The commander of the guard who escorted me--Rohirriel Roccondurion?" I looked up at Lady Galadriel to see if she knew Rohirriel and she nodded. "She was--very kind when I-- She loaned me her daughter's own pony to ride on the journey."
"And you would return horse for pony." She sounded amused. "Would you give this gift now? Her home is not far, though I do not know we will find her there."
The place was not far, ten minutes of easy walking, but she hadn't mentioned that Rohirriel lived in a tree
. A large tree, granted, but still a tree. I looked at the narrow stairway spiraling up the tree in front of me and groaned. Elves were crazy, but even Celebrimbor didn't expect me to climb a tree.
Lady Galadriel had started up the first few steps and now turned back. "It is quite sturdy, Master Narvi, I assure you."
The stairs were sturdy, I found, elves being no more fond of broken bones than dwarves. The gray tree trunk we circled reminded me not a little of the stone columns that supported similar stairs in Khazad-dum. More troubling was the discovery that Rohirriel didn't live at the top of this tree, but another, several hundred yards away along a network of narrow paths that connected tree to tree.
"The branches are shaped while the trees are young," Lady Galadriel explained, walking comfortably along a path little wider than my foot, suspended fifty feet above the forest floor. "It is an art of our Silvan kin, not of the Noldori. My lord Celeborn could tell you more than I."
"The art of building bird-nests amongst the tree-tops interests me very little," I said, "providing I might return to earth with limbs intact."
I expected her to laugh at me--instead she became more serious. "Birds nest in trees for safety, protections from foes that walk the earth." Stepping off the path onto a platform she turned back to me. "Badgers burrow for much the same reason." She sighed. "Neither is safe from the determined hunter."
I stepped onto the platform, giving her a look to show her that I was not deaf to what she was saying. "And walls?" I challenged.
Turning away again, she knocked at the door we faced. "Sometimes a wall only tells your enemy where to find you."
Rohirriel came to the door, her eyes wide as she saw her liege lady. "Lady Galadriel!" She bowed low. "You honor my home." She looked more shocked than honored, to tell the truth, but she smiled when she saw me. "Master Narvi. I rejoice to see you well."
Lady Galadriel spoke first. "Thank you, Guard Commander." She hesitated for a moment before turning to me. "If you do not object I will leave you, for I see--" She shared a smile between Rohirriel and me, "--that you are in good hands here."
I was surprised she had wasted as much time on me as she had. "Of course, my lady."
"I will show Master Narvi the way back to his lodgings if he knows not the way already," Rohirriel assured Lady Galadriel.
"A dwarf is not so easily lost as that," I protested, though indeed I wasn't entirely sure I could find my way.
Lady Galadriel laughed and reached out a hand to touch my face. "Dear Narvi." I blushed, and then blushed the harder for knowing that my reaction was seen by both elves.
Lady Galadriel took her leave and Rohirriel invited me in, offering tea and pastries, which I accepted when it became apparent Rohirriel had not yet broken her fast. It was nearly noon; I'd never known elf to lie late abed.
Rohirriel took a kettle off a tiny copper brazier and poured water over the tea leaves. "I am glad Lady Galadriel was able to exert her skills on your behalf," she said.
She looked up from the pastries she was setting out, as confused as I was and slightly embarrassed if I was any judge of elvish expression. "To ease your--forgive me--your enclosure sickness. Not-enclosure."
Lady Galadriel had spoken with me and my fear of the open spaces had gone away. "And what skills are these?" I asked, not sure I wanted to hear the answer.
"It is given to Lady Galadriel to see into the hearts and minds of others, to see their hurts and--sometimes--ease their pains," she said, surprise at my ignorance showing on her face. "You did not know this?"
"No. I didn't." My hand clenched and I was reminded of the horse I still held. "I--came to thank you for the care you showed me on our journey." I continued before she could voice the protest I saw forming in her eyes. "And to thank your daughter for the loan of her pony." I set the silver horse on the table between us.
"Oh! It's beautiful," she said, reaching out to stroke its nose with a single finger. She looked across at me, but I stared her objection down with my best stubborn face, much practiced on Celebrimbor. She laughed, conceded. "Calie will love it." She rose, disappearing into another room and returning a moment later with a young elf-girl. "Calie, this is Master Narvi Kundinul, the rockwright of whom I've told you. Master Narvi, my daughter Calie."
The child gave a credible bow. "At your service, Master Narvi." Her voice was even higher and softer than the adult elves I'd met.
"At yours and your family's," I responded, smiling despite myself. If Calie were a dwarf-child I would have guessed her about thirty years of age--well-grown, nearly as tall as her mother, but not yet into the final rush from childhood to young adult. Of course being an elf she might have been older than I was. Or no--she had learned to ride on Dolly when she was five, Rohirriel had said, and elven ponies live no longer than dwarven.
"Master Narvi has something for you," Rohirriel said, giving Calie an encouraging push in my direction. I realized with a start that she meant me to give it to the child myself. I had expected Rohirriel to give the gift to Calie. Among dwarves only a parent or craftmaster would gift a child directly.
Calie came to stand before my chair, looking both eager and curious. I cleared my throat. "Your mother was kind enough to let me ride your pony from Khazad-dum to here." Picking up the toy, I pumped the tail-lever a few times as I talked. "Since my need deprived you of your pony for some days I thought to offer a horse in return." I set the horse on the table again, starting it walking towards her.
Calie's eyes widened as she watched the horse totter towards her and then she suddenly flung her arms around me in an exuberant hug. "Oh, thank you, Master Narvi!" I gingerly returned the hug, not quite sure how to respond. She was younger than any of the apprentices I had taught, in growth if perhaps not in years, and more demonstrative.
She released me before I could grow too embarrassed and picked up the now-still horse. "How does it work?"
I demonstrated the mechanism, passing on the trader's warning about over-winding the spring, but discovered that she also wanted to know how
it worked. I explained its workings and--remembering an overly-inquisitive apprentice--cautioned her against taking it apart. Uncoiled springs were only slightly easier to mend than broken eggs.
By the time I finished explaining and we had experimented to see how far it could walk in a single go, the pastries and tea were gone. Rohirriel invited me to share their noon meal, an invitation Calie enthusiastically seconded.
After we'd eaten--cheese, salted fish, fruit, and bread--I realized that I had been here for hours. Undoubtedly Rohirriel had other plans, tasks that must be done.
"I think I should be going," I said at last, before Calie could ask another question of Khazad-dum. Already as we ate I'd been asked and had explained the workings of the West Gate doors--at least that of which I was allowed to speak. She showed an amazing grasp of the mechanics. If she were a dwarf craftmasters would be lined up to speak with her mother when she was a little older. I would have to mention her name to Celebrimbor, though he had said he didn't take apprentices.
"But you can't leave, Master Narvi!" Calie burst out. "I was going to show you--"
Rohirriel silenced her daughter's protest with a hand on her shoulder. "Calie, Master Narvi is a very busy person. He has other things to do today besides answer your eternal questions!" Rohirriel gave me a sympathetic look, as if I might ever have gotten tired of the child. I shook my head.
"There is a rock outcropping to the south of here, along the river, that Lady Galadriel thinks might be quarried for the stone for the walls," I said, crafting an excuse for my departure as carefully as I crafted stone.
Rohirriel nodded. "I know it, yes."
"Lady Galadriel--" I hesitated. We had made no firm plans. I didn't even know where to find her at this hour.
Calie interrupted. "Mother can take you there." She turned to Rohirriel. "Can't you?"
"Certainly!" Rohirriel hesitated. "If you wish, Master Narvi. I have no other business today."
She would not have made the offer, even with Calie's prompting, if it were not sincere. "I would enjoy that," I admitted.
"Good!" Calie turned to Rohirriel. "May I come? Please?" The look she turned on her mother would have softened stone.
"If Master Narvi permits."
Calie turned that look on me and I caved in. "You may," I said with as much dignity as I could manage.
She jumped up and gave me another hug. "I'll get the horses!" she shouted as she disappeared out the door. Rohirriel just shook her head.
I had forgotten until we went out the door that I was so high up in a tree. Rohirriel gave me an understandably concerned look when I froze on her doorstep.
"Master Narvi? Should I get Lady Galadriel?"
stiffened my spine. "That will not be necessary." I stepped out onto the platform, priding myself that I need not grip the railing. "I cannot say that I would be happy dwelling among the tree-tops, but I am not troubled by a visit." I didn't need an elf tampering with my mind. Again.
Rohirriel led the way down another narrow branch-path without a word. It was a different path than that by which Lady Galadriel and I came, but constructed much the same. Rope railings gave some security, but not enough. Rohirriel walked along it as easy as I might stride across the floor of First Hall.
Further shocks awaited when we reached the ground. The promised horses were there, with Calie perched atop an enormous black horse, taller even than Rohirriel's gray, which waited for her along side Dolly. Only the pony wore saddle or bridle.
"Since you're riding Dolly," the very small child astride the very tall horse said, "I get to ride Father's horse!"
My expression must have shown my thoughts, because Rohirriel laid a hand on my shoulder. "She has ridden Morno and Ninquie for two years, every chance she may. She is in no danger, Master Narvi."
Lady Galadriel's "rock outcropping" was a granite dome, a smooth, rounded hill of solid granite maybe a hundred feet high and half a mile across. It could be quarried, oh, yes, but what a waste. I saw a city built on it, in it, a city that Celebrimbor could be proud of, stone towers reaching for the sky. There was mica and quartz enough in the granite that the city would glitter in the sun. The new evil Lady Galadriel saw arising would break on it like clouds breaking over Barazinbar.
I froze, suddenly not sure what was real. Lady Galadriel had told me of her fears--and yet she had not. I knew
she had not. Hadn't she? She hadn't had time--I remembered her speaking, I remembered asking her, and yet I knew that she hadn't. My very mind felt split in two--I was sweating and shaking and thought I might be sick.
"Master Narvi?" Calie asked, her eyes wide. I was scaring the child, but I didn't know if she was real. I didn't know if I
The rock. The rock was real, the rock was always real. There was rock under my feet, and if the rock was real so was I.
"I am well enough, child," I whispered to Calie, to the world. "Let me be a moment, if you please." Calie nodded after a short pause and stepped back a few feet, still watching me.
Lady Galadriel had tampered with my mind not once but several times. I could remember the dreams now, coming clearer like fog lifting off the mountains. They weren't dreams, they were real. Or not real, but more than dream. I remembered what I had said and done, what she had made me say and do, and wondered if I could ever face her again. I wanted to mount Dolly again and ride straight back to Khazad-dum and never see an elf again.
Never see an elf again except when they marched to war against Khazad-dum for the insult--if Durin didn't send me back in chains to prevent it.
With an effort I turned my attention back to the rock, to the granite dome and the job I had been summoned from Khazad-dum to do. The rock could be quarried and there was even a steep face to the north to make it easier. There was stone enough here to build a wall around all of present Ost-in-Edhil, though it would take much more than the life-labor of one dwarf to complete. Perhaps if I convinced them of that they would release me to return to Khazad-dum, for what use would I be?
Rohirriel was watching me now too and I nodded to her. "We can leave now."
The ride home was silent, with neither elf intruding into my dark thoughts. Celebrimbor emerged from my chambers as we rode up. He looked happy to see me and much less happy to see Rohirriel.
Rohirriel bowed from her horse's back to Celebrimbor and turned to me as I clambered off Dolly. "Master Narvi, I-- Let me know if there is aught I can do to aid you." Calie started to say something but fell silent at a small hand gesture from her mother.
I dredged up a smile for the child, who was in no way responsible for her elders' deeds. "Go well, child, and take my thanks with you. I--" I wanted to promise to see her again soon, but only bowed instead.
Celebrimbor waited impatiently as Rohirriel and Calie left. "Moriquendi," he muttered under his breath when they were well away. I didn't know the word, but it didn't seem worth the bother to ask. He followed me as I entered my ersatz cave. "I wondered where you had gone," he said while I poured myself a mug of cold water. The sun had left me with a headache, if that too weren't the elf-witch's tampering. "I cut my meeting with the craftspeople as short as I dared, for fear that you were waiting for me, only to find you gone!" There was amusement in his voice and also complaint.
"Lady Galadriel came to show me about Ost-in-Edhil and then Rohirriel took me to the granite dome we may quarry for stone."
He raised a brow at me, amusement conquering pique. "You seemed quite taken with Galadriel in Khazad-dum."
"'Taken by' in very truth!" I exploded. "You never told me she was a--a witch--and could tamper with my mind!"
He stared at me blankly and then dared to lay a placating hand on my shoulder. "Narvi--my sister--"
I knocked his hand off and stood up. "I am tired and would rest." I glared at him until he got the message.
He hesitated and then stood and obediently headed for the door. He paused halfway out the door and turned back to me. "Rest well, my sister. I'll return in the morning and we can talk."
I studied the map of Ost-in-Edhil and made rough calculations of time and material for the walls for a few hours before attempting to sleep. My hands shook as I prepared for bed--would I remember my current anger and determination, or would the memory fade in the dreams as the dreams had faded in the light of day?
"Celebrimbor tells me you are angry," Lady Galadriel said. We were once more standing on the builder's walk above Third Hall South.
I spun to face her. "Did you expect me to be happy to learn that you tampered with my mind?"
She drew herself to her full height and I felt a moment of fear. "Do you rebuke me for easing your fear, Master Dwarf? I did no more than clear the ivy from the roots of a tree!"
"And these dreams?" I snorted. "Did you expect me never to remember them? Was I supposed to spend my days in ignorance and my nights in--" I couldn't complete the sentence.
Her growing anger died a sudden death. "You do not remember?" She sounded...shocked.
I snorted again. "I remember now!"
She shut her eyes as if in pain. "I never meant you to forget." She opened her eyes again, almost glaring at me. "I wondered that you were so formal!"
I wanted to believe her. I almost did believe her. It was hard not to believe, not to trust. And yet-- "You made me love you," I said, not quite raising my voice.
"Your desire is your own," she snapped. "Nothing happens here that you do not will as much as I!"
"Nothing?" I challenged.
We exchanged glares for several long moments before she sighed and turned half away to look over the crowd below. "I first sought you in dreams because I was bored and alone in Khazad-dum and wished your friendship, nothing more. I brought you here now--In my need, in Ost-in-Edhil's need, I have tried to move a tree, not knowing how deep roots can grow into rock." She turned a pained look on me. "If you do know want me here--if you want to hate me, even--such is your choice. I would still offer these--visits--here to ease your--as a comfort. I need not be here with you."
"Let me go," I heard my own voice say. "Let me return to Khazad-dum in truth and not in dreams."
"I cannot!" Her hand gripped the railing hard enough to pale the skin. "You are tied into the coming evil, I have seen it." She released the rail to make a negating chop. "Not that you are evil or will bring evil. But you are woven into the tapestry, one of the threads that might--might hold the weave together. I cannot let you leave!"
"Then I am your slave," I said, strangely calm, as if her passion leached away my own. "You bought me from Durin to do your bidding."
"It's not like that!"
"Then what is it like? My lady."
I waited while she glared at me, watching as her flushed face slowly paled. At last she turned away again. "Go," she said, so quiet I almost couldn't hear her.
"Go," she repeated, still quiet, still not looking at me. "I cannot protect my people by becoming that which I fear. Tomorrow I will arrange for the guard commander to escort you home."
It was my turn to look away now. I didn't feel as much relief, as much joy, as I had expected. I could return, but to what? I stared out over the railing, watching the people, my people, far below.
Nothing happened here that I did not will, Galadriel said. I concentrated and Rohirriel's galloping horses appeared on the opposite wall, though it had been night before and the sun dark. If I looked at the windows behind me the horses would be distorted, almost unrecognizable, meant only to shape the light passing through them, not to be viewed directly.
I concentrated again and Khazad-dum faded, replaced by the granite dome I had visited--was it only this afternoon?
I kept concentrating, ignoring Galadriel's question, her surprise, as I built a city on the rock. The city wavered, steadied, disappeared. I scowled at the bare rock and the city returned, solid.
"Narvi?" Galadriel repeated, eyes scanning the city, my city, something between wonder and bemusement in her voice. "Why--" She made a gesture as if to take in the whole city.
"You cannot defend a city spread out over so large an area," I said. "Or at least I cannot build a wall around it. Here--" Rohirriel would never live in a city so far from the trees, any more than I could live in her nest. "Here we can build a city for those who--those who will live here--and the rest of your people may retreat to it in times of danger."
We, Master Narvi?" Galadriel asked, her eyes on me now.
I scowled at the smooth, unbroken wall in front of me. A gate! I had forgotten to include a gate. It should be here, closest to the rest of the elven settlement and the road to Khazad-dum. It would be wide and welcoming in peace, but must be strong in war. I knew how to hide a gate, none better, but not how to build for open defense. Celebrimbor would know how best to do this. I would ask him in the morrow.
I met Galadriel's eyes. "We, yes."
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.