1. Grór Muses
At odds with the seemingly stern expression upon his venerable face, Lord Grór of the Iron Hills peered glitteringly at his grandchild. The quirk within the astounding length and breadth of his beard the only other hint of the ever-turning gears of his vast sense of humour, save perhaps the characteristic tucking of his spare hand into the sash bound about his ample stomach. Having inherited his Grandsire's humorousness Dáin son of Náin son of Grór could not help but grin, his teeth white, and his lips red with the vigour of youth.
Having been unfettered Grór's gladness was revealed in the deep furrows of his brow which shifted so that his eyes were framed by a thousand marks of long care and resolute contentment. The Lord of the Iron Hills had seen days much filled with darkness, but the taint of it had never set in. Grór's nostrils flared with the deep breath of the mountain air he drew within. Standing upon the summit of his free realm was the height of his pleasure. To ascend the Great Stair of Zhylynnydim* his mansion that men called Lodehome, that were carved and graven with poetry and scenes from his people's long heritage. To step out onto the dais, where row upon row of valleys lay arrayed beneath. Their country was remarkable and bountiful, with youthful streams and rivers rushing gladly beneath the singing boughs of pine and fir. Grór nodded, his lips pursing with the unremarked thought, that surely to this far-flung bastion of the Mountains of Angband, it seemed perhaps the true shadow of Morgoth had never truly extended, for Eagles, favoured by Manwe, roamed across the skies, and Ents still roamed amongst the airy forests.
Dáin's own thoughts appeared less carefree perhaps, hooded beneath drawn brows; but he had scaled the Stairs for his Grandsire's benefit nonetheless. His father, Náin, had never been so inclined; preferring the intense competition of the forges, and the word-sparring of the courts. He was champion of steel, and gold and silver were his servants; and for satire, the Courts of Lodehome had never seen Náin's flair. For Náin's delight was in the unleashing of his utter ability; in Dáin by contrast, perhaps like Grór himself, the blood of the East-Houses ran true. For the darkness and the oppression of Sauron in the East had always been heaviest. The Blacklocks and the Stonefoots differed from the West-Houses in being by nature more deliberate and deft of their actions and they had grown to value freedom more than hoards of wealth, and peace. Moreover the East-Houses were not estranged from the Eldar, the Avari of the East.
Grór had met those elves, the Moriquendi as they were condescendingly called by the West-Elves. But there was nothing dark about Avari for all that the Light of the Utmost West was not to be seen in their eyes -but then perhaps there was not the arrogance either, nor the perilous fervour that had twice now ended in disaster for the Middle Earth. They too had arisen beside the Waters of Awakening along with the others, but having Refused the summons of Orome to Valinor the Avari-elves were alike to the East-Dwarves, less prideful, nor ever arrogant.
It fell to Grór to attempt to balance the two opposed natures that resided within him, for he was a Prince of the Longbeards, and by the blood of his mothers Kin, a Prince of Blacklocks too. He had discerned what had made the West-Dwarves and the Exiled Noldor such ready allies in the past ages -a similar lust for knowledge and craft, as a pursuit in and of themselves. Those who were willing to make a thing of mighty craft without caution for whether such a thing should be made. By the grace of Aule Grór had endeavoured to stay wary of pride. Those few of the Wandering Eldar that visited Grór's halls had commented on as much. The Exiles of the lost realm of the Gwaith I Mirdain mused that surely the goodwill of the Valar went with Grór, and the Folk of his House, where all other Kin of Durin's line seemed harrowed by misfortune. This was a widely perceived phenomenon. Indeed many of the Houseless Firebeards and Broadbeams had taken oaths to Grór and the Fate of the Iron Hills. In Lodehome they were reunited with their sundered Kin in the East, the Blacklocks and the Stonefoots, who had also gathered within his mansion swelling their numbers and their Craft and Lore.
In spite of the worthy fortune of the Iron Hills: Grór saw, as he had done very often of late, that Dáin was fingering the red-hued biting edge of his axe. 'Speak Lord Dáin, son of my son, what grim rumour is that axe of yours whispering to you?' Grór spoke loftily, with characteristic drollness ringing in the timbre of his voice. Grór had seen the likes of the grief that pressed down upon Dáin. The last of the exiles of Khazad-Dum had lived and died in Grór's lifetime. The Lord of the Iron Hills was himself an orphan, and exile of his Fathers Realm in the Grey Mountains. He had seen the steady crumbling of the strength within the continually exiled Dwarves time and time again. The glacial-grinding of their grief and loss upon their proper destiny, to flourish, to endure.
For those that had seen the hallowed halls, and worked within the fabled smithies of Khazadum and Ered Mithrin, Grór harboured a boundless compassion, but Dáin, barely more than a child, had never seen them. He had been born in the freedom and dignity of Grór's vassal-realm in the Iron Hills, a son of Princes, and as sturdy a dwarrow-lad, and gifted an apprentice as Dwarves hoped ever to see.
But there was a shadow on the Dwarves, and this was in part why Grór had chosen to strike away from the fate of his brother, the King. Though it bred gold and fabulous fortune, Grór also associated inevitable doom with the Ring of Durin -and it concerned the Lord of the Iron Hills that his grandchild was so entranced by his red axe -for it had been wrought by his Uncle, King Thror, the Ringbearer, upon whom Grór had also seen an insidious restlessness and dissatisfaction take hold.
With a deep-rooted sadness Grór recalled his last speech with the King: "Put it aside my Lord, Thror, brother of my flesh and of our long cares." The Lord of the Iron Hills had implored. "I deem it plagues your success, and robs you of the joy of what peace we have earned."
At this Thror, Heir of Durin himself, seemed to loom -but like a mighty pillar crushed beneath the weight of a mountain. "The joy we have earned? Humbling ourselves to forsake the Halls of our Forefathers in the Grey Mountains?" Thror's eyes darkened, becoming hard, and lightless as a lamp within which the flame has been veiled. "Factors of mere iron and coal to men. What satisfaction have we earned?"
At this Grór merely gripped his brother's mighty shoulders, and kissed his cheeks, and lastly his brow. "I will not seek to trouble your resolve with conflicting counsel, for I deem your mind is set, is it not my King? Only I wish you would put aside Durin's Ring, let it pass to your son. Let the young trouble themselves with hoards of riches; let we of wisdom and wealth of years turn our minds to the fate of our peoples, even the least of coal-mongers. Thrain is ripe in his wisdom and strength, as my son is in his. Let us wander again, but not into exile this time, but between our free realms, let us teach those blacksmiths, farriers, and wrights of our Blood such craft as has not been seen since we departed Ered Mithrin." But at Grór's words Thror shrugged down into his beard, heedless of his brother's plea and soon departed for Erebor, and Grór knew he would not meet his brother again in life.
Rising out of his reverie Grór's attention returned to his grandchild, whose eyes in turn were kindled with humour that Grór himself was now musing darkly. "I feel a tremor beneath my feet Lord." Said Dáin in answer to the earlier question, "The rumour of peril. In my dreams I hear the earth groan, even as the darkness spews from the mountain of the Black Land anew. And I hear my axe laughing, wickedly, as if some queer trick has been woven into its fate -as if some fell purpose was at work, and succeeding."
Grór's mood immediately grew resolute, like the shoulders of an ox upon the yoke. "Guard your heart from such fears and doubts, flesh of my flesh; trust in Mahal and the goodness of Eru, who deemed to include us in the fate of Ea so splendidly were we crafted. Mahal made us to endure all, and to prosper. But you need happiness to breed happiness Dáin."
Dáin's posture straightened, his admirably trailing beard for such a youth lifting along with his chin, as his grandsires words stoked the fires within him. Dáin passed his hand over his eyes. "I am myself again my Lord, the fit is passed."
Grór embraced his grandchild. "The fit may have passed, but not the Dark Days you have foreseen will be ours. I too have foreseen that the peril of dragons will seem as naught against the doom that arises in the Black Land. But thusly we have been wrought into life by Mahal, and Eru. It is we who have been made to endure and prosper in this time, dark as it may be."
With this, they went down into the Lodehome.
 Zhylynnydim, Lode-Home
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