34. The Mines of Moria
"Aha!" Aica exclaimed as she found the gates. It had taken her two days, but she had finally located the entrance to Moria.
The beautiful tracery had been painstakingly carved into the mountain itself, but Aica wasn't interested in the aesthetics of the place.
"Now, how do I get in?" she muttered. Might as well try the direct approach, she thought, and struck the gates with her fist.
Nursing a bruised hand, Aica glared at the door. "Open! Come on! I want to talk to a dwarf!"
"Any particular reason for that, human?" a low voice behind her asked.
Spinning around, Aica looked down to see a small party of dwarves surrounding her. How did they get there? She hadn't seen any, but then again, she'd been mainly looking for the door.
Hiding her surprise, she said: "I need to get to the other side of the mountains."
"Use the pass like the rest of your kind."
"It won't let me across."
"What won't let you across?" the dwarf asked, raising a hairy eyebrow. They were all hair, these dwarves. Hair and chainmail, not to mention very large and sharp axes.
"The mountain," Aica snapped. "Caradhras!"
The dwarves exchanged glances. "The mountain won't let you across?" the first dwarf asked.
"This is the mountain we're talking about? The inanimate mountain, yes?"
"Barazinbar is cursed," another dwarf said. "It killed that mining party three years ago, remember?"
"Bad luck and too much drink," the first dwarf snapped. "Besides, it didn't talk to them."
"I doubt it. Go away, human," the dwarf said. "We don't let your kind through the Mines."
"I can pay for it," Aica said, reaching into her pocket. None of the ringbearers had much use for money, but she'd always kept some gold around. Aica liked shiny things, and she'd acquired quite a collection over the years.
The dwarf considered this. "How much do you have?" he asked.
Aica dumped her pockets' contents into the dwarf's hand.
"Oh, that's a nice ruby!" one exclaimed, looking at the horde.
"That gold piece looks solid. None of that plating or anything," another commented.
"I suppose it might be enough for me to speak to the king," the lead dwarf said.
"So I can go in?" Aica asked.
"Yes," the dwarf said. "Stand back, human, and cover your ears. You mustn't hear how to open the gate."
Aica stood back and pretended not to listen. Unfortunately, the dwarf spoke so quietly she couldn't catch what he'd said. But whatever it was did the trick. The doors swung open by invisible hinges.
"Impressive," Aica said.
"The Westgate is impressive," the dwarf agreed, "but Dwarrowdelf is truly the heart of Durin's folk."
"Are we going to show her that?" another dwarf asked.
"Probably not. We'll just take her to the king. And then straight through to the other side."
"But the king lives in Dwarrowdelf."
"Then we'll take her to Dwarrowdelf!"
Impressive didn't do Moria justice. The whole place was lit up by thousands of torches that illuminated vast pillars and wide halls. And everywhere dwarves were hard at work, hewing at the stone, adding finishing touches to more pillars and stairs, or simply sitting around and drinking. But whatever they were doing, they all looked up when Aica walked by.
"A human," they muttered. "What's she doing here?"
"Have we opened up trade with the humans now?"
"What's next? Elves?"
Aica smirked at this. If only they knew that she carried a palantir, with Feanor inside it.
"I don't see why you had to bring the horse as well," the lead dwarf grumbled as the horse stumbled over some treacherous ground.
"He's important to me," Aica said. And valuable, too. It's not often you find a horse that doesn't need rest, water, or food.
"Well, if he dies, it's not my fault."
He won't die. He can't die.
They journeyed for almost two days before reaching Dwarrowdelf. When they arrived at the great hall, Aica was actually stunned. Before she had been merely impressed, but this…this was incredible.
"It's amazing," Aica muttered.
"Isn't it though," the lead dwarf said, stroking his beard. "It's a relic from the First Age, you know. Durin the Deathless built it."
As they walked through the mammoth hall, Aica was too awed to say anything. And then they reached the end of it where there was a slightly raised dais, upon which sat a dwarf who looked to be about middle-aged.
"King Durin, this human wishes to pass through Khazad-Dum," the lead dwarf said, bowing to the king.
"Durin?" Aica asked. "I thought you said he was a king of the First Age?"
"This is Durin VI," the dwarf hissed. "Be courteous!"
"Why do you not take the Redhorn Gate?" Durin asked.
"The mountain won't let me," Aica said. "Believe me, I wouldn't be coming here if I didn't have to."
"The mountain? Barazinbar? Why not?"
Aica shrugged. "It told me to leave."
"Ah, so the mountain is cursed. I suspected as much," Durin said. "Already we've lost so many dwarves on its slopes."
"So…can I pass?" Aica asked. "I haven't seen anything secret or anything."
"Yes, very well. It will start good relations with the humans, hopefully," Durin said. "We can always use allies."
"Against whom?" the lead dwarf muttered as he led Aica out of Dwarrowdelf and into a tunnel. "We don't fight with the elves or the humans. And they don't care about our battles with the goblins."
"How far is it to the other side?" Aica asked.
"About a day's journey."
Aica sighed. "This is a big place," she said.
"And this is the shortest road. Hey, come on, come on, don't just stand there."
Aica had paused near a tunnel mouth where, from deep within, she could hear the pounding of dwarven pickaxes. It was like a thousand others she'd passed, but there was…something. She could feel it.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"Come on," the dwarf said. "The king doesn't want you to see this."
"Where are we?"
"Beneath Barazinbar." He sighed. "Fine, fine, it's the mithril vein."
"Mithril?" Aica's eyes lit up at the mention of the silvery metal. Strong as steel, light as a feather, and oh so valuable.
"Yes, and this is the only place in all Arda it's found," the dwarf said with a smile of pride. "The only vein actually. We've been following it for quite some time now, and it's been getting thicker. We'll find the core soon."
"No," Aica said abruptly.
"I don't know," she muttered. Why won't they find the core? she thought. She'd responded reflexively. There was something about the tunnel that made her nervous. There was something down there, she was sure. The dwarves weren't alone in their tunnel.
"Well, come on then," the dwarf snapped. "We've got a lot of ground to cover."