1. In the Halls of Memory
Gimli paused in the bright lamp-lit passageway outside the Chamber of Memory, hooked his thumbs in his wide silver belt, and listened. The polished wooden doors, elaborately carved with the Face of Arda and ringed around with runes, were ajar just enough so that from within he could clearly hear the slow chanting of the Mother of Memory. Heidth it was, daughter of Fundin, and her deep, rich voice was followed by the piping tenors of the young children chorusing their responses. Their Khuzdul lesson was nearly over; next would come history.
Gimli loved to listen to the voices of these little ones, and often deliberately wandered by in this deep part of the Glittering Caves at the times when he would hear them at their lessons. The world was changing fast around him these days, too fast, and it steadied Gimli to hear the Mother call the lessons the way he remembered them himself, to know that many, many generations before had heard and learned the same. And it steadied him to hear the voices of the children; they were few—so few!--but they had been born here, and they would grow up knowing the Glittering Caves of Aglarond as their home.
Gimli heard Mother Heith prepare to begin the history lesson, and smiled in anticipation; she could make any tale come alive with her sonorous voice and dramatic ways, and Gimli often found himself as spellbound by Heith's tellings as the children.
"Today you will hear the telling of Khazad-dûm, the strong-home of Durin's Folk," she intoned, and Gimli's smile faded as he felt an unexpected cold chill creep up his spine. That was no lesson he cared to overhear; every step in that dark place still played in his memory far too clearly. Ten years was no long time in a dwarf's life, and certainly not enough time for him to forget....Gimli shook himself—he was no timid beardling. He would stay and hear this out, as much to prove that it had no hold on him as anything else.
"Listen, children, for the Telling of Khazad-dûm is the story of our beginnings," recited the Mother. "First of the Fathers, Durin the Deathless, woke long, long ago, when the world was young and fair; he walked alone and named the nameless places, he wandered far and long, both high and deep. What are the tales we tell of the father of our race, the Longbeards?" here she paused, and the children took turns calling out their favorites: "Durin and the Rock-Giants!" "The Tree of Singing Gold!" "The Princess' Hammer!" "Durin and the Heart of Arda!" Mother Heith hummed approval after each, then went on.
"Even thus, Durin came by many roads from Gundabad where he awoke, to the dale he named Azanulbizar. There, beside the caves that were the beginnings of mighty Khazad-dûm, Durin gazed in the still waters of Kheled-zâram. What did he see there?"
The children replied in chorus, "He saw a crown of stars appear--as gems upon a silver thread--above the shadow of his head!"
The Mother hummed in agreement. "Yes, just as we sing in the song. Durin saw himself crowned king of a folk yet unborn, and the magic of Kheled-zâram is such that since that day, none but Durin can ever see anything of themselves in that dark pool. Only the Father of the Longbeards—only he, so that is how we know him, and how he knows himself each time he is re-born in one of his heirs."
Gimli remembered crouching over that still, dark water with the hobbits, Frodo and Sam, at his side. Dazed, we were, still in shock over the loss of Gandalf, still reeling from the horror we had escaped, and not quite believing we had escaped it. And yet I had to go look in Kheled-zâram! I am an Heir of Durin, after all, and I could not go by without looking, just in case...but there was no reflection, there was only the Crown, and it did indeed shimmer like gems strung in the deep...
The Mother's voice rolled on. "So there were the makings of mighty Khazad-dûm: the caves to start a delf in, the mountain-roots rich with rare ore, the lake to show Durin his lordship. How were these things provided?" the Mother paused; no answer chorused, so she went on. "They were provided by the grace of Mahal, who cares for us! What was Durin's obligation in return?"
This time the children knew the response. "To work with diligence and skill!" they responded as one.
The Mother hummed happily, "Yes, to work with diligence and skill. After a time, many khazad from other clans came to help him, and Durin led them to work with great diligence and skill to make Khazad-dûm a city of wonders, of great renown even among the Elves.
"And, how do the Elves call Khazad-dûm?" the Mother asked, and paused. A very young child's voice piped up, "MOO-rrrrheee-ha!" and there was supressed giggling from the rest. "Moria," corrected the Mother sternly. "In their tongue, it means Black Pit."
Moria! The word prodded a sharp memory of standing, wet and cold, in bright morning sunlight on the lower slope of cruel Barazinbar. Gimli remembered his rising ire as he listened to the rest of the Fellowship argue over the next step of their journey, once the mountain pass had been denied them.
Moria! The Black Pit. How could thousands of years of my folk's labors, generation after generation of a civilization, be summed up in such an ugly-sounding word? Moria. To even say it forced your lips around mushy Elvish noise. None of the solid, throaty trills of Khuzdul, to say "Khazad-dûm." Even the Westron name "Dwarrowdelf" was better than the moaning elf-word "Moria."
I was so irritated, hearing the rest of them speak about the ancient dwarf-home with such dread and horror. They even likened it to Mordor...Mordor! They had a chance to pass through one of the greatest cities ever built; the marvel, the pride, the size and scope of it rarely seen by outsiders—and they moaned and whined that fate should drive them there.
He had known there would be danger, of course--orcs, no doubt, and Durin's Bane....Durin's Bane...But naïve fool that I was, I thought that no matter what we found, or what found us, I was more than willing to follow Gandalf and go and look on the halls of Durin. I said as much, to shame the rest of them. Well, that did quell the whining, at least for a time...
The Mother of Memory was continuing, "...the lesser gate is to the West, and the Doors of Durin are skillfully marked with runes of ithildin, the writing which shines only in the moonlight. It was made for commerce with the Elves, who were friendly to us long ago." Gimli smiled at what Legolas might make of that.
Gimli remembered his own eager search for the Doors. That black, fetid lake seemed to make the rest of the Company nervous, but I barely noticed it, my eyes were so fixed on the cliffs where the Doors would be found. So maddening, the way Gandalf kept the pace to a careful hobbit-stroll! I suppose he didn't want to lose any of them, or perhaps he sensed there was danger waiting in the water...
And looking for the Doors in the dusk...Legolas pressing himself into the rockface like that with his eyes closed, he looked like he was trying to take a nap! I was just as laughable; I nearly ruined one of the edges of that fancy double-bitted axe I carried, using it for a rock-hammer and tapping away like a dimwit salt-miner.
Ah, but when Gandalf remembered the strange words that called forth the ithildin! What glorious stuff, that. So beautiful, glittering on the stone. Gimli vividly remembered running his fingertips over the blazing silver lines, feeling only cool, smooth stone. Durin's anvil, hammer, stars and crown, all burning there, yet I couldn't feel the engraving or the inlay, only the stone—the ithildin must become part of the stone somehow, another lost secret....
The Mother's melodious voice rolled on, "...such was the might of Khazad-dûm, and for thousands of years the wealth of Middle-earth poured through both gates. Khazad of all the clans dwelt there in ease and safety, creating mighty works, building for themselves a hidden city of grand and marvelous beauty."
Oh, yes, that it was. Gimli closed his eyes for a moment to see it better in his mind, the quick glimpses he had been able to snatch. We had to hurry along so, and after the first, I was as ready as any of them to hurry. But, oh, it was so beautiful! The wide avenues, sculptured fountains, soaring vaults, sweeping stairs...every bit of it carved and polished and ornamented—the cursed orcs defaced what they could, but even they couldn't render that place ugly.
Gimli had traveled far, and guested at every dwarf-mansion from the Blue Mountains to the Iron Hills—and he could say with certainity they were all a crude chiseling beside the beauty of Khazad-dûm. Until he had seen Aglarond, he had despaired of any place coming close...he opened his eyes and smiled as he looked around the rough, glitttering walls of the passage he stood in. Even unhewn and untouched, this place rivaled Khazad-dûm itself. With time, it would surpass it.
"...but the greatest treasure of all to be won from the deep-delved mines of Khazad-dûm was true-silver, what the Elves call mithril," the Mother continued. "Why is there is no metal more precious than true-silver?"
A child answered swiftly, "It is as lustrous as silver, and lighter and stronger than steel, but it neither tarnishes nor rusts!"
Mother Heith hummed, "Aaannnnd?" She paused, then contiuned. "And is found no place in Middle-earth besides the deep mines of Khazad-dûm, at the very roots of Barazinbar. So since we now can win no more of it, true-silver is beyond price."
Gimli had seen true-silver a few times in his life; in fact, the prize heirloom in his father's hoard was a heavy ring of such, set with flawless sapphire. Gloin had allowed him to touch it, once, and Gimli's fingertips still tingled at the memory. He could well understand the treasure-lust in the hearts of the miners, delving deeper and deeper, following the lode of silvery ore.
Not just treasure-lust, though, he thought grimly. Traveling mile after mile of the dark, echoing passageways of Khazad-dûm, a certainity had seeped into his bones, a conviction that it had not been mere greed that caused the mine-masters to keep driving on and on, and down too deep....
Somehow, dwarvish stubbornness got twisted into blind obsession,[/i] Gimli thought. I could feel it, there in the dark. Could it have been the Enemy, acting though Durin's Ring? Dwarves cannot be mastered, but to push us toward more of what we already are, that could be done...
We so often tell each other, so proudly, "Nobody can make a dwarf do what he chooses not to!" Gimli mused, Yet that very thing can doom us; nobody can make us stop, not even ourselves. The grip of obsession, the desire beyond reason to have all of it—All! There must have been no other thought but to follow the vein until both ore and miner were exhausted; nowhere to go but to keep going...
"But the greedy Elves clamored for still more, and so the skillful miners of Khazad-dûm delved deeper than any had before, or since, deep beneath the heart of Barazinbar into the very bones of Arda, and there let loose a monster that slumbered in the deep rock--" the Mother paused dramatically, then intoned, "Durin's Bane!" and the listening children gasped.
Even Gimli's breath caught a little in his throat, Mother Heith's voice propelling him into an unwelcome memory. Drum-beats in the deep, shocking through the stone beneath our feet...that great flaming shadow with eyes like dark shafts of horror...the axe falling from my hand as I hid my face...Legolas has told me time and again that there was no shame in the both of us being overcome with terror at the sight of the balrog, that Aragorn and Boromir could run toward it only because they saw merely dark flame and smoke... they could not truly see what Gandalf faced alone, not as we saw it...
"Alone he faced the monster, down in the furthest deeps Durin faced the Bane, yet even the Deathless five times re-born could not prevail against that foul, evil creature. The spirit of Durin returned again to the shelter of his first body, entombed by magic in solid rock, to sleep away the ages until called forth again. Durin's son Nain then sought his revenge--"
"You cannot pass!" Gandalf thrice forbade Durin's Bane, yet in the end he had to destroy the Bridge to send the demon back to the deeps, and was taken there himself by the monster's curling whip. Horrible, to helplessly watch Gandalf jerked over the edge of the abyss, watching our slim hopes of victory get even slimmer...
"--but those that survived the ravening monster had to flee from their beloved home into the uncertain world, and it was Nain's son Thrain who then led Durin's Folk to new lands.
"Yet Khazad-dûm is ever in our memory, and many hold hope in their hearts to dwell there yet again. Who was it led a fearless host to take Khazad-dûm not even three-score years ago?" the Mother asked.
Balin son of Fundin! Gimli silently answered. Of course Mother Heith would want the children to remember Balin—she was his sister, after all. I wonder if she knows that Balin died kneeling beside Kheled-zarâm, seeking Durin's Crown. Gimli mused as he listened to Heith tell Balin's tale. Would it be any use for her to know? There would be precious little comfort in knowing that her brother had become desperate enough to ask to be Durin's next vessel...and even if Balin had been chosen to take up the Crown, I doubt it would have saved the colony. It needed a wizard like Gandalf to kill the balrog....
"--but who was it finally," continued the Mother, "who was it rid Khazad-dûm of Durin's Bane? What hero has finally avenged Durin and his Folk?"
The children shouted the answer together: "Lord Gimli, son of Gloin!"
"What?!" Gimli blurted out, then clapped his own hand over his mouth. What nonsense is this? I never...Who has made this up?
The Mother of Memory hummed in agreement. "Yes, brave Lord Gimli, with the help of the wizard Gandalf and King Elessar, freed Khazad-dûm from the curse of Durin's Bane."
Gimli fought down a searing desire to march in and correct her. It would not do to show such disrespect, he thought. Still, it was hard to stand there and silently listen while Mother Heith spun a story of great valor that was utter mumak-wash. All Gimli could think of was how long and loud Legolas would laugh if he heard such a tale.
Finally the lesson was over, and Mother Heith dismissed the children, reminding them that they were to go immediately to the Hall of Arms for sparring practice.
As they filed out of the doors of the Hall of Memory, the children stopped in their tracks and stared up in disbelief when they found Lord Gimli himself looming over them unexpectedly. He tried to smile reassuringly, but their eyes were round and wide as they all nervously stammered out greetings to him and bowed. He returned their greeting gravely and, released, the mob of little ones fled down the passageway as fast as they could. Gimli watched them go with a frown, and entered the Hall of Memory to speak with Mother Heith.
She finished hanging up her robes of office as Gimli entered, and greeted him calmly, although Gimli thought he could detect a slight smile behind her carefully curled silver beard. They regarded each other for a moment, then Gimli blurted, "It wasn't me that destroyed Durin's Bane. You shouldn't tell them I did. It was Gandalf. I was there, but it was the wizard who killed the balrog, not I."
Mother Heith raised her thick eyebrows and gestured at one of the benches arranged around the elaborate central firepit. "Sit, Lord Gimli. You have been standing for a while, I think." Gimli took the proffered seat with a sigh, and waited while the Mother of Memory finished tidying up the room. Heith was not one to be hurried, and he had spoken in haste. Gimli sighed again and muttered, more to himself than to her, " And the children are afraid of me. I do not like that."
Heith turned toward him with a frown. "That is awe you see in their eyes, not fear. It is healthy for them to be in awe of someone who is worthy of their respect."
"It is not me that they are in awe of, it is the—the figure in your story, who happens to bear my name."
Mother Heith gracefully settled herself on the other end of the bench where Gimli sat. She was a tall woman of considerable girth, but there was nothing ungainly about her. She looked at Gimli with great compassion and nodded agreement. "Yes, it is a hard burden to bear, to be a hero. You must give up being merely yourself, and carry the weight of something larger. For many, doing heroic deeds is trivial compared with the strength it takes to live with being a hero."
"But it is simply not true!" Gimli sputtered. "What you told them I did isn't true! I didn't know that was how the tale was being told, or I would have put a stop to it years ago."
"Would you, now?" Heith sounded amused and idly stroked her beard, although her expression didn't change. "You would put a stop to the wind as well, I suppose, or the growing of the grasses. That would be just as likely as putting a stop to the stories that people will tell, and how the tale will grow with the telling in the ways that the people need it to."
"I could remind them of the truth!"
"And they would politely ignore it, even from you, because they need the truth in the story more than they need a story that is merely true."
Gimli was having a hard time restraining his indignation. He didn't want to be disrespectful toward a Mother, but she was talking in riddles and didn't seem to be grasping the problem. "Children should not be taught what isn't true. The story you made up about me and the balrog isn't true."
Mother Heith shifted her bulk a bit and stared thoughtfully into the flames that flickered ever in the center of the Hall. "The telling of Gimli and Durin's Bane was not made up by me; that is what the story has become on its own. What the children learn from the telling is more true, and more valuable, than the story of what actually happened to you in the Halls of Durin. They learn that someone like them can be courageous, that vengence can be achieved with patience, that justice is possible, that great evil can be met and overcome.
"Gimli and Durin's Bane is not the only tale that is told of you, Lord Gimli, and there will be many more. As I said, it is a heavy burden to bear, to be a hero for your folk. Fortunately, I know you to be a dwarf of great fortitude, and I do not doubt that you will manage to endure it." Heith gave him a small smile, and added, "I invite you to imagine what an Heir who becomes the vessel for King Durin must endure! Now, there would be one with a burden to bear. You might be glad your own task is so slight."
Mother Heith rose from the bench, signalling that she was done speaking. Gimli rose as well and respectfully took his leave of her, pausing outside the wooden doors of the Hall as he swung them shut behind him. Trailing his fingers over the Face of Arda, the map of the world deeply carved on them, Gimli considered the Mother's words. It still didn't sit well with him, that the stories told of his deeds were so exaggerated. But it doesn't seem to be mine to choose, Gimli thought. And perhaps Heith is right, I should be glad it isn't worse. I may have to deal with being a hero, but at least I'm not a legend. The only thing worse than that would be Legolas finding out about Gimli and Durin's Bane...
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.