The Dwarf gave a mighty heave and brought the pickaxe down the rock again. The rock cracked, which was a good sign. A couple of strokes or so and it would finally break to reveal the precious stone it held inside. The Dwarf couldn't be happier, so the strong, broad palms gripped the handle tightly.
After a moment of concentration and a few deep breaths, the Dwarf struck the rock once more – and red reflected in dark blue eyes as the ruby was exposed under the light of the lightening rod.
Well, that's that, the Dwarf thought, a gratifying smile tugging under a thick layer of yellow beard.
It was then that another Dwarf's voice echoed throughout the hallway.
"Dáis, aren't you going to have a rest? It's almost noon!"
"Aye, I know, no need to shout, Kela," Dáis answered, finally putting the pickaxe down and sitting on another rock nearby. "I just wanted to uncover that little beauty."
Kela looked at the ruby Dáis was now pointing. It was still partly lodged on its grey prison, but its brilliance didn't escape Kela's expert eye.
"Nice, really nice. You still need at least your ration of water though," Kela said, handing a large cup with the clear liquid. "You know how Thrir is if you don't take care of yourself."
Dáis huffed. "You can tell your brother that he doesn't need to worry about me. I'm not going to break." And the contents of the cup vanished in a single gulp.
Kela just shrugged. "I'm only warning you. If you are to bite someone's head off, go to Thrir."
Dáis let out a small chuckle. "You're just afraid he might cut off your braid if you go."
Kela snorted, but there was a mischievous smile underneath the coal-black beard. "You doubt it? Do you know how long it took this one to grow?" A wave of the head revealed to Dáis the long, ebony braid Kela was sporting.
"You realise you were only children back then? He wouldn't do that to his sister now."
"Better safe than sorry," Kela answered, mimicking a shudder. "At least you're his wife and he loves you too much to do anything to you."
And with that, the two female Dwarves started laughing, loud and clear. For indeed they were women, though their appearance told otherwise. After all, the wide shoulders, the powerful arms, broad chests and long braids and beards belonged to both sexes. The only thing that obviously differed were the beards; female Dwarves' beards didn't cover the whole face, but just the upper lip and chin, and they were tied into a small braid. If there were any other differences, however, they were clear only to the Dwarves themselves and anyone who lived long enough among them to know what to look for. Female Dwarves' faces had softer features and their eyes were bigger, thus more expressive.
Under those circumstances, both Dáis and Kela were considered quite beautiful for Dwarven women; especially Dáis, despite being past her prime of her age. Before she got married to Thrir, she had her share of admirers, and there were many who looked at her with longing as she passed them by.
Even now there were those who looked at her as she passed them by, but for far different reasons.
"So… where did you leave the boys? I hope you didn't just leave them on their own so you could work," said Kela.
"I wouldn't worry even if I did. Ceranos doesn't mind watching over Náin and he's very responsible despite his young age. But I thought I should let him go find someone to play with for a change. I asked Bíen to look after the little one instead."
Kela raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure that is a good idea?"
Dáis frowned. "She's looked after Náin before. Náin has started walking, but there isn't anything she can't handle."
"I'm not talking about Bíen, Dáis."
Dáis sighed and placed the cup down. "What would you have me do? Keep him locked up for the rest of his life?"
"But you've seen how the other children treat him. They don't even talk to him, let alone play with him; he's isolated anyway!"
"Children have a way to be cruel to anyone who is different from them."
"Just the children?"
There was silence for quite some time.
"They'll just have to learn to accept him."
"How long will that take, I wonder?" Kela said with a sigh.
"He has all the time in the world."
"I wish I could believe that."
"He also has us."
And with that, they went back to work, their conversation ending there.
Later that evening, Dáis returned home tired, but happy with today's work. Bíen expected her with Náin in her arms, smiling broadly. Dáis instantly picked Náin in her arms, something that made the boy coo happily. And he was thrilled when his mother showed him the rubies.
"Was he too much of a trouble today, Bíen?"
"No, he was very quiet actually," Bíen said. "He missed his brother during lunch though. He kept calling for him."
Dáis felt her heart missing a beat.
"Ceranos hasn't come home?"
"No," Bíen said. "I thought he was with you."
Dáis instantly felt her blood draining from her cheeks. She was sure something bad happened, because it was very unlike her adopted son to stay late outside.
"Bíen, I'm afraid you'll have to hold on to Náin a little while longer."
"I understand. I hope he's all right."
"That makes two of us," Dáis said, and quickly rushed outside.
"No, I haven't seen him. Good riddance, that's what I say. That thing shouldn't have been here in the first place."
That was the fifth time that Dáis had received that kind of answer – and at the next moment she had punched the insolent Dwarf squarely on the jaw.
Making that three times she had reacted like that.
Idiots, all of them, she thought as she started her search again. A child has gone missing; most possibly hurt himself; and all they think of is the shape of his ears.
Maybe… that was her mistake. She kept thinking where a Dwarfling would go, not an Elfling.
So… where would Ceranos go?
Having an answer in mind and hoping that her guess wasn't wrong, she headed for the surface.
It was on her way there that she found him.
She stopped on her tracks the moment that she discerned the small form in the dark. She didn't know why she did that, since her first reaction was wanting to run up to him, relieved to see that he was safe.
Perhaps because the sight had surprised her.
The little one was sleeping. She was quite certain of it, in spite of the open eyes.
Taking careful steps so as not to startle him, Dáis approached cautiously and kneeled beside him. Her thick, gloved fingers ran gently through the Elfling's jet-black hair and she coaxed him in a whisper to wake up.
Ceranos did, blinking as his gaze regained its focus. "Mama?"
"Aye," Dáis said, smiling a bit. "What are you doing here?"
Ceranos brought himself in a sitting position, looking around. "They haven't come?"
Dáis blinked. "Who, little one?"
"Gram, Fafnir and the others," Ceranos explained. "We were playing."
Dáis felt an awful suspicion crawling on the back of her mind. "What were you playing?"
"They said I should stay here till they got back. They wanted to see how long I would wait for them before I started looking for them."
How could they?
"Ceranos… they never meant to come back," she said, shaking her head.
The Elfling's jade-coloured eyes locked on Dáis's for many long moments, the confusion clearly reflected within them; only to lower soon afterwards, a pained expression settling there.
He had understood.
And that proved to Dáis heart-wrenching. At the next moment, she had wrapped both large arms around Ceranos's form, resting her chin on top of his head while he buried himself in that comforting embrace. The small, thin fingers – so fragile in her eyes - gripped her shirt tightly.
"Ready to go home?" she asked softly.
She felt Ceranos nod against her chest.
"Let's go then."
And with effortless ease (it was still amazing to her how a creature that was by now the size of a Hobbit could be so light), she lifted the Elfling in her arms and carried him all the way back home, casting a challenging glare to anyone who dared look at her and shook their heads in a criticizing manner. And when she spotted Gram, Fafnir and the other children, she let out such a growling sound out of her lips that it sent them scurrying out of her way.
The only wrong her son did was to belong to another race.
What was their – and they were Dwarves, for pity's sake! - excuse to lie?
And her son was so silent now…
She wanted so desperately to know what was in his mind, but he just remained looking away in that same wounded expression.
He's so innocent and they're so stupid and malicious enough to… to… snatch that purity away from him!
Snorting her indignation, she entered her home. Bíen looked up from Náin, who was sleeping in her arms, and she instantly locked her gaze on the Elfling's form.
Her eyes widened at once.
"What happened? Is he hurt?"
Dáis took in the concerned tone and she couldn't help but smile inwardly. Maybe there was some hope for her kindred yet.
"Not in the way you think," she said evasively. "I'll go tuck him in."
Bíen nodded, though she didn't seem appeased, and so Dáis went to the inner room, where Ceranos's bed was; then tenderly placed him in there, covering him up to his chin with the blanket. She scrutinised the bed thoughtfully.
"You're getting again too big for it, Ceranos," she said with a small chuckle. "I'll have to ask your father to make another one for you."
Ceranos said nothing. He slowly turned his back to her, curling himself into a small ball.
Dáis sighed. Nothing for it then. She would just have to leave him alone.
"Try to get some sleep." And with that, she got ready to walk out.
"Am I such a monster?"
Dáis stopped on her tracks and turned around. "What?" She didn't even try to conceal the shaking in her voice.
Ceranos span around into a sitting position, his eyes welling up with tears. "Am I?"
Dáis bowed her head slightly and bit her lip. What was she supposed to say to that?
"Most Dwarves think so."
A shuddering gasp and a tear slipped down one of the Elfling's cheeks. "And you? Father?"
Dáis immediately shook her head. "No, of course not. And we're not alone. Aunt Kela doesn't think so. Or Bíen. Or even Náin."
Ceranos blinked, clearly wanting to feel relieved yet something stopping him. "Why?"
Dáis smiled and walked over to the little one. "Because we didn't look here." She pointed at Ceranos's face. "We looked here."
And she rested her hand on Ceranos's chest.
"So…" the Elfling ventured, "I'll just have to make the others look there too?"
Dáis nodded. "It won't be easy, little one; but I know you'll succeed." And with that, she kissed her son's forehead.
Those words and that touch seemed to magically affect Ceranos and release him from the darkness of his thoughts. In an instant, he had let himself collapse on his bed and, with a long deep sigh, drifted off to the land of dreams.
Dáis didn't know how long she remained there, when a strong hand clasped her shoulder.
"I heard there was some trouble," Thrir's usual rumbling voice sounded in a murmur close to her ear. "Is everything all right?"
Dáis just tilted her head so that it rested against her husband's hand. "It will be now."
Ceranos merely smiled in his sleep.
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.