2. Of Kith
Chapter 2: Of Kith
Gimli's mind was feverish. The call of family was as a furnace in his blood. Perhaps this was what the elders meant when they spoke of how their yearning for home burned within their hearts. Little wonder, then, that Thorin could not refuse the desire to return to the Lonely Mountain. And little wonder that Glóin had agreed to go with him. There was a comfort of sorts in surrendering to the flames, and those flames fueled the heart against the colder voices of prudence and fear.
But despite his newfound purpose, Gimli's resolve faded a bit as he approached the council hall. Thorin was wont to remain in the hall after a council's conclusion and speak quietly with his closest associates, and the thought of interrupting these private discussions made Gimli reconsider his approach. Thorin Oakenshield was an intimidating dwarf at best, even to those who knew him well. His eyes were steel, his words were flint, and his voice could be heard above all the bellows and hammers of the forges. But perhaps most daunting of all was his pride. Thorin was well aware of his own worth as Durin's Heir, and he was also well aware of the honor and deference once accorded Durin's House. He demanded respect, and he ensured that none granted him anything less. It would not do for Gimli to march in boldly and claim a right to the quest. No, this called for a more unassuming approach. To that end, Gimli slowed his steps and took a moment to school both his thoughts and his expression before starting forward once more.
He caught the sound of muted voices, and he paused again, listening carefully. It took only a moment to identify the voices as belonging to Thorin and Balin, and Gimli tugged at his beard. He could wait for the voices to cease, but he did not want to be caught eavesdropping in the passages like an unruly child. He could also wait and approach the matter in the morning, but he did not want to return to his family's chambers without speaking to Thorin. When next he confronted Glóin, it would be with Thorin's permission to join the quest.
Movement caught his eye, and Gimli hastily straightened as a dwarf pushed open the wide door that led to the council hall. His long, full beard was tucked neatly into his golden belt, and Gimli fought back a smile. Very few dwarves were old-fashioned enough to tuck their beards into their belts. "Dwalin," he called out in greeting.
Dwalin's head turned and his face broke into a smile. "Gimli! Word reached us that the wains had returned, and by Durin's hammer, you arrive in good time! You will want to speak with your father. He left to—"
"I have had words with my father," Gimli said quickly. "I now seek words with Thorin, if he is available."
Something unreadable flashed across Dwalin's face. "Thorin and Balin are yet within the council hall. If Balin's presence will not hinder your speech, I think they would both be pleased to hear you."
"I have no wish to disturb them…"
"You will not," Dwalin said, watching Gimli closely. "And if they ask, say that I directed you to enter. Go on."
Steeling his will, Gimli swallowed and walked past Dwalin. He could still feel Dwalin's piercing gaze upon him after he entered the hall.
Much of the dwarven stronghold in the Blue Mountains had been delved in haste, linking together old caverns that had survived the destruction of the First Age and carving out space enough to make room for all who had followed Thráin into exile. But there were several chambers that had been constructed with the time and care they were due, and the council hall was one such chamber. A vaulted dome soared high overhead, buttressed by wide pillars along the walls that met one another in leaping arches across the ceiling. The names of Durin's scions and the history of their House were etched on the plinths at the base of each pillar, and wall sconces bathed the hall in the sharp glow of firelight. In the room's center, hewn from the very stone they had cleared to make the chamber, was a broad table where the leaders of Durin's House held council. At the far end of this table, two dwarves huddled together before a small stack of maps. They had yet to notice Gimli's entrance, and Gimli found himself wishing that Dwalin had taken the time to announce him. Deciding he had little choice in the matter, he clasped his hands beneath his beard and loudly cleared his throat.
"Back already, Dwalin?" Thorin said, looking up. "That was—" He stopped when his eyes came to rest upon Gimli, and he blinked. "Gimli?"
"Lord Thorin," Gimli said, bowing deeply. "And Balin. It is good to see you both."
"And it is good to see you," Balin said. "We just received word of your arrival. I trust the trading went well?
"As well as we had hoped," Gimli answered. "Nír will have details for you by morning."
"And we are anxious to review those details," Thorin said, "but now is not the time for such things. You are recently returned and doubtless weary from your travels. Your father is looking for you."
"I have just come from my father," Gimli said, his fists clenching and unclenching beneath his beard. "And that is why I now seek you out."
Thorin's tone could not be described as friendly, and Gimli found himself unable to meet Thorin's eyes. He focused instead on the silver embroidery of the Heir's tunic, following the thread that outlined the emblems of Durin's House: a crown set amongst seven stars, and below them, the hammer and anvil. It was upon these that Gimli focused, calling to mind the integrity and strength of his mother's iron. "My father told me of your decision to reclaim the Lonely Mountain," Gimli said, keeping his tone low and respectful. "He also spoke of your decision to take but a small party with you on this journey."
"Glóin was not the first to speak of this to you," Thorin said coolly and with a hint of warning. "He would not have broached such a subject upon the evening of your return."
"That is true," Gimli said. "I spoke first with Kili."
Thorin gave a quiet huff. "I should have expected as much."
"You did not forbid Kili to speak of our plans," Balin said quietly.
"No, but I wished him to employ at least a hint of discretion," Thorin answered, his voice weary. "What of it, then? And be quick about it. Balin and I have much to discuss."
"I come to beg a boon of you," Gimli said. "I seek to join your quest."
Whatever Thorin had been expecting Gimli to say, this was not it. His brow furrowing, Thorin stared at Gimli for several awkward moments while an uncomfortable silence filled the council hall. Balin also seemed frozen, his mouth turned down in a deep frown. At length, Thorin echoed, "You seek to join us?"
And as Thorin continued to stare, it seemed to Gimli as though Thorin was not actually seeing him but rather seeing something else. Something that filled him with dread. What that something was, Gimli could not say. Nor did he have time to wonder about it, for Thorin's face became suddenly blank as he gave Gimli his answer: "No."
Gimli blinked. "No?"
Nonplussed, Gimli could only gape at Thorin. "May I ask why?"
"You are too young."
There it was again: the curse of youth. But at sixty-two, Gimli was of the firm belief that youth was no longer a valid excuse. "With respect, Lord Thorin, Kili is accompanying you, and he is but fifteen years my senior."
"Fifteen years can make a significant difference," Thorin said, and he turned his attention back to his maps.
But Gimli was far from finished. "Again with respect, Lord Thorin, fifteen years are only significant if those years have been spent gaining the experience necessary for such a quest. Kili has spent the last fifteen years here in the Blue Mountains, overseeing the cutting of the western passages. I do not dismiss such work, but I have spent the last fifteen years guarding trade wains on their routes to the Grey Mountains and the Iron Hills. I have had the opportunity to meet merchants of all races on my journeys, I know the lands well between here and the Lonely Mountain, and I have faced the goblins and giants that waylay travelers in the Misty Mountains. If you must consider my youth, then I ask that you also consider my experience."
"So noted," Thorin said, his eyes hooded. "The answer is still no."
"Fili and Kili are the next Heirs should aught happen to Thorin," Balin said, apparently feeling that Gimli deserved more of an explanation. "Their lineage obligates them to participate in this quest, for they share the charge that Thrór laid on his scions."
"Then I also claim an obligation to lineage," Gimli said, struggling to keep his tone respectful. "I may not be a descendant of Thrór, but I am a descendant of his cousin Farin. Through Farin, I am of the line of the Heirs, and as this seems to be a matter of honor for Durin's House, I am obligated to uphold that honor!"
"You make your argument well," Thorin said, "but my answer remains unchanged."
Gimli frowned and opened his mouth to press his point, but then a new thought occurred to him. "Who else is going on this quest?" he asked.
"As you shall not be accompanying us, I do not see that it is any of your concern," Thorin said.
"Thorin, myself, your father, Dwalin …" Balin trailed off in order to return Thorin's dark glare. "He could learn this in the next hour by simply asking either Fili or Kili! I do not see that it does any harm to tell him here," Balin said sharply. Thorin growled something beneath his breath, but much to Gimli's relief, Balin continued as though he had heard nothing. "As I was saying, the company will consist of Thorin, myself, Dwalin, your father, Óin, Fili, Kili, Ori, Nori, Dori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur."
Once again, Gimli was reduced to gaping. "You speak of obligation," he finally managed, "yet six of the thirteen are not even of the line of the Heirs. Ori, Nori, Dori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur have no claim to the obligation that binds you! They have no claim to the obligation that binds me! Moreover, they are all older than Fili by at least fifty years, if not more. That is a significant number. My fifteen years in relationship to Kili holds little weight by comparison!"
Thorin ceased glaring at Balin and shifted his glare to Gimli. "I grow weary of this debate. I can only imagine its effects on one who is already weary from long travels."
"My father is going!" Gimli snapped, throwing all deference to the ovens "And he does not expect to return! I am his son, and as such, I claim a familial right to accompany him! You know better than most what such a right means. If I understand all you have said and all I have heard, it is part of why you are going on this quest in the first place!"
Rage flashed hot in Thorin's eyes, but it was tempered by another emotion. A deeper emotion. If Gimli had not known better, he would have called it fear. Then it vanished, replaced by a cold, calculating look. "So you claim a place in my company by virtue of your father's presence?" Thorin asked slowly.
Gimli had a sinking feeling that he knew where this was going. "I do."
"And what has your father to say in this matter?"
Gimli gritted his teeth. He had hoped to avoid that little detail. "My father does not lead this party, Lord Thorin. It is your permission I seek."
Thorin's face grew stern. "That was not my question. And since you claim a right to this quest as Glóin's son, I believe you should obtain Glóin's permission."
"I also claim a right to this quest as a direct descendant of Durin."
"And still you have failed to answer my question. Bring Glóin before me, and let him plead your case." Thorin's eyes suddenly focused on something to Gimli's right. "You have the other maps, Dwalin?"
"I do," came the answer, and suddenly Dwalin was beside Gimli, his hand grasping Gimli's elbow briefly before he strode forward to hand Balin several sheets of parchment. "But I would beg your leave for tonight. I know you meant to go over these with me, but the evening wanes and I tire."
Thorin grunted his agreement to this. "Go. I will want you all the earlier tomorrow."
"I would expect nothing less. Come, Gimli," Dwalin said, catching Gimli by the shoulder and turning him around before he could even think to protest. "Let us leave these ancient creatures to their strange, nightly ways."
Gimli heard an indignant huff from Balin just before he was propelled out of the room, Dwalin's hand firm on his upper arm. Then they were in the corridors, leaving the council hall behind and moving rapidly toward the upper levels. Gimli tried to shrug off Dwalin's hold, but Dwalin only tightened his grip and quickened his pace, pushing forcefully as Gimli resisted.
"How long did you listen?" Gimli demanded, incensed at Dwalin's interference.
"Long enough," Dwalin answered curtly. "But we will not speak of it here. Come. There are things I would tell you ere you judge either Thorin or your father too harshly."
Gimli again made an attempt to free himself, more for principle than for anything else, but Dwalin's hold was an iron band. With a resigned sigh, Gimli ducked his head and tried to make it appear as though he was accompanying Dwalin of his own volition. He was grateful that Dwalin had chosen not to lead him about by his beard. At least someone acknowledged that he had reached his maturity.
Under Dwalin's guidance, they wound their way through hallway after hallway, moving steadily upward. Eventually, Gimli felt fresh mountain air brush against his face, and then the pair emerged onto a watch cleft, cut high in the side of the mountains. A cold breeze blew down from the north, carrying with it the smell of spring snow, and Gimli shivered.
"If you wish to go in and warm yourself, we will keep watch for a moment," Dwalin said to the dwarves standing guard on the ledge. They eyed Dwalin curiously, but a sudden gust of frigid wind lent appeal to Dwalin's offer. With hurried thanks, they accepted and quickly disappeared back into the mountain.
"I assume we may speak now?" Gimli asked curtly as he finally wrested his arm from Dwalin's grasp.
"Yes," Dwalin answered, and if he was offended by Gimli's insolence, he gave no sign. "I do not think we will be disturbed."
"Only by those who have no objection to frozen beards."
A smile ghosted across Dwalin's face. "A cold spring night distresses you, yet you wish to confront a dragon?"
"I wish to accompany my father!" Gimli snapped. "Thorin has no right—"
"Thorin has every right," Dwalin interrupted, his voice sharp. "He is Durin's Heir. This quest is a fulfillment of Thráin's vow. It is for him to choose the members of his company, and if he chooses to deny you, it is not your place to question him."
"Nor is it his place to question my duty to my father! Even Thorin has not that authority!"
"But he raised a good point, did he not? Glóin does not want you to join this quest, and as such, you are not obligated to accompany him. The only obligation that binds you is one of your own making. And while I do not doubt that your love for your father is great, it is not reason enough to seek death by dragon."
"Then you admit it as well!" Gimli pounced. "There is no hope in this quest!"
"Hope?" Dwalin pursed his lips, and a distant look crept into his eyes. "I suppose that would depend upon why you hope. If you hope that we will slay the dragon and establish again the Kingdom under the Mountain…" Dwalin grimaced and shook his head. "There are some on this quest who cling to that hope, and they are welcome to whatever comfort it gives them. But you are probably right: there is little hope for that. But that is not my hope for this quest. My hope is that I will fill a part of the hole created by the loss of Khazad-dûm and the Lonely Mountain. It is that even a glimpse of the Lonely Mountain will grant me peace from the dreams that haunt my nights. It is that I will find something of myself in our journey and fulfill the obligations set down by my fathers. And perhaps my sacrifice will rouse others so that our heritage will not be entirely forgotten." Dwalin sighed, turning away from Gimli and looking out into the night. "For better or for worse, that is my hope. And I believe this hope to be possible."
Gimli frowned, angered by Dwalin's words. "I understand the desire to fulfill these obligations—"
"No, Gimli. You do not. You are too young to properly understand."
With effort, Gimli pushed down a surge of frustration. "Very well, then," he said tightly. "Perhaps I do not understand. But I do know how to fulfill an obligation. And I know also that an obligation remains unfulfilled if we die before we can meet it!"
Still staring at the shadowed peaks of the surrounding mountains, Dwalin smoothed down his beard and asked, "Then what would you have us do? For an obligation also remains unfulfilled if we avoid it."
"Bide our time! Strengthen our numbers! We could secure our halls, fill our armories, build our resources—"
"Do you know why Thorin never led us to join the rest of our kindred in the Grey Mountains or the Iron Hills?" Dwalin interrupted.
Gimli frowned, wondering what that had to do with anything. "I assume because Thrór and Thráin never did so. They chose to live in Exile."
"Yes, but do you know why? Beyond following in their boot prints, do you know why Thorin chose such a life?" Not waiting for an answer, Dwalin turned to Gimli, his eyes intent. "Thorin choose to live in Exile because he wished to remember that it was what it was: Exile. And he took with him as many as he could, hoping that the House of Durin would never grow content. Hoping that our separation from the Lonely Mountain would weigh as heavily upon us as it weighed upon him. Hoping that from this band he would cull an army fierce enough to defeat Smaug!" Dwalin paused now, and his shoulders slumped as though beneath a great weight. "Yet what do the youth wish to do? What is it you wish to do, Gimli? You wish to stay! To build here! To let the Kingdom Under the Mountain fade until it is a dream! A legend, much like Khazad-dûm! Our kindred in the Iron Hills have already done as much, and now many of us wish to do likewise! Do you see why Thorin can wait no longer? If we do not act now, then the next generation will be satisfied with what it has. And what it has is less than what it deserves! Thus it is my duty—as well as the duty of every dwarf in Durin's House—to ensure that we do not fade. That we do not dwindle. And while Khazad-dûm might lie beyond the reach of our hammer, the Lonely Mountain does not!"
"Then why not allow more of the younger generation to come with you?" Gimli demanded. "By your own words, it seems that this quest is for my generation as much as for yours, yet how can you hope to remind us of what we once had if you deny our coming? And since Fili and Kili are already going—"
"If Thorin felt he could gainsay Dis," Dwalin interrupted, "then Fili and Kili would not be going."
Gimli blinked. "What?"
"I speak as I probably should not, but if an explanation will bring you peace—and also peace for the rest of us—then I deem it worthwhile. Dis is the reason that Fili and Kili are going. She feels it is the duty of her sons to fulfill the oath made by her father. Thus she has prevailed upon Thorin to let them go." Dwalin smiled grimly. "Thorin never could refuse his sister anything. Sometimes I fear that he loves his remaining family too dearly. And that is much of why he will not even consider letting you come with us. You remind him of his brother Frerin. There is a great resemblance."
"But….Frerin died over a century ago. He died fighting before the East-gate of Khazad-dûm."
"Yes," Dwalin said, "and Thorin remembers it well. Frerin was only forty-eight at the time. Thorin was against his coming, but to his sorrow, Thráin allowed it. I remember mourning with Thorin afterwards, for I lost my own father in that battle. Grievous was that loss for me, but Thorin… Never have I seen a dwarf so bereaved! He was inconsolable. There is no certainty in war, even for the mightiest, yet Thorin assumed the responsibility for Frerin's death. And he has never forgiven himself." Dwalin sighed wearily. "If Fili and Kili fall while on this errand, it will be Thorin's breaking. He is letting Dis send them partly because he cannot refuse his sister and partly because he believes that he will die first. If Fili and Kili perish, then they will all do so together. He is willing to allow that sacrifice." Dwalin's eyes sharpened, and he looked hard at Gimli. "But he is not willing to condone the sacrifice of another dwarf's son. And that is his right, both as your liege lord and as your kinsman."
Gimli bowed his head. If Dwalin could not be moved to side with him, then none could. And now knowing that he was to remain, his heart was torn. He was angrier than ever at his father for leaving on such a foolish quest, but he did not wish to harbor such anger when it was unlikely that he would ever see Glóin again after this week.
"You should speak to your father," Dwalin said, seeming to read Gimli's thoughts. "He can explain his own reasons to you, and now that the shock of the news is behind you, you may be more willing to listen."
"We parted in anger when I went to seek out Thorin," Gimli murmured.
"I thought as much," Dwalin said. "Glóin looked as though he had been wringing his beard when I saw him outside the council chambers."
Gimli stiffened. "You saw him outside the council chambers? When?" he demanded.
"When you were speaking to Thorin."
"Then he heard? He heard it all?"
Dwalin nodded silently.
Furious, Gimli uttered a sharp oath and turned away. "I know not why I expected any differently," he growled.
"He is your father, Gimli," Dwalin said, and his voice was stern. "What else should you have expected?"
Gimli did not answer. He did not know why the news upset him so. He only knew that the thought of Glóin listening to his conversation with Thorin made him feel ashamed. Embarrassed. In fact, the entire ordeal was beginning to feel like a fool's errand. Like the upcoming quest itself. Like a vain endeavor doomed before it even began.
Beside him, Dwalin sighed and tucked his hands beneath his beard. "I am going inside," he announced. "It is too cold a night to remain out here. And if you will hear my counsel, I suggest you seek out your father. He will want the pleasure of your company ere he departs."
"What if my company is less than pleasurable?" Gimli asked quietly.
"That is entirely your own choice," Dwalin told him, and the older dwarf departed.
Abandoned on the watch cleft, Gimli cast his eyes over the wide lands the spread themselves east of the Blue Mountains. Within his heart, there still flickered a longing to join the quest. To journey at his father's side. "And if I wish to journey at his side, why do I hesitate to join him now?" Gimli asked himself, struggling with his thoughts. But he could not calm the conflict that raged in his heart, and he stood for many minutes under the cold stars, wishing for peace. Eventually, those dwarves assigned to the watches began to shuffle back out, and Gimli knew it was time to return. He could not avoid this any longer.
On faltering feet, he retraced his steps to his family's chambers. The lighting in the colony had been dimmed out of respect for the coming night, and only every third wall sconce burned. It made for long shadows on the walls that mirrored the shadows in Gimli's heart, and at the root of every shadow lay the same cause: fear. Fear for what his father would face. Fear that he would face it alone. Fear that Gimli would never see him again. Fear that when Thorin, Fili, and Kili departed, there would be none left to lead the Exiles. Fear for Dwalin, Balin, Óin, Ori, Dori, Nori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur. And it was this fear that paled his face when at last his feet crossed the threshold of his family's home.
His father met him in the first chamber. Gimli had no words for him, and it seemed that Glóin suffered a similar problem. For what felt like an Age, they stared at one another, and then the whistling of a kettle broke the heavy silence. Glóin glanced toward the kitchen and mumbled something about having prepared Gimli a bite to eat after his long travels. Gimli managed a strained word of thanks, but neither moved and silence descended yet again.
Eventually, Glóin cleared his throat. "We will speak in the morning," he said gruffly, and he left Gimli alone in the first chamber.
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.