2. The Craftsman of Khazad-dûm
Part Two: The Craftsman of Khazad-dûm
After a long pause, the door swung open, revealing another dwarf whose mouse-brown beard was tucked into a stained leather apron. His brown eyes seemed to widen as he scanned upward to take in the sight of two full rangar of Thranduil standing out in the hallway.
"I am Thranduil Oropherion, of Eryn Galen."
"Dorin, at your service and your family's," the dwarf said with a terse nod. "Come in."
"I'll just leave the two of you to discuss your business," said Narki. Dorin said nothing and shut the door in the captain's face.
Dorin took off his leather apron and laid it over the back of a chair. The two of them stood staring at each other for a long moment until Dorin broke the silence. "What brings you here, my lord Elf? Eryn Galen is a long journey, even at this time of year." His tone of voice betrayed no emotion, nor did his eyes. Thranduil decided that the beards unnerved him the most about these strange stunted folk. Any facial expression was hidden beneath all that hair.
"Only this," replied Thranduil, reaching into the collar of his riding jacket and pulling out an object which gleamed in the reddish, copper-colored lamp light of Dorin's chamber. "You cheated me, nogoth."
"So you have said, in three letters so far. I see a pendant set with three moonstones, on a thin chain, both of mithril, identical to the drawings your agent presented me. You have no reason for displeasure."
"I have every reason for displeasure," Thranduil said. "The pendant looks smaller than it should be, given the raw materials I provided. I suspect you adulterated the mithril I sent you with plainsilver and kept a portion of the pure metal for yourself."
"That's an interesting theory, my lord Elf," Dorin said. "But I think you have no way of proving it, your finely honed 'eye' or not. That necklace weighs exactly the weight of a quarter ingot of mithril plus the stones you sent me. It's a lovely design, but very uneven on its surface. There's no way of calculating its actual volume by its dimensions."
"And so you have said, in three letters so far. Perhaps you are right. Such a thing would be very difficult to demonstrate," said Thranduil, doing a quick visual sweep of his surroundings. The outer room of Dorin's chambers seemed to be a combined work and meeting area. A workbench ran along one wall, and there was a table in the middle of the room for the spreading out of drawings. Thranduil saw nothing that would suit his purpose.
"Is this the fabled hospitality of the Dwarves?" he said, as if changing the subject. "I have traveled long and I am parched. Yet I am not offered so much as a simple drink of water."
"Water? I'll do that one better," Dorin huffed. He turned and disappeared into another room. He returned with two metal tankards, one of which he held out to Thranduil. "Good Dwarvish ale, which you'll find to your liking. That is, if you have the head for it."
"I'll have the head for it," Thranduil said, hiding a smile. "But I'm not sure it will be to your liking." He set the tankard down on the table and, without further ado, dropped the necklace into it. The level of the ale rose immediately, and a tiny trickle of liquid ran down the outside.
Beard or no, Dorin's expression changed. Thranduil saw a flash of dismay before the nogoth recovered himself.
"Oh yes," Thranduil went on. "I think that if we dropped an equal weight of mithril and gemstones to this necklace into two identically filled vessels the result might prove to be very enlightening. And before you say a word, Master Dwarf, you may be sure that I have performed this experiment many times at home in Eryn Galen, in the halls of my father, Oropher, the King of that realm."
Dorin sniffed. "Oropher, you say? While he is said to be a bit mad, he also has a reputation for being intelligent enough to have learned the lesson of his kinsman the Greycloak.. Coming alone and unarmed into the halls of the Khazad to make demands is the opposite of intelligent. I wonder if your mother told a deceitful tale to your father about who got the elfling on her?" He paused and crossed his arms over his chest. "Exactly what, Elf, can you do about it?"
"I can do THIS!" Thranduil roared, uncoiling like a striking snake and grabbing Dorin by the throat with one hand. Faster than the eye or mind could register, he had the dwarf up against the stone wall of his chamber with his head brushing the ceiling and his feet hanging in the air. "If you ever wish to breathe again no mention of my mother will pass your lips henceforth. I may share the fate of Thingol, but I will not be insulted by the likes of you!"
They froze in that position for a ragged moment until, directly in front of Thranduil's eyes, a dark spot bloomed on the front of the dwarf's breeches.
"Ai," Thranduil choked and let Dorin drop, suddenly feeling sick at heart. He staggered back and sank into one of Dorin's chairs, letting his face fall forward into his hands.
Immediately there came a pounding at the door. "Dorin? I heard loud voices. Are you all right in there?"
Dorin had raised himself up to all fours and turned his head toward the door. "Oh, Mahal . . ." he whispered.
Calmly, Thranduil prepared to meet his end. Unarmed, he was no match for the captain's axe and the variety of sharp metal-working tools available on Dorin's bench, but he was resolved to knock heads and break limbs before they took him down. What happened next surprised him.
Dorin staggered to his feet and went to the door. "Leave it alone, Narki," he said. "I have an . . . unfortunate disagreement with a patron, but for the moment all is well."
"Are you sure?" Even Thranduil could hear the smirk in the captain's tone.
"Yes, I'm very sure. Now go away and let me work this out."
"As you wish," came the words through the door, as Dorin dropped the latch bar and stuffed a rag in the keyhole for good measure.
While Thranduil watched wide-eyed, Dorin came back to the table and sank into the other chair. He plucked the necklace out of the remaining tankard of ale -- his own had flown across the room when Thranduil grabbed him -- and drained it in a long pull. He set it back down and wiped his beard with the back of his hand. "I think you and I got off on the wrong foot."
Thranduil sat in Dorin's nursery-sized chair, aware of how ridiculous he must look with his knees up around his ears. Had he really just made someone half his size wet himself? He nodded. "I agree. Shall we begin again?"
"Aye," said the dwarf. "We'll do that. I apologize for what I said. I suppose you Elves are as fond of your mothers as we Khazad are of ours."
Thranduil acknowledged this with a minute bow of his head. "And I am sorry I lost my temper. Violence solves nothing. I would far rather leave here with the necklace I bargained for than get hacked to pieces by you and your cohorts -- if such a thing is possible."
"I'll do my best. You can start by telling me, Prince Thranduil, why you're so cursed fussy about a trinket, solid mithril or no. It's a beautiful piece of jewelry, you'll have to grant that."
Thranduil sighed. How could he explain to this pragmatic metal-crafter that this necklace contained a piece of his heart? That it was love poetry rendered in solid metal, conveying a message that his fettered tongue could not.
"The necklace is intended as a betrothal gift," he said. "We Elves mate for the life of Arda. How could I see it around my wife's neck until the end of all things and know that I have given her something second best, simply because another man held me in contempt?"
"A girl. I see. That makes it different."
"Not just any girl. If she will not have me I will go single to the end of my days. I will never wed. I paid the price in gold you asked, with no haggling, and believe me, it was more than fair. Why did you cheat me, Master Dorin?"
Dorin sighed. "Like you, my lord Elf, over a girl. I needed the extra money."
"I do not hold myself out to be any great expert in matters of the heart, but I would say that if you have to purchase a woman's affections, she is not the right one for you."
"Look who's talking -- a fussy Elf whose handfasting token must be perfect, or else!" said Dorin, making Thranduil incline his head in rueful acknowledgement. "It's also easy for you to say. Your Elf-women are plentiful, and you have all the time in the world to find one who suits you. Among my folk, women are scarce, and, unlike you, I'm not content to live and die a bachelor. I've found a likely lass, but it wasn't so much her I needed to please, as her father. I needed the money for a bride-price."
"You buy your wives?" Sweet Elbereth, but these stunted folk were odd!
"Of course not; nothing so crass, but we consider it the duty of a man with a marriageable daughter to see to it that her future will be secure. The bridal gift is a dowry of sorts, settled upon the woman, and it becomes her own property following the wedding. And of course, if she should choose to be generous and make a gift of part of it to the father who raised her, that is not unheard of either. To make the story short, the gold from your commission came to a tidy enough sum for me to make an offer to my intended's father so that he would give his permission for me to pay court."
"It was a tidy sum indeed," Thranduil said. "I still fail to see why you had to short me on the mithril."
Dorin shook his head. "Not long after I had agreed upon a price with your agent and put my proposition to Brygni's father, another suitor came forward with a better offer. Not much, but just enough to outbid me. I had your mithril. If I replaced some of it with plainsilver I'd be back in the running, I thought, with no one the wiser."
"But I was the wiser. So how do we proceed from here, Master Dwarf? I intend to have the necklace I commissioned and nothing less. Upon that much, I insist."
"And I won't lose Brygni. Upon that I insist. It could happen all too easily. The other suitor is well connected, the sister-son of King Durin's doorwarden, and he's a soldier to boot. Women like a fellow in a uniform, and so do their fathers. If anything goes wrong he'll move back in before I have a chance to blink."
"Soldier?" Suddenly it all came clear. Thranduil realized that Dorin had been embarrassed to show his wet trousers to Captain Narki -- and for good reason. Fear of humiliation in front of a rival was such a slender thread to pin his hopes of survival on. He dare not pull too hard or it would snap. But perhaps he had another bargaining chip. "I see. I sense you feel the need for discretion?"
Dorin nodded. "I'd as soon keep this -- all of it -- between the two of us, if it's the same to you." He paused and sighed. "We have each other by the beard, Elf."
Thranduil rubbed his smooth chin and fought the ghost of a smile. "In a manner of speaking. I am sympathetic, Master Dorin. I do not want to see you lose your sweetheart. But I want what I came for. What will it take for us to break this impasse?"
"I can't do it for nothing. If I rework the necklace with your full measure of mithril, I won't have enough for the bride-price."
Thranduil thought for a moment. It galled him to pay extra, but he was all too aware that he was outnumbered here, deep underground. What's more, as little as he liked Dorin, he could sympathize with his desperation, and there was something about Captain Narki's attitude he liked even less. He pulled a heavy gold ring from the small finger of his right hand. "My father fished this out of the river Ascar before all of Beleriand sank beneath the sea. Will that make up the difference?"
"Perhaps," Dorin said, as if mulling it over. "There's a good bit of gold in here. But they say Beren Camlost put a curse on Menegroth's looted treasure before he sank it in the river."
Thranduil gave a little shrug. "The House of Oropher seems to have suffered no misfortune thus far. Surely you're not afraid of a curse so ancient. Besides, think of the prestige. You, of all your folk would own a piece of Thingol's hoard. I daresay that would impress your ladylove's father."
Dorin nodded. "I'd still have to hire an assistant to help me rework the piece."
"Does it require any great skill?" said Thranduil, sensing that the dwarf was bargaining now. He had little more in the way of money to give.
"Not really. Just an extra pair of hands and a willingness to follow orders. Not that any of the other metal crafters will admit that when they set their wages."
"I have two good hands. And I'm a quick study." Thranduil kept his voice neutral, hoping to disguise the eagerness he felt. He would give much to learn how the Naugrim worked their metal into such a delicate piece of casting, something his father's own silversmiths had told him was beyond their skill.
"Hah! An Elf and a Dwarf working together?"
"It has happened before, if the old tales are true."
"Do you mean that Elf-lord from Hollin who tricked Narvi into writing a mocking term on our very own western doors? 'Black pit' indeed! That's what happens when a Dwarf trusts an Elf."
"Do not hold me accountable for that," Thranduil protested. "My father's folk have little love for the Golodhrim ourselves. And I hear tell it did not turn out well for that elf in the end. This is partly payback for that old insult, is it not?"
Dorin nodded a grudging assent.
"Then it should add to your prestige that I am seen to be following your orders."
"It would at that," Dorin agreed. "Have we a deal, then, Prince Thranduil?"
"We do. You remake the necklace. I pay a little extra. And we both get what we want."
"And neither of us blabs the details of our agreement and what led up to it."
Thranduil cocked an eyebrow. "I thought swindling an elf would add to your renown."
Dorin sighed. "Cutting a sharp deal is one thing. Outright cheating is another. I have enemies who would use it against me. That and . . . other things. I warn you, I plan to give the impression that you are an overly demanding customer whom I am indulging."
"I see. Very well, Master Dorin, I will lose a little face in order to save yours." Thranduil extended his hand, and after a moment's hesitation, Dorin took it. The dwarf's palm felt rough against his, the hand oddly small and out of proportion.
"All right then -- no sense in mucking around. But first, if you will excuse me for a bit . . ." Dorin let go of Thranduil's hand and disappeared into the back room.
Thranduil took advantage of the dwarf's absence to examine the lamp, about which he'd been curious ever since he'd seen the first of them back in the great Hall. It proved to be a simple candle, its flame reflected and magnified by a curved mirror of highly polished copper. The bluish and yellow ones had reflectors of silver and gold respectively, Thranduil surmised.
He jumped back almost guiltily when Dorin re-entered the room wearing a different set of trousers, which Thranduil understood well enough but pretended not to notice. "Your wick needed a trim," he said.
Dorin gave him a look. "Thank you," he replied and went to the workbench. He picked up a mass of something unidentifiable at first and tossed it in Thranduil's direction. "You might as well get started."
"Beeswax. What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Melt it, in that pot there, using the heat from that candle over there. And then, once it's cooled a little, knead it into a firm ball about the size of your fist. That is if those oversized lady's hands of yours are fit for anything other than strumming a harp or combing your hair."
Thranduil narrowed his eyes and resisted pointing out that his hands had been effective enough around Dorin's throat not so long ago and could be once more. He felt vaguely ashamed of becoming violent with someone half his size and really did not want to demean himself by losing his temper again. If the Dwarf wanted to get his money's worth out of lording it over his new 'assistant', Thranduil would be the better man and let him.
Thranduil dropped the roll of beeswax into the pot and lit the candle on the bench. Meanwhile, Dorin busied himself by rummaging through some trunks that stood against the far wall. "Good thing I kept the working drawings your agent provided me. I really wish I knew who had designed this piece. I've seen nothing like it before. I've many a customer who would pay me well for a copy of it."
Thranduil coughed. "It so happens I know the designer. But it never occurred to you to simply copy it?"
Dorin shook his head. "That wouldn't be honest unless he -- or she -- gave me leave."
"Hah -- so you'll steal a man's mithril, but not his ideas? You Naugrim are a strange sort of folk."
"I have my principles, " Dorin replied, glowering from under his bushy eyebrows as he spread the familiar parchment with Thranduil's sketch out on his table and weighted the corners down.
"It's your lucky day then, Master Dwarf, because it just so happens that the designer of that pendant is sitting right here -- ow! -- burning his 'lady hands' with hot wax."
Thranduil held back a smile of satisfaction to see that Dorin's ears pricked up at this information. "You? You made these drawings?"
"I did. Now, this piece is special, unique. I would not want to see it hanging off every neck in Eriador. However, I would not be averse to giving you a design in the same vein, unlike enough so as to be different."
The dwarf nodded. "That would work. It's just, you see . . ." He paused and traced the outline of Thranduil's sketch with his stubby forefinger. "I can't make my lines go all curvy like that. Like the shape was something that grew out of the ground outside. Just can't get my mind around it somehow."
"Well, how else would lines go?" Thranduil said, kneading the soft wax even though it was still warm enough to hurt. "Where do you ever see straight lines?"
"Humph, where ever? Except here," said Dorin, looking around at the angular contours of the room. "Where decent folk live."
"Decent folk," Thranduil muttered, his turn to be huffy. "Elves have lived in caves, you know. The Golodhren king Finrod Felagund lived in a cave. So did our own Elu Thingol." Thranduil himself couldn't imagine living in a cave, though, no matter how impregnable Moria looked to be. Who would trade sunlight and birdsong for safety?
He finished with his kneading and tossed the fist sized lump to Dorin. "Here's your ball of wax, Master Dwarf. What would you have of me next -- candles for pegs so you can bowl a game of ninepins while I toil for you further?"
The dwarf merely glared. He stumped over to the workbench and returned with a handful of tools, hollow reed handles with looped wire of various shapes and diameters sprouting from each end. "There's some sharpened charcoal. Start drawing."
"There's some space in the margins of your drawing. Do you think I'm made of money that I should be overflowing with paper and parchment? Now get to it," he said and began to trim the ball of wax into an elongated oval.
Thranduil shook his head. Give these folk an ell and they would take a league. He almost felt as if he were back at home being ordered about by his father, and he was glad that no one was around to see this humiliation. But looking at his own drawing upside down made it easier for him to see it as a mere shape and alter the lines into something different entirely.
He lost himself in his work and was in the midst of his third design, when Dorin cleared his throat. "Is this to your satisfaction?"
Startled, Thranduil looked up to see what Dorin was referring to. "Yes, that is the pendant, in the size I had expected from my calculations. It is almost perfect, except this one is in wax rather than mithril. Is this supposed to be an improvement? And what, pray, is that spur of wax running off the top?"
"Elves!" said Dorin, with a roll of his eyes that bespoke his impatience with Thranduil's ignorance. "You come to me because your kind hasn't the skill for such a thing, so why don't you leave the crafting of it to me and stop wasting time with silly questions? Now tell me -- is this what you're looking for? Now's the time for any alterations."
Thranduil gave the piece an appraisal. "Since you ask, it should be just a bit more slender there near the top. And that groove should be more deeply incised."
"Very well." Dorin chose a tool with a wide loop to shave a thin curl of wax off the side. Then with a very fine loop no larger than the eye of a needle, he deepened a curving line that ran the length of the piece. "Now?"
Thranduil held back a smile. It was the necklace as he had envisioned it working all those hours alone in his chamber. "That's more like it. Wait -- what are you doing now?" he said as Dorin picked up a tool with a medium loop and made as it to carve again.
"Mahal's mighty rod! Who's the metal-smith here -- me or you?" Dorin said with a shake of his head. "I'm carving out bezels for your moonstones. You didn't think I was going to leave those parts convex, did you?"
Rather than admit that it had not occurred to him, Thranduil began a fourth sketch, surreptitiously watching to see how the dwarf fashioned the settings that would hold his gems.
A short time later, Dorin had finished and set the wax facsimile down on the table.
"Very well," said Thranduil, what now?"
Dorin fetched two jars of powder, a fox hair brush, a pitcher of water, and a pottery bowl. "Mix the dark powder with the light -- the light stuff is slip clay -- about half and half and then add water. Make it about the consistency of heavy cream. Then start painting."
"Painting what?" said Thranduil, following Dorin's directions and stirring the mix with the handle of the brush until it was smooth.
"That wax model of your precious necklace, of course. What did you think I meant you to paint -- your toenails?"
"All that work to carve it and now you want me to cover it up?"
"I do. And mind you work it well into the crevices, because that will affect the fineness of the casting."
Thranduil shook his head and began to daub. He wrinkled his nose. "Elbereth, what a stench! I've smelled sweeter privies."
Dorin nodded. "The darker powder is ground chicken droppings and manure from our pit ponies. It binds the clay and makes a good base for the mold." Ignoring Thranduil's disgusted look he continued, "You have it covered? Good. Now add more clay and keep building up."
Thranduil glared and made sure he wiped the handle of the brush well with his handkerchief after mixing in the extra clay. Meanwhile, Dorin rolled up the various drawings and placed them safely in a chest. Then he added another log to his fire. "More clay. Make it stiffer, and mind you don't cover the spur."
Thranduil worked on until he had a ball of stiff clay about the size of his fist with a little sliver of wax showing out the top. "How is this?"
"That'll do," said Dorin with a grudging nod. "The next step is to dry it and bake it hard. Lucky for us, I can do that part in my own kiln."
The chamber's stone fireplace had an extra niche beside the one where the logs burned. Dorin carried the ball of clay over and set it carefully on a three-legged prop with the visible wax facing downward. Then he set a panel of stone into the doorway of the niche and dogged it down with two metal pivots, sealing the door of the kiln. He threw several logs onto the already substantial blaze and returned to where Thranduil was sitting.
"Are you hungry?" the dwarf asked. "All I have is a loaf of bread and a bit of cold beef, but it's enough for two."
Thranduil nodded assent. He was famished, and he had wondered if Dorin had planned to feed him.
"Probably not what you're used to eating . . . son of a king and all," Dorin said, breaking off a hunk of his loaf and sliding it across the table.
"Oh, I think you might be surprised. My father believes in the simple life, so our fare is mostly game and a little nut bread, with whatever greens are in season. We save the pickled pheasants' tongues for the special occasions." Thranduil took a bite. "This is rather a treat. We don't get wheat flour all that often." It was good, if a little bit gritty.
Dorin filled their empty tankards with water from a copper pitcher. Thranduil slaked his thirst, tasting the odd tang of iron, so unlike the flavor of the pure spring water back home. This strange dark world was all of metal and stone, even in the food, it seemed.
A crumb had fallen and lodged in Dorin's beard. Thranduil watched the hypnotic rise and fall of it as the dwarf chewed stolidly. Beards seemed such inconvenient things, a catch-all for any little thing that might drift past a person's face. He was glad he didn't have one.
After a time, Dorin noticed Thranduil's rapt attention to his chin and casually flicked the offending morsel loose. "Done eating?"
Thranduil nodded. There was nothing left on the table except the mithril necklace, now dry of the ale it had been dipped in. Dorin picked it up and eyed it appraisingly, turning it this way and that in the lamp light.
"We've just enough time before the mold is fully baked," he said. "Fetch me that box of tools from off the bench." While Thranduil did this, Dorin opened a small coffer lined in velvet. Gently and deftly he pried the moonstones from their settings and laid them on the soft fabric. At the same time, he removed the chain. "We don't want these scratched or lost while we cast the new pendant."
By this time the blazing fire had subsided to glowing embers. Dorin handed Thranduil two squares of tightly quilted padding like unto that which the soldiers of Oropher's army wore under their leather armor. "Take away the door panel from the kiln front and pull out the mold. Mind you use these to protect your hands. It'll still be hot."
Thranduil did as he was told, gingerly, trying not to show his discomfort as the heat from the hearth beat against his face. The clay had turned paler -- almost white -- and where the spur of wax had protruded, there was now only a hole leading into the interior of the mold.
Dorin examined the sphere in Thranduil's outstretched hands, balanced carefully on the thick cloth padding, and gave a terse nod of approval. "The wax is all gone. We're ready to cast our mithril."
Understanding came to Thranduil then, like a flash of summer lightning. 'So that's how they do it!' He set the knowledge aside for later. The method did not seem to be beyond the abilities of his father's Silvan metal-workers once it was explained to them. Fine castings would no longer be something the Woodland realm were forced to come to the Naugrim to obtain.
"Are you ready then?"
"Then we're off to the forges."
* * *
To be continued . . .
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.