3. The Forging
Part Three: The Forging
"Not here?" Thranduil asked. It felt good to be out in the corridors again after such a long time in that cramped workroom. He halfway expected to see Captain Narki lurking at a safe distance, but the hallway seemed deserted.
"The heat of my hearth is enough to bake clay," Dorin replied. "Mithril takes something more."
They traveled upward, several levels this time, but they moved further into the interior of the mountain by Thranduil's best reckoning.. Thranduil hated to admit it, but he had taken so many twists and turns since entering the gate, so many ups and downs, that he was lost.
The forge room was huge, baking hot, and lit with the reddish light of ranked furnaces. Several dwarves looked up from their work, their faces glistening with perspiration. Being bathed in sweat did not make them smell any better, and Thranduil did his best to breathe shallowly.
"I need to use the high temperature forge," Dorin announced in a tone that indicated he was used to getting his way.
"What's he doing with you?" one of the workers asked, eyeing Thranduil sidelong.
"The Elf is my . . . assistant," Dorin said.
"Pumping your bellows for you, eh?" another said with a knowing wink, and the others laughed.
"Is there some significance to pumping another man's bellows that I am unaware of?" Thranduil whispered, frowning.
"Best you not know, Elf," Dorin shot back under his breath. He cleared his throat and said, "Everybody out."
There was some grumbling at this. "It's for your own safety," Dorin continued and then lowered his voice conspiratorially. "The Elf is deranged."
Thranduil gave Dorin a quick glance, but did his best to look menacing. The other dwarves filed out, muttering in that strange guttural language of theirs.
"Nicely done," Thranduil said, once they were alone. "I assume you do not want them to see what happens next?"
Dorin merely tilted his head to the side and shrugged. "I told you I'd give the impression you were being unreasonable. I had to get them out of here somehow."
The forge itself was the most outlandish array of steel doors, metal pipes, and valves that Thranduil had ever seen. He could not make head or tail of it, and he began to realize that imitating the metal-craft of the Naugrim was not going to be so easy as he had thought. Indeed, it might prove to be impossible, at least insofar as the melting of mithril went. "What do we do now?"
"You -- open the furnace door and shovel in a good load of coal," Dorin said, indicating a large bin of what looked to be black rocks, "and prepare to work that bellows lever. Meanwhile, I'll set up."
"You mean there really is a bellows? I thought . . . oh, never mind." He picked up the shovel and went to work.
"And mind you use a block of wood to flip the latch on the furnace door. That metal is hot." Dorin set the mold down on the ground beside the forge and opened a smaller metal door. He carefully propped two small cones of clay inside the door at eye level. Then he pulled out the pendant. "Last chance, Prince Thranduil. This is your moment of truth. The piece is the loveliest work I've ever done, and there'll be no turning back after this point. Are you sure you want me to do this?"
"Very sure," Thranduil said, straightening his back and resting on the handle of his shovel. "My beloved is worth no less."
Dorin nodded and laid the pendant in a declivity inside the melting chamber. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small lump of bright metal, which Thranduil realized was the portion of mithril the dwarf had withheld.
"So much!" he said, with a soft whistle under his breath. "Do you have any idea how long I had to work at doing my lord father's accounts just to earn that mithril?"
"Aye," said the dwarf with a sad shake of his head. "We all do what we must do. My own beloved is worth no less. But for your cursed keen eye, no one would have been the wiser." He set the small nugget of mithril beside the pendant and shut the door, careful not to topple the two clay cones. "Shut the furnace door and start pumping."
Thranduil did as he was told. The internal fire roared and rumbled. From time to time Dorin used a stick to push aside the little circular cover that hid a small hole in the forge's door. After a few minutes, he turned a lever and a small trickle of molten metal dribbled out.
"There's the silver gone," Dorin said.
"We are done, then?"
Dorin shook his head. "The mithril needs to flow freely -- much hotter than this. Pump harder, Elf, and put your back into it."
Thranduil worked the long lever, blowing more air onto the coal fire. The forge began to rumble and shake as the heat grew. The valves hissed and groaned, and the metal doors glowed reddish, the heat coming off them in waves. It was, Thranduil thought, what it must be like to stand next to a dragon in full fire. If so, he never wanted to come anywhere near a dragon.
Again, Dorin flipped aside the little cover and peered in.
"Now?" Thranduil panted. The sweat was beginning to roll off him.
"When I see what I want through the glory-hole, I'll let you know," Dorin yelled. "Keep pumping."
Thranduil kept at it. His muscles began to feel like boiled leather, and the heat grew so intense that he feared his hair would catch fire.
One more time, Dorin peered through the glory-hole. 'Please, Elbereth, let it be soon,' Thranduil prayed silently, for he had no breath to spare.
Dorin took up the mold and positioned it carefully beneath the spigot. "The hot mithril will burn the fingers right off you if it spills," he said, as he turned the lever to let it flow. At that point, Thranduil could not have cared less. "You can stop now."
Thranduil stood with the perspiration streaming down his face and chest, watching the metal run into the mold. When it was done filling, Dorin dipped a rag in a nearby barrel of water and clapped the soaking cloth to the mold. A cloud of steam burst up with a sudden hiss, making Thranduil jump back.
"Startled you, eh?" Dorin said with a grin. "The steam drives the metal deep into the mold, but the flash can be impressive."
"Is that water for drinking too?" Thranduil asked.
Dorin shook his head no.
"Good," said Thranduil and plunged his head and shoulders into the barrel, coming up with his face and hair dripping. He shook off like a wet dog, sending the droplets scattering to hiss and spit against the metal of the forge. "That's better."
He wrung out the ends of his hair and looked up to see the dwarf grinning at him. "What?"
"Nothing. Just that this is the first time you don't look like you've just stepped out of a tapestry. I was beginning to think you Elves never got dirty."
Thranduil merely shrugged. "Oh we get dirty, especially around dirt. We just like to wash it off." Unlike some, he politely forbore to say. On the way to the door, he stopped and gestured at several ceramic bowls full of the little pointed bits of clay Dorin had placed inside the melting chamber of the forge. "How do these work?
"Different compositions of the clay soften at different temperatures," Dorin replied. "You set them right inside the door of the forge, and when the cone slumps over, you know it's hot enough for your purposes. These are for silver, these are for gold, and this one is for mithril. Needless to say, we don't use very many of those."
Out in the hallway, they were met by a gauntlet of eyes. Wide eyes, staring out from under bushy brows, in all colors from blue to green to that disconcerting brown Thranduil never saw at home. "Are you all right?" he heard someone say.
"Of course," Dorin said. "The furnace is heated, if anyone is of a mind to make use of it. You can thank the Elf, here, for that."
"Narki said --" another began.
Dorin gave an angry shake of his head and a quick chop with his hand, cutting off any further conversation. "Come," he told Thranduil.
Back in the chambers, Dorin set the mold down on his work bench. "I suppose you'll be hungry again?"
"I am. But first . . ." Thranduil looked around. "I would like to, ah, . . ."
"Through the door in the back wall. There's a privy closet with a close-stool in the corner of my sleeping chamber."
Thranduil went through the door, finding he had to duck his head as he did so. The ceiling in Dorin's sleeping chamber was low; the bed was accordingly short. He stood hunched over in the privy closet, feeling like a giant as he took careful aim at a hole in the seat that barely came midway up his shins. He took a quick rinse at Dorin's child-sized wash-stand and returned to the outer chamber.
"No. Thank you," Dorin replied. "You may not know it, but Elf-pee makes the best green patina for silver that can be found on the Eastern shores."
"Or so legend has it," Thranduil said. "I suppose that's why Narvi put up with Celebrimbor?"
"It's more than just a legend. I gave it a try when your agent paid his visit and used my piss-pot. It's better than any Dwarf urine, or even that from the pit ponies. I'm not sure why."
Thranduil made a wry smile. "I am happy to be of service. And I'm sure Séregon will be as well, once I tell him. Now what?"
"We wait," Dorin said. "The mold needs to cool in its own good time. So you should take the opportunity to eat." He shoved a plate of bread chunks across the table in Thranduil's direction. "And we might as well wet our whistles too, as long as the hard part's over and there's no worry if we get a bit tiddly. I ask you again -- do you have the head for Dwarven ale?"
"I've had Dorwinion wine," Thranduil said, accepting the full tankard from his host. "Nothing could be as strong as that vintage."
"Is that so? We'll see about that."
To prove the point, Thranduil took a hefty gulp. His first impression was that the pit ponies had made yet another contribution to Dwarven culture, in addition to the clay binder and the patina, but the first rule of courtesy was that one must never insult another man's drink, even if the man was a nogoth. "Very interesting," he managed to say.
Dorin snickered. "I know what you're thinking. But give it another try. It grows on you."
Thranduil offered a diplomatic smile and raised his mug in a salute. "Here's to acquired tastes." His second sip was not so bad. Once past the bitterness, he could taste a hint of nuttiness and grain, not unlike the bread. He took a bit of that bread now and chewed thoughtfully. They complemented each other well. "Nice," he said.
Before he knew it, he had drained the tankard.
"Care for more?" Dorin held out the pitcher.
"I don't mind if I do." Already, the tips of Thranduil's ears felt warm, and he felt a glow of cheer that he attributed to the ale. "But I would not like to drink you out of hearth and home."
"Don't worry about that." Dorin filled Thranduil's cup and then his own." Once this jug is gone, I have a whole barrel in the back. My brother makes the stuff and keeps me well supplied."
"That is very generous of him."
Dorin shrugged. "We look after each other, and have done so for a long time. I was fifteen when my father was killed in a cave-in in the lower tunnels. My brother was two years younger. If we'd had a sister to bring in a good dowry, things might have been different. But we had none. Out of need, my mother apprenticed me to a silversmith, a miserable old skinflint who starved me and seemed to think he had mastery over me in more than just the metal shop. I set him straight about that soon enough. My brother got off luckier. His master was a merry man, and my brother has continued in that vein."
"Well, he's good at his trade," said Thranduil. The taste was definitely growing on him. He held out his mug for more.
"He's a happy man, my brother. We're both good at what we do. My old master taught me well too, but his meanness made me determined to better myself." Dorin paused and sipped his ale. "I intend to be the purveyor of fine metal-work to kings before I'm done."
"No such luck here," Thranduil said. "I'll never be a king, but at least I'm royalty. Your ambitions are to be lauded. Your modesty too.""
Either Dorin missed Thranduil's irony or he chose to ignore it. "I'm not content like my brother to spend my life drinking up my profits, living alone and letting another man pump my bellows for me."
Thranduil raised an eyebrow at the mention of bellows. So it was a euphemism for bawdy matters after all. But with each sip of ale, he felt a creeping mellowness that made him disinclined to take anything amiss.
"And that's why I mean to have Brygni," Dorin finished. He let out a belch.
"So what is she like, this lovely Dwarf-lass who will share your worldly goods and raise you up a passel of fine sons to pass it all on to?"
"And daughters," Dorin said, with a wave of his hand that sloshed his ale. "Don't forget the daughters."
"Of course. How could I forget the daughters?" Thranduil added. He held his mug out for a refill. "A man must have daughters. What is your Brygni like?"
Dorin's eyes crinkled above his beard while he poured, and his voice took on a gentler tone than Thranduil had heard him use heretofore. "Ah, you should see her, Master Elf! She's as plump as a young partridge hen that's been fattened on corn for King Durin's own table. Her hair -- it's yellow like yours. It gleams like polished gold. And her beard is the fullest and fluffiest I've ever seen on a lass!"
"Beard . . .?" Thranduil said in a small voice. "Your women have beards?" No wonder some Dwarf-men were disinclined to marry.
"Why, of course. We wouldn't have it any other way." Dorin bent his head and his voice took on a confidential tone. "Among our folk, a full beard on a woman is taken to be a sign of great beauty, indicating that she is as luxuriantly endowed . . . elsewhere. The carpet should match the hangings."
"I see," said Thranduil, wishing he did not. He drained his tankard in a single long pull and held it out for more.
"What is the color of your sweetheart's beard, then?" Dorin asked.
"Our women have no beards."
"None at all."
"I feel sorry for you then," said Dorin. "No hair . . . anywhere?"
Thranduil felt his ears turn pink, and he began to stammer out a demurral, when Dorin saved him by upturning the pitcher over his own mug, giving it three shakes and muttering, "All gone. Better get more."
While Dorin trudged into the next room, pitcher in hand, Thranduil was left alone with his thoughts. He recalled the day Lalaithiel had risen naked from the water, granting him a fleeting view of the dark triangle at the base of her belly, as neat and silken-sleek as the pelt of an otter. Now that Dorin had put the idea into his head he wondered what it would feel like against his cupped palm. He rarely allowed himself to dwell on such carnal thoughts. He would not have made it to his present age without disgracing himself otherwise. But now the desire and the uncertainty and the frustration hit him like a body-blow.
He took a deep breath and drained his mug again. Curse it, where was Dorin with the ale?
"Dry already?" said Dorin, reappearing with a head of foam on the pitcher and trickles of dark ale running down the sides. "Take care you don't put yourself under the table. This ale is stronger than you think."
"I c'n hold my liquor," Thranduil said, although his tongue seemed reluctant to form the words as well as before and the room had begin to spin if he turned his head too quickly.
"More bollocks than sense," Dorin muttered. "What does your betrothed think of you tearing off to Khazad-dûm on some half-baked quest over a bauble? I'll be honest with you -- you were risking your life. Not every Dwarf would have been as reasonable about it as I was."
"I daresay," said Thranduil dryly. "She is not my betrothed as yet. I intend to make my proposal to her on my return to the Greenwood, when I can give her the hand-fasting gift as it was meant to be. And so as not to worry her, I did not tell her where I was going or why. I merely told her that I had been called away on business of the realm for several fortnights."
Thranduil set down his mug and looked up to see the dwarf peering at him keenly. "How old are you, Elf?"
"I'm not sure. I lost track a while back, but it is something over one hundred and fifty ennin. Why do you ask?"
"Because as long as you've lived, you still have a thing or two to learn about women. You can't keep anything from them. She knows where you are and what you're doing."
Thranduil had no answer. His homecoming, now that it seemed he might actually escape Moria with his skin intact, would be even more complicated than he had expected.
"She must be something special, that you would go to such lengths for her. I'm sure she's beautiful, although to hear you Elves tell it, there doesn't exist an elf-lady who isn't."
"If you've seen the pendant," Thranduil said, "you already know how beautiful she is. It is meant to echo the slender lines of her body, her grace when she moves. I sat in my room alone for hours working on it, drawing and redrawing until I had it just so -- the way she looked the day I first saw her. She has pale grey eyes exactly the color of those moonstones. I've never seen anything like them before. I could drown in those eyes."
Dorin laughed. "So does she have a name, this beautiful grey-eyed girl?"
"I'm sure she has a name, but I do not know it. Her folk have secret spirit-names they reveal only to those closest to them."
"Well done, "Dorin said, with an approving nod. "Your lady's people are as wise as the Khazad in this matter." He let out a soft hiccup.
"She'll tell me, when and if she accepts my suit and agrees to become my wife. I can only hope." Thranduil sipped his ale and let his face relax into a soft smile. "Until then, I call her Lalaithiel, because she makes me laugh. It's so good, you see, Dorin, to spend time with her and forget about all the trouble and fuss of my father's court and to just be myself for a few hours. She lets me carry her basket for her, while she goes around the forest harvesting nuts or roots or whatever it is she does."
"That must be a sight! A prince of the realm following a girl around like a puppy-dog."
"That's the beautiful part," Thranduil went on. "She doesn't care a whit that I'm the King's son. Not at all. We have a special spot, in the clearing where we first met. I built a lean-to out of branches, with my own hands, and we sit there together when the weather turns, watching the rain fall, or the snow come down. When it's cold she'll come under my cloak, and I can put my arm around her. In the spring and the summer, I pick flowers and fill the shelter with blossoms. I have a song that I sing for her about an Ent and his Entwife, and another that I wrote myself-- I will build my love a bower, by yon free-flowing fountain, and inside it I will pile all the flowers from the mountain . . ."
He trailed off to find Dorin staring at him wide-eyed. A little speck of foam clung to the tip of his nose. "Oh, Elf . . . You have got it bad!"
Thranduil drew in his breath for a sharp retort and just as swiftly felt the impulse leave him. "You're right," he said, letting his face split into a silly grin, "I have got it bad."
"You're not such a bad fellow," Dorin said, "for an Elf."
"And you're not so bad either, for a Dwarf," Thranduil replied, but in the time it took him to get the words out, Dorin's head had sagged forward onto his crossed arms. A few ragged snores confirmed he was out cold.
"Hah -- can't hold his liquor," Thranduil muttered. He drained the last swallow in his mug and looked at the pitcher. "Empty." He had the fleeting desire to refill it, but suddenly the next room seemed like a very long way to walk. What harm could there be in taking a little ease himself? He carefully lowered his head to the table in front of him. "Just resting my eyes . . ."* * *
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.