Halls of Stone: 4. Aftermath

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4. Aftermath

Part Four: Aftermath

Thranduil cracked open one eye to find the room tipped over onto its side. He blinked, and his brain readjusted itself. It was his face that was tilted to horizontal, still resting on the table where he had collapsed forward the night before. He raised his head and immediately regretted it, when twin spikes of pain jabbed his temples. His mouth tasted like the floor of a stable. "Huitho . . ."

"I see you're finally coming around." Dorin's tone was obscenely cheerful. "Are you well?"

Thranduil grunted.

"Dwarven ale exacts a harsh revenge on the morrow if you're unused to it. I suppose I should have warned you."

This time, Thranduil managed a sour look in the dwarf's direction. He rose unsteadily to his feet. "'S'cuse me a moment."

"Be my guest. But if you find yourself with a need to bring up last night's drink, be sure to use the slops bucket. You'll spoil the patina otherwise."

Thranduil replied with a weak wave of his hand and stumbled into the next room. For a moment, when the smell of stale urine tinged with last night's ale wafted up at him from the pot, he thought he might have to make use of the slops bucket. But he stood with one palm against the wall for balance, eyes shut, taking deep and careful breaths until the feeling passed. His head continued to throb.

When he returned to the outer chamber, Dorin greeted him with an expectant look. "Better?"

Thranduil nodded. "Better. But I'm afraid your precious patina is mostly water now."

"Can't be helped," Dorin held out a steaming mug. "Here, drink this. It'll set you right."

Judging by the smell, Thranduil doubted that. He took a cautious sip and made a face. "Pit ponies . . ."

"Eh?" Dorin didn't wait for an answer. Instead, he held out another chunk of bread. "Care to break your fast?"

Upon the first whiff, with its rich grainy smell so reminiscent of the ale, Thranduil's stomach rebelled. He shut his eyes and swallowed hard, hoping to avoid the humiliation of a run for the bucket. "No, thank you," he replied wanly. "Perhaps a little later."

"Suit yourself." Dorin paused to flick the morning's crumbs from his beard and then took up the mold from off the workbench. "It should be cooled now. Are you ready?"

"That is why I am here," said Thranduil. He watched while Dorin took up a cold chisel and a wooden maul. The dwarf gave the mold several sharp raps that sent sympathetic bolts of pain through Thranduil's head. On the third, the mold split and fell away.

Dorin gave him an expectant look. "Disappointed?"

"No, not at all. I expected it to be rough."

The pendant lay on the table, its surface dull and cloudy, with the spur of metal Dorin had called the sprue sticking off at an odd angle. Rough it was.

"Hmm. What has made you so reasonable all on a sudden?" Without waiting for an answer, Dorin began to cut away at the base of the sprue with a slim three-sided file. Soon, the tiny bit of metal fell away. Dorin swept it up carefully and placed it in the box with the chain and the gems. "Now for the polishing."

He carried the pendant over to the workbench, near a wooden device that consisted of a crank and a horizontal spindle. He slid a largish disk of wood onto the spindle as far as it would go, and paired it with another disk held tight by a smaller collar of wood with a set screw. Between the two, Dorin placed a tightly stitched round of layered muslin with its edges protruding slightly past the supporting disks.

"What's that?"

"The polishing wheel." Dorin finished snugging the whole assembly tight and gave the set screw a final turn. "You'll be providing the power. I'll be doing the work. One wrong move when the wheel is going fast and the piece can fly across the room."

"Suits me," said Thranduil. "If I can pump your bellows for you, I can certainly turn your crank."

Dorin looked at him blankly for a moment and then burst out into guffaws. Thranduil resisted briefly and then followed suit, laughing until lack of breath brought him up short. "Ai, my head."

"And to think my old master told me that Elves had no sense of humor." The dwarf paused to wipe a dribble of spit from his beard. "Go ahead, make yourself useful."

Thranduil did as he was told, turning the crank slowly at first, for the mechanism felt stiff, and then faster as the wheel picked up momentum. He kept on turning while Dorin applied a stick to the edge of the wheel, which he explained was abrasive compound bound with tallow and then held the pendant against it. Twice during the process, Dorin had him pause while he changed wheels and applied a different polishing compound -- a red stick rather than a grey one -- and then to replace the cloth wheel with one of fine felt.

By the time the pendant had been polished to a bright sheen, the ache in Thranduil's head had subsided to a dull throb. By the time Dorin had set the moonstones and reattached the chain, it was gone entirely.

"Are you satisfied this time, Elf?"

Thranduil took the necklace from the dwarf's outstretched hand and let the chain run through his fingers. It was light as a feather, exactly the size he had imagined it to fit perfectly just beneath the hollow of Lalaithiel's throat. Again, words failed him. He nodded.

"Good, because I don't have it in me to make the dratted thing again. Are we done, then?"

"We are finished, Master Dorin, and I thank you."

"I suppose you're welcome, then. Never let it be said that we Khazad lack courtesy to match that of the Elves. Can I offer you a bite to eat before I send you on your way?"

Thranduil pondered a moment. It had been long since he ate, but even as empty as he felt, the thought of the grainy taste and texture of the bread failed to appeal. He had some venison jerky in his saddle packs, or, once he was out in the fresh air again, he could look for fiddleheads or berries, food that nature itself could provide. Anything but this alien, Dwarvish food. "I thank you kindly, Master Dorin, but no. I am eager to head for home."

"A sip of ale, perhaps?"

"Ai, Elbereth, no!" Thranduil exclaimed, forgetting courtesy. The very thought made his head threaten to ache again. He caught Dorin grinning at him.

"Hah! Told you you had no head for it."

Thranduil narrowed his eyes. "That may well be, but I challenge you to repeat the experiment with Dorwinion wine, and we'll see who has the sore head on the morrow."

Dorin merely laughed. "I'll guide you to the gates, Prince Thranduil."

But at the door, he paused with his hand on the latch. "I know you'll talk about this in years to come, and I know I will as well. I don't care much how you tell the tale but . . . have we an understanding?"

"One of my kind getting along with one of yours? It would ruin my reputation if it got out and yours as well, I daresay. Have no fear, Master Dorin. In future, I will speak of you in the most unflattering terms, and I hope you will do the same of me. The secret is safe."

"That'll do, Elf. Follow me."

Back he led him, through the maze of corridors and staircases. Thranduil recognized little until they reached the great hall, which was as brightly lit as before but oddly quiet. The bridge was easier for him this time, because he knew that beyond it lay the gates and the world outside. He could sense it like a thirsty horse smells water from afar, and his heart lightened at the thought.

Instead of golden sunlight, the light shafts cast only a pale blue glow on the stone floor of the corridor. Of course! Thranduil had not marked the passage of his time spent underground, but he realized he must be seeing the rays of a full moon. Sure enough, the great eastward facing windows of the entry hall let in rectangles of silver moonlight as well as the flickering torch light, but that was not what brought Thranduil up short.

A crowd of dwarves barred the way, their axes a thicket of wickedly sharp and gleaming blades.

"Halt!" Captain Narki stepped to the fore, and the light in his eyes gleamed more wickedly than the axes.

"Oh, nuath . . ." Thranduil whispered. To have come so far, and now this. He had actually allowed himself to think that he would come out of this adventure unscathed. He examined his options and decided he had none, unarmed as he was, with only the narrow bridge and the bottomless chasm as his means of retreat. Dorin would have his gold and his mithril, while Thranduil might soon learn the bitter taste of Dwarvish steel. Trying to force his voice into tones of measured calm, he said more loudly, "My business here is concluded. If you will let me pass I will be on my way and trouble you no further."

"What is this, Narki?" Dorin said quietly.

"We're rescuing you, fool," Narki barked back. "We dared not assail you when this mad elf held you hostage down below, but I knew he'd have to bring you up sooner or later, and now he shall be held to account. We'll teach him his manners the way the Khazad of Belegost taught old King Thingol."

"No," said Dorin.

"No? No . . .?" Narki turned to the crowd, which was already muttering angrily. "Are we to let this insult pass? Who is this arrogant Elf-princeling that he thinks he might march in here making demands and manhandle one of our own? I heard the scuffle from outside your door with my own ears, and I know he was forcing you to do his bidding. Do you deny it, Dorin?"

Thranduil and Dorin exchanged a quick sidelong glance of dismay. The face-saving fiction had rebounded on them, it seemed.

"You're the fool, Narki. The King of Great Greenwood won't take kindly to you chopping his son into little pieces."

Narki let out a derisive snort. "Afraid of Oropher, are you? Backwoods upstart ruler over a pack of rustic woods-runners? Oropher can beat his armies to death against the stones of this mountain until he grows a beard like a proper man. He'll never touch us in here."

"Piss on Oropher! Oropher can go hang himself for all I care. This is about my honor. I guaranteed this elf safe passage to the surface. Once he's out the door, we can laugh at his retreating backside, but until then, he's under my protection."

"Move aside, Dorin."

"I shall not." Dorin stepped in front of Thranduil and stood with his arms crossed defiantly across his chest. "You'll have to cut me down too."

Feet shuffled nervously, armor jingled, and the hall echoed with the sound of harsh breathing. A trickle of nervous sweat ran down the center of Thranduil's back.

Then came a commotion, and a yellow-haired dwarf elbowed through the crowd, bustled up to Dorin, and planted a kiss full on his mouth, their beards mingling in a tangle of cornsilk and mouse brown. Thranduil almost made a face before he realized that, of course, the dwarf-women looked just like the men and he had just laid eyes upon the lovely Brygni. "You were magnificent, Dorin!" she breathed in a deep husky voice.

She linked her arm in his and turned to face the crowd. From the look of things, the matter of her courtship had just been settled, bride-price or no.

"Enough." Thranduil recognized the voice of Durin's door-warden. "We don't want a diplomatic incident here. It would be bad for business. Let the Elf pass, Narki."

The Dwarf-captain gave an angry shake of his dark head, but turned and stumped off through the rapidly dispersing crowd. Thranduil finally remembered to take a breath.

A guard appeared bearing weapons.

"Your knife, my lord Elf, and your sword, as promised," said Throin. "And now, Dorin, kindly show Prince Thranduil the way out of Khazad-dûm."

"Happy to oblige, Lord Throin,' said Dorin, as the great doors ground open.

The night air had never smelled so sweet.

"Go on, get out of here," Dorin said, "And don't ever come back!"

"Not likely, nogoth." Thranduil strapped on his sword with as much dignity as he could muster. Keeping his head turned to hide his face from the open gates and the sentry post, he silently mouthed, 'Thank you.'

In the moonlight he fancied he saw Dorin give him the faint ghost of a wink. "Bastard!"

"Prick!" Thranduil shot back over his shoulder and headed back down the road to the mere.

The necklace jingled reassuringly in his breast pocket. Now he could face Lalaithiel feeling like a man rather than a weakling boy. He let out a soft whistle and was soon rewarded by the sound of approaching hoof beats. "Hello, old fellow, are you glad to see me?" Gaeroch whuffled into his ear and tickled his cheek with the soft hairs of his muzzle.

Thranduil leaned back against the stallion's side and stared at the reflection of the full moon in the waters of the mere. Even high in the mountains, the night air laid the balm of summer upon his face. Never had the night sky seemed more beautiful than tonight, when he had feared he might have lost it forever.

Two weeks' ride would bring him home. Lalaithiel would be waiting for him in their spot, where he would give her the necklace and ask the question. He did not know yet what words he would use, but he had a fortnight to compose a speech grand enough for such a momentous proposal.

Even afterward, he would have to be patient, for the custom and courtesy that had been drummed into him from childhood required a one-year wait between betrothal and the speaking of the vows. This was a blink of an eye compared to the long-years of his life, but at the same time, it would be an eternity. Thranduil felt a shiver of anticipation in the pit of his belly at the thought of finally tasting Lalaithiel's lips, and more . . .

The world was young, the mountains green behind their veil of moonlight, and life held endless possibilities. Oh, how he hoped her answer would be yes!

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.

Story Information

Author: Jael

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: Akallabêth/Last Alliance

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 12/22/10

Original Post: 12/17/10

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