1. The Gates of the Kingdom
The Gates of the Kingdom
Fourth Age 10, February, Minas Tirith
Aragorn Elessar looked up from the table on which Legolas had spread his parchment, weighting its four corners with books from among the piles that littered the King's study.
"It's exquisite, mellon nin. I cannot thank you enough. And you really think Gimli can cast it? And that he has sufficient mithril for the decoration?"
"He says so." Legolas gave an elegant Elven shrug. "Such metalwork is entirely in the realm of his skill rather than mine, so I must take his word! Though he has invited me to go and see the making..."
"And will you?" Aragorn raised an eyebrow.
"Descend into one of his endless caves full of the noise of pounding hammers and the reek of metal?" The Elf shuddered. "I cannot say the invitation holds much appeal! And yet – it seems to mean a good deal to him..."
"You know he has cherished the idea ever since the War," the King pointed out. "Although we got a new Great Gate of oak and iron in place within weeks, he always swore one day he would forge me gates of steel, fit for the City reborn and for the Lord of the White Tree. By all accounts, no sooner had he brought those who would follow him south from Erebor, and begun to settle the Glittering Caves, than he was prospecting, and planning shafts to mine for iron, and looking at caverns where he might set up forges..."
"In other words, he is a true Dwarf," pointed out the Elf. "Despite what his friendship with the People of the Wood may have led some of his folk to believe!"
Aragorn chuckled. "Well, if he can forge these, and realise your design, then Elves and Dwarves together will have wrought a testament to that friendship to endure a thousand years. The only question now is - can it be done by Midsummer?.."
Gimli's chest swelled with pride as he stood, arms folded, next to Legolas on the viewing platform in the great forging cavern at the roots of the Ered Nimrais. They had already passed through the furnace-chamber, with its thirty-foot waterwheel powering the bellows that smelted the ore; now the regular pounding of the trip hammers as they beat the impurities out of the metal made his heart want to sing. It is the very rhythm of creation; the pulse of our race's blood since first Mahal made us. It was a pity, he reflected, that the Elf would insist on standing with his hands firmly over his ears and such a pained expression on his face...
That evening, at meat in the feasting-hall of the Glittering Caves where the light of a thousand torches glinted and sparkled from the crystal walls, conversation – in the Common Speech, out of courtesy to the Lord's Elven guest – turned to the ornamentation of the gates.
"Aragorn wondered whether you would have sufficient mithril available," Legolas admitted as he reached for his wine-goblet.
"At need, all that we had would have been at King Elessar's disposal," insisted the now white-bearded Bifur. "For it was his first expedition to Barad-dur, after the War, that recovered much of the hoard looted from Khazad-Dûm during the Occupation." The Elf noticed several of his fellow-diners' hands going unconsciously to their axe-hafts. "And he insisted it should be returned to the heirs of Balin, as their rightful due, and would accept only a portion of it for Gondor's pains, for all that some of his Council disagreed. Were it not for that, then the only way to find true-silver again..."
"…would be to return to Khazad-Dûm," a blue-robed Dwarf put in. "And even if the Orcish scum are all gone from the depths – which is far from certain even yet – then pumping out the flooded tunnels, shoring up, reopening the shafts, would be the work of years..."
"Targû aya bunduzn ziraktarâg!"
Legolas might have only a few words of Khuzdul – and he was fully aware how greatly Gimli had honoured him in teaching him those – but he had no difficulty catching the bitter tenor of the growl from further along the table, or the furious thumping down of a tankard which accompanied it. A stool began to scrape back, until Gimli rumbled into the sudden stillness:
"In your strength of feeling you forget yourself before our guest, Frór. Pray, be seated."
"There are those, Frór among them –" Bifur explained under his breath – "for whom even to speak of return to the Dwarrowdelf is a great wrong; who hold that it should be left forever sealed as the tomb of Balin and all who followed him. And others, though not those closest in the counsels of King Thorin Stonehelm, who maintain that the wrong was the seizing and despoiling of Khazad-Dûm by the Enemy, and that only by one day taking back and restoring what had been ours can it be righted…"
"Some have argued," Gimli put in, "that even the true-silver recovered from Mordor is tainted, by the foul hands that touched it and the blood of our kin they shed to take it."
"Then I hope," Legolas offered, "that all who see the use to which we put the mithril will believe it a fitting memorial to those who thus lost their lives."
Bifur raised his exceedingly bushy eyebrows and contemplated the Elf.
"Let us indeed hope so, Master Legolas." He lifted his tankard and clinked it against his neighbour's goblet of Dorwinion in salute.
"In a few days we should be ready to start casting," Gimli rumbled. "And then, Legolas, perhaps I shall finally persuade you of the beauty of our craft!" He chuckled at the entirely unconvinced expression which fleeted across the Elf's smooth features.
So it was that Legolas found himself once again on a raised platform, this time high above a huge clay mould supported on a wooden frame. An elaborate series of channels and spouts led into it from the great vessel, heated by enormous fires, which Gimli told him contained the molten steel.
"'Twould burn you like dragon-fire," he assured his friend; and indeed Legolas noted with some relief the heavy leather aprons and gauntlets worn by the Dwarves below who stood ready to supervise the casting. Then, at Gimli's signal, the valve closing the storage vessel was slowly opened. The Elf gasped as glowing liquid metal, red-gold as sunset, began to flow into the mould, branching and spreading, bringing his design to life before his eyes.
"You were right, Gimli," he whispered after a long moment. "It is beautiful!"
"… so Thranduil and the party from the Greenwood in the western wing, on the second floor," Faramir was scribbling notes as Aragorn knocked out and refilled his pipe, "the lord Celeborn, your brothers and the Elves of Rivendell and East Lórien on the floor below – although from what Legolas tells me, most of the Galadhrim will decline to spend even a night within stone walls if they can possibly avoid it, and are more like to pitch tents out on the Pelennor, or to build telain in the Citadel gardens!"
"And Thorin Stonehelm, the Dwarves of Erebor, and Gimli and the folk of the Glittering Caves in the east wing," the King said emphatically.
"The Ithilien Elves?"
"In the west wing alongside Thranduil's party," Aragorn suggested, "since they are kith and kin in any case. And having originally come from Thranduil's halls, they are less likely than Celeborn's folk to find stone walls overly oppressive. I had thought to find rooms for Merry and Pippin on the ground floor, until Merry's last letter arrived – but with both Diamond and Estella with child, I can quite understand that neither he nor Pippin feel they can travel; and Sam has his responsibilities as Mayor..." He tailed off, sighing.
"That just leaves the Rohirrim," Faramir pointed out. "Éomer and Lothíriel within the White Tower, I presume – but if Éomer is bringing a whole éored, as he may well do –"
"Then we are running out of room in the Citadel," the King finished, "let alone stabling!" He groaned. "Remind me, my Steward, why I ever thought this was a good idea?"
"Because the twelfth year since the downfall of Sauron and the return of Gondor's King should not go unmarked!" Faramir retorted with a smile. "And the inauguration of the City's new gates, symbolizing as they do the friendship of the Free Peoples, was too appropriate an occasion to miss. I'll speak to Húrin regarding other billets. Now, about the ceremony…"
Aragorn surveyed the throng filling the feasting-hall of Merethrond in a moment of quiet satisfaction. The long tables were groaning with dishes to suit every taste: great roasts which Dwarves and Rohirrim were tackling with gusto; succulent vegetable platters for those of the Galadhrim and the Greenwood Elves who preferred not to eat flesh. Mead and wine flowed as freely as the conversation, with a certain amount of sign-language and gesture creatively employed when command of the Common Speech did not stretch quite far enough. The King smiled a little wistfully at the memory of the exchange overheard earlier between Gimli and Éomer:
"Would you still hold then, horse-lord, now that you are a wedded man, that the lady Arwen Evenstar is the fairest creature in the world?"
Éomer, down on one knee to converse with the Dwarf, had roared with laughter and slapped Gimli heartily on the back.
"I would be little worthy of my wife's affection if I did not own that no woman can be fairer to my eyes than she," he confessed. "And yet surely you must agree that to any man not so engaged, no beauty east of the Sea can outshine that of the Queen of Gondor..."
The Dwarf had sighed and looked, for a moment, far away.
"There is no longer any need," he had admitted sadly, "to go for my axe."
Thanks to the meticulous planning and tact of Faramir and Húrin, everything had gone off without a hitch. The gates had completed their two months' wagon-journey down the Great West Road without incident; the Dwarves had supervised the construction and use of the winching equipment to lift them into position as skilfully as the Lord of the Glittering Caves had promised. Elves and Dwarves had, on the whole – glared at by Legolas and Gimli where necessary – treated each other with only slightly prickly formality and respect. And then at last, King and Steward had stepped forward to open the great gates; unbreachable from the outside when barred except by the heaviest ram, yet so perfectly balanced that from the inside they swung wide at a gentle push.
Aragorn smiled across the High Table to where Arwen was laughing with Gimli, on one side of her, and Legolas, on the other. In his mind's eye he saw the new Great Gates of his City, the design upon them picked out in the mithril which dazzled in the sun: below the point of their arched top, the circle of seven stars; towards the foot, the ring of seven stones; and soaring gracefully up from the sturdy trunk which the ring of stones encircled, the spreading, flowering shape of the one White Tree. The elegant tengwar of Legolas flowed across the top of the arch, proclaiming for all to read the White City's welcome and the makers' rightful pride in their craft:
The gates of Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, King of Gondor and Arnor. Pass unhindered, all free folk of good will. Gimli Gloinsson of the Glittering Caves made them; Legolas Thranduilion of Ithilien drew these signs.
"For Minas Tirith [Gimli and his people] forged gates of mithril and steel to replace those broken by the Witch-king." - LoTR Appendix A, III, Durin's Folk.
The inscription on the gates is based on that of the Doors of Durin at the west-gate of Moria, which were made by the Dwarf Narvi and inscribed by the Elf Celebrimbor.
For the 3fan_holidays fic exchange at LiveJournal. With thanks to the Henneth-Annûn mailing list for their help in debating potential sources of mithril and the likelihood of recolonization of Moria in the early Fourth Age, and to Ardalambion for information on Khuzdul. And thanks also to curiouswombat and green_maia for the beta-reading.
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.