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The Gates
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
The Gates

This is a vignette I wrote to celebrate the birthday of the Edhellond list. Each of us took a story request from someone else. This story was for Dis, who is definitely a dwarf-friend!


~~~

“Looks like the layer cakes my wife Eyvdis makes, Glóin’s son,” Snorri told me upon his first sight of Minas Tirith. Behind us, a wagon train stretched down the Great Road in the golden autumn light-dwarven artisans and the tools and equipment they would need for a large project.

“Some of the stonework is not too badly wrought-for Men, at least,” I said. I had been months in the north, cajoling and bargaining and arranging this for Aragorn. “I’ll show you around, if you like. The outer wall is particularly impressive.”

The Forge-master cast an intrigued eye over the jet-black stone. “Hmmmm, that is unusual. And very strong, you say? All the better, if it is to anchor the gate.” Legolas could bring all the trees and birds to Gondor he liked, but it would be the dwarves who would see that they were given the security they needed to flourish. The skills needed to raise the gates of Minas Tirith once more lay only in the dwarf-realms.

Snorri looked rheumily towards the West, where the sun was sinking red as the fires of Aulë’s forge. He was not a young dwarf, and the journey had wearied him. “I crave a good beer and some red meat, Glóin’s son,” he said. “Think you that could be arranged?”

“It has already been arranged,” I assured him. “I sent the Gondorian courier at Amon Din ahead of us. We are expected, and I think you will not find Elessar‘s hospitality lacking.”

His hand, gnarled and pocked by the burns and scars of almost two centuries at the forge clapped my back approvingly. “You are a jewel among dwarves!” he declared, and I decided that it would be a good moment to beg a boon of him.

“I know I am no great hand with a hammer, Forge-master,” I said respectfully, “But I desire greatly to be a part of this effort, and to have my name graven on the gates with the others. Will you permit me to do some small part of the work?”

Snorri gave me a considering look. “By my beard, I swear your name will be on the gates with the rest of us, Gimli,” he vowed at last, and I was content. We gave the order to move into the city.

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

Two years it took in the end, to rebuild the gates, and in that time I never did set hammer to steel. First I had to settle my kinsmen in the section of houses in the second circle that had been set aside for them, and oversee the setting up of the forges for the first part of the work that would be done within a large warehouse in the first circle. Then there were the endless meetings with the King and the Steward and his council, debating the design of the new gates. Much time was spent trying to salvage and restore the decorative panels from the old gate for the new one, searching the archives in both Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth for renderings or descriptions, before it was decided that there was unfortunately no way to replace the ones that had been destroyed by the Witch-king’s magic, and a new design was needed. Many more days of meetings were required to reach that decision, and still more to decide upon the new design. I was at every interminable one and in between them there was much else that needed to be done.

When I wasn’t with the King and the Steward and the council, I was being the go-between for Snorri and his artisans, making sure they had sufficient fuel for their forges and enough ore, that it was of appropriate quality and that the merchants who were supplying us with goods were properly recompensed and neither cheating us nor being cheated themselves. At one point, I had to actually go into the White Mountains to the mine, for the ore we were getting was not of the quality we needed to match what steel remained of the old gate. There I was actually able to indulge my one true talent besides killing Orcs, and help the Men prospect a new vein of higher quality ore. I supervised the delving of the new mine, remaining until the first load of new ore was sent down the mountain.

There were couriers to be sent hither and yon, even to the Lonely Mountain at one point for more supplies. There were more meetings with the King and his councilors, progress reports and accounting of costs. The final assembly of the gates took place right outside the entrance to the City, on the Pelennor, for there was no building with an open span sufficiently vast to do it in within the City, save for the Melethron itself. That led to another whole set of meetings and requisitions and the like, as the forges had to be moved out there for the latter part of the project and temporary shelters erected for the workers and supplies. Throughout the whole time I fielded complaints from citizens who imagined themselves harmed or inconvenienced by the project, lent a ready ear to those of my fellows who were homesick for the Mountain and negotiated the release from the city jail of artisans who enjoyed the products of the city’s brewers too much and got into brawls or other sorts of trouble.

Every once in a while, when there was a spare moment that I thought might serve to make my contribution of labor, I would go to Snorri and ask to be allowed to work on the gate, but always he distracted me with some other task. This went on for months, until I finally realized that he had no intention of letting me touch the gates myself. Angry at first, I thought to confront him, but the habit of deference among our people to one so much my elder, and so experienced and skilled as Snorri made me hold my tongue. I tried to console myself with the knowledge that even if my skills with hammer and tongs were not sufficient, I had contributed in other ways. Most of the time, it worked.

But the night before the gates were to be raised up onto their hinges, my disappointment got the better of me. The gate’s artisans were having a noisy celebration around a bonfire a little way away from the workings. I could smell meat roasting on a spit and they had brought out their musical instruments. The guards on the wall of the City and the ones set to guard the gates themselves were looking curiously in that direction.

I found Snorri still standing by the gates, deep in thought and puffing a pipe. The gates were swathed in canvas coverings, which would be removed at the dedication. He looked up at my approach and smiled. “I thought that you might show up here.”

“You are foresworn, Forge-master,” I said. The anger and disappointment I felt were too great for expression in words, but I knew that he could hear them beneath what had been said.

But Snorri was unmoved. “Am I, Glóin’s son? I think you may be mistaken.”

“You promised that I would be allowed to work upon the gates and place my name upon them with the others. But you never gave me the chance.”

“That was not what I promised, Gimli. I promised that your name would be on the gates with the rest of ours. And I am not foresworn.” He tugged at the cover upon the lower corner, folding it back. There was the plaque commemorating the artisans who had worked upon the gate. And above them, in the highest position of honor as boss of the entire project, was graven my own name! My jaw dropped, and Snorri chuckled to see it.

“I have noticed, Glóin’s son, that you worry overmuch about your shortcomings and are blind to your true gifts. These gates would never have been built had it not been for you.”

“I do not know how you can say that, Forge-master. I had less to do with making them than anyone.”

“Less to do with the physical side of making them, that is true. But your patience and perseverance is in every bolt and graven line of them.” I bowed my head, strangely embarrassed and flustered by his praise.

“We are Aulë’s children, Gimli,” Snorri continued, “and it is true that he delights in our smiths and artisans. But artisans must have peace in which to work at their crafts. They must have food and clothing and other necessities to sustain them. The dwarves who go forth in the world to trade for the things we need, the dwarves who can negotiate with the other races, are no less important than the artisans. In fact, they are more important, for there are fewer of them and they are essential to our survival. By your actions in the upper world you have won respect for yourself and your race in the eyes of Elves and Men.” He took a long draw upon his pipe, while I ran my finger over the graven letters of my name and pondered his words.

“As one older and wiser than thou, lad, I tell you that it is past time you gave up this almost Elvish mooning over what you lack and accept your true destiny. This is why I kept you from working upon the gates, hoping that you would come to the realization yourself, but truly, Durin’s folk are hard of head as well as stout of heart!” There came a long pause while Snorri puffed upon his pipe some more before speaking again.

“This Aglarond place you told me of-is it your intention to settle there?” he asked at last.

Puzzled by the change of subject, I nodded. “If I can find enough folk willing to come south and establish a new colony. Little sense in setting up housekeeping there by myself, beautiful though it is.”

“You spoke well of it, back at the Mountain. More than a few were intrigued by the story you told. Including Eyvdis. My wife is a lampwright, you know.”

“Yes, I have seen her work. It is very lovely.”

“She was very moved by your description of the caves. She thinks she could design some beautiful lamps to illuminate the formations. So we two will follow you, Gimli, if you settle Aglarond.”

Astonished, I stared at him. Dwarves of Snorri’s and Eyvdis’ stature would lend my venture great respectability. Other dwarves would surely join us if they were involved. Tiring of my cow-eyed stare, Snorri’s free hand snaked out and his fist rapped me smartly on the top of my head.

“There will be no drink left if we tarry here any longer, my Lord of the Glittering Caves! Let us join the others.”

Rubbing my smarting scalp, I followed him towards the bonfire with a huge grin on my face. The night’s celebration would now serve a dual purpose-to commemorate a project finished and a new one just beginning.

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