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The Book of Mazarbul
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The Fire-Mage

Karen Fonstad postulates in her Tolkien Atlas that the Ered Mithrin was once the southern border of the Iron Mountains of Angband, or at least part of it. Based on this, I thought that brambles like the ones that grew in Mordor would be the matching vegetation for the Withered Heath. Plants that could grow in Mordor itself might be able to deal with the aftermath of dragons having infested the place for millennia.

The manfish is based on the really existing olm (proteus anguinus) or cave salamander that only lives in Postojna Cave, Slovenia. The characteristics are basically the same; I just made it much bigger and added the dorsal spines. Most of the rest is true for the real animal, even if sometimes a bit exaggerated. They are most amazing creatures indeed.



They went around the eastern edge of the Grey Mountains’ upper range, to enter the Withered Heath from the North: Óin riding his strong hill pony and the Rune-smith walking on his side. The way itself was not very long, but the path so rarely trod that even Miödvitnir, who had been there earlier, had a hard time to find it, so lost had it become among the great, rolling boulders and other sorts of broken stone. And when they finally came out of the shadows of the mountains the sight which was offered to them made Óin’s heart sink, for it was a barren landscape of utter desolation.

The rocky outskirts of the two mountain ranges gripped the flesh of Arda with long, crooked fingers of withered grey stone; as if they were petrified spider-legs or the skeletal hands of some enormous, long-gone creature, which, in its forgotten life, had been cruel and ever-hungry. The rock walls were, up to a certain level, bare and cracked with deep ravines, dug by the flowing water after thousands of years of frequent storms.

And yet not even those sheer rocks were as completely void of life as one would have thought at first sight. For further up on the mountainside, in sheltered places, dark and twisted tree-forms and stunted grey grasses haltingly grew, now that the ever-present dragonfire no longer threatened their existence. And even in lower places, where the ground was harsh and still breathing sulphurous vapours as a reminder of its former cruel masters, hideous brambles sprawled over the land like coils of steel wire. Their leaves were shrivelled with the poisonous vapours and maggot hatchlings, and yet they struggled to life and grew large and fierce, with foot-long thorns, as barbed as a dragon’s tail and as sharp as its claws.

A vile and hideous form of life that was, and yet it appeared like Spring itself in full bloom, compared with the long, triangular shape of land that began where the two ranges of the Ered Mithrin parted, many miles away in the West, and widened gradually to an open flatland that stretched – endlessly, it seemed – towards the Northern Waste. There Óin finally understood what desolation truly meant.

The land between the mountain chains was flat and shapeless, marred only here and there by the winding beds of dry rivers and the empty basins of long-gone lakes. There were no beasts to be seen, no plants at all, not even grass, and there was no water left anywhere. It was eerie and strange to see a landscape so utterly empty of life… as if they had been caught in an endless nightmare, aware of its unreality but unable to break free of it.

A second, more thorough look revealed the reason for it then. The entire landscape was dead, for the very earth had been burned, cooked hard by dragonfire, perchance several feet deep. All the water that had once filled the lake basins and the river beds had been evaporated by the incredible heat that had brewed in dragon bellies, and there were no plants left that might have drawn the rain from the clouds – if any rain clouds had ever managed to pass the sharp pinnacles of the Grey Mountains unscathed to bring their precious burden there. The very rocks of the mountainsides looked as if they had been burned and blackened – nay, melted! – up to the height of a hundred feet or more, and they were smooth and shiny like black, molten glass.

Being a Dwarf who knew his way around rock and stone – even though he primarily worked with iron and jewels himself – Óin could vividly imagined the heat of a fire that had been able to do that… and he shivered. In the Elder Days, a great many of the Worms must have dwelt here. They said that the Ered Mithrin had once been part of the Iron Mountains, the fence of the Great Enemy’s dark realm; and looking at that which they cradled between their long arms, Óin could well believe it.

“You were right,” he said to the Rune-smith. “This is a dread place, filled with memories of unspeakable evil.”

Miödvitnir watched him closely from under bushy eyebrows. “Perhaps,” he said. “But that does not mean that it cannot be healed. And, tortured though it might be, it is not entirely without life.”

“Such as it is,” replied Óin, glancing up at the hideous brambles meandering on the mountainside with disgust.

“Oh, I did not mean those!” laughed the Rune-smith. “They are but poor mockery of life. Nay, youngling, true life does not spread on the surface… not yet, not for a very long time to come. True life comes from within. Follow me and I shall show you.”

Óin found it ridiculous to be called a youngling; even by Dwarven measures, he was well beyond his youth, well into his middle years. But again, who could tell how old the Rune-smith was, with a magic Ring extending his life? He wisely refrained from correcting the older Dwarf, who was now stomping forward, heading right to the mountainside, without looking back. Óin patted the neck of his pony and followed.

They went along one of the dry riverbeds that led them deep within two outstretched, rocky fingers under the highest peaks of the upper mountain range. Soon enough, the rocky walls bent into some sort of arch well above their heads, and – after a while – closed completely, having them walk (well, in Óin’s case ride) through a shadowy tunnel. The pony became restless and threw its head; Óin had to dismount and lead the poor beast on the bridle, so frightened it was.

Soon thereafter the tunnel abruptly ended, and they were facing what seemed to be solid rock. Óin was getting restless himself.

“Are we lost?” he asked.

The Rune-smith glanced back over one heavy shoulder disapprovingly. “Of course not!” he growled. “But you did not think one could walk into the caves of a Fire-mage just like that, without as much as by-your-leave? Stop fretting, youngling! Leave the pony in the small cave on your left and let me cast the opening spell in peace!”

He sounded truly irritated, and Óin found it wiser to remain silent. Raising the ire of a magic user was never a good idea. Thus he did as he had been done, finding the small cave dry and comfortable enough for his beast indeed, while Miödvitnir called up some light – it seemed like dancing baubles of silver-white mist – and murmured something in Khuzdul… something that Óin could not understand, either because the dialect was so very old or because ordinary Dwarves were never taught those words. Whatever the case might be, after he had finished, there was a faint crack coming from within the rock, and then the seemingly solid stone wall turned around itself, allowing them a narrow entranceway to whatever lay behind it.

The Rune-smith marched right through, and, after a moment of hesitation, Óin followed him. Barely were they through, the wall closed behind them, having them trapped in the caves… but not in darkness, as Miödvitnir’s magic light made it possible for them to at least guess their surroundings. The night eyes of their race needed very little light to go by in any case.

The caverns that lay behind the magic door were vast; great hallows in the bedrock that was the highest point of the Grey Mountains. They stretched on in a winding chain far beyond the limits of the magic light that was still dancing above Miödvitnir’s palm.

And the caves had a voice, too. There must have been a stream running somewhere along the caverns, through the high-ceilinged natural hall into which they were descending, for Óin could hear the splashing of water echoing back through the long, vaulted chambers. Now he understood what the Rune-smith had meant when he had said that life always came from within. Life could not exist without water; the underground streams made it possible for the Fire-mage to live in these caves.

“Where does the stream lead?” he asked.

Miödvitnir shrugged. “That I cannot tell… miles and miles eastward, I suppose. It has never occurred me to follow… and I doubt that Eikinskialdi has ever felt the need to do so, either. You can ask him, though; mayhap he did, after all. Time enough does he have, dwelling here all the time, all on his own. Now come along. We are almost there.”

He led Óin along the cavern wall, ‘til they came to a place where the wall doubled back a step before running on, and there in the shadow of that niche was a small stone door – invisible ‘til the Rune-smith held up the pale light floating above his palm and pushed it inward. It gave easily.

Behind the door, there was a narrow passage for a few steps, then it opened into a great chamber of untouched stone bare of anything but a small heap of dry firewood in the middle. The small fire burned low, barely casting any light into the cave that seemed dark and empty.

Miödvitnir closed his hand, extinguishing thus the magic light he had called up to illuminate their way inward. Then he spoke directly into the shadows.

“Greetings, Eikinskialdi. I have returned, after many seasons, and have brought a visitor. He, too, is born to the Fire and wants to learn about dragons.”

At that, something moved within the shadows, and – seemingly out of nowhere – a solitary flame flared up. Squinting his eyes to adapt to the sudden brightness, Óin saw that the flame sat in the broad, upturned palm of the strangest Dwarf he had ever seen on his many journeys.

Eikinskialdi the Fire-mage – for who else could he have been – was very short as Dwarves go: he barely reached the height of an average Halfling. Like the Rune-smith, he was almost as broad as he was tall, and his stocky frame spoke of great physical strength. Very thick, snow-white hair and beard framed his broad, weather-beaten face, both unembroidered but arranged in thick, lengthy knots with golden rings. His aquamarine eyes were deep-set and very dark, almost black in their shadowy sockets under bushy white eyebrows, and they spoke of the experiences of an age so high that it went way beyond Óin’s imagination. They had the same distant look as those of truly ancient Elves, and yet they also held the knowledge of mortal sorrows.

Of his clothing little could be seen, for he was wrapped in a heavy cloak of such deep red it seemed black in the light of the flame that seemed to float just above his large, upheld hand. And upon the middle finger of that hand gleamed the Dragon Ring of Ost-in-Edhil, the one that had been gifted upon Master Narvi, the greatest of all Dwarven artisans, by Khelebrimbur the Jewel-smith himself.

The Ring no-one had seen since the coming of Durin’s Bane. The Ring every Dwarf believed to have been lost, buried somewhere under the lower chambers of the greatest Dwarf-kingdom of the Second and Third Ages alike.

‘Twas breathtakingly beautiful ring, shaped like a curled-up golden dragon with diamond eyes, resting its head upon its jewelled tail. Small rubies framed its closed mouth, as if it were breathing flames through its teeth. As someone who earned a living by crafting jewellery – at least part of his living, that is – Óin could fully appreciate the mastery of handiwork that had gone into this extraordinary piece almost a full Age earlier. Saying that he was stunned beyond coherent speech would have been an understatement. Soon, however, his attention returned from the Ring to its bearer, who seemed every bit as extraordinary in his eyes – if not even more so.

The Rune-smith had theorized that Eikinskialdi was of FireBeard blood. But as he watched the small, powerful figure of the fire-mage, a strange suspicion began to grow in Óin’s heart. True, the Petty-Dwarves had not been seen anywhere in Middle-earth since the First Age, and thus it had been assumed that they had gone down with the Fall of Beleriand. But could one truly be certain that no-one of them had survived? They had not been that different from the regular Dwarves, save their size, and they were said to have had strange powers and even stranger alliances.

Could it be that Eikinskialdi avoided contact with his own kind because he was not exactly the same kind as other Dwarves? If it was true that Fire-mages did not die unless killed (just like dragons), he could have roamed Middle-earth for as long as some of the ancient Elves. It was a somewhat disturbing thought, even for a Dwarf who could expect a much longer lifespan than Men or Halflings did.

As the ancient Dwarf moved closer, his heavy cloak shifted, revealing a long robe of the same fabric that he wore underneath, girdled with a thick belt around his waist and a much narrower sash hanging diagonally from his left hip. The wide sleeve of the robe slid back, and now Óin could see the mage’s leather vambrances, covered with scales of gold and set with large, oval rubies. He was apparently fond of gold and jewels, for both his belts were similarly adorned, and over his cloak he wore a sickle-shaped pectoral of the same workmanship.

Óin caught himself counting the strange knots in which the mage wore his hair, knowing that numbers had meant much to the Petty-Dwarves. There were seven knots altogether, three on the back of his head, beginning on the top of it, and two on each side of his face. These hung down onto his chest, framing his beard and moustaches that were bundled into one thick knot and held together by several broad golden clasps, reaching down to his waistline. The high collar of the pectoral covered the lower part of his cheeks, but Óin could see the edge of some elaborate tattoos under that covering. His forehead was high but surprisingly narrow, and a deep, V-shaped furrow bent above his tightly knotted eyebrows.

He seemed to have the same interest for Óin that Óin had for him, for he gave the unknown visitor a piercing look, making the uncomfortable impression as if he could read the stranger’s heart like an open book.

“Dear me!” he said in a deep, darkly amused voice. “One of those puffy LongBeards, and he is supposed to be born to the Fire? Who are you, stripling, and who are your longfathers?”

Óin was so enraged by the ancient one’s condescending tone that he all but forgot about being polite.

“Who I am?” he spat. “I am Óin son of Gróin, who was the younger son of Farin, who was the son of Borin, younger brother of King Dáin the First. I can count back my line up to Durin VI, King of Khazad-dûm, on my father’s side, and to the Lords of Tumunzahar on the side of my mother, the Lady Frey! Is that good enough for you or do I need to have a dragon godfather, too?”

He was breathing heavily and could see that Miödvitnir was shocked by his outburst. The Fire-mage, however, took no offence. In fact, he seemed even more amused than he had been before.

“Of the get from the Lords of Tumunzahar, are you?” he asked. “At least something that I could credit you with: that your ancestors have slain the King of the Grey-Elves, whose warriors hunted our people as if we had been mere beasts.”

“Yea, and our Clans have been blamed for that since the fall of Doriath,” replied Óin sourly; then his eyes widened. “Your people?” he repeated. “’Tis true, then: you are one of the Petty-Dwarves, are you not? But how can that be? ‘Twas always thought that Mîm and his two sons had been the last ones of your kind.”

The Fire-mage laughed. It was a harsh, bitter sound.

“And why should we have told anyone that we still existed?” he asked. “We had been the ones who discovered and delved the first caves of Nulukkhizdîn in the gorge of the swift river Narog – only to be driven out by the Elves who took our halls and made them their great fortress. Let me tell you, we did not shed any tears when it was devastated by the Father of Dragons… well, save mayhap Gwystyl’s progeny who had a strange fondness for Felakkundu. Why should we? Those were our halls, and if we could no longer own them, why should have the enemy? No-one has ever cared for us, a small and hunted people as we were, without allies, without riches, without even a home. Aye, Mîm and his sons were the last ones who dwelt in the caves of Sharbhund, the Bald Hill. But many of our people still lived in scattered family bounds, avoiding the light of the Sun, moving around only in the night, in great secrecy… hiding from the Elven hunters as much as from our own greedy cousins.”

“Are you saying that our own people also hunted your kind?” demanded Óin angrily. “I know not why your ancestors were driven out of the lands east from the Blue Mountains, but I cannot believe that they would have been hunted by other Khazâd!”

“What you can or cannot believe is of no relevance,” said the Fire-mage dryly. “But I tell you this much: our ancestors were driven out by the other Dwarves for being ‘too small, deformed, lazy and rowdy’, as it was said. The truth is, however, that the Khazâd lords of the Blue Mountains were jealous of or skills and the treasures we had mined from the very bone of the earth, and all too willingly did they believe in every false accusation brought up against our people. When they had finally found enough false reasons to drive us out, they took all that we had and declared us evil. We became a wandering, hunted folk that lived in the woods, in holes dug into the earth, and in small, miserable caves even the beasts of the forest would not find suitable for living in.”

“How did you come to Khazad-dûm, after all?” asked Óin. “’Tis hard to imagine that your kind would have been welcome.”

“We were not; not in Khazad-dûm,” agreed Eikinskialdi. “But in Tumunzahar of old, the FireBeard chieftains were more open-minded, and they wanted their own people to learn our skills. There some of our people found refuge, hiding in tunnels too narrow for regular Dwarves to enter. There Gamil Zirak, who later became the master of the famous Telchar, was the apprentice of my mother’s father, and he took a liking to my mother and married her, despite her being stunted, even in Dwarven measures. I was their third, late-born son. When they realized I had been born with the fire-touch, they sent me to Khazad-dûm, where the only known Fire-mage lived at that time, so that I could learn how to use my gift. That is how I escaped from the destruction of Tumunzahar. But I have never seen another one of my mother’s kind again.”

“Then ‘tis you who are the last of your kind?” asked Óin.

The Fire-mage shrugged. “That I cannot tell. We are a secretive lot, we Petty-Dwarves. That I have not seen others of my kind means not that there truly are none others left.” He glanced up into Óin’s face. “The Lady Frey’s line, you say? I heard about her clan; ‘twas a
proud and much-honoured one. And our friend, the Rune-smith says you are interested in dragons, of all creatures?”

“That I am,” Óin nodded in agreement.

“And why would a Dwarf of Durin’s House have such a strong interest in those malevolent beasts?” asked the Fire-mage. “Dwarves and dragons have been mortal enemies since the days of Glaurung, their Father – you should be grateful that they are gone now, all of them.”

“Oh, but are they truly gone?” asked Óin. “Can we truly know that there are none left? This place is the one where they have always come forth, or so the old lays tell us – who can say for certain that the Heath is truly empty now?”

“Not empty, nay,” said Eikinskialdi, shaking his head. “For while ‘tis true that in all the years I have spent here – and I had come before the fall of Khazad-dûm, I would like you to know – there have been no dragons in the Withered Heath, save Smaug himself, ‘tis also true that these caves are full of strange creatures. Some of them are even older than the dragons were.”

“What kind of creatures?” asked Óin.

“I shall show you… after we have eaten something,” said the Fire-mage. “You may find the visit… enlightening. But first we must have supper.”

He stooped, and it seemed as if he would plant the naked flame that he had had in his upheld hand all the time under the prepared firewood. The small fire was lit at once, and the Fire-mage bought forth gutted and cleaned fish on spits, filled with mushrooms and other edible things that could be found in the caves. They roasted the fish and ate sparsely, even though Óin and Miödvitnir added their supplies to the fare. The Rune-smith had even brought a small leather flask of ale from the FireBeard clan with which he and Óin had celebrated Durin’s Day. They drank it after supper, and having eaten and rested, albeit not to their full satisfaction, the two visitors were now ready to face the mysteries of the Fire-mage’s caves.

“Come with me,” said Eikinskialdi, rising with an ease that belied his age and his wizened looks. I shall show you what no Dwarf has seen before… not a one, aside from me, that is.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Calling up a flame in his palm again, he led them through long, winding tunnels into a different cave, deeper, much deeper into the underbelly of the Grey Mountains. They came out into an enormous cavern: a natural hall, formed by the long, patient labour of flowing and dripping water over thousands upon thousands of quiet, lightless years. As the reddish light of Eikinskialdi’s flame fell upon them, twisted pillars of almost translucent stone began to glitter here and there, richly folded curtains of red stone seemed to cover the naked walls, and the lower arches of the ceiling, as far as they could be seen at all, were fringed with glittering icicles of crystal-like stone – for Dwarven eyes, it was a beautiful sight, with the underlying music of tinkling water in the background.

Not far from the cavern’s entrance, there was a pool of still, dark water, framed by drooping dripstone formations hanging from the ceiling, and other ones jutting up from the cave’s floor. They seemed to Óin like teeth, and thus the pool itself as the cave’s maw, opening to deeper, more sinister parts hiding under the stone floor.

“See and learn,” said the Fire-mage; his deep, grave voice echoed ominously in the huge, empty cavern.

Leaning carefully over the black pool, Óin saw pale serpentine bodies winding and wriggling right under the surface of the murky water. Some of them were of the length and thickness of his arm, but the truly large ones were easily as long as a grown Man is tall – or longer still – and big around as fence posts. They were no serpents, though, for he could see four very short, weak legs, with webbed and taloned digits that the creatures used like oars, although they seemed to propel themselves mostly with the snake-like bending of their bodies. Their somewhat short-looking tails were laterally flattened and surrounded by a thin fin… and they had a row of vestigial dorsal spines along their backs, as pale as the rest of their bodies.

Their heads seemed unproportionally large, with long, flattened jaws that were lined with small, needle-sharp teeth… and a branched tuft of tendrils where their ears should have been. Their small, colourless eyes were covered with a thin, protective layer of translucent skin, and Óin had the suspicion that they were, in fact, blind.

All in all, they looked disturbingly like how one would imagine baby dragons to look… save the fact that they had no scales and not even rudimentary hints at any possible wings.

“What… what are these things?” asked Óin in awe.

“An ancient race of reptiles that our ancestors called olm and the Men of the Elder Days menneke fisk,” answered the Fire-mage. “They are still called the manfish among Men, although they are no fish, of course.” Seeing the revulsion upon Óin’s face, he laughed quietly. “No need to worry,” he said. “They are quite harmless to anyone, save the blind fish living in the pool, which they never leave, unless forced out by some larger predator. But that seldom happens in these days. They eat, sleep and breed in the water, even though they can survive outside of it if they must, as they are capable of breathing air, too.”

“They look like dragons… well, like small ones anyway,” commented the Rune-smith. It was obvious that he, too, saw the creatures for the first time.

The Fire-mage nodded. “That they do indeed. I assume they were, or their ancestors had been, or perchance a bigger, stronger breed of them, the original form of which the Dark Enemy created the dragons.”

The Rune-smith shook his head. “These weak, soft things? That is hard to believe.”

“There are stronger and more resilient than they look,” answered the Fire-mage, “and they have long lives. Very long ones. Some of them were already here when I came to make these caves my home. I know them all, and they recognize me by now, as I recognize each and every one of them.”

“How can they do that?” asked Óin. “They do not seem to have good eyes.”

“Nay,” said Eikinskialdi, “they are blind like the fish they hunt. But they have adapted to a life in eternal darkness and developed senses no other beast can even dream of. Their eyes cannot see, true, and yet they are sensitive to the light; and so is their entire body, in fact. They can also recognize their prey by smell and can taste the minerals in the water, to seek out the environment that matches their needs best. While they rarely use their ears on the ground, they can hear underwater sounds perfectly, as well as the vibrations of the ground, and they feel the changes in the water flow. They can even locate flying insects or bats above the water – and they never fail to catch their prey. Watch this!”

Looking around for something the creatures might find tasty, he discovered a sleeping bat in one of the shadowy natural alcoves of the cave. He snapped the animal and threw it high over the pool ere it could have woken and bitten him. Still half-asleep, the bat managed to unfold its wings on instinct, but at the same moment, one of the larger manfish leapt free of the pool, hissing like a serpent, struck at the bat and bit it cleanly in two ere falling back into the water with a loud plop. Other manfish, smelling the blood in the water, shot forth from the farther corners of the pool, each trying to catch some scraps of the prey, and for a moment, the dark water seemed to seethe and boil with the wriggling of the serpentine bodies.

“You call that harmless?” asked Óin incredulously. The carnal display of hunger and greed nearly made him sick to the stomach. “These are dangerous beasts!”

“Nay,” corrected Eikinskialdi, “they are just hungry. They are always hungry, so strangers do well to be careful around them.”

“And what if there is not enough prey?” asked Óin. “Do they eat each other as well?”

“They might eat the eggs, so that there would not be another generation as long as food is spares,” answered the Fire-mage, “but nay, they do not eat each other. They can go on without food longer than any other creature in Middle-earth had ever been able to… save perhaps the dragons themselves. I have seen them hibernate for several decades, in fact.”

“And they never tried to eat you?” asked the Rune-smith with a crooked grin.

Eikinskialdi shook his head. “nay, fort hey can sense the Fire in me, and they fear it as much as they are drawn to it… the younger ones even more than the others. Watch!”

He crouched down at the edge of the pool and held out his empty hand, the one without the flame in it, over the water. For a moment or two nothing happened. But then the long, fattened snout of one of the creatures slowly emerged from the pool, tendrils wide-spread and trembling, the sightless eyes seeking out the heat of the Fire-mage’s hand blindly. Eikinskialdi allowed the manfish – apparently a youngling, as it was barely a foot long yet – to shimmy its way up his arm and rest its head upon his shoulder, basking in his body heat contentedly.

Óin saw that the skin of the creature was all but translucent, yellowish-white or a very pale pink, ‘twas hard to tell in the dim light. But its inner organs could clearly be seen, shining and pulsating, through the abdominal part of its body. Just like armoured dragons and that vulnerable patch on their bellies, he thought and shuddered involuntarily. The tufted tendrils, though, were coral red from the blood that showed through the pale skin, as pale as that of any Man Óin had ever seen. Now he understood where the manfish got its peculiar name from.

“’Tis the lack of light that leaves them so void of any true colour,” said the Fire-mage in a low voice, mindful of the creature’s sensitive ears. “When forced to the surface, their skin gradually becomes darker, turning brown or dark red in a rather short time. After a while, they even develop eyes that can see. Some of them, those that live in the upper, better lit caves permanently, are black-skinned and can see quite well, in fact.”

Óin found all this unsettling – to put it mildly. “’Tis easy to see why the Dark Enemy chose them for his evil purposes if they adapt so easily,” he said. “And a black art, too… it seems that Ancalagon did not come to his colour by mere accident.”

“Tis hard to tell, truly,” replied the Fire-mage, releasing his unusual pet back into the water again. “We cannot be certain that some ancient manfish in truth served as the original form for the dragons. ‘Tis all but theory – my theory – and only the Dark Enemy could answer these questions… not that he ever would, even if he had not been cast out into the void. As for true dragons, though, you can breathe again, Son of Gróin, you and your lot under the Lonely Mountain. Would there still be any, I would have found them many, many years ago. Of that I am as certain as one can be: Smaug was the last of his kind. And there is no power left in Middle-earth strong enough to create new Worms.”

“Are you sure?” asked Óin. “The Lord of Nargûn has proven more… inventive than his dark master had ever been.”

“He might have the invention but he lacks the power required for such enormous task,” said the Fire-mage. “He’s but a servant of Udûn’s Flame; he might bend it to his will to serve his purposes to an extent, but he is not the source of it. Nay, there will be no more dragons; not the way they had been made in the Elder Days, and in no other ways, I deem. Unless Mahal himself decides to create new ones, which I honestly doubt. For truly, what other purpose than evil would such beasts serve?”

“Then my quest has been fulfilled,” said Óin. “My King and my brethren will be relieved to hear that there is no threat from other Worms and would not likely be for a long time yet. I can go home now and put their minds to ease.”

Eikinskialdi nodded. “You can certainly do that. Now let us return to my halls. We have disturbed the peace of these creatures long enough, and they do not take such disturbances kindly. You can rest in my halls tonight. In the morn, I shall send you on your way, then.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And thus they went back to Eikinskialdi’s great hall, and the Fire-mage now lit the magic lamps – similar to those which had once illuminated the wonders of Khazad-dûm – to that they could admire the beauty of the cavern fully. It had a high, arched ceiling, made by a river that had once built its underground bed there, but was now dry and silent, save from the occasional drop of water that was still working on the marvellous dripstone pillars – and on curtains that looked like frozen rain, sometimes rough on the surface and sometimes smooth as if they had been molten or polishes. Some of them were almost translucent, others had thin veins of precious metal or sparkling minerals in them. Most were white or pale grey, but some were red or green or even black – a rich cavalcade of shape and colour that only the eyes of a Dwarf could truly appreciate.

“Your halls are of great beauty indeed,” said Óin to the Fire-mage, “but what made you come here in the first place? Certainly you know that it was – had, in fact, always been – Dragon domain?”

Eikinskialdi nodded. “Of course I knew. But I had no-where else to go. My people are all gone, have been for a long time as far as I know. Khazad-dûm was the closest thing to a home I could have – King Durin gave me shelter graciously, in exchange for my service – but when the fire-demon of the Dark Enemy awoke deep under the mines, my master was slain by it instantly, and I… I was not strong enough to face it for more than a few moments.”

The other two stared at him in absolute shock.

“You… you faced Durin’s Bane?” stuttered Óin in awe.

The Fire-mage shrugged. “For all the wink of an eye that I lasted… aye, I did. Who else should have given it a try? With my master slain, I was the only one who could at least hope to a face it. Fire is as much my weapon as it was the demon’s… alas that I proved too weak.”

“But that was many hundreds of years ago,” said the Rune-smith. “You are older and much stronger now; and you have the Dragon Ring in your possession. Would you return to Khazad-dûm to face the demon again if there were a chance?”

“You cannot be serious!” exclaimed Óin, now certain that Miödvitnir had lost his mind.

“Why not?” retorted the Rune-smith. “We are Mahal’s children; we were made to be strong… to face the Dark Enemy’s creations and to defeat them. You and your companions bested the Dragon and took your kingdom back! Why should we not aim for winning back Khazad-dûm as well?”

“For we do not truly have the strength to do so, perhaps?” replied Óin sarcastically. “We only bested the Dragon with very great luck and the help of Bard the Bowman and one Halfling thief. Even so, the Rakhâs of the Misty Mountains would have massacred us to the last Dwarf, had the Wood-Elves, the Lakemen and our cousins from the Iron Hills not hurried to our aid. Even so, it required the help of the Great Eagles and Beorn himself – not to mention the power and the wisdom of Tharkûn – to emerge from the Battle of Five armies victorious… and the losses were great. And that was just one, minor army of the Rakhâs – who knows what forces they have occupying Khazad-dûm?

“The Rakhâs of Khazad-dûm were nearly wiped out in the Battle of Azanulbizar,” pointed out the Rune-smith. “I was there. I saw it.”

“Nearly – but not completely,” said Óin, “and unlike us, they breed like rabbits. Even if their females rarely survive birth, they can bring forth as much as six to eight little maggots at a time, and they grow very quickly. Besides, if the fire-demon still dwells in Khazad-dûm, it would be unwise to rouse it again.”

“That is true,” said the Fire-mage. “Should your people ever decide to return to Khazad-dûm, though, send me a message by way of the Ravens. That would be one campaign I would very much intend to be part of.”

“So would I,” said the Rune-smith. “I was born in Khazad-dûm during the last years of its glory. It burns my heart that it is now defiled by Rakhâs and other foul creatures. Call me, too, if your fat and lazy kind ever gathers the courage to take back that which his rightfully ours. You will find that I can be useful in such an undertaking.”

Óin promised them to do so, in the unlikely case that someone would be mad enough to risk such a campaign. To tell the truth, he could barely wait to leave behind this drear place – and the two apparently insane Dwarves who seemed to have grave difficulties to tell reality from their fevered dreams. For his part, Óin was happy enough to have Edoras back… and was looking forward to returning home.

This time, his journeys had taken him further than he had asked for. ‘Twould be good to leave all this madness behind and be with his own, sane people again. The knowledge he had gathered would interest Balin and the other scholars greatly, and that was good so; that was their work. But Óin himself would be glad to just be a simple Dwarf of Erebor again. To spend time with his brother’s family and to do the simple tasks life under the Mountain brought with it from day to day.



Dwarvish words:
Nulukkhizdîn = Nargothrond (and yes, Christopher Tolkien admits himself that it was misspelled in the Silmarillion)
Felakkundu = Dwarvish version of Felagund, the byname of Finrod’s. Gwystyl, Finrod’s Petty-Dwarf friend is my invention from “Felagund and the Noegyth Nibin”.
Tumunzahar = Nogrod, assumedly the city of the FireBeard Dwarves
Sharbhund, the Bald Hill = Dwarvish name of the Amon Rhûdh, Mîm’s dwelling.
Rakhâs = Orcs (plural)


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