I wandered for a long time, letting my feet carry me where they might, deep in thought, hedged about between my desires and my duty. A voice said behind me, “They are the cormallu , or in the old tongue carnilaurë , also called the redleaf trees, related to the trees of Valinor. I did not know that any still existed, much less in lands so near to the Shadow. Little did I think that they would draw the interest of a Son of Aulë.” A tall Elf, this one with a mane of black hair, stood nearby in the grove of great trees with their golden trunks and bronze leaves and silver flowers. Beyond was a small lake, some irregular hillocks, a scattering of stones that one glance told me had been worked, and more of the trees and other plants.
I bowed politely. “This was once the home of a friend.”
He inclined his head. “You are Gimli’s kinsman? I am Elrohir, one of Estel’s brothers. You may know him as Aragorn, or Strider.”
“I have that honor, Lord Elrohir,” I said with another bow, realizing that this must be one of the twin sons of Lord Elrond of Rivendell.
“Estel hopes to resettle this land; Legolas may establish a village of some of our folk,” he told me.
“And would you join him here, my lord?” I asked.
“I will spend much time in Minas Anor, the city you know as Minas Tirith, to be with Estel and one other, but in time my brother and I may leave Middle-Earth. The Noldo and Sindari of Mirkwood may join Legolas, but I doubt many of the Elves of Imladris or Lórien will. But you did not come here to speak with me, Master Redglass, and I will not intrude upon your solitude longer. Gimli insists that there is a house buried under that hill; I shall leave you to inspect it,” and with another nod, he disappeared further into the grove.
I went onward, finding it near the lake, outwardly covered with earth, plants and flowers, even trees, but I could see the house’s outlines under them. Strange that the Elf, so far-sighted, could not.
It must be the home that Silma had told me her father, Lord Charl, had so reluctantly had to leave; somehow it had been protected in this way. Pacing around it, I met Gandalf, who was sitting near the lake on a stone with his staff upright in his hand. “I have been waiting for you, Dalfinor,”
“You Foresaw my coming, Tharkûn?” I asked.
“No, I saw Legolas.” He gestured at another stone. “Sit.”
I perched on it, my fingers mechanically feeling for the telltale indications of worked stone, finding and tracing a worn design of leaves and vines as I waited for the Istar to speak.
“I knew Lord Charl for most of his life, and his wife and her mother for most of theirs,” he said at length.
“Then this was their home?”
“Aye. Lady Silma’s mother’s mother wrought the spell and bargain that protect it. Ah, I believe it is almost time for the daymeal.” He stood up.
“I’m not hungry,” I said.
“Then I will leave you to chew upon this question, my young friend: What do Eru and the Valar want of each creature?” and he walked silently away.
I sat on the stone for a long time, tracing the design over and over. By the time I went back to the tent, Gimli and Dwelgin were already abed and asleep, with no sign of Legolas; I undressed and got into one of the remaining two cots, wondering how I would ever rest through the din of their snores, but sleep enfolded me at once.
Gimli shook me awake at dawn while Dwelgin snored raspingly, and beckoned me to follow him. I rose, dressed, and stamped my feet into my boots as I ducked out of the tent after him. “There is something you must see, and then we must talk,” he said briefly.
Mist enclosed us in swirling grayness, as we walked briskly; presently, another shadow joined us, Legolas carrying his bow—and a large basket. My stomach growled as I sniffed the delectable odor of fresh-baked bread wafting from it.
At last the mist thinned, and finally I could see that we stood where I had been the previous evening, gazing out at the lake. Gimli pointed silently behind us, and I turned. My jaw dropped, and I stared in amazement.
The house stood in the early sunlight, palely gleaming.
I stuttered, “But—but—it was being covered, in my dream!”
Gimli took my arm. “I dreamed as well,” he said. “Tell me about yours.”
I was standing where I had stood, but the house was clearly as it had always been from the day of its building, except that all the windows were shuttered, the doors closed. In a paved frost-rimed forecourt, an old woman stood; it scarcely required her slightly pointed ears for me to know that she was Silma’s grandmother, for the resemblance was marked, especially with eyes and mouth. Next to her stood a young woman, clearly also Silma’s mother, with wavy dark hair and darker eyes, holding a sleeping dark-haired boy in her arms. Next to her stood a hale man I knew must be my ladys father Lord Charl, with Silma’s broad brow and lighter hair and less aquiline nose. He held a sleeping tot in his arms, and I knew that this must be my lady as a very small child. Near them were a coach and team, and a single mount. “You can do this, Mother-love?” he asked, and I could hear the mingled pain and longing in his voice.
“I can, son of my heart, and I will. Do not fear; I will catch up shortly. I promise you, it will be safe until your family return.”
He bowed his head to her in respect, and helped his wife into the coach, handing in the children before climbing to the driver’s seat himself. “We will wait at the bridge, although I wish that you would allow me to stay with you. There have been reports of orcs.”
“I am safe from them this night.”
The coach rumbled away, and she turned to the house, seeming not to notice me. She lifted her cane, and inscribed glyphs I could not name on the door and stones before her, and I realized that they had been dormant, and were now appearing as silvery markings. A wind sprang up, and she opened her arms, only to pause and turn her head towards me. “Presence I have not called, what do you here?” she called.
“I am only a Dwarf,” I meant to say, but could not as is so often the way of it in dreams.
“Well, I sense no evil in you, and mayhap the Valar have sent you as a witness to the bargain I would make this night.” Stretching out her arms, she called out in a mixture of what I realized was Ancient Khuzdal and some other tongue I did not know, calling upon Eru and each of the Valar in turn.
It grew very still, and I noticed the ice on the lake, the leafless branches of the trees.
Suddenly I smelled the scents of freshly turned earth, and green growing things, and then the more acrid tang of charcoal and forge-fire. Two figures stood near her: a slender female figure clad in green, flower-crowned, that I had thought for an instant was a graceful tree, and a stockier one with long braided black hair and beard under his brown hood (why I knew these colors in what was only moonlight, I cannot say, but I did), like a huge Dwarf.
“We have come,” said the female in one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. “My husband and I accept your bargain, child of forest, for the child of tree and stone. Eru is pleased. It shall be as you wish.”
The Dweorg hefted a great black and silver hammer, and struck such a mightly blow on the court I expected the paving stones to shatter; they rang like a great bell.
The earth began to move, to flow until it moved slowly and ponderously, covering the creaking house and pavement, stopping at last just within the low stone wall.
Then the figure in green tapped the end of a long golden bough against the hill, and I saw tendrils begin to sprout through the soil, and larger plants walk/wade through the earth from the forest until the hill was covered in growing things as She danced them to life.
I thought of Lady Silma standing on the steps, the joy in her face where I had so seldom seen it—and then I heard a deep voice ask, “And what of duty to clan and King?”
All my memories of her tumbled through my head, along with all my ruminations of the afternoon.
Both of Them turned to gaze at me; I could feel Their eyes, although I could not see Hers beneath Her flowing hair. I sensed that She was smiling. She kissed the Dwarf on His red-brown cheek, and vanished; His eyes seemed to pierce me from under the edge of His hood. Just as it became unbearable, He glanced past me, and laughed. “Two worthy sons of my sons! I am well pleased!” He rumbled, just as from behind me I heard Gimli’s voice, more awed than I had ever heard it, breathe, “Mahal!”
“—And then I dreamed no more,” I concluded.
He nodded. “I dreamed it too, although I saw naught but the old woman and the house being uncovered, and then Kementári and Him.”
“You really think we saw the Giver of Fruits and… Him ?” I asked in a hushed voice.
“Of course you did,” said another voice, and we turned to look at Gandalf, who stood leaning on his staff a few feet away. He smiled at us. “O blessed among Dwarves, to dream of the Powers,” he said.
At his gesture, we sat on two benches—benches!—and he opened the basket, handing each of us packets of breads folded around cheese and meat, still warm, and poured us mugs of hot tea, well honeyed. “I know you were not hungry last night, Dalfinor, but you need to root yourself firmly in your body today,” he said emphatically.
Gimli said, “You are unsurprised at what will make others marvel, Gandalf.”
“You’ll find that very few have come here, besides the Elves, although I suggest you bring the Hobbits when they all awaken, particularly Sam and Frodo,” he said calmly. “Frodo and Sam will yearn for every detail about the Lady.”
“ I yearn for every detail of her,” Legolas said.
“I could not see Her as clearly,” my cousin said, and I nodded.
Gandalf nodded.“I would be amazed if you had.”
I ate another breadroll, and sipped at my tea. Reluctantly, I could feel the awe that had filled me begin to recede, and as if he could read my mind to know my regret, the Wizard said gently, “You will be able to remember it as vividly, and feel that joy, for all your lives.”
“The old grandmother wrought the covering spell,” I said slowly. “But how did it come to be reversed?”
“She was a Peredhil of great power, and even greater will and heart,” Gandalf said. “She deeply loved both her daughter and her daughter’s husband—“
“She called him the son of her heart,” I interrupted.
“So you could hear them?”
“But even more than she loved them was the love she bore for her daughter’s daughter, for she Foresaw the potential, the possible futures and the good Lindisilma could do. So she prayed to Eru to grant her a hearing by Him and by Yavanna and Aulë, and was heard. As you saw, Dalfinor, she did not cover the house by her own means, other than by the purity and intensity of her prayers and intent.”
“But why did They grant that?” asked Gimli. “Why would They care about Lady Silma?—No offense, Dalf,” he added hastily as I bristled.
“Do you really want to discuss theology this early, Glóin’s son?” countered the Istar.
Before they could begin wrangling, I asked, “Why is this house important?”
Both of them turned to look at me; Gandalf stroked his beard and said, “Ah,” in a pleased tone.
Gimli frowned. “Now, see here, Dalf—“
“No, I mean it. Why this house? She lives in the city. She grew up in another place. I know that Aragorn wants to repopulate Ithilien, but why her, supposing her brother would permit her to have it? I haven’t met him, but from the little I have heard, he does not sound like a generous sort. My understanding is that these Men reckon land inheritance through the male first. And why involve Aulë? I can understand why an Elf or one who is Halfelven, as she was, would believe in and ask Lady Yavanna to be a protector, but why Aulë? He is our Patron. And why did we dream these things, and why are you here, Gandalf?”
Gimli looked alarmed, but Gandalf looked even more pleased. “Excellent questions.”
“But am I going to get any answers?” I asked.
“To an extent. You’ve long had suspicions about me, haven’t you?”
Gimli groaned and made shushing motions in my direction, but I nodded, responding carefully, “I wouldn’t say suspicions , but after thinking about all those tales, some of them going back a long time, as well as what Gimli has told me about what happened in Moria and how different you are in some ways since you became the White instead of the Grey—well, you aren’t simply a harmless old man, are you? In fact, you are as far above being a mage as the sun is greater than a candle.”
He laughed, and suddenly he blazed with a white radiance until we had to cover our dazzled eyes. Abruptly, it vanished, and he appeared again as he normally did. “I don’t know that I’d use that simile, myself,” he remarked.
“But you have been traveling about Middle-Earth for at least two thousand years, and no one has ever said you are an Elf or an Ent,” I said.
“Yes. I had a mission. We all did, all seven of us who were sent. But four vanished into the East, and Saruman became corrupted. And my mission is almost completed, and then I shall depart. I do not know about Radagast. As to why you both had that dream last night, Dalfinor, it was because the Lady of Dreams felt that She should send it to you—or was asked to, which amounts to the same thing.”
Gimli muttered, “I don’t know that I want to be an object of attention by the Valar.”
Gandalf laughed. “And what can you do about it, my friend? Some would see it as a mark of esteem, and be very proud of it.”
“I’m just a simple Dwarf,” he grumbled.
“You have never been that,” I told him flatly.
“Nor have you,” he shot back.
I looked at the Wizard. “Before we get sidetracked, Gandalf, I should like an answer to one question, at least.”
“Why did we have that dream?”
“One answer is that it was a test, which you both passed,” he said over another groan from my ousin. “Another was so that you would discuss it, the two of you. I suggest that you do so, because very shortly you will be needed elsewhere.” He rose and walked away with Legolas.
I sighed. I knew from experience that he would say no more on the subject.
However, Gimli seemed to cheer up. “Dalf, let us discuss what to do now, before we get interrupted again,” he said. “That was mostly about you, but why was I included, at the end of it? And I think I know the answer to that one.”
“You do? All right, what is it?”
“Apparently, I am the right Dwarf to be ambassador for our people to Aragorn’s realm right now. But if Aulë is pleased with me, I think it is also in regard to my plans for the Glittering Caves. And if that is the case, then I will not be Ambassador permanently.”
“For that matter,” I put in, “why does Thorin want any Dwarf to be an ambassador? We’ve never had an envoy assigned to the realm of another Kindred before, have we, since before the War Between Elves and Dwarves?”
“I don’t think so,” he agreed.
“Sauron has never been defeated as he has now,” I thought aloud. “This will mean great changes in the world, changes more far-reaching than any ever before known. There is the chance that all the Kindreds can become allies permanently, to the benefit of all. This is why you were chosen, Gimli—you are the first to befriend an Elf! How many of our folk are like to Dwelgin towards them?”
“But according to the Elves, not just Legolas, but Lord Elrond and others I have spoken with, many of the Elder Folk will be leaving, traveling into the Uttermost West, beyond the bounds of the world. Gandalf has spoken of going too; there will be much less of—of glamourie in the world.”
“But we are not going,” I pointed out. “You wish to expand our realms. You will be in the forefront, with your experience of other Kindreds, of helping our people learn to be neighbors with them. Are not the caves beside and under Rohan, and near Fangorn and the Pûkel-men? Are there not other realms beyond those? What of the Hobbits? Will they all be content to stay within their Shire, or will not the tales that our four have to tell help to bring some of them outward? Do they not have things to give the world that cannot be found elsewhere?”
“They must be protected, and not taken advantage of,” he said fiercely.
I snorted. “Have you ever heard of any Dwarf trading with the Shire-folk who has managed that? Good bargainers is what I have heard of them.”
He grinned. “You should have heard Sam, aye, and Merry, bargaining for something they wanted.—But I understand you. And that explains you, as well, Dalf.”
“Aye, my young and inquisitive cousin, it does! You have a gift for seeing beyond the outward seeming to the essence of any being. And if I mistake not, you have given your heart to Lady Silma,” he added shrewdly.
“What if I have? Do you not carry a token from the Lady of the Golden Wood?”
Emotions chased across his face: anger, then sorrow, then resignation. I said impulsively, “Gimli, forgive me! That was ill said!”
“Nay, I take no offense. If nothing else, what I feel for Lady Galadriel has enlarged my soul. Be not angry with me, Dalfinor, for speaking of Silma. If we Dwarves are to expand our realms, we must have sons and daughters, and sticking to our own kind has not rendered any of our realms overcrowded. We must look outward.”
“Gimli!” I cried, feeling my face redden.
“Just being practical, my boy!” he laughed, clapping me on the back. Sobering, he added, “Seriously, Dalf, I tell you that if I have thought of such things, so have our elders. I know that my father has ruminated on such things for a long time, ever since the Burglar helped our folk regain the Lonely Mountain, and if Father has, then so has Thorin, or he will. But if I am to be an Ambassador to Men, then I will be in need of help in doing it.”
“Naturally,” I agreed.
“And you are going to be that help. I hereby appoint you as my assistant! Dwelgin can take that message back with the rest of my news,” he chortled, rubbing his hands.
I stared at him. “I?”
“Yes! I am going to be very busy, and so are you.”
“I am not certain that Father will be pleased with this idea,” I warned him.
“Did Thorin send you a letter?” he asked.
“So the only thing telling you that he wants you to return instantly is Dwelgin’s word—and we both know what that is worth in anything regarding you. So does your father. I doubt he would rely on your obeying Dwelgin, which is what that amounts to.”
“Unless he is really angry with me for staying away so long,” I said.
Gimli snorted. “No journey has a fixed return date because there are so many factors involved, and you have had the small inconvenience of a major war to delay you. He can be prickly, but he is not unreasonable, and you are of age and with me. Frankly, Dalf, you have done more than well on your own, and I don’t mind saying so.”
I flushed, pleased, but felt constrained to point out, “I lost the ponies, wagon and the load I was to bring back as proof of my bargaining. Nor have I regained them.”
“You will; Aragorn is not Denethor, nor is Faramir. But both have little matters such as a coronation, betrothals, weddings, and two realms to merge into one after two thousand years apart, not to mention the small matter of cleaning up after this war. Alliances must be arranged, trade agreements and other treaties signed. It will add to our consequence to have a prince resident for a time in the capitol city.”
“Prince!” I laughed. “We do not put much store in such things, and you know it!”
“Heretofore we have not—but either the princes have not existed, have died ere their sires, have been unworthy or unwilling to rule. But other Kindreds don’t know that, do they? They will assume that we are as they in such matters. We have the advantage of our customs being unknown. While they will expect the ambassador to fit their stereotype of the grasping, avaricious, and quick-tempered Dwarf, they will be relieved to find a more reasonable aide to him, to perhaps plead their cases. And whom do you suggest I get in your place now, Dalf? Dwelgin?”
“Well, no,” I admitted. “But do Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Faramir not know you well enough to see through that gambit?”
“Faramir, I am not so sure. The other three, of course, but they will understand it. Help me, Dalf, please. At least until the gates have been remade.”
“If Father does not send me a summons I cannot refuse, then aye, I am honoured to do so, cousin,” I said.
“Excellent!” He clapped me on the back, I picked up the basket, and we made our way back.
At the camp, we found Dwelgin mounted on a small pony, a pack-pony on a lead. “There you are!” he said crossly. “Get your mount, Dalfinor, and let us be off! The day is wasting! We could have been on the road long since, were you not strolling around with lesser folk!”
Everyone within earshot bristled or was so studiedly calm that I knew they were all affronted, and I winced. Gimli strode forward. “A moment, Dwelgin, while I fetch the letters for you to take,” he said, disappearing into the tent.
Dwelgin smirked at me. “You see, Gimli knows who is the more responsible, who should carry the messages,” he said to me. For a wonder, he used Westron instead of Khuzdal, and I saw Aragorn frown.
“As you say, Dwelgin,” I replied mildly.
Gimli reappeared with a sealed packet and handed it to him; Dwelgin made great play of stowing it in his pouch, before glaring at me again. “Well, boy, where is your pony? The sun is getting higher in the sky!”
“As to that, Dalf’s staying here with me for a time,” Gimli said carelessly.
“Thorin wants him back!”
“And I need him here,” Gimli said, tucking his hands into his belt.
“There is the little matter of his claim against the government of Gondor,” said Aragorn. “We wish to have good relations with your folk, and that must be settled. Unfortunately, it must wait until we have dealt with other matters, but we wish him to remain for a space.”
Dwelgin scowled at hm. “I should have known you’d try to keep them hostage! Good relations indeed!”
Every Man and Elf in earshot took a step forward, hand on a weapon. I sighed.
Aragorn looked down at him. “Master Dwarf, they are honored guests. Ambassador Gimli will need an assistant, and I recommended to him that he appoint Prince Dalfinor Redglass, as being most acceptable to us.”
“Your behavior just now is more than ample reason why I chose him and not you. You are provided with a pony, provisions, and a guide for part of the way, so you can gnaw on that truth while you journey. As you said, the sun is getting higher in the sky. Be off with you!” So saying, Gimli dealt the pony a smart slap on the rump, and it lurched forward, Dwelgin grabbing at the pommel with a squawk, and a resigned-looking mounted guardsman, a Ranger by his grey cloak, set off with him.
“And good riddance!” said Legolas. “Will he take your message, do you think?”
“He wouldn’t dare not to,” said Gimli cheerfully, “and if he tries to open it, he’ll gain little for his pains, for Gandalf lent me a special ink that will only appear as written for the one receiving it. All Dwelgin will get is a purple-red dye on his hands, and a note from me appearing that will tell him Thorin will know of his nosiness. There’s a charm on the packet that will get it there, from his hands. Handy thing, magic, sometimes.”
I bowed to Aragorn. “We apologize for his boorish behavior, my lord.”
He smiled at me. “Every Kindred has some of that ilk, my lord Dalfinor. I am very glad that you will be helping Gimli.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
“Come along, Dalf; I want you to meet the other Hobbits,” said Gimli.