In An Age Before – Part 33


Chapter Thirty-six

Eriador and Khazad-dum – The Second Age of the Sun

Now when at last Balar was't introduced to the Men of Nenuial, the Elves were amazed by what transpired. Though those kindreds of Men were not so elevated as their cousins in Númenor across the sea, they too had their tales and their ancient lore. And amongst the latter day descendants of those who had once followed Beleg back out of Beleriand, there was't a recounting of the trip through Eriador that had led them o'er the Ered Luin, for it had been the beginning of that peoples' tale. To them, the march east had been but the return to a fair land seen at the end of their journey from Hildorien…a much safer home than Beleriand, which was't then rife with war. In that tale was't named Balar, the lost son of Balan the Old, and so they soon recognized the freed Man as their rightful lord, though almost two Ages had come and gone.

By that time, although his Sindarin was't still quite rough, Balar discovered that he had in common with those Men the roots of their present language, and though much changed, 'twas still closer in nature to his own speech than was't the Elven tongue. Thus he was't able to make himself understood to them, though to their ears his speech sounded astonishingly antique. Indeed by this as much as by his attire and claims of kinship did they accept his station in their society.

Upon 16 Hithui, (November 16th), S.A. 2994, the chieftains of the Men of Eriador took for their first king, Balar son of Balan, and so, like the Laiquendi, the remnants of the House of Bëor celebrated the return of the king.

In token of the part played by Helluin and Beinvír, and by the company of Dálindir, the Men of Eriador became closer in friendship with the Green Elves in that time, and though 'twas rare for them to meet, this friendship was't long retained. And so in later Ages, though Arnor rose and fell and the kingdoms of the north were defeated and restored, still the common Men, the farmers and the herdsmen, the tradesmen and the craftsmen, all held in their hearts a special reverence for the Umanyar, eventually calling them all Wood Elves, and holding them in esteem. Thereby in Eriador rose up that parallel social order, for when later came thither the Kings of Men from across the sea who held especial their friendship with the Amanyar, the High Elves, still the common folk felt more strongly their ties to the Laiquendi and the Sindar who had ever dwelt upon the Hither Shores.

Now as winter fell and the year grew old, Helluin and Beinvír undertook to guide Ishkabibúl thither to the mansions of Durin's folk. Indeed by then they felt great sympathy for the Dwarf of Nogrod, for long had he been sundered from his folk and long had he been in the company of his peoples' ancient enemies. Therefore, though a blanket of snow lay upon the ground, on 3 Girithron, (December 3rd), the three set out east from Lake Nenuial.

Now it must be told that during his stay with the Men of Eriador, Ishkabibúl had been somewhat more comfortable than with the Green Elves. These Men had no prior history of animosity with his folk, and indeed, though they had long lived east of the Ered Luin in which Nogrod and Belegost had been delved of old, still little contact had there been 'twixt their peoples. Little traffic had moved betwixt their lands, as there once had between the Dwarves and the Elves in Beleriand. Thus, when at the opening of the Second Age there had been a migration of Naugrim east to the Hithaeglir, the Men had at first regarded the Dwarves with wonder and then welcome. Indeed the two kindreds had at times acted together to drive off those few of the Yrch who had fled the War of Wrath and sought to bring their mischief to Eriador. Though such tales art few and but poorly recalled, for most of what hast been written deals with the Men of the West and the High Elves, still such was't long remembered in that land while the name of Eriador was't still heard. Unto Ishkabibúl then was't the friendship of Men extended during his stay.

For Helluin and Beinvír the trek was't less pleasant than in fairer weather, and much did they fear for the comfort of their friend, but he was't hardy after the nature of his folk, and more, he burned with desire to see at last the great halls of Khazad-dum. Still 'twas winter, and their pace was't of necessity slower than in the warmer seasons. They made an average of twenty miles a day, just shy of 7 leagues, and upon some days less.

Now the way from Lake Nenuial to Hadhodrond lay thus; 70 leagues from Nenuial to Sarn Athrad upon Baranduin, 67 leagues from Sarn Athrad to Tharbad upon Gwathlo, and thence 87 leagues from Tharbad, past the ancient, tumbled ruins of Ost-In-Edhel, to the West Gate of Hadhodrond upon Sirannon. In all 'twas 224 leagues, 672 miles, and with the inclement weather it took them 39 days.

On 11 Narwain, (January 11th), S.A. 2995, Helluin, Beinvír, and Ishkabibúl walked the curving path toward the gates upon which their friends Narvi and Celebrimbor had labored. Already those enchanted doors had stood for well 'nigh 1,450 years, and they had confounded the Host of Sauron. Under a bright winter sky, from which a chill air rushed down off the frosted heights of Zirakzigil above, the three halted at a dozen paces before the guardians of the Ennyn Durin¹. ¹(Ennyn Durin, Doors of Durin, Sindarin)

"I am Gotli, Captain of the Second Watch upon the West Door. Name thyselves, ye travelers abroad upon this fine winter's day," the captain of the guard asked.

"I am Helluin of the Host of Finwe, and with me art Beinvír of the Laiquendi of Eriador and Ishkabibúl, a long lost son of the Host of Nogrod. Beinvír and I came hither in days of yore and hath the friendship of the House of Durin. Ishkabibúl hath been sundered long from his people and would seek welcome hither by thy lord's grace, thereby to join his skills to thine for the profit of thy realm. A long way we hath come and indeed our tale is very strange. I beg thy leave to tell it and I pray thou doth harken to our words." Throughout this Helluin had spoken the Khuzdul she had learned so long ago.

The guard captain eyed them carefully. Indeed Helluin and Beinvír's names were still known in many tales from the war. Their appearances and weapons were known. And no other of the Eldar still living in Middle Earth spoke their tongue. Of them he was comfortably certain. Rather 'twas Ishkabibúl who captured most the captain's attention. None had come hither from Nogrod in millennia. Yet Ishkabibúl wore raiment so outdated as to be a historical curio, and yet it bore only normal wear, while his beard was't plaited in the manner once popular in the houses of Nogrod an Age ago. There was't certainly a strange story to be heard here, and 'naught else of interest lay pressing.

Gotli nodded to his company and they formed columns to either side of the three, allowing them to march between their ranks to the door. The guards flanked them, hands upon the hafts of their axes, and accompanied them into the large chamber just within the doors. These were then shut to block the wind, save for a space of a body's width through which two sentries kept watch. Gotli gestured Helluin, Beinvír, and Ishkabibúl into an adjoining guard chamber where they were seated on benches at a long table. There they were provided with hot mulled cider and some chunks of hearty, dark bread.

"Speak now thy tale, I pray thee," Gotli asked when they were comfortable, "for too oft hath our watch been absent anything of interest. A good tale I should be grateful to hear on this cold winter's day."

Then by turns the three explained all that had come to pass, and indeed Gotli was't amazed by their rede. He questioned Ishkabibúl at length and was't yet more amazed. At 51, the Dwarf of Nogrod was't at once 42 years his junior and 5,118 years his senior. He thought about it long enough to realize that he didn't want to think about it.

"Thou shalt certainly come before the Lord of Khazad-dum, for thy tale is most strange as thou hast said, and in it art warnings for our folk, though seldom would any venture so far west in these days. Still what hath befallen thee should be known in the lore of our people. Come, I shalt send messengers and we shalt make our way thither to a council."

With that they departed the guard chamber 'nigh the gate, and Gotli himself undertook to lead them hence, eastward through innumerable halls. Helluin had made this trek more than once before, while Beinvír had only done so on their trip thither following the war. Even so her eyes flicked right and left, up and down as they passed, from time wrought cavern to delved room, to many-pillared hall. Helluin kept watch o'er her, though she was't confident that the Green Elf had mastered her fear of the Naugrim and her natural aversion to being underground. For Ishkabibúl the way was't a journey of one wonder ever replaced in its turn by another. Ere the long hours of the first day of their journey had passed, he had seen enough to know that all of Nogrod as well as Belegost would hath fitted within Hadhodrond, and yet still they had come not to the ending of their way.

"How much further art we to walk ere we come before thy lord, pray tell," Ishkabibúl asked of Gotli, for what he reckoned to be suppertime had drawn 'nigh.

"Another day's march, give or take," Gotli replied.

Ishkabibúl stooped in his tracks and stood silent in amazement, scarce believing what he had heard. He cast a glance to Helluin in question. She shrugged.

"If we art to meet in the Great Hall of Durin where I met aforetime to plead the treaty 'twixt Ost-in-Edhel and Khazad-dum, then a march of a day and a half lies before us," she said. "If, on the other hand, we art to meet in the Sixth Hall on the Third Level, then we could come thither after a march of some five hours tomorrow."

Upon hearing Helluin's words, Gotli turned to face her.

"Ahhh-ha! Therein is the lore from which I know thee," he said as he stroked his beard and nodded to himself. "I had remembered aforetime 'naught but the tales of the feasting in thy honor following the war. I had failed to recall thy embassy on behalf of the Eldar of Eregion. 'Tis still repeated though, as how thou drew forth before the lord's advisors, that gift of goodwill from Celebrimbor, a moonstone the size of a fist! Long did Durin III gaze upon that jewel, and he came to favor it highly, the more so the longer that in friendship with Eregion did his house remain. Alas those days hath long passed." He sadly shook his head.

Ishkabibúl eyes had widened at the description of the gem and yet more at the name of Durin.

"Thou knew Durin? Indeed?" He managed to ask. His sense of time was't still not wholly developed for he had missed all of the First Age and almost 3,000 years of the Second, and in his lifetime there had been tales of but one Durin.

"I knew a Durin, the third of that name, who ruled about 2,000 years ago," Helluin said.

"And so upon thy first sojourn hither thou came before the lord. He did thee a great honor," Ishkabibúl said, obviously impressed even if he'd still not completely caught on.

"Indeed he did, and yet he was't not the first. The first was't a different lord, and my first visit hither was 850 years ere that, in the 131st year of this Age. I dwelt here in honor for 20 years, and in that time was't my armor made."

"'Tis fine armor sure," said Gotli, for he had seen battle in his day and could appreciate the workmanship and fit. "'Tis black, like the steel of our Black Companies, yet of finer rings and the greater craft of old."

"'Twas made from ore of a lode I found 'neath Barazinbar in that time," Helluin said, "and great indeed was't the craft of Gneiss son of Gnoss who wrought it."

"The House of Gneiss still prospers," Gotli reported, "for their fortune was't built upon mithril whose value hath only increased…and their lodes 'neath Barazinbar doth still produce…" He trailed off and regarded more carefully Helluin's armor.

"I craved not such treasure," Helluin said, knowing his thought. "The real treasure I carried forth from thy mines was't the outer speech of Khuzdul, such of it as I hath learnt that thou teach to few. 'Tis a treasure I can carry and of which none may rob me. Aught else, of ores and the teachings of Mahal which I learnt in the Blessed Realm, all such did I share freely in trade."

Gotli regarded her words in silence for a time. Certainly no Dwarf would hath given up the wealth that had come of her discovery. The House of Gneiss was't rich even by the standards of Khazad-dum and her armor was worth a lord's treasure. But he could count on his fingers the number of those not Khazad, who had in all the Ages learnt aught of their tongue, even the exoteric speech. Yet even more amazing, in Aman she had met their Creator and he had taught her his craft! Even Telchar¹ had but wrought in imitation of Mahal. In token of this, Gotli set his right hand upon his heart and bowed low in the formal manner of one coming before a lord, and then he turned and they resumed their way. ¹(Telchar, renownedmaster craftsman of Nogrod during the First Age. He forged the knife Angrist, with which Beren cut the Silmaril from Morgoth's crown, Narsil, the sword of Elendil which became Andúril of King Elessar, and the Dragon Helm of Dor-lomin, worn for a time by Tuor, UT, Pt1, Ch.II, NIHH, pg 75).

Through all this Beinvír and Ishkabibúl had remained silent, and their silence continued for some time after as they walked east 'neath the mountains.

Late that evening word reached them that their tale would be heard in the Sixth Hall of the Third Level. This was't well, for it cut short their march by almost a day. The messenger joined their board and they continued with their supper, knowing that in the early afternoon the next day they would reach their destination.

Now Helluin and Beinvír left the table after supping, and while Gotli, Ishkabibúl, and the messenger quaffed ale and chatted in increasingly louder voices, the two ellith retired to the chamber provided for them.

"'Tis a relief that dining hast proved a safer pursuit this time," Beinvír remarked.

"Indeed so," Helluin agreed, "though I wonder if 'tis but that they hath found not a reason for force feeding us as yet. Still, we hath yet to recount our tale in council," she said as a worried look grew on her face. "Mealtimes hereafter may become more hazardous, I wager."

Beinvír joined Helluin in contemplating the possibility of feasting, Naugrim style. To a worried look that mirrored Helluin's she added a lip caught and gently pulled between her teeth.

"Thou speak true," Beinvír finally said, "and now I am worried yet the more. Our tale is not one in which they shalt find much to rejoice in. I fear that rather than glutting we shalt at last be roasted and eaten indeed."

Helluin looked at Beinvír, alarmed at first with her friend's return to her old beliefs, but the Green Elf had a light of humor just to be seen in her eyes and Helluin relaxed.

"Well, I am sure they shalt find thy flesh sweet and count themselves lucky," she said.

The Green Elf gaped at Helluin a moment ere a more seductive glimmer blossomed in her eyes and she asked, "As doth thou, meldanya?"

"Indeed so, meldis meldwain nin. I hath been consuming thee for centuries and hath never tired of the feast," Helluin replied, as a matching glimmer took root in her own eyes. "Now I believe 'tis time for dessert."

'Neath the door of their chamber a glow of light grew and remained steady for some hours as it were of many bright lamps lit within. It spilled forth through the gap of the threshold and cast a ril of blended silver and gold upon the floor of the passage outside. During those late hours in Khazad-dum no passing eyes marked it, and neither did the two figures within the room from whom it proceeded, for they were oblivious to aught else save the melding of their spirits and the even greater light they perceived with their minds.

Now in the afternoon of the next day the company came to the Sixth Hall of the Third Level, with its hundred columns, stout and tall, 'nigh the Endless Stair of Durin's Tower. Here were gathered Khráin son of Kûrin, the current Lord of Khazad-dum, with his advisors and many of the lore masters and chief wrights of the Naugrim. At the entrance to the hall a company of 12 guards joined Gotli and his three guests, and these marched, six upon each side, accompanying them thither until they stood before the lord. There a herald announced them with remarkably straightforward words, (much to Beinvír's surprise), and then backed away with Gotli and the guards trailing after him.

Helluin, Beinvír, and Ishkabibúl stood before the lord's throne and bowed in greeting. In return he nodded in acknowledgement of them.

"Word hast come to me of thy strange and wondrous tale," Khráin said, "and greatly do I crave to hear it. None hath come hither from Nogrod in o'er a score of centuries, and such in itself is amazing. Speak then, I bid thee, and assuage thereby my great curiosity."

"The story is that of Ishkabibúl, a long-sundered son of the Realm of Nogrod, O King," Helluin began, "and by rights should he tell it, save for those later parts in which my friend and I hath been involved. It begins long ere this Age of the world…indeed ere the rising of the sun and moon. And in that time, I deem, this thy kinsman partook of the hospitality of a stranger who proved fell. This stranger I hath met as well, and though a comical character in appearance, he commands great power; indeed, power not less than a Vala. I pray thee harken to the tale of Ishkabibúl, for it doth bear a warning to all free peoples."

Here Helluin again bowed to the Lord of Khazad-dum and then yielded to the Dwarf of Nogrod. Ishkabibúl bowed deeply to Khráin ere he began, somewhat nervously at first for the antiquity of his speech in Khuzdul.

"My Lord Khráin and ye of the noble Folk of Durin who art gathered hither; harken unto me I pray thee, for herein shalt I say my rede, speaking tidings of that which hath constrained me since the Age of the Awakening. It hath been made known unto me that hither stand I after the passing of o'er 5,100 years, in which I walked not 'neath the stars, nor saw the rising of the sun and moon. Neither did I know of the breaking of Beleriand, nor of the Fall of Morgoth, nor of the coming of Men. Upon strange paths hath my way been taken, out of time and out of the world…."

Then Ishkabibúl spoke, and long was't his telling, yet none moved nor did their attention falter. From the king to the guards, all were absorbed in his narrative, for 'twas a story strange and fearsome to the Naugrim, to be wrested thus from kith and kin, and to miss so many years from the making of profit. Though there was no way to tell for sure, Helluin and Beinvír both sensed the passage of Anor though the heavens and down into the west, then the fall of night and the rising of Ithil. They had missed both luncheon and supper and still Ishkabibúl droned on. It seemed to them that the Dwarves were as hungry for tales as for food and drink, feasting their ears with the same gusto as their stomachs.

Whereupon our last visit I thought I should burst from my gluttony, Beinvír said silently when she caught Helluin's eye, upon this day, rather shalt I starve.

'Tis surely feast or famine in these halls, Helluin agreed, and all the more difficult to bear when the tale hath already been once digested. I believe I am finding myself bored.

I too must confess my boredom, Beinvír admitted as her stomach growled in displeasure. Indeed we both must plead thus.

Thou and thy stomach and I, Helluin carped, 'tis unanimous.

The two returned their attention to the gathering, having marked the silence that had descended o'er the hall. The Lord of Khazad-dum was regarding them expectantly. Helluin blinked; 'twas obvious that they had missed something.

"Pray repeat thy question, O King?" She asked sheepishly.

"I had merely asked if thou and thy friend felt yet the pangs of hunger as doth I," the king said, "I asked if aught of thy tale lay so pressing upon thy mind as to beg delay of our meal, or if that which remains yet unspoken could wait?"

"Indeed all else may wait, O King," Helluin graciously offered, "these doings hath been since of old. 'Naught in the telling shalt change for the duration of thy board."

"That is well," Khráin said, nodding gravely, "for indeed I find that I am famished and my attention wavers from my hunger. We shalt adjourn."

It seemed that a collective sigh rose from the gathering and when Khráin rose, all rose and bowed to him as he left his throne. Then the Naugrim engaged in a barely ordered rush from the Sixth Hall. Indeed 'twas much like a battlefield rout. In moments the vast space was't deserted. The two Elves were left alone.

"Well, how d'ya like that?" Helluin muttered in irritation as she stared into the furthest corners of the empty chamber. Sure enough 'twas no one left.

"I find I like it little," Beinvír replied as she too searched for any signs of life, finally remarking in surprise, "Helluin, they hath ditched us."

Finally with a sigh, Helluin took Beinvír's hand and led her towards the entrance nearest to where they stood.

"Come, meldanya, I recall a dining room of sorts upon an avenue in this direction," she said before adding in an less certain tone, "or at least 'twas one there 1,300 years ago."

Indeed the dining room was still extant, and a sign in Khuzdul above the door proudly proclaimed, The Spitted Orch. A bas relief on the sign illustrated the concept, and 'twas very nearly an exact depiction of Helluin's impalements in Eregion during the war. She shook her head and refrained from translating the name for Beinvír, instead quickly ushering her within after merely nodding to confirm that the place indeed served food.

Inside the dining room they found long tables and benches such as were known to travelers from the common rooms of inns and taverns from Lindon to Rhovanion, save that these were lower, suited to the stature of their regular patrons. In a wide, deep hearth to their left a coal fire burned, and over it were many kettles and cauldrons hanging at various heights from swiveling rods and hooks. The smell of cooking foods was mouthwatering to the two ellith. Past the hearth stood a bar, about waist high to Helluin, where two Dwarves in aprons tended the patrons seated on stools before them. A buzz of conversation pervaded the room, punctuated by louder jests and laughter. 'Twas a merry company, and this the Elves found heartening. Out of habit they took seats at a table in the back where Helluin could watch everything, and shortly a server joined them. For a moment he looked askance at the tall Noldo's knees, bent sharply and very nearly even with the tabletop. At rest, Helluin's hands would hath very nearly trailed upon the floor. He shook his head and offered them a solicitous smile.

"Eldar," he exclaimed expansively before bowing low in greeting, "long hast it been since any of thy kindred supped hither. I am honored by thy presence, my noble guests."

"We art glad to enjoy thy hospitality, my friend," Helluin said, offering a smile, "Pray tell, what doth thou recommend?"

"Certainly the Elf Stew," he very nearly cried out, nodding enthusiastically so that his beard bobbed up and down, "nothing so tasty do we hath this day to tempt thy palettes, my honored guests. Add but a mug of ale and a loaf of bread, and thou shalt be sated indeed."

Helluin cocked a brow at him in question while Beinvír blanched in horror. Visions of Elves slaughtered and roasted immediately filled her mind's eye and her old fears rose up to disquiet her. Were they being offered a cannibal's feast by a Dwarf who perhaps thought such fare a treat to the Eldar? She felt nauseous and very nearly gagged.

"'Tis made according to a recipe proffered long ago by a guildsman of Eregion," the Dwarf bragged, "in those better days of old ere the war. Now it hath become indeed a favorite of the chef and a mainstay of our menu."

At this the Green Elf heaved a sigh of relief, while a fugitive grin curled Helluin's lips.

"Bring us two portions, with ale and a loaf as though hast said, my attentive friend," Helluin told him, "We shalt both be grateful of thy fare."

"An excellent choice, my esteemed guests," the Dwarf said, adding another bow ere he hastened to the hearth to fill a pair of bowls and draw the ale.

The fare was't indeed excellent; the stew truly scrumptious, the bread dense and dark, and the ale light and cool, and all in portions so generous that both Helluin and Beinvír were well sated ere they finished. Indeed Helluin found herself sitting, quietly watching as her beloved finished off her bowl and then turned to the loaf, consuming most of that as well in a commendable show of appetite. She had long since become accustomed to the fact that the Green Elf could put away shocking amounts of food when hungry and at ease. Oft times she ate more than Helluin herself, though she stood not quite to Helluin's chin and was still as slender as she had ever been. Finally Beinvír tipped her mug up and drained the last of her ale, then set it aside with a satisfied moan of delight. A smile curled her lips as her bright eyes slipped closed while she drew a deep breath and then slowly exhaled. She seemed the portrait of contentment…almost.

"Doth thou suppose this tavern serves those berry-filled tarts we found in such abundance at the feasts we endured upon our last visit?" The Green Elf mused. Helluin smiled at her partner's unabashed craving for dessert.

The waiter had appeared 'nigh their table and stood ready to remove their dishes.

"Tarts? Tarts thou would hath? Indeed we offer many kinds, my noble friend. What establishment could boast fine fare were they wanting for desserts? We hath tarts indeed, and cakes, and pies, and éclairs…all in many flavors, even themelin saerin¹ of Haradwaith. We hath them with frostings or not, filled or not. I pray thee, state thy pleasure." ¹(melin saerin, "bitter yellows" (lemons),= malen (yellow) + (pl int vowel shift) + saer (bitter) + -in(pl) Sindarin)

A wide smile had blossomed on the Green Elf's face and her eyes brightened in anticipation. "I shalt hath those tarts filled with the sweet, bluish berries," she declared happily, "indeed I shalt hath three such, my most gracious friend."

The Dwarf smiled and nodded in approval then turned to Helluin for her selection.

"Hath thou a pastry of many thin leaves laid betwixt layers of honey and chopped nuts?" She asked hopefully.

The Dwarf stood a moment thinking, then brightened and exclaimed, "Thou means the Bâk-lavah, I am sure! Indeed, indeed! I shalt bring thee a portion, sticky with honey and o'erflowing with crumbled nuts as would incite the envy of both bees and squirrels! A fine selection and my own favorite as well. Excellent choice!"

Again he bustled off, only to return moments later with their desserts.

'Twas a happily stuffed pair of ellith who responded to the gong recalling all to the Sixth Hall for the resumption of the audience. There they found the Naugrim seating themselves as quickly as they had fled aforetime, amidst an undercurrent of muttering and whispers. All fell silent with the entrance of Khráin, who stood a moment while the assemblage bowed ere he took his seat upon the throne.

"We hath heard the tale of Ishkabibúl, and a wondrous tale indeed it hath been," Khráin began, "yet much also came to pass outside the walls of Iarwain's house that weighs heavy upon its resolution. Therefore I pray thee, Helluin and Beinvír, who art our friends of old, speak now and recount for us these doings as they were seen from without."

And so the two filled in those details they could, and their perspective completed the picture of the threat of Iarwain Ben-adar. From the day of their first meeting, through all the years they had fruitlessly returned thither, and finally thence to their liberation of those within the house Helluin and Beinvír spoke. Many bright eyes followed their words, for as the Eldar art wont to do, they painted pictures with their voices in the minds of all who harkened to their words. Though they tried to be succinct, still night passed to morn and thence to day ere they finished, yet even so, the assemblage listened as if they were spellbound. And when the last of their tale was't said and they stood thus before the Lord of Khazad-dum, then they fell silent and for some time none were heard to breath.

At last Khráin shook himself as one coming from a dream and stood.

"My friends, thou hast graced us with an amazing tale well told. Indeed I am astonished. Never in all my years hath I heard tell of such a strange power as this Iarwain doth wield. I am thankful all the more this day for the fastness of the mountains and the strength of our halls. There art many dangers in the world, I deem, but behind our doors we hath been safe, in war and peace, and even against the strength of Sauron. Here, in these ancient mansions, none can come against us. Here is the sanctuary and the strong place of our people until the world is changed."

At his conviction many nodded in agreement. Khazad-dum had already stood for o'er 7,000 years. Those of the present generation believed it well 'nigh impregnable and even Helluin herself was't mostly convinced. No enemy greater than Sauron yet walked the Hither Shores and he had failed to enter the realm of Hadhodrond 1,300 years before. And Khazad-dum had only grown stronger since the war. No, 'twas doubtful that any who came to assail the Realm of Hadhodrond would breach its defenses.

"The danger of Iarwain 'tis akin to that of a spider in whose web the unwary shalt be taken, not to the menace of the snake that invades warm burrows to seek after its prey. In our lore shalt we note Iarwain Ben-adar, and any traveling Eriador shalt be wary," Khráin declared. Then he cast his eyes upon Ishkabibúl.

"I offer thee the welcome of the Halls of Durin, Ishkabibúl of the host of Nogrod, for though long sundered, still thou art of our people and indeed some from thy mansions came hither long ago. I bid thee join us and prosper in thy trade."

To this Ishkabibúl bowed though he would rather hath leapt for joy. All he had known aforetime was't long gone from Arda, yet he had found a home. Helluin and Beinvír were happy for him. None could know that all would one day come to ruin and that ruin would come from within rather than from without. Indeed Durin's Bane lay already deep within the foundations of the mountains, biding its time as it had done ere the changing of the world. It waited in shadow and fire 'neath Barazinbar, Caradhras the Redhorn, where the lode Helluin had found long before led down into the darkness.

One thing further came to pass during the time of the ellith's visit to Hadhodrond. Ere Helluin and Beinvír took their leave, Gotli, Captain of the Guard of the Ennyn Durin sent word to them, and a parcel was't delivered unto them in his name, for he had given much thought to the needs of Elven warriors abroad in the wide lands of Eriador. To Beinvír he gifted a pair of long, curved fighting knives, white handled and with blades patterned upon the Elvish style of Eregion in days of yore. They were scarcely shorter than her sword, yet lighter and quicker in her hands. And to Helluin he sent nine arrowheads of mithril, exquisitely formed leaf points bearing the tradesman's hallmark of the House of Gneiss.

To Be Continued

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