In An Age Before – Part 60

Now when Helluin and Beinvír had journeyed north to Greenwood they found the forest quiet and peaceful, yet 'neath all there lay again a watchful air though no Huorns did they spy. The two ellith made their way forthwith to Laiquadol, seeking after Oldbark. At his hall they were greeted by a mockingbird who serenaded them with songs of the Blessed Realm that its forefathers and foremothers had learnt of old from Helluin in 1710.

"Hoooo-hoom, by bark and bough, if it isn't the wandering Elfling and her friend," the Onod said, appearing before them from a thicket so unexpectedly that even Helluin started. He offered them a broad smile and greeted them with his 'hasty' version of their names. "Helluin of the Host of Finwe also called Maeg-mórmenel, and Beinvír of the Laiquendi of Eriador her friend and companion on the road, welcome again to Calenglad i'Dhaer."

The two ellith bowed to the Lord of Greenwood.

"Our thanks for thy welcome, my Lord," Beinvír said, "Glad art we to again enjoy thy realm of peace and dappled green." The Onod favored her a smile, well-pleased at her words of praise for his homeland, brief as they were.

"Indeed so," Helluin said, "it hast been long since last we walked 'neath thy trees and took pleasure in thy unspoiled realm. I hope thou hast been well?"

"I have been as ever since last you took your leave…in the rain, if I recall correctly that time," he said with a chuckle. Helluin groaned at the memory of their long and soaked walk to Umbar. She and Beinvír had been miserable for many, many days upon that journey. Beside her, Beinvír rolled her eyes. "Rains in such measure come but once in a thousand cycles of the seasons," he mused innocently, "and it is ever astonishing to those of shorter memory, I deem. Still, I trust you achieved your goal?"

"I know not which discomfited us the more, the rains at the start of our trek or the parching heats and the discovery of the stumbling of the Númenóreans at its end," Helluin confessed. She shook her head at the memories of Tindomul. "Know thou that one whom we met in that time hast indeed fallen deep into Shadow?"

At this, Oldbark canted his head to the Noldo and harkened to her words with greater attention. "No, I knew it not, but I deem you have a story to tell that may weigh heavily on things to come. So tell me thy tale, Helluin Maeg-mórmenel explorer of the Host of Finwe."

Thereafter Helluin related the story of their first meeting with Tindomul in Umbar in 1847, and Oldbark's many questions drew out the telling such that a night and part of the next day were spent ere they passed on to the time that the two Elves had spent ruling the land of Lebennin at Galadriel's request.

"Ohhhhhh-hoooo! So the Golden Princess and her Silver Prince are now the regents of Belfalas," Oldbark mused. "I had often wondered if King Lenwe would ever sail off into the sunset. I remember him as a young ellon, saddened at the sundering of his people from their kin, but resolved to make a home in the south. I am glad for him, I suppose, though I'm sure things are different in Edhellond without him. Still that is the way of things, is it not? The old seek the peace of home while the young seek after power and adventure. I assume your story of young Tindomul goes on though, and from what you said earlier, to a bad end."

"Indeed 'tis so, my Lord," Beinvír said, "and 'twas an end worse than most." She shivered at the memory and then turned to Helluin, for 'twas her story to tell.

Helluin nodded and took up the tale again. She told of their continued rule of Lebennin and the attempt to take Pelargir by the King's Men of Númenor in 2003. Therein Helluin related the tale of her defeat and slaying of Tindomul, and of how he had disappeared before their eyes, progressing from doomed mortal to immortal wraith.

"Upon that day he wore a Ring," she told the Onod, "and indeed 'twas one of the Nine of Celebrimbor. 'Twas perverted and enchanted by Sauron to ensnare the spirit of a Man, and thence bind it, forever subservient to his will, just as the Ring that Tindomul wore shalt be forever subject to the dominion of the One."

"He hast become one of the Úlairi," Beinvír said, "one of the Enemy's nine servants who arose to serve him with terror. They art fell enemies, Lord Oldbark, unseen yet felt."

Oldbark fell silent a while at these tidings, but then he spoke of secrets he had come upon in the years since the war. They had been told in the whispers of trees, passed upon the rustle of leaves from Nanduhirion through Lórinand and thence to Greenwood.

"Mmmmm-hmmmm. Now I feel some fear for your stout friends in Hadhodrond, Helluin. 'Tis King Durin come again who rules there; he being the fourth of that ancient name. I have heard tell that he wears a great ring of gold, and never before has a lord of that realm come into such riches. Now after hearing your tale I must wonder on that ring; from whence did it come? What effects does wearing it bring? It is true, is it not, that poor doomed Celebrimbor made also Seven Rings for the Gonnhirrim? Is it not also true that Sauron captured these during the war? Now I fear he is trying to make the Naugrim his servants as well."

Helluin and Beinvír regarded Oldbark with horror. 'Twas bad enough that Morgoth's Lieutenant had poisoned the people of Númenor and brought about the destruction of the Isle of Kings. But when Númenor had fallen, its fall was't amidst Belegaer and far from Mortal Shores. Hadhodrond lay amidst the Hithaeglir, and if it was't to fall like Númenor had aforetime, then its destruction t'would wreck havoc upon all known lands, even to the extent that the sinking of Beleriand had done at the end of the First Age.

But before that happened, what fate would ensnare the Dwarves? If Sauron mastered the will of the Folk of Durin, the consequences could be terrifying. Never had the soldiers of that mansion come against the free peoples of the west with war. Yet deep in their halls stood a vast army of fell folk, armed and trained, and they would prove deadly adversaries to any unlucky enough to face them.

The soldiers of Khazad-dum were no Yrch or mortal Men. They were hardier, longer lived, and greater in numbers. In the time of the war their army had numbered o'er 30,000, but that had been 1,715 years before. Their count could be well 'nigh 50,000 now, and perhaps more. And Oldbark had said they were ruled by Durin IV, the wealthiest lord in memory. Yet even bereft of treasure, one of that hallowed name would hold the loyalty of his people without question. They would fight to the death at his command, and from Khazad-dum they would be able to strike either Rhovanion or Eriador at will, while'st behind their great gates they would be unassailable. Combined with the forces now mustering in the Black Land…the possibilities were too terrible to consider.

"Doth thou know whence came this Ring to the Lord of Khazad-dum?" Beinvír asked.

"I should guess the Ring came to Hadhodrond at some time during your tenure as regents in Lebennin," Oldbark said, "but from where, I know not."

Beinvír looked at Helluin and rolled her eyes. Oldbark's timeframe hardly narrowed the possibilities down by much. She and her partner had ruled Lebennin for o'er 1,100 years.

Helluin sighed. 'Twas the same timeframe in which Sauron had ensnared the spirit of Tindomul. By 2250 he had his nine Úlairi. In the second millennium of the Second Age, Sauron had been busy dealing out his captured Rings. Now Helluin was't indeed torn in thought. 'Twas indeed her first impulse to hasten thither to Khazad-dum and there assess the temperament of the Naugrim, but that course was't fraught with danger. What if the Dwarves were indeed corrupted by Sauron's Ring and even now laying plans for the conquest of the west? They would certainly offer her no welcome, past friendship aside, and into such a hostile camp she could never take Beinvír.

Of course Durin IV's Ring might be no more than a ring crafted of gold from his mines, and his wealth no more than the due of his peoples' labors. She could hardly come before the Lord of Hadhodrond and accuse him of being allied with Sauron. No, if she were to attempt to learn the truth of Khazad-dum, she could only succeed in some less confrontational way. She thought long upon it and at last one possibility came to mind.

"I think I shalt take a short journey 'cross the river," Helluin declared, "no more than a fortnight, I deem, and I hath no intention of walking out from 'neath the sun."

Beinvír furrowed her brow, wondering how indeed her partner intended to delve the secrets of Hadhodrond without entering its warrens and tunnels and halls. Oldbark merely regarded her, one corner of his lips twitching, obviously having expected no less.

The fourth day after found Helluin and Beinvír passing through Lórinand with the blessing of King Amdír. Indeed when he learnt the purpose and direction of their travels he assigned a company of the northern guard to accompany them to the border. In that march went Haldir and Rúmil, one of the march warden's two brothers.

"Anxiously shalt we await thy tidings, O Helluin," Rúmil said, speaking for them all.

Helluin had met him but once before, on her first visit to Lórinand after the creation of the Sarchram in 1123. He had been out upon patrol at each of her subsequent visits. Beinvír, whom he seemed hard pressed to tear his eyes from, had never met him aforetime.

"Despite our alliance in the war, our people hath held of late increasingly less converse with the Folk of Durin," he said. "Indeed hindsight reports that such estrangement began in the years long ere Durin IV took the throne."

"But slowly did it begin, Helluin," Haldir added, elbowing his brother to break his glance yet again from Beinvír, "and that being in the time of Durin's grandfather…sometime about 2150. In the last 1300 years our estrangement hath only increased, until now it seems to me centuries since aught hath passed 'twixt Hadhodrond and Lórinand. I find I regret the silence."

"I am amazed to hath learnt none of this aforetime," Helluin said. She had not visited Khazad-dum since leading thither Ishkabibúl in 2995. In that time their welcome had been warm and the Lord Khráin had done them honor. Whether or not he had worn a ring, she could not recall. In any case, at that time she had sensed no darkness upon the folk of Hadhodrond. She shook her head. 'Twas but one way to find out.

The next day Helluin and Beinvír found themselves in a vale north of Nanduhirion, some ways upslope upon the southern arm of Fanuidhol. A thin column of smoke they had spied from the lowland the evening before, and towards this they had made their way through the morn and into the afternoon.

"We should be getting close, I deem," Helluin said as she made her way around a boulder. There was a vague path before her and she had been letting it guide her.

"We may well be closing upon the site of last night's fire," Beinvír agreed, "but that says 'naught of wheresoever those who made it might be now."

Helluin shrugged and said nothing. Beinvír was't correct and yet she had few other choices. Even were they to come upon their quarry, she would need a great measure of luck. Her eyes caught a disturbance in the dirt; the partial print of a boot smaller than her own and a short stride forward of it, a turned stone. She allowed herself a smile.

Not a half hour later they came upon the remains of a campsite and the burnt out ring of a fire. Helluin nodded to herself.

"A party of six slept hither," Beinvír declared with certainty after a quick look around, "and they art Naugrim. It seems thy hopes art answered, meldanya."

"Perhaps…" Helluin said. "Come, they hath made their way yet further uphill."

The two ellith continued upslope apace, but now they heard scraping and the clink of a pickaxe and the scrape of a shovel. They made their way towards the sounds, until they caught a glint of light reflected off a tool and a shift of movement.

"Hail and well met, my friends," Helluin called out in greeting. Immediately the heads of three Dwarves popped up between the boulders at the base of an outcrop.

"Helluin?" An excited Dwarf scrabbled out of the boulders and stood atop a flat rock for a better look. "Helluin! 'Tis thou indeed…and Beinvír! Bless my beard!"

Beinvír grinned and waved, then stopped in shock, realizing the true count of years.

"Ishkabibúl! Hail and well met! Glad am I too see thee again, and gladder still to find thee practicing thy craft." The Green Elf quickly made her way up the path with light steps, Helluin just behind her. At first her mouth dropped open in amazement. After 415 years, the Dwarf of Nogrod looked little more than 100 years older. She looked to Helluin in confusion but her partner could only shrug. She had originally hoped to find his son or someone who had known him well perhaps.

Maybe 'tis some virtue from his stay in the house of Iarwain? I cannot explain it.

"My friends, I owe my present station to thy kindness aforetime, for without thy aid I should still be lost in the house of Iarwain," Ishkabibúl said with the expansive praise so characteristic of the Naugrim. "Thou hast my thanks until my beard falls out and I am stooped with age…nay, until I am entombed 'neath the mountain's heart."

He laid a hand upon his breast and bowed deeply to them. Helluin and Beinvír bowed to him in return, though less formally. Behind him the other Dwarves gathered, breaking from their labors to witness the cause of his excitement. In short order Ishkabibúl waved them forward and introduced them.

"Here art my fellow prospectors, Ickli, Bristle and his brother Gristle, Strain, and his cousin Sprain." He turned to them and introduced the two ellith. "Here art my saviors and benefactors, Helluin of the Noldor and Beinvír of the Laiquendi."

The five Dwarves bowed to the two Elves and several cast their eyes upon Helluin with expressions of question.

"Yes, yes, 'tis indeed she," Ishkabibúl said, then leaned close amongst them and whispered to them in Khuzdul. The prospectors' eyes bulged in response.

Helluin, whose Elven ears had heard his words chuckled and said silently to her partner, he astonishes them by naming me the prospector who found the Barazinbar Spur, the longest producing vein of mithril yet discovered. They art well impressed indeed.

So thou hast yet another title, my love, Beinvír replied, Prospector Extraordinaire of Khazad-dum.

"Hath thou had good fortune in thy search, my friend?" Helluin asked to break the following awkwardness and silence that had settled o'er the Dwarves.

"Nay, we hath not," Ishkabibúl said in disgust. He looked at the landscape about them and shrugged. "Hither were once the surface mines of this realm in days of yore, and there art strata folded and uplifted such as should bring to light some ores, and yet we hath searched thus far for 'naught."

"I think we hath but revisited many sites rejected of old," added Bristle.

"This land hath been picked o'er for thousands of years," Ickli stated, "and I doubt there is aught to be found now. Our eyes art not so much finer than those of our forefathers."

Helluin nodded in agreement. The prospecting had undoubtedly begun in the starlight ere the First Age of the Sun. She looked about absently, noting the eroded layers of an ancient anticline¹ and a volcanic dome of intruded basalt. It showed as a black crystalline shadow amidst shorn layers of different colored rocks. She eyed it speculatively, recalling the lessons that Gneiss son of Gnoss had taught her 3,300 years before. ¹(anticline, a geological term describing layered strata of rock that have been folded upwards in a hump, often side-by-side with a syncline, or layers of rock down-folded into a valley.)

"Perhaps thou might pick away somewhat towards the top of yonder dome," she said, pointing out the dark igneous intrusion upslope from where they stood."

Ishkabibúl squinted as he looked down her finger at the wall before them.

"May as well," he said, "'twas to be examined later anyway."

He snatched up a pickaxe and paced uphill towards the basalt, with Strain and Sprain behind him and the Elves following somewhat further back. The other prospectors shrugged and watched for a bit, then returned to their own investigations.

By climbing three fathoms up the wall of roughly fractured strata adjacent to the dome, Ishkabibúl was't able to reach the apex of the dome and there he swung his pick in solid strokes, spraying chips of the hard rock with each impact. After a dozen swings he stopped and carefully looked at the area he'd worked, grunted to himself, and resumed his labor. After a number of repetitions he more carefully swung his pick, eventually breaking off a chunk of stone which he placed in a knapsack ere he climbed down at last.

When he rejoined the others at the foot of the wall he brought out the sample he'd taken. Amidst the black rock lay bright, clear crystals, most tiny, but one well 'nigh the size of his thumb.

"In truth I had hoped for ores of metals, and indeed for such were we sent thither," he said, though he was unable to keep a broad smile from his face. "I had no thought to search for Varda's Tears."

In the sunlight the thumb-sized crystal sparkled and reflected a bright white light. Faceted and set amidst precious metals, the diamond would still be of admirable size and would command a fine price. The faces of the other two prospectors brightened. Their sojourn in the mountains this day would not be in vain.

They thanked Helluin effusively and then set about freeing more of the crystals from the dome. In short order their three companions joined them on the rock wall while the Elves sat and watched through the afternoon. By evening the Dwarves had extracted a surprising number of rough gems in several colors, and they cavorted merrily by their campfire, singing, drinking, and feasting on what remained of their rations, for they would return to Hadhodrond on the morrow.

"Yet again I owe thee my thanks, Helluin," Ishkabibúl said for the hundredth time, "and in token of my thanks I shalt hath a stone cut and set for thee in bright gold. Would thou prefer a ring, or a pendant perhaps, or maybe a fillet to bind thy brow?"

Helluin as ever first thought to decline, but then an inspiration came to her and she took the Dwarf aside and spoke softly to him for a short while. He chuckled and nodded ere they clasped forearms to seal their bargain. Thereafter both returned to the campfire smiling and neither would divulge what had passed between them.

Now as the evening wore on, Helluin progressed to that topic for which she had come thither in the first place, and she asked after the ways of Khazad-dum and the wellbeing of its lord. In this she was't as subtle as 'twas possible while still conveying her questions and gleaning what information she could.

"I hath heard a report that of late thy realm is indeed ruled by the Lord Durin, come again unto his people after many years," she said, "and I hope thou hast at last had thy wish fulfilled, to come before the Lord Durin in his ancient halls of Khazad-dum."

At this Ishkabibúl eyes brightened with happiness and he nodded so vigorously that his beard flapped up and down in his lap.

"Indeed 'tis so, Helluin, and that shortly after his coming to the throne. He met with many in those days, and myself as well, for he had heard my story. I confess that my tongue fairly cleaved to my mouth at first and few were the words I could utter in his presence, but ere long he put me at ease and we spoke for some time together of Iarwain and the land of Eriador which I had seen when I traveled with thou and the others.

I found him a gracious lord, Helluin, wise beyond his years, and magnetic; he would command the respect of many even were his name other than it is. He hath inspired all who dwell in Khazad-dum. All labor to raise yet higher our home, his kingdom, and for many reasons, not the least of which being his praise. Craftsmen work with inspiration as of old, creating great works in metals and stone. We miners hath discovered many riches both 'neath the mountains and outside our halls. The army trains harder than ever before. All press themselves, for by elevating their parts they honor him.

I recall the Lord of Nogrod of my time. He was't a fine lord and a great leader of his people, but Durin IV stands a league beyond him in all respects. Never had I thought to find myself part of something so much greater than the sum of its parts."

"He is wealthy then, and powerful beyond his fathers, and yet a noble lord, unspoiled by his successes," she asked, nodding in approval. Ishkabibúl had been effusive in his praise and she was't curious to see if he would reinforce his words or qualify them.

"Durin is wealthy and powerful beyond any that hath come before," the Dwarf agreed, "and though he could spend his time gloating o'er his riches, he is more oft seen amongst his people, greeting the craftsmen, hearing reports from the miners and explorers, and reviewing the army. Oft does he make grants from his treasury for the easing of some problem in our realm and he is lavish in his rewards for service to his house. Our lord is the patron of many civic projects and in so doing seeks to birth a host of public works. He hath commissioned the refitting of the Durin's Tower which hath stood since the last Age, and paid to extend the carving begun in the days of Ost-In-Edhil. He is as a lord of old, or at least much as stories portray them, and I know of none who hath fault with him…a rare thing in a realm where many art in competition for favor and markets."

"Aye, all love him and do him honor and count themselves fortunate to live in the time of his reign," Ickli stated. Several of the other prospectors also seemed to agree, for they too nodded in accord and pride shone in their eyes. 'Twas obvious these subjects held a deep love for their lord.

Helluin smiled, sincerely pleased at what she had heard. It seemed that the Ring, even if it were one of Celebrimbor's Seven, had not corrupted the heart of the Lord of Khazad-dum. Beinvír too had been listening carefully and nodding. The Ring might be no more than a ring, and without seeing it themselves, 'twas no way for them to be sure. She knew Helluin would recognize it at once, and she suspected that she too would know it on sight from having seen it once aforetime in Lindon 1,800 years ago. Now at least their suspicions about Durin seemed unfounded; there was't no evidence that the lord had fallen into shadow or that his people were entering onto a dark road.

"We art glad for thee and for thy people," the Green Elf said with a smile, "and though no fault did we find with those lords we hath known aforetime, still 'tis a wonder to me that thy people art blessed yet again with the leadership of a legend."

The Dwarves bowed their heads at her words, for to them, Durin IV was indeed the reborn spirit of Durin the Deathless, father of their people.

"Know'th thou that Helluin met the Deathless One upon his last sojourn amongst his folk," Beinvír asked, "when she came to plead the treaty of friendship 'twixt Eregion and Hadhodrond?"

Ishkabibúl alone nodded, for he recalled a conversation between Helluin and Gotli, Doorwarden of the Ennyn Durin, when he had first come to Khazad-dum. The other Dwarves looked at Beinvír in wide-eyed amazement.. 'Twas not at all natural for them to think of the Life of the Eldar in practical terms, for though all knew of it, the ramifications of it were oft times unexpected and startling. Durin III had ruled from S.A. 873 to 1141 and Helluin had come in embassy to him in 992. He had still ruled when she took her leave in 1123 following the forging of the Sarchram. It had been well 'nigh 2,300 years since those days, but Helluin was't now 7,926 years of the sun in age. 'Twas beyond the understanding of the Naugrim, such a count of days.

"Indeed so?" Gristle turned to Helluin and asked. "Thou hath met Durin aforetime?"

"On several occasions I was't embassy to his court on behalf of Ost-In-Edhil," Helluin said. "A great and noble lord he was't indeed. I think in part the treaty succeeded only because he swayed more easily than some others might, the opinions of his subjects in accepting the friendship of the Noldor of Eregion."

The prospectors sat as a captive audience, enthralled by the idea that she had known the last incarnation of their present king.

"If t'would please thee, my friend, I could take thee thither in audience before our lord," Ishkabibúl offered, "for as we hath discovered aught of value, 'tis our procedure to report it and lay thence a claim. Indeed since 'twas thou who pointed us to these riches, t'would be only fitting that thou be present to receive the lord's praise for the enrichment of his realm. Perhaps too, thou could greet again a friend of old."

Helluin looked to Beinvír as if in question as to whether they should accept such an offer. Instead she spoke silently to her beloved. Very well done, meldanya! Thou art as crafty as thou art beautiful.

Beinvír actually blushed slightly and said, Knowing now that our jeopardy was't slight, I thought it best that we should see this Ring for ourselves.

To this Helluin nodded and gave her partner a smile ere she turned back to Ishkabibúl.

"We would be grateful for the opportunity to come before thy lord, my friend," Helluin said. "T'would be a high honor indeed to meet again with the Lord Durin."

The prospectors were happy for her decision, for unlike Ishkabibúl, they had grown up with their realm's lore and knew somewhat of Helluin's history, though 'twas mostly concerning her involvement in the last war. Still, to bring to their lord both increased wealth and a visiting hero and ancient friend of their people could not help but add to their prestige. 'Twas a jubilant company that spoke late into the night ere they finally took their rest.

Early the next morn the prospectors gathered their packs and their tools and led the Elves to Azanulbizar gate. As they neared it, Ishkabibúl couldn't resist running to stand beside the mere of Kheled-Zâram.

"400 years and yet never doth he pass a chance to look thither," explained Bristle.

"Aye, one would think he craves a crown for his own," his brother Gristle chuckled.

Helluin looked to Beinvír, saying, though in the past we hath come this way, never hath we tarried or looked into the still waters of yonder Kheled-Zâram. Accompany me thither?

Very well, I hath some curiosity about it indeed, the Green Elf replied, lead on.

The two ellith came to the shore of the still waters and stood closely side by side, a short distance from Ishkabibúl who was't staring down solemnly at his reflection. Together they looked into the dark waters and Beinvír gasped.

Before her eyes she saw their reflections as she had expected, but crowning them were the Seven Stars of Durin, a bright tiara despite the daylit sky above. Anor stood eclipsed by their heads and wrought a corona about them. This was't supernatural enough, but then as she continued to watch, she and Helluin's reflections wavered and vanished, leaving 'naught of them to be seen. Yet the corona remained, outlining their invisible figures!

"Ilúvatar preserve us! Art we to become wraiths?" Beinvír choked out in horror.

"'Tis rather a prescience of the Fading, I deem," the Noldo said softly. She wrapped an arm around the shuddering Green Elf, noting that the corona shifted in response to her action.

"I like it not at all," Beinvír said, tuning her gaze from the mere and staring around at the bright day. "I shalt not be surprised to find my rest haunted by this vision and that which came upon me at Amon Hen. I find I am disliking all such visions as hath been granted me of late."

"I blame thee not," Helluin soothed, softly kissing her beloved's hair. "They hath been uniformly upsetting indeed. Come, let us away."

They walked back to the others, Ishkabibúl following behind them, and continued their way to Azanulbizar Gate.

Now 'twas evening in the outside world ere the prospectors brought their honored guests to the audience chamber and came before Durin IV. The Lord of Khazad-dum Lord rose from his throne and greeted his subjects and the Elves warmly when they were announced, casting his eyes especially upon Helluin as she and Beinvír bowed before him.

"Helluin of the Noldor, explorer of the Host of Finwe," he said, smiling upon her and using the titles she had claimed of old, "long it hath been and now again thou come amongst us in friendship and for the benefit of my people. The welcome of Khazad-dum is thine as it hath been aforetime."

Helluin had straightened from her bow and stood in silence digesting the familiar voice of this Durin…identical to he whom she had known. She was't about to answer his welcome but he continued.

"Doth thou know that I still gaze upon the moonstone of Celebrimbor? All the more precious is it to me in light of all that hath come to pass since that time. Sad am I that in these latter days I am unable to greet again my old friends in Ost-In-Edhil."

"Thy wisdom in those days forged a friendship 'twixt our peoples, and though the realm of Eregion hast fallen since, of no less value is that friendship which came in those days. I too miss my friends of Ost-In-Edhil. Glad would Master Celebrimbor be to know that his gift of old brings thee joy renewed in these latter days."

"I hath heard many tales of the war in which that realm fell, and of the fate of Lord Celebrimbor," Durin said, shaking his head sadly. "Thou had much to do with the outcome of those tales, and should the pain remembered be not too great, from thy lips would I hear aught of those days, for the part of my people in that war was't limited and not to the final victories did any of my kindred march."

Helluin swallowed. The memories of that time were indeed uncomfortable but she would endure them rather than disappoint her host, a renowned king and friend of old.

"O King, I shalt be honored to tell all that thou would hear," she said.

Durin nodded and then turned to the prospectors.

"Glad am I for thy success," he said. "Steadfast and skilled art thou in the pursuit of thy craft. By thy efforts art the fortunes of our realm enriched. I thank thee and celebrate thy fortune. The realm of Khazad-dum grants thy claim and recognizes it in perpetuity."

The five prospectors bowed low to their lord.

"Ishkabibúl, I understand that thou hast had some adventures in common with our friends of old, and indeed unto thee upon Bundushathur¹ came Helluin and her friend. I should like to hear at last the tale of how came thee hither from Nogrod, and no better chance shalt I hath than with all parties to that adventure present. Pray join us and sup this eve." ¹(Bundushathur, Khuzdul translation of the Sindarin Fanuidhol, Cloudyhead in 3rd Age Westron)

At his lord's request for his presence at table, Ishkabibúl could barely bow and stutter a response. The wealth of diamonds he had discovered paled next to the value he placed in his heart upon the honor done him to be requested thus by the Lord of Khazad-dum.

"I shalt be greatly honored, my Lord, for I am ever at thy command," he managed.

Now Durin nodded to him and then to the two Elves, and he bade a chamberlain hither to lead all to rooms wherein they could rest and wash ere the board was't set. During their audience, both Helluin and Beinvír had marked the ring upon Durin's hand, and 'twas indeed a Ring; one of the Seven of Celebrimbor. And to their immense relief, there seemed to be no stain from it upon the heart of the Lord of Khazad-dum.

"Well, meldanya, to say that I am astonished would leave much unsaid," Helluin admitted when they were alone in their room. "Great beyond my understanding is the craft of Aule, for of him came the Naugrim and somehow he hath wrought that the fëa of Durin should be reborn time and time again."

"So he is indeed the Durin thou knew? From his speech and recognition of thy past together I would hath judged it so," Beinvír said. "'Tis amazing, and yet the Valar themselves art beyond the understanding of the Elves."

"He is indeed the same whom I knew aforetime," Helluin said. "I should swear thus before the seat of the High King in Lindon or even were I to someday come before King Finarfin seated upon the throne of Finwe in Tirion. And greatly does it please me that he seems unaffected by the Ring he wears, though how he resists the wiles and incantations of the Enemy, I know not."

"You know, beloved, in the rebirths of Durin do I see reflected the return of those like Glorfindel who hath come again through death and the Halls of Mandos. I suppose it should not be impossible for such a fate to be also seen amongst the ancient race of the Gonnhirrim."

To this thought, Helluin fell silent and gave consideration. Whyfore should not the fate of at least one of the Naugrim be like unto that of the Eldar? In a moment of mercy they had been ensouled by the Hand of the One, just as had been the Children of the Two Kindreds. By the grace of Iluvatar the Dwarves had spirits of their own. Each was an individual with a fate and a doom. It should not be so strange that the doom of one dictated repeated service to his people, and repeated rebirth amongst them.

"Huh…thou speak with great wisdom, meldis meldwain nin," Helluin finally said, "though I was't indeed shocked silent when first I confronted Glorfindel, even knowing that such 'twas possible. Hither too, despite all forewarning, I was't shocked to find one so familiar before me after so many years. Now how and whence came to him his Ring?"

"That, I suppose we shalt discern as we sup," Beinvír said hopefully, "ere we burst."

And amidst all the telling of their tales, both of the war and of Iarwain, the tale of Durin's Ring indeed was't told, and the truth of it brought a sigh of relief to Helluin and Beinvír.

To Be Continued

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