Stone of Erebor
Chapter 19: Memento
The dwarf literally jumped with surprise.
Bilbo peered up at him apologetically from behind the battered urn,
still clutching the heavy spice box to his chest. He coughed
slightly. “Ehem… I.…”
Dím somehow managed to keep modulating his voice, glancing back
at the old dwarf who was now laying sideways on the bed. “What are you
doing here?” he whispered fiercely before going back to his singsong,
even if it did sound slightly strangled. “Let me just get the water
heated up for your tea, Uncle…”
“I can explain,” Bilbo whispered back, “but I’m not sure it’s safe to
Dím didn’t reply, but keeping an eye on Bilbo he turned to the
dented brazier and stirred the coals to bring the flame back up,
resuming the gentle patter as he set a small kettle of water to
heat. “…Just a little tea and you’ll soon feel more
yourself. It was just a dream…”
Mizûl made his querulous sound and grumbled something in
Dwarvish, hunting around in his covers for something. Bilbo eyed
him distrustfully from behind the relative safety of the urn and stayed
right where he was in spite of the discomfort. The stone was cold and
the scent of the coal so near his face was making him sick. He
squinted down at the box in his hands and tentatively tried the
latch. It was locked.
Dím went to his uncle and helped him lie down properly, pulling
the blankets up and speaking to him low and soft. He reached over
and pulled the thick bed-drapes slightly, just enough to block the
occupant’s view of the door where Bilbo peeped out at them.
“Quietly now,” he whispered as he crossed back to Bilbo’s hiding
place. “Come out. I'll speak with you after he’s asleep.
I’m sure that it must…” He saw the box in Bilbo’s hands and
faltered to a stop, paling. “What are you doing with that?”
Dissembling, Bilbo looked down at the locked spice box as if surprised
that it was there. “I have no idea! I just grabbed it when he
started in with that hammer, trying to defend myself. He seemed to be,
er, mistaking me for one of his filigrees.”
Dím’s mouth set into a thin line. “No wonder he was upset.
That’s… never mind. Here, let me have it,” he said firmly. He
reached for it and as Bilbo reluctantly handed it over he could feel
the young dwarf’s hands trembling.
Without further comment, Dím quickly carried it to the restless
Mizûl and tucked it into the elder’s hands. Mizûl
grasped it like a child and lay where he was, cradling the box and
staring at the brazier’s orange glow upon the kettle as if nothing
untoward had ever happened, only his rasping breathing and mussed hair
showing the recent exertions.
Bilbo tentatively slid out from behind the stone and straightened up,
slowly brushing bits of rock and coal dust from his clothing. He
watched Mizûl warily, torn between wanting to just go back out
the door and wondering if he ought to be wheedling and sing-songing
too. He tried to appear as innocent as he could, though the very
fact of his presence in the room had to be explained somehow…
“What are you doing here?” Dím repeated softly, though with the
intensity of his gaze he may as well have shouted it. He measured a
spoonful of herbs into a mug and set it near the brazier to wait for
the water. “And why, after you swore to your honesty, were you
trying to steal something from a helpless old dwarf?”
“Helpless? I beg to differ…” began Bilbo.
“I was doing nothing of the kind! I only wanted to…”
“You were trying to take that box,” he hissed.
“All right, I confess I was curious what was in it. Not to steal it,
mind you. Just to see. I just wanted to see what was in it.
Hobbits are… a…a hopelessly curious race.”
There was a long silence as both of them contemplated the smith, laying
on his side in bed with the box cradled close. The wrinkled eyelids
lifted and lowered with a slight shine from the brazier but he seemed
unaware of them.
“You have to admit there have been some mysteries,” Bilbo softly
continued after a time. He discarded his earlier thought of trying to
further dissemble, choosing to speak plainly. He owed it to Dím
after causing all the ruckus with his elderly relative, justified or
not. “We told you we are missing a treasure, and then there was that
very strange letter that so conveniently showed up when we met you,
telling about that very thing…”
Dím rapidly glanced around the room with alarm, as if expecting
several other people to suddenly appear. “So you were sent…”
“No one sent me. It was my own idea and I didn’t even tell anyone,”
Bilbo cut in. “Though the others are not going to be long behind me, I
would guess. If there is
anything odd going on you would
probably do better to place a little trust in me than to wait until
they all come down upon your head. Perhaps we can set it right.”
There was another long silence. Dím, his face now impassive,
picked up the kettle and poured it though the water was barely
steaming. He stirred it, strained it and took it over to the bed
where he propped up his uncle with a strong arm and helped him to his
drink. It was only after Mizûl pushed away his hand,
coughed and was settled back into his bed with the curtain pulled near
around him that the younger dwarf spoke again.
“I did find that parchment, behind my uncle’s chest when I moved it…I
swear that I told you the truth.” He decisively pushed the cork
stopper back onto the tea crock.
Bilbo considered him closely. “Was it already written on? And sealed?”
The crock clattered against its companions on the shelf. Dím
shoved it into place so hard it nearly rebounded back off. He stopped
and bowed his head, one hand combing fitfully through the strands of
his beard. “It was… it… I swear I was….”
“It wasn’t was it?” said Bilbo. It was not really a question, but a
statement. “It was an old parchment, true, but you forged the letter.”
Still Dím kept his head bowed. His voice came soft, but
harsh. “If it was a forgery, I swear I know nothing about it. I would
never have delivered it to you if I had thought it was. I am not
disloyal to the heroes of our realm or to their memory…”
“Aren’t you?” asked Bilbo in return. “By it you unjustly accused one of
them and had the others fearing for their family honor. What is so
loyal about that?”
“I am not disloyal!” hissed
Dím in what seemed honest
distress. “I’m not…”
“Then explain the seal,” the hobbit persisted, ignoring the claim of
innocence. ‘Why go to the extent of using Balin’s seal and where did it
come from anyway?”
Dím looked over to Mizûl as if to an advocate, twisting at
his dark beard. “He’s… I was…”
“Go on,” Bilbo said. He considered the younger one who was
becoming so terribly rattled and tried calming him down. “Why don’t we
have some of that tea ourselves while we talk?”
“It’s medicinal,” said Dím with difficulty. “But I have some
rosehips…” He scrubbed the back of a hand across his face and turned to
the shelves, drawing down a string-tied pouch of them.
“That would be fine. My thanks.” Bilbo stepped to the side of the room
where he had noticed a small amount of neatly stacked crockery. He
selected two of the smaller mugs and brought them back with him.
Nothing like a cup of something hot to introduce civility to a
situation. Dím measured a spoonful of dried rosehips into
each and they poured the steaming water over them. Seating themselves
brazier along with a small handful of dry cardamom biscuits Dím
had pulled from a basket, they silently stirred the orange-red pods,
letting them bob around on the water, soaking and finally sinking into
Bilbo finally sipped at the tangy tea while his companion began
speak. He spoke not of the letter or the box, but of the elderly
dwarf that lay before them in the faint light. He spoke of his
pride in his uncle’s work, in the honor his family had because of
it. Of years spent after his father’s death in the company of the
“We came from the Iron Mountains,” he said. “They are far, far from
here…I’ve never seen them myself but I have heard of them in tales from
my youngest days. He fought in the Battle of Five Armies, and great was
his valor, though he fought not with an axe but a mighty hammer. Oh,
how I wish I could have seen those days! They must have been
“I wouldn’t really call them that,” said Bilbo whose thoughts had been
drawn back not to any glory but to the remembrance of the smoke-ridden,
blood-stained valley he had viewed after the fighting was finished.
“Though we were glad enough to have it over and done with.”
“Your people are not a fighting folk, are they?” asked Dím. “Do
they shape weapons or do they bear them in battle?”
“No,” said Bilbo with a shake of his head. “They do neither. They
are farmers, mostly, and peaceable. We do have some smiths but
they mostly concern themselves with the mending of carts or shoeing of
ponies. It is not our way to seek out war at all, much less in
“What a strange thing that must be. Who avenges them, then? What metals
do they use?”
“Vengeance is not thought of much…I admit that I don’t even know how to
answer your question. Iron, copper…silver, I guess. I had some silver
spoons that were beautifully shaped.”
“They have mines then, and smelters and forges,” said Dím
eagerly, warming with curiosity. “I was taught that you lived within a
hill there. Was it a very rich mine? Were there gems?”
“No,” smiled Bilbo. “It wasn’t a mine at all, just a fine dwelling
within a hill…” He sighed slightly in remembrance of it. “I had a
garden there… Yes, there are gems a-plenty in the Shire but they are
mostly living ones, for we have gardens, and often name our lasses for
Dím sat and thought about this for a moment. Bilbo bit
into another biscuit which promptly crumbled all over his shirt.
“I was named for my father,” said Dím slowly. “And he is gone.
When my father’s older brother who lays before us breathes his last, I
will have no near relations older than myself. I will be eldest.”
He looked down at his hands, wrapped around his now-empty tea mug. “I
will be the one who carries on our family honor then. But how can
that be, if I am not honorable with you now?” He took a deep breath and
held it a long moment.
Bilbo waited, surreptitiously picking the larger crumbs off of his
front and eating them. Sitting still was reminding him how tired
he was and he was grateful for the pick-me-up at this late hour.
“My uncle knew Balin closely. I did not deceive you when I said
that. He was proud of it, and Balin really did try to get him to go
with him when they left. I believe it was only the burden of
needing to care for our family line that kept him here.” He looked up
at the grizzled sleeping form on the bed again. As if he knew he was
being spoken of, Mizûl coughed slightly and made some dry rasping
sounds in his throat before settling back into sleep.
“I have heard of his work and it was spoken of with admiration,”
offered Bilbo, trying to keep him going.
“It is his work that concerns you now,” said Dím after another
moment. His voice sounded slightly strangled as he continued,
forcing the words out. “For Balin entrusted no other than Mizûl
of the Iron Mountains with the form and repair of his… personal seal.”
Bilbo’s eyebrows shot upwards and several of his remaining crumbs flew
off to be lost on the floor.
Dím continued, staring fixedly at the brazier as if to save his
life. “And when the seal’s metal was flawed and… a crack was found, he
remade it. But he kept the flawed one, kept it deep within that
chest, where…” He stopped.
“Where you found it,” finished Bilbo. He swirled the last of his
tea in the cup thoughtfully, watching the bloated bits of rosehip
slipping across the bottom. “And I think I can guess why you were
tempted to use it.”
Dím turned to him in surprise grown fearful. “You can?”
Bilbo was suddenly struck by the way this dwarf, younger, larger and
than he with the distinct advantage over him in many ways – not the
least being he could easily accuse him as both trespasser and thief –
cringed beside him with guilt like a hobbit child caught pulling off
the crust-edges of pies cooling in a window.
Bilbo spoke very carefully and softly. “I don’t think you meant to
frame anyone, you just wanted to turn the attention away from the
Mountain. Away from anyone in the Mountain who might know where
that missing treasure might be. So you decided to use someone who
was no longer here, someone who would have known about this treasure
Dím put his hands over his face. “I… I even thought about…you….”
“Of course,” nodded Bilbo as if this were the most obvious thing in the
world. He patted the dwarf’s arm consolingly to show he was not taking
it personally, though inside a little portion of his thoughts was
running around in circles hollering about it and waving its arms with
indignation. “A stranger of another race who was known in the past to
work as a Burglar. So. Why didn’t you?”
Dím scrubbed at his face with his hands. “I…well, once I met
you… I… liked you. I had no desire to hurt you…”
“I am rather fond of you also. Thank you,” Bilbo said, trying to cover
up the awkwardness. “And it was right decent of you. You could
have had me out on a ledge or something when you found me there in
Dáin’s dressing-room. But you didn’t. I haven’t forgotten
that courtesy.” Dím nodded gratefully.
“Though you know,” continued Bilbo, “you could do with some lessons if
that’s the way you’re inclined. Sending a forged notice about it to the
very folk who are looking for it wasn’t really all that smart. Of
course they would come looking here, after that! Next time just
stay quiet. But what am I saying, eh? You shan’t be doing this
again, right? Now!” He brushed away the last of the crumbs. “How
did you end up with the Arkenstone?”
Dím’s eyes nearly bugged right out of his head. Bilbo thought
for a moment he was going to have some kind of fit. His mug
fell to the rug, spilling a small, red trail of rosehips. He gasped,
choked and made some odd squalling noises
down in his throat.
“Yes,” Bilbo nodded imperturbably. “I know what you keep in that spice
box.” He was pleased with himself for being able to state this so
smoothly, especially as it was not until that very moment that he was
truly sure of it. Dím’s expression confirmed it; Bilbo
felt as if little fireworks were going off inside of his head and
stifled a desire to jump up and down and shout with triumph.
“He needs it,” cried
Dím. Mizûl stirred at the
sound and somehow Dím managed to pull his voice back to a
quieter level. “He…he saw it…”
“He was one that helped make Thorin’s tomb,” Bilbo prodded.
“And he saw it… he held it.
He could not forget it, ever. Who could?”
Dím held his hands out towards him, as if pleading.
“Indeed, who could?” Bilbo agreed softly. He remembered its
incomparable beauty well himself, even after all these years. He had known its weight within that box.
Already he was wanting to open it
and gaze upon the gem once more himself. If it was thus for a
Hobbit, what must it be like for a Dwarf?
“He needs it,” repeated Dím. “Ever he would speak of it, and
then…when his mind began to fail him he would wake at night crying for
it. You can’t imagine the guilt that haunted him, that he desired
to take it for himself…you understand, surely…?”
“Did he go himself, then, to…” Bilbo hunted around for a word that
would not connote thievery. “…to fetch it?”
Dím gave him an anguished look. “I aided him. Please, do not
think me a thief also! He would not be dissuaded, as his health
failed him so his desire for it grew. He wanted it and nothing else,
night or day. I…I honestly believe he would have died if he had
not been able to hold it again…. You understand…?”
“That’s twice you have asked me if I understand,” said Bilbo. He
grimaced slightly and shut his own eyes against the memory of something
that he had once had, a treasure that had seemed to call out to him if
ever he left it. Something of great beauty and incomparable worth.
“Yes,” he whispered. “I think I do.”
There was another pause. Bilbo straightened his back and took a breath.
“Well. And so he opened the tomb and you put it into a box for him, so
it would not be openly seen. But then the unexpected
happened…others also opened that tomb and found it was missing.”
“Yes,” whispered Dím.
“What were you going to do with it if they hadn’t? Just keep it in that
“No!” exclaimed Dím so vehemently that Bilbo jumped and leaned
back away from him.
Mizûl groaned, but this time his nephew ignored his sounds. “I
was going to put it back, after…” He let the sentence remain
unfinished, hanging in the air. They both knew what he had been about
“Does he have much time left?” Bilbo asked gently.
“No,” whispered the young dwarf. His shoulders slumped. “No, I have
only small healing skills, but even I know what I see. All the
signs are there.”
“He was very active earlier this evening.”
“I am amazed that he had such strength yet in him. He will pay dearly
for it, I fear. Only that box being taken from him could have brought
out such fight.” He turned toward the herbs and medicines that lined
the marble shelf, speaking rapidly.
“I’ve done all I can, without having to pay a healer. Some of it
I mix with sweet oil…. The coltsfoot and comfrey are both for
the swelling; my neighbor told me to try the tea with licorice root but
I haven’t yet. Maybe when summer comes…” he trailed off, looking
troubled and grieved. “But I don’t expect he will be with me when
summer comes.” He leaned on the shelf and looked back at Bilbo.
“What can I do? How can I set this right, when its loss will
surely be the end of my uncle’s life?”
This was an unexpected twist, Bilbo thought. To finally find it, but
have the price of a life hanging on its restoration. Would his
Companions be merciful or understanding? He doubted it. He
remembered Dwalin and Glóin speaking of the crippling of the
hands, the cutting of the tongue… He shivered. No, Dwarven vengeance
was an ugly thing at times. He wanted to believe better of them but
knew that he could not risk it. A woody scent rose from the
lighter fibrous roots that lay ready to be pounded with the small iron
mortar, the bowl waited with a dried red herb, rubbings of sage and a
small mound of fennel. The mixed odors were pungent, sweet,
bitter and green. Dím traced a finger through the fennel
“Can you even open that tomb, yourself? Could you put it back, after…”
“I don’t know,” said Dím without hope. He drew a circle in the
fennel, then mounded it back together. “I haven’t had the courage to
really think through that part of it yet.”
“Does your uncle ever open that box? Does he hold it, the stone,
himself or is he content with it closed?”
Dím looked up at him with surprise. “It is opened now and then,
but he cannot seem to bear looking at it for long. It is more
often left locked. But I see where you are leading. If we were to
let him see it…”
“And then replace it with a stone of the same weight…” nodded the
“…then it could be put back!” finished Dím with new hope
flickering. Then he grimaced. “If I can get the tomb open.”
“If you can find another stone, I can help you open it,” said Bilbo.
“And no one need ever know.”
“You can? What about your Companions?” asked Dím with fear.
“No one,” repeated Bilbo. “Need know.”