Stone of Erebor

by Primula

Chapter 7: Forging Ahead

The way to the northernmost forge seemed very long to Bilbo whose slightly shorter legs were aching with keeping up.  Glóin seemed preoccupied, stumping on ahead at the same steady pace, down stairs, down ramps and along level halls, and Bilbo sometimes had to break into a trot to stay abreast of him.  

Occasionally they would pass other dwarves who would pause and stare at him or whisper together and nod.  It was not unexpected;  he was part and parcel of the events that had re-founded this kingdom, and the tales had gotten round in the years.  He wondered what he was like in their tales after so many retellings - surely not the hero in any way.  He knew enough about Dwarves to know they would never cast the heroic part of any tale with someone of another race.

Perhaps I am the scapegoat, he thought, remembering the way Dáin had been quick to assume anything gone missing should be pegged on himself.  After all, a burglar would be the worst nightmare of many a dwarf. Someone who would come in the night to steal away their treasures, the shadow of a gold-seeking dragon in miniature. This mental juxtapositioning of himself with a phantom dragon would have made him chuckle, if he had had the breath for it.

Or the rascal who goes along with the heroes. After all, I'm not sure that I'm completely harmless, he thought. There are the bones of a real dragon in the waters down there because of me...

Glóin slowed down, glancing at his smaller companion. "Forgive me, have I been traveling too fast for you, Bilbo?"

"No, no. Not at all," he lied. "The sooner we get there, the better. Then we can..." he trailed off as he realized there were other dwarves nearby who might overhear. "...see the forge!" he finished. "I've always thought the Dwarves were so very clever with their metalworking. It will be a rare treat to get to watch a few in action, so to speak."

Glóin glanced over at the others, and nodded to show he understood. "Why yes. You shall be most impressed, of that I am certain. This will only be our apprentice class. The masters cannot have a non-dwarven audience, you understand."

"But of course," replied Bilbo as they began moving forward again. "I expected no less. I am sure it will still be far beyond anything my own people can do." 

He had only half-believed this last part, the Shire-pride in him was deeply rooted enough that it was difficult for him to think the Shire's blacksmiths and metalworkers were truly surpassed by mere apprentices.  There were a few very good craftsmen in the Shire...

They passed through a wide doorway with metal-bound doors that lay open to either side and all of his prideful thoughts stopped.

"Here we are," said Glóin. "The Northern Forge."

Passing hesitatingly through the opening, Bilbo followed his friend across the wide, sandy floor. The hall that contained it was overwhelmingly huge, and he found himself craning his head back trying to see the flame-lit ceiling far above. Sand crunched under his feet, scattered across the smooth stone flooring, steam hissed, tools banged and screeched. Waves of heat wafted past along with strangely scented smoke, acrid with metal, coal and other things he didn't recognize that made him want to cough.  

Great blackened oak and iron racks of tools stood at hand: tongs and vices, pliers, files and hammers of every shape, length and size plus many other tools that he didn't even know the names for.  There was a roaring, not only the main forge but some smaller ones as well, bellows pumping, metal clanging and the deep voices of dwarves mixed all throughout. Some of them were singing, but as they seemed to be singing to themselves as they worked rather than together, the effect was a humming of mixed notes that swirled among the smoke and sparks to create an almost magical, dreamlike effect. As if it were not quite real.  The unreality of it seemed very strange, considering how loud it all was.

So the Elves are not the only ones who can weave a spell with their music and sound he thought. I've often thought so. And oh my. What an amazing place...

It was sufficiently amazing he completely forgot about why they had come for a few minutes.  The last time he has seen a Dwarven forge it had also been here at the Mountain. But then it had been silent and dark, strewn with wreckage, something noted only in passing shadow as they sought the upper halls beyond it.  This was a living, breathing forge, and the rhythm and strength of it mesmerized him.

"Perhaps the apprentices really do surpass us..." he whispered to himself.

Glóin was pleased with the effect it had. "Wonderful, isn't it?" he said loudly, having to lean closer to Bilbo to be sure of being heard. "It isn't our largest, but it's nicely proportioned and works beautifully. See the anvils?  We've our best collection of them here, that one over there was made by my great-grandfather. The family mark is still on it.  Smaug had little use for anvils, thankfully. We've a fine mandrel with his mark on it too, nearly as tall as you are.  Here, put this on."

He led Bilbo to a rack standing to one side all hung with leather aprons, odd mitts, visors and strange, slit-eyed masks.  Glóin chose a smallish apron for him and helped him put it on, then chose one for himself.  "Keeps any stray sparks from burning your clothing," he explained. "I don't think we shall need visors.  Just be sure you stay clear of the wheels, where the sparks are."

"I have no intention of going any nearer than I must!" said Bilbo, trying to tighten the waist strings on his and still wondering what a mandrel was. "Though it does look very pretty from a distance. Reminds me of Gandalf's fireworks."

"Gandalf! Ah, now there's someone who understands the beauty of fire, and what it can do. What I wouldn't give to see him be taught a bit of metal-working. Though he'd probably just make some wizardly thing none of us could understand." Glóin laughed. "Or a pipe. Come this way.  Mizûl's class should be over at that forge there, not this big one.  Gimli can't wait to get to use the larger forge, you should hear him.  He'll be passing the test for that one soon enough, if he's practiced."

"Practiced on what?" asked Bilbo as he walked, admiring the way the sparks came up in different colors from different pieces of metal the students were working with. 

"He was forming the common tools, to sell to the Men. Now he's working with axes mostly. He's got to use his own weapon soon, instead of always borrowing mine. There he is."

"Mizûl?" Bilbo asked, craning his neck.

"No, Gimli. Did you meet him this morning?"

"Yes and no. He was asleep."

The young dwarf Glóin was gesturing to looked familiar, though Bilbo noticed he now had his red beard tightly braided and tucked to the sides, to keep it from being singed. It seemed all the students did, now that he looked around.  Very sensible. He glanced down at his own feet and decided the length of the heavy apron he had on should protect his own carefully brushed foothair, or so he hoped. Unlike his head, his feet had not gone grey much at all and he was pleased with how they looked.

As they approached, Gimli set down the file he had been using, brushed the metal shavings from his gloves and came to meet them.

"Gimli!" called Glóin over the noise. "I want you to meet our esteemed guest, Mr. Bilbo Baggins, a former member of my Company lately come to visit from his own lands."

Gimli bowed as best he could in the stiff apron he wore and gave Bilbo something almost like a salute with his gloved hand.  "At your service, Mr. Baggins. I am most honored. Forgive me that I was not able to greet you last night, I had trouble with one of my... Oh, Father! It worked! You must see this, see how the tooling came out now with that new hammer to strike it in. The balance is still a bit off, but I think I can correct it, with a little more filing, the metal has behaved most excellently...."  He gestured to Glóin to follow him back to the workbench.

"Ever has he wanted to show me everything he does, since he was small," smiled Glóin to Bilbo.  "Just a moment!" he added to Gimli. "Where is your instructor?"

"Orin is helping the youth with their hammering, over there." Gimli shouted back, gesturing towards a small cluster of dwarves to one side.

Glóin shook his head as he reached his son's side. "No, not Orin. Mizûl! Where is Mizûl? I would like to speak with him."

"Mizûl?" said Gimli, looking surprised. "He has not been instructing for nigh on two months now. Hadn't you heard? Orin took over for him, seeing as he already carried most of the work as it was.  Orin's been quite strict, but..."

"Where is he then? What occurred?" asked Glóin a bit sharply. "He wasn't injured, was he?"

"No, Father. He wasn't injured, he just... His thoughts have greatly wandered and you know he was often given to forgetting many things, but it grew worse, Father. I am told he was kept on for some time out of respect, and because of his great knowledge of the skills, but it was no longer safe to have him about the tools.  A youth was nearly injured. He no longer seemed to see them, or to remember what he had been doing."

"Mizûl..." breathed Glóin. "Ah, has age taken yet another of us?  What a merciless master time is, Mr. Baggins.... Well, let us see what my son has made and then we shall work our way back to tell the others."

With a gesture to Bilbo, he followed Gimli back to the workbench.  The hobbit padded along after him. The table was heavily made, the once golden oak now blackened and scorched from long living near hot metals, and it was a bit tall.  Bilbo considered the deeply scored surface and gave a slight jump as a large, shining axe-head was lifted up near his face.

"See?" rumbled the younger dwarf, a leather-encased finger tracing along one side of it. "And here?"

"Hrmmm." nodded Glóin.  Bilbo wondered what they were seeing that he was not. The one side looked identical to the other, to him.  He did like the cut-outs in the middle of it though..

"How very clever!" he said, "Having some bits of it taken out like that. Must make it much lighter to carry."

"Eh?" both dwarves said in unison, looking at him with surprise. They looked at one another and smiled, as adults will smile when children are precocious. Bilbo suddenly felt like an idiot.

"Yes," said Glóin, in good humor. "That is one of the reasons we sometimes make them that way.  Fine work, my son. You are nearly ready for your testing-piece, I think. Ask Orin what his thoughts are on that ridge there, though. It could be a hiding a flaw."  He clapped Gimli on the shoulder.  "We will take our leave now, but I shall see you in the evening?"

"Perhaps. I've still much to do. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Baggins, ever at your service, and your family's'."

"Yours also," responded Bilbo with a small bow. "Though I highly doubt any of my family shall ever be underfoot for you, I appreciate the thought."

"Oh, Gimli," said Glóin. "Do you have any idea of where I might find Mizûl? Or who might know of him?"

The dwarf was looking at his axe-head critically. "I am sorry, Father, but I do not know. I only heard of the matter after it was done."

"I see." Glóin nodded, and turned away.  Bilbo followed, with a parting wave to Gimli, though the dwarf didn't seem to see it. They went along the perimeter of the work area to finish the purported 'tour,' and Bilbo once again found himself agog over the array of tools and other odd pieces that surrounded them.  There were tubs of sands in many colors,  tongs of every size, some done up fancifully as wolves with teeth in the jaws. Wheels whirled and sparked, racks of pliers, planes, rasps, vices, chisels, punches and hammers went by.  Every now and then there would be a great hiss and steam would rise up from one of the tubs that held water, ever refreshed by the springs from the River Running.

He passed a strange contraption that baffled him greatly.  It looked rather like a drying rack for pipeweed, if some giant child had come along and wadded it up.  He looked quizzically at Glóin, who smiled.

"It's a treadle hammer," he said. "And a good one too. You push on the treadle, there, to strike a blow. Most excellent when thinning metal into sheets..."

"There's so many things here I don't even know the names of. I must admit, it's a little overwhelming."

"Do you wish to learn more?" Glóin looked at him curiously. "I don't know if it would be permitted, but I'm sure Gimli could teach you a bit..."

"No, no," he laughed, waving his hands in protest. "I admit I'm as curious as I've ever been, and flattered that you should offer, but this is an area I shall happily leave to you Dwarves.  The only iron I am interested in is shaped like a frying pan at the moment. Shouldn't we be heading back soon to tell the others, and for luncheon?"
 
"Luncheon?" said Glóin as he untied his apron and tugged it off. "If I hadn't spent so much time with you before, I would wonder if you weren't still a youth from your appetite."  He reached over to take the apron that Bilbo handed him and hung both of them back on the racks.

"It's been many a year since anyone accused me of being anything like a youth," replied Bilbo. "And if aging means eating less for dwarves, I must say your own supper last night belies the whiteness of your beard."

"A good point. And I'm sure we will find something for you, if only among Bombur's leftovers." They exited the hall, Glóin waving at a couple dwarves as they went.

"He has leftovers?" said Bilbo.

"Another good point," agreed Glóin. He veered off to one side and ducked into an adjoining doorway. "Just a moment," he called back over his shoulder.

Bilbo waited, curious.  There was a sound of rummaging, and Glóin reappeared with a large bun in each hand.  "They keep provisions here, for the youngsters who are working at the forges," he explained. "I hope it isn't too strongly spiced for you."

"Spiced?" said Bilbo, "Doubtful, and even if it is, I am still grateful to have it. My thanks. They won't be upset to find you've taken their lunches?"

"No, no. There's plenty. Here." He handed Bilbo one of the buns, and took a hearty bite from the other as he led the way back.

Bilbo tentatively bit into the heavy, brown bun.  It was flavored with something... onion, he thought. And there was a pungent spiced venison sausage filling inside it, rather a pleasant surprise.  He took another bite and had to quietly blow his breath over his tongue a bit. There was something in the sausage that warmed his throat and the fumes from the spices rose to his eyes, making them water.  He took another bite anyway.

Glóin was already close to finishing his. He glanced down at his companion's countenance and chortled slightly. "Too spicy?"

"No," lied Bilbo. "Not at all. Though it is strong."  He wasn't about to let any Dwarf one-up him when it came to food. If they could eat it, so could he.  Shire pride and all that.

"Strong spices are good," said Glóin. "They let us know we are alive."


-----


Back in the hall they met with Bifur, Bofur and Bombur, who had ordered tea, split-pea soup, more pungent sausages and cardamom loaves to be brought in for them, 'to pass an anxious time more enjoyably.'  Anxious or not, Bombur was soon well into his portion though the others paced more often than they ate. 

It was Nori who returned next. His news of the stonecrafter Linór that was both for good and ill.

"He's gone, " he said. "I inquired of several others before I was able to find out more. His cousin told me that he had left the Mountain some eight years hence, seeking after his brother who was a part of Balin and Ori's company.  He hasn't been heard of since. They presume him lost, I fear."

"Terrible news, that even more have gone off on that fool's journey," said Glóin, "as if we hadn't already lost enough."

"But it was his brother," said Bilbo.

"And Óin is mine,' said Glóin bleakly. "Yet I follow him not. Say no more, Nori. I haven't the heart to hear it."

Nori nodded, and a silence settled on them as they sat watching the fire on the hearth, occupied with their own thoughts.

"Well," said Bilbo, breaking the silence. "There is one good thing that has come of Nori's news.  It means this fellow, Linór, was not the one we are looking for. If he's been gone eight years that's too long a time. The stone was taken much more recently than that."

"True," said Bombur and Bofur at the same time.

"Maybe Dori or Dwalin will have better news for us," said Bifur hopefully.

Dori returned not long after, frustrated and aggravated. The jeweler, Ûrd, had not been inclined to be helpful. He had not only kept Dori from being able to see into his home at all, he had complained vociferously about filing a complaint to force Dori to take up other quarters farther away from him.

"He can't really make you move, can he?" said Bilbo, horrified at the thought of having a neighbor like that.

Dori gave him a half-smile. "No, you needn't fear for me Master Hobbit, I can hold my own. But it does mean I found out nothing to help us in our search. Let us hope Dwalin has found something of use."

By the time Dwalin returned to them the soup and sausages were long gone.  He waved away their offers to order more brought for him.

"Many thanks, but I was given hospitality by Malin. Forgive my delay, it had been much too long since we had seen one another and it pleasured him to speak with me; I left as soon as I reasonably could."

"But of course," said Bilbo, who understood the importance of visiting for a while with relatives and old friends - in the Shire there was little else that superseded it.  "What did you find out?"

"Nothing that would show he is involved in this, nothing at all. He has kept to his own business and when I hinted about the tomb, he showed no interest, no change in voice nor manner. I finally spoke openly about having visited Thorin's resting place and all he thought was that it was an honorable way to show respect.  Nothing more. I knew him more closely when we were younger, and he was always trustworthy, not given to looking beyond his own small horde of coin. I must conclude that he is innocent of this... this treacherous theft that has occurred."

The others related their findings once again now that all were assembled, but their discussion on it was relatively brief.

"We have found three of our four to be innocent," concluded Dwalin. "With Linór no longer present at the Mountain, Malin above suspicion and Mizûl unable to carry out his own duties much less perform a skilled theft, we are left with only one."

"Yes," rumbled Bombur. "This jeweler needs to be looked at again."

" Ûrd is unpleasant, but that doesn't mean he is a thief," said Dori. "Though I do agree we need to see his quarters, or at least his workbench."

"His workbench!" said Bifur with sudden horror. "He wouldn't have...!"

There was a wave of consternation and protest that washed over the group as the unthinkable was voiced. Bilbo more carefully considered it. "It would be a way to hide it, if he were to change it's appearance or size..."

"No!" said Dwalin and thumped the table for emphasis. "No dwarf would ever consider such a thing. The stone is perfection itself, they would not dream of dividing it. They would sooner cut off their own arms than harm the Arkenstone!"

"So you say," said Bilbo. "But it should be considered."

"What would a Hobbit know of such matters?" grumbled Nori. "You cannot understand how... how unspeakable such an action would be..."

"Perhaps not," replied Bilbo. "But it was unspeakable that anyone would rob the resting place of a former King also. And I know changing things can hide them. Whomever took this will need to hide it, because there isn't anything else like it. Now. I have an idea. If this Ûrd will not allow neighbors or visitors to drop in, there may be another way to gain entrance.  Glóin took me along when we went to find Mizûl because it was seen as acceptable that he would be touring a guest.  Would it make sense then for someone to take me to tour the jewel-making room of the Kingdom?  He wouldn't stop an official tour, would he?"

"He might try," said Dori doubtfully, "but it would have a chance."

"There's no way Dáin will allow Bilbo into his jewels," said Bifur. "He all but accused him of being a thief when he arrived and he hadn't even done anything then."

"And what have I done now?" asked Bilbo.

"Well... nothing. But if you start nosing around the jewels he's bound to be nervous," Bifur replied.

"Who said we need to ask him?" said Dwalin suddenly. "By all means, let us tour our hobbit. Ûrd doesn't need to be told if Dáin ordered it or not.  Dori?"

"I don't think I would be the right choice as I was just there today. My returning would seem too unusual."

"I concur," said Nori. "Dori never visits him as it is. Twice in one day..."

"I'll go," volunteered Bifur.

"I also," said Bofur. "We were the ones who presented him to the King yesterday. It would seem right to the King's servants then that we would be escorting him on a tour."

"Well thought out," commended Dwalin. "It's only midday. Let's not waste any time. Mr. Baggins?"

"Just let me finish," said Bilbo, who was tackling a bowl of soup that Bombur had dished out for him. "And we'll be on our way."