viernes, 28 de diciembre de 2007

The Hope of the North: Dwarves 7

(Para leer capítulos anteriores, pulsa en 'The Hope of the North' a la derecha de la página)

In another moment, it all might have ended in laughter, and Himli would have been the first to move the others to merriment with a joke about the ridiculous situation he had just landed himself in. But now everyone was growing tense about this whole matter, and after all his pondering, Dáin was now impatient in addition to tense.
‘Be it as it may, master Himli, I think we’d better proceed. Stand then, if that’s all you can do now.’ Dáin closed his eyes for the briefest moment and breathed deeply. ‘I have reached a decision now. And it is absolutely final. This is my counsel now, be it right or wrong.’ Fróin interlaced his fingers and put his elbows onto the table. There it was, the long-winded speech again. Patience. ‘We are agreed that a force of war can’t be risked at this stage to leave Erebor, aren’t we?’ Everyone nodded agreement. ‘In particular for so small a thing.’ Gimfur knitted his brow, Himli took a step forward, and Dwalin began to raise a finger, but Dáin, with a single look, challenged all three to say what they were thinking: ‘what do you mean so small’? No-one did.
Glóin cut short the moment. ‘We agree, sire. That is perfectly obvious.’
‘Thank you, master Glóin. I have as big a desire to recover these prized heirlooms of our people as any of you, nay, bigger. But what do we really know after today? Nothing! That rider has come all the way from Mordor sent by the Ringmaker himself to sunder us. ‘Rings we have, bend your stiff necks and you’ll have them’, he as good as said. Well, I say the Rings are ours, and we don’t have to earn them again!’ A chorus of affirmative noises followed. ‘And we’ll get them back!’ The noises went up. Now Dáin lowered his voice, and all the others leaned onto the table as if to partake of a secret. ‘But we won’t be sending a headless troop of dwarves north, south, east and west to look for tiny bands of gold buried somewhere, no. That’s what they expect to see, our kingdom in disarray for a few haughty words and empty promises. We’ll show that rider and his master that we are not to be outsmarted by anyone. We will go out and take what they won’t give. And all will be so smooth that they won’t know how we did it.’ Dáin had everyone entranced now, although Fróin was tugging at his beard nervously for some reason. ‘We’ll use the hobbit again.’

There was a big silence as all sorts of thoughts raced through everyone’s minds. Fróin, the only one who had guessed this much so far, thought he’d better not be the one who voiced any disagreement, as he was sure someone else would do such a dangerous thing in his place. Dáin’s word was commited when he said his decision was final. The only thing that would change in case of a confrontation would be the status of whoever opposed the king. He looked around. Who would speak? Glóin didn’t have anything at stake there, and he was quite fond of Bilbo. Himli seemed to be still considering how bad a move his armour show had been. Gimfur hadn’t opened his mouth so far, and the folk from the Blue Mountains had a reputation for being the quintessential inscrutable dwarves. It had to be Dwalin, as he had raised his tone only recently, and his mood seemed to continue like that.
And so it happened. ‘Sire.’ Everyone seemed relieved that he spoke. Or rather, that anyone spoke. ‘Was this why you called us here? To make us decide whether to use Bilbo or not?’
Fróin was expecting an outburst of righteous indignation now, but what followed was unexpected, and in a way, worse: Dwalin just sank back in his chair and seemed to grow old and weary before their very eyes. Then he spoke with a just a thread of voice. ‘I don’t think it will work, sire. I beg you to reconsider.’
Fróin couldn’t have heard right. Beg? Where was Dwalin’s thunder gone? On his part, Dáin was as amazed as he was intrigued. ‘Why do you say that, master Dwalin?’
‘Nothing. I just thought I’d live the rest of my days happily ever after. After the demise of Smaug, we thought no-one could stop us. There wasn’t enough time to do, build, forge, mine and craft. Remember that? And now what? Are we going to risk everything for a rumour? We have lived well and prospered, sire. We don’t live a diminished life in this magnificent kingdom. We don’t need anything else.’
‘I don’t quite understand you. It was Thorin’s undertaking, in which you yourself took part, that brought us to this place. Before that, your people had nothing, and mine were hiding in fear and vigilance in the Iron Hills. If anyone can understand what can be achieved by going out and claiming your right place in the world, I would have said that someone is you. What has come over you?’
‘Thorin’s undertaking almost didn’t work, my lord. I have told the tale often, and I can’t count the times when all could have been lost.’
‘That’s why it was wise of Thorin to look for outside help to bear his burden. If I remember correctly, all the free peoples had a hand in helping us: men, elves, hobbits... even Tharkun the Wizard and that bear-man from the Carrock. What we can’t get for ourselves we barter for. That has always been our way, and I intend to make this a matter in which our daring, our word and our honour will make us the pride of Middle-earth. Right now it’s only a hobbit we need, but I’m also quite decided to speak to the elves about this if needed.’
‘The elves too? Sire, have you been listening to me? Have you learnt anything from the past, and about all the near-misses? And not the least of those came right at the end of our quest, with the hard part over and the dragon dead. You saw with your own eyes how close the free peoples came to destroying each other, dwarves, men and elves, for a moment of hard-headedness.’
‘Nonsense. This time it won’t be like that. It’s not the hoard of a dragon we’re talking about, in which men and elves might want a part as reward. None of our allies, if we need any indeed, will turn against us. These rings belong to us, undisputed. And anyway, it’s not Thranduil I’m talking about as an ally. He has been honourable since Erebor was restored, but in this matter we need someone connected to the Craft-masters of Eregion, where the rings were forged. It’s a Noldo loremaster that I’m looking for. Elrond of Rivendell is the appropriate person to talk to. He will help us and won’t hinder us, as he cares mostly only about his own refuge in the Last Homely House. Besides, what would be the problem with getting the hobbits to help again? They were never a risk anyway. Bilbo even graciously stood out of everyone’s way during the battle. Good for him. If he wasn’t going to be of any use to us, better not make himself a nuisance either, eh?’ Dáin looked towards Glóin hoping to find a knowing chuckle to his in-joke, but he didn’t find one. Glóin had also a sad look in his eyes, and seemed to be more and more convinced by Dwalin’s disheartened talk. That would not do. Dáin steeled his resolve and tone. ‘Anyway, only one hobbit was needed by Thorin, and only one we need now. It’s quite feasible. I don’t see the problem.’
‘Please don’t involve them again, my lord. Thorin would have killed Bilbo if given a chance at one point, when the Arkenstone went missing. There’s no telling what any of us would do if we ever get close to those rings. The halflings don’t deserve to be involved in dark tales and dangerous deeds again, in particular when there’s nothing to be gained for them as a people.’
‘Master Dwalin, I’m beginning to lose my patience! We don’t need feeble excuses here. We need ambition and a spirit of enterprise.’
Dwalin looked at Dáin icily. ‘Ambition like for example that of Balin?’
Dáin returned a burning glance in response. ‘What do you mean by that?’
‘It’s me now who doesn’t understand you, sire. You were unwilling to let Balin go to Khazad-dum, but now you are eager to embark in this strange quest. And then first you speak of the rings as ‘such little things’ and right after as heirlooms worth risking our people's future for. Which one is it, sire? Which one is it you?
Dáin hardened his expression even more. ‘Those rings are sorely needed now. You don’t ignore that, Mordor rider or not, danger around us increases day after day. Their power will allow us to crush our enemies. They are our birthright.’
‘I hope they don’t become our bane, sire. In my heart I fear never to see Balin again, but I fear our self-destruction even more.’ Dwalin now stood up. ‘I guess that what I’m saying, my lord, is that we shouldn’t be discussing why and how to go and find the rings: I'm saying we should just forget about them. This kingdom has grown strong without them, and other Ringowners have lost their lives and hoards because of them. Leave them alone. They belong in the past. Don’t go after them, my king.’
‘Enough! I’ll have those rings back or I’ll be sure that no-one does! Mahal smite my bones and throw them into His forge if this doesn’t come to pass! I have spoken!’

All the others gasped at this and stood up if they weren’t already. The name of the Maker of the Dwarves is not mentioned idly by his creatures. Dwarves are always bound by their word, but breaking an oath taken under Aulë’s name -whom the Dwarves call Mahal- means, under their beliefs, to end one’s line forever, hence the smiting and burning of the bones mentioned in the oath. No-one else would ever be born in Dáin’s likeness to receive his name after him if he failed to be true to his word.
After the shock, Himli’s booming voice made everyone start. ‘Lord, I’m yours to command! Himli son of Balin will do whatever his king orders.’ Then he turned towards Dwalin. ‘Shame! I can’t allow talk like yours, not even from an elder of my own house!’
Dwalin made to start against Himli, but Glóin stopped him. ‘Dwalin, my friend, leave him. Our lord has spoken. Now we must work together! Stand down.’ Dwalin moved away, but kept staring at Himli. Then Glóin turned on Himli and stood face to face with him. ‘The shame is on you, Himli, brother-son of Dwalin. I hope Mahal gives you wisdom to match the powers of your Ring if you ever find it. Nothing less will suffice after what I have seen from you today.’ Next he addressed Dáin. ‘So the course of action is decided, my lord. How is this to be achieved then?’
Dáin approached the fire, seemingly in a casual way, and whispered: ‘Oi, come here.’ Then he continued aloud. ‘Master Gimfur, what do you say?’
The others turned towards Gimfur. He was calmly sitting at his chair again. ‘It could work. And the Shire is on my way back home, so it suits me.’
Dáin turned towards Fróin now. ‘I think I know what your counsel is, don’t I, Fróin?’
Fróin was at a loss what Dáin meant. ‘Well, my lord...’
‘No, Fróin. I wasn’t asking. I know what your counsel is.’
Fróin stood as if turned into a statue. No, he didn’t have his uncle that well figured out.
Then there was a soft, even polite, knock at the door. A servant’s knock. Dáin went to open personally. It was Oi.
‘Come in, Oi. Let’s close this matter once and for all. Oi, find a seat and write this down.’ Oi obeyed, trying not to look at anyone in his nervousness. ‘Masters Dwalin and Glóin: you have offered me valuable information and wise counsel. Your names are among the most revered ever in this kingdom and they will remain so for as long as these halls stand. You have done enough for its greatness. You will remain in Erebor, ready to assist me in any matter I deem necessary, in particular as messengers to other peoples. You will.’ Dwalin and Glóin put a hand to their chest and bowed, acknowledging obedience. ‘Master Himli: as heir to the Ringowner of your house in Khazad-dum, it will fall to you to travel to the Shire, find Bilbo the halfling and together with him recover the surviving Three Rings from the grasp of whichever minion of Sauron has them in his possession. You will.’ Now Himli put his hand to his chest, but Gimfur, as he was not one of Dáin’s subjects, didn’t. ‘Master Gimfur, do you agree to my command and therefore to fall under our laws and protection in this matter?’
Gimfur now put his hand to his chest and answered: ‘I do, until your command is fulfilled.’
Dáin now turned to Fróin. ‘Master Fróin: you are not a Ringowner on an heir to one, but you will take Erebor’s place in this quest.’ Fróin was astonished at this. ‘My wish should be enough reason for you, but I will offer you other motives for my choice: even if my own days were less in number than they are, my place is here with my people in this difficult time. Besides, I deem that my son, Thorin, will be needed by my side. His lot of substituting for you and Himli will not be an easy one. This is a great honour being bestowed on you. You will be equal to Himli and Gimfur in this quest and will share the same goals. You will.’ Fróin put his hand to his chest, a bit too quick, and the thump resonated in the room. Not in his own ears, though, as his blood was doing that already. ‘And now, Oi, stand up.’ Everyone stared curiously at the scribe as he stood fearfully. ‘Oi, you are kin of Ori, one of the Quest of Erebor, now with our beloved Balin in Khazad-dum as Chief Scribe and Keeper of Mazarbul. Your family has served in this priceless job for years now. You will accompany the Three Ringseekers in the same record-keeping capacity now.’ Oi had to put a hand to the table to avoid falling from the surprise. Dáin now looked at the Ringseekers as he continued. ‘You, Oi, won’t be burdened with any responsibility about the rings, save to bear any of them if any original member of the quest can’t do so. You will show the appropriate deference to the Ringseekers as your elders, but other than this, they won’t have any privileges over you during this quest, or won’t expect you to share an unequal part of their travails. You ALL will.’ Fróin, Himli and Gimfur again put their hand to their chest. Oi, head still swimming, also did so, although in his case it seemed that he was doing it to stop his heart from popping out of his chest. ‘Finally, Masters Dwalin and Glóin, one year from today, one of you will be sent to Elrond of Rivendell with whatever news we have. Rings or no rings, we need to keep close counsel with the rest of the free peoples, and help each other in these dark times. This is what Dáin II, King Under The Mountain wills today. Forth the Quest of the Rings.’

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