(Para leer capítulos anteriores, pulsa en 'The Hope of the North' en la columna de la derecha)
3017 October 27
Outside dawn had broken an hour ago, but inside Oi’s room everything was dark, except for a single candle burning on top of his desk. King Dáin had told the party of Ringseekers to return to their chambers to rest for a few hours and start their preparatives to leave in the morning, but Oi just hadn’t been able to. Several hours after the fateful council, he was still struggling to get his head around what everything meant. Due to his job, he was more knowledgeable than most about the lore of Erebor, but even so, he found that the more he thought, the more questions came into his mind, so that eventually it seemed to him that he knew now even less than right after the council was over. Where would they start finding the rings? What powers did they have? Who kept them, and under what perils? How far was the Shire and what exactly were 'hobbits'? In the end he found that he wasn’t even able to finish his own questions before another one assaulted him: Who...? Where...? When...? How long...? Too much to answer for!
Someone knocked on his door now. He started for a second. He didn’t think he had forgotten to do anything or had to be somewhere else. He opened the door. It was Dwalin’s son, Dwóin, the Master of Scribes. ‘Master Dwóin. Do you need me? I will be just a moment.’ ‘No, Oi, on the contrary. I would like to come in, if I may.’ This was surprising, an important lord visiting him in his own quarters. Oi always kept his room quite tidy (through lack of use mainly, as he was always very busy somewhere else), but he had a quick look around just in case. ‘Of course, master. Come in.’ Dwóin went in and closed the door carefully. In the room there was only one chair, so there was one awkward moment as Oi didn’t know exactly how to go about protocol in these unusual surroundings. ‘It’s all right, Oi. You take the chair.’ ‘No, master, please, you do. I will stand.’ ‘All right, I’ll use the chair, but you sit too, on the bed.’ They both sat, and Dwoin’s eyes wandered over to the only other item of furniture in Oi’s room: a bookcase four shelves high, too small for the amount of books and parchment on it. The original items seemed to be in good order, but then the additional ones seemed to have had to find spaces on top of each other. ‘I see you work hard, Oi. Nice collection. How many of these are you going to take with you?’ Oi started. Take books? Of course, he thought. They would need research, maps, information. And obviously, that would be his particular province, the others would expect that of him! Among all the questions he had been asking himself he hadn't thought of that, and now it seemed urgent. For a long moment his mind went from this volume here to that map in another room to a treaty that someone else had borrowed, and his disquiet began to grow manifestly. ‘Erm... sire... I don’t... erm...’ ‘Oi, Oi, easy, relax. I don’t mean to burden you with more troubles. It was just a question you haven’t yet given thought to, I guess. I think I can help you with it.’ ‘Can you, sire? Oh, thank you so much, I...’ Dwóin raised a hand asking for silence. His face grew stern now. ‘However, Oi, I need to ask you first: how do you think I know about your new task?’ Oi was surprised again, and again did not know what to answer. ‘Yes, Oi, King Dáin asked you for secrecy, didn’t he?’ Oi tried to think back, but wasn’t sure of that. ‘You’re not supposed to talk to anyone about this, and now here I come discussing the matter openly and you’re not able to disguise the fact that you are up to something. That will not do, my dear Oi. I have to know that I can trust you.’ ‘Oh, yes, I understand, sire. It will not happen again. But... you do already know, my lord.’ ‘I do, Oi. But what I mean is that you have to be careful what you say. And what you hear. See, hear, comprehend. Do you understand?’ ‘Yes, sire.’ ‘All right then.’ Dwóin now produced a small object from his cloak. ‘I have been keeping an eye on you for a long while. I think that your work has been excellent so far. It was always difficult to replace Ori, and for a while no-one really filled his boots, but you have done very well in a short time. You are worthy of the trust our king has in you.’ ‘Thank you, sire.’ ‘However, Oi, I think he is wrong to send you to this mission. I don’t think you are prepared.’ ‘Oh... You... don’t, sire?’ Oi didn’t know whether to feel disappointed or gladly hopeful that maybe he could be discharged of his daunting task. ‘In fact I don’t. And I have told Dáin so.’ ‘Oh. Have you?’ Oi shook his head. ‘When?’ Dwóin sat back in the chair. ‘Last night after your conference, my father and my cousin Himli came into our chambers, in a very peculiar way. Both of them were wearing the kind of clothes you only put on for important events. Like an audience with the king, for example. What’s more, Himli was wearing Balin’s House Armour, as you may remember. None of them seemed very cheerful. I was already eager to talk to them about those news that had spread like wild fire earlier in the day: that visit from a black rider from the south. And sure enough, they told me about it, but it was all old helmet, just what I already knew from another source. I felt there was something else, and eventually, as is my trade, I was able to convince them to talk to me, and they told me all that had happened. They would have had to anyway soon, if Himli has to leave for a long while, as I will have to fulfill some of his duties.’ Dwóin kept toying with the small object in his hands. Oi could not see it clearly. It seemed like some kind of rectangular box, but he wasn’t sure. ‘Now, I have to say that the very last bit of information that they revealed to me was that you had been told to go with them. They thought I might not like that, and they were right.’ He looked straight into Oi’s eyes now. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, sire, it was not my idea. I would have...’ Oi stopped. ‘You would have what, Oi? You would have ‘refused if you could’? That’s not for you to decide, my friend. And it’s not in your quality to chicken out, even if you have become something of a bookworm. I think you can trust the lord Dáin as a judge of character.’ Dwóin smiled now. ‘I also think I’m being unfair keeping you on tenterhooks like this. Relax, I can assure you that you will be glad you saw me today. Let me finish and you will know all you need. No, I did not like that Dáin chose you. I believe it was a spur-of-the-moment idea, one that has much to recommend it, but we are talking about a task that if bestowed on the wrong person could do much damage. I do not know if I am the right person myself either, but as soon as I learned all the details, I offered myself to go in your place. I am older, trained in battle and in lore, have seen more of the world, and even have a claim to Balin’s ring, whatever Dáin says. In short, there is not a single reason why you would have been chosen ahead of me if Dáin had had his idea this morning instead of last night. My father acknowledged all this, but still would not bow to the notion, and I kept pestering him for a while, until he just screamed: ‘Enough! Must I lose everyone I love in quests abroad, doomed to ignore even their fates away from home, wondering whether they live or die each day of my life?’ Now, I must admit he has a strong point there. With his brother away in Khazad-dum and his nephew now leaving on a very dangerous undertaking, it’s too much to ask that he lets his own son leave too. What if something happens to both of us? And I do acknowledge that we must present a united front. Not that there will be a shortage of tasks to accomplish here in Erebor too! That is why I have now withdrawn my wishes to go and will be backing you before king Dáin.’ Again there were mixed feelings in Oi. Pride at the recognition, and renewed (and enhanced) fears about the perils ahead. ‘Thank you, sire, I feel honoured by your trust.’ ‘And I feel grateful that you accepted, Oi. You know something?’ Dwóin smiled again. ‘You might not be used to disagreeing with a king, but you can refuse when a king asks whether ‘you will’. That’s why the asking is so formal. It is almost an oath if you accept, but you can reject it.’ ‘Really? I did not think he was asking. He affirmed ‘you will’, and everyone obeyed.’ ‘Ha ha ha. The old trick. Yes, it would be like our beloved king to do that. It is a question, not an order, and you would have known had you been present in a Ceremony of Commanding before, even as a scribe. That might be why he left you for the end, so that you were too scared to think. His sudden ideas have worked before, so this one might too. I’m sure you’ll do at least as well as the others.’ Oi didn’t know if this was very encouraging. ‘Anyway, this is why I am here now. I want you to use this. Here, open it.’ He gave Oi the small object, which turned out to be, to Oi’s surprise... a book. The smallest he had ever seen, the size of a hand, with hard covers in dark blue, but very light. When he opened it, his amazement grew. The pages were incredibly thin, as if they were made of silk, but... not really. Of course they would tear if you wanted to, but they seemed to be remarkably resistant and light. The writing in it was splendid, beautiful, in very small letters but legible even at arm’s length, with no mistakes at all, and each character was perfectly done even at such minuscule size, and very regular. It was difficult to count how many pages it might have, but they couldn’t be less than two thousand. Oi, an expert scribe and, as Dwóin had said, bookworm, was absolutely astounded at it. ‘What is it, sire. Is it from the elves?’ Dwóin looked at him carefully now. ‘This is a precious item, Oi. It is not exactly mine, and because of that I am not at liberty to tell you much about it, but I can let someone else use it if in need. I cannot guarantee that you will find in it all you need to know for this trip, but I can assure you that it will be of use. However, the most important thing is: don’t let the others see it. Do you understand this?’ ‘Erm... yes, sire, but why?’ ‘The reason why is part of what I cannot tell you. I know there is much to read here, and that if you have to do it unseen from the others it will take you even longer, but it is imperative that you keep it hidden, not only from your companions, but even more from any strangers you meet.’ ‘I will. But... what will happen if someone sees it?’ ‘Nothing, you fool! Do not fret, it won’t burst into flames and consume you with it! All that could happen is that the others covet it and want it for themselves to read and keep its contents from you. I am serious, I have seen it occurring. Not all treasures are made of gold and precious stones. You are used to being around secrets and keeping them (other than your slip today), but you will see that some of the things this book contains are not for everyone to know, so don’t let them. And you, be careful in using it. The hours fly like seconds when you are engrossed in it, and you may find yourself neglecting other tasks to read more, or hurrying about them to have more time for it, or worse, longing for it instead of resting, or reading it in inappropriate situations, when others might see you. Use your training and good judgement here.’ He stood up, and Oi after him. ‘I have been trying to put myself in the frame of mind of King Dáin to see how he came to see you as part of the solution to his problems, and if there is one thing that has brought me around to accepting the idea of your going is that this party is going to need a cool head more than once. You have a natural inclination for it, but you will need support, and this book will help you be that cool head. You will be that. You will?’ Oi smiled, and put his hand, book and all, to his chest. ‘I will, my lord.’ Dwóin put a hand to his shoulders. ‘Good lad. Now, hasten to your tasks. Get together with the others.’ Dwóin left and Oi sat down on the bed again, with the precious book in his hand. He opened it, and just enjoyed going from one page to another, without actually reading anything, feeling the marvel of the extremely thin pages in his fingers. He hated knowing bits and pieces of stories and legends from scattered parchments and books, and always wanted to start from the beginning. He turned to the first page and found a big runic ‘N’, under which were the words: ‘see, hear, comprehend.’ Oi raised his eyebrows. That sounded familiar. Dwóin had just used those words in their conversation. He turned to the next page and read: ‘Tharkun's tales’.