The Writing Halls of Erebor were a peculiar construction, because of all the places in the Kingdom under the Mountain, they were the ones that looked the most luminous. Built against the external rock of Erebor, blinding shafts of light came into the parlours from great holes made in the walls directly into the open space outside - or what other peoples of Middle-earth would call ‘windows’. The light of Anor of course shines more brightly than that produced by the biggest forge ever made by the Children of Aulë, and the dwarves gratefully accepted her gift to assist the Scribes of Erebor in their labour of chronicling their life and times, as they sat dutifully to work as close to her as they ever do, for as long as she wishes to illuminate them each day that passes. Great was the care the dwarves put into it, as into any other work of their own hands, and jealously this work of lore was kept and passed on. But most of it was not known by many, and of all of it none was master. This is were Oi had spent most of his time during his apprenticeship, putting in painstakingly neat writing what the Record-takers wrote in hasty scraps of parchment right as events occurred, news came, or councils took decisions. Writing and writing, copying and copying, until his fingers, his eyes and his back ached. All afternoon wishing for the light to finally fail for the day, and then, when evening darkened, one found himself with his nose almost on top of the pen, scraping a few more minutes of light before the work was done. The custom in a rich kingdom like Erebor was that several Scribes hand-wrote the same document. Then the least accomplished copies would be used in everyday consultations or as back-ups, and only one was chosen to be kept as the Master Record, the one that would stay in the Great Hall of Lore, guaranteed to last through the Ages of the Sun, making the name of the copyist part of history, legend and myth along with the tale he told. Long time had Oi had to wait for his first work to be chosen to be in such illustrious company by Dwóin, the Master of Scribes. Of course, Oi remembered very well what it was, and it had been doubly significant, because it was the record of the celebrations of the 200th birthday of Dwóin himself, in the year 3000. What a way to start the millennium that had been! All of this had been brought into Oi’s mind on entering again the Hall by the impact that Dwóin’s book had produced in him. Feeling it with his hand over his pocket, he thought that even if he lived as long as Dúrin himself, he would never be able to make something like that. He looked around, and as at first he didn’t see anyone in the hall, he was tempted to take another peek at it, but in that moment somebody opened the door behind him. It was Fróin.
‘Ah, Oi. That’s a good lad. Nice to see you up and about this early.’ Oi was about to say that for him this was not exactly early, as usually by this time he had already been labouring at his desk by the window for a while –only the exploits of good old Tharkun had kept him today - but he thought that somehow saying such a thing wouldn’t sound very nice. Seeing Fróin brought him back to the task at hand: maybe some time soon he would have to experience first hand the feeling of introducing himself into a lair of orcs, like the hero of the story was doing. Well, yes, what a coincidence, now that he came to think of it. Here they were, looking to start a quest of secrecy and stealth, very probably leading into the heart of the domains of the Evil One, and along had come to him a moment-by-moment account of a similar deed, successfully accomplished. Only, all of them put together wouldn’t reach even the hem of Tharkun’s robes, as far as cunning and imagination went, he thought. Fróin was staring at him now. Of course, Oi hadn’t said what he had first thought to say, but neither had he replaced it with anything else at all. What a discourtesy.
‘Oh, yes, quite early indeed. Good morning, sire.’
Fróin, most probably mistaking Oi’s confusion, still looked at him funny, almost amused.
‘Are you all right, lad?’
‘Aye, sire... As much as one can be in a situation like this, anyway.’
Fróin gave a hearty laugh. He thought his assumption falsely confirmed by these words.
‘Oh, my dear Oi, don’t fret. There is much to do, but we’ll get there. I can promise you that you won’t have any problems to sleep tonight, though. Any useful news?’
Again a quick, and dutiful, first thought came into his mind, one that said: ‘funny you should ask that, sire, because I have come across this remarkable story that might come handy...’ but instead, as soon as he put his hand to his pocket to feel the bulk of the book, he felt a sudden loathing to reveal anything to do with it. Maybe later, when he had finished reading the story, he would say something. Yes, that was right. And a good idea too. Maybe the rest of it was just a useless bore, and master Fróin shouldn’t waste his time like that. Yes, he’d read it first. Maybe later he’d talk. Later.
‘Erm, no, sire, nothing at all. And yourself?’
He felt much more assured now. For some reason, he felt he had done a hugely appropriate thing, one that settled his mind with the safety of the duty fulfilled.
‘Not much, no. As soon as master Himli and master Gimfur are here we’ll get going.’
Oi knitted his brow.
Fróin looked at him strangely again.
‘Going, yes. On the quest, remember? What’s wrong with you today?’
Oi’s eyes opened as wide as they could, but that was only half of what his mouth opened.
‘You mean going, going? Today? Already?’
‘Of course! You thought we’d be hanging about idly after we got our mission from lord Dáin?’ ‘But... but I thought we’d take weeks...’ Fróin stared at him wildly. ‘...or at least a few days to prepare.’
‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous, lad. A whole army would scarcely take that long, and there’s only four of us. For such a number, what can you prepare in a week that you can’t in a few hours?’
Oi lifted an eyebrow in realisation.
‘Well, yes, that’s right. But... I didn’t know... I haven’t got anything ready for myself.’
‘Oh, me neither. Gimfur has taken care of that. He was due to return home shortly anyway before the passes are closed by the snow. He has left it late already as it is. He has all our gear ready.’ Oi made such a face of desperation, dread and surprise that Fróin couldn’t help but laugh again. ‘Oh, yes, my lad. If you think these stone halls are cold in winter, wait until we reach the passes through the Misty Mountains, haha.’ He caught Oi by the shoulders and pressed him against his own side. ‘But we’ll be there to keep you warm, don’t be afraid.’
Oi’s breathing had become quite laboured, and Fróin stopped laughing and helped him to a seat. Oi looked around at the hall. Suddenly he thought that cramped fingers, a shortened eyesight and some pain in the back was worlds better than taking a single step outside of the Mountain.
‘But... all this... this is where I belong... I’m not ready, sire.’
Fróin sat by him with a concerned and understanding, but also firm expression.
‘Now, listen here, boy. It’s true that you have been thrown in at the deep end, but you have to pull yourself together. We have to leave as soon as possible for several reasons. The king has given us a year, and it will take a good part of it just to find the halfling, so there is no time to waste. A second reason is that the black rider will be coming back for an answers soon and lord Dáin can only stall him so long. Yet another reason is that now that the company has been decided, we can’t wait around until Thorin, the king’s son, hears of this. I wouldn’t want to be around when he returns and finds that we have been sent to the Shire without him. He took great pains just to be at one of Bilbo’s birthdays, and I think he would gladly give his ring-finger to go back again. And a final reason is that we’re not going to a war, Oi, we just need to grab our packs and go. We have all we need. Master Gimfur will be with us, and he is a formidable walker. This spring he made it here with his company in record time, all the way from the Blue Mountains, farther than we’re going. With him we don’t need maps. He knows his way blinfolded. Then, master Himli, as you know, is an expert warrior with a mean ax-strike. And I myself, well, a bit of both: 'I have walked the walk and hunted the orc', as they say. You are in good company.’
‘But the perils of this quest... surely we will end up facing the worst that the Enemy has to offer. On our own.’
‘About that, who knows now. As much as my heart yearns to recover those precious rings, ‘to done from said there’s a long trek’, as they also say. We don’t have the slightest guarantee that we will find even a clue worth following. That rider might even be lying when he says his master has the rings back. We’ll do what we can on our own and if we return with empty hands, next autumn the lord Elrond might agree to help us.’ Fróin raised a finger. ‘Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to concede defeat from the beginning and just go for a pleasant ramble, is that clear? We’ll leave no stone unturned.’ He put a hand on Oi’s shoulder. ‘But for the moment, my dear Oi, you can make up your mind that all we have to do is go for a quite long walk, that’s all. You’ll have time to harden your legs and your resolve on the way.’
The door to the hall opened again. It was Gimfur, stick in his hand and pack on his back.
‘Himli’s waiting at the gate. Time to go.’
Fróin looked into Oi’s eyes. Oi breathed deeply in, then out, and stood up.
‘Well, then. What are we waiting for?’
‘Hah. Glóin’s son’s favourite sentence. Attaboy. We’ll make a dwarf out of you yet.’