Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of J. R. R. Tolkien, nor any of the various dramatic incarnations thereof. No profit is being made from this work.
Greetings! Welcome to this story.
The transformation of the shards of Narsil into the new weapon Andúril is little more than a throwaway scene in The Fellowship Of The Ring. Tolkien mentions that the sword is re-forged by Elvish smiths, and goes on to add a short paragraph of description of the finished weapon. This is understandable; the story is not, after all, about Andúril or the love and labor that went into creating it. But, all the same, it does sell the skill of the smiths short.
Forging a blade is an art. In a month's time, a skilled bladesmith can take a piece of steel and transform it into a weapon at once hard and flexible, soft enough to be sharpened, and yet hard enough to stay sharp during use. It's quite a feat, especially considering how much abuse the final product can take. I have recently been spending some time repairing one of my own weapons, a modern épée. This has given me the opportunity to examine the blade closely, and I am amazed at the skill of the smith who can produce such a beautiful and versatile object. This story is for all the artisans who provide the tools that others use to win glory and renown.
In The Forge
The smith squinted at the glowing blade in the forge. Gently, he turned it this way and that with his tongs so that it would heat evenly. This part of the forging process was tricky, and the timing was crucial. The blade had to be heated to a certain temperature and no hotter, held in the forge for a precise count and no longer, and quenched immediately for another precise count. This precision determined whether or not the blade would be strong and true or whether it would shatter at the first test.
It was important that this particular blade be perfect, Lord Elrond had told him. So the Master Smith of Imladris had allowed none of his assistants to work on this project. He alone had stripped Narsil of its pommel, grip and guard and melted the steel of the broken blade. He alone had separated the iron core from the alloy of the blade, and he had marveled at the composition of the alloy. The break had been clean, which spoke of the care taken in its original forging and the skill of the bladesmith. The Master Smith had paid silent tribute to that long-dead Númenorean, wielder of the ancient secrets of the forge. He wished that the Man were still alive; he longed to know the secret of that alloy which produced blades that broke cleanly, lacking the jagged edge that could cause much unintended mischief. But that secret, along with so many others, lay at the bottom of the sea.
The Master Smith had always had a secret fondness for wrought iron, and he had used that material to make a new core for the blade, replacing the pocked and corroded original core. But he had taken care to reuse every bit of the precious original steel alloy for the edge, folding and beating and folding and beating for days, working in the layers of nickel that would fuse the layers of steel into a single unit. As he heated and cooled the blade, he watched beautiful feathered patterns appear on its surface. They resembled the elegant scrollwork that he had seen scribes use to decorate the manuscripts in the library. It would be a shame to mar such natural elegance, and he had taken the utmost care not to damage the patterns more than necessary when he had inscribed the blade with the runes that would protect the Heir of Elendil in his coming battles.
The Master Smith turned his attention to the blade once more. All the runes in the world would be useless if the blade was not hard enough to hold the edge he had put on it, and the hardening was the most delicate process of all. He could see by the fiery glow of the core that the blade was nearly at its peak, and he looked around to check that his quenching tank full of cool oil stood ready in its accustomed place. Just a few more seconds in the forge. . .
"Ah, the smell of a forge! There is good steel here!"
The Master Smith started at the sudden boom of a voice. At that instant, the Blade That Was Broken seemed to come alive with a fiery glow. In one smooth movement, the Master Smith withdrew the blade from the forge and plunged it into the quenching tank. The oil sputtered and popped at the first intrusion of the hot metal, but calmed to a simmer in three breaths. Only when he was sure that the quenching had begun properly did the Master Smith turn a baleful glare on the white-haired Dwarf who stood in the doorway.
"Do not ever startle a smith who is hardening a blade!" he snapped. "I would think that you, of all creatures, would know that much."
"My apologies," the Dwarf said. "It was not my intent to startle. I was sure you had heard me enter, as I had been told that the hearing of the Elves was the keenest in the world."
"Perhaps," the Master Smith admitted, somewhat mollified. "But even the ears of an Elf may be filled with the roaring of the forge to the exclusion of lesser noises."
"I understand," the Dwarf replied. "Again, my apologies." He bowed so low that his long white beard swept the floor. "Glóin, at your service."
"Mírdan, at yours and you family's" the Master Smith said, sketching his own bow. "I am the Master Smith of this house."
"You are?" Glóin raised a bushy eyebrow. "Then perhaps I am in your debt."
"I passed through this house once before, sixty years ago. While my companions and I rested here, I noticed that the blade of my knife was badly notched, and Lord Elrond took it to be repaired. It was returned to me with an edge keener than it had had when I made it. From what I know of the habits of the Elves, it seems likely now that you were responsible for that."
"I was," the Master Smith said solemnly. "Well do I remember that knife. I had not had the opportunity to examine Dwarf-work before. The craftsmanship was superb, and as I did not wish to mar it in the attempt to repair it, I kept it for several days longer than was strictly necessary for the repair. I thought to make up the delay with a keen edge."
"It was much appreciated," Glóin declared. "I find Elves to be a strange folk, but you seem less strange than most."
"We have something in common. We both appreciate good steel." The blade had begun to sing inaudibly in the quenching tank. The Master Smith motioned for silence, and Glóin was still. The Master Smith closed his eyes and focused his concentration on the cooling metal.
The blade sang of steel hardening and drawing in on itself, the softer elements strengthening and fusing together to a perfect hardness that would hold its edge and not crumble or dull. The notes of the elements slowly came together until the Master Smith could feel the faint, pure vibrations of perfect unison. Swiftly, he removed the blade from the quench tank and wiped it with a soft chamois. Glóin drew in a breath in astonishment.
"That is a noble blade!" he cried. "Never have I seen its like."
"Nor ever will again," the Master Smith said, turning the blade so that the beautiful feathered pattern caught the light. "This is Númenorean steel, and the secret of its making is now lost to Elves and Men. Do you wish to examine it more closely?"
Glóin slipped on a pair of leather gloves and took the proffered blade gently, almost reverently. He carefully brushed the patterns with a stubby finger, sighted along the edge and down the fuller, and flexed the tip gently. With a grunt of approval, he turned the blade over. The runes and devices that the Master Smith had engraved glittered. Glóin examined them closely.
"What do these markings on the blade mean?" he asked.
"They are runes of protection and shielding," the Master Smith explained. "Aragorn son of Arathorn will carry this blade into battle against all the forces of Mordor. The fate of the world may rest upon the edge of its blade, and I would send it forth with the blessings of Elves and Men."
"And what of the Dwarves?" Glóin asked. "The fate of the world rests on this blade, as you said, Master Mírdan, but the fate of Gimli my son rests upon it as well. I would ask a boon of you."
"I would ask to be allowed to place the protection of the Dwarves upon this blade as well," Glóin said. "We appear to be bound together in this conflict, and I would bind my folk to this blade as well."
The Master Smith considered the request. His first instinct was to snap a quick, firm denial and throw Glóin out of his forge. The impertinence of this Dwarf -- this stranger! -- to think that he could dare to work on this blade that even the ordinary smiths of Imladris were not to touch. However, one did not remain Master Smith of the House of Elrond without learning manners, and Glóin was a guest in this House, and he had not been rude. So the Master Smith took a deep breath and did not yell at his guest. Almost immediately, he found himself thinking clearly again.
"May I examine your knife, Master Dwarf?" he asked. The request surprised him, but once made, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to want. Glóin paused for a moment, then shrugged. He unclipped the knife from his belt and handed it, still in its sheath, to the Master Smith. The Master Smith drew the shining blade and tilted it in the light.
Glóin had taken care of it, he noted. The steel was as bright as it had been sixty years ago when he had sent it out of the forge, repaired and honed. The workmanship was indeed every bit as good as he remembered. There was weight and balance to the blade, but there was also some flexibility. The knife would not snap under hard use, nor would it shatter on a sudden strike. The tang was full and solid, and encased in welded brass wrapped with leather. It was an excellent hunting knife, one that the Master Smith himself would be proud to own.
"Did you say that you had made this yourself?" he asked. Glóin nodded.
"I did," he said. "On the day that I learned that Aulë would bless us with a child, I started to forge this knife. It has served me well since then, and it will pass to Gimli upon my death."
"You wish to leave something of yourself behind for him?" the Master Smith asked.
Glóin smiled. "Exactly," he said. "Something of myself for my son."
The Master Smith fell silent once more. He knew that mortals placed great importance on inheritances, and in truth, it seemed to him a natural thing that a father should make such a gift to a son. A treasured blade, wisdom in the ways of the world, a protective blessing -- all these were things a father longed to give from the first instant that he held his son in his arms. They were gifts that Mírdan the Master Smith of Imladris would never give.
The memory of his son was still bright with love and painful with loss. When the High King Gil-Galad had summoned his armies to that dreadful battle on the slopes of Orodruin, Mírdan had reluctantly brought his son along. The boy was not yet old enough to wield a weapon, but Gil-Galad had set him and scores of other lads to work as squires and arrow-runners. Mírdan had trusted his King absolutely, and he had felt confident that the King would order the squires and arrow-runners to safety before the hand combat began. To this day, he felt certain that Gil-Galad would have given the order had Oropher not made his sudden, stupid charge too soon. The battle had caught Gil-Galad's army off guard, and there was no time for Mírdan to see to his son's safety.
Later, during a lull in the fighting, Mírdan had found the boy, a shattered sword in his hand, his body slashed from collarbone to navel, his spirit long since fled to Mandos. There was thick black blood on the shards of the sword, and Mírdan knew that his son had died fighting like a full-fledged soldier. There on the battlefield, Mírdan had resolved that no father should see his son die from wielding an inferior blade. He had learned the art of bladesmithing in the hidden refuge of Imladris, numbing his grief with the pounding of hammers and the roaring of the forge.
It was too late to protect his own son. But he had not forgotten the sick terror of watching a son go into battle. This Dwarf was also a father, he thought, and he wished to make use of his skills to protect his boy. Who was he to refuse that right to any father, even a stranger in his forge? If Glóin had skill to improve this blade, then he should use it for Gimli, and for all the sons of the world.
"If there is aught you can do to strengthen this blade, Master Glóin," the Master Smith said at last, "you may do so. I ask only that I be allowed to watch the proceedings."
Glóin stroked his beard. "It is a fair bargain," he said. "Look now, and you will learn a secret of the Dwarves." He covered himself with a forge apron and examined the blade. "This is excellent steel," he said. "It is harder than any I have yet seen, and you have forged it well to this point. I will temper it after the manner of the Dwarves, so that it will be hard and yet flexible at the same time. The Blade That Was Broken will not break so easily again." So saying, Glóin summoned one of the Master Smith's apprentices to fetch a bucket of clay from the river.
When it arrived, Glóin began to coat the blade with the wet clay, forming thick ridges of clay across the blade at regular intervals. "You will only need to temper the blade once this way," he explained to the Master Smith as if he were instructing an apprentice in the Lonely Mountain. "The clay will retain the heat of the forge for a long while, and the ridges will cool the slowest of all. The sword will be flexible where the ridges were, to help it stay in one piece."
So saying, he carried the blade to the forge and placed it inside, turning it expertly with the tongs to ensure that it heated evenly. The Master Smith watched, puzzled.
"I thought you wished to add your blessing to the blade," he said evenly. "You had asked to be allowed to place the protection of the Dwarves on it."
"Aye," said Glóin. "So I asked, and so I have done. The protection of the Dwarves is in the weapons we make. I am tempering this blade in such a way as to make it stronger. The blessing and the protection flow from the work of my hands. This Númenorean steel is the finest I have yet seen, and it should be worked with the best craftsmanship this varied world can provide to bring out its true strength."
"Then this sword will carry the blessings of all the Free Folk into battle," the Master Smith mused. "Steel of Men, forged by an Elf, and tempered by a Dwarf."
"Let us hope it will be enough to protect the Heir of Isildur in the dark days ahead," Glóin said.
"And the Son of Glóin as well," the Master Smith added with a smile. Elf and Dwarf together turned back to the forge, where the Blade That Was Broken hardened and became strong.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed the story.
I am neither a bladesmith nor a metallurgist. The description of the forging process is fairly accurate, but not definitively so, and I apologize for any minor errors in the text. The method of forging is called pattern welding, and this process was very much in use during the medieval era. Many of the swords in museums were forged this way.
The "Númenorean steel," with its legendary strength and beauty, corresponds in our world to Damascus steel. Damascene blades were famed throughout much of history for hardness and for the feathered patterns on the blades. It was thought that these features were the result of ancient forging techniques lost to history. Recently, however, Damascus steel has been identified as wootz steel. Wootz steel is an alloy with a relatively high carbon content. During the forging, some of the carbon separates and forms the feathered patterns on the blade.
Glóin's tempering process is well known today, and is used all over the world, especially in Japan.
Again, thanks for reading, and I will see you soon.