A DWARVEN YULETIDE
Disclaimer: The main characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I'm only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun. Only the unknown characters belong to me.
Series: The Mazarbul Chronicles – a series of independent stories, featuring various Dwarves.
Archiving: Edhellond, Gildor's Library, Axe & Bow and my own website. Everyone else: please, ask first.
Summary: After the Ring War, Legolas receives an unexpected invitation – and learns surprising things about Dwarves in general and his friend, Gimli, in particular.
This post-RotK story has been written to the Edhellond group's Christmas challenge for the year 2004. It has been inspired by a discussion on the Axe & Bow list, concerning the possible existence of drama and theatre in Middle-earth.
Contrary to first impressions, it's not an AU but a gap-filler.
Most of the Dwarven names come from "HoME 6: The Return of the Shadow" or from the Eddas.
Dedication: to Ro, my fellow Dwarf-friend.
Many heartfelt thanks go to the Wild Iris for beta-reading.
Legolas loved Dale. He always had. Like most of the Wood-Elves who had had frequent dealings with that lovely town, he had grieved deeply remembering its first ruin, when its merry bells were broken and the banks of the bright River Running – Celduin, as the Elves called it – burned. He had known that town long before the coming of the dragon – back when it had been merry and prosperous, buzzing with activity, trading with the Elves of the Greenwood as well as with the Dwarves of Erebor and the Men of Laketown.
As fate would want, he happened to be in Dale when the dragon came, witnessing its fiery death with helpless fury. It had been a sight he would never forget. It gave him a vague idea of what Kortirion, the First City of the Elves – and that of Elmö, his great-grandfather – must have suffered during the attack of the Valarauki. He felt a strange kinship with the survivors, who had fled to Laketown just to lose that town to the dragon, too.
After the unexpected perishing of the dragon, it was his memories – and those of his Elven brethren – that had helped to rebuild Dale to its former glory. Or, to be honest, even beyond that. The Dwarves of Erebor, who shouldered the bulk of rebuilding, had done a marvellous work indeed. The waterways of the town, the glittering pools, the stone-paved roads of many colours were a wonder to behold, there in the far and rustic North. As if some echo of the beauty of the elder days had returned to these long-abandoned lands.
From fear of another attack by some powerful and merciless enemy, the Men of Dale had chosen to build most of their halls and streets under the earth. Cavernous these were, with arches carved like trees by skilled Dwarven hands, as if they belonged to some great Dwarf city. And the terraces and towers climbing up the southern slopes of the Lonely Mountain pleased even the Elven eye. Thranduil's own caves were of similar design.
Of course, much of this beauty had become scarred during the recent battles, but the Dwarves and Men had not been idle while Legolas was tarrying in the South. Most of the damage had been repaired already, and it was quite obvious that the town would soon shine in its old beauty, even though the mourning for the fallen would go on for a long time yet.
The clear ringing of the many bells of various sizes, hung in several rows on the high belfry in the middle of the great market-place, began to chime a merry melody, signalling mid-day. Legolas, who had been walking the roads of the town since sunrise, lengthened his stride, leading Arod, his faithful Rohirric horse, on the bridle. He was supposed to meet Gimli at the northern gate of Dale, about… well, about now.
Fortunately, he was close already, though ploughing his way through the pre-Yule crowd was not an easy task. The town was busy as a beehive, and many of the people recognized him and stopped to greet him. Wood-Elves were well liked in Dale, due to Thranduil's generous help in the rebuilding of the town, and Legolas had been there too often to go unnoticed, even if he were wearing his simple archer's garb.
Which he was not, right now. He was dressed according to his rank as the Crown Prince of Eryn Lasgalen, in deep green velvet and silvery grey silk, wearing even the obligatory mithril circlet upon his artfully braided hair that had turned dark brown, almost black, in the winter season, like the frozen soil itself.
It was an outfit that he disliked very much, as it was confining, unpractical… and caught attention. But there were times when he could not avoid formal clothing. Still, the looks of naked admiration upon the faces turnings toward him as instinctively as flowers turned to Anor's radiance made him even more uncomfortable.
"Can you tell me why should I ride to Erebor, dressed up like one of Aragorn's courtiers, just to spend Yule under the earth with a bunch of Dwarves, when I could be dancing with my own kind under the stars?" he asked Gimli morosely.
The Dwarf, waiting for him at the gate, was dressed every bit as richly as he was, in white and gold, over which that well groomed and plaited beard seemed to glow like fire. Gimli's deep, coal-black eyes were twinkling with good humour, and he seemed positively excited – something Legolas had only seen in battle before.
"Perhaps because King Thorin honoured you with an invitation?" replied the Dwarf with a good-natured grumble. "Think not of this as something spoken lightly, Legolas. Even though you are one of the very few Elves ever called Dwarf-friends, none of them has ever seen what you are about to see tonight. Well, none except Celebrimbor – " he pronounced the name of the great Noldorin smith as Khelebrimbur, as Dwarves usually did – "but that is different."
"Different in which way?" inquired Legolas, mounting Arod carefully; it would do no good to ruin his formal clothing, no matter how much he hated it. Gimli followed his lead, climbing into the saddle of a strong hill pony.
"Khelebrimbur and Narvi had a unique bond," the Dwarf explained. "A specific oath, sworn by artisans only. That Elf was considered Narvi's brother, by all but blood."
"I see." Legolas thought about this while they slowly trotted along the road that led from the northern gate of Dale directly to the Front Gate of Erebor. "What gives me the honour, then?"
"You are my shield-brother," said Gimli simply, "which is the same thing for warriors. It gives you the right to attend ceremonies we would never allow outsiders to witness. Besides," he added with a grin, "my mother wants to meet you. And you know that Dwarf women rarely leave their homes."
Legolas shot him a surprised glance. "I never knew your mother was still alive!"
"There are many things you do not know about me," countered Gimli. "Tonight, this will change."
He was not willing to tell any more, no matter how much Legolas urged him, and they rode on in silence. The road crossed the once-broken bridge of the Celduin, which, too, had been repaired and strengthened and beautifully redecorated since the Dwarves' return to Erebor, and so they came up at last to the rocky terrace before the First Gate – a tall, arching gateway, from which a broad indoor path led directly to the great chamber of Thrór.
At the Gate, now richly carved and strengthened as well, stood two guards, armoured and powerfully built, both of them, clad in chain mail and padded gambesons and leather breeches. Both had large battle-axes strapped to their backs and broadswords fastened to their belts. They greeted the visitors with such deep, respectful bows that their forked and braided beards swept the rocky floor, and whistled to a young lad to lead away the horses.
Then they stepped aside to allow another young Dwarf to step forth. This one had the same deep-set, button-like black eyes and slightly upturned nose as Gimli, but his hair was coal-black. He, too, was richly dressed and looked at Legolas a little suspiciously, but bowed nevertheless and greeted the Elf in the finest manner.
"Welcome to the Realm under the Mountain, Legolas Thranduilsson," he said in Westron, his voice as deep and grumbling as Gimli's. "I am Grór Glóinsson, at your service and your family's."
"And at yours, forever," replied Legolas, knowing well enough the customs of Dwarves to give the correct answer. The name stunned him a little, though. "Grór Glóinsson, you say? You are the brother of Gimli, then?"
"One of them," corrected Grór, and his round face suddenly split into a very broad grin. "I bet he never told you about any of us."
"Nay, indeed, he did not," admitted Legolas with a frown. "I always thought him to be an only child."
That earned him a derisive snort. "No self-respecting Dwarf would have only one child, especially a male one," young Grór said.
"And how, pray tell, should I know about that?" replied Legolas snidely. "You Dwarves certainly are a secretive lot."
"That is enough," a stern voice intervened from the inside. "Grór, you will mind your manners, lad, or I will. Gimli, bring your guest of honour in."
The two Dwarven brothers ducked instinctively, and with a meekly chorused "aye, Mother", they obeyed.
The first and only time Legolas had seen the Great Hall of Thrór, the place for feast and councils in the Kingdom Under the Mountain, had been right after the Battle of the Five Armies, when he had accompanied his father at the meeting with Dáin Ironfoot. He had a cavernous, dimly lit room in mind, soiled with the filth of the dragon, filled with broken and rotting tables and chairs, and bleached bones and skulls scattered all across the stone-paved floor. Even the walls had been blackened by the smoke of dragon-fire.
What he saw now was a beautiful hall that could put his own father's caverns to shame. It was illuminated by lamps that looked like opaqued glass spheres, suspended on golden chains from artfully wrought bronze holders fastened along every wall. Long tables of heavy oak ran along the walls, leaving free only the wide apse opposite the main door, where stood a dais of carved stone, big enough for a dozen Dwarves to stand on. The hall even had tall, arched windows, cut into the rock of the Mountain and fitted with an intricate pattern of wrought iron and stained glass that broke the sunlight into a rainbow-coloured pattern on the floor.
The Great Hall was largely empty when they entered, with only a dozen or so young Dwarves busily arranging furniture and decorating the walls for the feast with wreaths of pine branches and cones, mistletoe and red autumn berries that had survived the coming of this unusually mild winter Two old Dwarves were supervising the younglings with a critical eye, ordering them around. The male one Legolas recognized at once, from Elrond's council before the war. It was Glóin, Gimli's father, still wearing casual clothes, his heavy mass of snow-white hair hastily bound together at the nape of his neck.
On Glóin's side a Dwarf woman stood, in a long-sleeved, earth-brown dress that had an ankle-long, full skirt, and a fur-lined surcoat over it. Her hair, worn in a single braid thicker than Legolas' arm, was wrapped up on the top of her head in a snailhouse-like shape. She must have been red-haired once; now she was grey, with some coppery threads in her braid, which made her look as if she was wearing a mithril helmet, inlaid with copper.
She had the same short but powerful build as the male Dwarves, the same round, plain face. But her almond-shaped, dark eyes glittered like a sword in starlight, and it became abundantly clear for Legolas who wore the breeches in Gimli's family – figuratively speaking.
"Legolas," murmured Gimli, very much in the manner of a young lad who still had a healthy amount of respect for the quick hand of a resolute mother, "allow me to introduce you to my mother, the matriarch of our family: the Lady Nais Hróaldrsdóttir. Mother, this is my shield-brother, Legolas Thranduilsson, the Prince of Mirkw… I mean, of the Greenwood."
The wise, dark eyes of the matriarch studied Legolas' face for a long moment.
"Welcome to our home," she finally said. "I see that Gimli has chosen his shield-brother well. You will not embarrass him on his most important day."
"I am honoured, my lady," replied the Elf with a deep bow. "But would you mind to tell me why is this day so special for Gimli, and what is expected from me? I wish not to offend anyone by making a mistake."
"As I said: a good choice," the Lady Nais grinned broadly. "Gimli needs his older brother to attend to him on this day. Only, he does not have an older brother; he is our eldest. Thus he had to choose a substitute, and he chose you." She scrutinized the Elf again, looking up into his fair, ageless face with tilted head, like a bird. "You are older than him, are you not?"
Legolas laughed. "By some three thousand years."
"Truly? You look awfully young." The matriarch frowned a little.
"I am fairly young… for an Elf, anyway," Legolas laughed again. Lady Nais hesitated a little, not doubting his sincerity but having a hard time fully comprehending the truth – then she shrugged.
"You will do nicely. You are old enough, and you are a warrior." She opened her arms, and Legolas quickly sank to his knees, so that she could embrace him properly. "Welcome to the family."
Legolas trembled a little. His own mother had been dead for more than a hundred years, murdered in the dark tower of Dol Guldur, but he still missed her terribly. Being embraced by the mother of his friend was strangely comforting.
"I thank you, Lady Nais," he replied. "And since I am family now, may I learn what personal significance does this day have for Gimli?"
The Dwarf lady, now at eye level with him, looked at him with twinkling eyes full of mischief. "Why, it is his wedding day, of course."PART 3
For a moment, Legolas was completely thunderstruck. He opened and closed his mouth several times, unable to produce as much as a single sound – rather unusual for an Elf. Gimli watched him with smug satisfaction, and the other Dwarves grinned from ear to ear. Finally, the duly shocked Prince of the Greenwood shook himself aware of his surroundings again.
"Gimli," he said in a low, menacing voice, "by the trees of Palúrien, you will pay for this. Oh, and how you will pay! I shall get you at the moment you expect it the least."
"You are welcome to try," the Dwarf grinned.
Legolas raised an elegant eyebrow. "You think so? Have you any idea how much dancing is involved in an Elven wedding?"
The mere thought made Gimli pale, all of a sudden. He knew he would have to return the favour as Legolas' guest of honour during the Spring Festival in the Greenwood. He also knew that the guest of honour was expected to dance with everyone who asked him – and among Elves, that did not mean ladies only.
"Stop bickering, lads," the Lady Nais chastised them. "You are being a bad example. I wish not for my younger sons to behave like this. Gimli, go and finish your preparations. You, Legolas, get to your feet and come with me. I want to introduce you to the rest of our family."
With that, she herded Legolas out of the Great Hall, practically whisking him along various corridors and stairways and inner paths, 'til they finally arrived at the spacious caves that served as the family's home. Though simpler in design, these rooms were nicely made, too; the excellent stonework spoke of the hands of a skilled stone-mason.
As it turned out, Glóin and the Lady Nais had four sons: Gimli, of course, then Gráni, Grór, whom Legolas had already met, and Náli, a youngster, who still had not reached full maturity, and whose beard was still barely more than some coppery fluff – which fact seemed to bother him greatly. But the family also had been blessed by Mahal with the greatest gift Dwarven parents could dream of: a female child. Birna was several years older than Náli, but still very young in Dwarven terms, and was currently learning the fine art of toy making from an old Master.
She looked rather like Gimli: a red-head with a round face, an upturned nose and dark eyes – the latter were almond-shaped like those of their mother, though, and sparkled with good humour. She gave Legolas a good, hard look – and grinned.
"I expected worse," she declared. "I was always told that Elves looked like ghosts, with their pale faces and spidery arms and legs. But you are a lot less ugly than I thought."
Legolas threw his head back and laughed. After all that flattery and open-mouthed admiration in Minas Tirith, her reaction was unexpectedly refreshing.
"Well, I am pleasantly surprised, too," he said. "I was always told that Dwarf women have beards, just like their men."
"Oh, we do," said Birna, grinning broadly, "but only when we are on a journey, which is rare enough. And our beards are all fake, of course.(1)"
They laughed again and chatted merrily for a while, during which Legolas learned that both Grór and Gráni were ironsmiths, while young Náli was an apprentice stone-mason, considered the most promising one of his generation.
"Some say Narvi has been reborn in the lad," the Lady Nais explained proudly, "and fortunately, stone-work is the only art in which we have reached or even outdone the level of our forefathers."
Náli blushed profoundly – an interesting sight on a Dwarf – gave Legolas a shy grin and tried to become invisible. To his relief, the conversation turned to other topics afterwards, and about an hour later (according to the small chimes that were used to signal the time), they were called back to the Great Hall. The ceremony was about to begin.PART 4
Now the Great Hall was fully decorated and full of richly clad Dwarves, who sat at the long, low tables on masterfully carved, heavy oak chairs. The tables had been set with plates and tankards of gold, silver and copper, each piece individually adorned, and Legolas could not help but be amazed by the amount of talent and loving, patient work put into them. Perhaps for the first time in his life, he truly understood the Dwarves' joy in all things made by skilled hands and their love for their work.
It seemed that there was no particular place of honour at the tables. The ones from Thorin's Company still alive – namely Glóin himself, then Dori and Nori, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur – had been seated scattered along the tables, surrounded by their families. Well, seated would be exaggerated when one spoke of Bombur, of course. The almost frighteningly fat old Dwarf was practically lying in a double-width armchair, filled with pillows. 'Twas hard to imagine that this was the same Dwarf who had actually fought the Orcs in the Battle of the Five Armies. Now he could not even walk on his own; six young Dwarves had to carry him into the Great Hall.
"This happens to our people, sometimes, when we grow older than two hundred," Glóin, now clad as richly as everyone else, hair and beard groomed to perfection, explained to Legolas. "The Broadbeams are particularly inclined to it. Mahal made us for endurance, so we do not get sick as Men do, but great age affects us, too. And Bombur is old, very old. He was already much too old to follow Thorin on the quest against the dragon, but he wanted to come, faithful soul as he is. Each day he still spends among us is a gift… even though his tempers can be trying," Glóin added, shaking his head.
Legolas looked at Bombur, thoughtfully. The face of the old Dwarf was brown and crumpled like a dried apple, his hair and beard snow white. His round, deep dark eyes, barely visible among the deep furrows of his face, seemed somehow vacant.
"He seems… weary," the Elf said, and Glóin nodded.
"He is. Often do Dwarves die before their time, due to accidents, or in battle. But sometimes it happens that they live beyond their time, and life becomes a burden. I fear this is the last Yule Bombur will be celebrating with us."
Their conversation was interrupted by the deep, melodic sound of a huge gong, somewhere outside the Great Hall. To Legolas' mild shock, the gong-sound was followed by a faint creaking, and the walls began to move. A good portion of the wall left and right from the apsis opposite the entrance was simply pulled up like a drawbridge, revealing two small chambers, where Dwarves sat, with various musical instruments. Most of those were strangely shaped flutes that Men called the serpent, the lizard or the zink, but one Dwarf held a krumhorn in his hand, while others had gambas and viols, again others drums and tambourines of various sizes, hand-held-harps and lutes, and on one side stood a grandiose instrument with a double row of keys and three rows of metallic pipes which grew gradually from one foot to almost four feet.
Then the very walls of the apsis itself were pulled aside and revealed something that looked like an anvil. In the background, seven shapeless forms stood, grey and unmoving like huge butterfly pupas.
"What is this?" whispered Legolas in surprise.
"A wedding traditionally begins with a performance of The Making of Dwarves, sung in Khuzdul," replied Glóin matter-of-factly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world; perhaps, for a Dwarf, it was. "No outsider has ever seen anything like this, and most certainly no Elf, save Khelebrimbur. But worry not, I shall translate for you."
Legolas' eyes widened in awe. He had heard, of course, rumours of the famous Dwarven plays that were said to be so different from what Men understood by that word – everybody long enough in Middle-earth had – but never thought he would actually witness one. Dwarves guarded their secrets jealously, as a rule, and under normal circumstances they would not tolerate an Elf within earshot.
Apparently, there were exceptions, though. Celebrimbor had been one of those – which was more or less understandable, considering the fact that he had been a smith and an artisan himself. Legolas, however, had nigh to nothing in common with Dwarves – save his friendship with Gimli. Now he began to understand how deep that friendship truly ran.
The musicians began to play a strange melody. It was slow and rhythmic, with deep tones like the Dwarven heartbeat, and yet it had the strength of stone and the passion of fire in it. The instrument, of which Legolas did not know the name, could mimic the sound of many instruments, and the Dwarf with the bluish black locks and beard who played it used both hands and feet to produce the proper music. The very high ceiling of the Great Hall seemed to play a part in the music itself; mixing and echoing the sound in a way that enriched the performance greatly.
Now the first actor appeared at the anvil, circling it in a strangely dance-like manner, stomping with his booted feet rhythmically and swinging his great hammer and pounding down onto the anvil in a rhythm that matched that of the music instruments flawlessly. He was clad in wide, red clothes and wore a golden mask that mimicked a serene expression. His hair and beard were earth brown, braided with red strings and adorned with golden beads.
"Aulë the Smith, I presume", said Legolas in a low voice, and Glóin nodded.
"Sung by King Thorin Stonehelm, none less," he replied, and indeed, the actor now began to sing. He had a great, booming voice that almost literally shook the walls, and, of course, he sang in Khuzdul. Legolas could not understand it, although some words sounded surprisingly similar to Radagast's mutterings, when the Brown Wizard was talking to himself(2).
"Mahal sings about his great desire for the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar," translated Glóin. "He wishes to have pupils, to whom he could teach his lore and his craft; who would be strong and unyielding."
The actor now left the anvil and danced back to the seven shapeless forms, still singing and swinging his hammer. And as he hit the forms with it, one by one, the cocoons broke up and crumbled to the floor. And lo and behold! there stood seven Dwarves, clad in earth brown garb, their eyes still closed, as if they were sleeping. They wore bronze masks, but Legolas thought he recognized Gimli among them.
"And then Mahal made first the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in a hall under the mountains in Middle-earth," Glóin commented softly.
Now the actor burst into a song of fierce joy and pride, and the Dwarves opened their eyes and moved for the first time, following him in a circle, jumping and stomping joyously and repeating the sung words he was teaching them. But all of a sudden, a disembodied voice boomed from somewhere above, magnified by the unique acoustics of the Great Hall to a volume that made Legolas wince involuntarily.
"Ilúvatar, though, knows what Mahal has done," said Glóin quietly, "and now he asks: 'Why hast thou done this? Why dost thou attempt a thing which thou knowest is beyond thy power and thy authority? For thou hast from me as a gift thy own being only, and no more; and therefore the creatures of thy hand and mind can live only by that being, moving when thou thinkest to move them, and if thy thought be elsewhere, standing idle. Is that thy desire?'(3)"
The old Dwarf recited the speech of Ilúvatar so fluently that Legolas suspected this part of the saga must have been something all Dwarves learned by heart at a very young age. The actor had fallen to his knees in the meantime, turning his masked face upwards, to the great, domed ceiling that was so high it could barely be seen among the shadows, and his singing took on a pleading quality.
"'I did not desire such lordship," Glóin continued to translate in the same fluent manner. "I desired things other than I am, to love and to teach them, so that they too might perceive the beauty of Eä, which thou hast caused to be. For it seemed to me that there is a great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it, yet it is for the most part empty still, and dumb. But what shall I do now, so that thou be not angry with me for ever? As a child to his father, I offer to thee these things, the work of the hands, which thou hast made. Do with them what thou wilt. But should I not rather destroy the work of my presumption?'"
With that, the actor playing Aulë picked up his great hammer to smite the Dwarves, weeping while he was doing so. And the Dwarves shrank from the hammer, obviously very frightened, and they bowed down their heads and begged for mercy in a chorus of despair that could have broken the heart of a stone giant. Legolas, though he could only guess the exact meaning of the words, felt tears in his eyes, and saw that all the Dwarves present were weeping, too.
Finally, the booming voice of Ilúvatar interrupted the plea, and Glóin, though deeply touched by the very thing he had most likely heard at least a hundred times (or more), pulled himself together to translate for Legolas again.
"'Thy offer I accepted even as it was made. Dost thou not see that these things have now a life of their own, and speak with their own voices? Else they would not have flinched from thy bow, nor from any command of thy will.'"
As the actor cast down his hammer and the Dwarves burst into a chorus of joy and gratitude, Legolas felt an immense, almost absurd relief. He knew, of course, that the Dwarves would not be destroyed – or else he would not be sitting among them right now – and yet, the densely emotional performance had made him tremble with fear for their fate. Such was the power of Dwarven music, and he had been fully enchanted and undone by it.
"Do Dwarves learn these words by heart?" he asked, after 'Aulë' had sent his creatures to sleep and a break had been announced.
Glóin shook his head. "Nay; there is no need for that. You see, Master Elf, every single Dwarf is born with the memory of our Making. We only need to learn the words in the Common Speech."PART 5
During the break, the walls of the apse had been pulled back into place and the anvil had been pushed forward onto the dais. A finely made golden chain, ending in two beautiful bracelets, was placed onto the anvil, together with a ceremonial hammer (it was too richly adorned to be a mere tool), a small mithril casket, and a large silver tray with a loaf of that heavy rye bread that the Dwarves called pômpernikkîl and a silver pitcher and a great number of tankards upon it. The bread was very dark, almost black, and looked like stone.
"Those are parts of the wedding ceremony," explained Glóin, and rose. "Come with me, Master Elf. Gimli has chosen you as one of his attendants."
Legolas blinked in surprise. "Why, I am honoured. Who are the others?"
"'Tis custom that both parties have two attendants," said Glóin. "One is their best friend, the other their sister – assuming, they have one. You know how small the numbers of Dwarven women are – even though we are certainly not born out of solid rock," he added with a snort.
They took their places on the dais, Glóin with Gimli, Birna and Legolas on one side, and a somewhat younger but still venerable-looking Dwarf with the bride and her attendants on the other side. Legolas was mildly surprised to see that Gimli's betrothed had golden hair. 'Twas not entirely unheard of; after all, two of Thorin's Company had had yellow beards, too, but it was certainly no common trait among Dwarves, He took a closer look at the other party and found the father of the bride strangely familiar.
"That is Regin son of Frerin, who was the younger brother of Thorin Oakenshield," murmured Glóin in a voice too low to be heard by anyone but the Elf. "He married a lady from the Stonefoots of the Ered Mithrin – hence the golden hair. Only the Stonefoots have it(4)."
Impressed, Legolas eyed the bride curiously. This was a noble match for his friend, even though kingship had gone from Thorin's family to Dáin Ironfoot's. This Dwarf-maid was still of the highest nobility among the Longbeards… maybe even among other tribes.
The wall behind them now opened again for a crack, and three venerable matriarchs stepped forth. One of them was the Lady Nais, the other one doubtless the mother of the bride – they had the same deep blue eyes – while the third one, the one in the middle, looked vaguely familiar again."
"The Lady Dís," whispered Glóin. "The sister of Thorin and only female descendant of the royal family… well, save my future daughter-in-law, of course."
The Lady Dís had iron-grey hair, piled upon her head like a crown and adorned with a mithril circlet set with diamonds, and the same slightly haughty features as Thorin Oakenshield. She was the one stepping to the anvil now, her dark eyes glittering, and she announced to the guests:
"Today, we are gathered to witness two loving souls enter the bond of matrimony. Gimli, son of Glóin and Nais, and Vigdís, daughter of Regin and Hildr, come and stand before me and our King who witnesses for Mahal, the Maker."
Gimli, clearly very nervous and looking incredibly young at this moment, stepped up to the anvil. His bride, whose name was apparently Vigdís, did the same. She was pretty (for a Dwarf, added Legolas in thought), and seemed just as nervous as Gimli. The Lady Dís smiled at them benevolently.
"Above you is the stone of which our people were made at the beginning of time," she said. "Below you is the earth, of which all living things sprout, and where even the mountains have their roots. Like the stone, let your love be strong and unwavering. Like the earth, let your love be firm, solid and nourishing. Give your hearts into each other's keeping. Even in anger, remember your love and nurture your passion. Walk the path of life together, from now on 'til you return to the stone."
There were murmured blessings in Khuzdul all around them, and all eyes were shining. The Lady Dís nodded and looked at Gimli.
"Gimli, son of Glóin and Nais, have you come here to join with this woman?"
"I have," replied Gimli, his voice just a little unsteady from excitement.
Now the Lady Dís turned to the bride. "Vigdís, daughter of Regin and Hildr, have you come here to join with this man?"
"I have," answered Vigdís, her voice deep, pleasant and just a bit shaky.
"Do any say nay?" The Lady Dís looked first at the parents of both parties, then around the Great Hall, but no protests came from anywhere. "Then speak your vows and present each other with the tokens of your love."
One of Vigdís' attendants stepped forth, took the mithril casket from the anvil and, opening its lid, offered it to the bride. Vigdís took an elegantly simple golden collar, set with sapphires, out of the casket and turned to Gimli.
"From the day I saw you first, children though we both were, I knew you and I knew as well that we were to be one. And now, after many years, after exile and wars and long, faithful labours, we have come to a fork on our way as one. I have fulfilled my promises for the path that lies behind us, and today a new journey begins for us."
She swallowed nervously, as if afraid that her tongue would stumble upon the carefully chosen words, then continued.
"We have come a long way indeed, you and I, hand in hand. We have come through many a trial and hindrance, and have, so far, stood the test of time. All that lies behind us has only made our bond stronger. And the laughter and joy that we shared as one has given us hope. Will you now accept the token of my love, which I have made with my own hands, with long and joyous labour?"
"I will," said Gimli, his voice thick with emotion, and his bride put the collar around his neck. It matched perfectly, of course, and the sapphires twinkled through the braids of his forked beard like laughing eyes.
Glóin nudged Legolas, who stepped up to the anvil a little uncertainly. The attendant of the bride handed him the open mithril casket, and he saw that there was another collar in it, similar to the one Gimli had received, only set with rubies – red like Gimli's beard, as the sapphires were blue like Vigdís' eyes.
The Dwarf gave Legolas an encouraging look, and the Elf, guessing what was expected of him, offered the casket to Gimli. Gimli took the collar and turned to his bride.
"Before you, my past is an open scroll," he said in a trembling voice, "and my future is a scroll of empty parchment, waiting to be written by your hand. Here I stand before you, still enchanted by the sound of your voice, by the light in your eyes and by the softness of your touch as I was in the long-gone days of our childhood. Your beauty and your strength fill my heart with joy. Fortunate am I that we are to become one."
He paused a little, perhaps to get the trembling of his voice under control.
"Here I stand," he finally continued, "before you, before our friends and family, before our King and before Mahal, the Maker. I lay my heart before you; accept it if you want. I pledge to you my honesty, my love, my unfailing faith. So shall I be the other half of you; to be there when you need me, to strengthen you and draw my strength from you; to comfort you and be comforted by you; to fulfil your desire, so that we can go our way as one. Will you now accept the token of my love, which I have made with my own hands, with long and joyous labour?(5)"
"I will," said Vigdís, her eyes shining, and Gimli put the collar around her neck. Needless to say that it matched just as perfectly as Gimli's had. They were Dwarves, after all.
"So shall it be, for it is spoken," announced the Lady Dís. "Come and stand before me once again now, so that the bond can be completed."
They did as they had been told, laying their hands onto the anvil, and their mothers clasped the bracelets onto their wrists, binding their hands together in this way with the golden chain connected to the bracelets. The Lady Dís lifted the ceremonial hammer and performed the seven symbolic blows, forging their lives together.
"You have pledged to each other for life, year after year," she said. "Even when parted in body or mind, there will always be a call in your very hearts that no one else could answer. Accept now the blessings of the Maker, so that you may trust one another from now on, trust life and not be afraid, whatever it might bring to you."
A venerable-looking Dwarf, who, Legolas assumed, had to be King Thorin Stonehelm, came now forth; impersonating Aulë, the Maker of Dwarves, no doubt. He laid the ceremonial hammer first onto the lap of the bride, wishing her fertility, then onto the lap of the groom, wishing him strength and endurance in the battle of love. Then the bracelets were removed, and Gimli and Vigdís were officially husband and wife.
"What comes now?" asked Legolas in a quiet voice that almost got lost among the joyous congratulations. Glóin grinned.
"Now? Now comes the best part of the whole ceremony: the bread-breaking, ale-sharing, feasting and dancing."
And he stomped away to enclose his son into a rib-cracking hug. Few Dwarves were fortunate to find a wife with whom their could spend their life; 'twas a reason for feasting.PART 6
After the congratulations, the pômpernikkîl was ceremonially broken and shared among the new couple, their families and their attendants, and Legolas discovered to his surprise that it wasn't as hard as it looked, and that it actually tasted rather good. He recognized the taste of coarsely ground, whole-grain rye, beet syrup and malt, and he decided that he liked it. The dark ale tasted a little sweet, too, and it proved to be elusively strong. So strong, indeed, that the Elf was glad to sit down to the feasting table.
The feast was worthy of the rare and joyous event. The dishes were tasty, even though a little heavy for an Elven stomach, and the tankards were refilled with alarming speed. Legolas had the feeling that he had somehow been transferred to an earlier Age, when things had been simpler and the joy in life less clouded, more fierce. Of course, he was more than a little tipsy already. Elves had an amazing endurance as regards wine, but Dwarven ale was a different matter.
"What is this?" he asked, trying to hide an undignified hiccup, when a loaf-shaped cake, covered with sugar powder, was laid before him.
"'Tis a sweet bread, baked with dried fruits, nuts, honey and almond paste in its middle," Birna on his left explained. "We call it a stollen. It is only eaten at Yuletide."
"Why?" asked Legolas, slightly confused by all the ale he had consumed.
"Yuletide is the time of birth for us," said Birna. "We remember at this time how Mahal awakened the Seven Fathers from the stone, after having worked long and hard on making them. Thus the stollen, too, is prepared at least a moon before Yuletide and kept in a dark place, so that it can unfold its full flavour.(6)"
"But why is it formed like bread?" asked Legolas. For him, a cake should have looked like a cake – should it not?
"The loaf represents the Seven Fathers, ere they took final shape," answered Birna, but her eyes were twinkling mischievously, so that Legolas could not be sure whether she was telling the truth or just 'pulling his beard', as Dwarves would say. Of course, he had no beard to pull on, but still… this was all very confusing.
But the stollen was excellent, rich and sweet, tasting of all the various sorts of dried fruit and nuts and the honey that had gone into it, and for a moment, Legolas considered earnestly introducing this Dwarven tradition to his own people. After that one moment, however, the vivid image of his father came to his mind, and what Thranduil would say to such a suggestion, and he decided that it was not a good idea, after all.
Besides, this was not the right time for making plans for the future. The dancing had just begun, and Legolas, albeit a little uncertainly, got to his feet to join the others. 'Twas a matter of pride, after all. Elves were the masters of dancing. He had to show these Dwarves how it was done properly.
- The End -
(1) Yes, I know that most people consider Tolkien's Dwarf women to have beards. I do not.
(2) Which is no coincidence. Khuzdul was originally created by Aulë, based on Valarin.
(3) Ilúvatar and Aulë's words are directly quoted from The Silmarillion, p. 37, Of Aulë and Yavanna
(4) No, this is no canon fact. I just wanted to find a reason for Kíli and Fíli having yellow beards.
(5) For creating the handfasting ceremony and the vows spoken by Gimli and Vigdís, I used the existing ceremonies and vows on The Lady of the Earth website as a guideline. A few lines of the oath are directly quoted from MacFinn's marriage oath.
(6) pômpernikkîl, or, to be more accurate, pumpernickel, and stollen are really existing food items from Germany. I imagine the dark ale drunk at the feast to be something akin to Guinness.
To Bombur's apperarence: here, in Hungary, you can buy so-called apple dolls – dolls whose face is made of dried apples, featuring old Grannies. They are very lovely, and since I am a big Bombur fan, I thought he'd be sweet with a face like that.