Author's note: This is based on the books, and I've tried to stay in canon as much as possible given that it's set well after the events of Return of the King. Those who have both read the books and seen the movie may have remarked the difference in Gimli son of Gloin. This story is about the grim and gallant Gimli of the trilogy, not that idiot who kept falling off things and overemoting grossly in the films. I don't blame John Rhys-Davies, who is a great actor, but I feel an injury has been done to one of my favorite characters all the same.
Please review! On to the tale...
The Heads of One Thousand Goblins
(A Love Story)
Prologue: Excerpt from the History of Khazad-Dûm by Shalen Son of Valen
At the ending of the 3rd Age, when the power of the One Ring was broken and a King reigned once again in Gondor, there was peace in many places throughout Middle Earth. The servants of Sauron, though not completely destroyed, were so demoralized that their ruin seemed certain and imminent. And, as the years went on and natural increase added to the numbers of Hobbits, Men, and Dwarves, the Kingdom Under the Mountain began to grow crowded. Those dwarves who were young and fierce bethought themselves of going forth to do great deeds in the wide horizons of the world. As time went on they listened ever more eagerly to the tales of their elders: the travels of Thorin Oakenshield and the Battle of Pelennor, of Men and Hobbits and even of the Elves. For though the memory of the dwarves is long, the last battles of the Third Age came near to bringing about a reconciliation between them and those of the Eldar who yet remained. The Eldar, however, were few in number, and grew fewer every year.
So, these conditions prevailing in the Lonely Mountain, it is not surprising that a scheme of great going-out was devised in that place. The plan was to retake the City of Khazad-Dûm, to return the Black Chasm which was Moria to conditions of light and habitation. One or two more imaginative dwarves even whispered that perhaps mithril might still be found, if the lowermost flooded places of the mine could somehow be drained.
They were not believed for the most part. Still, many listened with growing interest to the tales of Orcish infestation which occasionally made their way to the North and East, of the blocked-up Western door and the flooded valley and the Watcher in the Water. They heard of the Dimwall Dale and the Mirrormere, where it is said that Durin's Crown is still to be seen. So it occurred that many young dwarves fastened on this scheme, especially one Diri son of Lirin, who heard of quests and great deeds at his father's knees. Diri was wellspoken among his people, and when at last he asked leave to go, leave was given ungrudgingly. He went, and far from alone, with the blessing of the King Under the Mountain. (For it was much quieter, and space less dear, when these fifty score and more had gone from the Lonely Mountain.)
With them went a few of their elders, those who felt in their hearts the desire for hunting and slaying of Orcs, or simply to moderate the rashest impulses by their counsel. And one of these was Gimli, son of Glóin, who was once Lord of the Glittering Caves.
Fires burned in the hearths of the Second Hall of Khazad-Dûm, throwing red light high upon the pillars that marched in twin rows up the great room. The voices of some five hundred dwarves echoed from the high walls, the sounds of robust dwarfish humor and old dwarfish songs. It was perhaps the measure of these young dwarves' success that though they sang and laughed loud enough to wake the dead, no answering drums were heard from far or near. There was only the answering laughter from the next Hall, where the rest of the dwarves were alike enjoying their evening meal. This was the end of their first year in the mines, and much had been done that had been left too long in the darker days of the Third Age.
And so there was much eating, and drinking of ale, though this was yet scarce at that time. Mostly there was small beer, for little of the water in the Black Chasm was yet safe to drink.
"Careful not to dip your beard in your plate, Wiri," someone said. "It will soil your silky braids and you'll have to start all over again!"
"Nary a maid of the daughters of Men ever had such fine hair," declared another, to the sound of guffaws. "Pity that it's brown."
"If you find me a daughter of Men with a beard of any kind, I'll gladly cut this one off," Wiri said, tugging at the braided mass that hid the lower half of his face and much of his chest. More laughter rose in reply, for this was tantamount to offering to doff his clothes and run about the mines naked. "You talk overmuch of nonsense, Falon son of Jori."
"Here's to nonsense! It's high time more of it was heard in the Halls of the Dwarrowdelf," said another dwarf called Borin, and hoisted up his mug.
"Then we'll have to have old Gimli in, and talk about his elf-lady once more," Falon said. "I was yet a boy when first I heard him speak of the Lady of the Galadrim. At that time, it was all you could get him to do to stop! It's no wonder the Glittering Caves couldn't suit him."
"He's still got her hair back in that chamber where he lives," another dwarf put in. "He set it in crystal. Bright gold, they say it is."
"Now there's something for Wiri to envy," Falon said, to general laughter. "Faugh! To see a dwarf mooning after some skinny tall thing who couldn't lift an axe to save her life!"
"There you may err, Falon son of Jori," Wiri said. "Dwarves have learned more than a little weapon craft from the Eldar."
It seemed to some present that Falon would have liked to reply to this, but thought better of it. For, though Wiri was a mild dwarf, he was also known to be able to lift and throw some three or four times his weight, a fact to which many dead Orcs bore testimony. Consequently, what befell was that another dwarf diverted the talk into his plans for a new system of maps of the caverns, and the company passed on to other things.
But Wiri remembered.
The work went on. The rope bridge over the chasm between the Second and the First Hall was expanded and strengthened, though none was yet able to repair the gaps in the stone itself. Likewise the chasm in the floor of the Second Hall was strongly bridged, for no Balrog now remained and the fire burned dim and low. Perhaps the greatest work that went on in that day was the destruction of the dam above Stair Falls. The lake was drained in one mighty rush, and the Sirannon was reborn where it flowed out of the cliffs. Nothing was seen of the Watcher from that day on, and it was widely believed that it had slid down the falls and been carried off in the first rush of the new Gate-stream.
The twin holly trees at the Western door were uprooted beyond dwarfish ability to replant them. But slivers of their branches were planted, and with great care began to grow. This work was done by Gimli son of Glóin, who knew more of trees than anyone among that thousand: for he had studied them ever and anon while he ruled the Glittering Caves, and it was whispered by some that his frequent absences were in fact the cause of his abdication.
Wiri son of Shorin was sometimes seen there, especially by night when the moon revealed the outlines of the door into Khazad-Dûm. More than once he gave his aid to Gimli Son of Glóin, and once or twice convinced him to speak of the battles he had seen. For the most part, they worked in silence. Gimli son of Glóin was a grim and silent dwarf in that day. He is no fool, thought Wiri. He knows how they mock him when they think he doesn't hear.
It is beyond the scope of this narrative to say what were Gimli's musings on one particular night, when he stood before the closed door and looked once more at its shining outlines. But Wiri, coming up from the valley with his axe upon his shoulder, saw the older dwarf standing with his hood up over his head and thought he could guess the trend of his thought.
"It's an ill night to be abroad, Lord Gimli," Wiri said. Gimli snorted as a breeze brought him a most unpleasant smell.
"You're a fine one to talk, and I haven't been Lord Gimli these two years and more. Where have you been, my lad? I smell the stench of Orc blood on you."
"Carrying on the work," Wiri said mildly, and unslung his axe to show the three gory objects tied there by their stringy hair. Gimli son of Glóin inspected them with little interest.
"Ah, killing Orcs, were you? It's true they're about more at night, but I wonder if you've a death wish, to be seeking them out three at a time."
"Have you ever fought as few as three at a time, Milord?" Wiri said, untying the Orc heads and dropping them on the ground. He ran his fingers through his beard, in whose condition Falon would undoubtedly have found cause for jocularity.
Gimli snorted. "Not often, lad, but I'm an older dwarf than you by many years. If I'd a gold coin for every gray hair in this beard, I'd be an even richer dwarf than I am now." He was silent for a moment, apparently brooding on this. "A great lady once told me that my hands would flow with gold, but over me gold would have no dominion," he said eventually. "And it's the truth, though not for the reasons I would wish."
"Was that the Lady of the Galadrim?" Wiri asked. He wondered if his doublet would ever be the same again. He could sew up the hole, he supposed, but he doubted the stain would ever go away. Wiri called down silent curses on the Orcs in general and these three in particular.
"Aye," Gimli said shortly. "And it's time you were inside, young dwarf." He turned to the great doors and said, "Mellon."
Then the doors of Khazad-Dûm were opened. The two dwarves went inside, one to tend his wound and mend his armor, and the other to the company of his own black thoughts.
"Wiri! Where have you been?"
A sennight later, Wiri turned to see Borin chasing him down the length of the Twenty-First Hall. He waited good-humoredly for the other dwarf to catch up.
"Been running up the stairs, have you?" Wiri asked dryly, watching the other dwarf panting breathlessly up to him. Borin was no hand with an axe, and probably would not have been suffered to come, except that he was the best stonemason of all of them.
"Aye, aye, I'm still too fat, though I've grown leaner running about these tunnels day and night. More skylights, that's the ticket," Borin said. "But what have you been doing, Wiri? I haven't seen you at dinner these three nights, though we've got the new tables built and there's room for everybody."
"I've been rendering some aid to Lord Gimli. He thought if we could bring some better soil his holly trees might prosper. We've been all over Dimwall Dale."
"What! Gone traveling with the Elf-friend? Whatever for?"
"Oh, fetching and carrying," Wiri waved a hand dismissively. "The sunshine does you good once in a while."
"Ugh," Borin said. "Perhaps the sunshine does, my friend, but I imagine the company would not."
"I don't mind him," Wiri said. "He knows so many things."
"And the half are no good down here, Wiri son of Shorin," Borin said frankly. "But he's still a dab hand to kill Orcs, I give him that. He can't hardly go walking down in the deeps without coming back dragging a carcass, and sometimes more than one! We've got quite a burn pile going out in the Dale. And there's worse than Orcs down there. One time he came back with a snake ten feet long."
"I know," Wiri said, smiling slightly. "He's carving out the fangs to keep tobacco in."
"Contributed a fair amount yourself, haven't you? But don't think you'll impress Gimli son of Glóin that way," Borin said.
"Whatever brought that into your mind?" Wiri asked, and smiled no longer.
"Oh, I'm older than quite a few of those you'll see here now," Borin said. "I know what's what, even if the rest of them can't see or don't care. But you'll catch cold at that. He's a suspicious old dwarf, and he's got no thought for anyone walking Middle-Earth in this day. Why, you'd have to pile up a thousand goblins and a troll dead on his doorstep to get his attention."
"You think so?" Wiri said.
"Ah," Borin said, and waved a hand in dismissal. "There's not a single troll left in the mines now, and you'd have to go far to find a thousand goblins, for all they're still breeding down in the deep places."
Wiri said something noncommittal, and bid the other dwarf farewell.
But Wiri remembered.
Two days later, Gimli was awakened in the early morning by a faint unpleasant smell. He rose from his bed and stumbled out into the outer of his two chambers, axe in hand. He looked around with eyes accustomed to darkness. Everything seemed to be in order. His desk was undisturbed, and the rough block of crystal with its priceless contents sat unmoved on the pedestal he'd carved for it. None of the chairs had been moved, and there was nowhere in the room for anyone to hide. Besides, the bolt was still shot.
He frowned, hefted the axe, and went to unbolt the door.
A basket of cunningly wrought iron sat squarely in the hallway, framed between the posts of Gimli's door. A neat pile of skulls grinned up at him. Gimli picked one up and examined it. Goblin. It was obviously fresh, with bits of gore still clinging to parts of it. He set it down, wiped his fingers, and picked up the envelope that sat atop the pile. Gimli opened it carefully, breaking the neat wax seal, and read the contents by the one torch in the hallway. The message was brief.
Here are twenty-five small gifts for Gimli son of Glóin. More to follow.
Gimli raised his eyebrows. He looked again at the seal on the outside of the envelope. It was stamped with a plain circle, not even a letter from a signet ring.
"Foolish thing to do," he said, and stamped back into his room to start a fire in the blackened stone fireplace. He threw the envelope in and watched the wax melt and drip down as the paper crumpled up. "More to follow," was it? Well, he'd soon put an end to this nonsense. It was another one of Falon son of Jori's pranks, that's what it was. Though it was odd for him to waste his time gathering up paper, which was far from common in Moria...
"Hmph," Gimli said. He got dressed, muttering to himself, and went to haul the basket out toward the Twentieth Hall. It was going to be a long walk out to the burn pile, but he was awake anyway.
In the end, he brought the basket back. It was obviously very old, probably left from old Balin's days. Besides, he admitted silently, he was curious as to exactly how the unknown annoyance planned to top twenty-five goblins at one go.
"Got to be a trick," Gimli muttered. It was only a week later and he'd opened his door to find fifty goblin skulls. These did not seem to be as carefully cleaned as the others, as if whoever-it-was had been in great haste. "Probably more than one of them," Gimli said, and went to haul the basket out again. He paused to read the card:
Here are fifty small gifts for the Lord of the Glittering Caverns, from one who knows his love of beauty but is no maker of beautiful things.
He frowned at that for a moment. It was hard to picture Falon, or anyone else he knew, writing those words. They seemed... Wistful. And wistfulness was not a quality common to dwarves, or Gimli would not be quite so ridiculous as he seemed to have become.
This time the unknown dwarf had left a cart to put the basket on. Gimli snorted. They'd be putting him to be with a shovel, the day he needed a cart to carry this lot.
The fourth week, Wiri son of Shorin encountered great good fortune. He also nearly lost his life.
He was exploring a disused stair off the Twenty-Fourth Hall when a black arrow whistled past his head. He raised his buckler just in time to catch the next one, and then he had his axe in his hands and found himself fighting for his life.
An entire nest of them, right under our feet. Like most dwarves, Wiri saw well in the dark, and he could see the tunnel in which he stood was new. The original doorway to which the stairs led was closed off, either caved in or deliberately piled up with rocks.
They'd made the entrance to the nest narrow, so that only one could enter or leave at a time. This might have made it more defensible against a host, but it also produced a problem which goblin minds had failed to anticipate: when the doorway was blocked, none of them could leave.
Wiri fought for what seemed like hours. His small buckler saved his life more than once, deflecting goblin arrows and knives as he laid about him with a hand axe (for it quickly grew too close for the battleaxe). There were not so many arrows after the first few, for the goblins of Moria were used to fire their weapons in the open spaces and not in the dark hole where they lived. Besides, they ran more than a slight risk of hitting their fellows instead of their target.
No one came to his aid. Nor did he expect it, for the close walls muffled sound and he did not cry for help. Would Gimli son of Glóin call for help? he asked himself, and fought on in grim silence.
Before long, he stood in front of a pile of goblins, and the others had to pull down the corpses of their fellows to get to him. Easier than Orcs in a tight space, he told himself, taking a rare opportunity to catch his breath. Small.
Which was true, but they still fought like demons. And so likewise did Wiri son of Shorin. When he finally paused, wondering where his attackers had gone, he found himself inside the cavern with his battleaxe in hand (and how had it come there?) and a great many dead goblins all around. He bled from any number of small wounds, but his dwarven mail had served him well.
Then he saw the reason for the goblins' choice of living space. A trickle of water bled down the wall from a hole in the stone, creating a small pool in a hollow of the floor. It lay unsullied by goblin blood as yet, and there Wiri drank and tended his hurts.
He would need quite a time to collect what he wanted, since he couldn't let anyone else know what he was doing. But there was satisfaction in the thought as well, for if he could find so many goblins this close to dwarfish habitation, there must surely be other nests.
Yes, he still had a lot of work to do.
So it was that a great slaughter was wrought in Khazad-Dûm in those days. Nary a week passed in which Gimli son of Glóin did not find a new and grisly gift outside his door. Sometimes they were addressed to him by name, sometimes to the Hero of Pelennor, or the Elf-friend, or again to the Lord of the Glittering Caverns. And as time passed he came to realize that it was not, could not be a prank, and all of it was truly the work of one single dwarf.
Gimli was a straightforward soul, and his inward turn of late blinded him to those around him in many things. He had not an inkling of who that dwarf might be.
"Aye, it's true," he said one night to Wiri, in response to some question on the subject. "Though I cannot fathom what he means by it. Some young one, perhaps, who has heard the stories and does not understand the difference between history and legend."
"Of history and legend I know little, Lord Gimli," Wiri said. "Likewise many other young dwarfs. Perhaps this one sees what you have done here in the caverns and judged for himself."
"Pfah," Gimli said, looking down the new-bared valley outside the West doors. Even in the dark the beginnings of green could be seen on the slimy ground, new growth making its way up through the sodden soil. "What we do here now is worth doing, my lad, but what we did then... That was something. I shall never see the like." He reached up and tugged thoughtfully at his beard. "Though killing a hundred goblins at a stretch isn't bad," Gimli admitted grudgingly.
Wiri fought on. He spent day after day combing through the caverns, more often than not fighting off other beasts than those he sought. His guess had proved right, and Borin's wrong, for many goblins yet remained in the dark places which had given the Black Chasm its evil name. His arms grew stronger and his feet swifter in the pursuit of his goal. And, if his dark hair lost some of its sheen, it was more than made up for by the new glint in his flint-chip eyes.
None remarked his long absences. If more than one dwarf had cause to wonder why so many decapitated goblins were to be found of late, no one descried their source. Wiri had always been a solitary dwarf by nature, and if he was minded to end that state of affairs now, it did not take the form of any desire for the company of his fellow dwarves.
Except, of course, for one.
"A thousand," Gimli said. "That's a great many dead goblins, even considering how many months it's been! And one more gift to follow, the last note said."
Wiri smiled in the moonlight and went on pruning the young holly in silence. He was glad, at least, to see the older dwarf showing some animation the last few weeks. A dwarf can live without respect of his fellows, but it makes him a surly dwarf indeed. Now Gimli had found that one other, at least, had not forgotten the part of his life which he most loved to remember.
"He'll have to do something pretty impressive, to do better than a thousand goblin skulls," Gimli said cheerily, checking the underside of a pointed leaf. "What a misfortune there are no dragons left!"
"Misfortune indeed, Lord Gimli," Wiri said, inwardly sighing in relief. He had trouble enough as it was. For how was he to find a troll in less than a fortnight?
Wiri knew there were a few cave trolls left in Moria, for he had cut across their sign more than once in his never-ending slaughter of the goblins. But he had never encountered one face to face. Such as remained had grown sly and secretive, confused by the voices of dwarves and hating the light they brought with them. Desperately he followed trail after trail, only to come up short. The trolls of the Chasm were well-versed in all its passages in ways that Wiri had not, in all his wanderings, yet managed to equal. And it may be that they sensed the dwarf who hunted them was not one lightly to be trifled with, and for this reason kept away.
Finally, when the fortnight was all but exhausted, Wiri found what he sought. The cavern was deep and the way was dark and long, but the spiral windings of the passageway made a natural trumpet for any sound coming up from below. So it was that the sounds of great slaughter were heard from above, and many dwarves rushed fearlessly into the deep with their axes and torches.
When at last they came upon the place, the fight was over. Their torches caught oily gleams from the black blood flung high upon the walls, and those less strong of stomach quailed at the smell. For there they found a troll cut through the belly, its black innards spilled across the stone floor. Its head lay apart from the body, its last snarl frozen on its face.
Some yards away, thrown by the troll in its last struggle, they found Wiri son of Shorin. As he sat up, hearing their voices, blood ran from his nose and his lips. Those watching saw the white bone show through where the troll's club had struck his leg, and marveled that even now he clung to his axe.
"Save the head," Wiri said. And those were the last words he spoke for a very long time.
"Ah, there we are," Wiri heard someone say. A moment later he forced his eyes open. He lay in the dim light of the rough infirmary next to the Twentieth Hall. In a chair beside his cot sat Gimli son of Glóin, with his hood shadowing his face.
"How's it feel, my lad?" the infirmarer said. He was a tall dwarf, and very stout.
"Well," Wiri said, though his head hurt a little and his leg hurt much.
"Ha! You've no cause for false bravery here, my lad, not after what you did getting here to start with. Here, have a drink of water."
The infirmarer held out a cup, but Gimli took it out of his hand and gave Wiri a drink. When Wiri looked up again, the infirmarer had bustled off.
"How long have I been here, Lord Gimli?" Wiri said, for the other dwarf's silence began to trouble him.
"A day and a night," Gimli said. "You bled inside for a little while. The troll's club hit you more than once, Wiri."
"I remember," Wiri said. Nor shall I ever forget it. Nor that he just called me by name.
"It was a mad thing to do," Gimli said, without anger.
"Perhaps, Milord," Wiri said. "Even dwarves do mad things, from time to time."
"As mad as leaving a thousand goblin skulls outside someone's door?"
Wiri was silent for a moment. "Even as mad as that. Though I fear the troll's skull will be late."
"'One who knows his love of beauty, but is no maker of beautiful things.' I should have known then," Gimli said. "You were the only one who took an interest in the holly trees, or stopped to look in the Mirrormere when we went to the burn pile. Why did you do it, Wiri son of Shorin?"
Wiri laughed softly. "Some of our people sire children and some bear them, and both are called dwarves," he said. "Were we to speak in the parlance of Men instead, I could tell you that Shorin had no sons."
Gimli pushed back his hood, and Wiri smiled behind her beard at the consternation in his face.
"You yourself once challenged a Man of the Rohirrim to a duel for saying one was more beautiful than the Lady of the Galadrim," Wiri said. "I knew there was no hope you would consider another. But even dwarves do mad things – for love."
"Aye," Gimli said slowly, and reached out and took Wiri's bruised hand. "That we do."
Epilogue: From the History of Khazad-Dûm by Shalen Son of Valen
So Gimli son of Glóin was consoled for all his hurts, and lived to see many fine sons grow up in the city of Khazad-Dûm. And, though he never put away the golden hairs of Galadriel, neither did he stray from the side of Wiri Shorinsdottir all the days of his long life.