Chapter 3: Of Kind
It was an awkward week.
To Gimli, it seemed that a compromise of sorts was arranged. He and Glóin spent many hours speaking of small things, such as the family accounts or the disposition of Glóin's forges. But they were unable—or perhaps unwilling, Gimli did not know which—to speak of the coming quest. It loomed as the unspoken ghost of every conversation, lurking in the shadows and weighing upon Gimli's mind. It also haunted their evenings, for Gimli and Glóin now spent long hours together in the Fire Chamber, saying nothing but rather watching the flames of the massive hearth. This silence was an unusual breach of custom, for the Fire Chamber was a room reserved for counsel and lessons. Possibly Glóin meant for the silence to be instructive, but Gimli had no desire to dwell on what he was to learn from such a lesson. He only knew that the days were passing swiftly, that he had little time left with his father, and that he seemed unable to speak of that which was most important.
The evening before Glóin's departure, Gimli's mother returned home. She arrived shortly after Gimli and Glóin had retired to the Fire Chamber, and they were informed of her entrance by means of a thunderous crash. Startled out of their silent reverie, father and son hastened into the first chamber to find Aés loudly scolding an apprentice who had dropped a confused and twisted forging of iron. Gimli could not even begin to guess at the iron's purpose or how the apprentice had found the strength to carry it, nor was he given time to ask. Aés swung toward them and immediately pinned Glóin beneath a fiery glare. Experience taught that such a look heralded either explosive rage or unbridled passion—sometimes both—so Gimli and the apprentice quickly vacated the chambers. And realizing that discretion was often the better part of valor, Gimli spent the night with Fili and Kili.
He returned to his family's chamber the next morning. There were no signs of blood in the hallway outside, so Gimli assumed that both Glóin and Aés had survived the night. Upon entering, he nearly tripped over the iron machination that had been dropped the previous evening, and a pang of familiarity wracked Gimli's heart.
"Your father is not here."
The call came from the workshop, which stood just off the first chamber. Following the voice, Gimli found his mother hunched over large slab of stone with chisel and hammer in hand. "You are…carving?" he ventured, unable to keep the confusion from his voice. His mother was an ironsmith, first and foremost. She had little interest for the shaping of rock.
"I thought to remind your father of a craft in which mistakes cannot be erased," she said briskly.
Gimli grimaced. "Did he understand your message?"
"Of course not," she growled, striking the chisel hard and scoring a mark across the stone. The grating sound made Gimli's ears ring, and he flinched back. "His head is as hard as bedrock," Aés continued, oblivious to her son's discomfort. "There is no turning him from this selfish quest."
"Dwalin says they go not only for themselves," Gimli murmured. "He says they also go to set an example for all the Heirs."
"If Dwalin were here, I would tell him what I think of his example," Aés huffed, setting aside her hammer and chisel. She turned to look at Gimli, her deep set eyes studying him for long moments. She absently flicked stone filings from her thick black beard until she finally relaxed her scrutiny. "You look well," she said, and a smile tugged the corners of her lips.
"It is good to see you," Gimli answered, stepping forward and wrapping his mother in a tight embrace. Aés returned the hug just as fiercely, and for a moment, there was no looming quest and no absent father. There was only the warmth and peace and comfort of family. With reluctance, Gimli broke the hug and stepped back. "I am glad you are home," he said.
"I should have been here for the wains' return," Aés said, taking Gimli by the arm and leading him out of the workroom. "For my absence, I apologize. My anger was not directed at you."
"You may yet have cause to be angry with me," Gimli admitted. "When I learned what was happening, I sought to join Thorin's quest."
"I know. Your father told me."
Gimli stopped, causing his mother to stop also. "He did? But you said your anger was not for me."
"It is not. You are Glóin's son. You are duty bound to stand at his side. I would have been angry had you not attempted to join the quest."
His brow furrowing, Gimli attempted to follow his mother's reasoning. "So you are angry at father for following Thorin, but you are not angry at me for…" He trailed off and shook his head.
"Thorin is not Glóin's father," Aés said shortly.
Gimli considered reminding her that they were all kinsmen since they were all descended from Náin II, the sixth King Under the Mountain, but he decided that further discussion would only result in a headache. With Aés, there was little room for middle ground. She neatly divided everything into good or ill, and Gimli had given up trying to fathom the how and why of her conclusions. That he had somehow fallen into her good graces was enough for him.
"Glóin will be leaving in an hour," Aés said, drawing Gimli from his thoughts. "You should speak with him before he goes, and it would be good for you to see him off. I believe he has gone down to the stables."
Gimli nodded slowly, struggling to ignore the dread that darkened his mind. He had very little hope of seeing his father again after this day, and the thought of bidding him farewell with so much left unsaid was as a canker in his heart. "I will go to him," he said quietly. "Will you come with me?"
Anger flashed in his mother's eyes. "I said my farewells in our chambers. As his wife, I could do no less. But as a dwarf, I will do no more! I refuse to support this foolish quest, and I will not sanction his actions by bidding him farewell before the rest of the mountain!"
Gimli highly doubted that the rest of the mountain would note his mother's presence or absence, for those who saw the party off would have their eyes upon Thorin, not Aés. But for Aés, it was a matter of principle, and principles were not open for discussion. It seemed that Gimli would have to do this alone. He knew not why he expected any differently. He had felt alone for most of the previous week. "Then I will return to you when the company departs," Gimli said. His mother said nothing but gave him a curt nod and retreated back to the workroom. As Gimli left, he heard the sound of a chisel scraping against stone.
The stables were empty of all save Nír, the wain-master, who informed Gimli that he had just missed Thorin's company. "They took some of the best ponies," Nír growled, looking over the spacious cavern. "Naught but dragon-fodder now, assuming they get that far."
Nír's words stirred a week's worth of grief and anger, but at the same time, Gimli was grateful for the old dwarf's frankness. Not since his conversation with Dwalin had he heard such things spoken openly. It was almost akin to lancing a festering wound—painful but needed. "Do you know where they went?" Gimli asked.
"Just beyond the front gate. They left not long ago. You should be able to catch them. But one moment, before you go," Nír said, moving over to the wall where the tack hung. "You left this with the wains. I meant to give it to you after we finished unloading, but I set it aside and thought no more of it until now."
Turning, he handed Gimli a dark-green hood and cloak. "Thank you," Gimli said, fingering the weathered fabric. He had forgotten that he had stored his spare cloak amidst the traded goods, and he now remembered that he had never returned to the wains after leaving them that evening. "I should apologize, also," he said. "I had a responsibility to help with the wains, but…" He trailed off, unsure of what to say. It seemed so long ago now.
"I gave you leave to go then," Nír said, waving off Gimli's apology. "And I give you leave to go now. See to your father. Maybe you can carve sense into him."
Gimli doubted it. He was loath to admit it, but Glóin and Dwalin were right: he did not understand what compelled this quest. Not entirely. And it was difficult to argue against what he did not understand. The only thing he could do at this point was what he had set out to do: bid his father farewell. And to that end, he draped his cloak over one arm and hurried to the First Hall. He had felt the chill of the outside world in the stables, where high windows allowed fresh air to circulate, and he hoped that the brisk morning would slow the company's preparations so that he would not miss them again.
He need not have worried. The First Hall was cramped and crowded with dwarves anxious for Thorin's departure but not anxious to venture into the cold. Listening to conversations around him, Gimli learned that Thorin, Fili, and Kili had yet to descend from the upper caverns but that many of his company were already outside. Despite the situation, Gimli found himself smiling. Doubtless Thorin was dispensing final instructions, but Fili and Kili had never liked the cold. They would appear only when it was time to leave, which gave Gimli a bit of time to speak with his father.
Glóin was not in the First Hall, but that was expected. Glóin could be reclusive when facing situations of great import or great emotion, and there seemed to be plenty of both to go around. No, his father would be found in a quiet place among quiet friends, which meant that he was outside. After pausing a moment to gather his resolve, Gimli pushed his way through the First Hall, eventually escaping the pressing crowd and reaching the entry cavern. Only a few lingered here, and Gimli passed them in silence as he made his way to the main gates. Once outside, he paused again and leaned back against the mountain, sweeping his eyes over the company that waited in the cold. They were scattered about mountain's base, minding the saddled ponies and keeping their distance from a magnificent white horse that stood regally off to one side. The horse was surely Gandalf's, for rumors said that he had arrived that morning. Gimli looked around, hoping for a glimpse of the wizard, but all he saw were the dwarves of Thorin's company.
"A fair morning," someone called, and Gimli turned as Dwalin wandered over.
"A brisk morning," Gimli corrected, stepping back so that the entrance provided more shelter from the morning breeze. "It was spring on the trade routes, but winter seems loath to leave the mountains."
"That it does," Dwalin agreed as he joined him, "but I will draw comfort from this and take it as a good omen. Should we reach our destination and find ourselves opposite a blast of dragon fire, we will wish for cold."
"Cold comfort," Gimli muttered, rubbing his arms. "I prefer my omens less chilled and more certain."
"If you are that cold, put on your cloak."
Gimli hesitated. He was indeed cold, but he was not too proud to admit that he was using the cold as an excuse. The longer he lurked in the entrance, the longer he put off talking to Glóin. He could see his father further out, watching a few of the ponies with Óin and Balin, but the drive that had propelled Gimli through the First Hall had vanished the moment he stepped outside. He simply did not know what to say to Glóin. And if he took the time to struggle into his cloak and hood, he would probably delay long enough for Thorin to come out and bid them all farewell.
"Here," he said curtly, thrusting the cloak and hood at Dwalin. "Would you hold these for me?"
"Warmer already?" Dwalin asked as he took the garments.
"No," Gimli said, "but I will not be slowed by them." Ducking his head against the wind, he left Dwalin behind and headed for his father.
Glóin saw him coming and raised a hand in greeting. He did not move, though, instead waiting for Gimli to reach him. Under other circumstances, Gimli might have been angered by this, but he suspected that Glóin did not know what to say to him, either. What was the proper farewell when heading out on such a hopeless journey? Well wishes seemed vain and small in the shadow of what Glóin faced. When Gimli reached his father, he still had no words, and he found himself greeting his uncle and Balin instead.
"You come in good time," Óin said, clapping Gimli on the back. The sudden movement startled his pony, but Óin seemed not to notice. "Thorin should be here soon, and then we will be on our way."
"Your first few days of travel should go quickly," Gimli said as he ran a soothing hand down the pony's neck. "The roads west are in good condition, and these ponies know them well."
"I welcome such a start, for the journey will be long," Óin said. "We do not look to reach the Lonely Mountain until the last days of summer, and that is only if we meet with no delays."
Glóin cleared his throat, and Óin and Balin exchanged glances. "Perhaps we should walk the ponies so that they their legs do not stiffen," Balin said.
"A good idea. My legs are already stiff," Óin said. "Here, Glóin, give me your lead rope. I will take your pony."
With a bit of coaxing, the reluctant ponies moved away, leaving Gimli alone with his father. For a moment, neither of them spoke, and then Glóin rested a hand on Gimli's shoulder. "The forge is yours. Keep it well, and look after your mother."
"Mother thinks I should accompany you," Gimli said.
"No, she thinks you should try to accompany me," Glóin said. "She would me throw me to the smelters if I allowed it, and she would be right to do so."
Gimli rubbed his brow, desperate to make one last attempt. "Then if she is right about that, why is she wrong when she objects to your going?"
"Oh, she is right about that, too," Glóin said softly. "But this is something that must be done. I do not ask either of you for understanding. She will not and you can not. Not yet, at least. But in time, you might. And if we are successful, you may even follow after me and join us in the Lonely Mountain."
"Then whether the quest runs good or ill, you do not plan to come home again," Gimli said.
"This is not home, Gimli," Glóin said, and his eyes were weary. "This is Exile."
"It could be home," Gimli said, his voice dropping to a whisper.
"Not for me." Glóin squeezed his shoulder. "Take up the hammer for the family. You have more than earned the right." Then Glóin's hand dropped away and he stepped back, his eyes focusing on something behind Gimli. Gimli turned and saw a stream of dwarves exiting the caverns. In their midst walked Thorin, Fili, Kili, and a tall bearded man that Gimli assumed to be Gandalf. He did not look like much of a wizard. His appearance reminded Gimli of some of his mother's less successful alloy experiments: blue hat, silver scarf, gray cloak, black boots, and a beard long enough to make a dwarf proud. Gimli had expected something a bit more wondrous based on all he had heard. Certainly he had expected something imposing enough to convince Thorin to embark with such a small force. But as Gimli watched, he received the distinct impression that appearances were deceiving. This Gandalf walked with a tall staff, but his movements suggested he did not need it. And there was a peculiar glimmer in his eyes…
Thorin stopped just outside the entrance and turned to the assembled dwarves. Gimli heard him speaking, but the wind carried his words away from the ponies. Gimli did not think he would have listened anyway, for Gandalf had not stopped with Thorin. He continued on, and his steps took him unerringly toward Gimli. Gimli tried to muster the anger he had felt earlier in the week but found that he could not. Something in Gandalf's face warned against it.
"Tharkûn," Glóin greeted when the wizard reached them. "Though I suppose I should start calling you Gandalf. We have many miles to travel, and some of those miles will be through mannish towns." He turned toward Gimli. "This is my son. He was away when you were last here, and I do not believe you have met."
"No, I would have remembered such a meeting," Gandalf said, and he also turned toward Gimli. "Gandalf the Grey, at your service, though among your people, I am called Tharkûn."
"Gimli Glóin's son, at the service of you and your family," Gimli answered properly with a bow. "And Tharkûn you may be to the dwarves, but I have heard more of Gandalf from hobbits and men than I have of Tharkûn."
"All good, I trust?" Gandalf asked.
There was just enough challenge in the wizard's voice for Gimli to respond in kind. "Some of the hobbits might dispute that. I have come to better understand their perspective over this past week."
"Gimli!" Glóin said sharply, but Gandalf seemed more amused than anything.
"He has your fire, Glóin," the wizard said, the corners of his lips twitching. "And for one so young, he is already a dwarf of many journeys. Does this mean that we have added one more to our company?"
"No," Glóin said firmly. Gimli flushed.
"Ah," Gandalf said, and his eyes twinkled. "Not for want of trying, I warrant. Yes, I see it now: a loyal and courageous heart that looks beyond itself. We will have need of such things."
"We will have to do without Gimli's," Glóin said.
"Perhaps we will find a different source," Gandalf said, turning his gaze westward. "There are many we might meet along our path." He was silent for a moment, and then he shook his head, looking back to the two dwarves. "Well, Gimli, it has been a pleasure. I trust we will have words again."
"I hope so," Gimli answered coolly, wishing he had Gandalf's confidence.
"Keep your courage and your loyalty. You may not walk this trail with us, but there will be other paths just as dark if not darker. You will have need of that strength, and so will others."
Gimli nodded hesitantly. He still did not know what to make of this wizard, nor did he know what to make of the wizard's words. But further conversation was not allowed, for Thorin finished speaking to the assembled dwarves and ordered all to ready themselves for the journey. Óin reappeared, now mounted on his pony and leading Glóin's. Glóin took the reins and started to swing himself up, but then he paused and looked hard at Gimli. Tossing the reins back to Óin, he abandoned the pony and caught Gimli up in a fierce embrace. "I love you, boy," he whispered. "You may not understand it now, but know that I do this for you."
Gimli locked his arms around his father, unable to speak, and he only released him when his father pulled back. "Safe journey," Gimli said, blinking rapidly.
Glóin's own eyes were suspiciously bright. "You have made me proud," he said. They stood there for a moment, and though silence hung between them, it was no longer an awkward silence. Then Glóin nodded sharply and turned away. He took the reins from Óin and swung up, clicking to his pony and urging him over to the others. Now astride his horse, Gandalf towered over all, and beside him was Thorin, mounted on the tallest pony the dwarves had.
"You will probably hear tidings by winter," said a voice from behind Gimli, and Gimli hastily stepped aside as Dwalin rode up. "One way or another, this should be decided by then." He extended his arm, over which was draped Gimli's hood and cloak. "I expect you want these back."
Gimli started to reach for them, but then he paused. "If you are willing, would you take them with you? So that something of mine goes with my father's company?"
Dwalin inclined his head. "I would be honored." He pulled one of his packs forward and folded the garments before stowing them away. "Shall I give them to your father later?"
"No," Gimli said. "No, he would keep them packed. You will ensure that they are used. I care not if I see that hood and cloak again so long as I know they served your company well."
"Then serve they will. I will find a use for them," Dwalin promised. Thorin's voice came to them, clear and commanding, and Dwalin raised his head to look. "That is our signal," he said. "Keep yourself well, Gimli, and wish us fortune!"
"You will need more than fortune," Gimli said darkly, stepping back. "But good fortune to you anyway."
Dwalin smiled grimly and then he was gone. At the head of the party, Thorin raised his hand and the ponies were urged forward into a swift trot. Those who had spilled forth from the First Hall shouted and waved, and children ran after the ponies, cheering loudly. But Gimli stood torn in the shadow of the mountain. Someday, according to his father, he would know what compelled these dwarves to seek the realms of their fathers. But until that day came, he had naught but his father's words and the grim foreboding of a hopeless quest. He could not imagine himself setting out on anything akin to this, and he wondered what it would take to fan the flames of heritage in his own heart. Fan them to the point that he would abandon family and seek out something as terrible as a dragon.
"It would take a darker destiny than Exile, that is certain," he murmured as the company disappeared over the crest of an outlying hill. The crowd around him shuffled back into the mountain, rubbing hands and arms together, but Gimli tarried outside, his thoughts lingering over the last glimpse of his father. The mountains at his back no longer had the feeling of home, and for the first time in his life, Gimli had a sense of what Exile meant. For home had always been with Glóin. And with Aés, to an extent, but it was his father who provided the family's foundation. Now he was gone, and the mountains felt empty.
At length, Gimli straightened his shoulders and turned his back to the east. If Glóin could carve a living in Exile, then Gimli could follow his example. He had a forge to mind and a mother to comfort. For now, that would be his quest. It was a quest of a different sort, but in honor of his father, Gimli intended to see it done.