Barnardo: How now, Horatio? You tremble and look pale.
Is not this something more than fantasy?
(Hamlet—Act 1 Scene 1)
Autumn, T.A. 3017
The first time the rider came to Erebor, the dwarves were unprepared.
But not unaware. Warnings sent by both King Brand and the lookouts atop Ravenhill ensured the entire Mountain knew: A messenger of Mordor approached. The tidings spread quickly, sparking through Erebor like a growing fire. Words hissed and jumped from dwarf to dwarf. Fear fanned the fire hotter and hotter until the entire Mountain seemed ablaze. Fueled by both anger and dread, every dwarf headed for the main gates, and from whatever vantage point could be found, all watched the road to Dale.
His eyes scanning the press before him, Glóin loudly cleared his throat and waited as news of his presence cut before him like an axe. Glóin had never put much stock in the privileges of rank, preferring to let his iron vouch for his worth. But today he was grateful for his status as a direct descendent of Durin; it meant he did not have to fight the crowd. A path through the gathered dwarves now clear, Glóin tightened his grip on his torch and stepped forward into the night.
He shivered as he moved through a curtain of mist. Fed by underground streams throughout the Lonely Mountain, the River Running was a noisy waterfall plunging down the rocks beside the front gate, its spray a constant chill in the air. Glóin's torch flickered, and high above, rolling clouds veiled the stars. The whole of the Mountain seemed to fall beneath the shadow of a darkening gloom. Glóin could not help but think of the land associated with the coming messenger.
The name was ash in his mouth and ice in his blood. Even the thought of Smaug, terrible as the dragon had been, could not stir a dread so cold. There had been rumors that Mordor was active again. Merchants from Dorwinion and Rhûn spoke in harried whispers of a rising southern shadow. But an actual messenger from the Dark Land was much more than rumor. Glóin could only hope King Brand was mistaken. Or that this was an elaborate jest carried out by the men of Dale in singularly poor taste. But even mannish peculiarities would hesitate to make mischief of something so fell. Glóin's hand strayed to the comfort of the axe hastily shoved beneath his belt.
A hush crept into the valley. The quiet rumbles of unease faded. Silence stole upon them, as inexorable as night itself. Even the Celduin Falls at the gate was muted. The fires of dwarven torches dwindled until they were more smoke than flame. Shivers that had nothing to do with the crisp autumn air raced up and down Glóin's spine. Steeling his resolve, he searched the gloom with keen eyes.
He found a hole in the night.
Glóin was well accustomed to the darkness beneath the mountains' roots, but this shadow at the end of the road was like nothing he had seen before. Darker than the darkest chasm and colder than the deepest well, it was as if Glóin looked upon a fissure in the world. As though something had wrested open a window to another world. A dead world. An unseen world. The dark maw lingered on the edge of his sight for a moment and a lifetime, holding Glóin's gaze with a loathing menace that froze his heart.
Then it moved.
Glóin staggered, released from a sudden stupor. The thud of hooves echoed against the Mountain walls, deafening in the stillness. Glóin shook his head, wondering if he could attribute such a normal sound to the movements of such a terrible creature. A rider it might be, just as King Brand had said, but it was a rider possessed of vile sorcery. Glóin would stake his forge on it. And as it drew closer, the encircling arms of the Lonely Mountain felt less like a stronghold and more like a trap.
The sound of hooves continued until the rider reached the edge of the faltering torchlight. There the creature stopped, and the horse tossed its head sharply. The cloaked figure upon its back shifted. Beneath the black robes came a low hiss.
"The hour is late for messengers!" a dwarf challenged. It was Thorin Stonehelm, eldest son of Dáin Ironfoot, but Glóin only knew that because he could see him. The confident voice that sounded so boldly in council debates carried but an echo of Thorin's usual power. "State your purpose," Thorin continued, and if Glóin had not known better, he would have said that Thorin was shaking. "Or if you have none, turn back and seek lodging in Dale. There is no place for you here!"
"My business is with your king. Call him forth if you wish to know my purpose."
The messenger's voice was like the grating screech of a chisel on smooth slate. Thorin's face was pale beneath his beard, but his reply was firm: "The King under the Mountain comes and goes at his own choosing."
"Then I choose to await his coming so that my purpose may be known," the rider said evenly. "And I will remain until my purpose is concluded. Call him from his hiding hole! Only a fool refuses Mordor's summons."
Angry murmurs rippled through the assembled dwarves. Fear gave way to fury. Not even the elves spoke so brazenly! Sensing the growing rage, the creature spurred his horse forward a few steps. A pale knife caught the gleam of the torches.
"Challenge me if you dare," hissed the rider. "Challenge me and know a darkness greater than that of even your deepest mines."
Glóin turned sharply at the new voice, and his eyes immediately sought the face of his king. Dáin was not supposed to be here. Not yet, at least. They had discussed this when news first came that a messenger from Mordor sought audience with the King under the Mountain. As a council, they had agreed to act with prudence: Dáin would remain beneath the Mountain until it was clear what the messenger wanted.
But Dáin's eyes were resolute. Making his way through the parting crowd, he placed a hand on Glóin's shoulder. "Hold!" Dáin repeated, turning to face Glóin though his words were directed to all the dwarves. "We will hear this messenger. Afterward, he will depart. For as Thorin has said, there is no place for him in the Mountain." In a voice barely above a whisper, he added, "My thanks, Glóin, for your concern. But I will not cower before Mordor's slave."
Dáin strode forward until he stood several feet in front of his people. Glóin would have liked to keep his eyes on him, but sudden movement caught his attention. Glancing back, his mouth fell open in protest as an enterprising dwarf hastened to the front of the press, taking advantage of the gap in the crowd that had allowed Dáin to pass. But where Dáin had been grateful for Glóin's protectiveness, this younger dwarf met Glóin's glare with a challenging look of his own.
"Gimli—" Glóin began.
"That which you face is that which I face," Gimli said coolly.
Gritting his teeth, Glóin decided that Gimli had too much of his mother in him. He made a mental note to deal with his son later and turned his attention back to his King.
"Speak," Dáin said. He held himself bravely, and only those who knew him well could detect the faint tremor beneath his armor. "What message do you bring from Mordor?"
"Dáin Ironfoot, son of Náin, Heir of Durin the Deathless," the rider intoned. He did not openly scorn the names, but there was nothing in his voice that could be interpreted as respect. It was almost as though the titles were too lowly to be worth his attention, and once again, the Mountain rumbled with anger. "The Great Eye wishes for friendship with the Lonely Mountain. You will find him a generous ally. Rings will he give for this friendship, Rings such as he gave of old."
Glóin blinked. At his side, Gimli inhaled sharply. A heated mutter rose and fell throughout the assemblage. Rings? Rings of Power? Glóin understood well the allure of such an offer. Thirty years ago, the same temptation had drawn Óin and Balin into the dark of Khazad-dûm. It was an enticing ruse, this offer of Rings, for it touched upon memories of glory and grandeur. But the dwarves had grown wise; accompanying memories of glory and grandeur were memories of deceit and betrayal.
Dwarves did not forget betrayal.
"Sauron must crave our friendship greatly to make such an offer," Dáin said, his words slow and measured. "What does he ask in return?"
"Whence come these doubts? Think you so little of your own strength? Surely an alliance with Durin's Heirs is in Mordor's best interests. Or perhaps you are right to doubt," the creature continued, his voice dropping to a hiss. "Perhaps you should consider your own interests."
"You have yet to answer the question," Dáin's said coldly.
A whisper of breath that might have been amusement chilled the air. "As is customary in such matters, the Great Eye desires some show of good faith in return for his generosity," the rider said. "But it is no great thing he requires! He simply seeks understanding. Information." He leaned forward over the saddle. "My master wishes to hear somewhat concerning…hobbits. Share with me what you know! What manner of creature are they, and in what lands can they be found? For the Great Eye has learned that one of these was known to you for a time."
Glóin's blood ran cold as a cavern pool. What did Mordor want with hobbits? More to the point, what did Mordor want with Bilbo? The last Glóin had heard of the little burglar, he had settled in Rivendell. Glóin prayed this was still the case. He shuddered to think of what might happen should the servants of Mordor find Bilbo wandering abroad in the Wilds.
"As a small token only of your friendship," the rider said softly when the silence stretched long, "the Lord of Mordor asks this: find this one that was known to you. This thief. And take from him, willing or no, a little ring—nay, the least of rings—that once he stole. It is but a trifle that the Great Eye fancies, and an earnest of your good will. Find it, and three Rings the dwarf-sires possessed of old shall be returned to you, and the realm of Moria shall be yours forever. Find only news of the thief, whether he lives and where, and you shall have great reward and lasting friendship from the lord." The rider paused, and when next he spoke, the menace in his voice could have cooled the great smelting furnaces. "Refuse," he warned, "and things will not seem so well. Do you refuse?"
Glóin struggled to collect his reeling thoughts. If Sauron had the power to offer Khazad-dûm, what of Óin and the others? There had been no word from them for twenty years. Glóin had resigned himself to the fact that his older brother was almost certainly dead, but to hear word of Khazad-dûm from a servant of Mordor—
Glóin shook his head, turning his thoughts from the fallen. How did any of this pertain to Bilbo? What could be so important that Sauron would offer three of the dwarven Rings as well as darkened Khazad-dûm? Glóin's hands visibly shook at the thought of Bilbo in Mordor's clutches, rattling the axe on his belt. Gimli seemed no better, and the tinny sound of shaking mail could be heard throughout the Mountain.
But Dáin stood fast, his shoulders set and his back stiff. "I say neither yea nor nay," he said. "I must consider this message and what it means under its fair cloak."
"Consider well, but not too long," the rider warned.
Dáin's reply was sharp. "The time of my thought is my own to spend."
"For the present." The rider wheeled his horse about and departed into the night. Within moments, he was lost to sight. A short time later, the sounds of hooves died away. The torches about the entrance to the Lonely Mountain brightened.
The shadow over dwarven hearts was slower to lift.
A hand on his arm caused Glóin to flinch violently, but Dáin made no mention of it as he quickly drew him aside. Suddenly Dwalin was also with them, and before Glóin could realize what was happening, the King had marched them both clear of the crowd. "What use would Mordor have for Bilbo?" Dáin demanded.
Not trusting his voice, Glóin looked to Dwalin. Unfortunately, his cousin seemed equally baffled. "I can think of nothing," Dwalin said.
"Then what of this ring Bilbo has?"
Glóin tugged at his beard and cast another look at Dwalin. He knew Bilbo possessed a ring of curious wizardry, but he knew little more than that. He vaguely recalled Bilbo speaking of a riddle contest with a strange beast, but Glóin had been addled by spider poison at the time of the telling and his memories were unclear. Tharkûn, upon hearing the story much later, had sternly instructed them all to keep the tale to themselves. The wizard had been so adamant, in fact, that Glóin had never mentioned Bilbo's ring again, even to those who knew of it. He was reluctant to break that vow.
But a rider of Mordor had come to Erebor asking after Bilbo and offering Khazad-dûm…
"What I share you must never repeat," Glóin said quietly, praying he would not regret breaking this oath. "Tharkûn himself commanded we speak of this to no other, and I would not do so now save that the situation seems to demand it."
"Then Tharkûn's command will bind me as well," Dáin promised. "Say on."
Glóin took a deep breath and dredged the memories forth. "During the quest to slay Smaug, Bilbo obtained a ring in the depths of the Misty Mountains. I learned of this ring shortly before the elves imprisoned us in their Mirkwood halls. From what I remember, Bilbo won the ring from a creature and discovered it could make one invisible. He used it to escape the goblins in the mountains, and he used it again against the spiders, the elves, and Smaug himself." Glóin paused, struggling to recall more to the story, but nothing came to him. "That is all I know," he finished at length.
"Balin would be the one to ask," Dwalin said softly, his eyes pained. "He revisited the tale often with Bilbo. Unfortunately, I remember no more than what Glóin has said."
"You say Bilbo won this ring," Dáin said, "yet the rider claimed the ring was stolen. What know you of that?"
"Naught more than what Bilbo shared," Glóin said. "But I would question the word of Mordor before I questioned the word of a hobbit. Perhaps the rider lied. Or perhaps the creature from whom Bilbo won it was the thief."
"Or perhaps the rider spoke of a different ring altogether," Dwalin added with a helpless shrug. "I cannot fathom what Sauron might want with a ring that makes one invisible. He has creatures aplenty that can move unseen. Why offer such bounties for a 'trifle'?"
"Because it is not a trifle. Not if Sauron is willing to offer three of the Seven for it," Dáin said, his expression dark. He pressed his lips together in a firm line, causing his bear to bristle. "Summon Dori, Nori, Bifur, and Bofur to the council rooms," he said. "And have someone get that sluggard Bombur off his couch to join you as well. Perhaps together, those of you who traveled with Bilbo will be able to explain why we were just visited by an emissary from Mordor."
"I doubt any of them can provide better answers," Glóin warned. "As Dwalin has said, it may be that the rider's questions have naught to do with Smaug or that journey."
"Even so, we must try," Dáin said. "I will leave nothing to chance in this. We have drawn Mordor's attention, and that is not to be taken lightly." He fell silent for a time, his face grim. Then something shifted in his eyes, and when next he spoke, his voice was deep and firm. "All who remain from the quest to free Erebor shall gather," he said. "You will examine all that you can remember regarding Bilbo, and by Mahal's anvil, we will find answers!"
"We will see it done," Dwalin promised, but there was little hope in his voice. Glóin could hardly blame him, for despair had crept into his own heart. Even if they struck mithril and remembered something that might explain the demands of the rider, what of it? They could not betray Bilbo or the Shire.
Glóin blinked and discovered Dáin had left, Gimli had arrived, and Dwalin was looking at him with concern. Curling his hand around his axe haft, Glóin hastily ordered his thoughts. "Bombur must be moved to the council chambers," he said without preamble.
Gimli's eyes widened. "It takes six dwarves just to move Bombur from his bed to his table," he protested.
"Then find twelve dwarves to carry him down the hall!" Glóin snapped.
Gimli scowled. "I will see what can be done," he said. "Will you have time to speak with me later?"
Glóin sighed, recognizing Gimli's unspoken demand for an explanation. "I promise to tell you all I can, but it will have to wait until tomorrow. Now go and see to Bombur. Since moving him will be difficult, all the more reason to start sooner rather than later."
Gimli looked unsatisfied, but he nodded and moved off, pushing through the dwarves still crowded about the Lonely Mountain's gates. "He is too persistent," Dwalin murmured. "You will be able to hold little back from him."
"Well do I know it," Glóin agreed, still watching Gimli. "But his mind is keen and his judgment quick. Mayhap he will see something we do not."
"If there is aught to be seen," Dwalin said ominously. "We were there. We know Bilbo. He poses no threat to Mordor."
"Many of us thought he posed no threat to Smaug," Glóin noted.
"Bilbo did not slay Smaug. Bard did."
"Then perhaps it is Bilbo's ring that is the threat," Glóin said. "But what ring could threaten Sauron?"
"What ring indeed?" Dwalin murmured, and said no more.
Horatio: If your mind dislike anything, obey it.
(Hamlet—Act 5 Scene 2)
Spring, T.A. 3018
The second time the rider came, the dwarves were unsettled.
At least, Glóin was. He suspected a large part of his unease came because he was not at the Lonely Mountain. Rather, he was in Dale acting as King Dáin's representative. The Mirkwood crown-prince and his youngest brother had arrived as emissaries for Thranduil, and they had requested to speak with both men and dwarves. According to King Brand, they brought news of a threat that would alter the defenses of Erebor and Dale.
Those tidings alone were disquieting enough, but before Glóin could hear anything from the elves, the guards at Dale's gates sent word that a rider approached: a rider swathed in black who swore allegiance to Mordor. The concurrent arrival of elves claiming threats and a messenger claiming Mordor was something Glóin found deeply worrisome.
"This is not to my liking," Dwalin muttered as he walked beside Glóin. "Mordor demands an answer, we are ignorant of whatever prompted an elven summons, and we still know nothing of what Bilbo did to draw Sauron's interest." Dwalin paused. "We did not discuss Mordor's demands at our last council meeting. Is this rider expected?"
"Has Dáin an answer for him?"
Glóin shook his head. "Again, no." Dwalin had spent much of the winter in the Iron Hills and had been absent for the latest debates over what words should be given if the messenger returned. "Dáin feels we know too little to give any answer. Most of what we know still comes from the discussion we had with Dori, Nori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur."
"The discussion where we decided we knew nothing at all?"
Glóin offered up a mirthless smile. "The same. Since then, the only tidings of any note have been the absence of tidings. There has been no warning of a second messenger and no word of Bilbo."
"Then we must hope Bilbo has given up wandering," Dwalin said quietly. "If he is in Rivendell, he will be protected. If he is not…"
Glóin gritted his teeth and turned his attention forward. He and Dwalin formed the middle of an odd procession. In front of them walked King Brand, his son Prince Bard, and his personal guard. Behind Glóin came the elves, Celebas and Legolas, who had apparently been spared a visit from Mordor's rider and wished to hear the messenger for themselves. His distrust of Thranduil's folk notwithstanding, Glóin was grateful for their presence. Elves were fierce and cunning in battle, and it felt good to have them at his back as the outer gates drew near. Night also drew near, and the evening shadows were long. If the rider went to the Lonely Mountain after concluding his business with King Brand, he would reach the dwarves well after sunset. Glóin suspected the timing was planned.
Ahead of them, the tower heralds announced their approach. The gates stood open, and Glóin cast his eyes beyond Dale's protective walls. In the fading glow of sunset, he spied a waiting horse with a rider hunched low in the saddle. It was as if the rider cowered in the sunlight, not unlike the way Glóin wished to cower from the rider. Reminding himself that elves walked just behind him, he mustered his courage and quelled the sudden trembling in his knees.
"Are you the messenger who came to us last autumn?" Brand demanded as they reached the wall.
The horse stomped its foot and the rider shifted. "I am. I seek the answer you promised."
"State your terms again, that I may be certain of them."
"They were simple enough," the rider hissed. "Have you so quickly forgotten the great wealth and power promised you? We ask only for knowledge and tidings in return."
"Have you flint and steel?"
The sudden voice in his ear made Glóin jump. He swung about to find Mirkwood's crown-prince kneeling beside him, but Celebas was not looking at him. Rather, his gaze was locked upon the rider, and his eyes burned with something cold. Something fell. For a moment, Glóin found himself fearing the elf more than the rider.
"Quickly, Master Dwarf!" Celebas snapped, never once glancing away from the horseman.
"Yes," Glóin murmured. "I have flint and steel."
"Then be prepared to kindle fire in haste." Celebas stood and moved back a pace, his hand on his sword hilt. Glóin suddenly noticed the younger elf was nowhere to be seen. He looked around, confused. The terror this rider projected was great, but he would have thought a son of Thranduil—
"Why are these tidings of such interest to your lord?" Brand asked boldly, though his voice wavered.
"My master's interest is not to be questioned," the rider warned. "Be content that he has not yet turned his interest to you."
Celebas was back, as was his brother. The latter shoved an arrow before Glóin's face, a sodden scrap of cloth tied tightly about the shaft just below the arrowhead. Glóin found himself overwhelmed by the scent of lantern oil. "What are you—" he started to demand.
"Fire!" Legolas hissed. "Light the cloth around my arrow!"
"And stand ready to light others should they be needed!" Celebas added, placing an assortment of linen-wrapped arrows on the ground beside Glóin. "There can be no hesitation!"
Glóin was no elf's lackey, and had circumstances been different, he would have refused. But both elves were staring at the messenger with terrible recognition. They knew this rider. They hated him. Not since the Battle of Five Armies had Glóin witnessed such loathing in an elf. But more than that, they feared this rider. Glóin could see it in the pallor of their faces. That was enough for him.
He wrested the arrow from the younger elf and sent up a quick plea to Mahal. Glóin had always been able to summon flame no matter what the circumstances, and he prayed his talents would not desert him now. Several flint strikes later, the oil-soaked cloth caught fire. Legolas reclaimed the arrow and nocked it, careful to keep the burning fabric away from the arch of the bow itself. Both elves started forward, Celebas taking the lead as he pulled his sword from his scabbard.
The creature on the horse paused. His hood lifted toward the elves. A deep growl sounded from within the depths of the cowl, sending shivers skittering down Glóin's spine. "Mirkwood has no business here," the rider snarled.
"Nor do you," Celebas returned coldly. "Leave these lands!"
"I am a messenger only," the rider said. "I brandish no weapons."
"We are messengers also," Legolas answered. "But we are too well acquainted with Mordor's treachery, and we do brandish weapons. Leave!"
The rider's horse reared and backed away, his nostrils flaring in the dying sunlight. The rider pulled sharply on the reins, turning the horse's head. His attention snapped back to King Brand. "I will come again for your answer," he promised. "You would be wise to dismiss the elves. They will not protect you in the coming days!"
"Legolas!" Celebas shouted.
A piercing scream shattered the evening just as Legolas released his arrow. Glóin staggered, ears ringing and heart pounding. The paving stones shook beneath his feet. The crackling flames of the elven arrow went wide of the mark, flying over the rider's head as Legolas jerked sharply in surprise. His brother leaped forward, sword at the ready, but the rider wheeled his horse about. With a swirl of cloak and mane, the creature galloped into the growing shadows. Horse and rider quickly faded from sight, leaving behind only an echoing clatter of hooves.
No one moved. All seemed frozen, as though uncertain of what should happen next. At length, Legolas lowered his bow. "I missed."
"He screamed," Celebas answered. His gaze swept over the company. "Have you any inkling of what you face?"
"If they did, Khamûl would not have returned for an answer. They would have refused him the first time," Legolas said, pinning Brand beneath a narrow-eyed look.
Murmurs were beginning to trickle about the streets behind them. Those who had been outside for the confrontation stared toward the gates. Those who had been inside peered through cracks in shuttered windows. Ashen gate guards clutched their weapons with white-knuckled grips. Glancing around, Glóin cleared his throat and stepped back a pace. "Perhaps this discussion could be continued in your halls, King Brand," he suggested.
Bard laid a hand on his father's shoulder. Celebas and Legolas looked away. King Brand nodded sharply. "Yes, let us return. It seems we have many things to discuss."
The king took the lead, his pace brisk. Dwalin sent Glóin a tight smile as they fell into step behind the men. "Well spoken."
Glóin nodded absently, not truly hearing the words. His mind was too focused on the confrontation at the gates to celebrate a rare moment of consensus between the three races. People on the streets parted for them as they walked, whispers going before them. The evening shadows grew deeper. Glóin spared a glance for the elves as they walked. Once again, Thranduil's sons acted as the company's rearguard, and Glóin was not sorry to have them between himself and the gates. They apparently knew the nature of Mordor's messenger, and Glóin could not help but wonder what else they knew. Could this rider be subdued in some way? Or at least driven back? And to what other areas did elven knowledge extend? Would they know what interest Mordor might have in Bilbo?
Murmurs in the street accompanied them to Brand's halls, but the procession itself made the journey in silence. Had Brand been a dwarf, he would have taken a moment to speak with the guild leaders and guardsmen just outside his halls. The gathered men looked as though they desired…something. Glóin did not always understand mannish wants or needs, but perhaps a word of comfort would be in order. Or if Brand had none to offer, then perhaps a word of counsel. Or even a word of command. Yet Brand said nothing, barely acknowledging those clustered around the doors as he led the way inside. Glóin frowned. Brand was normally a fair-minded and attentive king. Glóin could only assume the encounter at the gates had badly shaken him. But then, men rarely fared as well against the unseen as did dwarves and elves.
They were not conducted back to the main hall where they usually gathered but rather into a study with a long, narrow table. Attendants lit lamps along the walls before hastily taking their leave. Soon all that remained were Brand, Bard, Glóin, Dwalin, and the two elves. Brand waved them all to sit but remained standing himself, his face pale and his eyes haunted. His first words since leaving the gates were directed to the elves: "What was that creature?"
The elven princes exchanged looks. "A servant of the Enemy," Celebas said at length. "A dangerous one."
"We gathered that much," Bard said, his voice low. "What more can you tell us?"
Celebas sighed. "More than you would wish. The rider who visited this evening is called Khamûl. There are others of his kind. As for what kind they are…" Celebas trailed off, and his eyes seemed distant. "I do not know what you might gain from knowing their true nature. The dwarves, probably, would recognize the threat," he nodded toward Glóin and Dwalin, "but knowledge will not aid you. Indeed, I fear you would only be hindered by terror if you understood what you faced. All you need know is this: The riders are not to be trusted! Do not treat with them. If possible, do not meet with them after nightfall. Always keep fire close at hand, for they fear light and flame."
"Hence the lit arrow," Glóin said. He frowned. "The rider claimed he carried no weapons, but when last he visited the Lonely Mountain, I distinctly remember a bare blade."
Both elves stiffened. "Can you describe it?" Legolas asked.
Glóin glanced at Dwalin. "A long knife, I thought it," Dwalin said. "One imbued with some devilry. It seemed not to reflect the light of our torches but rather gleamed pale as though beneath the moon."
"Yet there was no moon that night," Glóin remembered.
Celebas closed his eyes, his face drawn. Legolas muttered something in his own language that sounded very much like one of the few elven curses Glóin knew. "Do not confront this rider," Celebas eventually said, and his hands clenched before him on the table. "Fire is for defense, not attack. Do not let the rider's blade touch you."
An uneasy silence filled the small room. At length, Brand sat heavily at the head of the table. "Those few things you are willing to share breed naught but terror in my heart. I know not what could fill me with greater fear."
"Then count yourself fortunate," Legolas said shortly.
Another silence descended. Glóin wished to ask more questions concerning the rider, but there was a look of finality about the elves. They would say nothing more.
After a moment, Celebas stirred and leaned forward a bit. "What does this rider ask of you? We heard promises of wealth and power in return for tidings."
"Tidings of hobbits," Brand said. "And of the Shire."
"Hobbits?" Legolas echoed.
"Yes," Glóin said, rubbing his hands on the table. "In particular, tidings of Bilbo and his role in our quest to destroy Smaug." He deliberately left out any mention of rings, dwarven or otherwise.
"What would Sauron want with hobbits?" Legolas asked, turning to his brother.
Celebas shook his head. "I cannot imagine."
"The rider has made the same request of the dwarves," Dwalin said, watching the elves carefully. "We are promised great riches and lands for news of Bilbo."
"Mordor must be desperate to ask for these tidings, knowing such requests will be examined," Legolas murmured.
"Or perhaps Mordor poses a great enough threat to overshadow any questions," Celebas said. The muscles along his jaw bunched, and his eyes narrowed. "This is an ill time to broach such tidings as we have, but they must be shared now. Mordor's rider makes it all the more imperative that you hear them. Over the past year, we have sent parties into the eastern lands, particularly in Dorwinion. We have many dealings with the good merchants there."
"And now we have many more dealings with merchants who are not so good," Legolas muttered, earning a sharp look from his brother. "I was the one forced to treat with those men," he said coolly.
Celebas sighed and leaned back. "Continue, then. Share what more you learned."
"We learned the good merchants wish only to ply their wares and say no more," Legolas said with a pointed look at Celebas. "There is great fear throughout Rhûn and its border lands. Few offer information freely. But there are some whose loyalty can be purchased for a price. They tell us that forces from many lands and many clans are gathering and unifying. Old hatreds and rivalries are being put to rest in favor of greater hatred for the western lands. Mercenaries are abroad, and a call has been sent out for warriors of any ilk. They are gathering supplies, also, and they have forced farmlands to pledge the fall harvests to their cause. Based on all we have been able to gather as well as their strategies of old, our captains anticipate an attack from Rhûn early next year."
Brand and Bard traded alarmed looks, but the news came as no surprise to Glóin. "That fits with what our own scouts have learned," Dwalin said, who had wintered in the Iron Hills to gather similar tidings. "We were not so certain of the date, but the spies sent forth from the eastern edges of our own lands have observed great movement on the steppes of Rhûn. A large host is indeed mustering."
"We were waiting to share these tidings until we were more certain of numbers and times," Glóin added, noting the rising anger from the men. "But from what we have been told, they outnumber us greatly."
"They might outnumber you more than you know," Celebas said quietly. "Your forces are about to be lessened."
"Lessened?" Bard demanded.
"What mean you by your forces," Glóin said, suspicions rising. "They are our forces in matters of defense. Such was the league we formed after the Battle of Five Armies."
"The enemy attacks on two fronts," Celebas said. "Even now, the elves are engaged in a campaign against Dol Guldur."
"Wargs and spiders swell the woods," Legolas said, his eyes flashing. "Before, orcs from Dol Guldur rarely traveled further north than the East Blight, yet now they prowl the slopes of the Mountains of Mirkwood. The forest has never been darker, and our scouts tell us that an army many times larger than our own gathers as Dol Guldur."
"Lothlórien has requested our assistance, and the Lady of the Golden Wood does not lightly importune aid," Celebas added. "This is a threat more immediate to our halls than the coming war with Rhûn, and for this cause, we may have to break our league with Dale and the Lonely Mountain. We cannot promise aid. We cannot even promise to maintain the paths through the woods beyond the summer months. Most of our forces will move south ere the end of the year."
"But that will cut us off from all who live beyond the Misty Mountains!" Dwalin exclaimed.
"We spoke to the Beornings. They agreed to keep the western trails," Celebas said. "But our own people will be spread too thin to safeguard the eastern roads. If you wish to send for aid, you should do so before the harvest." He paused, and his eyes darkened. "Regardless of when you brave the forest, though, I strongly advise against traveling alone."
"Even the elves no longer travel alone," Legolas murmured.
"Then Mordor is right," Brand said, his voice low and hard. "The elves will not protect us in the coming days."
Legolas inhaled sharply, but Celebas put a hand on his shoulder. "We will do all in our power to hold to the league. If any can be spared from the press south, they will ride east to assist you. But our own lands will be overrun by summer's end if we do not counter the threat from Dol Guldur." He bowed his head, and his shoulders rounded as though bearing a great weight. "Our king sends his regrets. And I offer my apologies to both Dale and the Lonely Mountain. But we are too few and the enemy too many."
King Brand regarded the elves with a look that might have been chiseled from stone. Then he turned to Glóin and Dwalin. "What answer does Dáin plan to give the messenger from Mordor?"
"None, if it can be helped," Glóin said. "At least, none for the time being. Until we can discern the reason behind the request, our plan is to delay. But when delay is no longer an option…" He looked at Dwalin.
"Most of the council is in favor of refusing the rider outright," Dwalin said. "Dáin is firmly of that opinion, and his word in this is final."
"Will that change after today?"
Glóin frowned. "Today we learned how great Mordor's reach and power have become. Willfully aiding that power would be foolishness."
"Or perhaps it would be the only prudent course for those left without defense," Brand said darkly.
"You cannot mean that!" Dwalin protested. "Think! This is Mordor!"
"No!" Brand shot back. "This is Dale! And when I think, it will be with my own people in mind. If I have not the means to defend them, what king am I?"
"But if you add to Mordor's strength—" Glóin began.
"When Rhûn attacks, we will fall regardless of that strength. If I can buy my people time—"
"Then you lose not only your lives but your honor," Celebas broke in. "Or worse: Mordor might force you to keep your lives! That would not be an act of mercy." The elf leaned forward, his eyes dark and his voice haggard. "You have not experienced the torments Sauron can inflict. Pray you never do! Even to see such things would forever scar you!"
A frigid silence fell. The lamps along the walls seemed to dim. Eventually, Glóin spoke, wincing at the shattered silence. "We cannot speak for Dáin in this, but the dwarves have offered refuge in the past. If Dale and Esgaroth are overrun, we can long endure a siege within the walls of the Mountain. We control the headwaters of the River Running, and if we are prudent with our harvest this coming year, we will have stores enough to feed everyone for some time."
Bard stirred at that. The young man had said nothing since the elves explained their intention to press south. Glóin had almost forgotten he was there. Indeed, he looked as though he wished to be elsewhere, his face taut and shoulders bowed. But his eyes were clear as he looked at Glóin. "Would you speak with your king regarding this offer of refuge, Master Dwarf?" He paused, then, and though his next words were addressed to all, he looked to his father. "Knowing what we may rely upon should our fears run true will enable us to better craft our actions."
"I will speak to Dáin," Glóin promised.
The elves shifted uneasily. "Your own wisdom must hold sway in this," Celebas said at length. "But if you can heed the counsel of one who has made your decisions difficult, I say this: Mordor cannot be trusted. Should you give them the tidings they wish, they may let you alone for a little while. But great evil will come of it in the end."
Brand's eyes flashed, but nodded curtly. "It seems we all have much to discuss with our kin. I thank you for coming. Lodging has been prepared for all of you, should you wish it."
"Gladly do we accept," Dwalin said, answer the unspoken dismissal and rising from his chair.
Brand indicated the doorway. "The guards can show you."
Glóin silently followed Dwalin into the hall, grateful they would not have to return to the Lonely Mountain. The elven warnings about the rider darkened his heart, and he had not looked forward to jumping at every shadow on the return trip. But even so, he doubted he would find much rest in Dale. King Brand's words haunted him, and judging from the look on Dwalin's face, his concern was shared. The elves were leaving them. Would the men also?
When they reached the relative privacy on their own room, he opened his mouth to give voice to his query. But Dwalin shook his head. "Not tonight," he said. "Not while the sun slumbers. Dark for dark business, but we have had darkness aplenty. We must sleep if we are able."
"You sleep," Glóin whispered, kneeling down to start a fire in their small hearth. "I am going to seek what light I can."
Wordlessly, Dwalin joined him.
Hamlet: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
(Hamlet—Act 1 Scene 5)
Early Summer, T.A. 3018
The third time the rider came, the dwarves were undecided.
Just prior to the rider's arrival, King Brand had sent a letter wondering if a compromise of sorts could be struck with Mordor. He did not state his feelings outright, but when Dáin read the missive aloud to the council, Glóin could hear unspoken panic.
And that panic was spreading.
"If Dale treats with Mordor and we do not, we will become the sole focus of Mordor's anger," Nír warned. "We do not have the numbers or the defenses to withstand such a foe. Not with Rhûn also gathering!"
It was the morning after the rider's visit, and the Heirs were gathered in the council hall. The rider had again left without an answer from the dwarves, but before departing, he had warned that his next visit would be his last. Dáin might have given him an answer then were it not for Dale's sudden hesitation. The possibility that the men might betray Bilbo raised a host of complications, and Nír the wainmaster was not alone in his concerns. Half the council felt as he did.
"We cannot betray Bilbo!" Dwalin said angrily, voicing the opinion held by Glóin and the other half of the council. "He has done nothing to merit Mordor's wrath!"
"And what have we done to merit Mordor's wrath?" Nír demanded. "If Mordor cannot expend its energies on Bilbo, it will surely do so against us!"
"Indeed, can we sacrifice the safety of the entire Lonely Mountain for the life of a single hobbit?" This came from Borin, Dáin's youngest son, and his words drew a dark look from his older brother.
At the head of the table, Dáin leaned forward and steepled his hands. "It is not just the life of a single hobbit. Mordor wishes to learn of their country and their kind. If we betray Bilbo, we also betray the whole of the Shire."
"And we give Mordor something it desperately wants," Gimli added from his place beside Glóin. "If Sauron is willing to part with Three of the Seven as well as Khazad-dûm, then the information is of great worth to the Dark Lord."
"That is what I find most confusing about this whole affair," Thorin said with a shake of his head. "It is as though Mordor reaches too far. We know they desire knowledge of the Shire, and we know they are willing to sacrifice much for it. They send a fell messenger to deliver an offer of friendship, ask that we sacrifice a dear friend, offer us great rewards in exchange, and threaten us should we refuse. If Mordor sought to curry our favor, the messenger failed."
"Those who have grown secure in their power sometimes fail to realize the merits in slow and subtle persuasion," said Otin, a young architect and frequent visitor in Glóin's home. "Perhaps this is what rendered the messenger's request so awkward. Perhaps Mordor can no longer beguile its enemies as it once did."
"Do not underestimate the wiles and wit of the Shadow," Dáin said sharply. "The only safe paths through Mirkwood are those maintained by the elves and the Beornings, and the elves warn us those will soon be lost. We are all but severed from the lands west of the Misty Mountains, and this was accomplished through slow and subtle means."
"So if Mordor is yet adept at subtlety but has chosen not to employ it, then we are meant to be suspicious of this message," Dwalin surmised. "And we are meant to be divided by it. Sauron knows we will not readily give him anything, so he seeks to wrest the information from us."
"That much seems clear," Glóin agreed. "But what remains unclear is the demand: Why Bilbo? What use could Mordor possibly have for a hobbit?"
"None," Dáin said. "Nor do hobbits pose any threat to Mordor. Thus I perceive Sauron wants not Bilbo but rather Bilbo's ring."
"Which returns us to the question we asked when the messenger first came: What manner of ring does Bilbo bear?" Thorin asked.
To that, no one had an answer.
"Perhaps he bears one of the Seven," Otin suggested at length.
"Thorin Oakenshield would have known," Dáin said, shaking his head. "He could not have traveled with Bilbo side-by-side for months and not known. But whatever its nature, it is clearly a ring of great significance."
"Indeed. The messenger seemed to think it would give Sauron control over Khazad-dûm," Gimli said.
Glóin frowned at that. "Control over Khazad-dûm?" he echoed.
"He does not have control over the mines now," Gimli explained. "If he did, he would use that control to close the mountain passes and launch attacks into Eriador. In order to offer us the mines, he needs to come by them."
Glóin was not prepared to debate about the mines. "Or it could be a blatant lie and he has no intention of giving us Khazad-dûm," he said angrily, hoping to close the subject.
"At which point Sauron risks open war by betraying us, which means that Bilbo's ring, whatever it is, still secures Sauron's power," Dáin concluded. "Regardless of Khazad-dûm's fate," and this was said with an apologetic look for all who had lost close kin in that venture, "it remains that if this ring falls into Sauron's hands, it will prove ill for us."
"But if Dale submits to Mordor, our silence spares no one and endangers our people," Nír said, returning to the argument that had begun the debate.
"Would you compound Dale's betrayal with our own?" Gimli demanded. Glóin put a warning hand on his son's shoulder, though he felt the same outrage.
"No! But if we learn what tidings Dale will give Mordor, then perhaps we could offer the same—"
"We still do not know if Dale is going to give Mordor anything!" Thorin interrupted. "And to encourage Dale in any way on our part is a betrayal in its own right!"
"Nor should we base our decision on what Dale may or may not do," Dáin added. "We are dwarves. If need be, we will stand alone, but regardless, we will stand on our own choice. Dale will not dictate our policy."
"But Dale may dictate our fate," Borin murmured.
They were debating in circles. And with the council split as it was, they were unlikely to come to a resolution. Dáin had the authority to overrule whatever decision the council made, and he clearly wished to give Mordor nothing. But with so much at stake, it was also clear he did not wish to proceed until he had the backing of the Heirs. Or at least as many of them as he could persuade. And Dáin could be patient when he wished to persuade. Glóin was beginning to wonder if they should send someone to order both lunch and supper when the sound of raised voices echoed in the corridors beyond the council hall. The door shuddered with a loud pounding, and then a pair of sentries burst in, their beards disheveled and their breath coming hard.
"What news?" Dáin demanded, rising from his seat. Glóin also stood, and his hand strayed to his belt knife.
"Tidings from Dale," one of them gasped, collecting himself enough to answer, "delivered in haste, my lords, as soon as it was received from Mirkwood. The elves were attacked!"
"Attacked?" someone demanded.
"In force. Two nights ago," the other sentry answered, struggling for air. "An army of orcs penetrated deep within their lands, striking no more than a few miles from Thranduil's own halls!"
"Are they yet under attack?" Thorin asked.
"No," the sentry said. "The elves drove the orcs back and are pursuing. Apparently, the orcs took somewhat from them, though what that might be, we do not know. The tidings were unclear."
"Perhaps the orcs have hostages," Dwalin murmured.
Glóin's stomach churned. He had no great love for Thranduil and his kind, but he would not wish any of them to fall prey to orcs. He was very aware of the brutality such creatures could visit upon their enemies.
"Do they request aid?" Dáin asked.
The guard who first spoke shook his head. "No. But Thranduil sends this message: The elves are withdrawing all patrols from their eastern and northern borders. Their forces press south, hoping to stave off additional tests of their strength."
"Mahal be with them," Thorin whispered.
"They will need him," Dáin agreed. "As will we all."
"Indeed," Nír said darkly. "The elves have broken our league. What hope have we that Dale will not follow?"
"The elves do not betray by choice but by necessity," Dwalin said.
"Dale may do the same!" Borin snapped. "We would then be the only army standing between Rhûn and—"
"Mordor's forces already march through elven lands," Dáin interrupted. "If the elves do not press Dol Guldur, we will be surrounded. Thranduil has not broken the league. Rather, Mordor has stretched us too thin. And as the elves protect our western borders, we must do likewise on the east. If we do not, Mordor will besiege us, regardless of whatever answer we give the dark rider."
"But if Dale gives up Bilbo—"
"We will not betray the Shire," Dáin said firmly. "Nor will we betray the elves. We have seen the fate of those who trust the Enemy, and we have felt betrayal ourselves. We will not become the betrayers."
"But we must do something," Borin said, his voice quiet. "We cannot let our axes lie idle while Mordor moves against us."
"No," Dáin agreed, "we cannot." He looked out over the council room, his deep-set eyes studying the assembled Heirs. "I need volunteers for a quest of sorts…"
Horatio: All's golden words are spent.
(Hamlet—Act 5 Scene 2)
Late Summer, T.A. 3018
Before the rider's fourth arrival, the dwarves were united.
More or less.
It was a union born of both resolve and despair. Dale was not yet united with them, and elven forces were already moving south. But there was unity, nonetheless. The rider, when he came for the last time, would be told nothing. The Kingdom Under the Mountain would face the unknown and the unseen with their wits, their weapons, and their courage. As dwarves, they could no more betray a dear friend to darkness than they could willingly submit to it. In this, they all finally agreed. In other matters…
Dáin had never been as driven by his heritage as other Heirs. He had openly defied King Thráin after the Battle of Azanulbizar, he had refused to lead a mission back to Khazad-dûm, and he now rejected the idea that some things were simply beyond the ken of the dwarves. More practical than prideful, he had decided to seek the counsel of Elrond Half-elven.
Glóin tightened the straps on his saddle bags as his party prepared to leave. He had mixed feelings about an envoy to Rivendell. He agreed Bilbo must be warned of Mordor's interest. The hobbit was rumored to be in Rivendell, so seeking him there was the first logical step. But turning to the elves for aid was not a move backed by the Heirs. Glóin could not deny that Elrond had been helpful in the quest to destroy Smaug, yet Thranduil's elves had already made clear their priorities did not lie with Erebor and Dale. Rivendell would surely feel likewise. At best, Rivendell might offer explanations, but Glóin wondered if that would do more harm than good. Celebas and Legolas had refused to reveal more than warnings about Mordor's messenger. Sometimes there were good reasons why the unexplained was just that—unexplained.
"Here," someone said behind him, and a heavy metal object was suddenly thrust into his hands.
Turning from his pony, Glóin found himself looking first at his wife and then down at…something iron.
"I finished it late last night."
Glóin looked up. He had not been aware that Aés had even left their bed. She had certainly been there when he went to sleep—the memories quickened his heart—and she had been lying beside him when he woke in the morning.
She raised her brow at him expectantly, and he looked down again at the object he held. It vaguely resembled a large arrowhead, measuring about the length of his forearm as it tapered to a point. Upon its widest part, Glóin could make out panels and knobs, looking suspiciously like doors and handles. Glóin grimaced. The direct approach was usually the best when his wife was involved. "What is it?" he asked.
"I do not yet have a name for it," she said.
Glóin suppressed a sigh of relief. At least this was not something he was meant to recognize. But that still did not explain what it was or why he was holding it. "How does it work?" he said after a moment's silence.
She took it from him and turned it over. Buckles jingled. Glóin's eyes widened. "It is a shield," Aés explained. "The broad part protects your elbow. It tapers to a point several inches past your knuckles so you may stab with it if quarters are close. I fashioned the straps so they should fit your left arm."
"And this?" Glóin asked, examining a lantern lashed to the inside of the shield's broadest section.
"Protection against the rider." Aés put the shield on her own arm and raised it as though defending against a blow. "These panels open," she said, pulling the knobs on the outside of the shield, "and the light from the lantern shines forth." She closed the panels. "Did not the elves say to keep fire with you always? This seemed more practical than encumbering one hand with naught but a torch."
Glóin took the shield back from her, running his hands over its surface. Aés was a renowned ironsmith, and her handiwork was easy to see. It was also easy to see that this craft had not been given as much time or care as Aés usually bestowed on her inventions. It had been made in haste for a departing husband who faced a threat they did not know how to counter. Glóin's heart warmed. "Thank you," he said, and eased his arm beneath the leather bindings. "It fits me well."
"I do not usually say this of my work," Aés said, stepping forward to adjust some of the straps, "but I hope it will go unused." She ceased fiddling with the shield and looked at Glóin, her eyes dark. "This not a gift but a loan. I expect you to return it to me."
Glóin wrapped his free arm around her waist and pulled her close, pressing his lips against hers in a bruising kiss. "Always," he whispered.
Her arms came up around his neck, and she kissed him back, breaking away only when lack of air became a concern. "We may not understand the devilry we face," she murmured, "but we can still take steps to thwart it. We are Heirs of Durin. We will find a way."
He nodded and held her tightly for a moment more. Reluctantly, he lowered his arms and stepped back. She also moved away, the wind catching her black locks and waving them about her head. Setting his face, Glóin gave her a courtly bow before taking the pony's lead rope and moving to join the rest of the dwarves.
His timing was good. Dáin had just come forth to wish them well and see them off on their journey. Dwalin and Gimli stood beside the king, and Glóin made his way toward them. "What is that?" Gimli asked, eyeing the contraption on Glóin's arm.
"Something from your mother," Glóin said.
"Ah. You will have to show it to me when we stop for the night."
"And you will have to show it to me when you return," Dwalin said. He sighed. "I wish I was coming with you. This feels too much like…" He trailed off and looked away.
"Too much like when Óin and Balin left," Glóin said quietly. He rested a hand on his cousin's shoulder. "We go not to Khazad-dûm, Dwalin. We go to Rivendell by way of the High Pass."
"And by way of Mirkwood."
"You saw Thranduil's missive last week. The elves will keep the eastern roads until the harvest."
"You are not likely to return until after the harvest," Dwalin said.
"I have an entire party of dwarves with me, and I have my son," Glóin said. "He has traveled these roads more than anyone. We will be safe."
A shadow crossed Dwalin's face, and he shook his head. "Do not speak in certainties. There are none in these dark times."
"All the more reason to speak in them, for then we strive to make them certain," Glóin returned. He looked to his right as Dáin came up, clapping a hand on his back.
"You have everything you need?" the king asked. He stared at the shield on Gimli's arm. "What is that?"
"My wife's means of confounding Mordor's rider."
Dáin nodded slowly. "You will have to tell me how it fares."
"I pray I will not find out."
"As do I. You have my message to Elrond?"
Glóin indicated the pack on his back. "It is safe. And should we fail to make Rivendell, I will see it does not fall into our enemy's hands."
"See that you keep yourself from falling into our enemy's hands." Dáin's words were heavy, and he looked out over the departing dwarves. Glóin looked with him. They were a small party, large enough for defense but not large enough to attract undue attention on the road. Or so they hoped. At length, Dwalin turned back to Glóin and held out his hand. Glóin clasped it firmly. "Mahal guard your way, kinsman," Dáin said, his face grave. "Swift journey."
They said nothing more. Indeed, what more could be said? Theirs was a bitter gamble. A last cry for aid and understanding. Glóin was reminded of the day they set out on the journey to slay Smaug. There had been little hope in that quest, and though successful, they had lost the last Heirs of Thrór's line. Looking over as Gimli mounted his own pony, Glóin shuddered. He had not allowed his son on that venture. There was little he could say now, though, for his son was a dwarf full-grown and far-traveled. But what use was that against the terror they faced? He hefted his wife's shield on his arm. What use was any of it?
As though sensing his thoughts, Gimli looked over at him. His keen eyes lingered long on Glóin's face. Then the younger dwarf turned away and pressed his knees to the sides of his pony. The procession began with Gimli in the lead. It was not as Glóin had planned it, but then, nothing was. He feared nothing would be on this journey.
Glóin looked at the faces of those around him, hoping for a gleaming of hope. They were frightened. Determined. Resolute. Familiar. Family. Faint echoes of those who had come before sounded in Glóin's heart. The dwarves had not always understood what they faced. Nor had they always been victorious in their ventures. But no matter the threat, Durin's sons had always faced it together.
Glóin smiled grimly. He may not have hope, but he had heritage and comfort. For now, it was enough.
Hamlet: There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will—
Horatio: That is most certain.
(Hamlet—Act 5 Scene 2)
Author's Notes: It's been a while since I've posted anything. My apologies to all. I can only say that RL has been unforgiving in its pace. Rewarding, but busy. There are still things (including my WIPs) that I'm working on, but a snail would probably lap me at this pace.
The title and (obviously) the quotes that separate the scenes come from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Beyond the fact that they're both my favorite characters, I'm not entirely sure what made me associate Horatio with the dwarves. But once I did, I couldn't get this story out of my head for the last few years.
The shield Aés gives Glóin is inspired by one of the oddities of medieval times: the lantern shield. I actually envision a cross between a tapered arm shield and the lantern shield, for those who care. It seemed like something an inventive dwarf might design in this kind of situation.