- Alternate Universe
The Lower Caverns were actually a system of natural caves. They extended deep inside the mountain, below the city proper, separate from the mines stretching down and out for leagues.
Many caves were named for their unique features and were famous among the dwarven kingdoms and beyond, drawing visitors to see their wonders. Some were sacred, and site of pilgrimages. A few were infamous due to their appeal to courting couples or lovers.
The stairs Thorin had taken down lead to the section most often called the Crystal Caverns in the common tongue. The path led into a vast central cavern with a natural spring, studded with crystals ranging from coin-sized to the size of a cart — complete with cart horse. They glowed with a soft luminescence in a variety of colours, making any other light source redundant.
In the center of that space stood a magnificent statue of Mahal the Smith, father of the dwarven race. Fully twelve feet tall, it was exquisitely detailed down to the hairs in his beard and the etching on the beads in his braids. Also carved in stone was the smithy he stood in, including a forge lined with crystals that glowed orange-red, a flame that would never extinguish. The anvil was real and weighed over a ton, and the hammer he held in an upraised hand was forged by the most skilled dwarven craftsmen.
It was said these caverns were nearly identical to the place where Mahal had carved Durin from stone and woken him before the dawning of the First Age. For this reason, along with the shrine, the cave was often called Mahal’s Forge.
Thorin, as Durin, knew the cavern wasn’t identical — it was the very place Mahal had carved the Seven Fathers of stone. For, though he had been left to sleep beneath Mount Gundabad until Eru woke the elves, Durin and his brother dwarves had not been made there.
Erebor was the true birthplace of the dwarven race, and the stone that surrounded him recognized Thorin as being part of itself. Now that he’d woken both the Valar’s gift and the full memories of Durin, there was no place in Middle-earth he would be as powerful. If another dragon came tomorrow, Thorin could command the very stones of the earth to fight back.
As Thorin passed, the sapphire eyes of Mahal gleamed from within. The stone statue sang a very different song from the stone beneath his feet, the chorus of crystals around them, or the faint thrum of the mountain above his head. It sounded like laughter.
Thorin rolled his eyes. The Stone Father had always had an inappropriate sense of humour.
The crystals that the caves were named for sang very differently from other stones, the softest of melodies played by the stirring of air, the cascade of water, or brush of cloth or skin, against their facets. Each had a different tone, and together they sang in a glorious chorus. Along with the sound of the springs riddling the caves and the gentle glow, the Crystal Caverns were otherworldly for any dwarf, especially one gifted by the Valar.
It was here that anyone who had woke those gifts during Smaug’s attack was brought, regardless of their race.
Thorin bypassed the tunnels leading to caves housing abanübirâl, so marked by the soft blue-white light of the crystals within them. Those caves muffled sounds from without and deadened rather than amplified noise made within them, while the crystals dimmed in response.
It was the chamber lit with crystals of blue-green that was his goal. A chamber that sang a different song, one that distracted kurdübirâl from the songs sung by people’s hearts, the press of their minds and intentions.
In that soft blue-green radiance, Legolas of the Greenwood looked like something from a tale of the First Age, or before. Even with the mundane trappings of the pallet mattress and blankets tucked around her, the illusion remained unbroken. She lay still and peaceful, her hair fanned out across her pillow. In this light, the golden strands appeared silvery, more mithril than gold.
Thorin had never found elves particularly attractive — too tall and angular, with their thin limbs and appearance of fragility — but Legolas was a rather beautiful example of her race. Which made it so odd that he’d never heard stories of the fair face of Thranduil’s daughter. If there was one thing all the races of Arda had in common, it was a love of story and song, and gossip. Even orcs and goblins told tales around a fire, though they were of a darker and more malicious bent.
In any city or village, you could hear tell of Galadriel, her power and beauty; of Arwen, the descendant of Lúthien, as fair as the evening star. Songs of the Elvenqueen, her beauty and gentleness, and her tragic death, were sung by many a fire. Thranduil’s sons, their bravery, and fair faces a match for their father, who was the image of Oropher.
As Durin, Thorin had met many of the finest examples of elven beauty, as well as his own race and of Men. Nearly all of them had been well-known. Of Legolas, he had only heard of her existence and some speculation, a few rumours of martial prowess and sympathy for an elven maid raised solely by a father, surrounded by brothers. Thorin knew Thranduil had a daughter but, to his knowledge, she had never entered Erebor despite the many visits of state made by Thranduil and his sons over the centuries.
It made Thorin wonder. Either no one had ever seen Legolas, or Thranduil had made an effort to shelter her from the attention that would spread such stories, such as exposure to other races. Or he’d simply commanded his own people not to speak of her outside his lands.
It reminded Thorin — Durin — of the time now past, when dwarves had protected their children and dwarrowdams to such a degree that other peoples had not even been sure they existed. The hidden nature of dwarven women was such that few ever left their halls, and never without disguise, and female names were not even recorded in books or on family trees. Female names and their stories, their achievements as crafters and warriors, were only passed on by word, and only ever in Khuzdul, the secret language of dwarves. The only place a dwarrowdam’s name was put in writing was within the tomb where they were laid to rest.
That was a time long past, ending when the dwarrowdam had grown angry over their names and legacies being overlooked or lost. Dís would never thank Thorin for protecting her by ensuring the world did not know she existed, nor any of the other dams he’d known in all his lives. A few traces of that legacy remained, such as recording female names separately in guild records, and the lack of songs and stories of dwarrowdams known in the greater world. Even a child in Gondor knew of Durin the Deathless, but not even a king among Men knew the name or existence of his wife Bergdis, the Raven Queen.
Absently, Thorin pressed a fist to his chest, above his aching heart.
Thranduil sat vigil beside his daughter, the light from the crystals rendering his hair to mithril and his face to ice. The three attendants he’d brought with him were huddled together deeper in the cave. They were healers and kurdübirâl, not guards, a face that demonstrated Thranduil was more concerned for his daughter’s health than appearances. Of course, the Elvenking’s sword lay next to him, so perhaps he just considered himself to be enough of a deterrent that he had no need of a guard.
Thranduil ignored Thorin’s approach and the awkward clearing of his throat. He continued to ignore him when one of the healers came to take the basket of provisions from Thorin, and when the healer returned to his fellows, giving the illusion of privacy.
Just as Thorin was about to turn and leave Thranduil to his brooding, the Elvenking finally spoke. Without looking away from his daughter, in a low tone, he said: “So. You’ve returned again, Durin,” in accented Khuzdul.
In the same language, Thorin replied. “Be careful who hears you speak that tongue. Our races are more at odds now than when you learned it if that were possible.” Then, because he needed to ask, “how did you know?”
“Elven ears are more sensitive than all but the most powerful sentinel among Men, and sound carries even in these caverns. Something you should remember,” he added, finally looking up, “unless you are getting forgetful in your old age?”
The look on Thranduil’s face, complete with a raised eyebrow, was so familiar to Thorin it made his breath catch a little. Paired with his droll tone, it was Thranduil’s humour at it’s finest — wry, sharp, and a little biting.
“All my lifetimes combined are still less than yours,” Thorin grumbled. “Old man.”
“Foolish dwarf,” Thranduil murmured. He turned back to his daughter, brushing a hand over her hair. “Thrór doesn’t know?”
“Nor Thráin. My mother hid it from my birth until she died.”
Thranduil nodded. “A few years before you were born, when the gold-sickness was just becoming noticeable in him, Thrór drank too much wine at a feast in Dale and proclaimed that if Durin was reborn within his influence, he would have him drowned at birth rather than cede his rights to one who’d had his turn already. He even tried to make a proclamation to the other dwarf-lords that they would turn anyone born with the Mark of Durin over to him for just that reason.
“Even if you’d survived Thrór’s wrath, the other lords would have put a bounty on you, to use you as a pawn or puppet against Thrór.” Thranduil huffed. “But only because none of them had ever met you. If they had, they would think twice about bringing a wolf into their mountains and courting war within their halls.”
“I’d never heard that,” Thorin said lowly. No wonder his first memories of his mother were of her insisting he hid the mark.
“The wiser members of his court were quick to diffuse him, and hush talk of it. That was decades ago, and time has made him more dangerous to you, not less.” Thranduil turned a sharp look on Thorin. “If you think he would not try to kill you or have anyone who knew and hid it from him put to death regardless of any kinship, then this lifetime has left you addled. That you were born as his grandson would make him more enraged rather than less. If you would not take control of Erebor for its sake, you must protect yourself and your family. Everyone you are close to would fall under the suspicious gaze of a paranoid madman should you be discovered unawares.”
He’d known it, but no one had ever so clearly spelt out what was at stake. Thorin thought of his mother’s grief and fear, his sibling’s loyalty, of Balin and Dwalin, who were more family than his father and grandfather. There were others, as well, like the Masters who taught him his crafts, the young lords and warriors he’d trained with at the martial arts. Even his personal servants, many of whom had served his mother and grandmother, leaving their own homes in other mountains to make a home in Erebor.
Thorin owed all of them the same loyalty they showed him. And Thrór would banish or execute any, or all of them, on a whim, no matter that Thorin had kept the truth from nearly everyone.
“I hate it when you’re right,” Thorin grumbled.
“And yet, you should be accustomed to the notion.”
Choosing to drop the conversation, Thorin studied Legolas. “Is she recovering?” he asked, this time in Sindarin.
Thranduil huffed, as he always did at Durin’s terrible accent before his shoulder’s dropped a fraction. “So I am told. The cave is useful for mitigating the worst of her visions, but cannot stop them. Apparently, she is uncommonly strong among those gifted,” he added bitterly.
“A double-edged sword,” Thorin agreed. Looking down at Legolas’ pale visage, it was hard to believe the charming infant he’d once held had grown into a maiden fair enough for songs and strong enough to slay a dragon. Though, considering her family, she’d come by both traits honestly. Especially the looks — Thranduil had always been uncommonly pretty for an elf.
And knew it, the bastard.
But looking at Legolas, Thorin knew it wasn’t Thranduil she most resembled, despite first appearances. Though their colouring was similar, Thranduil was more ice than gold, more winter’s sunlight than summer’s dawn.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “For Ordil.”
At the name of his wife and Queen, Thranduil went so still, Thorin was half concerned he’d stopped breathing entirely. One of the attendants turned and stared at Thorin before another grabbed their arm and turned him back to their tasks.
Finally, Thranduil replied. “It was a long time ago.”
Not so long ago, by elven reckoning. Barely more than a thousand years ago, in a lifespan that stretched back from this Third Age back to the First Age. Still, Thorin knew better than to push at Thranduil when he was resistant to speaking on a topic. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t, should it be needed, but one did not prod such a tender wound with good reason and awareness of the consequences.
“I am still sorry,” he only said, before redirecting the conversation. “If there is anything else you need, let me know.”
“I will keep that in mind.” Thranduil managed to raise an eyebrow at him. “Aren’t you busy enough without taking on menial tasks, Thorin? The hordes have yet to descend, even.”
“Repairs are happening apace,” Thorin huffed. “What hordes? There haven’t been any reports of orcs or their ilk from the watchtowers.”
“Ha, you should be so lucky. Visitors,” Thranduil explained. “You have a dead dragon at your gate.”
“You mean scavengers.”
Thranduil gave Thorin a look of exasperation. “No, Thorin, I mean visitors. Dwarf lords, envoys from other kingdoms, people out to test the waters to see what this means for them and what they might get out of it. The kind you cannot chase off or ignore, but must host, and have speech with, and entertain.” Thorin’s frown grew darker with every word, and Thranduil sighed. “You’ve been dead too long if you’ve forgotten.”
“Shut up. Your daughter was involved,” Thorin realized, “it will be just as bad for you.”
“Fortunately, my daughter is not currently available for visitors, and I am known for being petty, intractable, and impossible to please or sway with pretty words or threats.” Thranduil’s lip curled slightly.
“I knew you were unreasonable on purpose,” Thorin muttered in Khuzdul and left with the Elvenking’s low laugh in his ears.
Terms for sentinel:
sentinel (Westron) – one who stands watch, guards; to perceive by the senses
cundo (Quenya) – ‘lord’, ‘guardian’
abanübirâl (Khuzdul) – stone-listener
wardir (Greentongue) – to protect, guard
Terms for guide:
guide (Westron) – to lead or direct, exert influence over someone or something; to watch after
cenítë (Quenya) – ‘seeing, able to see’
kurdübirâl (Khuzdul) – heart-listener
gardeyn (Greentongue) – one’s inner soul; from the same root as guard, and garden
credit to SOABA for the idea the Hobbits have a language called greentongue. Credit to sunryder for cundo as an elven term for sentinel. The rest I made on my own, so any mistakes are mine.
Both wardir and gardeyn share common roots, and those roots can also be traced to the word ‘garden’. It seemed appropriate for Hobbits.