Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain

The Ironfists' Monster in the Mines
In which they turn to fight their enemies, but find themselves facing a Giant Armoured Moldewarp

HEVENSDAY, LATE AFTERNOON

EVERYONE AGREED TO TOLEÐR’S PLAN OF AMBUSH, but where he himself was the fastest on his feet he had lost too much blood in the fight with the Ironfist dwarves. So it was Yngwi and Tóki who volunteered to play the part of the bait. They left their packs and even their axes with the main force, though Tóki fished his bag of marbles out of his pack just in case, and they wisely kept their shields strapped to their backs as they hurried off.
    Toleðr had said for the ones in armour to be ‘the anvil’ but the mail-clad Fjiar and Gymir, his brother in ruthlessness, that they should be ‘the hammer’ to fall on the enemy’s rear, and Thorfinn made no objection. The two left their packs with the rest of the company and took a lantern and a leather sack to shroud it round into the other tunnel.
    Thorfinn, Toleðr, Bofur and Mêgrim piled up the packs and set about gagging their three Karghal prisoners and binding their ankles.

“Heigh hooo—” began Tóki in his best singing voice, before Yngwi cut him off.
    I know we’re supposed to play blundering idiots, but don’t overdo it! he signed.
    The two kept up a more normal banter as they advanced back up the sloping tunnel, faltering only slightly as they got further and further without encountering anyone. They still heard nothing as they neared the last bend where the tunnel would give onto the dished chamber at the foot of the Force of Stone. The glimmer of light betrayed the fact that their enemy were there.
    “Yes, all of us, now silence!” came a hissed order in response to some unheard question, and they knew that their approach had been detected.
    “I’m telling you I’m bursting. I’ve just got to go right here.” Tóki declared in a stage whisper. He just about managed to suppress a giggle and his fingers flickered, If they come round that corner and we’ve got our breeches down flashing them our arses, that’ll definitely make them chas—
    His fingers froze as there came a flurry of noise, big heavy scrapings over stone. The light ahead was blocked out as a huge shapeless shadow was cast into the tunnel, and suddenly there it was! A monstrous thing the size of a cart that practically filled the tunnel, with great claws more than a foot long, a mass of tentacles at its snout and great plates of bony armour growing out through its black fur.
    “Run for it!” they each cried to the other, and the pair fled as fast as their legs would carry them, all thought of feigned flight utterly forgotten.
 
The appearance of the moldewarp bw
 
Thorfinn and Toleðr had their group all in order, flat against the tunnel wall just beyond enough of an inside curve to hide them. Mêgrim, no fighter, kept watch over the three prisoners at the back and with a sack ready to throw over the lantern when the enemy neared. Weapons and shields were at the ready, and Thorfinn had briefly drilled them in moving out to form a shieldwall, though Bofur dearly hoped Yngwi or Tóki would take his place when battle was joined.
    Fjiar and Gymir lay in wait in the other tunnel, testing the edges on their blades. Both relished the prospect of battle, the proving of skill and the winning of wealth.

“Abandon the plan!” boomed Yngwi’s holler down the tunnel.
    “Everybody out!” followed Tóki. “It’s a freaking great giant moldewarp monster!”
    “They have a cave mole!” Yngwi interpreted. “A monster of horn and ivory that gnaws the world beyond our deepest delvings.”
    “For gold’s sake don’t get stuck in that dead end!” the two kept clamouring as they came, their own pounding bootsteps proof that they were in desperate earnest. They had easily outdistanced the ponderous beast but not slackened their pace one bit.
    “No!” protested Fjiar. “Stick to the plan! This is still the best place to fight!”
    Yngwi met Fjiar and Gymir at the fork in the tunnel, and stopped to persuade them. “Beggar that!” he that he cried. “They’ll be having that armour back off you, if you even live to yield it up.”
    Tóki kept on running down to the others, where he clutched up his battleaxe and ran to get his pack from the pile. Thorfinn directed Mêgrim and Bofur to do the same while he started cutting the ropes from the ankles of the Ironfists.
    “Don’t!” protested Toleðr. “We don’t have to run faster than the monster, we just have to run faster than them.”
    Thorfinn fixed Toleðr with a frosty look and carried on cutting the bonds.
    Toleðr groaned his aggrievement, abandoned the idea and instead raced up to the fork. “Can we wound it – turn it into the other tunnel?” he asked Yngwi.
    Yngwi shook his head. “No. It’s covered with bloody great plates like dragon-armour. But Fjiar still wants to fight it.”
    Fjiar was just as adamant. “We can’t flee down a tunnel we haven’t even explored. We could be over the edge of some chasm before we know it! Or into a dead end where there isn’t a wedged boulder making the passage too small for a giant monster to get at us!”
    “The Karghals are with it,” Yngwi added. “They were there in the chamber before it came at us. Look, I’ll wager my armour to yours: come with us and if we live to tell the tale, you’re a mailshirt up on the deal.”
    “No.” Fjiar refused bluntly. “Taking an unknown tunnel is madness.”
    Then it dawned on Yngwi. “But we do know what to expect that way. It wasn’t down the dead end, so that way leads to the Empty Pie. This is the route that the riddle in the Devotion is telling us to go!”
    “And anyway,” said Toleðr, relieved, “it’s not down to voting. The others are already running…”

Empty pie bw 33

Scarcely a hundred yards later the curving tunnel gave onto the Empty Pie, a large open chamber dominated by a depression where segments of the circular portion in the middle of the cave-floor had collapsed. The miners’ name for the place made perfect sense, as the fallen segments looked for all the world like sunken-in slices of pie crust.
    “Go round it!" came the cry from behind. “You have to skirt around the Empty Pie!”
    Tóki ushered the Karghal captives around the ledge on the left-hand side, making for the far exit. As the others arrived with more lights, they saw that two tunnels came down into this chamber, and a single one led onwards to the north. It was on the threshold of this tunnel that the company downed packs and formed a loose line of battle at which to put up their defence.
    Gymir gave little for the chance of killing the monster with bowshot, and clutched one of the oil lanterns ready to throw.
    “He’s going to immolate it,” said Toleðr. “Im-mole-ate, get it?”
    Fjiar grunted, and took up Gymir’s bow, preferring a slender hope over none at all.

The giant moldewarp surged into the cavern, dragging itself along with its foreclaws almost like it was swimming over the rock.
    Bofur and Fjiar loosed but in their haste in the half-light neither struck home. Fjiar fell foul of a split string and his arrow shot wild, straight up into the ceiling.
    The others bided their time with lantern, throwing axes and even rocks that they wanted to throw in concert when it came closer. The moldewarp scraped on its belly straight over the lip and down into the centre of the collapsed space. The company held their breath, praying that the ‘pie’ was only half-sunk and that the monster’s weight would collapse it into a deeper cavity, but the only movement was the spray of clinker that it scattered left and right as it shovelled itself across the stone.
    There was a glow of light in the tunnel out of which it had come and two dwarves, one hooded and one helmeted emerged at the entrance in the moldewarp’s wake. Fjiar abandoned his useless bow and set off at his best run round the outside of the chamber, snatching out his axes as he went.
    Gymir lofted the lantern high in the air, and it clattered into an armoured plate on the side of the monster’s head, but only when it fell to the floor did it break and a splash of burning oil start up beside the creature’s flank.
    Yngwi hurled his throwing axe, chipping into the armour on the beast’s brow before glancing away, inflicting no more harm than a hangnail.
    Bofur’s second arrow flew true, but merely lodged itself in the armour of the moldewarp’s heaving shoulder. Still the monster came at them, making for the middle where Bofur stood beside Thorfinn. Thorfinn brandished his great sword, but Bofur with only his bow backed away from the battle-line.

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2 Leagues' Journey Under the Earth
In which they question their prisoners, and dwarfmarch them onwards and downwards, following the Riddle.

“WHAT’S YOUR NAME, and what are you doing here?” demanded Yngwi as he neared them.
    “We w– We weren’t…” the dwarf stuttered, looking around at the trio of Lonely Mountain dwarves surrounding him with drawn weapons.
    “Come on, you don’t need time to lie. Tell us who you are and what you’re doing here! Drop your sword! Surrender and you won’t be harmed.”
    “Fhîk,” the dwarf relented, lowering his short sword and then letting it clang to the rock floor, “My name is Fhîk. We’re dwarves of the Ironfist Clan Karghal.”
    “And what are you doing in the sealed caverns of the Kingdom Under the Mountain?”
    Fhîk confessed, fearfully, that he didn’t really know. He was here with his clanfolk, looking for ‘this thing’ that his kinsman said was meant to be in here. Yngwi and Toleðr, joined by Bofur, continued to question him while Fjiar rejoined the rest of the company, binding up the other captives, confiscating their gear, collecting stray marbles and generally composing themselves after the fight.
    The Ironfists hadn’t come in through the Great Gates, but had delved their own way in from the mountainside of the Northern Spur. Fhîk didn’t know what it was that his kinsman was seeking, except that Dwîma said it was very old—-
    “Dwîma?” exclaimed Bofur. “With a brother called Dwîm?” Fhîk nodded. “Them again! And do you know a Longbeard called Foron?” Fhîk said he didn’t know anyone of that name.
    This ‘Fhîk’, Yngwi said with a flicker of Lonely Mountain iglishmêk from behind their prisoner, is no traditional outer name like ours, and it sounds Khuzdul. The others frowned. Surely even Ironfists had more honour than to use their inner names openly.
    Fhîk explained that the Karghals hailed from no hold, but lived on the hills and plains of the Easterlings, beyond the city men called Shrel-kain. There were eight of them here with Dwîma and they’d been here for a month or more.

“So there are five of the worms left, and Dwîm and Dwîma will still be smarting from the last time we met,” Toleðr was reckoning, when Fjiar came back from the group on the ledge, carrying something in his hand.
    “There’s one other thing,” he said, glaring down the tunnel where Fhîk had sought to flee. “I found this spoon. This lot were camped out, with fuel for a cook-fire, a couple of bedrolls, and four sets of bowls and spoons.”
    He turned to the prisoner. “Tell us where the other one is! Tell him to come out or you really will only need three spoons.” And he snapped the spoon in half to make his grisly point.
    Fhîk gulped, genuine fear showing in his eyes, but said that his cousin wouldn’t still be there, he would have been long gone.
    “So all this camping out: you were a rearguard set to keep a watch?” Yngwi surmised, and Fhîk admitted it.
    They dwarfhandled him back to the others and Tóki trussed up the three captives, all stripped to their breeches, as Thorfinn and company held a whispered council. This runner had been gone at least half an hour by now and had not yet brought anyone back to come to his comrades’ aid. But nothing would be gained from lying in wait for them; they would surely approach with caution.
    “We go on,” pronounced Thorfinn. “But what about these three?”
    “Kill ’em,” spat Fjiar.
    “Cut out their tongues,” suggested Gymir.
    “We can drive stakes and tie them to the wall,” Yngwi proposed hastily, alarmed at his companions’ bloodthirstiness.
    “Oh no,” Toleðr countered. “They’re coming right along with us. They get to go in front!”

Force of stone

They clambered back down the ledge to the chamber floor and considered which route to take. Yngwi took charge of the roped-together captives, scarcely daring to trust them to anyone else. He had Mêgrim light them a torch and warned them not to even think of letting it anywhere near their ropes.
    Gymir went to the lip of the dark pit across from the Ironfists’ ledge, looking dubiously down. “That must be where that axe went clattering,” he commented.
    “My heart tells me we will need to go down there too,” Bofur said dourly.
    “Check your lodestone again,” Toleðr suggested. “We’re in Lodestone’s Maze and the next clue is to ‘use the force of stone’ if we don’t want to ‘come undone’.”
    “Look at the way the flowstone cooled in shapes, down that ledge and across the chamber then down here. Almost like a river,” Bofur continued. “A river flowing over a pair of waterfalls.”
    “Waterfalls! That’s it!” exclaimed Yngwi, to the bafflement of the others. “‘Force’ doesn’t mean strength or power – it’s a Dalefolk word for a waterfall!”
    “‘Use the Force of Stone’,” nodded Bofur, hardly pleased at being right.

A torch lowered on a rope showed the drop to be not quite vertical for five or six fathoms, and then to fall away into space for another two before reaching a floor hollowed out like a bowl. It was no simple matter to lower the three handfast captives protesting down the moulded rock, but Mêgrim’s experience with ropework from his mason’s apprenticeship was a great help. Toleðr didn’t relish the climb, but jested callously that he’d be all right as long as the Ironfists were bundled up at the bottom to break his fall.
    Eventually they were all down with the reluctant Bofur coming last, clinging to the rope like grim death to inch his way painstakingly down. Fjiar suggested twitching the grapnel free, but they decided to leave it in place.

The chamber floor rose up a broad step beyond the bowl-like depression, and a tunnel continued out from one side of this. It promptly curved around before more or less straightening out and threescore paces later Bofur declared them now to be heading north-west; the lodestone was holding true once more.
    Before they had gone much further the half-naked Ironfist captives halted their resentful trudge, at a place where the tunnel forked. With no sign of which way to go, and the left-hand passages having worked out so far, that was the way Yngwi bade them take. Moments later there was a glint from something ahead, but as they stole forward with all caution, it proved to be no more than a firestone rock formation with a finish like a potter’s glaze.
    “Lo: ‘the Guardsmen standing by’,” intoned Yngwi.

Guardsmen

The tunnel beyond snaked its way in a more or less steady north-westerly direction for a hundred paces before they encountered another feature. A great boulder was wedged between roof and floor, and the tunnel widened around either side of it.
    “Why are we stopping?” called Toleðr from the back. “‘Lo: the Empty Pie’?” But no one thought it was. The two ways rejoined immediately beyond the boulder and they proceeded onwards, until the tunnel ended abruptly in a rockfall.

Returning the way they had come, they had scarcely manoeuvred everyone round to put the three Ironfists at the front again when the one Fhîk had named ‘Khela’ stumbled and fell, his weight on their ropes pulling Fhîk over with him.
    “Argh, my ankle!” he bellowed. “I’ve bloody sprained it!”
    “So hop,” came an unsympathetic order from further back.
    “Really? Balls to hopping!” he bit back fiercely, a shouted retort louder than was needed to be heard.
    He’s playing to the gallery, Yngwi realised. “Now you listen here. I’m the nice one, and I know you’re faking. You get up or one of this lot— Stop that!”
    Sitting in the tunnel with their hands bound before them, Khela’s and Fhîk’s fingers were twitching away in a gesture-code that Yngwi didn’t know.
    “We’re going to have to separate them,” he said.
    Gymir immediately volunteered to take one, but in the end the troublemaker, Khela, was passed back into Thorfinn’s keeping and at Fjiar’s suggestion the hands of all three were retied, this time behind their backs. The delay had taken some time, and it was only as they regained the last junction that they realised the depth of Khela’s wickedness. If the pursuit had reached them during that time they would have been bottled up in a dead end.
    Fjiar took this as a cue to drop back as the others headed this time down the right fork. As the sound of their footfalls receded behind him he craned into the darkness, and heard… He was not sure what the noise was. It was not close by, but as it echoed from a distance all he could make out was a sound of something, or several somethings, scraping long and very hard at a surface of stone.
    He scurried after the others, and described to them what he’d heard. “Do we run, or do we use the junction to our advantage in fighting them?” he asked in a whisper.
    “There are only five of them,” Toleðr pointed out. “We should take them. Two of us, the fleetest, do a bit of play-acting and blunder back into the Ironfists then feign flight to draw them into the chase. They lead them back to our main force that lies in wait down this fork of the tunnel with the armoured warriors ready to step out as a shield-wall: our ‘anvil’. The runners come back and through the line, and once the enemy is committed to battle our skirmishers, ‘the hammer’, close in on them from behind.”
    “It’ll be like shooting rats in a trap!” exclaimed a darkly gleeful Bofur.
    “No shooting when the battle is joined!” growled Thorfinn sternly.
    “And what if they don’t fall for it?” asked Gymir.
    “Then we go to Plan B…”
    “Plan B?”
    “Plan B,” Toleðr nodded solemnly. “All rush in and attack anything that moves!”
    “BARUK KHAZÂD!”

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The Battle of the Ledge
In which they overwhelm three intruders, question them, and follow the Riddle onwards and downwards

“The first one of you to raise his head as high as that lantern will have it cut off at the neck!” The cry had come from some unseen foreign-sounding dwarf, out of sight beyond the brink of the ledge three arm’s lengths above their heads.
    Thorfinn’s company looked grimly to one another, undaunted by the threat. Bofur signed to bid Mêgrim come and take the staff-lantern so he could unshoulder his bow; he and Gymir fitted arrows to their bowstrings. Tóki delved in a soft pouch and produced a double handful of marbles, his whiskers twitching with glee; Fjiar the Firebeard sheathed his axes and placed his hands on the rock face to await the command of the company’s leader.
    Fjiar and me, agreed Toleðr with a flicker of his fingers, following suit. We’re the ones in mail.
    “Let’s just get ’em!” cried Thorfinn. “SIGIN-TARÂG AI-MÊNU!” The Longbeards are upon you!

Big blond Yngwi boosted Fjiar up and onto the rock face. Tóki lobbed his marbles up and over the lip above, then scrambled onto the small mound of breakdown to make a stirrup of his hands to assist Toleðr’s climb.
    First over the top, Toleðr saw two dwarves in the dancing shadows cast by Mêgrim’s light, one rushing forwards upon him too fast for him to bring his sword to bear. He rolled over the edge, seeking to swing his shield around on its strap to meet the inevitable blow, but he had his own weight on the strap and it didn’t budge.
    Bofur and Gymir loosed as soon as they saw the full helm of Toleðr’s assailant but their arrows whistled past him to splinter on the cavern roof as the murderous dwarf stooped and plunged his dagger above the edge of Toleðr’s mailshirt into his neck. Blood gouted scarlet from the wound.
    Gymir the White flung his bow aside and fairly sprang up the rockfall, hauling himself upwards before Thorfinn, his scale armour overheavy for ready climbing, could even offer assistance.
    Fjiar gained the ledge to Toleðr’s left a moment later and rolled to his feet unopposed. The second enemy dwarf hurled an axe directly at him, but Fjiar leaned out of its path and drew his axes as the other pulled a handaxe and picked his cautious way over the still-rolling marbles to join battle. Fjiar’s longer axe swung first, aimed low at the legs. His target anticipated the swing, beat the axehead aside with his shield and stepped in close, raising his own axe to attack. But Fjiar was the faster and his second axe bit through the ringmail on his victim’s shoulder.
    Yngwi had grabbed up a number of rocks and run back to better vantage beside Bofur. Seeing Toleðr’s plight, he hurled one with a perfect cast that struck ringingly off the helm of the dagger-wielder and caused him to stagger back.
    Toleðr, clutching at the bleeding wound in his neck, gratefully clambered to his feet and swung his sword out from its scabbard into a sweeping cut which his unbalanced attacker only just fended off with a small shield. The dwarf lunged back in for a dagger-thrust but Toleðr stepped aside, parrying the attack away at the same time as he made space for Gymir to scramble up behind him.
    Seeing close-work afoot, Gymir forsook his cudgel and drew two daggers, including his fine new one from the Dathrins’ treasure chest. Even as he did so a third dwarf charged out of the darkness behind the others, shoulder tucked in behind his shield. No marble spoilt his charge but Gymir himself fell foul of them, failed to avoid the shield-barge and teetered on the edge, only just managing to keep his footing.
    Fjiar battled on, ignoring his opponent’s attack and barely feeling the ill-directed axe-swing cut into his leather leggings, but exulting in arcing a blow of his own over the top of the dwarf’s shield to fell him with a blow to the side of neck.
    Tóki scampered about below, trying to catch the marbles that fell from the ledge and chasing the ones that he missed as they crazily kept on rolling. Bofur waited patiently for the opportunity for a clear bowshot, but with three of their company already up onto the ledge, Yngwi abandoned his rocks and moved up to join them. Thorfinn grunted with a mighty effort as he propelled the huge dwarf upward.
    Even with two blades Gymir could not connect with anything behind the large round shield of the dwarf who’d charged him. And he failed to dodge in time to avoid the short sword that flashed out over the shield-rim and took him in the shoulder.
    Toleðr beside him was hard pressed to fend off alternating swipes of buckler and blood-smeared dagger without letting the dwarf inside his guard, and he took no unnecessary risks to seize the offensive. His patience paid off as Fjiar fell upon the dwarf from his unshielded side. The dagger went up for a high block but Fjiar’s attack was a feint and the true blow from his other axe sheared into the hand and knocked the dagger flying as the full-helmed foreign dwarf went down.
    “Stop that bleeding!” Fjiar instructed the wounded swordsmith.
    Indignant, Toleðr turned on the other combatant, lunging in from Gymir’s left and forcing the dwarf to duck back behind his shield.
    “Yield!” Yngwi suddenly menaced from Gymir’s other side whilst Gymir himself ghosted away to tend to Fjiar’s first victim. “Oh all right,” Yngwi relented and swung, but the dwarf used his shield to block the axe-blow aside and down, fouling Toleðr’s sword-blade in the process. Their erstwhile target fled for the darkness of the tunnel and for a moment Gymir’s saviours were left just staring at one another.
    Yngwi switched his axe to his left hand, unhooked the throwing axe he had scavenged earlier and threw it after the fleeing dwarf. Toleðr chased into the darkness, still unheeding of his loss of blood from the dagger-wound in his neck.

Swift-footed, he had not gone twenty paces before it was so black that he couldn’t even make out the direction of the tunnel ahead. He steeled himself to keep up almost a full run dead ahead, the sounds of the others receding behind him. And then he realised that he could hear no step fleeing ahead. He paused, stilled his own breath and strained his ears as he turned on the spot, switching defensive guards in the hope of warding off an unseen blow from any quarter. Then he saw him!
    Yngwi had knelt on the ledge to reach down and take Bofur’s lantern-staff from Mêgrim. As he and Fjiar advanced, Toleðr caught a glint of Yngwi’s light reflected from the iron rim of a shield. Their quarry had flattened himself to the wall behind his shield and Toleðr had unwittingly run past him. But he stalked back now and levelled his sword in the dwarf’s face.
    “Safe passage!” the dwarf cried in the same accented Khuzdul as before, seeking terms for his surrender.
    “Your passage is anything but safe,” Toleðr replied grimly in the same tongue, to be very sure he was understood. “Surrender – or feel my sword!”

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Into the North Spur Mines
In which a scouting trip into the abandoned Dathrin mines is followed by a second foray in earnest

STERDAY to SUNSDAY

THORFINN TRUDGED BACK FROM THE KING’S HALLS after his fourth and final interview with various of the clerks and advisors in law to King Dáin, having achieved a fair ruling that was still less than he had first hoped.
    The eagerness with which he, Toleðr and Tóki had first presented the tablet proclaiming his legacy as heir of the House of Dathrin had waned when the provenance of the tablet was called into question and then been pronounced a mere show-copy, carved as it was in the Erebor modes of runes that had only evolved long after the stewardship of the Northern Spur Mines had first been granted to Dathrin and his heirs. Some days of due process, which first Toleðr and then Tóki had ceased to attend, had resulted in Thorfinn, the acknowledged rightful heir, being declared the presumptive steward of the mines. The whitebeard law-master had given him avuncular smiles and reassured him that a great deal from before the Coming of Smaug could only be taken as presumptive. “Don’t take it badly,” one of them rumbled. “Once you’ve got a few decades doing a good job of it behind ye, no one will even question it.”

The labour of the party in the forecourt and entrance chamber of the mansion had by now cleared an aisle through the rubble allowing folk to walk straight into the hall if they picked their way with a little care. Whilst Foron had paid up the promised last 100 pence of his ransom, the wages for which he’d hired these labourers had run only up to the day before last. Mêgrim explained that one of the four, Ofrader Eight-fingers, had already decided to take his services elsewhere.
    He also explained that Toleðr, Yngwi, Fjiar and Gymir had been restive, right up until they took a copy of something from one of Thorfinn’s books, borrowed his wand-key and went to scout out what the mines of the Northern Spur might have to offer.
    The four did not return for many hours.

WHEN EVENTUALLY THEY FILED IN, weary from an exploration that had lasted from afternoon into the next day, Yngwi gave the tale of what they had found.
    The great gates into Thorfinn’s domain in the northern arm of the Mountain were undamaged by Smaug because of the narrowness of the access-tunnel. A touch of the wand-key to the lockplate’s bind-rune had withdrawn the solid stone spars behind the gates and allowed a gate to be pushed open by just two dwarves.
    They had proceeded down the road tunnel into Mine Head Town, a compact settlement and base of operations half delved from the rock and half constructed from dry-stone walls. But if the key had been safe in the Hall of the Dathrins they realized there must be some other means of getting into Mine Head Town because they had found signs of someone having carried out some days’ search of the place. The Overseer’s offices in particular didn’t have so much as a footstool unbroken, and deep-gouged fêlak marks showed where they’d tried the walls too. Holding a lantern close, Fjiar was able to tell that the marks were fresh, without the patination of old stone, and he reckoned them no more than a year or two old.
    The riddling directions in the Devotion said to “seek for the oldest caves”, and every dwarf knows that Drift Number 1 is always the oldest, so that was the way they had proceeded. The drift ran straight as a die, rising with a constant grade for a mile and a quarter until they reached Old Minehead, an altogether smaller affair than Mine Head Town, much of it long ago in-filled with spoil and the remainder given over mostly to storage of pit-props. But beyond Old Minehead, Drift Number 1 began to descend, following the seams of rock parallel with the surface not far above them, and then it gave onto passageways carved out by Mahal’s firestone in the Deeps of Time before the Fathers of the Dwarves were made. First the passageway branched into two natural tunnels, and the four dwarves took the left branch. Within four or five hundred paces it was first joined by another coming in from the right, then branched again, and then the left-hand one that they took proved to branch again.
    “This isn’t like a mine at all,” Toleðr had observed, and sure enough there was but scant sign of the tunnels having been worked at all, except for the occasional smoothing of the floor underfoot. “The way these tunnels keep splitting and then rejoining each other, they must be ‘the braided ways’ of the riddle.”
    The other three chorused their agreement. This was the sort of thing they had envisioned from the words of the riddle before they even set out, though the natural features of the tunnels where Mahal’s firestone had gouged and melted its way through the very rock were a source of awe.
    “So what’s next?”
    “‘Until you come to Lodestone’s Maze’,” he read.
    They thought they could easily be in a maze already, and Fjiar scratched his beard, wondering whether they should search the branching tunnels for a region where they cut through a lodestone deposit. Lodestone was known to be one of the mined products of the Lonely Mountain, after all. Toleðr disagreed, thinking that the words more likely meant there was a place where a lodestone would spin around instead of pointing always northwards.
    “So did anyone think to bring such a thing as a lodestone?” he asked.
    No one had.

“So here we are, back again,” Yngwi concluded.
    “I’ve got some little ones, down at the shop,” volunteered Tóki. But the Lonely Mountain is one of the few places in Middle-earth where lodestone is mined in plentiful supply, and indeed traded to mannish merchants. It would be a simple thing to purchase.
    Thorfinn was more concerned with the fact that someone had done all that damage in Mine Head Town. “And recently,” Fjiar added. “Which we reckon must mean that either there’s another key, or another way in.”
“Nobody can have door magic strong enough to open a lock like that without a proper key,” Bofur asserted. “Unless the magic on the lock would open either for the key or for a pass-word or the like.” The others frowned, and carried on with planning their next steps.
Young Toleðr pointed out that they should prepare for the worst. There had probably been several searchers in there in the last year, and since the whole venture would be pointless if the vault had already been plundered, they had to assume that someone could still be around. “I’ll be wearing this mailshirt, for one thing,” he declared, patting its links with a jingle.
“This time we all go together,” Thorfinn announced. “Get some sleep, get your gear together, and we leave before noon.”

THE GROUP THAT ASSEMBLED in the forecourt of the Dathrin mansion the next morning was very different from the one that had first come together in the Gold Hush Inn only days earlier. Thorfinn was resplendent in his scaled armour and his grandfather’s helmet from the mantelpiece in the study. Fjiar and Toleðr both sported mailshirts taken from the grim twins, Dwîm and Dwîma, and Fjiar had Thorfinn’s (now) spare steel cap. Gymir planned to go lighter, but he had the leather jerkin, bow and quiver of arrows that had belonged to Foron’s loose-fingered archer. Tóki, in his padded jack, was now also the proud owner of a cheekguarded helmet. Mêgrim, whom Foron had recruited for the illicit search of the Dathrin Mansion and who had witnessed the company’s opening of the secret vault, was also promoted to a genuine treasure-seeker on the strength of his knowledge of stonework.
    Everyone had a pack with rope, tools, supplies for a meal or two, “a drop to drink”, or a few days’ worth of pipe-smoking, according to their priorities. There were lamps, lanterns and candles aplenty, and with the hand that wasn’t on his staff-lantern, Bofur dangled a lodestone on a string. It pointed exactly where they were heading: to the Northern Spur of the Lonely Mountain.

The eight dwarves passed through the Great Gates, through Mine Head Town and up Drift Number 1 to Old Minehead and on into the braided ways, all without incident. Fjiar led them along the same choice of passageways as he and the smaller group had taken the previous day, with Tóki making a map of the branches they took and the distances between them.
    A quarter of a mile further along than before, after their passage had been joined by another coming in from the right, was a natural chamber with an almost perfectly round depression in the middle.
    “The ‘Empty Pie’!” said Yngwi and several of the others at the same time, and they looked expectantly back to Toleðr, bringing up the rear. He consulted his copy of the passage from the Devotion, but said that they should expect to encounter several other features before reaching that. They reluctantly decided that they were unlikely to have come to it by a more direct route than that of the riddling verse, but still ‘skirted around’ it as the verse directed.
    Two hundred paces later, including one left-hand branch, Bofur held the suspended lodestone up to the light of his staff-lantern for everyone to see its erratic twitching. “A few moments back it was steady at about half-left, meaning we were heading north-east, but now look. ‘Lodestone’s Maze’!” he pronounced.
    There was nothing out of the ordinary in this section of passageway and they proceeded on, watching the skittish lodestone as they went.
    Almost immediately, Gymir made out a dim glow ahead, but it was extinguished even before he could tell the others.
    “I thought so too,” confirmed Thorfinn, though the others had not caught it.
    “I’ll go on quietly,” Gymir suggested and began to move off, lantern still in hand.
    The others watched as he stole forward and soon disappeared around a slight bend, marking his progress by the receding lantern glow.
    Gymir found a place where a widening in the passageway formed a chamber ten yards across. Without warning, as he played his light around the walls, a hurled axe struck the stone before his feet. He swiftly shrouded the lantern under his cloak and turned to flee, then stopped and groped to pick up the axe. Trusting his footing he fled through the dark back the way he had come.
    Another clang rang out as a second axe struck the wall somewhere behind him. Briefly he turned to fling the first back into the darkness where it too struck rock, but several ricochets echoed back as it bounced from wall to wall of some perilous shaft.
    “There was someone there!” Gymir gasped as he neared the company. “But I don’t think they’re following.”
    “Who was it?” asked Thorfinn.
    “I don’t know. They threw an axe—”
    “What sort of axe? Was it dwarvish?”
    “I don’t know – I threw it back. It could have been.”

“Let’s get them!” declared Fjiar as he unlimbered his shield and led the way forth.
Yngwi tucked in behind him, his own shield held high, pausing only to seize up the throwing axe he spotted lying in the tunnel. Bofur came third, his staff-lantern held out its full length across the passageway in the hope of drawing any missiles that might be sent at them. Thorfinn, Gymir, Tóki and Mêgrim followed up, with Toleðr still prudently watching for threats from behind.
    They met with no resistance and gained the chamber itself. Bofur twisted his staff to angle the lantern around and made out the continuing passage ahead, flowstone leading to a descending shaft to the left of it, and up on the right was a recessed ledge two fathoms above them. A breakdown of clinker could ease half the climb, but if foes lurked above it would still be perilous to assault them.
    Gymir slunk close to the wall, glad this time not to have to betray his position by carrying his own light. Thorfinn and Tóki with their shields, and Mêgrim behind them, also clung to the near wall where no one could launch an axe at them without leaning well out.
    “WE ARE WITH THORFINN OF THE HOUSE OF DATHRIN, STEWARD OF THE MINES OF THE NORTHERN SPUR,” declaimed Yngwi, pitching his voice to best advantage in the cavernous space. “WE ARE HERE WITH THE RIGHTFUL AUTHORITY OF KING DAINAND YOU ARE NOT. WHAT ARE YOUR NAMES?” His echoes died away in silence.
    As Bofur raised his light high to try and reveal anyone by the shadow it might cast, Fjiar took a more direct approach and heaved a chunk of clinker up over the lip. He threw a second and this time heard a scuff of leather moving on stone…

View
The Treasures of the Hall of the Dathrins
In which, over a few days, many secrets are unlocked

HEVENSDAY AFTERNOON

WITH THE GREAT HALL OF HIS ANCESTRAL MANSION under his control and the intruders herded into one corner and showing no more will to fight, Thorfinn ordered their weapons to be seized.
    “And armour,” added Fjiar. “This one had mail on under his shirt.” Indeed both the big gaunt greybeard twins both wore hidden corselets of mail.
    “You’re on my property,” Thorfinn announced to Foron’s group. “We’ll have your weapons and armour and anything else of value from you, and you can call that a ransom and leave on your sworn oath not to come back.” With that he strode out of the hall to collect the war-gear he had never had time to don, leaving Toleðr the swordsmith, Bofur the alchemist and Tóki the toymaker to see to collecting the ransom whilst Fjiar the Firebeard brandished his two axes, discouraging the captives from second thoughts.

Meanwhile Yngwi was leading Gymir and their captive back along the gallery above in the direction of the way out, when the hapless dwarf crumpled to the floor. A deep wound in the back of his leg was bleeding copiously.
    Yngwi immediately cast his shield aside and knelt to press on the wound and try to staunch the flow.
    “How did he get this?” asked.
    “He must have got it as we scuffled in the dark,” said Gymir, “and been bleeding all this time.”
    The bright blood gushing through Yngwi’s fingers prevented him from getting a purchase and he decided it was hopeless. Gymir took over, undoing the dwarf’s belt and whipping off his leather jack, then looping the belt round the thigh just above the wound. He drew it tight and the flow of blood subsided, then tighter still and after a few moments it stopped.
    “He’ll live,” rumbled Gymir, but with no concern in his voice.
    The pair rolled the captive-turned patient onto Yngwi’s shield for a stretcher and carried them down the stairs from the gallery to the rubble-filled entrance chamber.

The leader in this misadventure, the merchant Foron son of Jídli, was the one who had first surrendered and offered to buy his way out of the situation. He was not ungenerous, handing over his purse of coin and a jewelled knife, and promising more on his return to the main city – not ‘on his honour’ but ‘on his reputation as a respected citizen of the Kingdom Under the Mountain’.
    The grey-bearded twins who were his bodyguards showed surly ill-grace but Foron told them to cooperate. He addressed them by name as Dwîm and Dwîma, and as they stripped off their tattered shirts and yielded up the unbreached mail corselets, Toleðr frowned and gave a covert flicker of his fingers. Those could be traditional outer names, I suppose, but they could just as well be Khuzdul inner names! What sort of dwarf makes normal use of their inner name?
    Of the victors only Thorfinn himself had armour so these were a real prize. But none shared the almost undwarvishly rangy build of these grim twins and the corselets would have to be let out before any could wear them, and let out some more if they were to fit over a padded coat.

There was some bumbling around the hall whilst Thorfinn retrieved his armour. Yngwi composed an idle song about Toki and shared it with them all, finding the hall to fill very pleasingly with the song. Bofur retrieved three arrows from the table, grumbling as he did so and muttering that there’d better be some left in the other archer’s quiver to replace those he’d lost. Fjiar eyed the intruders’ lantern where it sat behind the large table, and noted fresh stone dust and damage to the masonry of the wall just there, clearly inflicted by these renegade workdwarves. Foron’s attempt to have them pry out the stonework for whatever strange reason was pronounced by Mêgrim the former mason’s apprentice to be a task of many days. Close inspection of the damaged section proved it to have constructed using carefully chiselled ‘double-tongue’ blocks in the old style that was rarely used in these late times. A block could be loosened only by chipping it to rock dust.

Double tongue masonry
 

Thorfinn appeared back in the entrance of the hall, resplendent in his coat of scales. They learned from their captives that there were more workdwarves in the servants’ quarters and suggested to Foron that he should keep paying for the miners as part of his ransom, but that now they would be working for him. The miners were gathered up by Tóki and Gymir, accompanying Foron, and it transpired that they had no loyalty to Foron and would be equally happy to work for someone else as long as their got their pay. Thorfinn set Mêgrim as the foreman of the band of stoneworkers, with instructions not to attack any more walls, but to use such their skills and the strength of their backs to set the mansion of the Dathrins back in order.

FORON WAS ALLOWED TO LEAVE after all the combatants had sworn reluctant oaths never to return. The wounded archer was carried away on an improvised stretcher by two of the hired dwarves. The episode seemed concluded, and Thorfinn’s thought turned at last to the original reason for coming here.
    “We are here in search of maps, or any other clue to the location of the vault of my forefathers,” he announced.
    The search was protracted, and punctuated by pauses to eat the cold provisions they’d brought, though Gymir said the kitchen was in reasonable order and could be used if their stay were to be a long one. Intrigued by the use of beaten copper mirrors and sections of wall in which blocks of glass took the place of stone,
    Tóki was delighted to spot a dead but intact lightstone mounted high on the wall of the Great Hall above the high table, and some time was spent in dwarfhandling the large table up against the wall to allow Tóki to clamber up there and attempt his art, but the whole exercise proved futile.
    Eventually, the searches of the other areas of the mansion unsurprisingly yielding nothing, everyone came back yet again to the Study. Though they had no more found anything here than anywhere else, it seemed the likeliest room to search at greater length.

Mantelpiece 0 ii

Thorfinn had reverently claimed his ancestors’ helm from its stand in pride of place on the mantel over the impressive fireplace (and lent Fjiar the common helmet he had used thus far). They pored over the age-crisped papers, ledgers and scrolls that lay about the study just as they had been left on the fateful day of the Coming of Smaug, reasoning that the fleeing dwarves’ last concerns might have been for their vault and the treasures it contained. But they learned nothing but dreary details of the House’s running of the mines in the Northern Spur of the Lonely Mountain.
    They searched through the scrolls and ledgers neatly stowed in cupboards but found nothing of any greater interest. They moved the furniture out and tapped repeatedly over every inch of wall. Eventually everyone’s increasingly weary gazes kept returning to the dominant feature of the room, the fireplace itself.

Mantelpiece 1 ii

 
 

    The centrepiece was very striking, with its smooth-carved representations of ideal dwarves and of the Lonely Mountain itself.

Mantelpiece 2 ii

    Many false ideas, chiefly to do with reflecting rays of light, were explored before Bofur drew everyone’s attention to the incongruously sharp definition of the low-relief depiction of the gem in the central dwarf’s headband circlet, achieved by a geometrical seven-pointed star. It was clearly solid stone, not even the thinnest joint separating it from the rest of the solid slab, but Bofur explained that the door magic of the dwarves in the days of the founding of the Kingdom Under the Mountain could meld stone to appear seamless, or apply glamours to it to beguile the eye. But this gem did not press in; it did not turn. Further grunts and sighs were heaved.
 

Thorfinn   star of dathrin i

    Bofur persisted. “So some device must have served as a key—”
    “Which was probably lost two centuries ago,” groaned Thorfinn.
    Then he realized Bofur was now regarding him, agog.
    “What?” demanded Thorfinn.
    “Your pendant, there; in plain sight since we first met. It’s a seven-pointed star!”
    Sure enough, the family heirloom that Thorfinn had worn since his mother gave it to him in his teens, the silver Star of Bavern the Loremaster who fell in Khazad-dûm, fitted perfectly over the stone gem on the fireplace. Stone and silver both flared with a sharp bright white light, their shapes combining to resemble the pattern of facets on a brilliant-cut adamant. Planes of light shone out, painting a pattern momentarily on the far wall and leaving the shape in all the dwarves’ eyes for long moments after it equally suddenly went out.

Anagnorisis i

    The scrape of stone on stone announced the opening of a small hatch-like door in a corner of the room.

A SHORT PASSAGE RAN from the back of the narrow doorway. It turned, and formed a balcony overlooking a dark space below, but high on their right was a glimmer of light.
    “The light-stone!” cried Tóki.
    The light now shining in the Great Hall was filtering faintly through the clear crystal of the dead light-stone mounted in the wall above the high table. The secret space lay directly behind that, and when it worked, the light-stone would have illuminated both. The workdwarves of Foron’s party, however they had discerned it, had been slowly chipping at exactly the right place to gain access to this chamber – if Thorfinn’s Company had not caught up with them first.

As they brought up lanterns, they made out the fortified counting-room of the Dathrins. From the balcony a wooden stair led down two sides of the chamber, to a space with a large table surrounded by many chests. Upon one wall were a picture and a runic inscription.

Shieldwall

: THE SHIELD WALL OF BAVERN : THEY FELL IN KHAZAD-DÛM THAT THE TREASURE ENTRUSTED TO THEIR HOUSE SHOULD REMAIN TO THE KHAZAD EVEN AS SO MUCH ELSE WAS MUST NEEDS HIDDEN SECRET AND SAFE :

They had no keys for any of the chests, but Thorfinn turned to Tóki, and the toymaker bent his craft to the task of opening the locks. With much effort and the breaking of several small tools, he opened two of the chests. The first contained a wallet of aged promissory notes, several small sacks of silver coin and a casket containing a small sack of gold. The other proved to be a book-locker containing the ledgers of the family’s own wealth, where those in the office had all related to the businesses they ran.
    When Tóki admitted defeat on the two remaining chests, Gymir son of Snorri stepped forth and self-consciously produced from an inner pocket a set of tools that looked suspiciously like they existed for the sole purpose of opening locks. Several glances were shot askance at Thorfinn, but he only nodded his curt approval. Gymir got open a decorative, brass-faced chest, the contents of which included a leather-bound book telling the history of the House of Dathrin and a silk-wrapped slab of marble incised with gold-inlaid runes.

IN THIS THIRD YEAR OF THE KINGDOM UNDER THE MOUNTAIN OF DURIN’S FOLK, KING THRAIN SON OF NAIN SON OF DURIN VI DOES HEREBY GRANT TO DATHRIN SON OF BAVERN AND HIS HEIRS IN PERPETUITY THE TITLE OF LORD WARDEN OF THE DEEPS OF THE NORTH SPUR OF THE MOUNTAIN. FOR HIS SERVICES TO DURIN’S FOLK IN THE ORDERLY KEEPING OF THIS DOMAIN, HE SHALL HOLD ONE FOURTH PART OF THE WEALTH GARNERED BY THE KHAZAD

But even Gymir and Tóki working together were unable to defeat the lock on the final chest, the smallest, wrought entirely of steel plate. Ultimately, though most of the dwarves were not party to the details, Gymir brokered a deal whereby the respected whitebeard master craftsman, Jerezh Locksmith, came clandestinely –and with oaths of secrecy sworn by them all – to gain them access to the contents of the strongbox.
    After an hour’s effort with several clamps holding a total of four tools selected from a toolkit larger than the strongbox itself (which made Gymir’s red eyes bulge with envy), the lock clicked open. Jerezh gathered them round and solemnly demonstrated why his services came so dear. The lock could be opened with just three tools, but as he did so, four steels needles fully two feet long shot out from concealed housings disguised as rivets on the faceplate securing the lockplate to the box. Jerezh Locksmith told Gymir and Tóki that in matters of their forebears’ security, a little learning is a dangerous thing.
    Most of the space in the strongbox was taken up with the mechanism for this lethal trap, but in the space that remained was the most previous treasure of all. Under a cloth bag containing promissory notes received and already honoured was a dagger for use in the very last pinch, which was worked of the finest steel. A purse of cut gems were mostly semi-precious stones, but contained a ½” sapphire with a single rune etched on its face: the D for Dathrin.

D sapphire

    There was a “hand” of keys, a six-limbed armature bearing four key-rings that promised to open no end of locks in the Dathrin’s domain, and finally a largish flat wooden case held a sceptre-like ward-key. It had an ornate handle and a caged-crystal finial, but the main feature was a recessed bind-rune cast in a hexagonal plate. Bofur identified this before Jerezh Locksmith could even speak. “A wand key! Such keys are not mechanical in nature, but operate entirely by magicks now lost."

The great key diag ii

But what did it open?
    Nothing here in the counting-room responded to it, nor did anything anywhere in the Hall of the Dathrins (barring those utterly collapsed spaces which remained inaccessible). Thorfinn was certain that the counting-room held only ready funds, and they were yet to find the vault containing the chief wealth of his House.

THORFINN HIMSELD WAS OCCUPIED for most of the next several days in securing an audience with his cousin, King Dain Ironfoot, to confirm him as the heir of the House of Dathrin and rightful Lord Warden of the Deeps of the North Spur of The Mountain. As the workdwarves originally hired by Foron son of Jidli continued to make the Hall of Dathrin sound and habitable again, Thorfinn’s other followers spent much time supposedly ‘closeted in the study’, and in fact poring over their findings in the secret counting-room.
    They had a frustrating time pursuing Thorfinn’s assertion that ‘there must be a clue somewhere’, and his insistence that his house hearkened back through Dathrin and Bavern to Khazad-dûm, where it had famously been the practice to hide vaults in the remotest of tunnels. In his absence it was said more than once that the greatest security is in not telling anyone and not leaving any clue, in which case the location of the vault was lost with the death of Thorfinn’s grandsire in the Destruction of Smaug. But the promised share of the possible proceeds kept them at the task.

The Devotion of the Dathrins

    It was Toleðr who found a passage in one of the many books in the outer office that seemed curiously out of keeping with the rest of the volume. The Devotion of the Dathrins began with a lengthy saga in the style of the traditional lore-masters, describing the works of Mahal the Maker in the fashioning of Middle-earth for the habitation of the Children of Ilúvatar. This was followed by another work, relatively brief, describing Mahal’s making of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, Ilúvatar’s gifting of their souls, and a short history of the Ages leading to their arrival in the Lonely Mountain.

Then came the curious passage which attracted Toleðr’s eye, a set of more individual stanzas, with a far less sophisticated metre. “Does this not sound,” the beardling asked excitedly, “like a promise of wealth in natural caverns deep in the Mountain, followed by directions… of some sort?”

: In the ages of the Deeps of Time,     ere the Eldest Days,
Mahal riddled The Mountain Lone    with ancient hidden ways :

: Though dwarves may delve    to seek rich lodes,
the finest paths    are Mahal’s Roads :
: Not hewn from rock    by Durin’s Sons,
these tunnels flow    where firestone’s run :
: To behold the gifts    that Mahal gave,
seek you in    the furthest caves :
: The oldest drift    from Dathrin’s time
holds more of worth    than all the mine :

: Travel through    the braided ways
until you come    to lodestone’s maze :
: Here you’ll find    you’ll come undone,
unless you use    the force of stone :
: Pass The Guardsmen    standing by
and skirt around    the Empty Pie :
: Augers’ well    runs high with water
but keep good faith    and never falter :
: Find the treasure    above all others
where life is given us    by dwarf-mothers :

There at last    in inky night
the dwarves’ reward    will come to sight :

The Devotion ended in a laudatory passage describing the wonder of gold, jewels, treasures of shining mirrored glory, and how only the Dwarves are capable of beholding Mahal’s creations in the reverence they deserve.

View
The Taking of the Hall
In which our heroes take the day and Foron, the lamed Dwîm and his twin are forced to yield.

HEVENSDAY NOON, CONTINUED

TOLEÐR CHARGED AT THE TWIN OF THE DWARF FELLED BY BOFUR’S ARROW as Bofur himself loosed again from the darkness of the entrance corridor, but this time struck only the back wall of the hall. The three dwarves milling there put their shoulders to the great high table and heaved it over to provide cover.
    The second greybeard twin showed no deference to his employer as he shoved the quailing Foron back in the direction of the upturned table. Toleðr’s charge up between the long hall-tables carried straight into a lunge with the point of his sword. The bodyguard punched the sword away with the boss of his shield. Toleðr stepped wide to evade the replying battleaxe-sweep, the two recovered their guards, and both squared off for the fight.
    Bofur moved left to try another angle, at which Thorfinn hustled forward up the right-hand wall, still leery of being in front of an archer. Stepping smartly into cover around the corner into the hall he pulled himself up to his full height and strode forward projecting all the authority of the mansion’s rightful master. (‘As far as this hall is concerned, I do own the place,’ he reminded himself.)
    At the same time, fearless Fjiar ran up the left-hand side of the hall, once more bellowing for his opponents to surrender.

On the gallery above, Gymir burst through the door after his and Yngwi’s quarry, but found himself in such darkness that he couldn’t see his own cudgel in front of his face. Two paces behind him, Yngwi could not see Gymir or the dwarf with the short bow, nor hear so much as a breath from either of them. The big dwarf was ill-suited to a blind-fight, and worse: could be as likely to strike friend as foe. He left Gymir to the game and dashed back for Tóki’s lantern.
    Gymir opted for a feint. “Don’t shoot. I surrender,” he pleaded. “I can tell you where to find the treasure.”
    There was no reply from the darkness for the space of several breaths.

Bofur narrowed his eyes and took careful aim at the head of the middle dwarf peering over the edge of the table. His arrow thudded into the table, an inch of timber between the arrowhead and his target’s groin. The dwarf’s eyes went wide but he kept his place, still watching the mêlée in the room. Bofur swore quietly and nocked another arrow.
    The second twin made an opening and swung his battleaxe at Toleðr, but Toleðr deftly lifted his shield to meet it in mid swing and slashed back with his sword. There was a clang as his blade struck the centre of his target’s shield again. The two glowered across their shield-rims.
    The first twin, Dwîm, used his battleaxe as a crutch to haul himself up onto his good leg beyond one of the long hall-tables, near to a side passage leading out of the hall. But Thorfinn was already bearing down on him with axe and shield and demanding his surrender.
    “Come on, I’ll take yer!” snarled the beleaguered Dwîm through teeth gritted against the pain in his foot.
    Thorfinn grinned wolfishly and darted in, his axe lifted to answer the invitation. Dwîm realised his folly and tried to get his shield up, but pain dulled his reactions and Thorfinn’s axe struck him squarely in the chest. He was knocked to the floor a second time, his life saved only by the shirt of mail he wore under his clothes. [3 pennies to Dwîm]

Bofur took careful aim and waited for a clear moment when there was no danger of Toleðr’s fight carrying him into the path of the arrow. He loosed and the arrow flew true, but dipped just like the last one, thunking into the table within an inch of it. His target glanced down with a strangled look, muttered a curse and moved a superstitious foot to one side, still fearfully surveying the unfolding fight. Foron on one side and the craftsdwarf on the other ducked right down behind the barricade of the table.
    Fjiar, running up behind the benches on the left side of the hall, satisfied himself that none of the three behind the table were aggressors. He whirled his axe high over his head as he moved to join Toleðr in battling the gaunt greybeard in the middle of the hall. This one, his shield locked against Toleðr, desperately tried to block Fjiar’s blow with his battleaxe. He was quick but Fjiar was quicker and landed a blow to the shoulder, shredding through the shirt but chittering and sparking against mail armour concealed beneath it.
    Hoping the fight in the middle of the room would keep attention away from them, Foron and another dwarf made a low-crouched dash out from behind the table and round to Thorfinn’s side of the hall before Bofur could nock and draw again.

Alone on the dark gallery above the right-hand side of the hall, Tóki had charged at the edge of the balcony and succeeded only in throwing himself into the baluster rail with a thump and a gasp of breath as his wind left him.
    Having recovered himself, he now looked over the edge and saw the fleeing dwarves. Forsaking a run-up he hollered a very fitting “Khazâd ai-mênu!” – The dwarves are upon you! – and swung himself over the baluster with flailing axe and kicking feet. There was a bone-splitting crunch as he landed on Foron and swung his axe wildly at the dwarf beside him. The merchant howled in pain but somehow managed to stay on his feet, as Tóki glanced off and stumbled to one knee.
    Thorfinn contemptuously kicked the dropped axe away from where Dwîm groaned at his feet and strode over to help Tóki. Coming upon the shocked pair of dwarves, he struck out at the one uninjured by Toki’s assault, catching him in the hand that he desperately flung up at the last instant, eliciting a yell of pain.
    Dwîm’s twin abruptly forsook the attack and broke and ran in the direction of his fallen brother, but Toleðr leapt ahead of the stouter Fjiar and chased him down. He turned at the last moment but too slowly. A hand’s breadth ahead of the shield’s rim, Toleðr’s sword fell across his victim’s back, hammering him forwards as his mail again saved him from far worse. [2 pennies].

Back upstairs Yngwi’s run brought him, lamp in hand, back to the doorway through which Gymir had disappeared. As he pushed it open, the growing light exposed a surrendering Gymir and cast his shadow large across the floor before him.
    Knowing that he was now clearly outlined to his foe, Gymir continued his feigned surrender, letting his cudgel be seen to drop clattering to the floor whilst at the same time his other hand beneath his cloak slipped a dagger silently from its scabbard.
    Finally, the dwarf at bay spoke from somewhere in the blackness a few paces ahead. “Set that light in ’ere, close the door and you can go free.”
    As Yngwi swung the lamp around, the archer was suddenly revealed, standing awkwardly but with an arrow nocked and aimed at Gymir’s head.
    Quickly, Yngwi put his shield before the lantern, plunging the room back into darkness.
    “Your friends are dying down there…” he menaced, then suddenly bellowed at the top of his voice: “SURRENDER!”

The beaten Foron stayed his henchman’s arm, keeping him from launching into a senseless brawl against Thorfinn and Tóki.
    “Keep ’im away from me!” Foron howled without taking his fearful gaze off Tóki. “I can pay!”
    Bofur at last advanced into the half-light at the entrance to the hall, with an arrow on the string and a clear view all round the room. “Any fecker moves and I’ll pin ’em to the wall!” he cried.
    The second twin was the only one still offering any resistance. He kept trying to back towards his brother, fending off Toleðr’s sword-blows though he no longer answered them with his own axe. Now Thorfinn set down his arms and drew the great sword from behind his shoulder. Fjiar too advanced on the beleaguered fighter and swung his axe low at the legs, unlikely to be protected by hidden mail. The dwarf blocked too weakly and Fjiar’s axe knocked his shield aside and bit into his leg. [3 pennies] All hope lost, the dwarf put up his axe in defeat.
    Thorfinn strode to the centre of the room and announced loudly, “We accept your ransom!”

Upstairs, Yngwi coldly ordered the archer to drop his bow and quiver. Realising the hopelessness of his situation, the dwarf complied. He forfeited his bow, arrows and leather jerkin to Gymir and Yngwi in exchange for his life and the two frogmarched him from the room.
    Halfway along the gallery, the vengeful Gymir dropped back a pace or two, slipped out his dagger and delivered an underhand stab to the back of the poor dwarf’s leg. The blade cut silently and deeply into his thigh, [21 damage on a crit]. The archer collapsed silently into the shadows, blood gushing from his wound.

Not noticing the incident, the rest of the party bargained with the intruders. All weapons, armour and possessions were forfeited, along with a solemn oath never to return.

View
The Assault on the Great Hall
In which battle is joined on several fronts, and the enemy prove to be led by Foron and his identical twin greybeard enforcers.

MIDDAY, HEVENSDAY, 12TH OF RETHE, TA 2988

AS SOON AS HE HAD DONE WITH THE TOIL OF HAULING HIMSELF UP THE ROPE and gained the balcony, Yngwi leapt to his feet and took command of the situation, striding down the passageway. He stepped ahead of Fjiar and Gymir, who stood ready at the door with axe and shield and cudgel, opened the door a crack and listened for a moment.
    “No, you idiot, get back!” he heard a voice saying in Khuzdul, echoing in a large space. “We have to climb up to you!”
    Throwing the door open he stepped through and bellowed out, “We’re here with the permission of the Dathrins. Show yourselves – you’re trespassing!”
    He was on a gallery that ran around three sides of a lofty hall with two solid pillars up the middle, dimly lit by a couple of lanterns on the floor at the far end. A handful of figures were scurrying about, shocked into activity by his challenge.

Tóki, meanwhile, pulled the lantern up on the rope and shone it down the passageway. It ran straight ahead with no doors or side passages to where his three comrades stood in the doorway at the far end, but halfway along on the left there was what looked like a table with the legs broken off it. He stepped up to this and pulled it aside to reveal a shattered gap in the wall. It was a sniper’s watchpost!
    Bofur had by now reached the top of the mound of rubble. Before him it sloped downwards to the back of the mansion’s entrance chamber, where he spied the tops of a pair of archways through which it looked like a dwarf could clamber to gain the interior of the dwelling.
    He turned back to Toleðr and Thorfinn. “I think we can get thr—” he began, but was interrupted by a crash of stone.
    Leaning forward into the gap he’d found, Tóki had seen that it commanded a view over the expanse of rubble across which his other three companions were making their laborious way. And in that moment more of the structure had given way under his feet. With a yelp of surprise he just leapt backwards as the stone crashed down to the storey below.

“Intruders, give it up!” Yngwi hollered, pressing his advantage as the crash of stone echoed from behind him. He stepped forward for a better view of the hall and Fjiar, switching his shield to his right arm, put himself between Yngwi and any possible bowshots from below.
    “Oy!” he barked, adding his voice to Yngwi’s. “Put down, and get out!” But this did not come out as commandingly as he’d hoped.
    Gymir, meanwhile, was looking ahead rather than down into the main hall. In the gloom at the far end of the gallery he made out a dwarf clambering over the balustrade. His rage up, Gymir charged forth!
    Fjiar took in the situation immediately and charged after his comrade. Yngwi was taken aback but as Tóki ran in and his lantern cast much-needed light on the fracas they too joined the pursuit.

Gymir closed on the startled dwarf, swinging his cudgel. The other dwarf, with only a bow slung on his shoulder (to free his hands for climbing), had nothing with which to defend himself and he desperately jumped back out of the path of the swinging club.
    With Gymir, Yngwi, Fjiar and behind them even Tóki bearing down on him, he turned to flee before Gymir could recover his stroke.
    Yngwi’s long strides took him in hot pursuit past Fjiar and wide of Gymir but he saw that he still wouldn’t easily close with the fleet-footed foe. With a wordless roar he hurled his axe end over end to strike the dwarf in the backside! Howling in pain the dwarf faltered and only just kept his footing.

Fjiar and Tóki left them to the chase. Tóki realised that his lantern was shining back from a section of wall that was largely glass, and he felt suddenly exposed to the hostile dwarves below. He set down the lantern where he was, and hunched down to steal back the way he’d come.
    Fjiar thrust his axe into his belt and his swung his shield round on its strap to cover his back, planning fearlessly to climb down to the floor of the hall. The rest of the interrupted intruders were still in disarray, unsure of the force attacking them and he wanted to deny them the chance to organize their defences.

Yngwi pushed on, charging down the now-limping dwarf who was making for a hollow of darkness off to one side of the gallery which the light of Tóki’s abandoned lantern did not reach. Just as his quarry turned the corner Yngwi surged up with both hands on his shield, barging into him with his full weight. The dwarf let out a grunt as he was slammed back into the blackness.
    Gymir bounded up behind and swung his club again, high past Yngwi’s shoulder, but the harried dwarf ducked. The club swept scant inches above his head and struck with a ringing thud betraying the fact that the dwarf was backed up to a stout wooden door.
    Caught by the two of them the dwarf screamed out for help. Gymir showed no mercy and put his whole weight into a massive overhand blow. All in darkness there was a chaotic moment as the slippery archer ducked aside from Gymir’s cudgel-blow and got the door behind him open, then lurched back through it just beyond the reach of Yngwi’s flailing fist.

From the moment he had heard Tóki’s crash of rock and Yngwi’s shouted challenge echoing back from the archway ahead of him, Bofur Ironhand knew there was no time to pick a cautious way over the rubble in the entrance chamber. He redoubled his efforts, and gained the archway. Toleðr was not to be outdone and sought to catch him up and Thorfinn brought up the rear, rueing the fact that his kit bag containing the helm and hauberk was still at the foot of the rope behind them.
    Toleðr, following Bofur’s route over the rubble, saw the alchemist stoop and then crawl through the narrow space at the top of the rubble-choked archway. He refused to be daunted by the loss of the light from ahead, but trusted to his balance and made his way onwards.
    When he crawled through the archway himself, he found himself atop a last receding slope of shattered stone that petered out and gave onto the close-set flags of a regular passageway floor at last. Bofur had by now smothered his lantern but was outlined against dim light beyond, unslinging his bow and drawing an arrow. There was a distant noise of fighting, but no ring of steel on steel. Toleðr drew his sword and shield and ran on, as Thorfinn gained the archway behind him.

With his own lantern casting no light Bofur had stepped round the corner in the sure knowledge that no one in the better-lit hall ahead could see him. If they advanced only steadily he would have the leisure to choose his mark.
    But he could say nothing without giving himself away and he silently gritted his teeth as Toleðr and Thorfinn neared his position.
    The dwarves in the hall were all distracted by the fracas that Bofur could hear, all their gazes upwards. He realised with a mix of horror and surprise that two of these were Foron son of Jídli and one of his henchmen who had been in the Gold Hush Inn only yesterday afternoon. The competition had got there before them! Foron seemed flustered, and his henchman was firmly ushering him back behind the high table of the hall, where a couple more dwarves cowered uncertainly. And then another dwarf came into sight, not only clad identically to Foron’s henchman but with the same grey beard and bearing. As the other herded the non-combatants back, this one was making decisively for the corridor where Bofur stood in readiness.
    Toleðr rushed up behind Bofur, rounded the corner and hurtled into the hall with his sword in a back guard, but he had the sense to bear hard left to leave Bofur an open shot. Thorfinn more cautiously drew axe and shield and stood at Bofur’s shoulder, eyeing his bow and arrow with mistrust.
    The target was advancing at a jog straight towards him and Bofur had time to pick a mark well clear of the dwarf’s shield. He opted low, and loosed. A masterful shot! The arrow sprang at the unsuspecting twin and transfixed his foot. He rocked back and collapsed to the floor. Bofur allowed himself a grim smirk and used the barb of his next arrow to scratch a notch into his quiver strap to mark the hit.

The howl of surprised anguish from the greybeard in the middle of the hall drew attention from all quarters.
    Yngwi and Gymir hesitated as their fleeing victim planted the door shut in their faces, the howl from below suggesting that the battle had moved on.
    Tóki had sought to outflank the dwarves below by slinking along the other branch of the gallery to a position above and behind the other intruders, but had been unable to find anything to use as a missile. A daring plan suggested itself and he considered the angles and the distance to the floor below.
    Fjiar let go of the rope to drop the last few feet to the floor of the hall and ran over, sweeping out his axes.
    Toleðr charged. The one dwarf to his right was down, no threat as he dragged himself across the floor and under one of the long tables out of arrow-shot.
    “Dwîm!” cried the other one ahead and left of him, a second dwarf who looked identical to the one Bofur had shot. With no time for puzzling, Toleðr son of Mánkr brandished his sword in an arc around his head and charged the second twin.

View
Back to the Lonely Mountain
In which they steal out of Dale and return to the Mountain, but on venturing into the ruined Hall of the Dathrins find their enemies already ahead of them!

THORFINN OF THE HOUSE OF DATHRIN INVITED HIMSELF TO STAY THE NIGHT in the sleeping loft above the toymaker’s shop that Tóki shared with the apprentice. Fearing that they may have made some ruthless enemies that day—and that his master’s stock was mostly of softwoods, seasoned and tinder-dry—Tóki was glad of the company.
    The rest of the group left town and made their way up to the Mountain. The road up Dale crossed the bridge over the River Running and passed the two waterfalls up to the Front Gate and they were back underground without event.
    Before they parted to go to their respective lodgings, Bofur Ironhand bade Toleðr Son of Mánkr visit with him to get those bruises seen to. Bofur’s apartment was largely given over to workshop space, the walls lined with shelves full of earthenware and dwarf-glass jars of all shapes and sizes, and oil burners keeping a days-long heat under retorts of coloured liquids for whatever secret purpose. From what he knew of the potioner’s arts, Toleðr saw that Bofur was accomplished, but also that most of his store of jars were nearing empty.
    Bofur produced dressings and a mix of poultice-herbs from a small casket, with which he ministered to Toleðr’s aches and pains before they each took their rest.

EARLY MORNING, HEVENSDAY, 12TH OF RETHE, TA 2988

The next morning Toleðr’s head was clear and he could shrug off the dull aches of his bruises, though he didn’t think the herbs had helped one bit and he couldn’t hide the fact that he still limped a little. He set forth and met the others at the appointed hour.
    They had arranged an early start in order to be away before Foron thought to send any spy after them, and to appear to be setting out for the mines of the South Spur. Everyone arrived at the hostel laden with tools, bedrolls and travelling gear.

Down in Dale-town, the toymaker’s shop had gone unmolested and Thorfinn and Tóki, with a busy morning ahead of them, had been away before the dawn. There had been no sign of anyone following them up the road to The Mountain.
    Before meeting the others they made a number of calls, hiring tools and materials and rousting out the last two members of the company. Yngwi Sandstone, a huge blond-bearded young dwarf born in the Lonely Mountain and raised on tales of dwarvish loyalty, was aggrieved at having wasted a trip down to the Gold Hush Inn the previous evening. He told how he’d sat quietly by whilst Thorfinn’s merchant rival had been hiring on some fellow in a mason’s apron. But sensing a tale in the offing, he took down his hood and cloak and went with Thorfinn and Tóki to meet the others.

“So here we are,” announced Thorfinn. “Fjiar and I are warrior-defenders of our folks. We can but hope our skills are not needed. Of the three craftsmen, Tóki has a toymaker’s skill with fine mechanisms, Bofur has collected much lore of what door-magicks were commanded by our forefathers and Toleðr has a particular interest in the lores lost in the Coming of Smaug. And Yngwi knows the Mountain as only one born here can know it, and,” he grinned, “it will be good for someone to make a tale of our accomplishments.”
    “But of course,” agreed Toleðr. “And glorious accomplishments will they be!”
    “The only thing we might want for would be someone with the eye and the touch for stone-work,” *noted Fjiar.
    Yngwi cursed softly. *“That’s exactly how a fellow called Mêgrim was describing himself in the Gold Hush yestereve—”

    “So that makes seven,” announced Thorfinn, cutting across them in a firm tone. Several of the dwarves bobbed their beards in perfunctory nods, anxious to be off, but Bofur looked at him askance.
    “Permit me to introduce the seventh, Gymir Snorri’s son,” said Thorfinn.
    Looking round, they saw that a white-bearded dwarf had quietly slipped in at the back of the company. His name already having been given, Gymir didn’t speak but gave a slight bow. Each was suddenly struck that this one’s beard was not white with age, but shared its milky pallor with his skin itself; beneath white brows his eyes glinted a curious red.
    Thorfinn repeated the plan devised in secret the previous night and they shouldered packs and tools and set forth.

They took a southerly route through the dwarf-city and then skirted back through outer tunnels to head for their true goal. The mansion of the House of Dathrin was in a tunnel in the northward deeper outskirts of the old city where few dwarves had yet resettled.
    As the company left the last well-travelled crossway Yngwi and Tóki slipped aside, ducked into a side-tunnel and covered their lantern. In pitch darkness they lurked for a goodly spell before seeing a soul. The first they saw was a dwarf carrying a torch, with spares thrust into his belt and a flask of hot tea. Yngwi dimly recognised him for a miner he’d seen once or twice but whom he could not connect with Foron son of Jídli in any way. Later still a company of dwarves passed in the other direction, drawing three handcarts of newly-delved stone back to the city.
    Tóki and Yngwi agreed to rejoin the rest of their company.
    “You were shuffling your feet something terrible,” muttered Yngwi as they hurried along.
    “Well you farted!” Tóki bit back.

After some walking, Thorfinn announced to the company that they were nearing his ancestral home. Not far to the west a stair headed down to the Bottommost Cellar that Smaug had taken for his lair, but the tunnel-road carried along on the same level to the heart of the mountain and beyond to the mines and workings in the Northern Spur.
    The House of Dathrin itself was a dwarf-mansion delved into the wall of the tunnel that had once been a main thoroughfare of the Kingdom, but its outer parts lay in ruins. Two wings constructed of cut stone had once jutted into the tunnelway like mighty buttresses marking out a front yard leading to the entrance, but one whole wing, the main entrance and the whole chamber beyond had been reduced to charred rubble by the wrathful Smaug.
    A great lamp still hung on its chain from the roof above the yard but its light was long-dead. Playing a lantern beam over the devastated face of the hall, they could make out once-beautiful carvings, but it revealed no sign of life beyond a flutter of agitated bats.
    “The deepest chambers will not have been harmed,” asserted Thorfinn. “Smaug, curse his name, was too huge to have done more than damage the outer parts of the mansion. We need to get in there and find the chamber where my father kept his papers.”
    Toleðr regarded the slopes of the blackened rubble sceptically. “That rubble isn’t safe to climb,” he said. “We’re going to have to clear a way in.”
    “What about up there?” asked Fjiar. Bofur shone a lantern where he pointed. One end of what looked originally to have been an open gallery above the entrance, overlooking the yard, still remained intact.
    “Yes,” said Fjiar. “You can just make out the top of a door in that recess at the right-hand end. Let’s get a rope up there and see if we can get in that way.”

A rope was found, and a crude great grapnel fashioned from two pickaxes. Fjiar cast, pulled back the rope, and the pickaxes held against the remaining section of parapet. As he was halfway up the rope Yngwi and Tóki arrived and reassured the others than no one had followed their company here.
    Reaching the top and rolling over the parapet, Fjiar nearly stumbled as he planted his foot in a neat coil of rope and a grappling iron that had been carefully positioned up there.
    There’s a rope up here, he signed to the others, using his Blue Mountains iglishmêk.
    “He’s found a rope,” Bofur hissed to the others. “They must be inside, already ahead of us!”
    Ready to jump the first person to come up after them, flickered Fjiar’s fingers. That’s what I’d do.
    Yngwi’s first thought was to unsling his shield, but if there had ever been windows onto the gallery they had been lost in the destruction. No vantage point overlooked the company where they stood.
    Signalling, Quietly!, Fjiar hurriedly lodged the better grapnel and lowered the rope, beckoning the others to hasten up to join him while he held it fast.
    Toleðr thought little of this prospect, and instead started to lead the way in clearing the rubble from the entranceway, impervious to Thorfinn’s protest that such an approach would take days.
    Tóki carefully climbed up, then he held onto the grapnel for Gymir as Fjiar strapped on his shield and drew his shorter axe from his belt. Not daring to trust their weight to the ragged end of the damaged gallery, the three of them were beginning to find the space cramped.
    Bofur tried the rope, but realising that he would only make slow progress he let Yngwi climb ahead of him.
    Fjiar opened the door with as quiet a shove as he could manage, and guided Gymir in through the opening to be the vanguard of the exploration. The pitch black beyond it was untouched by the light of the lanterns below, and Gymir hesitated.
    Fingers flashed as Tóki asked those below to get a lamp up to him, but Yngwi was already climbing, so Tóki tried to aid him by hauling up the rope and the ponderous bulk of the minstrel at the same time.

Suddenly there was a thrum somewhere in the darkness ahead of Gymir. An arrow struck him in the leg. The light behind him did not pierce the darkness of the passageway, but was enough to have outlined him as a target. “I’m shot!” he yelled out in surprise, nearly startling Yngwi into losing his grip on the rope.
    Fjiar knew all about the threat of archers. He thrust himself ahead of Gymir with his shield raised his shield in front of his face and, unsighted, strode straight forward to close down the unseen attacker. Gymir flattened himself against the wall and advanced more slowly in Fjiar’s tracks.
    With a grunt Tóki abandoned his hope of pulling Yngwi upwards and cast down the second rope, urging Thorfinn or Toleðr to tie on a lantern for him to draw up.
    Frustrated and concerned, Bofur suddenly started to scramble up the pile of rubble, ignoring the argument between Thorfinn and the resolute Toleðr, who was still looking like he was trying to tunnel his way in. Unstable rubble suddenly seemed less hazardous if the alternative was being shot at.

There was a shuffle of feet, and Fjiar heard a door slam shut somewhere ahead.
    “I saw ’em!” hissed Gymir, “Dead ahead.” Fjiar surged onwards, until a dozen paces later his shield thudded resoundingly against the wooden door.

View
The Fight at the Gold Hush Inn
In which young Toleðr picks a tavern fight, and on leaving the place they pick up a tail...

TREWSDAY AFTERNOON, CONTINUED

IN BAVOR’S GOLD HUSH INN, Thorfinn of the Dathrins was still confronting Foron son of Jídli about his unlicensed search of the House of Dathrin when Tóki the Toymaker made a hasty entrance and apologised to Thorfinn and company for being late. The interruption gave Foron the merchant the opportunity to slip back to his own table where his henchmen were uneasily looking on.
    In low voices the others explained to Tóki what had passed, but before they could finish he cut them short, and drained off his whole pint of ale. One of the men at Foron’s table had got up and made his way to the door, and without a word of explanation Tóki set off after him.
    Foron and the rest of his company shrewdly noted this but didn’t offer any obvious reaction.

A reaction, however, was exactly what Toleðr son of Mánkr the artisan weapon-crafter wanted. He stood up and stepped to the side of the nearest of Foron’s mannish henchmen.
    “I love you,” he exclaimed, and laid a hand on the rough man’s thigh.
    “Get out of it!” came the response, the ruffian irritably shrugging him off.
    Toleðr was not to be dissuaded. He abruptly tried to push the man off his stool, but his thrust had little force in it. The others behind him fell quiet, gawping at Toleðr’s actions.
    “Piss off!” came the man’s rejoinder as he shoved Toleðr back and away.
    Toleðr took a couple of steps and then barrelled straight back into the man, who fended him off and pushed him back again towards his own table. This time Fjiar was on his feet, shielding the precious beers on the table by catching Toleðr and bowling him back at Foron’s table with extra force.
    Toleðr’s second impact shunted his man into the table to send it scraping backwards, drinks spilling in every direction, wedge Foron’s two dwarven companions against the wall and the bar and knock Foron himself back off his stool and through the curtained doorway into the tavern’s other room.
    Before the pinned man could right himself Toleðr started beating at him, but the weight of his fists made little impression. The man responded with a brawler’s side-kick to the shin, but Toleðr kept his footing and continued to flail away.
    ‘Captain’ Beil, the dwarven self-styled mercenary leader within Foron’s group, regained his feet and stepped forward to try and stop the affray, his advance matched by Fjiar stepping up to Toleðr’s side.
    “Come on, let’s leave off this and drink each other’s health, eh?” Beil said, or tried to say, but he spluttered as he spoke and the result was barely coherent.
    “I’ll give you bloody ‘elf’…” retorted Fjiar, wilfully misunderstanding him (for he knew Beil by reputation to be nothing even so wholesome as a mercenary). He thrust his open hand at Beil’s bearded chin and shoved him to thud backwards against the bar a second time.
    Toleðr continued his assault undeterred until his adversary responded first with a punch to the neck and then with another bruising blow to the arm.
    As a mercy to the relentless Toleðr, Fjiar grabbed him by the back of his greatcoat and hauled him out of the reach of the tall man’s fists and planted him back on his stool.

At that moment Tóki returned, still breathing hard from his exertions in the streets, and took in the scene in one glance.
    “Bavor, drinks for everyone!” he bellowed, and the tension of the moment was broken. Scowling at Toleðr, Foron’s people took their seats again, looking unlikely to forget the grudge, but unwilling to depart the tavern.
    Tóki sat down and made a great fuss over lighting his pipe until he had his breath back and was able to explain what had happened outside.
    The ruffian he followed had gone some way towards the centre of Dale-town but then chanced to look back and Tóki had just known that he had been unable to mask a stricken look at being discovered. His quarry had taken to his heels at a full run, past shop fronts and townsfolk, heading in the direction of the river-docks, and then skidded to a halt before rounding a corner at a suddenly nonchalant walk. Tóki had broken into a run to follow him and likewise slowed at the corner to walk around it at a more normal pace, only to find that the lanky man had had the advantage of him. The side-street before him had been completely empty. Tóki had run on, looking left and right as he passed the buildings on either side, but to no avail: the blaggard had made good his escape.
    The eyes of Bofur the alchemist were on the fire, blazing away against the chill Rethe afternoon. He suddenly realised that not all of Foron’s companions had retaken their seats after all. The tavern had a fireplace that was open to both bar-rooms, and the big greybeard bodyguard who had previously been sitting to Foron’s left was now crouching in the other room to watch them acutely through the flames.
    “That’s enough from you,” called out Bofur in a commanding tone. The look of intense watching left the greybeard’s eyes and though he gave no sign of realising he was addressed, he casually straightened up and drifted aside. He waited long enough for dignity to be served before returning to his seat, but steadfastly refused to look in Bofur’s direction again.

When Tóki’s quarry returned a little later he also made a straight line for his own table, without acknowledging that Tóki and the rest of the company were there.
    The toymaker narrowed his eyes. “My friends,” he announced to those around his table, “that man doesn’t just have the mud of the streets on his shoes. If you observe, you will see fresh sawdust stuck to the mud, or I’m a blind bat. And there can’t be more than a couple of workshops by the river-docks where sawdust is swept out into the street.” He sat back and sagely took a puff of pipeweed, immensely satisfied with his powers of deduction.
    And then at that moment there came the sound of a door being opened and a gang of fellows trooping into the other bar.
    “Reinforcements,” commented Thorfinn. “That’s exactly what I would have done.”
    Toleðr winced slightly as he leaned in across the table. “Well if you don’t want us to see ’em off in here, what ‘exactly’ is our plan now?”
    Thorfinn gave Foron’s group an appraising glance and met the pointedly placid gaze of the merchant. He decided that he didn’t want to trust merely to lowered voices for keeping his plans secret.
    “We should get out of here and go somewhere we can discuss more freely,” he said. Tóki volunteered his absent master’s toy shop as the nearest most suitable place to talk and the company finished their drinks and filed out.
    When they left, Fjiar behaved as oblivious as the rest, but at an opportune moment he glanced back in the direction of the Gold Hush. He was rewarded with a glimpse of the man Tóki had followed before, nonchalantly heading up the road in the same direction as they themselves had taken.

Once they reached the toy shop, Tóki gave the mannish apprentice, Klerkur, the rest of the day off and they pulled up assorted sticks of furniture to hold a council around a workbench cluttered with miniature soldiers and a tray of tiny mechanical springs.
    “If we’re going to be discussing this for some time, who fancies another jar of ale?” said Fjiar in a loud voice.
    Everyone seemed engrossed in the conversation so Fjiar repeated his question, fluttering his fingers in the Blue Mountains iglishmêk, directing Toleðr and Bofur to agree to a drink. Everyone was soon in agreement that ale would be very welcome and Fjiar set off on his errand.
    A crock of ale in his arms he returned by a different route, and noted the eavesdropper still there, ducking too slowly under the shadow of an outside staircase.
    With the ale served, Fjiar and Thorfinn led the others in a very vocal discussion of their forthcoming trip to Thorfinn’s mines in the South Spur of the Lonely Mountain, which they would be making in about a week’s time. The truth, shared only in a whisper, was that they would convene the next morning at the hostel-hall where Thorfinn was boarding, and head immediately for his forefathers’ mansion in the depths of the Mountain in order to seek records giving the location of the secret vault in the mines in Erebor’s North Spur.

View
The Gold Hush Inn
In which the young dwarves confront Foron about his designs on the fortune of the Dathrins

TREWSDAY AFTERNOON, 11TH OF RETHE IN THE 2988TH YEAR OF THE THIRD AGE

BAVOR THE BROADBEAM-DWARF KEEPS A TAVERN IN DALE-TOWN, ‘The Gold Hush Inn’, where he welcomes not only the men of Dale and the Longbeard dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, but dwarven travellers of any tribe from far and wide. The tavern is named for a mining process called a “hush”, but the Dalefolk joke about Bavor’s being a hush-hush place for dwarves; the lack of windows onto the street only adds to this impression.

A dwarven merchant-trader by the name of Foron son of Jidli and his cronies were the customers in the lull in trade after the midday rush. In low tones they were plotting the ‘reclamation’ of the rumoured wealth of the noble house of Dathrin, that had gone unclaimed by any descendant in the half-century since the Death of Smaug and the refounding of the Kingdom Under the Mountain.
    Then a high-born young dwarf and a trio of the motley craftsman and warrior fellows he’d attracted to his cause burst into the room and accused the merchant of planning theft.
    “Oy, you—” exclaimed Fjiar son of Mhutli, a Firebeard dwarf with a pair of axes in his belt. “My boss wants a word with you.”
    “Yes,” said Thorfinn, a high-born young dwarf of the house of Dathrin, stepping to the fore. “The word in the tunnels is that you mean to steal the gold of my forefathers!”
    Unruffled, the merchant stepped out from amongst his henchmen to reply quietly, low enough for Bavor and his staff not to hear. “Any such rumour is baseless and untrue. And your claim that such rumours are abroad does not give you the right to come out of the Iron Hills to Dale and burst in here acting like you own the place.” Though they have never met, and each has pointedly not given his name to the other, Foron clearly knows who his accuser is.
    “As far as the Lonely Mountain is concerned, I do own the place, or at least part of it,” Thorfinn replied. He has to raise his voice over the guffaws of his own followers to continue, “And if I find you or your lickspittles on my property you’ll regret it!”
    “Ho, ho!” Bofur Ironhand, a potioner and a historian of the old dwarven magicks, with a comically tall peaked cap, laughed loudest amongst Thorfinn’s throng.
    Fjiar sensed the anger amongst the merchant’s henchmen at the table just across the room. His hand moved to his axe-helve but Toleðr son of Mánkr, a dapper beardling from the Blue Mountains, stepped up behind him and nudged him in the ribs. “You can’t draw steel in Dale,” he hissed. “Bain Bard’s son would have your axes off you and cast you out of town.”
    “So it’s going to be like that, is it?” Fjiar replied grimly, flexing his knuckles. “Let’s see if everyone fancies a tankard of Bavor’s strongest…”
    There was every likelihood that Thorfinn’s other recruits would finish with their other business as the afternoon wore on. If Tóki the Toymaker and the strapping great Lonely Mountain minstrel, Yngwi Sandstone, arrived it would put the odds more in their favour. And it was hardly going to be wasted time, whatever happened — Fjiar never yet minded passing time in the company of strong ale!

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