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Song of the Stone

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But though either people loved skill and were eager to learn, no great love was there between them; for the Dwarves were secret and quick to resentment, and Caranthir was haughty and scarce concealed his scorn for the unloveliness of the Naugrim, and his people followed their lord.

Narvi glanced up so sharply that Pengolodh faltered in his reading. The stone-carved face revealed no emotion and the massive red-brown beard made it even more difficult to perceive the cause for such a sudden movement.

“My lord?” said Pengolodh. He had grown in confidence in the years of tribulation after the fall of Gondolin, but his recent taking up of residence in Khazad-dûm made him feel reduced: Something about the enormous halls and the crushing sense of the mountain overhead, something about its reticent and enigmatic people made him feel like a young student again, uncertain of his exact place but certain that the most innocuous action, at any moment, would brand him a fool or, worse, a boor.

Narvi had asked him to read that night from his book on the discovery of the Dwarves by the Eldar in Beleriand. The book was an eternal work-in-progress—many sheep had been sacrificed unnecessarily to provide the parchment for drafts discarded nearly as quickly as they were written—but of this part of the history, Pengolodh was rather assured, having heard what scant details there were from the Sindarin settlers from Estolad. There was rare concordance among the various versions presented: the Dwarves’ traffic through Thargelion, the renowned haughtiness of Caranthir, the shared enemy but purported small love.

Narvi was enigmatic even for one of the Naugrim (Celebrimbor claimed it was the constantly turning mental machinery in his mind that negated the need for nearly all communication) but he spoke now: “That is not exactly how it was.”

~oOo~

It was at nightfall during a rare and sudden mid-autumn snow squall, high in the mountains, when Amarwen, the youngest daughter of Caranthir, was attacked, and my kinsmen found her.

She was her father’s daughter, and her training in combat rivaled that of his soldiery, but she had never had the love for it that her elder sister had, and she was the less skilled of the two, alone and wearied by her long climb and the sudden snow, and certainly not expecting to find Orcs so far south.

In fact, as she drew her sword, her mind was already reviewing her father’s defenses, trying to figure which had failed to allow these brutes passage. It was only a small band of them and—as I’ve said—she was not unskilled with a blade, but she was wounded lightly in the arm and wearied further, and the snow was falling faster, blown by a cutting wind, and night was fully fallen by now, and she’d had no opportunity to find a site for much less make her camp. She was stumbling along the path, listening and looking more for foes than for a place to raise her tent, when the swirling snow around her suddenly kindled with light. She drew her blade; though Orcs did not bear lanterns, she was shaken from the unexpected attack and didn’t dare to trust her assumptions of Orcs at this point.

She surprised my kinsmen nearly as much as she was surprised by them. She wasn’t one of the silver-haired subjects of Thingol who sometimes wandered as far as the mountain passes but was dark of hair and ruddy of complexion with eyes like the color of flint. She was not offered hospitality, for by this point, she was barely able to accept it, and the conference of my kinsfolk was brief and mostly concerned who should take the young woman to Gabilgathol and who should pursue the foes they’d tracked into the northern passes.

Amarwen understood not a word of their speech but nonetheless seemed to perceive something of it, for she raised herself from the earth where she’d dropped to a knee—having trusted that, odd as they must have looked to her, my kinsfolk meant her no harm—and began to pantomime. Five ugly creatures, much slashing of the bright blade she held (until the wound in her arm ran red anew), and now five ugly corpses.

Hospitality was not offered her but it was rather demanded that she accept it, for my kinsmen doubted that she’d last the night if left in the wild, and it seemed a thing of evil to leave her to that fate. So she was led away, to Gabilgathol. It was not a long journey, but she was nearly in a swoon by their arrival and was taken away to our wise woman Vestri for healing.

Now your tales so far have said nothing of Amarwen, so it may be that you didn’t know her or know much of her. She was, as I have said, the youngest of the two daughters of Caranthir: less brave but more wise than her sister. She did not love the company of others of her kind, save her nearest kin, but endured it, preferring rather the lonely heights of the mountains, where she could place hands and feet upon the primal bones of the earth. She was called in jest by her kin the “philosopher princess,” for she learned strange lore from her sojourns that often contradicted her people’s teaching. She was thought not a little mad, obviously the child of her father. This our people learned of her.

While the Elf-woman slept away her weariness, my kinsmen told Vestri of the strange feat in the forest, where despite being clearly ignorant of their speech, she had seemed to understand nonetheless and had pantomimed an answer that kept them from spending a futile night abroad in the storm.

What happened next comes from our lore, The Sayings of Vestri, which we share not with outsiders but that I will tell in some small part to you.

Vestri kept the Elf-woman in the strictest isolation for many days. Amarwen was given leave to go but chose to stay. Their conversations have been put into poetry as “The Dialogue of the Wise-Woman and the Elf-Lady” in The Sayings of Vestri.

Amarwen was not the first Elf-woman Vestri had seen, for as I said, the people of Thingol sometimes wandered into the mountain passes and availed themselves of our hospitality. Vestri was used to being thought a man, for reason of her beard—which I am told women of your kind never possess—and being treated with shock by your people, but Amarwen was with her for many days and showed no surprise, nor the restraint that would have caused Vestri to believe that she believed her to be a man. She was silent more often than not—an unusual quality in your people—and often laid her hands on the walls for long hours, listening to what subtlety passed through the stone in a way that Vestri had never seen of Elven-kind. Her mind, though, was active in a strange and penetrating way, and it did not take long before the women learned that, though they shared not a word in the same tongue, they could nonetheless speak and even share with the other their perceptions of things.

After many days, Amarwen said, “There is something in this stone. Long have I wandered in the mountains and felt something of them, like a pulse faint beneath the skin, but here, it is as though I am lying next to their heart.” She pressed her eyes shut and a tear slid down her face and Vestri felt her awe but also her sorrow, for none of her people—even her family—would ever understand.

“It is of this stone,” said Vestri, “that Mahal made the Seven Fathers. Some of the wise before me say that the stone of these mountains is the navel of the world.”

At that, Vestri said, Amarwen drew back slightly and said, “What do you mean by that?” and Vestri sensed the hurt of one who has many times spoken what she knew as truth and faced only ridicule.

As well you know, your people believe the world was created from without, from the One who stands aside who kindled a spark as inspiration to an artist among his children. It was patterned in song and then made, existing first in the minds of its makers and then in the not wholly successful acts of their hands. There is no such myth among the Khazâd. We know that the world was made within; there was the stone, and from a cavern at its heart arose life, and it would pass from darkness through a hole in the earth to dwell beneath the stars, which flew as sparks during the forging of the world-stone, so hot that they’ve not yet burned out. But everything has its origins in the earth, not in the song of distant gods given a notion by the One who stands aside. That is why green growing things plant their roots in the soil and why animals, though they may learn to climb and fly, burrow in its depths to feel safe: for all of us originated in the stone of that cave. Even your people, for all their talk of love for the open skies, when they wish to stay hidden, retreat to the safety of stone. That is what brings you to us now, is it not, Pengolodh? By this you know where you began.

Mahal shaped many new things, as an artisan with clay. He shaped the Seven Fathers of the Khazâd, and long they slept beneath the earth, and when they woke, it was in darkness, and Mahal was gone, too eager to bring forth new things from the rock to withstand waiting. When he returned, he found that the Seven Fathers had already begun to carve out the stone. Already, through touch alone, they knew the various ores, although they did not yet possess the wisdom to understand the reasons for the differences they perceived. That Mahal taught them. He taught them to know the song of each ore by touch, and then he taught them to melt and shape each. Each of the Seven Fathers, for his first task, Mahal had make a rung, as for a ladder, and by riveting each to the stone, the Seven Fathers could climb and also emerged from the hole in the earth and became fully alive beneath the open sky. But unlike many others, who remember their origins only in times of great desperation, the Khazâd have never forgotten the song of the stone beneath their hands, and they have dwelled ever where they were made, against the heart of the earth.

Vestri told Amarwen that story, and Amarwen was amazed, and it seemed to her that many things that never made sense in your folk’s tale of the singing of the gods suddenly came to light, as though arising from a hole in the earth to glimpse the stars. She stayed with Vestri a good while longer, learning what the wise-woman would teach, long enough that—we later learned—her father was mad with worry and had found the weaknesses in his defenses that Amarwen had pondered on the night she was attacked, and many Orcs were slain as a result.

I do not know where the tale comes that Caranthir’s sentiment toward our people was haughty or grudging; it never was, and our people could never less than love the family of Amarwen, who was always welcome in our halls and indeed visited often until the land was flooded. None knew what happened to her after that, and Vestri died shortly after, some of the wise saying to meet Amarwen, whom she gave the name Lofar in our tongue. I do not know what Amarwen taught of what she learned of Vestri to her people, but—

~oOo~

“The Sarn Glír!” Pengolodh interjected. Narvi again looked upon him sharply and was startled into silence that Pengolodh would be years in breaking. He felt color rise to his face and felt again like the ungainly student, having spoken in enthusiasm where his words were unwelcome. He cleared his throat and tried better to seem the part of the most esteemed loremaster of the Eldarin people on this side of the sea. “The Sarn Glír,” he said, “is a rare text that exists in a single copy. It is in poor shape, but its prose is vibrant and unique. It passed into Doriath with the destruction of the eastern realms after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. None could account for it or whence it came, but it contained a creation myth like the one you just told and philosophies built on the assumption of that myth’s truth … I have no doubt that Amarwen was the author and that it contains the lore that Vestri shared with her.”

He half-expected a rebuke from Narvi but, of course, none came. The Dwarf’s face might indeed have been carved of stone.

Pengolodh looked down at the book in his lap and the passage of which he’d been so confident of the veracity and felt a moment of hopelessness, not for the first time at the task he’d undertaken in compiling the known lore of the First Age. Even the family trees would have to be redrawn and a book he’d been certain was finished bound again to accommodate this daughter of Caranthir who had seemed of too little importance to include. Amarwen. Lofar … or would she? The myths she’d written about with such vivacity in the Sarn Glír were, ultimately, untrue. Did they deserve inclusion in the history of the Eldar?

At the least, he thought, he could mention their friendship.

Nevertheless since both peoples feared and hated Morgoth they made alliance, and had of it great profit.