1 In the beginning Eru created the Ainur, offspring of his thought.
2 And there was naught else in the void. And Eru taught to the Ainur a mighty theme and bade them sing before him and they sang.
3 And Eru said, Be! and the world became, shaped by the singing of the Ainur and filled with the Flame Imperishable.
4 And Eru made his Children, Elves and Men, and set them upon the world that they might have dominion there.
5 And it came to pass that Aulë, mighty among the Ainur, wrought Children of his own, hewn from the rock, and Eru breathed on them, and they were the Dwarves.
6 The Children of Aulë were seven and he taught to them of his arts, of hammer and chisel, of metal and rock. They became learned in stonecunning and smithing, and delighted in making beautiful things.
7 And the Dwarves said to Aulë, How then may we teach what we have learned, even as you have taught us?
8 And Aulë said, It is not good that my Children should be alone; I will make them companions, that they may share their knowledge.
9 And Aulë took up his tools and from the rock he fashioned mates for six of the Dwarves, and brought them unto his Children.
10 But for Durin, greatest of his Children, Aulë made no companion, but kept him close to himself, teaching him until Durin's knowledge and skill far surpassed that of his brethren.
11 And between Aulë and Durin there was a great love.
"I think I'll make another Dwarf," said Longbeard one night at supper.
The others turned to look at him. "Why?" Blacklock asked, tearing off a piece of bread.
Longbeard frowned. "I'm not sure. I just have this urge to make another Dwarf."
Stiffbeard nodded. "There are always more animals, but never more Dwarves."
Broadbeam poured another mug of beer. "And just how are you going to make another Dwarf?"
"I'll carve it," Longbeard said. "From the rock."
"Are you going to tell Aulë?" Ironfist speared the last piece of venison, cuffing Stonefoot as he tried to grab it.
"No," said Longbeard. "I'll surprise him."
The next day, the Dwarves studied with Aulë all morning. They were doing jewelry that week and Aulë praised Longbeard's emerald brooch.
"Vala's pet," Stonefoot hissed when Aulë had gone to critique Blacklock's silver earrings.
Longbeard didn't reply. He just looked slightingly at Stonefoot's copper ankle bracelet. Longbeard knew he was the most skilful of the Dwarves. Aulë said so all the time.
In the afternoons, they had Individual Project time. Longbeard started carving his Dwarf out of a huge piece of granite. By suppertime, he had a rough shape and had started to work on the feet.
"You know," said Firebeard, when they were eating plum cake with cream, "I think I'll make another Dwarf too."
"Copycat," said Longbeard. "Just like you copied my helmet design last week." It was true; the other Dwarves copied him all the time. It was flattering but also very annoying.
"I'm not a copycat," said Firebeard in a petulant voice. "But now I have the urge too."
Some of the Dwarves just took more plum cake and coffee. But Broadbeam looked thoughtful.
Longbeard worked on his Dwarf all the next afternoon. The feet were done now and the legs. He'd carved some very fine boots for the Dwarf, finer than the ones they all wore now.
He could see that Firebeard had started a Dwarf as well. So had Broadbeam. When Longbeard came back to the workroom after getting a drink of water, he found Firebeard studying his Dwarf's boots.
"Don't copy those," Longbeard said. "Make your own."
Firebeard scowled and went back to his Dwarf.
By the next day, all the Dwarves were carving Dwarves. Stonefoot had started with the head and his Dwarf had a face that looked a little like Ironfist's.
Firebeard's boots looked exactly like Longbeard's, save for an intricate pattern down their sides. Longbeard thought about saying something, but he knew from experience it wouldn't do any good. Besides, he was busy.
Longbeard had finished carving the hips and waist. A wide belt circled them, with a hammer hanging from one side and an axe from the other. The beard and chest would be next, and the arms. He knew just how everything would look. Except the face. That was most important so he had to give more thought to it.
At supper, over their shepherd's pie and black bread, the Dwarves talked about the Dwarves they were carving.
"What will their names be, do you think?" Blacklock said around his mouthful.
"Firebeard's will be Fancyboots," Stiffbeard said and laughed. Firebeard scowled.
"Won't we give them their names?" asked Broadbeam. "I've been thinking about that and I have a list for mine: Thickneck, Silvereyes, Heavyfoot..."
"How did we get our names?" Longbeard said. "I can't remember."
"Didn't we just know them?" Stonefoot said. "I'm sure I just knew mine."
"...Rockfist, Granitearm, Goldbeard..."
"I thought Aulë gave them to us." Ironfist scooped out a large spoonful of the pie.
"I suppose we'll find out when we're done," Blacklock said. Firebeard handed around the lemon pound cake.
Longbeard held his hammer and chisel as he looked at the granite. Everything was done except for the face. He could see it in his mind -- nose a little smaller than most Dwarves, eyes a little wider. He carved carefully and after many hours, was finished.
He stepped back and looked at the Dwarf. It was perfect, finely carved and polished. He touched the stone and it was smooth under his fingers.
But still just stone. Why didn't it move? He touched it once more, then left the workroom. He should ask Aulë about it. He would, but not yet.
In the morning, they crafted silver filigree, but for once Longbeard had trouble with the delicate wire and it bent under his fingers. Aulë looked at him, but said nothing, and went to help Firebeard.
Later, Longbeard sat in the workroom, looking at his Dwarf while the others finished their carving.
He must have done something wrong.
One by one, the other Dwarves completed their Dwarves. Longbeard watched them do as he had, touching the polished rock, whispering in the stone ears. One by one, their faces fell and they stood back, bewildered. Stonefoot and Ironfist talked in low voices. Firebeard glanced over at Longbeard's Dwarf and then back at his own.
Longbeard stood to leave. But he stopped when Aulë came in.
Aulë seemed to fill the room, although he was not much bigger than any of the Dwarves. Longbeard thought Aulë held something in his hand, something that glowed, but whenever he looked directly at it, it disappeared.
The other Dwarves clustered around Aulë, but Longbeard stood back. "See what we've made," they said. "Do you like them?"
Aulë smiled in a way that made Longbeard think he was smiling at himself, rather than them. "They're quite wonderful," Aulë said. He moved among them, admiring their technique, complimenting Firebeard on his boots. Longbeard crossed his arms over his chest and said nothing.
"They can live," Aulë said. Broadbeam cheered and the other Dwarves joined in, banging each other on the back and grinning. Longbeard felt something leap inside of him, but still he hung back.
"You need to give them breath." Aulë dipped two fingers into his hand and touched Blacklock's mouth. Longbeard could see the glow now, in Aulë's hand, on Blacklock's face. It was white, like hot flame.
Blacklock went to his Dwarf. He hesitated, then pressed his mouth to the stone lips. The glow spread, shimmering over the curves of the rock. Stone became flesh, a new Dwarf with eyes bright as coals. Blacklock stepped back and stared. The new Dwarf leaned close and whispered in his ear and Blacklock smiled.
The others clamoured to Aulë now and he gave all of them the strange fire. Soon the room was filled with Dwarves and murmuring as each pair spoke, looking into each other's eyes.
And Longbeard watched, sick inside, and tried not to look at the flicker in Aulë's palm.
"It's time for dinner," Ironfist called out, and they all trooped off, twofold, to have it.
When the others had gone, Aulë came to Longbeard. He touched Longbeard's Dwarf, examining the lines and planes of the rock. "It's good," he said, "but it could be better."
Longbeard's heart sank. He'd thought his Dwarf much the best, his ability the greatest.
Aulë put one rough hand on his shoulder and laughed. "Longbeard, you misunderstand me. Already you have surpassed the others. But I do not think that is enough for you. They have come to the end of their skill, but yours is only beginning.
"You may have life for your Dwarf, if that is what you wish, or you may remain with me and I will teach you all my craft. Then, when you are ready, you may make a better."
Longbeard stood, Aulë's hand heavy on his shoulder, and waited for the decision to come to him. It wasn't easy -- he'd put much of himself into the Dwarf and it hurt to think that it would never live. But the thought of never learning more was painful too.
Aulë's words were still in his ears: "It could be better." And so Longbeard decided. "I'll stay."
Aulë's grip tightened on his shoulder. Then Aulë touched his glowing hand to his own lips and stepped close and breathed into Longbeard's mouth. Vitality surged through Longbeard, and he felt as though he were becoming larger, stronger, more awake. Aulë's arm was around his back and Longbeard clasped him in return, dizzy and reeling.
"Are you ready?" Aulë stepped back, hand still resting on Longbeard's shoulder.
Longbeard looked at his Dwarf and already he could see how it could be improved. He saw the imperfections in his tools, in everything he'd made. He clasped Aulë's shoulder in return. "Yes," he said.
Aulë smiled. "Then let's begin."