“Are you trying to get me killed?” Arasion demands when he slips into the dream that night.
Irmo scoops him up without warning and tosses him into the air, his fey laughter untouched by the child’s accusation. Arasion shrieks in a mix of surprise and (reluctant) delight, flailing like a baby bird as he descends back into the Vala’s arms. “I would never!” Irmo says, throwing him again. “You wound me, dear-heart!”
“Stop that!” Arasion says, his ire tempered by the laughter he can’t stop. “I’m serious! Did you send them toward me?”
Irmo laughs, throwing him a third time. “You will not believe me, I think, but no. None of us did, though you may rightly blame Yavanna for giving her trees the gift of song.”
Arasion scowls but concedes the point as Irmo nuzzles his face. “Yeah, well… don’t,” he says, his tone wavering between pleading and demanding. “I’m not ready to deal with the elves yet.”
Irmo sobers and pulls back, repositioning the child in his arms so that they’re face-to-face. “Calasain, I must caution you from delaying too long,” he says seriously. “Your soul is wounded, and it is not healing while you linger alone.”
Arasion blinks in surprise. “What? But I feel fine.” A considering little furrow forms between his brows as he looks away from the Vala and down at his hands. “I feel… too fine, actually.”
“Yes,” Irmo agrees, smoothing Arasion’s hair away from his face. “We bolster your spirit nightly, little one, but it is only a temporary measure. Once you have chosen your family, we must withdraw our Power and allow you to heal properly.”
The elfling make a face, then turns and buries his head in Irmo’s chest. Healing his soul sounds very far from a pleasant experience. “I’ll… take that into consideration,” he says reluctantly.
Irmo hums and strokes a finger along the shell of Arasion’s ear, drawing a reluctant, ticklish giggle from the child. “That’s all I ask, little one,” he says gently.
Erebor is not, in fact, inhabited by a dragon.
Or so Arasion discovers when he finally makes it to the mountain. It takes longer than expected since he chooses to go around The Greenwood rather than risk another encounter with the elves (all of whom are undoubtedly on high alert at this point).
Especially if the trees themselves are going to snitch on him. He’s still sore about that.
But. Erebor, not inhabited by a murderous dragon. That’s good.
He sits cross-legged on the roof of Dale’s bell tower, invisibly observing the front gates into the Lonely Mountain, and contemplates his options. He could try to explore with just his invisibility cloak, and maybe risk casting Mufflatio on himself. Except he doesn’t know how keen dwarvish senses are. Don’t they have some kind of stone-sense? Could they feel him walking around via the stone of the mountain itself?
No, too risky.
That only other option is to disguise himself the old-fashioned way, and Arasion feels a grin creep across his face at the thought. He’s still smaller than the average dwarf, and a lot slimmer, but he’s reasonably confident in his ability to disguise himself. Hermione packed a lot of very strange supplies. He could give himself a beard!
Arasion cackles deviously and gets up, grabbing his broom again. Now to find a hidden place to make his disguise…
Disguised (rather convincingly, he might say) as a young dwarf, Arasion follows the flow of the crowd into the mountain. His invisibility cloak is on just in case, but opened at the front to keep him visible. Hedwig is riding on his shoulder. Many of the dwarves and men he passes do double takes when they see her. He ignores the staring, too occupied with gaping as subtly as possible at the grandeur of the dwarves.
And truly, it is magnificent. The scale of the architecture is enormous, yet every square inch is full of mind-boggling detail. The finest traits of the mountain itself are polished up and put on display, like the shimmering ore veins and the smooth, glimmering stone itself. Carvings march over the walls, gilded and inlaid with colorful stone and gems that shine from the inside in a way that reminds him of Christmas fairy lights.
As soon as he can inconspicuously break away from the crowd he does, bounding eagerly off to examine the carved murals that seem to cover every wall. Luckily he’s not the only one, as he comes across several others (mostly young dwarves) who are also following the march of carvings.
When he finally comes to a stop it is before one particularly large and grand panel, far from the main pathways in a closed, temple-like room. “Wow,” he murmurs, tracing his fingers over the central carving, which he thinks depicts Aulë creating the first dwarves. The stone is cold and mirror-smooth against the pads of his fingers. A spicy, warm herbal scent lingers, likely from the candles and sticks of incense that line the low altar behind him. “They must really love you.”
“They do. And in turn, I love them dearly.”
Arasion yelps in surprise and stumbles back as the carving speaks, winks at him with carven-ruby eyes, and returns to inanimate stillness. He gapes and reaches up to rub his eyes several times.
The carving doesn’t move again, even when he pokes at it with a suspicious finger.
“What the fuck,” he whispers, softly but with feeling. Next time he sees Aulë he’s going to kick his shins. Do the Valar just like messing with him, he wonders as he glares at the panel, tiny fists on his hips. Is that it? Do they like startling and bewildering him?
Footsteps approach, yanking him from his internal diatribe at the Valar. He spins around, startled, and listens.
“I know we did not have time on your last visit, my eldarin friend, and that your schedule is full, but I am certain you will enjoy this!” says a cheerful, velvety dwarvish voice. Strangely, the dwarf is speaking in accented Sindarin.
Uh oh , he thinks, unable to stop and ponder the linguistic mystery of a dwarf speaking the elven-tongue instead of the common tongue. There's only one way out of the temple-room, and apparently an elf and at least one dwarf are blocking his escape. Hedwig takes off from his shoulder, disappearing toward the ceiling. Arasion’s head whips around frantically. He dives for the stone altar and scrunches up into a tight ball in the shallow indent at the front. He pulls his cloak closed, holding the edges together with his finger instead of fumbling with the ties. If he's lucky, no one will step on him.
“Certainly,” murmurs an undeniably female elven voice. “I thank you for taking the time to show me.”
“My pleasure, Barades. It is so rare for our peoples to be at peace long enough to share art, after all.” The two laugh as if sharing an oft-repeated joke and finally enter the room.
From his position facing the door, Arasion sees a tall, slim elf clad in a dark green and silver dress. The small figure beside her is also wearing a dress, he realizes, though a beard falls in a complex, jewel-strung braid down her chest. A female dwarf, he realizes, curiosity piqued. And friends with an elf to boot!
The elf, dark-haired with some of the palest grey eyes Arasion has ever seen, stops abruptly in the doorway as she catches sight of the mural. “Elbereth,” she breathes in wonder, much to the apparent satisfaction of her dwarven companion, “the workmanship… incredible.” She closes her eyes, head tilting to the side, and steps reverently closer. “Lis, it… it feels alive .”
“Does it?” asks the dwarf, Lis, in surprise. With a puzzled frown, she kneels and lays a hand on the floor. Her eyes slip shut in concentration “You are right. I can feel… humming.” Understanding dawns and she bends over to press her forehead to the floor in worshipful benediction. “Mahal,” she says, awed. “You honor us!”
For a moment, Arasion is afraid Aulë will give him away, but the carving does not move. He sighs quietly in relief.
“We must tell Lord Durin,” says Lis, her accent thickening nearly to the point of incomprehensibility in her excitement. She spins in an excited circle, her bright red hair flying out around her. The metal and gems threaded through her curls sparkle distractingly in the half-light. “This is a blessing! A sign, surely!”
Barades laughs and seizes her dwarven friend’s hands, dancing with her around the room. “A blessing! Yes!” she cries. “Friendship, wealth, and happiness! Ai, Elbereth! Come, come!” Together the unlikely duo turns and runs down the corridor, still hand in hand.
Arasion waits until he’s sure they can’t hear him before he crawls out of his hiding space. “Hedwig!” he calls in a half-hushed voice. “Let’s go, quick, before they come back!” The snowy swoops down from whatever cranny she had found up high, flying over his head as he once again gives up on subtlety and breaks into a sprint. His bare feet slap against the cold stone, echoing down the corridor.
Just when he thinks he’s safe, it happens: he runs straight into another elf . Hedwig barks in alarm, banking sharply as Arasion rebounds and falls onto his rear. The elf, a male, takes one wide-eyed look at Arasion (whose hood has fallen) and Hedwig, then opens his mouth and screeches “THE CHILD IS HERE!” at the top of his lungs.
“OH COME ON!” Arasion howls when the elf lunges for him. He dodges, diving between the elf’s legs and runs again as fast as he can go. He turns sharply into the nearest archway, nearly losing his footing, and tries to pull the same trick he pulled just a few days ago by raising his hood and quickly closing his cloak. In his haste, Arasion’s foot catches on a slight divot in the floor and he trips badly, flying toward the wall. With his hands still tangled in the ties of his cloak, he can only watch in horror as his head makes a one-way trip toward the unyielding stone.
The elf chasing him shouts in alarm. Stars explode behind his eyes. Everything goes dark.