Title: Wraith in the Mist
Author: ZeeDrippyVessel/Zee's Muse
Graphic Art Elladan's Girl
Fandom: Tolkien - The Hobbit
Characters: Dwalin, Tauriel, some elven guests
Disclaimer: I ain't him. Wish I was, cuz then I would be RICH! Nothing you recognize is mine.
Additional Disclaimer: Chapter titles and footer – Somewhere Along the Line, written and performed by Billy Joel. So badly used without permission.
Timeline: Third Age – 3111, or IV 91
AU – is considered Movie-verse. Actually, most of it could be considered canon – if not for the addition of Tauriel, so I'm placing this in the Loving Gin Universe. If you have not read Loving Gin, you might want to. It will make certain bits of information easier to digest.
According to Dwarven and Middle-earth annals, Dwalin lived longer than any other dwarf. 340 years. He out-lived his entire family, five kings. One wonders how he spent his last days.
Dwalin goes on a walk-a-bout with a most unusual companion.
There was a bite in the air, a whisper on the wind, and a wraith in the mist.
It called to him, this elderly dwarf, called his name, said that time was fleeting and he had been given too much of it. His bones knew, his joints knew and still, when he rose this morning, he ignored the stiffness in his muscles and went about his routine.
Sometimes, when he breathed, he could hear his lungs rattling, the air passing through them.
Dwalin had seen too much death in his lifetime, a lifetime that spanned centuries. There had been a time, he enjoyed the sport of war. He enjoyed it better when his family and friends didn't die in it or from it. War was fun, something to savor, a good time to be had, again, when loved ones didn't die in them. The Battle of the City of Dale had done him in, made him sick of it. He watched too many people perish in battle over the years; his father, Frenin, Fili, Kili, Dain Ironfoot...
His brother, Balin, lay in a tomb in Moria and he had never seen it, never visited, never said goodbye. He didn't know his brother had passed; such was the way of dwarves. Dwalin had been one of the ambassadors sent from Erebor to attend Aragorn, King of Gondor's coronation and wedding to the Elf, Arwen. During the fete afterwards, Aragorn apologized, gave him condolences on the loss of such a revered dwarf, unaware that his equally revered brother had no idea his brother had died. He stumbled to a quiet corner, realizing that if none were alive and Balin lay in a tomb, then Oin and Ori – too gentle for a dwarf – were all dead as well.
Now that the balrog was killed and the goblins evicted – painfully, of course – he wanted to go, go and pay his respects. 'Twas said that the tomb was covered in dust, leaving the bodies of the Dwarves and the orcs there as they were when they fell. A memorial, of sorts, he supposed. Thorin Stonehelm spoke of reopening the mine, as the orcs and balrog were dead, but so far, this King Under the Mountain made no plans, only talk. Dwalin could care less for the mithril. He desired to take a bottle of fine, smooth spirits, sit by the tomb and talk to his brother, one last time.
Again, the wind blew, a chill snapping at his cloak, where he stood on that balcony, where so long ago, he stood as a youngster with Thorin, while Thror gently rebuked his grandson for stealing a little girl's doll and threatening to sacrifice it in the Great Forge, while at the same time, he quietly taught Dwalin of the meaning of true friendship. A true friend, Thror stated, would not hide in the shadow of his friend's mistakes. He would stand by him.
It was a lesson Dwalin remembered well.
It took many years for Dwalin to realize that Thorin was jealous of the doll. Gin loved the doll, treasured it, bestowed much love and affection on the delicate toy and even at such a young age, Thorin wanted that love for himself. After Thorin's death, Dwalin stole into the chambers that had been Thorin's and Gin's after their marriage and in the trunk at the foot of the bed, he found rotting silks, wools...
...and that doll.
There was another gust of wind, this time, an aging sweetness carried with it as it blew from the gardens on the side of the mountain. Dwalin recognized that smell. He wasn't the only one to catch the scent, but all mostly ignored it. Many referred to it as an elvish taint. They hoped eventually the elf would return to the Woodland, back to Thranduil's Hall. Rumor had it the Greenwood Elf-King had asked her to return; finally he understood, her tears awakening old, long-buried memories. The Greenwood King sent messengers over the years, begging her. He himself on the occasions he had visited Dain, came to the gardens, to plead...
But she stayed, hidden in the mist, like a wraith. A wraith watching over Erebor and tending Gin's garden.
Again, the wind blew; this time it smelled of incoming rain. Dwalin turned, his mind made up. Dís had passed some years back. Dwalin had lost count, actually. It happened just after he returned from Gondor. She fell ill after the festival for the returning warriors and the burial of Dain Ironfoot. She died of a lung ailment; Dwalin felt she died of a broken heart. Even after their marriage, she grieved; grieved her sons and family.
It is time, Dwalin, son of Fundin. Go make your rounds. Fulfill your promise.
He should have fulfilled that oath years ago.
As quickly as he could, he made his way to his personal chambers, a grand thing with too many rooms, but King Dain insisted that Dís deserved such opulent caverns. It was, in truth, the family chambers of Thrain, when he was married and Thorin and his siblings were young and growing up. It felt strange and Dís cried when she discovered what a gift Dain had given them. Over the years, many times, Dwalin found her sitting on the musty furs in her old room, staring at the cavern walls.
Just as often, she found her sitting in Thorin's chambers. Crying.
You hrodi-flík! You promised they would come home. You lied, Thorin! You lied to me...
He pushed those thoughts aside, going to the master's cavern. Gently lifting the lid of the trunk, he dug through the keepsakes, setting aside the things she took from the bodies of her sons and brother before sending them to Mahal in the fire. He grabbed the stone wrapped in the blue cloth, feeling the etchings through it before pocketing it and heading towards the West Gate.
“Rain is coming,” the guard stationed there reminded him. “Do not be long. I would hate for you to catch an ague and grow ill.”
He meant it, Dwalin knew he meant it. Despite his snarling, cantankerous ways, Dwalin, son of Fundin, was a legend and a beloved one at that. The guard knew the rain did things to Dwalin's joints, that he would need help back into mountain. A very inelegant and embarrassing sight, to be sure. He nodded as he went past the gate.
And headed towards the garden.
When Dwalin returned with Dís all those years ago to send her sons and brother to the fires, she ignored the gardens. The garden had been Gin's area of expertise and none had the heart to tend it. They were too busy rebuilding Erebor, making it strong again, a Dwarven fortress, a stronghold. Gems were again being mined, the wealth over-flowing to the rebuilt city of Dale and into Esgorath. Laketown was no more, the charred, burnt ruins completely submerged and dissipated beneath the waters, lost, and now forgotten, a rumor passing into legend. The old foundations from the original town were redug on the banks and the city was rebuilt. Again, men came to the mountain, bearing food, gifts. As in the old days, the dwarves had no need to grow their own grain, vegetables, it was brought to them. The men of Dale knew they were safe in the shadow of the mountain, that dwarven warriors there would come to their defense. And did.
Dragon sickness did not run in Dain's line. It was like the times of yore, when a younger Thrain ruled, before the dragon, Smaug.
Gin's Garden had been choked with weeds, over run by brambles. Many of the stalks appeared dead. It was a gray, desolate place on the side of a gray, desolate mountain. No one had time to tend to it, to care.
But over time, the weeds disappeared, the brambles removed. Dwalin noticed these small changes, as did Dís. She was the one who after digging through Thorin and Gin's chambers, found the small gardening tools and handed them to Dwalin. Bad enough her baby boy, her precious sunshine, fell in love with an Elf Maiden, but she felt beholden to her, this elf who saved his life once and followed him in attempt to save him again. Dwalin left the clippers, the trowel, spade and sheers on an old bench.
The next spring, things that initially appeared dead struggled from the ground and in the summer, color, buds burst forth. Over the seasons, Dwalin would leave food, fresh bread, a skin of wine. He would find the empty basket, the linen folded neatly within, on the bench when he returned.
Sometimes, if he listened carefully, he would hear crying, a broken-hearted sobbing, carrying on the wind. At times it disappeared, not heard in moons, making him wonder if she had finally retreated to the Greenwood.
But eventually, the crying returned. It always returned.
And the people of Dale and the Dwarves of Erebor whispered of the Ghost on the Mountain.
The wraith in the mist.
He'd listened half-heartedly, listened as Kili whispered his feelings when The Company waited at the gates, waited while Thorin raged down in the treasure hall, wrestling with his conscience, fighting the Dragon Sickness. Listened to a young dwarf, stupidly thinking he was in love with an elf maid.
As he approached the small glade, he took in the newly risen buds, not yet opened. It was still early in the spring, a cool spring following a horribly wretched cold winter. He approached the bench and reaching into his fur jacket, he removed the scrap of cloth from it and set it on the bench.
“Lass, aye know ye kin hear me,” he began. “Aye'm growin' old. Mahal's Balls, aye'm older 'an any dwarf has ev'r bin. Aye'm o'a mind t'go visit m'kin an' a few places aye kin bare remember. If yew wanna tag along, aye wuld welcome t'comp'ny. Yer grievin' won git no better stayin' inna mist. 'Tis time, lass. Aye leave inna mornin'.”
He took a deep breath. “Look! Aye'v no time fer niceties or sweet words. Yer grievin' has gone on long enough. Either shite or get off the pot!”
With an angry sigh, he turned and gotten no more than a dozen steps. “Master Dwarf?”
“Aye?” He did not turn back.
“I want to see him; see his tomb before we leave.” The voice was breathy, tired, barely recognizable from the feisty Woodland elleth he remembered. There was a sharp intake of breath. “I cannot move forward or back. I have been at a crossroads and I know not which way to turn.”
He expected that. Despite the wars, Elves were barely tolerated still in Erebor. Dain had liked Elves as well as Thorin, which meant he did not, but Kili loved this elf and Dwalin remembered well her despondency, her own injuries evident, when they found her with Kili in her arms.
He made his way back to Erebor, this time, taking the main gate. Why should she not be allowed her grief?
“Mah name is Dwalin. Dinna lag.” He turned over his shoulder, still not looking at her. “Hold yer head up. Yew'v nothin' t'be ashamed of.” He approached the West Gate, taking notice both guards were now at attention, hands on their weapons.
There was a touch at his elbow. Strange, he hadn't heard or felt her approach. Damn old age! “Will I be welcome?”
Finally, the crotchety dwarf looked at her.
It was often said Elves do not age. He knew this to be false. Elrond, Lord of Rivendell was aged. He had seen grief, had been intimate with it and his sorrow showed in the planes and harsh lines of his face.
Grief had etched this one as well. Lines of sadness pulled at her mouth, her eyes. “Ah, lass. Why dinna ye fade?”
“We did not share our fae.”
They hadn't made love.
She repeated the question. “Will I be welcome?”
“Yer myth tuh most. No one'll deny ye.”
“And if they do?”
“They'll deal w' me, which mean they won't. Dinna lag.” They made it to the main gate, just as the rain began to fall.
It seemed to Tauriel that when she entered the great entrance hall of Erebor, a hush fell, the echos in the vast chamber falling below even a whisper to her elven ears. She'd heard rumors of the greatness, the obvious wealth of the Dwarven Kingdom beneath the mountain. Truth be told, she'd never seen it. She'd been taken to Dale, Thranduil by her side, for healing. Elven healers worked among the humans, taking no notice if the injured were of any race besides their own. It was soon decided her injuries were treatable, but her heart was not. Thranduil was right. It hurt, because it was real.
“Careful. Step tuh t'left.” Dwalin's hand was at her elbow and Tauriel lifted herself from her thoughts to see what it was she was stepping around.
It was a grand hall, columns rising tall with a floor of solid, uneven, gold. As she looked around, Tauriel could see splatters, cracks, in the gold. “What is this place?” Her voice echoed in the silence, all the dwarfs standing still and staring at her.
“'Tis where we attempted t'lay thuh dragon low. Covered him in smelted, molten gold. Shoulda killed t'wee beastie! Dinna work.” Dwalin's eyes were focused on the doorway at the end of the great cavern. His grip tightened on her elbow. “Damn us all, dinna work.” He shook his head. “'Tis a sacred place. None walk upon it.”
With energy the old dwarf didn't feel, he strode behind the columns, down a side passage, deep in the mountain. No one attempted to speak or stop the pair.
“When were t'las time ye ate hardy fare?”
The question came from nowhere, startling the Elf Maiden. She realized she had to think. “The last time I went to the Greenwood. Oh, it's been sixty... seventy springs ago.” She furrowed her brow. Truth was, she couldn't remember how long it had been since she graced Thanduil's caverns-
“If ye ate Elf food, ye no' 'ad hearty fare!” Dwalin shook his head, interrupting her thoughts. “Dinna know how ye live,” he mumbled. “Isn't like there be much food onna mountain!”
Tauriel wasn't paying attention to the dwarf. Her eyes lingered on the walls of the cavern, the many halls. There were riches, obvious wealth in the mountain. The Dwarves seemed... oblivious to it. Apparently not all dwarves suffered from Dragon Sickness.
She realized they had stopped and the elderly dwarf was staring at her, taking her measure. “Not all of us suffer Thorin's sickness.”
Tauriel shook her head. “I don't-”
“Aye see yer eyes, where they wander. No' hard to figure out what y'be thinkin'.” He turned, motioning for her to follow. “Thorin were an honorable dwarf. He-”
“Had Thorin Oakenshield not angered the Elves and the Men of Dale, neither Thranduil, Bard the Bowman, or Dain Ironfoot would have been here to fight the Orcs of Gundebad.” Dwalin stopped to look at her. For the first time in decades, there was fire, spit in her voice. “You would have all died, not just Thorin and his nephews.”
In the light of the fireflies, she looked pale, almost translucent. “I would like to see him, visit his grave now. Would that be possible?”
Dwalin's stare was of iron; usually, one could see one's mind working, but not this dwarf's. It was painful, heavy-
He nodded once. “Follow me.”
Down they wove between columns and halls and corridors. As the way became steeper, the narrower the passage became. Tauriel was aware of the bite, the consistent temperature, of the mountain. At times, there was a breeze, a cooling breath; at others, the air was still. The support beams and rock were carved; intricate patterns of dwarvish runes etched into the rock.
There was a smell, ancient, a whisper, here and there.
The taint of dragon.
“Aye, aye smell it, tew. It's no' as bad as it were when Thorin returned.” The dwarf seemed to be a mind reader, or perhaps he was truly a reader of faces. Tauriel schooled her features, much to Dwalin's amusement. He'd stopped to stare at her. “Tew late fer tha', lass.” What must pass for a grin ghosted across his mouth. “Aye saw ye scrunch yer nose.” He turned, motioning for her to follow. “Most think it just staleness, old air. But The Comp'ny, we knew better.” There was a momentary hitch in his breath. “Aye know better.” The way became steeper and the dwarf settled himself, threw back his shoulders. “Don't dawdle, lass.”
Tauriel stood before the tombs, three of them, side by side. They were magnificent, prestigious things. It amazed the elleth that they had been carved, created so quickly after the battle. For not the first time, she pondered on the artistry of dwarves. Her own kin would never believe it; she herself thought Kili's people were nothing more than grunting animals, rutting in caves. Greedy, selfish...
Not anymore. She had been wrong.
Tauriel stepped up and cautiously put a hand to the stone.
She bowed her head and closed her eyes.
There was silence.
“Where is he?” Her head was still bowed and she whispered so low, the dwarf had difficulty hearing her. “He is not here.”
She looked up over her elbow, fury etched on her face. “He is not here. Where have you hidden him?”
Dwalin didn't so much as twitch. He looked up to make sure they weren't being watched. Assuring himself they were alone, he stepped next to her, his eyes avoiding the center tomb. “A year after the battle, we sent all three to the fires.”
“You did what?”
He inhaled, a noisy, rattling thing. “A year after the battle, we sent awl of 'em t' the fires.”
Tauriel stood tall, towering over the rugged, still-powerful dwarf. “Do not take me for a fool,” she hissed. “'Tis well known dwarves prefer their stone coffins-”
“Aye,” Dwalin spat, “as it is well-known we much prefer to walk, rather than ride an animal and 'tis well-known we keep no pets. But I've ridden ponies an' know a few dwarflings who 'ave brought 'ome stray animals.” A rare smirk graced the Dwarf's features. “An' at least one warg pup.” Dwalin's stare was far off in the past before it focused on the elleth, but the smile stayed, warming the female. “Doon' believe everythin' yew've heard 'bout Dwarves.” As suddenly as it appeared, his grin faded. “Thorin Oakenshield had a wife, a dwarrow he loved more 'n his own life. She died after Smaug stole wha' were ours.”
“You threw them in the fires together.”
Tauriel pushed herself from the stone. “But why send Fili and Kili? Why not leave them here?”
Dwalin bowed up. “Because their mother felt it unfair to leave 'em here alone.”
Tauriel stared at him for a long moment before deflating. “I have nothing to grieve. Nowhere to tell him goodbye.”
Again, the grin came back and the elderly dwarf touched her on the elbow. “But aye can take yew t' where he lived! An' that be a happier memory!”