The Road goes ever on and on, Book II
Part1: Axes for hire
North of Bree, Late Winter
“The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge's fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls...”
“Ye really should nae hum that song, me old friend, it does ye no good.”
Nalnain looked up from the saddlebags he was packing, at old Rumn who was smoking his pipe and gazing at him sadly.
“Ye’re right,” he grumbled, “I do nae known I’m doing it meself”. The two said little after that. Nalnain filled his bags with supplies and the few toys he had still unsold and took to the road alone once again. Rumn watched him leave for Erebor, his heart filled with sadness and a sense of powerlessness. There was little he could do to restore Nalnain’s hope, and every year the aging dwarf grew sadder and more withdrawn.
Nalnain talked to himself quite a lot on the road. Or to be honest he talked to his wife, Star of the North, long lost in a mining accident in the Blue Mountains. Sometimes he spoke to Nalnorn, vanished many years ago in a foolhardy scouting expedition to Moria. Then for good measure he talked to his pony, who at least gave the impression of listening, since he too could hear the sadness in Nalnain’s voice, and fretted in his own way.
He decided to avoid Tharbad, and stopped a while in Imladris, though he did not stay long. The Ladies Isaniel, Galia, and Mereniel and others he knew were not there that year, away on Elrond’s business and the place made him think of little Merin. She had come with him, with another brave few, Lance and Elenuíal, on an ultimately fruitless search for Nalnorn in Moria. Stiff resistance had driven them back, and Nalnain had realised seeking Nalnorn there would do little but get his friends killed. His own life held little weight for him, but he would not abide endangering others on an old fool’s quest. How that little hobbit had liked his toys. The last time he had truly laughed was in her presence, he thought. Unusually, in view of the last few years, he found himself stocking up for battle. Why he could not say. Stooped on his pony he rode away from Imladris, as the snows melted and the rivers and gorges filled with angry turbulent waters.
Nalnain stopped at the Ford of Carrock, not because the Beornings held any love for dwarves, though they tolerated him, and he had occasionally sold a toy or two there, but because one of his few friends could in the last few years always be found there.
It was Huer No-Face who found him, unsurprisingly. He was riding to the Ford, half-heartedly massacring a happier song, when the huge Beorning suddenly stood up in the bushes and tangle of trees beside him. There was no forced jollity or slapping of backs, just a clasped hand and a nod, before Nalnain dismounted, and they sought out a clearing to camp awhile. They shared a little news, Huer had been accepted back among his people after a long exile a few years back, and since his return had been at war ceaselessly, against the Orcs, Goblins and the Wargs of both Mirkwood and the Misties. Some real battles it seemed, and a daily life made mostly of the hunt, punctuated by violent skirmishes, bloody struggles beneath the dark canopy of the forest, and tooth and claw rending flesh in steep gorges.
“What about you Nalnain?” Huer asked when his tales were told.
“Nothing” He shifted uncomfortably. “Well no news. And I tire of me trade. I be thinking of returning to Erebor for awhile, perhaps I canna seek me friend Rhuri’s council.”
Huer nodded. He knew that Nalnain was the strangest dwarf he had ever met, who had told him in a drunken moment that some of his own people called him “a mad old fool, who spends too much time with elves”, despite all that it was his own people’s council that did the old dwarf the most good, on the few occasions he actually listened to it.
“I’m thinking of getting on the road again”, said Huer, “Darkness is stirring all over the land, and I would know what the elves are saying. Perhaps someone out there has a use for our axes. My people did fine without me for a few years, they can do so again.”
“Axe fer hire” Nalnain chuckled “I had nae thought of that. You know when I was a young dwarf me father used to tell me that it always be better to start on a new road even if you have no idea where it goes. Nought new comes of roads well-travelled.” His voice grew quieter, as though he was speaking more to himself than Huer, “I might as well do it while I can still see, and fight.” He clung briefly to his left arm, and not for the first time that day the Beorning noticed Nalnain’s absent-minded attempts at suppressing the shaking of his hands.
“Then let us do so!” boomed Huer, seemingly in the hope of shouting loud enough to awaken the tired dwarf spirit. “Let us drink to it!”
Drinking horns cracked together, and two voices shouted out into the sky, upsetting the birds in the trees around “Axes for hire!”
Nalnain rode away to Erebor, perhaps he might meet Rhuri there, and find someone who needed a warrior’s aid...