The High Hall

This story is dedicated to my friends of Room for Improvement who have greatly increased my enjoyment of The Lord of the Rings Online over the last couple of years with their encouragement, advice, organization and freely-given help with difficult quests.

Links for sections of the story:

Meeting with a Stranger
A Map for the Journey
The Way-Stone
The Fight at the Door
A Journey in Darkness
Snow and Ice
The Cold Lode
Journey's End

Meeting with a Stranger

I had been long in the mines of Moria and also beyond, in the kingdom of the elves in Lothlorien. Many were the strange adventures which had befallen me there, but if I thought I had left adventure behind on returning home I was mistaken. I was nearly back to Hamlin and my small but comfortable house, and had no idea of the fateful encounter I would soon have in the Forsaken Inn.
It is an odd place, the Forsaken Inn. Named truly, it is situated on the edge of the wild, the Lone Lands. But when you are returning from those lands, it is a welcome sight. Tumbledown, with its damaged roof and poor exterior, it is nevertheless the first place offering real comfort near the end of a long journey. Evening was at hand. I was eager to press on to my own home, but I also felt the need of good food, drink and rest. Moreover the weather was windy and grey clouds at sunset threatened rain. I decided to turn aside and spend the night in the inn rather than ride on in the dark.
After some good ale and equally good hot food I was sitting quietly, congratulating myself on my wise decision. There was a comforting fire and a good number of folk of the free peoples were present, including some musicians so the atmosphere was cheerful. Having put the need of food and drink from me for the moment, I began looking about to see if I was acquainted with anyone there.
I saw two that I recognised immediately, but although I could say that I was acquainted with them, I did not consider them friends. Dargad and Ragnok were two of my own race, dwarves of the Longbeards, but I did not consider them to show the honour or nobility which the folk of Durin should maintain. In fact, they were oftener in inns and suchlike places than out resisting the advances of evil, or even doing honest work. Scruffy and rough-bearded scoundrels they were. I feared that what gold they had, they gained by dishonest gambling on evenings such as this. In fact, it seemed to me likely that the third, unknown, dwarf sitting with them would turn out to be their latest victim.
A noble looking stranger, he was, with white beard and alert features. His clothing and equipment were worn and travel stained, and yet of good quality. Moreover, he openly wore a heavy gold chain at his neck. I found myself intrigued. Surely this dwarf had the look of an experienced warrior, but in that case why would he become involved with the two scoundrels? Surely he could guess their character and nature?
Yes, gambling was involved. I saw coins on the table around which they sat. The glint even of gold was there, so clearly the stakes were high. Rune-cards, used among dwarves for various games, were dealt and played out.
Well, if the stranger was such a fool, I thought, let him lose his gold. It was no concern of mine. I had taken much gold from orcs, trolls and the like recently, but I would not be so foolish as to place it on the table before Dargad or Ragnok. I knew how the game would go. The stranger would have some slight luck to begin with. He would venture higher stakes out of his increasing wealth. He would find himself gazing at amazing good fortune when a new hand of runes was dealt. Confident of winning, he would venture all – and lose!
I took another tankard and watched the table at which the drama was played out. It was going as I expected. The stranger was happy; his hoard of gold coins increased. Finally, there came a moment when the play was tense. All three had looks of concentration. A large pile of coins was amassed from all three directions in the centre of the table. The cards were laid down in plain sight.
But then the unexpected happened. Later, I would look back on this moment as the start of my unexpected adventure. The stranger was smiling; a smile of grim satisfaction now, rather than his previous naivety. Ragnok shouted, "Impossible! Cheat!" Dargad sprang to his feat, clenching his fists. It was not difficult to see that, whatever method of cheating they usually employed, it had failed, and badly.
A silence descended all around. People shifted nervously and some fingered weapons. It seemed likely that a fight would follow. I groaned inwardly. Being acquainted enough to name those two and well armed from my journeys, I was one of the few, perhaps the only one in the room, who could contain the situation. The duty fell to me.
When I stood, the armour I was still wearing creaked. "Ragnok! Dargad! I, Brrokk Barrowbane, greet you. It is long since we spoke together. Will you drink with me?" At the same time, my right hand contradicted the greeting by poising over the hammer Wight Gold which hung still at my belt.
My words were friendly and could not be represented as a threat, but the two scoundrels now knew that my honour was involved. If they chose to fight with the stranger over gold, they knew that it would be an even fight; two against two rather than against one alone. And they were not armed and armoured as I was. Furthermore, everyone present now knew their names and saw the situation, and they would not escape even the rude justice which existed at the edge of the wild if they chose to cause an affray.
Scowling, without a word, they both backed away reluctantly and stumped outside, into the dark. The stranger put his winnings away swiftly, with barely a clink. Conversation around us resumed with a relieved buzz and I sat down to my drink. But then the stranger beckoned, so I took my tankard and moved to his table.
"Your name I know as you have already announced it", he said, "so in return I should offer you mine. I am called Narvi and I am at your service because you have already served me this night".
"Brrokk Barrowbane at your service", I confirmed, still wondering what to make of him. Now that we sat close, I saw that he was older than I had first thought. Older, but still strong. His eyes were clear and yet deep with wisdom. I wondered again that he had fallen in with the likes of Dargad or Ragnok.
"So, friend Brrokk, since you have driven away my gaming companions, would you take their place?", he asked with a strange smile, "Would you stake silver and gold upon the fall of the runes?"
"Indeed no", I replied. "I would not do so against the two who have left, and still less against someone unknown who has just beaten them. But... Narvi; is that all your name?"
"It is", replied Narvi, "And spare me any witty remarks about my having made the doors of Moria! Every dwarf I meet seems to want to show me his wisdom in knowing that my name is written on those doors. I had full five minutes of such talk from my gaming companions.
I bit my tongue as I had just been about to make a not entirely unrelated comment and chose a better subject instead. "Well, I will not play at the runes with you, seeing that you are an expert, but I will drink with you", I offered.
"A good suggestion", Narvi agreed, "And, seeing my recent good fortune, I will buy some drinks". And so he did. We sat, and drank, and talked, longer than I would have done alone. I tried to learn of his history and exploits, but found more often that we were discussing mine. It was late in the evening before he offered me information about himself, and then it was about his future intentions rather than his past doings.

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A Map for the Journey

 "I have a project in mind", Narvi told me. "It involves a dangerous journey, with toil and hardship, and I want a companion. Although the way would be arduous, the rewards of success would be great, both for us and for the free peoples of Middle Earth."
This sounded like a grand scheme and I was slightly suspicious, but most of my journeys in Middle Earth held hardship and warfare, so these aspects did not discourage me. I was also curious.

"Where would this journey lead?", I asked.
Narvi leaned close and spoke in a whisper. "Have you heard of the High Hall?", he asked.
I laughed. "Of course I have!", I replied, "Every dwarf of the Longbeards has heard of Bundu-Dûm, high in the North of the Misty Mountains, where Durin the Deathless first awoke before he came South to found the Dwarrowdelf! The High Hall, from whence it is said he will come again to unite the dwarves and vanquish our many enemies! But every Longbeard knows also that this Hall was in Mount Gundabad, which is hundreds of leagues North of Moria along the Misty Mountains, in an inhospitable wilderness which is now an abode of goblins! Many have gone to seek it, usually into the land of Angmar whence they have not returned."
Narvi still spoke softly. "The journey would be easier with a map", he said, "and with a secret way for avoiding most of the hazards." He produced from his travelling bag a thin stone tablet, inscribed on one side with a map and on the other with closely packed runes, and handed it to me.
The stone was ancient and worn. I looked at the side showing the map first. It showed the part of the Misty Mountains I knew and extended North, past the Ettinmoors and Angmar to Mount Gundabad itself. It seemed to show a channel or tunnel running North through the Misty Mountains themselves.
Then I turned the tablet over. It was densely packed with dwarvish runes, but I could distinguish no words. "I cannot read this", I admitted.
"No, but I can", Narvi told me. "I have some facility with runes, as you have already seen this evening. These are written in a kind of cipher which the folk of Durin used of old to make their meaning obscure. There are not many who can now read it. Besides some information about the scale of the map, there is a description of a standing stone North of the Ettinmoors which marks the entrance to the safe path. Then there is the remark, 'If you would reach the Hall of Durin, you must pass through battle, ice and stone, and prove worthy'. What does that suggest to you?"
"Battle, ice and stone...", I mused. "Stone is not difficult for dwarves with tools to pass through, and battle is easy to find. And ice is not to be wondered at in the mountains. These do not seem to be unusual difficulties. But – the Cold Cleft! The ancient Road of Durin from his old hall down through the spine of the Misty Mountains! It has long been thought to be buried by snow and ice. So, there is an entrance to it from the Ettinmoors? Could we find it?"
Narvi nodded. "Durin's Road, from North to South along the length of the Misty Mountains. At one time, according to old tales, it ran straight from Mount Gundabad to Caradhras. The dwarves of old could pass from Durin's High Hall to Khazad-Dûm without ever leaving the mountains, unseen by other eyes. Finding the entrance should be possible since it is said here to be marked by a standing stone. And think: could Durin's Road have long been free of snow, even from its making, if it was exposed? I expect to find a tunnel!"
I turned the stone over and over in my hands. The adventure seemed crazy: surely those places no longer existed, or were ruined. In spite of Narvi's talk of 'reward', it was likely to end only in a blocked mountain pass, or a freezing, empty cavern. And then, I knew nothing of Narvi and had no reason to trust him. But.. the High Hall! The Cold Cleft! Durin's Road! These things would be wondrous to behold. I knew already that I was going to accompany Narvi on his adventure, just to discover how much of this was real. What dwarf could do otherwise? I gazed back at him and nodded slowly, accepting the challenge hanging in the air between us.

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The Way-Stone

We set off early the next day, Narvi and I. Leaving the Forsaken Inn, I turned reluctantly back to the East rather than West to my comfortable home no great distance away. Seeing Narvi prepared for travel, I was further reassured about his fitness for the Wild. He wore now a stout mail shirt which descended almost to his knees, and good leather boots and leggings. He carried a long-handled great axe, which looked to have a very keen edge. I, of course, had the armour I had worn all along, my shield and my good hammer 'Wight Gold'.
We went on foot and took no baggage beasts, for we expected a journey underground. This meant that we were heavily laden with supplies and gear; carrying heavy packs. A journey goes quicker if you do not have to search for food, but the burden is greater. I began to realise that Narvi was prepared for this expedition and must have been actively seeking a companion, for he had great store of cram; the dwarf bread baked for wayfarers. He also used some of his new wealth to buy wine, meats and preserved foods before we left the inn, so we would at least eat well. And besides food, we carried water bottles, climbing gear, a pickaxe, rope, candles and lamps with a good supply of oil.
A journey in the wild is a good way to get to know a companion and we soon gained confidence in one another's abilities in hunting, camping tasks and even skirmishes with goblins, which seem to grow bolder and more numerous with each passing year. Our way took us East along the road, past Weathertop, and then East and North before we reached the Last Bridge, up into the Ettinmoors.
There we had to go cautiously, for the land was infested with goblins and other worse creatures. The most dangerous times were the nights, when wargs could be heard howling and we occasionally heard the heavy crunching footsteps of trolls. Several times we debated whether it would be better to travel at night, so that we needed no fire then, and camp during the day. But really, that would have been impossible because the ground was so broken. Finding a way among the boulders and loose stone slopes would have been confusing and dangerous in the dark.
So then we discussed what to do at night. Should we refrain from lighting a fire to avoid attracting attention? But Narvi and I both had our pride. We were two fierce dwarven warriors and we were unwilling to skulk in the darkness munching on cram each night. So we compromised by seeking a sheltered place at dusk each day, where our camp would be shielded from unfriendly eyes as far as possible by surrounding boulders.
Naturally we talked and smoked long into each evening as the stars came out. It was at these times that I became more and more convinced that Narvi had a secret, or more than one. Most dwarves will talk willingly; too willingly, of their past exploits. Narvi had all the pride of our race, but this he did not do. He was not silent but he spoke skillfully, causing our talk to return always to my experiences rather than revealing his. And yet, I saw that he was of noble character and I did not suspect him of hiding anything dishonourable, so I was unwilling for politeness' sake to question him more bluntly.
There came a day when we believed we were nearing the place of the standing stone. A high range of hills at the North of the Ettinmoors stood on our left, and we faced the slopes of the Misty Mountains to our East. A few scraggy trees stood in places over the intervening distance. I was perturbed because I could hear the distant howling of wargs even in the afternoon, with the sun high in the sky.
"I think we may have been incautious with our fire last night", I told Narvi, "I believe those wargs are following our track. They are many: I hear different voices among them."
"We may reach the standing stone and the entrance before nightfall", replied Narvi, "and yet we do not know what we will find there. We must be ready to fight the wargs"
We walked on, as fast as we could carrying all our gear. Gradually, as the sun descended behind us, the howls grew nearer and louder. The ground grew even more broken and difficult so we could not keep to a straight course. But suddenly Narvi exclaimed, "There!" I looked where he pointed, and saw a standing finger of stone.
We hurried towards it. From a distance it had seemed tiny, but as we grew nearer we saw that it was a tapering column, at least thirty feet high and eight or so across the base, carved of granite. It was a mighty work of old. And we saw too that it was work of the dwarves. We saw carvings and inscriptions. Dwarvish runes, in many places weathered almost away or covered by moss. Unreadable inscriptions. But one device was clear: an anvil with a hammer above. "The symbols of Durin", I breathed in awe, "Your map has guided us well".
Another outbreak of howling sounded behind us, quite near now. "We cannot linger here; we must find the entrance", advised Narvi. We passed beyond the stone into a small patch of stubby trees right at the foot of the mountains. A faint path from the stone led us into a gully and we hurried along it, right to the end where it came to a rock wall. But there was no entrance! The face of the rock was blank! It was already deep in shadow and the light was fading.

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The Fight at the Door

"Now we are trapped!", I said grimly. "It seems that we must fight the wargs at last. But there is a whole pack of them and we are only two. Perhaps if we build a fire we can keep them from us overnight, and then in daylight we will have a better chance."
Narvi agreed and we set about gathering wood from the stunted trees in the gully, hurriedly building a good sized fire. We were adept at this, having done it every previous night, and it was no long labour. The flames were already beginning to leap as night fell. Not too soon: as the darkness became complete, we saw red eyes gleaming and reflecting the fire light back to us. But these creatures do not like fire and they did not yet come close.
We sat with our backs to the rock, the fire between us and the wargs, and discussed what to do. We tried to count the eyes and decided that there were perhaps only six large wargs out in the darkness. The odds against us were not, therefore, quite as bad as we had feared: some warg packs can number dozens. But we also realised that our fire would not last the night. The wood would be consumed and the wargs would be upon us before dawn.
"I do not relish fighting wargs in the dark", said Narvi, "I suggest a stratagem."
"I think I guess what you mean", I replied. "We should subdue the fire, but keep some wood back to rekindle it when the wargs finally attack?"
"Yes, perhaps the unexpected firelight will give us a better chance against them", Narvi agreed.
Immediately we set about rearranging the fire. Removing some large pieces of wood, we stamped out the flames upon them, leaving them glowing. The remaining fire was small and dwindled rapidly. The eyes in the darkness drew nearer and closed in.
Our plan worked perfectly. The wargs howled in unison, giving us just enough warning before they sprang, and we hurled pieces of hot wood back into the fire even as we swung up our weapons to meet the charge. The wargs were discomfited by the sudden renewal of firelight. Narvi's axe split the head of a great brute which paused, blinking stupidly. I smote wildly with my hammer. The night became a confusion of dark shapes, snarling, sparks and whirling weapons. It seemed to go on endlessly. We retreated back behind our fire and put our backs to the rock wall, swinging our weapons side by side. Too often our strokes missed, for the wargs were agile and would leap back out of danger and snarl before springing again. But eventually we began to feel confident that we were winning. The firelight helped us, and the wargs could not come at us.
We survived, but it was a sore test. We were only sure of our victory when we realised that the pre-dawn light from behind the mountains, reflected from above us by low clouds, was showing us only the dead bodies of wargs. We had only slain three, but they were great beasts, with thick shaggy fur and long yellow teeth and claws. The rest had fled. Narvi turned to me and spoke in a strangely formal way:
"We have fought together and beaten the foe. A blessing be upon your hammer."
"And also upon your axe", I replied. But I did not have time to ponder these courteous words. I saw a welcome and astonishing sight behind him.
"Look!", I shouted, pointing to the rock face.
Clearly outlined by shining lines on the rock face was an archway over two pillars. It was the size of a dwarven door and it was richly decorated. It bore a runic inscription in the centre.
"That is one of the hidden dwarf doors of the craft of our fathers of old", I said. "It must be the entrance we seek. Perhaps we would have found the cunningly concealed edges last night if we had had time to seek them. But what do the runes say?"
"These are not secret cipher runes", replied Narvi, "Maybe you can read them for yourself".
I saw that he was right. "Turn and enter, warriors of the race of Durin, vanquishers of the foe" I read, and then thoughtfully pressed the door. It opened easily inwards. I reflected that we had leaned many times against it in the night: then understanding broke upon me.
"It is the first test!", I told Narvi. "We have to pass through 'battle, ice and stone'. This is a door of dwarven stone-craft and power. It will become visible and open only in the right circumstances, to dwarves who have fought foes with their backs to it! But what if we had not been pursued by wargs? Would we have then been unable to enter because we had no foe to fight?"
Narvi had the explanation. "If we had slunk through the Ettinmoors dishonourably, sneaking through the night or refraining from lighting fires, that might indeed have been the case. But we came boldly, caring not for unfriendly eyes, as dwarven warriors should. In such a manner, we were guaranteed to be pursued. And thus we have passed a double test. We have shown boldness in our journey hither and also been victorious in the fight at its end".
I had to agree with Narvi's assessment, and I saw that we were going to have to give care to our ways. The tests of ice and stone were still before us, and I wondered what subtle aspects of our behaviour would be tested if we were to pass successfully through them.
We lit the oil lamps we had brought from the remains of our fire and passed in through the doorway into a small chamber. A tunnel drove straight ahead into the mountain before us. We closed the door behind us, guessing that it then became invisible in the rock face outside, and turned to continue into the darkness.

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A Journey in Darkness

 The tunnel went straight ahead as far as the light of our lamps, so we adjusted our packs and then moved carefully forward. Echoes of our footsteps and voices seemed to come faintly from a long distance. Although clearly old, the floor of the tunnel was well made, either carved of solid rock or in places paved. The walls were smooth and the roof was high enough for easy passage, at least for dwarves. After a while, the passage began to ascend gently.
Eventually the echoes from before us made us aware that the tunnel was coming to an end. Or so we thought, but then the light showed that we had only reached a flight of stairs: the ascent was now to be steeper. Up the stairs we toiled. In whispers we speculated about whose load was the lightest. Neither of us wanted to risk the dishonour of carrying a lighter load than the other, but we could see no way to settle the question.
I was ahead when the stairs ended and the floor became level again. Suddenly I was aware of two looming figures barring the way! I called a warning, set down my lamp and took 'Wight Gold' in my right hand. But Narvi called out, "Do not attack! They are only statues!"
Taking up my lamp again and advancing, I saw that he was right. Statues of dwarves, they were, made in the exquisitely lifelike craftsmanship of Durin's folk. Each was a warrior, standing with axe presented and hand upraised, as if to bar the way. There was a narrow gap between them which led into a chamber. Something about them struck me as significant, but I could not decide exactly what.
"These stones have stood guard at this chamber for a long time", Narvi commented, and I could see that he was right.
We moved into the chamber. It was a kind of junction: besides the way we had come, there were tunnels leading North and South. These were taller and wider than the one by which we had entered, with richly carved archways. I recognised the kind of raised knotwork and runic decoration I had already seen many times in Moria. Holding up my lamp I saw that the rest of the chamber was decorated in the same way. Pillars around the sides were also carved. The floor was well paved but empty. Iron fittings around the arches might have been for hinges, but the doors they had supported were long gone.
I peered into the darkness in the tunnel beyond the South arch. "If we have indeed found Durin's Road, this must lead to Moria", I commented, "but the Iron Garrison there have found no trace of it from that end. I guess that it has been ruined and blocked, probably at the time of the awaking of Durin's Bane."
"Undoubtedly you are right", agreed Narvi, "Otherwise there would already be a throng of dwarves coming up from the South. But all is quiet and I guess that this passage has not been travelled for a long time. Perhaps Durin himself was the last to tread here! But our road leads North and we must hope that it is not also blocked."
We left the junction chamber through the North arch and began then a strange journey. As before, the tunnel was well made and now it was wider and higher. There was also much more of the highly detailed stone-carved decoration of the dwarves. This was no mining tunnel, but a highway for those of high rank. And yet, after a while the darkness was oppressive.
Straight ahead the tunnel went, with an occasional angle, obviously avoiding unseen geological features. Vents in the roof or walls at intervals admitted fresh air, though from where it was drawn we had no idea. It was level for the most part, but now and then there were flights of stairs. I lost count, but the general trend seemed to be upwards. At intervals we passed through junction chambers like the first, and then there were smaller tunnels to left and right which we guessed led to other concealed entrances to Durin's Road. We wondered and discussed how far we had travelled, but we had no way to tell. No doubt wayfarers would originally have had maps, and some of the decoration on the walls included runes which could have been reference points.
I had thought that the mansions of Khazad-Dûm were dark and empty, but now I began to realise that even there I had not felt really alone. There had always been outposts of the Iron Garrison throughout Moria, but here Narvi and I were alone. I seemed to see the tunnel from afar, with eyes which could look through solid rock: we two were glow worms, in a tiny sphere of our own light, crawling along a dark crevice through the Misty Mountains. As we passed, the darkness which our lamps had forced away closed in again behind us.
Eventually, we decided to stop. Perhaps it was night outside, or not, but we made our camp. Now we had no wood to make a fire, so cram was our supper, or breakfast. We discussed whether we had brought enough lamp oil or whether we would end the journey groping in the dark. To conserve oil we decided to extinguish the lamps as we slept. When we did so, the uttermost thick darkness of the roots of the mountains was before our eyes. Of the free peoples, surely only dwarves could contemplate such darkness and still hope to emerge from it.
We travelled far in this way, losing track of the hours and the days, and somehow as the way stretched longer the desire for talk fell from us. We tramped on in silence. Eventually we emerged into a wide space and our flickering lamps showed us a pillared hall. It could have been a library; there were shelves and old scrolls and books. The walls were lined with more dwarven statues and hung with weapons and equipment. But we had not the curiosity to explore; we wanted to reach the end of our journey. We pressed on down the length of the hall and passed into a new tunnel at its North end.
The nature of the tunnel changed then. The echoes showed us that it was now periodically open on our right. Eventually we were separated from a great gulf by a low wall and pillars on that side; we were creeping along a gallery above a chasm. I tried the depth of it by throwing a stone far out. It was many heartbeats before I heard the stone strike rock, and then it continued tumbling until I could no longer hear it.
Walking further along the gallery, I wondered if my eyes were playing me tricks. "Look here", I said to Narvi, setting my lamp down. He did the same and we both peered down into the blackness. It was possible that far, far below us there was a light. A blue-green glow at least; possibly more than one. What could be down there? There was no way to find out. I thought of the Nameless things which gnawed the rock in the foundations of Moria, and shuddered. We took up our lamps and continued on our way. Eventually we left the chasm and found ourselves once more between two solid rock walls.
We were glad indeed to see daylight! Ahead, we saw pale light reflecting from the walls. We hurried forward and found that the tunnel emerged and continued on a ledge, high up on the mountainside. The mountain rose sheer on our right, and we looked far out from a precipice to our left.
The country below was a dismal ruin and the air was chill; the sun was setting before us. "Angmar", Narvi stated. We saw a jumble of dark rock, with very little green growth, in which a few old stone buildings could be seen dotted about. Orc camps also lay here and there. Far away we could see a city with a central spire. "I guess that would be Barad Gularan", I replied. We were not concerned about being seen; we were so high that orcs would never notice us, and the ledge on which we stood must be completely invisible from the ground.
Extinguishing our lamps now, we decided to camp once more in the mouth of the tunnel from which we had emerged. We had shelter there, and the ledge would be more exposed from now on, as far as we could see.

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Snow and Ice

Now the path we followed crept along a high ledge on the West side of the Misty Mountains. Still, it gradually climbed, until we were nearer the peaks of the mountains than the floor of Angmar far below. We began to feel the cold, and I remembered that "ice" was the second trial of "battle, ice and stone". The Misty Mountains in front of us curved away to the left, but just ahead was a great, broad peak, much larger than the ones we had passed.
"That will be Mount Gundabad just ahead of us", said Narvi. "We have nearly reached our destination, but we must be cautious. All the lower part of it is renowned as an abode of goblins. We must hope that they do not climb this high."
The ledge seemed to disappear at a point a short way ahead, but coming to the place we found that the path turned sharply right and ascended yet higher, into a high, narrow pass, heading eastwards around the flank of Gundabad. There were carved steps in the rock but they were treacherous with ice.
"The Cold Cleft", I murmured. "So it really does exist. It looks as if this test is a simple matter of endurance. We must tread carefully and withstand the bitter cold."
We climbed the stairs. Indeed, endurance was needed. The wind howled. The hoar frost and sheet ice gradually gave way to glittering ice crystals so that the sunlight also became painful. In places, we had to hack at the ice covering the steps to make our way safe, taking turns to wield the pickaxe we had brought.
"These ice crystals are huge", I commented. "They must have been growing gradually, freezing water out of the air, for centuries. But why is it so cold here? It freezes my bones even more than the wind of Forochel. Surely it is no natural cold."
"That we will soon see", replied Narvi, "for we are nearly at the top of the pass: look."
I looked where he pointed and saw that it was true; we were coming to a more open area of snow and the path would soon cross over the saddle of the pass to Mount Gundabad. Encouraged, we tramped on upwards. But then there came a blast of wind which drove loose snow and ice swirling around us. The swirls coalesced.
"Grims!", Narvi shouted. "Grims of ice!"
We had a desperate fight to gain the flat at the top of the pass. The grims tugged at us, trying to send us tumbling back down the slope, and hurled shards of ice which stung and cut. We smote them with hammer and axe. Although they were insubstantial creatures, they seemed eventually to weaken and subside under our blows. Finally they gave way and the particles of whirling ice fell to the ground, allowing us access to the top of the pass.
We staggered into the flat saddle and found that it was filled with deeply packed snow. More snow shrouded the cliff sides above us, and rounded hummocks testified to buried boulders all around us. We would have admired the beauty of nature, but the cold was even more intense. This seemed to be the place from which the cold radiated, if that were possible.
"We must not linger here", mumbled Narvi with chattering teeth, and I agreed. We pressed on through the pass and came at last to another ledge, which we saw would now lead around the East side of Gundabad. But here we at last met the goblins which inhabit that mountain. There was a chorus of harsh cries and at least a dozen goblins, led by a great brute of an orc, sprang from behind some of the snow-covered boulders. They were dressed in furs and were clearly a scouting party abroad in the high places from their camps far below, for some purpose we could not guess. I guessed that they had heard us fighting the grims and then perhaps talking, and waited here to ambush us.
That was a sore test, harder than fighting the grims, in the snow and ice at the top of the Cold Cleft. The cold seemed to seep into our arms as we swung our weapons, slowing our movements. Fortunately the goblins seemed to be affected in the same way, but by weight of numbers they forced us back to the flat area. We saw that, once in the open space again, they would be able to surround us.
The orc slave-driver saw this too. He grinned, tongue lolling between yellow fangs, but stood back out of the range of our weapons and urged his goblins on with foul shouts. He screamed an oath at them in his foul tongue – and that turned out to be a mistake.
The orcish howl echoed from cliff to cliff, and an avalanche started! Snow hurtled down towards us from the slope, bringing a blast of uttermost freezing cold. The goblins and the orc were swept away, and the fight against leaping, snarling goblins became an attempt to avoid being swept away in the snow. With great presence of mind Narvi reversed his great axe and drove it point downwards into the hard snow. We both clung to it as freezing snow roared over us like a wave of the sea.
When all became still we realised that we had survived once more.  We were both almost frozen and near the end of strength, even for dwarves. Painfully we extricated ourselves from the snow and then extracted Narvi's axe.

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The Cold Lode

I was for leaving the Cold Cleft immediately, but Narvi pointed. "Look! One goblin survives."
It was true, but he spoke in a voice of awe, not anger, and I now saw why. The cliff which had shed its load of snow upon us gleamed. It gleamed with bright metal.
"Mithril...", I breathed, "and pure by the look of it. But look, that foul goblin has almost reached it. He will not defile it with his hands; and I will see if any pieces can be taken!"
I staggered towards the bright face, but the goblin was there first. He had obviously forgotten about us and was simply fascinated by the untold wealth he saw; goblins covet and steal even the smallest pieces of this most precious metal, and here was greater wealth than any of his kind could imagine. I was still staggering and puffing through the snow when the goblin reached the gleaming bright ore and, crooning, caressed it with his hand.
"Stand away!", shouted Narvi to me. I wondered what danger he had seen but then realised that the goblin had begun shrieking and leaping in his place, but never moving his hand from the surface. Then a fresh wave of cold blew over me and I understood, both why this ore had never been mined and what the goblin's ghastly fate would now be. His hand was frozen to the surface! He shrieked and writhed as his hand and forearm, then his upper arm and finally his shoulder gradually froze solid. When the solidity and coating of frost reached his neck, his terrified howls died to a gurgle and stopped. Finally, the rest of his body slowly became an icy statue. Crystals were already forming all over the exposed ore and soon it and its victim would be hidden once more. I shuddered, turned, and laboured back to Narvi. Coming away from the mithril face once more, the air immediately seemed almost warm by contrast.
"It is the fabled Spine Lode!", I said in awe. "The streak of mithril which was said to run the tops of the Misty Mountains, but which has only ever been contacted down in the Redhorn Lodes of Moria. This section must run right up through Gundabad, to the ice-shrouded peak in the high airs. From there, it conducts and transports cold down to this Cold Cleft, where it generates grims and thickens the snow and ice. It is rich beyond price, but such ore could never be mined; see how quickly its bitter coldness seized and froze the unfortunate goblin. Why, after only a few hours it will be completely covered by ice again. It is the reason for the overpowering cold in this pass." I shivered as I spoke.
"Let us forget such deadly riches", advised Narvi. "Allow the goblin to keep them forever in his frozen grasp. We must go now to Gundabad."
It was late and the light was already fading as the sun set on the other side of the mountains, but we decided that we could not camp in such a dreadfully cold place. Fortunately for us a nearly full moon had already risen in the East, casting some light into the shadows. The light was increased by reflection from the snow all around, so we could see our way. We moved cautiously back down the East side of the pass and found again the high ledge turning North along that side of Gundabad. This would have been a perilous walk, except that the ledge was clearly of dwarf workmanship, paved in places. It was cunningly contrived to be invisible from below. Also, as we moved away from the Cold Cleft, the cold grew less and the path was no longer slippery with treacherous ice. We
began to recover from the freezing ordeal and munched biscuits of cram as we walked cautiously in the moonlight.
Most of the night we walked, gradually passing around the eastern flank of Gundabad. Its peak seemed not far above us and the moonlit land to our right was far, far below. We could see the North edge of Mirkwood as a dark stain, and beyond it stretching away to the East we saw the range of the Grey Mountains. From the height of Gundabad we looked down upon those lesser peaks; they looked like a row of jagged white teeth in the moonlight. Although there was still a cold wind, we began to feel warm with the exercise of walking.
A few hours before dawn, the moon left us and passed westward over the mountain. Now it was too dark to move safely so we made a short camp. Sitting with our backs to a face of rock and smoking good pipe weed, we talked of our experiences so far and watched the dawn light grow in the East. Eventually the sun rose and its rays smote the mountain. Day had dawned; and it was a day which we anticipated would show us the end of our journey. We took a little more cram and then stood, shouldering our burdens once more. We were not as strong, perhaps, as when we had started through the Ettinmoors weeks before, but at least our packs were lighter.
Turning to travel North along the high ledge once more, we saw immediately that our hopes for the day were justified.
"Look!", I said, pointing, "A stone pillar, like the one in the Ettinmoors". Narvi nodded.
We hurried over the last distance and saw that we had indeed found another dwarven way-mark; a pillar carved with runes, decoration and the heraldic devices of Durin. The pillar marked a cleft into which our path led.
"Surely the door to the High Hall will be in here", Narvi commented. We passed the pillar and followed the way into the cleft. The rising sun had now filled it with a rosy light, and we saw a welcome sight: a carved stone arch and decorated doorway. But there was no handle. Somehow, this did not surprise us!

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Journey's End

"Another puzzle-door", I growled. "And surely this is the last test. We were to pass through battle, ice and stone – this is the stone here! How, then, can we open it?"
"The runes must give the clue", replied Narvi. "See, here at the top they simply say, 'Speak', and at the foot they say 'And Enter'. It is a matter of finding the right word to open the door."
"But no other clues", I protested. The rest of the door is covered only by these carvings of three great axes. They are not runes, so the opening word is not shown here."
"No, think", replied Narvi. "The words 'Speak' and 'Enter' are just like the Door of Durin at the West of Khazad-dûm. The carvings are the key."
"Ah", I breathed. "'Axes' is the word. But... 'Axes of the Dwarves!' It is the war-cry of the host of Durin! That must be it. This is the test: only one who speaks khuzdul, the tongue of the dwarves, can enter here. Baruk-Khazâd!"
With my words, there was a sharp crack. Then a grating sound as the door swung inwards. We saw a tunnel and a rising flight of stairs, but it was not dark. Pale daylight was spreading from an archway at the top of the stairs. I had that strange feeling of significance again, glancing at the door. But the end of the quest called us and we climbed eagerly up the last stairs.
We emerged through the archway at the top of the stairs into a great hall. Sunlight entered through shafts far above, showing us ancient stone; richly carved pillars, walls and floor. The hammer-over-anvil symbol of Durin was on each wall, surrounded by carved axes. Great stones at the sides were carved too into the shapes of axes, hammers and anvils. Knotwork and runic inscriptions were everywhere. A long stone table ran the length of the wall and I walked slowly to the end of it. At first I had thought it was a banqueting table, but I saw that the surface was of polished black obsidian, deeply etched with incised lines.
I stood in wonder, puzzling over the meaning of the lines. Then I gradually realised that the table was actually a highly detailed map of the Misty Mountains. A short way along the table I could see the outline and contours of Caradhras, and the East and West entrances to Moria were marked. Gundabad must be at the far end of the table, where Narvi was moving, for I was standing still at the South of the map.  But there were other lines shown too, marked by tiny runes. Their significance broke on me in a flash.
"Narvi!", I called, and my voice echoed. "This is a map of the metal ores in the Misty Mountains! It shows copper, tin, silver and gold, and even mithril! One who had a copy of this map would become rich beyond imagining!"
"You are right", replied Narvi, "great riches are spread before us. What will you do?"
I began to gaze about, looking for parchment, or anything to write with, to begin making a copy of the map. It would be a long labour, but even a small part of the entire map would be beyond price. But then something odd about Narvi's voice struck me. His words seemed flat; strangely uninterested.
I thought then about the sound of Narvi's voice in my ears rather than of gold and mithril, and suddenly I remembered his other words, ages ago it seemed, in the Forsaken Inn:
'If you would reach the Hall of Durin, you must pass through battle, ice and stone, and prove worthy'.
"The stone door was not the last test!", I exclaimed. "We were to pass through battle, ice and stone, and prove worthy. One who has an overwhelming desire for riches would be stopped here in this chamber! It is a trap!"
I examined the far end of the hall, knowing already what I would see. Sure enough, there was another large stone door, carved with the hammer and anvil of Durin.
Narvi smiled at me. "Shall we continue?", he said simply, turning to the door.
I hurried along the table to join him, but seeing him waiting there beside the doorway gave me a further realisation.
I remembered the feeling I had just had at the Door of Axes, and long before on seeing the first statues of Durin's Road. When we encountered those statues, Narvi had been behind me, but in the poor light he had known that the figures were of stone before I did. He had travelled the road before! Narvi had also explained how the working of the Door of Battle in the Ettinmoors tested the proud honour of dwarves, and just now he had known the method for opening the Door of Axes too. These were the reasons why I had felt that the statues and doors were significant: it was Narvi's knowledge of them I had almost noticed. How unobservant I had been!
"You knew the way!", I exclaimed. "You were watching me. You have been testing me! And you knew about the doors, how each worked."
'... just like the door of Durin at the West of Khazad-dûm.', he had said. Now I remembered the inscription on those doors: I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs.
"The doors! Your name; it's not a coincidence at all. You made them!", I spluttered. "You were there, a long age ago! Who are you? How old are you?"
Narvi just smiled again with satisfaction and dropped his pack to the floor as I reached him. Wondering, I did the same. Then he pushed the door open, (it swung easily), and strode inside. I followed wordlessly.
Dwarves! We were in another, greater hall. It was bright with daylight from high slots and rich with banners; gold and silver decoration and carved ornamentation was everywhere upon the walls and pillars. Ranks of dwarven warriors lined the sides of the hall. They were resplendent in bright mail and helms and coloured cloaks with gold brooches; their hair and beards were oiled and plaited. They held upright great axes with keen, gleaming blades. Seeing us enter they pounded the stone floor with the hafts of their axes, once, with an echoing 'crack!' I gaped wordlessly, astounded at the brightness and splendour of everything I saw. But at the far end of the hall was a throne of gleaming gold on a stepped stone dais. Narvi strode confidently towards the throne and the figure seated on it, and I scurried behind him, dumb with awe, wondering why none of these guards barred our way.
"Who are you wayfarers who approach the throne of Durin the Deathless?", asked the seated one in a great bass voice.
Narvi's reply stunned me; "We can dispense with the rest of the usual charade, Nalin, our guest has almost grasped the entire truth already."
"Very well, Lord", replied Nalin, rising from the throne, descending the steps and bowing before Narvi.
"You", I gasped, "Not Narvi... Not just Narvi... Durin? Lord Durin the Deathless!?"
'Narvi' smiled, and I sank to my knees before him, awed and astonished.
What dwarf would not be overjoyed to sojourn in the High Hall of Durin the Deathless for a number of days? All was now explained to me. Narvi, (for so I will always now think of Durin the Deathless), had indeed been testing me. He had visited the Forsaken Inn as he did many other places, seeking a dwarf who would seem worthy to undertake the four tests. He had guided me through the trials of fighting and endurance, testing my dwarvish resolve. Then he had watched as the temptation of great riches assailed me. I did not like to reveal that this had probably been my closest approach to failure; it had only been my realisation of Narvi's role which had distracted me from the lure of gold. Oh, what dismal  failure that would have been, if I had turned away with a hastily copied map, believing that the Hall of the Table was itself the High Hall! I would probably have become very rich, never knowing how greatly I had failed.
Narvi explained further. It was his purpose to continually seek worthy dwarves and test them by the journey to the High Hall. Then he began also to unfold the future to me. I was now accounted worthy, and I would have a place at his side in his war host at the end of all things. Or rather, as he put it, at the true beginning of the world. Durin's Bane in Khazad-dûm had been destroyed by the intervention of the Powers beyond the world; one of the Maiar had been there and broken it upon the mountainside. The dwarves would therefore return and flourish underground in Khazad-dûm, even as the elves retreated from Middle Earth and the dominion of men began. It would be my lot, if the time was long, to sleep in a stone tomb, but it would seem just a moment. Then would come the Dawning Day, when the dwarves would come forth to strive mightily, finally casting out goblins from all their abodes and making the mountains clean and new. Even the sun would be rekindled and the moon restored, and the dwarves would aid Mahal the Maker in those great tasks. All things would be perfected at last; evil and death would be banished.
I seemed to see all this in visions as he spoke, and the scene of Durin the Deathless leading his dwarven host to victory will always remain in my mind. And at length I understood that it was time for me to depart. One might think that I would want to remain in Durin's High Hall and parting would be a grief, but it was not so. I had a sense of rightness, of going back into the world for the purposes of Lord Durin, following him still although I knew that he would be abroad in disguise as 'Narvi', seeking other worthy dwarves. I rejoiced that he had found me and revealed these things to me.
I found myself alone, at the foot of mighty Mount Gundabad, on the East side. I had my pack and travelling gear once more, and I had been generously re-provisioned. The Anduin glittered in the valley before me. I would have a long return journey, but it would be a simple one: I needed only to follow the river until it reached the land of Lothlorien.
I started walking and as I went, one of the sayings of Durin came back to me. I savoured the memory of his words in my mind, for I had received the blessing of Durin the Deathless: 'A blessing be upon your hammer.'

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