It was after a fortnight of walking when I realised I'd begun humming some of our old travel songs under my breath. I stopped immediately, only to catch myself at it an hour or so later. It didn't matter that I was with none of my kind, resigned to the fact that after spending two eternities of months surrounded by Elves I still had not managed to escape their company entirely. Even the worrisome presence of the childish hobbit who had no business accompanying a mad enterprise such as this adventure couldn't dampen my thoughts. My feet itched to set a pace faster than my limbs could sustain; the incessant wind had calmed and my gear felt light as leather.
I knew what caused it, this sturdy tune of heel to ground, drumming steps against the hard earth.
Though I'd yet to explore its wonders, from far-off I'd seen the companion mountains once before. As we drew ever closer, I believed I felt the spirit of Mahal; he was manifest in the regal rocky spires whose names spilled forth from me in my native tongue in my hasty enthusiasm to identify them to our small band. Gandalf raised an amused eyebrow at that, Aragorn nodded, and Peregrin gaped at the smattering of Khudzul.
We were on the edge of Hollin, the hallowed place where my distant ancestors had crafted their greatest achievements, wonders worthy of song and legend. The great lake of Kheled-zâram was there, with its shimmering, inky waters, silently beckoning me to its banks. Narvi, brilliant rockwright and inspiration for all Khazad who build with stone, had once dwelt in this land. It was no wonder I found myself more verbose than usual. This was a true homecoming, in the most tangible, solid sense of the word. Legolas began to speak and I rounded to face him, readying myself for a counter-attack against any possible slur.
"Only I hear the stones lament them," he said, the melancholy statements unexpected and bewildering. "'Deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us, but they are gone.'"
His words turned my world upside down. I stared at his face, which betrayed no emotion save a pinch of curiosity. I was silver, struck with tuned precision and ringing with incredulity. I felt sure my shock at his comments must have been painfully obvious to all in our company. And yet— apparently not. Chatter sprang up between the hobbits, Boromir set to tending camp. I alone appeared affected by the inconceivable fact that an Elf from Mirkwood could hear the speech of stone.
I went through the motions of readying my bedroll and ate my meal as the sun rose higher above the horizon. Sam took the first watch with Aragorn as company as I lay on my makeshift bed, hidden by thickets. I turned on my side, making sure my back was to Legolas. From my time spent in Rivendell, I knew that Elves noticed much, even when it appeared that their focus was elsewhere. This was a private moment, as I pressed my ear against the rock.
Silence. I closed my eyes, willing the stones to surrender their sorrows to me. I was the child of Mahal; stone-language was my birthright. This wood-dwelling Elf from the north had no business listening to the sighs of the earth, even as I grudgingly acknowledged that in this land, the rock seemed to mourn the Elves, not the Dwarvish masons. I passed fitfully into sleep, straining to hear the dark pulse of ancient loss.
* * * * *
Inspiration for this came from 'The Ring Goes South' in Fellowship. Gimli's outpourings included a rather shocking amount of Khudzul, naming the mountains both in Westron and Dwarvish. Then he gets positively poetic:
- 'Dark is the water of Kheled-Zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.'
Dwarves carry adoration in their hearts as much as any Elf, says this author, only slightly smug.