HIGHDAY THE 16TH DAY OF CHITHING, TA 2946
At first light Tóki the Toymaker made his hasty way from Dale-town up into the Lonely Mountain and the Hall of the Dathrins. He roused Thorfinn and those of the Company who, having aided in liberating the hoard of his forefathers, now enjoyed the hospitality of his Hall, and told them his dire news.
“Dwîm and Dwîma are back!” he gushed. “Unless they never left, and were just hiding out all this time.” After Thorfinn had reported the crimes of the twin dwarves, Dwîm and Dwîma, and the other Ironfists of the Karghal clan, the authorities had instigated a dwarfhunt but had been unable to find any trace of the remaining Ironfists or ‘Captain’ Beil and his so-called mercenaries. “Whatever they wanted with your family’s vault, Thorfinn,” Tóki continued, “they obviously haven’t given up on it. And it looks like they’re in the company of a mannish sorcerer.”
“Yes, I remember,” said Yngwi the Storyteller. “That prisoner we questioned — ‘Fhêk’ — he said that Dwîm and Dwîma had been meeting a mannish stranger, and had been very secretive about some ‘thing’ that he wanted them to get, for which he would make them all rich dwarves.”
" ‘Some thing’ that they sought to steal from the vault of my fathers!" exclaimed Thorfinn bitterly.
Tóki proceeded to tell the others everything that had happened the previous night. But he was forced to admit that after he and his friends freed the hapless quarterstaff-wielding guardian from the same ensorcellment as the Karghals had used on the giant mole-monster, they had not been able to stop the evil twins and their sorcerous accomplice from getting away. Nor could they glean anything from the candle-burning blood ritual as to what the nature of the dark magic had been.
Thorfinn directed Fjiar to double the guard both on the Hall of the Dathrins and on the North Spur Mines. Thorfinn himself would go back to the King’s Officers and demand a repeat dwarfhunt of redoubled intensity, as the wrongdoers were not only still in the area, but had now proven to be consorting with sorcerers intent on committing the darkest of misdeeds.
“But if only we knew what in Middle-earth they are after,” he glowered.
“My master, Framleiðandi, might have been able to help us,” mused Tóki sadly. “I was always sure he knew much more about sorcerers than he ever told me — as though even the knowledge of such things was a burden he refused to inflict on anyone else. Such is the road walked by the wardens of Middle-earth.”
Thorfinn was in agreement. “So we need to find him and bring him back from wherever his mysterious business has taken him. Take this purse and do whatever it takes to find out where he went, get after him, and bring him back to help us against this sorcerer.”
* * *
Over the next couple of days Tóki and big Yngwi went round all the gate guards of Dale-town, asking whether any recalled seeing Framleiðandi the Toymaker leave town three moons ago in the month of Frery, just after Yule: a whitebeard dwarf in an emerald hood with a silver bell on the end. They paid respectful calls upon several wise whitebeards of the Lonely Mountain who might have known him, since he was a loremaster as well as a toymaker, and his mysterious business might have been known to others. But it seemed he had slipped away in complete secrecy and told no one any more than he said to his toy-making apprentice, Klerkur: “I am going away upon business; I may be some time. Give this to Tóki and tell him to keep it with him at all times of day and night.” The item in question was of course the masterpiece magical toy duck, the true nature of which Tóki had only just discovered.
On the evening of the second day Tóki and Yngwi wearily slumped into two booth seats in the Gold Hush Tavern and ordered a pair of ales. Tóki set Framleiðandi’s duck on the table and treated himself to a smoke of his new batch of hobbit pipeweed.
Yngwi inspected the wooden duck’s blank gaze. “So that thing really spoke with old master Framleiðandi’s actual voice?” he asked.
“Well, it was his voice saying ‘Quack!’ — by some magic I never even knew could be invested into any toy. Certainly he never taught it to me…” Tóki tailed off, savouring the Longbottom Leaf.
Yngwi regarded the toymaker inhaling the smoke of the weed and blowing it out again, and then he saw a shrewd look slowly dawn in Tóki’s eyes.
“What Framleiðandi did know I can do,” he said, “is give life to magical things.”
Back in the toyshop Tóki cleared a space on a workbench and placed the duck in front of him. He laid both hands upon it, closed his eyes, and went through a succession of songs, broken fragments of the spells of the dwarven masters of the ancient days, until he found one that worked. And then he flooded new strength into Framleiðandi’s magical creation.
Tóki opened his eyes. “It’s done.”
“So now what do we do?” asked Yngwi, seeing no change in the duck.
“Where is Framleiðandi?” Tóki intoned to it, flicking its bill open with one finger.
“I do not know where he is,” replied the voice of Framleiðandi, the duck raising its wings and wagging its lower bill as the words came out. “He has gone to seek the Mewlips of legend where the Rhyme of Lore surely says they must be, southwards along the eaves of the forest of Mirkwood.” And then it lowered its wings and was still.
* * *
So it was decided that whilst Thorfinn and the others would remain in the Lonely Mountain and do everything they could to track down the Karghal twins and their sorcerer associate, Tóki, Yngwi and — against the dangers of Mirkwood — Fjiar the Fearless would undertake the expedition to follow Framleiðandi’s trail.
In Dale-town the affable Yngwi led their enquiries about journeying southwards, speaking to traders and caravan captains in the Merchants’ Quarter. But Tóki and Fjiar realised after a time that where everyone was directing them to the Docks Quarter to travel down the River Running, Yngwi persisted in asking after overland routes. Even when, exasperated, they challenged him on this, he deftly changed the subject by saying that they also had to find out about the Rhyme of Lore the duck had mentioned.
“I may be mostly a tavern storyteller and young, but I have learnt some of the histories of Durin’s Folk.” The oral traditions of the houses of the dwarves each comprise staggeringly long sagas of the deeds of the forefathers through all the Ages of Middle-earth, all rendered in the secret Khuzdul tongue which they never use in front of other folk. “A ‘Rhyme of Lore’ sounds like the same thing for the other Free Peoples; we should ask minstrels and storytellers and such like about this rhyme of ‘The Mewlips’.”
He plunged through a drinking hall door before the other two could stop him and took a seat at a table right in front of the platform on which a singer was performing: an immensely tall leather-clad woman with a powerful voice.
And so the three dwarves met Marion Ursaris, a towering woman of the Beornings from the passes of the Misty Mountains. Though she was a singer of the songs of the Northmen’s traditions, she gruffly dismissed any notion of ‘Rhymes of Lore’. But when Tóki spoke of their mission to bring back the missing master with the lore of the Shadow, Marion suddenly took an interest.
“If your old dwarf was a master of that lore, then I will help you to find him!”
“Excuse me,” came a light voice from behind them. “I enjoyed your performance very much, madam. And I couldn’t help overhearing you mention ‘Rhymes of Lore’, just now.”
The speaker pushed back his hood and revealed himself to be a slender elf.
“What do you want, elf?” demanded Fjiar brusquely, eyeing the mailshirt beneath the elf’s cloak and the sword at his hip.
“I am something of a collector of of such rhymes, and I wondered if I might be of some assistance. Ecthelon of Mirkwood, at your service.”
Tóki hurriedly introduced himself before Fjiar could say anything further, and briefly recounted their goal of following the trail of Framleiðandi, who had gone to seek the Mewlips along the eaves of Mirkwood.
“I do not know of any ‘Mewlips’, but it is true that there is an ancient rhyme about them. If I recall correctly it is notable for being a rhyme composed far to the west, but referring to the east of Mirkwood. It is badly corrupted, with invented names like the ‘Merlock Mountains’ and the ‘Marsh of Tode’ inserted in it, but I believe I could can recite it accurately.”
He took himself apart and sat curiously inert, seeming as one asleep save for his eyes remaining fully open. And then after a short space he came back to himself, returned to others, and recited the recollected tale.
The shadows where the Mewlips dwell
Are dark and wet as ink,
And slow and softly rings their bell,
As in the slime you sink.
You sink into the slime, who dare
To knock upon their door,
While down the grinning gargoyles stare
And noisome waters pour.
Beside the rotting river-strand
The drooping willows weep,
And gloomily the gorcrows stand
Croaking in their sleep.
Over the Merlock Mountains a long and weary way,
In a mouldy valley where the trees are grey,
By a dark pool’s borders without wind or tide,
Moonless and sunless, the Mewlips hide.
The cellars where the Mewlips sit
Are deep and dank and cold
With single sickly candle lit;
And there they count their gold.
Their walls are wet, their ceilings drip;
Their feet upon the floor
Go softly with a squish-flap-flip,
As they sidle to the door.
They peep out slyly; through a crack
Their feeling fingers creep,
And when they’ve finished, in a sack
Your bones they take to keep.
Beyond the Merlock Mountains, a long and lonely road.
Through the spider-shadows and the marsh of Tode,
And through the wood of hanging trees and the gallows-weed,
You go to find the Mewlips — and the Mewlips feed.
“If your dwarven master is as learned as you claim, then I would be keen to learn the truth of that rhyme.” said Ecthelon. “My people have known of no such creatures within the borders of Mirkwood for many yen — ‘many centuries’, you would say.”
Yngwi exclaimed, “But here’s a rhyme that Framleiðandi — in his own voice; I heard it! — said he was following. And not a month ago, Toleður found verses in the Devotion of the Dathrins that we followed right to the secret treasure-house. Even though I’m a storyteller myself, I’ve never known poems and rhymes to take on such significance.”
Dwarves, Beorning and Elf resolved to undertake the expedition together, a company of five, in search of Framleiðandi.
* * *
Ecthelon repeated what the folk in Dale-town had said all along, that the only sensible way to make the journey would be to take boats down the Celduin or “the River Running” to Esgaroth or “Lake-town” and then onwards down the Long Lake until the river flowed out southwards at its further end.
A subdued Yngwi Sandstone slowly brought up the rear as the group made their way to the docks. When Tóki produced Thorfinn’s purse to negotiate the hire of a boat, Yngwi spoke up. “I’m not getting on any boat…” To go by land, even with ponies, would be to double the time the journey would take and double the hazards they might encounter in the marshes south of the Long Lake, but Yngwi seemed quite irrational on the matter, until Marion observed gruffly that he was obviously just plain scared of water. Yngwi admitted then that he had seen his mother die of drowning when he was only a young beardling.
At length Tóki resolved to hire the largest boat the Lake-town man at the docks had to offer, still manageable for the five of them, and hopefully stable enough in the water to put Yngwi’s mind at rest. But the big dwarf was still reluctant, and finally consented to get on the boat only once he had availed himself of a large, water-tight barrel.
“According to the tale, this worked for Thorin Oakenshield and his Company, so hopefully it will work for me,” he said.
* * *
Ecthelon was the most knowledgeable about the route ahead of them, so he took the steering oar in the stern. Yngwi sat squarely amidships on the central rowing bench, clutching the rim of his barrel with both great hands, and the others took position around him as they were able. Their course lay downstream, so the rowing was not onerous.
A morning’s easy going took them down the River Running, past Dalefolk farmlands and new-planted orchards that were reclaiming the former Desolation of Smaug. In the early afternoon they passed between the two low hills that stood like a gateway and came out upon Esgaroth, the Long Lake, which stretched away into misty distance in the south.
Rowing was a little uncertain, as none of them were experienced boatmen and even though they hugged the shallows just off the lake shore, every time anyone moved about the boat Yngwi complained loudly that they would capsize and drown. But eventually they found that Tóki and Fjiar rowing on one side more or less matched the mighty sweeps of Marion on the other, and by the time the sun began to dip to the western horizon the moorings of Lake-town hove into view.
Thorfinn’s purse secured them board and lodging and after a hot meal and a tankard or two they retired for the night.
Early in the morning Tóki made enquiries around the wharfmasters about a single whitebeard dwarf in an emerald hood with a silver bell on the end, travelling southwards in the month of Frery, just after Yule. But none recalled anything of such a dwarf passing through Lake-town.
Ecthelon said the next milestone would be the Stairs of Girion at the southern end of the Long Lake, most of a day’s rowing away, since they must give a wide berth to the final resting place of the dragon. The very mention of Smaug kindled a yearning in the hearts of the three dwarves. The whole belly of the dragon had been armoured with precious gemstones from the Lonely Mountain — wealth beyond reckoning. But not even thieves dare approach that spot, quoted Ecthelon, clearly knowledgeable on the matter, for the evil of the dragon lives on in his very bones and it touches folk in the heart before they can even draw near.
“Dread before Dragon-sickness,” muttered Marion. “The Shadow is layered all about us even we we cannot see or feel it.”
“Framleiðandi used to say something very much like that!” exclaimed Tóki.
The big woman stared levelly at him.
“Are you a warden of Middle-earth too?”
She shrugged. “Never heard it called that before…”
Tóki fell silent and only realized later that Marion had not answered one way or the other.
For much of the day the far end of the Long Lake reached as far as the eye could see. With the others rowing, only Yngwi and Ecthelon watched forward, and for a long time after his keen eyes recognized the Stair of Girion, Ecthelon made no comment. Imperceptibly a faint rushing sound gathered in the air.
Eventually even Yngwi saw. “The end of the Lake is nearer now — but there’s no lakeshore beyond it! That noise! It’s a waterfall, isn’t it? A force of water! Steer us to the nearest shore right now, Elf, or so help me…”
“Very well,” Ecthelon complied with an unreadable smile in his eyes.
Yngwi splashed ashore through knee-deep water and trudged his way south as the others rowed without incident along to the jetties before the huddle of huts where the stair porters lived.