Many moons had passed since Thoif had last set foot here at home in the Iron Hills. When he had walked these decorated stone halls, the temperatures had been cooler. Truly, though, temperatures had never fluctuated too erratically under the mountains. The dark caverns and their winding streams of water kept the air crisp and surprisingly light.
He had missed his family, his friends, and the cozy hearth that welcomed him back to his just as comfortable den; but most of all, ashamedly to admit, the sweet Dwarven drought of the Iron Hills! The humor brought a slight grin to his lips, but it was all hidden by his heavy, sand colored beard.
No place like home, indeed.
The return journey had not been without incident. After the Gondorian Mablung the Bold had returned to the Dwarves their lost treasures, and the subsequent assassination attempt of his leader Ondoher, Mhulo ordered their weary company return to the Iron Hills with much haste. All agreed with the Dwarf: surely their people would rejoice at the discovery that was made.
As if the Valar had seen fit to jest and twist the fates, many attempts had been made by the legions of Evil to impede their mission home. The same Orcish warband from Mordor that had hunted the Dwarves from the beginning, led by Snagash the Terrible with his poisonous whip, ambushed their company just west of the dense boughs of Mirkwood.
At that juncture, the Dwarves numbered nine stout, heavily armored bodies (many more than the previous encounters with the foul Snaga), and promptly bested the grotesques back into the wildlands, successfully guarding that precious cargo which they carried.
Soon after, as the Dwarves had made their way farther east amongst the rocky southron outcroppings of the Grey Mountains, a seemingly stray cave troll had burst through their campsite, roaring and tossing small boulders at their broad shields. A roaring, slobbering troll was a terrible sight indeed, but the Dwarves knew not the tendrils of fear that grasped at their hearts.
With Iron will and drilled martial excellence, the troll was brought low and Kemlek buried the blunt end of his mattock into the brains of the creature, for good measure.
Now, as Thoif scanned this Great Hall, he was truly able to grasp the scale of their mission. The return of Mhulo and his company was met with such fanfare as none of them had ever witnessed. Word had been sent to Torvim of their company’simpending arrival, in addition to the precious artifacts they were carrying with them. Dwarven citizens from many a district in the Hills had gathered to welcome them home, and celebrate their victory.
Most importantly, they were greeted by King Gror himself.
So here they were in the Hall, the royal colors hanging unabashedly from every stone pillar, balcony and palisade. Near the far end of the room they resided, merely speaking distance away from Gror and his mighty color guard. Torvim and several of his aids stood shortly off to the left of the throne, books and scrolls hanging from heavy chains about their belts. Mhulo was at the fore, right of Thoif, on bended knee like the rest of his company.
The presence of the King was stifling. As trained and disciplined as the Dwarves were, to be here in this moment was not so much a burden on their minds as it was a heavy, pressing wonder. Thoif was sweating slightly, though he was unsure why. To his left, Kemlek was still as brick, mailed fist to the ground, followed by Nasek and Thalrir. On the other side of Mhulo knelt the rest of their company- Duk, Dolvin, Khain and Mon.
In front of them all rested the gilded chest given to them by Ondoher and his company of Gondorian Men. The lid was open and the tomes displayed. The King, still on his throne, sat with arms extended- the blue, lambent mantle flowing down through his outstretched fingers. The mystical ancestry on the outer facing of the cloak was highly visible, emanating a soft white light like that of a trapped star.
“Here today, Mhulo and friends, you have brought to your people the knowledge of our histories, and so much more. Our Loremasters have nigh begun to scrape merely the surface of what precious gems reside inside those books before us.” Grorrumbled softly. Despite his quiet demeanor, the stone chambers radiated his commanding tone. “Rise, good Dwarves.”
Mhulo at the lead, the Dwarves stood as a unit. Their iron armor had been repaired, polished and lacquered for the occasion- not a finer sight in all the lands stood above the armor that gleamed with its dark silver and golden accents. The sounds of layered pauldrons and tassets clinking echoed shortly, then died after the stone hall would carry them no more.
“It was unbeknownst to me, until a short time ago, that these things before us were recovered by the Western Men, of Gondor.” The King continued. His beard was densely adorned with jewels and iron decoration, so much that the light reflected dimly around the chambers.
“Aye, my lord.” Mhulo replied. “It saddens my heart to tell you that I had failed in my original mission to take these things from the lands I had been sent to retrieve-“
Gror stayed the Dwarfs words with a gilded gauntlet.
“My son. Does this chest not sit here before us? Or do mine eyes deceive me like foul nightmares?” came the kings low, rumbling response. “Yes, young one. Be humble in all things, and indeed thankful to the friends that brought us these prizes. Our people are now deeply indebted to their causes. Did you not carry these here yourself, however? How many Orcs, trolls, and evil men had you slain and rebuked when you returned and set foot upon these hills? Indeed, have you sat idle upon your journeys? Are those scars that you and your kin now bear for naught?” Gror retorted, gesturing to the assembly before him.
Mhulo knelt again, humble and speechless in gratitude and in modesty.
“Our friends need help, Mhulo.” Gror said, now standing and walking around the group before him. “Duk, Dolvin, Thoif, Khain, Kemlek, Nasek, Thalrir, Mon. All, brothers of Iron! Here, Dama.”
As the King gestured, a color guard stepped forward, bearing a flag of marvelous make.
“Dama, you shall travel with these companions and share in all of their glories. Take my colors, and stay the enemy with your wrath and your will.”
Dama saluted, slamming the stave into the ground.
“I am King Gror, of the Iron Hills. The Men that assisted us in our recovery, we will find them. I wish to thank them myself for their kindness. We will march together friends, in the morning, we move out.”
Thoif stiffened. Had he heard that correctly? The King moved to war with them? He swelled with an intense pride, and closed his eyes. History was being forged before him now, and he would relish every bit of it.