Shoulder the Sky, My Lad by Marta

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Author's Chapter Notes:

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

(A.E. Housman)

"Come!" called a gruff voice from a ways ahead. "Elrond keeps his beer-barrels down this way, if TharkŻn spoke truly.”

Boromir squinted in the faint light – there were no torches mounted on the walls of this corridor, and the dwarf carried their only lamp – and he hurried to close the distance between them. The toe of his boot caught on the uneven floor, and he stumbled, catching himself against the frame of a nearby door. He would blame the late hour, or the poor light, if someone else had asked, but to himself he admitted the truth: Elven liquor was more potent than he had thought.

“TharkŻn?” he asked as he righted himself and made his way toward the lamp-light. “I cannot place that name, though I may have heard it once.”

“TharkŻn.” The dwarf turned to face him. “He was at the Council. An old man, to all appearances. Do you know him?”

“Ah,” Boromir said, as he nodded with comprehension. “He lived for some time in my city, when my brother and I were much younger. That is where I have heard the name. Mithrandir among the Elves, TharkŻn to the Dwarves; Olorin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten; so he said.”

Something about that made the dwarf chuckle to himself. “The world is full enough with strange folk; one name for each is more than enough to remember.

“Aye!” Boromir laughed in earnest at that, for it seemed that he had met too many folk in the last few weeks, and that every time he met them they went by a different name. Gildor, Inglorion. TharkŻn, Gandalf, Mithrandir. Dunadan, Estel, Strider... Aragorn. He wondered at that last one, how a humble ranger came to bear a royal name, but then thought better of it. He must have drained a half-dozen cups of strong wine already, and such questions deserved more delicacy than he could muster just now.

But he could solve another mystery. He had been introduced to the troop of dwarves, just before Elrond's council four weeks hence, but for some reason he could not quite recall his companion's name. Courtesy forbade him ask it again, but perhaps wit would reveal it once more.

“In the south we are known by one name, and one name alone.” He made an over-elaborate bow. “Boromir uin-Gondor, of the House of Hķrin.”

“Gimli, son of Glůin, at your service and your family's,” the dwarf countered. Gimli set the lamp down and bowed so low that his beard brushed the packed-dirt floor; Boromir thought the dwarf's lips twitched in a suppressed smile, though he could not be sure under the thick beard. After a moment's pause Gimli added more seriously, “But you have no need of subterfuge, if you could not recall who I was. You met me after a long journey, and alongside many of my kin. Single name or no, I might confuse one of us for the other if we were similarly introduced, and can hold you to no higher a standard.”

Boromir blushed a little at that, and hoped it went unnoticed in the dark. “Your open manner encourages me. Will you allow me one more question?”

“Questions asked on the Longest Night need not be spoken on after-days, by dwarven tradition,” Gimli replied, “but you may ask what you will of me, whenever you wish.”

Boromir marveled at that. He could scarce imagine any of the men of his father's court saying such words, much less meaning them. Yet he sensed he could trust this dwarf, though he hardly knew him. Boromir said, “You spoke earlier of Mithrandir – TharkŻn – you said he told you where the ale was stored. Why him? How did he know?”

Gimli picked up his lamp and walked on down the hall. “Because TharkŻn brought this ale some years ago, in honor of Dain Ironfoot's's fiftieth year as King Under the Mountain. And the Elves will not touch the stuff!” He wrinkled his nose at that. “They seem to prefer wine to richer brews, the fools. Few enough dwarves have passed through Rivendell for years, save this last month, and it was TharkŻn who thought I might enjoy a mug or three.” He drew a key from his pocket and fit it into the door. “But tonight is the Longest Night, and this night should be spent in the company of good friends – so say my people. And I would make you a friend, Boromir of Gondor. This night seems fitting to make a start at that.”

Gimli held open the door, and Boromir walked in. It was a store-room, the kind of place that was the domain of servants in Minas Tirith. He and Faramir had snuck into the Citadel’s cellars once or twice, but they had always had been after contraband of some sort or another, and so Boromir had never taken the time to look closely. But this was a hidden kingdom, full of delicious smells, and Boromir inhaled. Casks large and small lined one wall, with a shelf of pewter plates and mugs overhead. Opposite, barrels of fruit were stacked precariously: apples and pears, and some prickly-skinned plant that Boromir could not even place; dried herbs hung from the rafters. Several stools were stacked out of the way in a corner.

The dwarf retrieved two of them and set them in the small room’s only free space while Boromir saw to the drinks. He took two mugs from a shelf, tapped the beer-barrel, and filled them. He handed Gimli a mug. “Will you teach me a song from your homeland? A song of hearth and dwarf-women?”

Gimli tapped his mug against Boromir's and took the first sip. “I am no teacher,” he said, “but I will trade like for like. Have you songs enough to share?”

Boromir drank half his mug in a mighty gulp and wiped the foam from his lip with his sleeve. “You ask a soldier for drinking songs? I have enough to last till the sun awakes, or at the least till the barrel's drained dry. But I asked first, so the first song must be yours.”

Chapter End Notes:

For my 2010 birthday I asked several friends for various quotes, and wrote fiction inspired by them. Annmarwalk requested “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” (Benjamin Franklin) She also graciously beta'd this story.

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