Gimli’s Workshop
Allan and Ron Martin

Gimli leaned back on his stool, cackling, “I think I have something here, Durin.”

Durin ambled over to have a look at Gimli’s cluttered workbench.

“What is it?”

“I think I can mend links of this new alloy together using just the right heat techniques. Look how malleable it is!” slavered Gimli. The hot white links of molten metal were joined as if knitted delicately by a spider spinning its web.

“This fabric is strong and inert when it’s exposed to oxidants or acids!” continued Gimli. “I think we’ve invented a new Dwarvish armor. It’s light, strong, and could be projectile resistant.” Durin hissed his approval as he burnt his finger reaching for the delicate fabric. Poggin was still pumping the bellows on the smelting furnace as he sat on his stool, drinking ghoulish-looking green ale out of a super-sized flagon.

Gimli had opened a small workshop on a narrow cobblestone street located near the remnants of Osgiliath. He wanted to be centrally located in the “lands of men” to sell his wares. “Dwarfsmith Armaments” was the name of the business, and Gimli meant to be the finest builder of weapons he possibly could.

Gimli snorted, “We’ll have to sneak out to the mine again tonight to get more ore if we want to get enough to craft a coat.”

Poggin squealed, “Oh, for Gollum’s sake! I don’t want to go mining all night again. I’ve got blisters on my feet already from pumping these blasted bellows!”

“Who gives the wages, Small-Beard?” Gimli retorted. Poggin begrudgingly assented.

“Poggin, let’s work on that armor-piercing crossbow for the rest of the afternoon, until it gets late enough, so we can get up to the mine unnoticed.”

Gimli’s workshop was a spacious (for Middle-earth standards), open, and bright area about twice the size of two Fell Beasts if they were laying side-by-side dead, with their wings spread. A longbow rack adorned one wall on the northeast side, up high, while below it was the specially designed battle-axe rack. There were many weapons stashed in the racks that were being worked on, repaired, or were brand new. “Orc-Cleaver,” a particularly ornate battle-axe, lay in a special place above the rack on its own smaller stanchion. It was about one rod long and was bespeckled with jewels up around the top of the handle for about two handbreadths. Emeralds and rubies mostly were inlaid into the purest gold. The shaft was crafted with platinum all the way from the hilt to the blade. Two intricate dioramas of battle processions and flora and fauna had been meticulously and skillfully engraved into the platinum to create a history or story. The blade was about two adult Hobbit feet long, double bladed, with the sharpest, shiniest, most polished steel in Middle-earth. On the northwest wall was a large rack for maces, flails, and spears. There were close to seventy-five weapons in the rack, all in various levels of disrepair. Above these was the sword rack.

In the back corner, next to the shield hanging area, was a large smelting furnace and bellows made of cobblestones that had been carefully laid with a chimney venting to the outside. Next to it was a coal bin and a set of foot operated bellows to fan the fire and get it hot enough to melt the material in the smelting pot, which was suspended above the fire by a steel trunnion and pulley set up. This could be operated by special pulling poles with hooks that allowed the artisan to prevent himself from burns while pouring out the molten ore into the molds for the various things he made. An immense anvil on a stand was hanging on a wall near the smelter with an assortment of hammers, tongs, etc. upon it. Needless to say, Gimli’s workshop was a well thought-out, efficient, and well-equipped craft-house.

Durin was a journeyman metal smith, while Poggin was a master engraver. Elboner was the apprentice and he was just getting back from running across the alley to purchase certain foodstuffs for his Dwarven companions. He was the errand boy, run-and-fetch-it, and target of all the blame when anyone or anything went wrong. Elboner stomped in the back door with a large basket of pickled salamander, some liverwurst sandwiches, and eighteen overripe prunes. He spread the lunch out on the work table, and within a very few minutes of gnashing, slurping, snorting, swishing, and talking through full mouth, the crew was done with their lunch and going back to work. Elboner was left to sweep and wipe up the mess. Especially messy were the newt feet, which nobody eats (they have a bitter taste).

“Let’s have a look at that crossbow now,” said Gimli. Durin removed it from the rack and brought it to one of the worktables. Poggin brought over the crossbow-stringing tool that lessened the tension on the bow-arms, and Gimli grabbed a cable that acted as the string. They had just developed a technique for creating stronger strings by forming thin wire and then weaving it into a cable to be used in their powerful crossbows. The cable was as thick as a pig’s tail and very sturdy. The bow itself was about a rod wide when the arms were outstretched and about as long as an elvish longbow arrow. Gimli and his crew were working out the details on the bolts. They were made out of tempered-steel almost as long as an orc’s tongue sticks out when you’ve just thrust your sword into his gut to the hilt. They had four small fins on them shaped as elongated triangles. Interference with the fletchings was eliminated by a long groove running longitudinally down the length of the bolt. This also created stability for the launch of the bolt. Each bolt was tipped with a sharp point, which was pressed onto the shaft, made of cobalt steel. This was Gimli’s trade secret. The bolts weighed a half a pound each. Poggin annulled the string installer tool back to the maximum pressure, and barely pulled the limbs of the bow far enough to get the cable on. The limbs were of ¼” steel and not made to stretch easily.

Just then, there was a knock at the door of the shop. “What?!” blurted Poggin, his hand slipping on the string installer tool. “OUCH!” he yelled, as the crossbow string slid off one end of the bow and recoiled, neatly shaving a couple of millimeters of tissue off the pad of Poggin’s first finger.

“There’s some fairly clean rags in one of the boxes over by the main slag heap,” Gimli called helpfully as he strode to the door. “Ooh, I hope this is those oliphaunt hide swatches from Phaenner the Tanner.”

But when Gimli pulled the door open, it was not Phaenner’s dye-and-caustic-mottled visage which greeted him, but a smallish man in a slightly dusty black tunic with silver epaulets. He had thin lips, mousy-brown hair, nearly non-existent eyebrows, was holding a couple of books under one arm, and was holding out an official-looking document with the other. Gimli noticed the man had trimmed, almost grimeless fingernails. Along with the tunic that was only slightly dusty, the man was about eight shades cleaner than anyone in Gimli’s shop, or anyone in the surrounding neighborhood, for that matter.

“Good morning. You are Gimli Gloinson, of Dwarfsmith Weapons? I am Inspector Schnüpfen of the Waters, Air and Soils Protection Administration,” said the visitor. Gimli thought the man’s voice was rather high, and wondered momentarily if perhaps his pants were hurting him. “I’m here for the inspection of your facility that we contacted you about last week. This is my Form 453, Notice of and Warrant for Inspection.” This last point was emphasized with a single shake of the official-looking document.

“Er, what? Dwarfsmith Weapons? I don’t remember being contacted about an inspection,” Gimli stammered.

“Parcel Post First Class, Sir. The notification went out a week ago Monday,” replied the inspector. “I would like to look at your furnace first.”

“Oh, well, Durin and I built this ourselves,” Gimli stated, somewhat proudly, as he turned back into the shop. “With a good charge of Misty Mountains coal, and Poggin over there trompin’ on the bellows, we can get this Bad Boy hot enough to melt platinum.”

“Misty Mountains coal, you say? Hmm…” Schnüpfen mused. “I am afraid that type tends to have a rather high sulfur content. What kind of scrubbing unit do you have on the exhaust system?”

“Exhaust system?” Gimli repeated, puzzled. Durin wandered over, attempting to clear some persistent phlegm out of his throat. “I think maybe this fella means the chimney, Gimli. Haaaaaawchhk.” This last effort was more productive, and Durin skillfully expectorated an impressive, glistening mass out through the open window.

“The chimney?” Gimli continued the thought. “Yes, we decided to put in a chimney, rather than just letting the smoke go up through a hole in the roof. It sorta’ seemed like the smart thing to do, what with how thick the smoke can get inside and sometimes rain coming through the hole and all.”

“I seen little birds get in, too,” offered Elboner, nodding seriously.

Schnüpfen paused, then pulled a small inkbottle and quill out of a pouch at his side and began scribbling into one of his books. “This is not really quite consistent with the Regulations of the Realm. Exhaust systems for coal-fired furnaces are to be equipped with a scrubber system. For your application and fuel, you may need two in series, one with sodium hydroxide for acid gasses, and a second one for the particulate matter.” The smallish inspector paused for air, then forged ahead. “Of course, you will need to certify the suitability of your scrubbing system, based on your fuel types, operational temperature ranges, oxygen supply rates, gas and solution flow rates through the scrubber stacks, etcetera, and submit the figures to us. You can perform your own calculations, or use one of our standard spreadsheets which we can supply.”

Gimli, Durin and Poggin stared blankly at the government official and at each other. The silence was broken only by the scritch-scratching of the inspector’s quill and Elboner’s fingernails as he strove to eradicate some of the denizens of his scalp.

Finally, Poggin ventured, “I don’t think he likes our smoky chimney?”

Schnüpfen arched one eyebrow and nodded, slowly. “Now, do you store any strong acids or chlorinated solvents on-site?” the inspector continued.

“Um, I use a little bit of Acide Hydrochlorique for some of my metal etching,” replied Poggin, looking at Gimli. Gimli shrugged, and Poggin continued, “We keep it over there in that fired clay urn. We painted the big red Xs on it after Durin woke up from a nap one evening and thought it was a chamber pot.” Durin involuntarily clenched several muscle groups as he recalled the experience.

The inspector gazed at the pot briefly, then turned back to Poggin and the other dwarves. “Well, there is probably an issue with not having a dike system to contain leaks, but you appear to be below the threshold volume for having to comply with the Risk Management Plan regulations. If you store more than four Standard Beer Barrels volume of concentrated HCl at one site, then you will need to file and maintain an evacuation plan with the nearby municipalities and us. Prevailing wind conditions, evacuation routes, etcetera, in the event of a major spill.”

“Um, well, we’ll be extra sure not to have four barrels of acid sitting around,” replied Gimli, as he mentally drew some big, black Xs through some of his expansion plans. “Uh, Mr. Inspector Sir?” he asked, stepping closer. “Are you from over in Minas Tirith?”

“Yes. I am in His Majesty King Elessar’s Waters, Air and Soils Protection Administration, which is head-quartered in Minas Tirith.”

“So you know Aragorn, too?” asked Gimli, brightening.

“No,” answered Inspector Schnüpfen, bowing his head ever so slightly. “I’ve never actually met him. Or any of his Ministers.” After a short pause, he continued, “The Waters, Air and Soils Protection Administration is the investigative arm of the Resources of Gondor Department, which is a section of the Domestic Regulations Division of the 7th Circle, which was created as a key element of the Excellent Ideas for Administrating the Realm Initiative, which was wisely enacted by our Kingdom’s Ministers six months ago.” Schnüpfen straightened, and brushed at one of his tunic’s black sleeves. “I wear the uniform proudly.”

Poggin was over by the wall now, nonchalantly pulling a canvas over several of their filthier quenching buckets. While Inspector Schnüpfen was peering at their bellows system, Poggin whispered to Durin, who had wandered over to assist, “Humph. King Elessar has been out gallivanting around distant Westernesse with the elves and halflings and such for about a year now. Sounds to me like the bureaucrats are getting a little too frisky while he’s gone.”

Durin grimaced, and then spoke quietly, “The King may not be back for years more. Re-establishing the North Kingdom. Long good-byes with the in-laws. Probably searching for entwives with Meriadoc and Peregrin, too.”

The inspector addressed his next question directly to Poggin. “Please tell me about the disposal and/or treatment facilities for the waste from your etching and staining processes. Or whom you subcontract that function out to, if applicable.”

Poggin turned around hastily. Perceiving a potential inspection vulnerability, he looked quickly from Gimli to the floor, to Durin, and finally to a bothersome wart just below his left thumbnail. “Well, uh, yes. My etching solutions.” Perhaps an indirect answer would work. “Um, when I’m done with them, I rinse out the containers several times, because I don’t want the next solution to be contaminated by what was in there last.”

Schnüpfen stood motionless for a few moments, then his brow furrowed. “No, I asked about your waste disposal practices. We are all delighted that you clean your dishes, but I am asking you how you dispose of your liquid waste.” Sensing blood in the water, the inspector’s voice had risen slightly. He looked straight at Poggin; his quill, loaded with blackest ink, was suspended just above his Observations Notebook.

Poggin scrunched down, kind of like a warg puppy expecting to get whacked with a rolled-up copy of the Isengard Gazette. “Um, we dump the washes into the drainage ditch out in the alley.”

“You WHAT?!” cried the government official. “You are dumping untreated acids and heavy metal salts onto the civic thoroughfares?!” Pausing to catch his breath, the inspector started to write furiously in his book, then stopped suddenly. “I don’t need to see anymore! This is a Significant Observation! This will probably be a Consent Decree! Or fines, or maybe even litigation!”

“Now calm down there, Little Guy,” said Durin, trying to stay calm himself. “Oh. Did you say somethin’ about fines? We might have to pay fines?” Durin became decidedly less calm.

Gimli, feeling no calmness whatsoever, bellowed, “No governmental squeaker with no beard is going to be taking this Dwarf’s gold!” He felt his hand clutch at the smoothed handle of a nearby war hammer. With some effort, he managed to keep from picking it up and swinging it.

The inspector slammed his book shut, smudging some inkblots fearfully. Scooping up his paraphernalia, he stomped toward the door. “Squeaker!?” he spluttered, “I’m a Registered Government Inspector! You’ll be receiving a visit from Federal Marshals!” With that, he stalked off down the alley, stubbing his foot on a chunk of rubble, and conspicuously avoiding the sewage channel that ran down the middle of the street.

“EEAAAGH!” roared Gimli, whirling the war hammer into motion. The rusty hammerhead (it was in for repair, and needed some polishing) described a blur through the air and smote the main table in the middle of the room, obliterating one end of it. The debris clattered to the floor over several seconds.

“Great. That solves everything,” snapped Poggin. The dwarves stood facing each other, their fists clenched, their faces set in snarls. Elboner cowered in a corner, alternately wringing his hands and sucking on his fingertips.

Nobody spoke for a few moments, and they slowly started to regain their composure. “So, what are we going to do now?” Poggin exhaled, finally.

“If some Federal Marsh-Owl comes flitting around here for my gold, he’s gonna’ get a beak-full of some sharpened dwarf steel,” muttered Durin, darkly, glancing at the door.

Gimli, stroking his impressive facial hair, uttered his verdict. “At the risk of sounding like an ent, I don’t think we want to do anything hasty.”

Poggin cocked an eyebrow ironically and glanced at the shattered tabletop.

Gimli glowered back, but returned the war hammer to its rack as he continued speaking, “I think we have some time. It’s at least a day’s ride back to Minas Tirith.”

“I don’t know, Gimli,” replied Poggin, “that guy seemed pretty het up to me.”

“No, no, he may get back to his Water, Air and Dirt Place, or whatever it is, within a day, but I think it will be awhile longer before anyone actually does something,” assured Gimli. “If I know anything about governments, and committees, and school boards, it’s that it takes them about three or four meetings before they can decide on what they want to do.”

“The Juvenile Parole Board is kind of like that, too,” observed Elboner.

Gimli continued, “Then they have to come up with an action plan, assign task holders, goals and deliverables, and on and on. As excited as that little weasel was, it’ll still probably be a couple of weeks before we actually see anyone.” Then, frowning, he concluded, “But it will still be very difficult to fix up our shop the way he seems to want it. We’d better do some hard thinking and figure out what we need to do.”

“Whoa, Gimli. Where’d you learn all them fancy words about committees?” asked Durin, eyes wide.

“Huh. Maybe you shouldn’t be listening to all that elvish propaganda about the mental capabilities of dwarves,” responded Gimli, giving a little wink. “Also, Dad was an official in the United Coal Miners Local during those long years when the Lonely Mountain wasn’t available for Dwarvish occupation.”

Feeling slightly better now that they had defined the problem they needed to solve, the three dwarves took up some of their tasks around the shop while they talked over what they might do.

Poggin and Gimli resumed bracing the crossbow they had been working on earlier. Elboner was dispatched to a nearby tavern to obtain some Potent Beverages.

“That little inspector squeaker sure got upset when I said where I dumped my etching solutions and stuff,” commented Poggin, shaking his head. “Everyone else dumps their Thunder Buckets in the drainage ditch in the street; I don’t see why I’m doing anything bad.” He bit his lip as he recalled something. “Oh, I do remember one time I saw a dog stick its snout in a smelly puddle of spent etching solution I’d just dumped. I saw it later in the day, and I think its nose had fallen off.”

Gimli reflected, “Well, I suppose we could have Elboner cart the stuff down to the river and dump it there. Maybe it would make that guy happy that we’re going out of our way to keep the neighborhood kids and dogs from harm.” They all agreed that this would probably help.

Durin stepped out back to get an accurate read on their coal, coke and charcoal inventories. The shop had recently received a large order for some metal pikes, and they would be going through a lot of fuel. They also had some experiments they wanted to try out toward making blades that had a wavy dark-light pattern within their steel. Gimli had seen such a curved sword that had belonged to a Haradrim Prince that had been killed on the Pelennor Fields. Reportedly, the man and his sword had performed some remarkable feats before he had been hewn down. In any case, the pattern on the sword was quite beautiful, and none of the three dwarves had ever seen anything like it before.

When Durin came back in (the burnables were fine), Poggin and Gimli had finished bracing the crossbow and were snugging it up in a padded vise. A few feet away against the wall was a stack of sand bags; the crossbow was aimed at these. As Gimli fitted a bolt in the track and started spanning the bow, he directed a question to Durin. “Poggin and I have been talking about this ‘scrubbing system’ thing that we’re supposedly breaking some rules about with our chimney. Have you any idea what we’re supposed to do?”

Durin hiked his tunic up a bit and scratched at his hairy stomach while thinking. “The only scrubbing I can think of is scrubbing an object or a surface to make it clean. Maybe with a brush or a scourin’ pad.”

“Hey, do you think we need to be scrubbing the inside of our chimney?” offered Poggin. “That’s awfully messy. Maybe we could hire a chimney sweep.”

“You want to spend our money on chimney sweeps, Mr. Gold Britches?” interrupted Gimli, testily. “What do you think Elboner’s for? When he returns, send him back out to buy some scrub brushes on long poles.”

“Of course. I should have thought of that,” Poggin replied. “It’s a good thing you’re in charge of the finances, Oh-Great-Beard.”

Poggin had retrieved a measuring device from a shelf. He then positioned himself where Gimli could see him, and out of the line-of-fire of the crossbow. The dwarves would take the crossbow out later to a makeshift range on the edge of the city in order to sight it in. For now, they were going to discharge a bolt at the sandbags and see how far it went in in order to verify that the weapon met its design penetration power.

“Ready for release, Gimli,” said Poggin.

Gimli slowly pulled the trigger, allowing the wire-wrapped cable and polished steel limbs to snap back to their resting position, accelerating the cobalt steel-tipped bolt toward the sand bags. A sharp “THUP-knock-knock” noise was heard.

“Huh? I’ve never heard a bolt make that kind of sound before,” said Poggin, wonderingly. Gimli felt the bristly hair on the back of his neck standing up.

“Knock-knock-knock,” came the sound from the front door, again….

“Yikes! He’s back! What do we do now?” cried Poggin.

“Durin!” yelled Gimli. “Don’t kill him! At least wait till I give the word.” He and Durin rushed up to the door, with Durin gripping a nicely balanced axe. “It’s possible we’ve misunderstood something.”

But when the door was opened, it was a middle-aged woman that stood before them instead of a smallish man. She had a pleasant expression, short black hair that was starting to gray just a little bit, and looked like she might be someone’s favorite auntie. But to Gimli’s dismay, she was wearing a tunic with epaulets (although hers was beige, instead of black), and was carrying some official-looking books. She probably had clean fingernails, too, Gimli thought.

“Hello. I’m Inspector Medler from the Osgiliath Safety and Health Administration,” she said, in a nice enough tone, but at the words, Gimli could almost feel his face and ears turning red. “I’m here to carry out an inspection of Dwarfschmidt Armaments.”

Inspector Medler waited for Durin and Gimli to allow her entry, but no one moved. “You did receive our notice of inspection, didn’t you?” she asked. Still, neither of the dwarves stepped aside. “We mailed the form last week.”

“Oh, for…” growled Gimli, turning around to query Poggin. “Where have you been hiding the mail?” he said loudly. “This inspector says she mailed something, too. Why aren’t I seeing these things?” When he turned back around, he bumped into the inspector, who had followed him into the shop. “Oh, sorry.”

Gimli noticed that Poggin and Durin were avoiding his gaze. “What is it now?”

Durin eventually spoke, “Uh, about our new mailbox by the side door? Well, we come to find out a couple of days ago that Elboner somehow got the idea in his head that…” Durin paused and pulled at his collar. Poggin finished for him. “…that someone had installed a nice little box and was stocking it with wiping paper for grabbing as you headed to the latrine out back.”

Gimli made a choking noise in his throat. “Well, I guess that explains where those government letters got delivered to.” When he turned back to the inspector lady, she had her quill, ink and books out, and was placing a passing strange device on the front of her face.

“I assume I need some sort of eye protection in here,” she explained. “Why don’t we start with that? What types of PPE are required by your job activities, and what systems do you have in place to ensure that they’re available and used?” After a few moments without a response, she continued, “Personal Protective Equipment. The items you put on or wear to protect your eyes, ears, hands, and the rest of your body. Like these goggles, for example.”

After some thought, Gimli volunteered that they sometimes used rags to hold the tongs when they got too hot. And if someone was making a lot of noise while striking some hot metal, then the others might stick their fingers in their ears.

He was disappointed, but not terribly surprised, to hear that this was not sufficient, and that his shop was out of compliance with the Regulations of the Realm. He clenched his teeth silently as he was lectured on how he needed to define and document the “PPE” needed for each kind of work that they did in the shop. “How can anyone get anything useful done if they had to be writing down all this regulations stuff all the time?” he thought to himself as the inspector paused briefly to write in her notebook.

The door of the shop opened slowly, and The Defacer of the King’s Mail entered, lugging a couple of jugs in each arm. Gimli desperately gestured with one hand at him to get back outside, but Elboner announced loudly, “I’m back. Here’s the Potent Beverages.”

“Potent Beverages?” inquired Inspector Medler. “Do you mean to say you allow consumption of alcohol at the job site?”

“N-No. No! Of course not!” barked Gimli, grimly.

While the inspector’s attention was directed at Gimli, Poggin grabbed the clay jugs away from Elboner, and Durin motioned at him to shut up. Gimli continued, “Um, we only use the stuff for work. We use it to quench blades into following Fire-Engraving of Runic Enchantments. It’s an Old Dwarvish Secret.”

“Oh. So you don’t actually drink the alcoholic liquid? You only use it in your manufacturing processes?” the woman replied, doubtfully. Gimli nodded vigorously. “That’s interesting. Well, I guess the OSHA doesn’t have any significant concern about that. However, if you’re using non-denatured alcohol in your processes, you’ll need to make sure you’re in compliance with the applicable Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Ranged Weapons regulations. They’ll want to make sure they’re getting all the tax revenue they’re statutorily entitled to.”

Gimli felt like he’d dodged one blow, only to be whacked by a second from an unexpected direction. He detected a severe headache coming on.

“Do you have any work processes or equipment which require Lock-Out/Tag-Out systems?” Following another deer-in-the-torchlight response from the dwarves, the inspector explained how certain pieces of equipment or confined spaces needed to be tagged and locked in an inoperative state when they were being repaired or cleaned. Gimli didn’t feel much like talking at this point, and leaned against the wall as Poggin and Durin worked through the issue and finally decided that they probably needed to lock and tag out the latrine whenever Elboner was sent down to retrieve something or clean it out.

“Yeah, that’ll be good,” said Elboner. “I hate it when you guys forget I’m down there.”

“Scritch-scritch-scratch,” went the inspector’s pen. Or was it Elboner? Gimli felt a little dizzy. What would this annoying government person ask about next? No doubt it would highlight another shortcoming of his shop, and making things right would no doubt require wasting time on boring, hard-to-understand paperwork, or spending good gold on expensive, no-value-added gewgaws and doodads.

Perfectly on cue, Inspector Medler announced, “I’d like to review your training documentation now. Basic Operating Procedures for specific pieces of equipment, Certification Packages for your processes, and the associated documentation of the training for the individual employees.” Looking at her notes, she continued, “Oh, and documentation of training against your more general Safety Policies, too. Why don’t we start with a specific example? Could you retrieve your training package for fabricating one of those shiny swords over there?”

Gimli drew in a deep breath. “We don’t have any training documentation!” he roared through gritted teeth. He held onto the edge of the table as he continued forcefully, “We don’t write down ‘don’t singe your hair over the forge’ or ‘don’t hit your fingers when you’re hammering’ because we don’t need to! We aren’t Trollish half-wits! And we don’t write down how we craft our swords, because we don’t want some sneaking Human to come along and steal our ancient Dwarvish secrets!”

“Knock-knock-knock,” someone called from the already open front door. A tall man wearing a plum-colored tunic with silver epaulets stood in the doorway. He had some papers and books under one arm and was making a little knocking motion with his other hand. His thick, dark hair was perfect. “Knock-knock-knock,” he repeated. “I’m Inspector Rumpus from the Gondor Customs Department. I’m here for a little check-up of your business’s compliance with our Import and Free Trade Zone Regs. Oh. Hi, Monique. Rough inspection?”

Gimli’s mouth gaped. He looked from one inspector to the other, then to his employees. His headache was really getting bad. He leaned against the table, trying to hold himself up. These inspections were just so aggravating and confusing. Everyone and everything seemed to be swirling and turning red. No, dark-red. No, it’s going black…

* * * * *

Gimli looked down the considerable length of his main forging room. The fierce, yellow-orange glow from the multiple workstations and the dark shadows from his toiling work force created a complex, shifting pattern across the stone ceiling. The brute shaping of incandescent metal by many heavy hammers filled the room with a ringing cacophony.

He ambled over to a nearby anvil where a muscular worker was hammering a single-edged hacking sword. Borrowing the smoking hammer, the dwarf smote the reddening metal in a couple of key spots, then handed the tool back to the worker, who nodded his heavy head in appreciation and understanding.

Collateral circulation turned out to be good in dwarves’ brains, and Gimli had made almost a complete recovery from his stroke three years ago. His speech had been affected, but elegant enunciation wasn’t so much of an issue, now. He could still put in more than an honest day’s labor at the forge, and his touch was as deft as ever. Being completely truthful with himself, however, he supposed he’d need a small handicap if he had to carry an axe into battle alongside Legolas again.

He glanced through a window at the gray, rocky landscape outside. In the distance, Orodruin was adding on to the recent flow down its northeast face. The prevailing winds pushed the dull-brown ash plume off toward Nurn.

Overall, moving Dwarfsmith Armaments to Mordor had worked out very well. He had been told that materials and labor were cheap, and there was plenty of coal. Gimli had planned big, envisioning multiple shops, storage sheds and bunkhouses. These had gone up quickly, and now business was really starting to take off.

Few dwarves other than Durin and Poggin had wanted to relocate here (well, actually, none), but never mind. There were many locals that were seeking gainful employment. And the wages scales were rather modest, too, relative to Gondor. Gimli had discovered that all he needed to do was wear an unmarked gold ring and mumble darkly while twisting at it and glowering at his workers, and they would immediately put in about 40 hours straight of frenzied, terrified labor. If you then took care of their simple (though voluminous) caloric needs and tossed them a copper or two, you had their undying devotion.

There weren’t actually that many Orcs left in the local population. Various geo-political moves on the part of the Previous Administration had rather thinned their ranks. Those Orcs that were left seemed morose and withdrawn, and seemed to have trouble paying attention. On the other hand, there were lots of Half-Orcs and Swarthy Men that were looking for something to do; these composed most of Gimli’s labor force here at the works. For the really heavy lifting, he also employed a couple of mountain trolls (he’d made sure to get the improved, sun-resistant Olog-Hai variety). In addition to possessing enormous strength, one could also use their foreheads as an anvil in a pinch.

Poggin, Durin and Elboner had been there with Gimli at the beginning, getting Dwarfsmith Armaments Industries well established, but as the business had grown, they had been relocated out of the area to support the company.

Poggin was Gimli’s lead rep in the Rohan-Gondor-Coastlands Sales Region. His artistic skill in engraving seemed to be matched by an artistic skill in creating a greedy longing in the minds of potential customers and artistically getting them to sign a fat purchase order. Dwarfsmith Armaments Industries currently had contracts with the Tower Guard of Minas Tirith, the 6th Circle Hoplites, the Pelargir Marines, and the 2nd, 3rd, 15th, 26th and 42nd Éoreds, to name a few. Gimli had managed to find a serviceable replacement for Poggin’s engraving skills in two Half-Orc brood mates (Urg-Fric and Org-Frac), who could already carve a great-looking, gore-splattered battle scene, and were rapidly picking up the techniques and tricks of staining and chemical etching.

Durin was located in the Southern Area Sales Region, where the business was growing rapidly. Having lost much of their best armaments (as well as most of their armored troops) at Pelennor and the Abominable Ambush of the Undead, the Southrons, Corsairs and Haradrim were anxious to re-equip. Additionally, Durin had heard something interesting during an evening of loud, crude drinking games (and near-toxic blood alcohol levels) with a group of local Haradrim laborer-artisans. A grizzled, elderly swordsmith with but a single snaggly tooth, well on his way to unconsciousness, had mumbled something to Durin in response to some nonchalant questioning. Apparently, a light and dark banded pattern would appear in worked steel only if one used ore from a single mountain named Mascus Dûr, far out in the southern waste. Thus, Durin was quietly trying to set up delivery of a small supply of that ore as he interacted with his many new customers. He was also looking into the possibility of using Oliphants as bulk cargo carriers.

Elboner was off in Rivendell getting his MBA.

Coal was readily available in the area, with several huge, open-pit mines to the east along the Ash Mountains. On the other hand, if Gimli were still using charcoal, he would have had to import it. But, By Khazâd, there was no need! Dwarfsmith Armaments Industries was built partially atop Magma Mainline One, the big, lava-filled trench arrowing north from Mt. Doom to where Barad Dûr had towered. There was plenty of heating available for free! Gimli and Durin had devised a system of high-carbon steel alloy hoists and ceramic buckets for lowering things down through holes in the heat-resistant floor to the fiery, slow-moving stream. With the extremely high temperatures that were available, Gimli was just scratching the surface as far as new alloys that were now accessible.

Shipping raw materials and finished goods was complicated, but wasn’t as expensive as Gimli had worried it might be. Black Horses of Mordor were used to get mass deliveries out through the Isenmouthe and Black Gate Canyon to the main trade routes. Once you got used to their red-glowing eyes, they were fine. And you occasionally needed to drive another sixteen-penny nail through their hooves to keep them happy and focused. Items could also be shipped over the Morgul Pass on surefooted Weredonkeys (The pass was a lot safer since Shelob had been evicted).

Recently, a bright young Easterling had come up with the idea of harnessing several Fell Beasts together to transport a shipping container directly over the Mountains of Shadow. Gimli was intrigued. However, if he were to ship items using this means of transportation, Gimli supposed he would need to set up a landing pad and freight depot a few miles outside of Osgiliath. The sight of enormous, black, low-flying creatures still tended to make the locals a bit skittish.

And, best of all, there didn’t seem to be any regulations in Mordor. Nor had any inspectors shown up at the gateway to his shop compound. But if they did, the dwarves had designed the factory so that it would be more inspection-ready. Actually, Gimli felt much more confident now about achieving a successful inspection outcome.

Gimli walked over to where The Inspector’s Chair stood by the wall. It was a large, nicely upholstered piece of furniture, sited just in front of a convenient writing desk. Surely, a tired government functionary would sit down to write a few notes at some time during their visit? Gimli ran his hand lightly over one of the wrought iron sconces on the wall. It was the sconce, which if twisted just so, would trigger a complicated, concealed mechanism, which would cause the chair to tip over, emptying its occupant into a suddenly opened chute. The nearly vertical passage led down to some labyrinthine lava tubes below, where the new guest would be the dinner companion of a certain, recently-evicted, female, mountain dweller.

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