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38
Arrivals

Dalf:

I happened to be engaged in a survey of the Great Gates, sketching one of the damaged panels set to one side, when I heard a booming voice say, “We seek Gimli Glóin’s Son.”

“I don’t know his whereabouts, Master Dwarf,” replied one of the guards, “unless he be at the House of the Hammer and Forge, but mayhap Prince Dalfinor knows. He’s right over there.”

“Prince? What makes that young rogue a prince?” demanded a raspier voice, and I hurried over to bow—regretting that I did not have a hood to wave before my knees as was proper—to several of my folk.

“They insist on calling me that here,” I said. “The day’s greeting to you!”

I recognized a few of them—Drav Stiffbeard, Sergil Ironfoot, Meppi Hammerhand and his cousin Pemm, but most of the others I did not know. Sergil introduced us: Borbil of the Blue Hills, a large and glowering Dwarf with a black beard and eyes; Rodikk of the Iron Mountains, and Estrin, a renowned metal craftsman, his beard and hair almost white with age, who had honoured me once by offering to teach me casting figures. Clearly, my father Thorin intended Gimli to represent all Dweorg, not merely Durin’s Folk in Erebor.

“Come over here to the stables to leave your beasts,” I said. “You cannot take them up through the city at this hour, but others will care for them and deliver your packs to the House.”

“Why can’t we?” demanded Borbil aggressively, bristling. I managed not to sigh; he was known among us (behind his back) as Borbil the Blustery, and I had heard many tales of how difficult he could be.

“Because it is a law of this city,” I said.

“You’ve been here too long among Men, if you are that conversant and servile to them,” he growled.

“Not causing incidents over what cannot be changed is not being servile, but efficient,” I said steadily, whilst quaking inwardly. He was very important, and I was reluctant to annoy him, but being servile to anyone was one of his favorite dislikes.

“Quite right,” said my old mentor Estrin with a pleasant smile. “The more these Men respect us, the better, eh, Borbil? I have always heard it said that the Gondorians set great store by titles.”

“The more fools they!” he grunted.

“Well, they aren’t to know our ways, so some one of us at least should know theirs,” said Rodikk. “Can you take us somewhere for a decent drink of ale, Dalfinor? I am so dry and dusty I crackle!”

“Indeed I can,” I said hastily.

Having left instructions with the stablehands about their luggage (repeated at tedious length by the older Dwarves, as if I had not spoken), I led them up through the city, for (except for Rodikk), they preferred to go to the House of Hammer and Forge rather than stopping at any tavern. Caic, who had been nearby when they entered the Great Gate, had disappeared, and I hoped he had run ahead to warn the household.

By the time we arrived, Lady Silwen, in one of her more formal gowns, was in the parlor into which Samno showed us. She curtsied. “Be welcome to the House of the Hammer and Forge,” she said gravely. “I have sent a message to the Citadel, asking Lord Gimli to attend you.”

Borbil looked her up and down. “And why is a Mannish woman greeting us? Is she a servant?” he asked offensively.

“Certainly not!” I told him. “Lady Silwen Ornamir, allow me to present a deputation of my folk, sent by my father Thorin, King Under the Mountain. Lady Silwen has been kind enough to lease us her home.”

“Making me, I suppose, the condis, the housekeeper,” she said cooly.

“This boorish Dwarf is Borbil, from the Blue Hills,” Rodikk said cheerfully, “and I am Rodikk of the Iron Mountains. It is good of you to take in Gimli and Dalf.”

She smiled at him. “Most of us know little of your folk, Lord Rodikk, but we have learned to honour them. Please, all of you, be welcome under this roof.”

The maids entered then, with damp hot cloths to wipe off the grime of travel, and trays of ale tankards, finger foods and pastries. I wondered if Silma was still at the Conclave building, and uneasily, how they would react to her and she to them.

Silma:

I was coming along the street when I saw Gimli, Legolas and Caic ahead of me near the house, and heard Gimli say worriedly, “Seven of them! And one with whitening hair, and one with black?”

“Yes, Lord Gimli.”

“This does not bode well! Why now, I wonder?”

“I can wait for you at the guesthouse,” Legolas suggested, pausing.

Gimli grabbed his arm. “Please, of your kindness, come with me!” he begged. “We might as well get this over with!”

“My lady,” said Caic with a bow, seeing me.

“Silma! Thank the Valar! Come with us!” said the Dwarf.

“What is happening?” I asked.

“A Dwarven deputation has arrived,” Caic told me.

“Does Dalf know?”

“He was sketching the Great Gates,” he told me, and I sighed, for Dalf had been wearing his favorite tunic, which, while I had mended it carefully, was still faded and somewhat worn.

Nehemion opened the door for us almost before we crossed the top step, and we hurried into the parlor. I saw Silwen, in her third-best gown, and what seemed like a crowd of Dweorg. Dalf, looking calm but rubbing his left forefinger and thumb together, a mannerism only seen when he was nervous, rose from a chair, setting aside his tankard. Before he could greet us, a massive, dark Dwarf with a beard even longer than Gimli’s surged to his feet, reaching for his axe with a roar. “An Elf!” and something in Khudzul that must, judging by the tone, have been extremely obscene.

Legolas’ hand was on the hilt of his long knife, and Gimli stepped in front of him quickly, reddening. “This is Prince Legolas Greenleaf Thranduilion, son of the King of the Wooded Realm, cousin to King Elessar’s brothers—and my friend,” he said.

Dalf was on his feet next to me, taking my hand. “Allow me to present Lindasilma Kuranya, Lady Cormallen, Peredhel, Loremistress, Orcsbane’s Wielder, and my betrothed.”

“What?” Blackbeard bellowed. “This is not to be borne, boy!”

I found myself in front of Dalf, Orcsbane in my hand, its tip a few inches from the corpulent Dweorg’s nose; his eyes almost crossed as he peered at it.

Dalf:

To say that the first conversation in the parlor was difficult is like saying rock is hard. I had been longing for Gimli to come, but when he brought not only Caic but also Legolas, I was so horrified that I almost didn’t notice Silma coming in too, mostly because Borbil was yelling an especially vile curse at him as soon as Gimli introduced him as his friend. I sought to emulate my cousin’s calm—and deflect some of Borbil’s ire—by introducing Silma, but Borbil shouted, “What? This is not to be borne, boy!”

Silma squeezed my hand and let go, stepped in front of me—and drew Orcsbane, settling smoothly into a guard stance. In a voice as clear and cold as chilled crystal, she said in our language, “What is not to be borne is to hear an elder insult his hosts in their own hall, and their khaddukken—” using a formal, archaic, but complexly important plural term for which there is no translation into Westron. It means shieldmate-companion-friend-sibling-beloved, and was a rare and sacred relationship hallowed by Aulë himself. No Dweorg would dare to use it carelessly or lightly. She continued, “We have slain orcs and today we skewered a Man’s trews; Orcsbane will shave off every hair of your beard and eyebrows before we permit you to shed one drop of blood in this place. Have you no honour nor manners to act so? Is this how you seek to impress those of other Kindreds with whom you would deal? You undermine all that they have sought to do for your people here!”

Borbil goggled down at her—and stepped back a pace. She did not relax a single muscle, and I dared not move; no one did.

To my utter astonishment, he asked, “A large Man?”

“Large enough,” she answered briefly.

A corner of his mouth twitched, and then he threw back his head and laughed uproariously. “Large enough!” he chortled. “I wager so! Large enough!” and went into more gales of infectious laughter. The room was awash in laughter, except for Silma, Legloas and me, although I was grinning—mostly in relief—and Legolas took his hand off the hilt.

Silma did not move.

Borbil wiped his eyes, took off his hood and bowed deeply three times, waving it before his knees. In a serious tone, he said in Westron, “Please forgive my ignorance. I have never met such as you before. Gimli Glóin’s Son, and Dalfinor Redglass Son of Thorin, please accept my apology also.” He bowed to each of us, pivoting to bow to Silwen and Legolas. “Lady of Gondor, Prince Legolas, I ask for your forgiveness.” He swung back to look at Silma.

She sheathed the sword, spread her hands wide and bowed to him before curtseying. “Be welcome, Lord Blackhair. May your beard ever grow longer, the fires of your forge stay hot, and your tools and weapons be ever sharp and ready to your hand.”

He inclined his head before looking at me. “You are betrothed, Dalfinor?”

I let out the breath I had been holding and took her hand again. “I am.”

Silma stepped on my foot, and I hastily amended, “We are.”

“I approve. I approve! Lady of the Clear Sight and Sharp Sword, we must speak further. I am Borbil of the Ered Luin, and you must come visit us so that I can show you Lossotil (1). Dalfinor, you chose wisely!”

Rodikk and Estrin were nodding, and Estrin winked at me.

Silwen suggested, “Would you like to see your rooms and freshen up before the noon morsel, my lords?”

“That would be excellent,” Rodikk said, and they filed out after her and Samno.

Gimli swept Silma into a hug. “Pardon, Dalf. Silma, thank you from the bottom of my heart! How did you know that was the perfect way to act with him?”

“I didn’t—I guessed,” she admitted. I shuddered.

He laughed. “Legolas, let us adjourn to the library and let these two further discuss the events of this morning.”

“Aye, I would discuss them with you as well,” the Elven Prince said quietly. The door closed behind them.

Face flushed, she rounded on me. “When will you learn not to speak as if you are the only one involved in our betrothal, as if I am not part of it?”

“Forgive me,” I pleaded, taking her hands.

She slipped them from my grasp to embrace me. “Forgive me for getting angry with Borbil, but it made me furious that he would call you boy as if you are a stupid child! You must not let them intimidate you, Dalf! You are twice the Dwarf any of them is!”

“I think you’re biased. How did you know that he would back down?”

“As I told Gimli, I didn’t, but if your people have so few women, then they must have some power amongst the males, so I didn’t think appearing craven would be useful. Besides, I was angry. No one is going to denigrate you in my hearing, now or ever! Except me, of course,” she added with a grin, “and I will try to do that in private.”

“We are private now,” I pointed out. “I’ll accept your apology in kisses.”

So we sealed our apologies to each other in a very satisfactory manner. I asked, “How did your trip to the Office of Deeds and Funerals go?”

She sighed and told me. “So Tuor is currently at the Houses of Healing, and then coming here—oh, I need to let Samno know that!”

Just then, he tapped and opened the door. “Lord Dalf. Lady Silma, c’n you see some folk want some ‘elp for their men an' 'em? They was askin’ for you.”

Something in his expression made me ask, “In what way, Samno?”

“Slightin’ly. ‘Be Silma Clerk ‘ere?’ was the way it was phrased, by a big woman with straggly blond hair.”

“Silma?” I asked, as she closed her eyes.


Silma:

“Valar give me strength and patience!” I muttered, and opened my eyes to see their concerned faces. “Is the one man tall and sturdy, with a cane?” I asked. “And are there two younger women, one with brown hair, the other fatter, with darker hair, and two men, one very tall and the other less so? And are there any younger ones?”

“Aye, there’s a young lass with light hair, only not as—as brassy as the older one, an’ a very thin one, an’ two strappin’ lads, an’ a wee lad who was whingin’, an’ a lass scarce more’n a babe. Oh, an’ Master Tuor is ‘ere. Rose is preparin’ ‘is rooms.”

“Thank you,” I murmured.

“Who are these people?” Dalf demanded.

“Jehan’s family,” I said glumly. “I suppose you’d better send them in—oh, no, I should change first.”

“Why? You look beautiful.”

“Thank you, but they’ll think I am putting on airs.”

“They came unexpectedly; you have not had time to dress up or down for them, so how can they think that?” he asked.

“Very easily. It would probably be worse to keep them waiting longer.”

“I think I would like to meet these rational folk,” he said, and sat down in a corner, as I hurriedly took off the emerald necklace, and bracelet; it was impossible to remove them from my hair without destroying the entire coiffure. Quickly I stuffed them into my pouch.

It was no surprise to me that Josia strode in first. Her dyed hair looked even brassier than usual, straggling out from under her scarf, and her face was thunderous. Behind her came the rest, and it was also no surprise to me that Rondirion and Kendahl were supporting Ebanecuir between them. The others followed, with varying expressions of boredom, sullenness and curiosity, laden with assorted bags and baskets—and, I saw to my disquiet- bedrolls.

Josia looked me up and down, and for an instant her jaw sagged as she estimated the cost of my gown and jewels. Then she thrust her chins forward, put her hands on her hips and said, “Well, Sil, so there you be! Where’s Jehan?”

“I am sorry to tell you, Josia, but he was killed in the siege of the city,” I said quietly.

“That was wot, three months ago, an’ you c’uldn’t let me know, my own brother?” Her eyes, so unlike her brother’s, were chips of green granite.

“No messages were getting in or out of the city; it was a siege.”

“An’ after that, you couldn’t be bothered t’ let me know?”

“Actually, I tried, as soon as the messenger service was running again,” I told her. “The letter I sent was brought back to me, unopened, and the messenger told me that you refused to accept it. He said that your exact words were ‘Don’t feel’s if there’s no coin inside, and we ain’t ‘elpin’ ‘em. Take it back!’ I have it in my desk, if you would like to see it again.”

Lady Silwen came in quietly and sat on another chair. Rimbor padded in and sat next to me, growling, his hackles raised. I put a hand on his neck to quiet him. His muscles were tight under my fingers.

“Well, what about 'is funeral rites? Where at’s 'is body?”

“There were no rites.”

“No rites! Why not?”

“First, because there wasn’t time; as I said, we were in the middle of the siege, and I was working at the Houses of Healing—“

“You couldn’t take care o’ 'im decent? Where at’s 'is grave? You did 'ave 'im buried, didn’t you? 'E should 'a’ been buried in our family plot!”

“He rests in the Mound of Heroes, right outside the Great Gates,” said Silwen before I could swallow a sudden lump of grief that thickened my throat. “Your brother, Lindisilma’s husband, is one of those greatly honoured by all in this city, and in time he will be known and honoured by all in the realms and beyond.”

Unfazed, Josia demanded, “Wot d' you know ‘bout it? An’ 'oo be you, anyways?”

“This is Lady Ornamir, my first mother-in-love,” I said. “May I present Mistress Josia, Daughter of Jehan Farmer, my late spouse’s older sister, and her husband, Master Ebanecuir Son of Papparion, of Fox Run Farm in the Pelennor; her elder daughter Calina and Calina’s husband Kendahl of Lossarnach and their daughter Amirwen and their son Liek; her younger daughter Morchiwen and her spouse Rondirion son of Nirion and their children, Sorletiol and Salmiressa. I regret I do not know this young man nor this young woman.”

“That’s Liek’s woman Fiy and Amiry’s man Jonnat,” Josia said impatiently. “Mattiwen was your mother-in-love; did you cozen some idiot noble into weddin’ you, an’ Jehan’s body scarce cold? Is ‘at how you got all this?” with a sweep of her beefy arm at the room.

Silwen raised her brows and looked down her nose. “Her ‘man’? His ‘woman’? Are they not betrothed nor wed?”

“There ain’t been time for that, with the war an’ all, not that it’s any o’ your business,” she huffed.

“Nor the money for it, nor the food for the feast,” added Eban. “I got t’ sit down.”

“We’re all mucky,” objected Calina.

“Don’t matter none; if these’re such fancy seats, they c’n be easy replaced,” said Josia, plopping herself down on the sofa.

“I wanna sweet,” Sorletiol whined.

Salmiressa audibly moved her bowels and began to cry. It was apparent that her clout had not been recently changed, from the odor as they passed her between them; Morchiwen lost, jiggling her on one fat arm. “Stop it, Sal, or I’ll give you somethin’ t’ cry 'bout,” she snarled.

“Can’t you shut that brat up, Morch?” rumbled Rondi.

“So wot’d you do with all Jehan’s money? An’ his things?” Josia asked, getting to the nub of things in her usual charming way.

“There wasn’t any money. As for our belongings, they were destroyed when our lodgings were in the assault during the siege. I was able to only save some of his notebooks—“

“Them stupid scribbles? Waste o’ 'is time!” sneered Josia. “Wot about Matti’s rose vase? An’ the cherry 'utch?”

“An’ 'is great-great-grandsire’s sword?” added Ebun.

“As I recall, the vase, which was chipped, was at the farm, on the third shelf of the hutch when last I saw it. The sword he sold three years ago.”

“Sold!” Josia squawked. Out of the clamor of sound, simply because she shouted them down, emerged her angry blare of “'E didn’t have no right t’ do 'at! We’ll 'ave you t’ court!”

“You owe us the money for it!” added Rondo.

“She owes me the money,” Josia corrected. “An’ I’ll have every tin of it, you runagate—“

“I have heard enough,” Dalf announced. “QUIET!” he bellowed, far more loudly than I had ever imagined he could be.

There was a sudden silence.

He stood with his hands lightly grasping his axe-blade, its haft on the floor as they gaped at him.


Dalf:

I could not understand at first why Silma was listening to all of this from these ignorant, base people, but I could see that she was distressed and shocked—and once more in the grip of guilt and grief for her Jehan. I listened, becoming steadily angrier, until I had had enough. Reducing them to silence with sheer shock and volume, I stood to confront them.

“The buhdelier said that you were asking for help for your men. What kind of help do you need? You look strapping enough.”

“For Eban, m' 'usband,” said Josia. “'E be crippled, an’ them folk at the 'Ouses o' 'Ealin’ tol’ us t’ come 'ere.”

We all looked at him. He broke wind loudly, and said, “Can’t eat onions no more. “Tis m’ back and legs. They ‘urt an’ don’t go so good no more.”

“Is this a new problem or injury, or the old one?” Silma asked.

“T’ old one. Them 'Ealers don’t know how t’ 'elp me.”

“What did they suggest?” she asked.

“Old Memnion—you mind 'im?” At her nod he went on, “You ‘member, ‘e said ten year ago as ‘ow I should be cut, an’ I says nay, an’ ‘en last year ‘e says ‘twas too late for ‘at an’ ‘e couldn’t do nothin’ but tell me t’ starve m’self. Man needs ‘is food an’ drink! Them up t’ the 'Ouses, they says the same, only they wanted t’ fasten them irons on me.”

“Ebanecuir was a tiler and thatcher,” she explained to Silwen and me. “He fell off a ladder while drunk a few years ago, and hurt his back. Since he refused to do any of the exercises Healer Memnion prescribed for him, and gained weight through eating and drinking the same amount as he had when he was more active, the muscles of his back and legs became flaccid and weaker, causing more pain. The weaker they were, the less he moved and the more he drank to deaden the pain, the more weight he gained, and so on. Memnion sent him here a few years ago for an operation, which he refused to have; when they prescribed a brace that was made of leather, with two metal stays and lined in sheepskin, for his back, and exercises, he cursed them all and went home without it. So things have not changed for you, Eban?”

“They’s worse!”

“Mostly through your own stubbornness. If you ask for admittance here, you would be required to do the same as any other patient in your state: eat and drink what and how much we give you; exercise as we show you; and do such work as you can to benefit all who live and work under this roof.”

“And you would owe us a weekly fee,” added Silwen. That was news to me, but I could see why she said it, with predictable results.

“Fee? For fam’bly?” cried Josia.

Silma’s patience had finally been exhausted. “You have the nerve to say that, Josia? When it was your younger daughter who sneered at and tried to humiliate me during the Yule feast three years ago, in front of guests? It was not my choice to be estranged, but Jehan’s and yours! None of you have ever truly valued him, nor me! You resented his not running the farm, although that meant you did, not that you ever shared one tin of its profits with him as you were supposed to under your father’s will. When we were struggling, your only response was to ask us for money, or for those few things he had from your parents. Could you give me one small remembrance of your mother when she died, for her sake? No, because it angered you that she loved me, as if love is a finite thing that cannot grow or be shared. The sword was the only thing Jehan had of his father’s, and he felt none of you was worthy of it; it was his, and he chose to sell it and use the money for something he desperately needed—medicines and an operation. You sneer at me because I have more learning and do not spend my days only baking and cleaning, yet as long as you have known me, I have ever earned my bread and often his, as you do. You sneer at me because we had no children, yet I could not hold Morchiwen’s when they were babes for more than a few seconds before one of you would whisk the child from me, as if my childlessness was other than the will of Eru. Being family is more than blood; it is respect and affection, and caring. You have not shown any of that for years towards the two of us, so why should I show it to you now? This is not my house. It belongs to Lady Silwen, who leases it to Lord Gimli and Prince Dalfinor as the Dwarven Embassy, the House of Hammer and Forge, and when we finish the renovations, there will be a place for those who need care of the kind I described to you. Do you think that those who labor here should not have wages for our work? Do you think that having charity will increase your self-respect, or the respect others give you even if you are not as able-bodied as many? You make fun of any who get charity, and I have never known you to give to those less fortunate. Why should I treat you any differently?”

“’Cos you sh’n't be so 'eartless. Jehan w’n't treat us so!”

“Eban, will you follow the rules of the Healers here as I have outlined to you?” she asked.

“Nay! Why sh’ld I be stinted in enjoyin' what I c’n, like good food an’ drink?” he asked. “I ain't bein' cut, an’ nor I ain't a-wearin' no irons, an’ it 'urts t' do them exercises. Nay!”

“You done yellin' yet?” spoke up the fatter young Woman—Morchiwen “When's dinner, an’ where be our rooms?”

“This is not an inn, but my home,” said Silwen glacially. “Even invited guests do not demand things in such tones.”

Morchiwen stared at her. “Rondo, you goin' t' let her talk t' me like that?”

Rondorion blustered. “You can't talk to my wife like that!”

My mother-in-love looked bored. “Young man, I have a staff within call, and several Dwarves in the house, all armed, not to mention the one right here, who could chop you down to size in less time than it would take him to yawn. Of course we can talk this way; it is my home. I do not choose to share it with you. Please go away before we put you out.”

“But where'll we go?” cried Morchiwen.

“Why not go back to the farm?” Silma asked reasonably.

“We can't!”

“Why not?”

“Cos there's naught left! “Twas flattened by they big monsters, an’ orcses done tooken everythin’ else—stock, crops, plow, everythin’! Ain't naught left!” said Eban.

“Not even the tree,” said one of the young women-Amirwen?—almost inaudibly; her father put his arm around her consolingly.

“So you gots t’ take us in,” said Josia triumphantly.

“I cannot,” said Silma. “As I told you, I have one room here, by the kindness of Lady Silwen and Lord Gimli. All I have of left of Jehan is Rimbor here, and those few notebooks--”

“Just like you, to take 'at an’ not summat useful!” said Josia. “Enough o’ this, Sil. I reckon Fiy an’ Amiry an’ Morchiwen can pare a few taters an’ wipe a dish or two, but we all be tired an’ we need to go to our rooms now.”

“Fool of a Woman!” I roared, brandishing my axe, spinning it between my hands. “There is no welcome for you in this place! Begone out of it NOW!”

They almost fell over themselves heading for the door, although Josia said over her shoulder, “Right, send these babies out to starve, my fine Sil!”

Silma took her purse from her belt-pouch, and at its jingle, they turned as one, faces avid.

She tossed it, and Rondorion snagged it from the air, elbowing Liek aside. White-faced, Silma said, “Be very clear about this—I give you this money for their sakes, but I will not give you more. Get out!”

Since I moved forward, and the door opened to reveal Drav, Samno, Nehemion, Borbil, Meppi and Pemm, all armed, they went.

Silma went blindly out of the room into the library and closed the door.

I took a step after her, but Silwen touched my arm. “Leave her alone for now, Dalfinor. She is deeply distressed.”

“Then she needs comfort,” I protested.

“Lad, there's no male can comfort a female who wants to be left alone,” Borbil told me gruffly. “Don't make her even more mortified than she is already.” Clearly they had heard most of the exchange.


Silma:

I paced up and down in the library for some time before throwing myself into a chair, caught in a welter of emotions as I held onto Rimbor and cried. At last I stopped sobbing, wiped my eyes and blew my nose. As I opened the door, Tuor rose from a bench outside and bowed slightly despite the sling he wore.

“How is your hand?” I asked.

“As you see, the Healers put it in hardened boneset and gave me some medicine to dull the pain after binding my ribs; three are cracked,” he answered in his usual precise tone. “Fortunately, I can make shift to write legibly with my other hand, should you need it.”

“That’s an unusual skill,” I said, grateful that he did not refer to what had occurred in the parlor.

“I have found it useful in the past. Mistress Rhylla asked me to give you this,” handing me a clean handkerchief. “Lady Silwen is in her boudoir, and Prince Dalfinor has gone out, bound for the pheriannaths’ guesthouse,” he added as I looked apprehensive.

“Thank you. I must go see Lady Silwen, then.”

“My lady….”

I turned on the stairs’ third step. “Yes, Master Tuor?”

“If you will forgive me, one cannot choose kin as one can one’s friends. No one thinks less of you—or Master Clerk—for the behavior of his family.”

“That is very kind of you.”

“It is fact, my lady.”

I found myself smiling at him, cheered. “I think your being here will be a great comfort, Master Tuor. Thank you for the reminder.”

“Is there aught I can do for you right now?” he asked. The tips of his ears were pink.

“Yes. I need to know exactly how they are placed, if they really have lost everything, including the buildings and stock. Jehan’s family lived on that farm for more than a thousand years; he especially loved the orchard and a springhouse-shed.”

“Shed, my lady?”

I smiled at the memory as Jehan had told it to me. “Before he was stricken with the illness that crippled him and stunted his overall height, hands, and arms, he was a normal, lively little boy, with a pony and a goat and all the excitement of exploring a farm. There was a springhouse set into the hill, he told me, with a shed built over it used for many tools, and he used to play in there by the hour on rainy days. The window looked out over the orchard and road, and he dreamed many dreams of the future there. These are not evil folk, Tuor. They have suffered from this terrible war, and lost much.”

“You have a kind and forgiving heart, if I may say so, my lady.”

“Not all that forgiving! Not when it comes to someone harming someone I care about,” I said truthfully; I think my fierceness startled him. Then I sighed. “Still, I suppose I must do something for them, if only for decency’s sake.”

“If you would trust me to look over your affairs, Lady Silma, and draw up a few suggestions, once I have more information about their situation?”

“Why, thank you, Tuor, that would be indeed helpful!”

“Consider it done. Can you tell me where the farm is located?”

That I was able to do quite easily. “It is near where the Men Giliath2 comes through the Rammas Echor at the Causeway Gates, north and west of it a few miles, near a small stand of hickory trees. There is—or was—the only Furry Oak tree outside of the Ephel Dúath right by the back door of the house; Matti, Jehan’s mother, was very proud of that, I remember. There is a good-sized stone house, a big barn, and a few other buildings including a disused mill, all clustered east of the orchard on a hill, near Hickory stream, which crosses the lane that goes to the Men Giliath, and joins another branch of it.”

“I will find it.”

“You are going there?” I asked, startled.

“My lady, you have hired me to safeguard your interests; this is merely part of my task.”

“I don’t like it,” I said bluntly. “I never thought about it, but there may be others wandering around, equally desperate as they are, and you with an injured hand!”

“I shall not go alone, my lady, I promise you that.”

I opened my mouth to tell him not to go at all, then closed it. His face wore an unexpectedly stubborn look. Deferential, but stubborn. “Make sure you are well-mounted and supplied, please,” was all I said.

He inclined his head and went towards the back of the house. I proceeded upstairs with Rimbor at my heels.

Silwen, Gilannis and I had a long discussion about admittance procedures for those we would help, and Gilannis drafted a few documents for Tuor to finish later.

I did not see Dalf until the evening.


Dalf:

I was on my way back with some of my folk from a discussion with the metal-workers of Minas Anor; Gimli, Borbil, and Estrin having gone down to the First Circle to look at warehouses, when we encountered Tuor and Nehemion walking down laden with packs. I hailed them, asking about Tuor’s ribs and hand. “Whither away?”

“To Fox Run Farm in the Pelennor, Prince Dalfinor.”

“Silma is sending you to look it over?”

“She did not forbid it when I suggested it,” he said primly.

I laughed. “But she no doubt told you to be careful.”

“I am to be well-horsed and –supplied,” he replied, half-lifting his pack and a basket that hung from his other arm, which I saw he had slipped from its sling. “And not to go alone. She is concerned that there may be others as desperate wandering around.”

“Not a bad idea,” rumbled Pemm. “You do not need us yet, Dalf. Master Tuor, would you care for company? I would see something besides this city, an you do not mind.”

“That appeals to me as well,” said Meppi, running his hand lightly over the edge of the axe at his belt. “Let us go fetch our packs, and we will join you at the stables.”

Drav nodded.

“I’ll walk down with you,” I said, casting about in my mind for a casual way to phrase what I longed to know.

“Lady Silma is presently in a meeting with Ladies Silwen and Gilannis,” he told me.

“I see.”

“I took the liberty of observing that she is a very kind-hearted, forgiving person,” he said, gazing pensively at the pavement, after making only a token demurral as I took the pack from him, and switched the basket to his good hand. “She told me rather…firmly that she is not forgiving to those who harm those for whom she cares.”

I smiled. “As you found out this morning, I believe.”

He blushed and stopped, motioning to Nehemion to proceed with the trio of Dwarves. “Prince Dalfinor, I think you should know of the—the high regard I have for your lady….”

I nodded. “She has that effect on discerning folk,” I said proudly.

“She does.”

We looked at each other, and after a moment, I nodded, and so did he. We understood each other. “It is a comfort to me to know that she has yet another who will care for her.”

Faint color stained his cheekbones for a moment. “To the utmost of my ability. Those people mean trouble.”

“I will not have them leeching her to the bone!” I growled.

“That is why I am investigating their backgrounds, and I think I will be able to find a way to solve at least part of the problem with little difficulty for her. That one young Man, the one married to the fat one—”

“Rondirion son of Nirion,” I said.

“Aye. I seem to remember the name from somewhere, although I cannot place it. I rarely forget such things, but it will come to me. The staff will see to it that no one bothers her while she is within doors.”

“And I will see that she is not bothered without.”

I dined at the House of Ringing Sounds with the guild-masters that evening, and then went back to Lady Silwen’s. I had scarcely taken off my cloak when the library door opened, and, now changed into one of her usual gowns, Silma peeked out, beckoning.

I hastened to her, and she came into my arms. “Oh, Dalf, that was so horrible this morning!”

“You had a busy one for certain,” I agreed, and she laughed a bit shakily. As we sat on the sofa I held her a bit away from me to look into her face, and to my relief saw most of the strain was gone from it. “I know it must have been hard for you.”

“As if you did not have difficulty today as well!”

“But I always knew other Dwarves would come; Gimli sent for help with the Gates. You did not anticipate such an incursion as you received.”

“I should have. Jehan used to say that they were able to believe two opposing ideas at the same time. Thank you for making them leave!”

“Silwen helped.”

“Having met them, are you still willing to wed me?” she asked only half-jokingly.

“My love, I would wed you if they were your own blood and not his. This only increases my admiration for him, elevating himself from such beginnings.”

“I wish you could have known his parents, and their sibs,” she told me. “They were plain folk, but good and kind. Matti, his mother, almost smothered him with care at first after he was stricken when he was eight, not knowing better, and not allowing him to lift a hand. They all believed he could do nothing at all until he was twelve years old.”

“What changed then?” I asked.

“Memnion realized the situation, and insisted he be sent here to the Houses, to be evaluated and taught a few basic skills in tending himself. Once Jehan understood that he need not merely lie or sit around being tended and be a brave but passive little victim, he became very feisty and independent. I don’t think Matti ever fully forgave that Healer!”

“Why?”

“Because this took away her darling little baby boy. She was very possessive. I don’t think anyone who has not stood in his shoes can fully understand, Dalf. His father had begun driving a cart on long trips to earn extra money; he may have been proud of the farm, but he wasn’t really a farmer at heart. But this left Matti and Josia alone with Jehan most of the week or month, coping with caring for crops, animals and Jehan. Matti didn’t complain, but it was hard for her, with no real help and no experience caring for a chronically ill child who was always in pain.”

“Surely Josia helped?”

“Josia was a young lass. She is seven years older than Jehan, so she was just beginning to bloom into womanhood, and she very much resented the absence of her father and her mother’s being so preoccupied with her pest of a little brother.”

“Pest? He could not help being crippled!” I protested.

“Many older siblings regard the younger ones as pests, particularly when they are small,” she told me. “And that is putting it too simply. She did tell me once she was proud of him for asserting his independence, because Matti, while a fine person, could be very domineering. Being a devoted mother earned her a great deal of credit with other women in the area—she did love Jehan, probably more than anyone else, but his illness also made it easy to control him longer. Until Memnion realized what was happening, Jehan had no privacy whatsoever. He was of a temperament that, sometimes, needed solitude, like me…. but she didn’t understand that. She was saving his life; he would not have survived the onset of his illness without her nursing, but she didn’t understand the needs of his soul and mind. In some ways he was starving…. I remember, during our first year of marriage, he became ill and needed an operation. I wrote to inform her, and she sent back a message that she was coming to nurse him. By the time she arrived, he was recovering at home, but I was still working at the book-halls. She said she would move in; we had two bedrooms, after all. I told her that one was in use as a study for us both, and I had stored furniture from the main room in it, to make room for a wheeled chair that a friend made for him, and for a special bed. She replied that ours was a double bed; she would use his half.” An expression crossed her face, half-reflective, half-angry.

“I was striving to be a good daughter-in-love, but at that all my resolutions went straight out the window! I told her in no doubtful terms that she could not move into our marriage-bed; I wouldn’t have allowed even my own mother to do that. Then I explained all the arrangements I had made for him to be tended by friends and Healers while I worked, and showed her how I had arranged the kitchen area, that he could reach what he needed while I was out. I may have given her the impression that he would never be left alone, because I had realized that this was her biggest fear for herself. She hated and feared being alone as few others I have met. And I asked her to cook and bake some of his favorite dishes, and bring them to us every fortnight, what a big help that would be. Jehan-Da told her flatly it was best, and she gave way. After they left, Jehan took me to task that she would be moaning over him so often—he couldn’t bear to be around her for more than two hours every three months at that point. I told him that it was that or I’d take him to the farm and she’d be with him constantly until he was well, to choose one of us or the other. That shut him up!”

“It seems a complicated relationship,” I said feebly.

“That’s exactly it, Dalf! I don’t know about your folk, but Men can be very complex in their emotions. Josia was envious of all the attention he received, but she was proud that he stood up to his mother, and went away to learn. She married Drommion of the Dor-im-Nín—“

“But I thought her husband was named Eban.”

“Eban is her second spouse. She bore Drommion the two girls, but then fell in love with Eban, who had just left the army. Drommion left and divorced her in disgust at her behavior, and Eban wedded her almost immediately. For a time, he did well at his roofing, until he was hurt, and then they moved back to the farm. By then Jehan-Da had died, and Matti welcomed their help—until she found that Josia had become even more domineering than she was herself! In fairness, I must say that Josia took good care of her mother as she became addled and sick, and bossed not only her but the girls and their husbands and children as well.”

She sighed. “Things grew worse after Matti’s death. It seemed to us that Eban, who is not…well, not as mannered as Jehan’s family always was, has brought the others down to his level. Rondirion doesn’t help; he is quick to take offense, and enjoys instigating arguments. He often twits Eban until I wonder that the older man doesn’t have an apoplexy. Calina is firmly under Josia’s thumb and very defensive about Kendahl, whom Josia looks down upon—”

“Why?”

“Kendahl was not the match she wished for Calina, and he knows it, and like me he isn’t from the Pelennor. All of them have spoiled Liek simply because he is the boy. Amiry, poor lass, was told over and over when she was small to value herself for her beauty, such as it is, and belittled when she showed an eagerness for learning. We were told not to give her books, but only elaborate clothing that was really inappropriate for a small child on a farm. Since even her doting granny can see that she is not as beautiful as the day, they have now united in telling her she will be lucky to have anyone to wed. Fiy, poor girl, will get short shrift in the pecking order because she obviously isn’t bringing a big dowry, but I suppose Liek insisted on his own way. I just hope she cajoles him into marrying her before the child is born and he loses interest.”

“Child?”

“She is about three months gone. I can always tell.”

That I did not doubt, but was trying to keep my jaw from dropping at all these revelations. I kept hold of what seemed important. “Yet despite their scorn of you, which I confess I don’t understand, they want you to take care of them.”

“’Tis easiest for them,” she said calmly. “I never said they were logical, Dalf. Jehan used to say that I intimidated them, of all the daft ideas!”

“I believe you do,” I said seriously.

She gave me a frankly disbelieving look, but went on, “I don’t intend that they take all my—my resources, but for Jehan’s sake, and the babies, and his parents, I feel I should do something. Besides,it is hard to lose what is yours and your family's. The farm was in their family for over a thousand years, one of the first in the region.”

I kissed the tip of her nose. “As I told you, what’s yours is yours, and I would never try to tell you how to act when honour and family are concerned. But I am as fierce to defend what and whom I care about as you, my lady. If any of them threaten you, they will regret it.”

“Aye, they will!” she agreed.

~~~

1. Lossotil (S. “Snowy-peak”) – highest mtn. in the Ered Luin mtns, in middle near great icefields. Stands 9,497 ft; 1 of few in range to be snow-capped year-round.
2. Men Giliath – road connecting Minas Ithil and Minas Anor, passing through ruins of Osgiliath. Affords a river crossing. Inside the Rammas Echor, its name changes to Armal Pelannor, leading from east to Great Gate, Minas Anor. Stone-paved, well-maintained. The Men Romen from Rhûn (from east) and Harad Road from Umbar (and south) funnel into it
3. Rammas Echor (S. “Great Wall”) – ancient great wall surrounding Minas Tirith and enclosing the Pelennor Fields, functioning as Minas Tirith’s second line of defence after the Anduin. Built after the fall of Minas Ithil, it was repaired by Denethor II before the War of the Ring, being completed only a few days before the Witch-King of Angmar attacked. The wall followed an almost eliptical shape, being closer to the city in some places than in others. It was furthest where the highway to Osgilliath entered, strengthened by the Causeway Forts. When the Witch-King’s forces attacked, the Rammas was soon breached in many places, and its few defenders were killed or fled back to the city. Overrunning the Pelennor Fields, his soldiers failed to guard it against any of Gondor’s allies who might arrive; thus, the Riders of Rohan were able to enter the fields mostly unopposed. The Rammas was later repaired during King Elessar’s reign.


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