5. The Toymaker & His Wife
My wife nods as she helps a customer. “I will in a moment.” She hands the woman several small silver coins for a large gold piece, and glances at the shy lad clinging to his mother’s skirts. “That top will last forever if you care for it well—now go have some fun.” With birdlike quickness, she twirls round, catches up a stack of boxes, and crosses over to me. “Here you are. I do wish more of these sell soon, after all the effort we made with them.” A slight frown of worry appears between her brows.
I give her a light kiss on her cheek. “They will, never fear—I see more ladies here now, a fair number with little girls. Do not fuss yet, my dear.” I smile down at Wynfryd in gratitude she is here, for I count her one of the two great blessings of my life.
The other blessing is my skill at toymaking, the craft I inherited from both my father and grandfather. In truth, it has shaped my whole destiny, for without it I never would have come south, nor would I have found and married Wynfryd. An odd outcome, but perhaps I should not be surprised, because men friendly with the dwarves often experience fate’s twists and turns, like my grandfather.
It was he who first learned the secrets of dwarven toymaking, some seventy years ago in faraway Dale right after King Bard rebuilt the town and claimed the throne. Grandfather was a young and eager carpenter when he befriended an elderly dwarf named Thrain, one of those who came to the Lonely Mountain after the Battle of Five Armies. Thrain was distant kin to the great Thorin Oakenshield, and a superb toymaker, perhaps the best in the Kingdom under the Mountain. He was also childless and determined to teach his craft to someone deserving before he died. As Grandfather’s friendship with the dwarf deepened, Thrain took him as his apprentice, ignoring the dismay the other dwarves expressed, for they normally hid their knowledge from men’s prying eyes. Thrain ignored the disapproval; he was an independent sort who cared little for the opinion of others.
Grandfather learned quickly and well, and soon became as skillful as his master, who died a few years later leaving all his tools to his faithful apprentice. Grandfather’s business throve, for no other men could craft toys with his dwarf-tutored knowledge. But even as he made a tidy pile of gold, resentment grew, for many muttered about the dwarf magic he surely used to beguile the unwary into buying his wares. Grandfather had quite a struggle to persuade Grandmother’s father to allow their marriage, and their happiness together with my father, and later my mother, was tainted by the isolation hemming them round. Father had little choice but to become Grandfather’s apprentice when the time came, for no one else would take him, nor did any other boys ask to work with Grandfather.
When I was but a lad of five, a bad fever swiftly passed through Dale in the early winter and carried off a small number of victims; but among them were both my mother and grandmother, leaving us three stunned and grieving. When spring came, Grandfather learned that Balin, another kinsman to Thorin, was gathering a large group of dwarves to journey south and retake the ancient mines of Moria from the orcs. Upon hearing the news, my grandfather’s long-simmering plans boiled over and he rushed home all ablaze; I can still hear his voice after so many years.
“Come, son,” he cried to Father. “Let us pack up our goods and tools and travel to the south, to Rohan and Gondor, where we shall find people more deserving of our skills. There is nothing but grief and loneliness left for us here.”
“But, my dear father,” Father protested as he shot me an anxious look, “how can we make such a long and difficult trip alone? We would most certainly be attacked by orcs, beasts, or other evils before we reach our destination.”
“We shall go south with Balin and his troop, as far as the Dimrill Dale. No orcs have defied the axes of Durin’s folk for long! I already spoke to Balin and he welcomes our company.”
And so we set off a month later, with creaking carts pulled by sturdy ponies, to find a new life. I liked the dwarves, despite their thick beards and gruff manners; they always had time to share a meal or story with a lonely little boy. Balin in particular took a great fancy to me; I spent many hours perched in front of him, his pony trotting steadily as he told me about his adventures with Gandalf the wizard and the little thief who helped the dwarves steal back their lost treasure from Smaug the dragon. His name was Bilbo Baggins, and he was one of the small folk called halflings—or hobbits, to use their own word—who lived in a faraway land known as the Shire, far to the west. Hobbits were even shorter than dwarves, Balin assured me as I stared wide-eyed, and had curly hair on both their heads and large feet. I could not picture anyone being shorter than a dwarf, but I loved Balin’s stories and begged for more. I remember how sad I was when we parted at the Dimrill Gate, as the dwarves armed themselves to enter Moria. Balin patted me on the head and promised to bring me a fine bag of jewels for my wedding once I was grown. I waved goodbye as I rode away with Father and Grandfather and hoped I would see the dwarf again some day.
We arrived in the East Emnet of Rohan in late summer, our passage slowed while we carefully skirted the dangerous woods of Lothlorien and Fangorn. We settled in a small farming village between the River Entwash and the Great West Road, where the Eorlingas were friendly and welcomed any new craftsmen. My grandfather, rich in years, died two years after we first moved; my father then taught me toymaking in turn as soon as I was old enough to hold the tools, and we began to travel to the fairs in Edoras and the neighboring villages regularly. It was at the Dunharrow fair that I met Wynfryd the summer I was twenty-eight and she was nineteen, recently orphaned in a raid by hill-men. I fell in love at first sight, captivated by her strawberry blond hair and sweet face. She quickly agreed to marry me and cheerfully joined Father and I on the road, and proved the best of helpmeets with her deft sewing and painting.
It was Wynfryd who proposed, three years ago, that we move to Linhir for the sake of my father’s weak heart and for a greater degree of safety. We had just met a group of craftsmen and merchants from that city when we came to Minas Tirith for the autumn fair. Liking their kindness and lured by the prospect of warm weather, we traveled back with them to their seaside city, not so splendid as Dol Amroth but still very pretty, and started our new home with the intent of staying for good. As Wynfryd and I nursed Father, we watched the mounting darkness laying over our land with horror, and found ourselves secretly glad that Wynfryd had not yet been able to conceive. Middle-earth was no place to raise a child, we told each other, if everything good might be destroyed.
A month ago, I was surprised by a visit from the old bookseller, Mardilin, who had become a good friend to my father, and had helped us greatly six months before when Father finally slipped away. He told me that the spring fair in Minas Tirith would be held after all, despite the war raging about the city. Wynfryn and I did not want to go at first, but Mardilin had a honeyed tongue and finally wore us down. We were still six days from Minas Tirith when we learned that Gondor and her allies had miraculously won the war, and I was thrilled to hear that the halflings, the little people Balin had so loved, had been the chief agents of that victory. I wondered if any of them were related to the thief Bilbo, or if they knew anything of Balin’s fate, for I always asked for news of the dwarves. My questions were soon submerged in the general joy, and our caravan arrived in the White City amidst singing and dancing. We all looked forward to enjoying, and selling, much, but so far the dolls Wynfryd and I labored over all winter are more admired than purchased . . .
I am tugged back to the present when a woman stops in front of me and examines one of the dolls I just put out on the table. It is one of our finest, with a delicately carved and painted face that took me many days to perfect. Her dress is a confection of blue and cream silk, decorated with tiny seed pearls, golden lace, and bits of velvet, all constructed with Wynfryd’s most precise stitching. I watch curiously as the woman’s finger traces the pattern of the lace; she looks wistful, even sad. Perhaps she too is lost in childhood memories, or like Wynfryd, thinks of the child she does not yet have. As I keep watching her, I am struck by her resemblance to my wife, with her blond hair and slender strength, and then I realize this is surely the White Lady of Rohan, whose courage is sung on every street corner. A man joins her and studies the doll she touches. This must be Faramir, the Steward of the City, who I have heard so much of from Mardilin.
“They are beautifully done, are they not? Really not for a child at all, but rather a thing of beauty for a lady’s chamber,” Lord Faramir says.
“Yes, you are right. I am surprised at my interest, for I never played with dolls much as a little girl, but seen in that light, I understand my fascination now.” Given what I have heard of Lady Eowyn’s prowess in battle, I can well believe she never played with dolls at all, but rather with sword and shield from babyhood.
“Let me get one for you.” For a moment, she appears on the verge of arguing, but decides not to bother. Lord Faramir picks up her favorite, the one in blue and cream silk, and hands it to me with a bonny sum. Wynfryd is boxing her gift in one of our wooden chests when a voice suddenly pipes up, startling me—I cannot recall seeing anyone else come up to our booth.
“How much is that one?”
I crane my head to view the figure on the other side of the table that points at a little beauty in purple and green velvet. I feel my eyes widen as I behold the small person on the other side. Curly brown hair on both head and feet, pointed ears, and a stature less than any dwarf’s—this can only be a hobbit, as I recall all of Balin’s tales in a flash. Never in all my days did I dream I would actually meet one of these legendary folk. I do not trust myself to speak for a second, but then I manage to gasp out the first thing that comes to mind. “You are a halfling?”
“Yes, I am,” he says with pride. Understandable, with the bravery his people have shown, but now I puzzle over his age, for he looks more like a child than a man to me.
“Whom do you buy it for? Surely you are too youthful to already be a father.”
“It’s for my sweetheart, Stella. She loves dolls, and has none that are as fine as yours, sir. Please, how much do you want for it?”
“Give the poor man a chance to tell you, Merry,” Lady Eowyn says with a smile. Her hand grazes his shoulder affectionately; he grins up at her, the love between them crystalline clear.
I do not need to think about what I should do; the memory of Balin’s respect for these folk pulses up in my breast. I take the doll the hobbit wants and place it in another box, proffering it with a bow as Wynfryd, recognizing what I am doing, curtsies as well. “I charge you not one coin, Master Halfling, for the valor of you and your kinfolk is well known to me. Accept this gift with my humble thanks, and may you have a sweet daughter who shall one day cherish this.”
The hobbit’s face lights up with pure happiness, and that alone repays me fully. He takes the box and bows back. “Thank you, my good master, and I shall tell Stella of your blessing.”
The three of them—woman, man, and hobbit—walk away slowly. As they move down the street, I feel Wynfryd slide her arm around my waist. “That was a lovely thing you just did,” she tells me softly.
“No more than what he and his kin deserve,” I reply as I nod in their direction. “I want to talk to Mardilin, and see if he can help me later seek out the halfling—Merry, I think his name is—and maybe I will finally gain some news of Balin. I have waited for many years to discover his fate.”
Wynfryd smiles and kisses me on the mouth, disregarding the crowds. “And perhaps your blessing shall work its magic on us too, and soon we’ll have a little girl to share our toys with at last!” I hug her tightly, contentment wrapping us round like a warm blanket as we watch the retreating hobbit until we can no longer see him.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.