5. The Fourth Cloak
Fresh from the clear fountain where they had washed, the eight maidens returned to their bower. Their morning meal awaited them, soft white bread, golden honey and dried apple rings infused with sweet spices. They ate swiftly and turned to their task. For a while nothing was heard but the rustling of cloth and the snipping of scissors. Then Lindhris sang, filling the room with images of cool lakes in the mountains and snow under a rising sun. When she has finished, Gathgael smiled and said:
"You have put me in the right mood for what I wish to think about today. Were you trying to give me a hint?"
"Perhaps. But it is a song I have loved for many long ages, and you have all heard it from me before."
"We have," said Gathgael. "However, hearing it today has brought sharply to my mind the puzzle that I have to solve."
"A puzzle?" asked Maedhvel.
"Indeed, a puzzle. What shall I wish for him, the axe-wielder, the mountain delver? I am loath to bless him, so a curse will have to do. May he loose his boots in a quagmire and never find them again!"
"How can you say such a thing, Gathgael!" cried Belegwen aghast.
Parvelui laughed at the appalled face. "She does not speak in earnest, I dare say."
"Indeed, I do not," continued Gathgael, winking at Belegwen. "Peculiar his people may seem to us, and long have our races been estranged from each other, but lack of knowledge is not a good counsellor. We like to believe that the dwarves care about nothing but gold and jewels. Yet that is not what I see in his heart."
"He spoke fair words to our lady."
"And she spoke fair words to him," said Faenchiriel, "that soothed his troubled mind. His thoughts are darkened with loss. The loss of his kin and the loss of the dwarf realm's former splendour."
Gathgael snipped off the thread of the seam she had finished. In a voice more serious than the others were accustomed to hear from her, she said: "The lady's words reminded us that the dwarves, too, love beauty, however different their tastes may be from ours. She showed him that she knows what he holds dear and why. He begins to understand that the elves need not be his foes. This is where I find the answer to my puzzle. If the quest does not fail, then a new age will emerge and many wounds will need healing. The rift between our peoples is one of these, and I wish that friendship between elves and dwarves will be forged through him."
"You may find that your blessing will work faster than you think," said Aerwing with a smile.
"Whenever it happens, it won't be too soon." With the usual twinkle back in her eyes, Gathgael flourished the cloak and spread it out in front of her. It shimmered gently in the morning light, dark like the surface of a clear mountain lake.