2. Try the Man
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.
—Carl Sandburg, "Prayers of Steel"
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On so fair a day, the breeze was as welcome as the cloud-shadows that drifted across the vale, slow as grazing cattle, providing warmth and shade by turns. Lame leg laid out before him on a comfortable outcrop of stone, Veylin puffed on his pipe and watched Bruni watch Grimr as he handled his tools.
The Longbeard was properly respectful, but not timid—how could an anvil be sounded without striking it well?—yet it was still a ticklish business, swinging another man's hammers, and he a stranger to you. Nonetheless, Veylin knew Bruni seldom used these now that he had enough trade in the mansion to spare him tramping the countryside; and the commission to renew the grates and firebacks in Thrir's Hall would repay him for any harm Grimr might do. He might gain even more if Veylin took the man on, and he chose to sell the kit to equip him.
"What are you looking for?" Bruni asked, as Grimr went back through the pockets on the leather rolls, feeling in the corners.
"Nails. Or am I to make those as well?"
Veylin blew out a stream of smoke. "Why not?" It was a fine day, and after so much feasting and bargaining, and so many councils, he was glad of a little peace, even if it were punctuated by the metallic ring of the forge. He had been given much to think about and this seemed a good opportunity to start, particularly since he contemplated adding another Longbeard to his company.
Grimr glanced to where Oski held Veylin's grazing pony on a long lead, upwind of the forge-fire. "How many shoes does he need?"
"Usually none, but I cross the mountains so often now it would be as well to shoe his forefeet." If they proved unnecessary, they could be easily removed. Veylin was glad the West Council would be held at Sulûnduban this year, though Saelon might miss his company on the way to the Havens. It was all this riding that deviled his knee, which popped and crackled as he stretched its stiffness. No sooner did the ache begin to ease than he was in the saddle again.
Regin was trying to wear him down: the spring quarter-court, Midsummer . . . and this year Durin's Day would be hard on the heels of the West Council, with Yule close behind. Still, he had won leave for absence from the summer court on the promise of rich prospecting, and that would allow him to feast Saelon and her folk as had been arranged. If Grimr proved suitable, that would be another promise fulfilled as well.
Bruni had done no farriery, and the Longbeard brooded long over the tools before him before finally taking up a punch and the coarsest file. Going over to the pony, he inspected its hooves, scraping them clean with the punch and filing them even before taking their measure with his hands, then came back and put three pieces of bar-iron in the fire.
Veylin understood enough of iron to see he knew his trade, but he left the subtleties of craft to Bruni and observed the man. Some found it hard to work under watchful eyes, though a tramping smith ought to be used to onlookers. Grimr was neither quick nor slow, save that he sometimes hesitated in choosing among the unfamiliar tools.
His deliberation was reassuring. Veylin had found him headlong the other night, but after speaking to Oski, he was willing to make allowances, for the man's situation was wretched. They were not near kin—Oski did not know who Grimr's nearest living kin might be—but his father had assured him that the smith came from an ancient family, ironfounders of high repute rather than lineage. He had been in Thráin's following and fought in the War, but parted company with the Heirs of Durin not long before Thráin stole away in the night, leaving even his son in doubt of his fate.
Aided by several pitchers of Regin's formidable stout, Veylin had attempted to lead Balin, one of Thráin's last companions, to that tale at the feast—but with little success, for all Balin's youth and amiability. Such erratic behavior on the part of the Eldest's heirs did not inspire trust. Little wonder, then, that staunch Dwarves were seeking the patronage of others. Yet that only made Regin's decision to prentice Reynir with Gróin at Furnace Fells less comprehensible.
"Will you tell me something of Gunduzahar?" Grimr asked, dropping the new-cut nails into the quenching bucket and taking up the second bar of glowing iron with his tongs. "Oski would not say much, save that it was fine and prosperous—and not too near the sea."
So he would talk while he worked? "Are you daunted by the sea?" He could hardly smith at White Cliffs if he was.
"I do not know. I have never been near it." Putting the iron to the mandrel, he bent it into shape. "Folk say it is fearsome, but plainly your company does not find it so."
Veylin chuffed complacently, shifting his pipe. "It is a matter of degree. Some want more shoring in a mine than others. That is the best I can describe it: so much water is as awesome as stone, but less steadfast. One day it will be quiet; on another it rises up and growls." How taken aback he had been, when Saelon told him she found Dwarves not unlike! "The nearest we commonly go is to White Cliffs, where the Men dwell. That lies at the back of a great bay, a dozen chains from the shore and sixty paces above the flood."
Having flattened the arc, Grimr set the shoe back in the coals and brought out the other bar. "Do you have much commerce with the Men there?"
"Not by your account, I am sure. White Cliffs is not Dale, and Gunduzahar is not Erebor—we number no more than three-score between us. But we find profit in each other, in a small way."
This shoe did not take shape so easily as the first, and Grimr did not speak again until he was satisfied, gesturing Oski closer so he could check the shape against the hoof. "Is there enough work to keep a blacksmith?"
He certainly spoke sensibly. "Among the Men, no. But we have only a single ironsmith now, and he barely serves our own needs. Gunduzahar is mine as well as delf, a tough basalt rich in copper and other treasure. Hakki is a rare hand at shaping pick and shovel, so most of the work would be general ironmongery: hardware for doors, strapping for chests and hoops for barrels, nails and spikes for our carpenter. Have you made locks?"
"None a Dwarf would respect." With a sharp ping, Grimr struck the first nailhole in the shoe.
Forthright, too. Veylin smiled. "That was too much to hope. It will be dull work, I'm afraid, but steady. Would you prefer a wage or a share?"
Another ping. "I would need to know more about the venture to choose. Let me finish this, and when you have decided whether—" ping "—I will suit, we can dicker."
Veylin leaned back against the jut of rock behind him and let the man get on with his work. When the holes were punched and the fit checked one last time against the hooves with the shoes hot, Grimr drove the nails home with sure blows, clenching them neatly.
When he had stepped back from the beast, Veylin waved at Oski. "Put him through his paces."
As Grimr conscientiously watched the animal mince through a circle at a walk, then trot with more confidence, Veylin caught Bruni's eye and discreetly signed, in purest Firebeard mode, Your thought?
Chance of bargain here, Bruni answered, and scratched at his beard.
Grimr turned back and looked over the scraps of iron left. "Do you wish to see anything else?"
"How are you at knives?" He would not be able to forge one for them; Bruni had not supplied steel, and there was not enough iron left for more than a child's blade. But Veylin thought his word would be good. He had seen the slender shivs the Men of White Cliffs carried, poor things to start with and now whetted almost to uselessness. That was one of their greatest needs.
Drawing his, Grimr came over and handed it to him.
The edge was very good, and the pattern of the blade handsome. With a nod of approval, Veylin passed it to Bruni. "Oski! Come and clear up."
"I like this steel," the Firebeard smith said. "Where did you get it?"
"I made it in our foundry at Erebor, from Iron Hills ore."
Would he perhaps be interested in unlocking the secret of the Elves' sea-steel? "Well," Veylin declared, "if you can be civil to Men and bear the sea, I am willing to employ you."
"If the Men are friendly, as you say," Grimr allowed, taking back his knife, "I foresee no difficulties there. But how can I give any assurance about the sea, until I have seen it?"
"If you come to Gunduzahar and find you cannot bear the sea, I will find you employment elsewhere among my folk."
Grimr bowed in acknowledgement. "Would you grant me an advance, so I can purchase my tools, or did you think to provide me with them?"
This was a delicate point. Were he near kin, or could provide some security, an advance would be expected; but he was not, and could not, if he had been stripped as cruelly as he claimed. What a man made with his own tools and materials, on his own time, was his own; while if he used another's tools, that entitled their owner to a share. Did he only want enough employment to re-equip himself, or was he seeking a home as well?
It did not matter. Who could be blamed for seeking enough independence to avoid imposition? "Would you have purchased tools, or make your own?"
"I must start with someone else's, although I would rather make my own."
Bruni was following this with such interest, Veylin was sure he would be willing to part with at least some of the kit Oski was rolling back up to load on the pony. "How would it be if I provided you what you needed to start, and advanced you funds for, say, a hundredweight of iron and a stone and a half of steel?"
"That would still give you an interest in my work," Grimr pointed out dryly.
"I hope I take an interest in the work of all who are in my company. Buy your rights back, as you can! I do not want to bind you with debt." Veylin considered, clasping his hands about his good knee. Grimr might fear he would strike an easy bargain with Bruni, and pass the price along to him—such things happened, too often. "Find what you require, and get what price you can—I will pay it, and ask only an extra tenth in return."
Grimr drew on his beard. "I think," he said, still chary, "I will need to hear more about how you reckon shares at Gunduzahar."
"Of course. Come to supper this evening," Veylin proposed, with a sudden desire to know the Longbeard better. "We can hammer out the details, and I will introduce you to other members of the company."
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Running a finger inside the snug collar of his borrowed jacket, Grimr sighed at his scraping vanity and gave the bell-chain beside the grand blue-figured doors a brisk pull. There was no time now to reconsider again.
One wide panel swung promptly open. "Welcome!" Oski greeted him, as he came into the foyer, smile as bright as the gold of his beard. "The table is already set. Thyrð is cooking, so it will be no feast, but I suppose it may be better than what you get at Raun's." Glancing towards the nearer doorward's bench, where a younger lad sat with a book on his lap, Oski proclaimed, "Skjarr, this is Grimr of Erebor. Remember: none but near kin, ealdormen, or pressing need."
The youngster looked up grudgingly from the finely-figured pages. "At your service," he said perfunctorily. "I remember!"
"Do not mind him," Oski told Grimr as they passed into the chieftain's high-vaulted hall, softly lit on this quiet night. "Skjarr is not one of the household—only one of Nordri's many cousins."
"And who is Nordri?"
"One of Veylin's ealdormen, and the chief mason of Gunduzahar. He is there now. Will you be joining us?"
Though the hall was empty, Grimr met the lad's look of hopeful curiosity with reserve. "Negotiations are underway. How many of our kindred are at Gunduzahar?" There were other questions he would ask of one who had been under Veylin's authority for some years, but frank answers might earn a prentice his master's displeasure. That was no way to repay a young kinsman for his assistance.
"Two, besides myself." Across a gallery filled with fine sculpture, whose mosaic floor finely depicted an industrious smithy, were three doors; the one in the center stood ajar. "Vígir is a stonecarver, and came out this year to join his friend Aðal. Aðal is of Regin's Line," he explained. "The third is Prut, one of Bersi's miners. Bersi is a Broadbeam coppersmith who has long been Veylin's friend."
"Your company seems very mixed."
"You find that odd?" Oski asked, brows knit.
Perhaps this child of exile did not. "In my experience, it is unusual."
Hand on the latch of the part-open door, the lad grinned at him. "That is not unusual," he declared with conviction. Thrusting it open, he nodded down the lobby. "Second door on the left—I must see how Thyrð is faring, or supper may be late!"
Abandoned by his guide, Grimr looked around at the long benches set against the ruddy sandstone of the walls, unadorned here. Fine work in an ancient style, the oak black with age but polished to a mellow shine. Seldom had he seen such heirlooms, even in his youth: few had dwelt in Erebor until Thrór's return, shortly before his own father's birth. Why would one who had such an estate, in security, leave it to found a new delf in a threatening land?
Gunduzahar must be rich indeed.
Taking a deep breath, Grimr reminded himself that lively prentices bespoke a cheerful house, and went to knock on the second door to the left.
The chamber was a large parlour, its substantial furnishings as antique as those without; Veylin rose from a chair worn to commonplace shabbiness, and a woman at the sideboard turned her head to look his way. Who—?
"Welcome!" Veylin said heartily. "Where is Oski?"
"He left me at the door to look in on Thyrð, whomever that may be."
Though the woman—the very handsome woman—frowned, Veylin chuckled. "Thyrð is my nephew, and Oski's junior as prentice. This is my sister, Auð, his mother."
Grimr bowed, as deep as his regret for sparking her displeasure. "Grimr, son of Linr, at your service." Her brother's beard might be copper, but hers was flame, dressed with emeralds and red gold.
"At yours and your family's. What will you have?" she asked, gesturing towards a silver tray bearing a matched set of flagons. "Ale? Wine?"
Her eyes were emerald as well; yet their coolness recalled him to manners. Someone had said Veylin's sister was a widow, though plainly she was very well provided for, in kin as well as purse. Such a woman was bound to find the staring admiration of an impecunious man long starved of female company distasteful. "Wine, if you will," Grimr said, and turned deliberately back to his host. "The floor of the gallery without is very fine . . . but you are a gemsmith, are you not?"
One would not guess it from looking at him now. Save for his ring of office, he bore few marks of rank or wealth, and his dress was ostentatious only in the excellence of the material and tailoring. "I am, but many of my fathers loved steel more than jewels. Will you sit? If the lads disagree, supper may be delayed."
"Supper will not be delayed," Auð countered, in the tone of a vow, as Grimr hastened to take the chair Veylin indicated—he was keeping the man standing again. She placed his wine on the little table at his right hand before taking a seat on the settee against the wall.
Veylin chuffed. "Who works with them both, day after day? They may be late—but not by much, and the time will not have been ill-spent."
His sister sniffed and turned to Grimr, who was not sure how to take such chaffing. It was not unpleasant, but the degree of familiarity was uncomfortable on so brief an acquaintance. "So you may join us at Gunduzahar?"
Us—it was not mere gossip; she was part of the company. "I am very much interested." To divide his attention, Grimr took up the cup she had brought him. Shapely crystal, garnet wine: these, too, were beauties he had long been denied.
They approached no nearer the business before supper. Indeed, Auð had sounded out no more than his lack of acquaintance in Sulûnduban before Oski appeared to announce the meal, and once they were seated, Veylin firmly shifted the burden of conversation to his prentices, questioning them about their work and preparations for the journey across the mountains.
He did not spare his nephew, who was so like his mother that Grimr wondered what her spouse had contributed to his making. Thyrð was very much on his dignity as he passed around the chops and buttered parsnips, but Oski's misgivings seemed groundless. It was an ordinary family supper, good food and no cheeseparing: Grimr found it deeply reassuring, perhaps most when the lads began squabbling over who was to catch the ponies.
So he and his brother had argued, long ago. The hole in his heart could not be mended, but the remembrance was precious, a glint of gold in dark rock.
"I had to wrangle the beasts across the mountains twice," Thyrð objected hotly, "and Haust's cursed bog-hoppers as well, while he was on holiday here!"
"Holiday!" Oski scoffed. "Have you been to the mine at Bald Head?"
Veylin heard them out, unmoved. "If you wish to return to my workshop, ponies we must have. You have done more than your share, Thyrð, it is true; that is why Oski will be responsible for my train this trip. But your mother's goods need carrying as well, and I do not see why I should arrange it now that you are capable."
"No, indeed," Auð concurred. "When you have cleaned up here this evening, come see me in the parlour at home. I will give you the list of what is to go, so you know how many beasts you will need."
"Yes, Mother," Thyrð said, with a set to his jaw that would have made Grimr smile, if the lad would not resent it.
"What do you traffic in?" he asked Auð, when dour silence threatened.
"I am a tailor." Setting down her glass of ale, she surveyed his borrowed and ill-fitting finery without pity. "The Men at White Cliffs weave decent woolen, but they grow no flax and want linen."
"You trade with them yourself?" It was not unheard of, or had not been in Erebor, but the women who ventured into Dale had been eccentric spinsters like Ferli's aunt Svigi, or hard-pressed widows like Gufa Greybeard. He had difficulty imagining this woman, in her elegantly cut hall-coat and jewels, traveling abroad dressed like a man.
She colored up prettily. "I have traded a little with the women of Men—with the Lady Saelon, and her niece has expressed an interest as well."
Grimr chased the butter and juices from his plate with a last piece of crust. "My uncle, who dealt in tinware, had a great respect for the shrewdness of the goodwives of Dale. Yet here in Eriador I find I am rarely able to speak to a woman of Men, at least those of any substance. Their husbands keep the business all in their own hands."
"Mistrust," Veylin declared, amusement at his sister's discomfiture fled. "Of us, and of their own women."
Such abrupt aggravation bespoke grievance. "Do you find that at White Cliffs?" He had naught but praise for those Men before.
"Less than in other places. The Lady rules there."
His friend, it was said; some hinted more. If his folk thought them too familiar, what must hers feel? "I have never heard of a ruling lady, outside of tales." Not among Men, at any rate. "Is she one of the Men of the West?"
"She is. Her brother was the lord of Srathen Brethil—Birkidale, many call it—which was beset by monstrous fiends, not unlike trolls. Many of her kin were slain, and their people fled. The wisest took refuge with her where she dwells by the sea. Her brother sent his children and, after his death, the war-helm of their house, bidding her keep their folk until his son comes of age."
Save that a woman was given a man's charge, this was a tale Grimr knew too well. "These fiends brought grief to you as well, did they not?"
The quality of the silence about the table told him he had said more than he meant. "They did," Veylin affirmed solemnly. "One fell upon a prospecting party I led, not far from White Cliffs. My brother in gems and by marriage was slain, as was my prentice. I was sorely wounded; but the Lady's young cousin Gaernath discovered me and the Lady, who is a master of herbs and healing, mended me. When her houseless folk came upon her, I repaid my debt with a few chambers in their cliff, and we made a pact of vengeance between us."
"Which you have taken," Grimr said, as Veylin drank his wine.
"Which we have taken," he amended. "But that is not a story to be done justice to before rising from the table, and we have, I hope, at least one bargain yet to make this evening. Top up your glass," he invited, standing, "and let us leave the lads to their work. Auð, will I see you at breakfast tomorrow?"
"No—I am already promised to Eigsa. Will you join us there for dinner? She would be glad of the company, and to hear more of Nordri than I can tell." Auð looked his way. "You would be welcome, too, Grimr, if you can come to an agreement with my brother. Eigsa is the wife and mother of Gunduzahar's chief masons."
Was this only to tempt him to close the deal? "That is very kind. I would be glad to meet more of those connected to your company, but I should not like to impose—and if I come to an agreement with your brother, I must seek the tools I will need to do the work. Some other time, perhaps, if fortune is favorable."
"Good fortune, then," she wished, rising to bow. She appeared not displeased by his caution. "Thyrð, take the wine to your uncle's cabinet. Do not rush here: I will need more than an hour to draft my list."
Grimr bent low in return. "And to you," he murmured, since her attention was already elsewhere.
"Come," Veylin repeated his invitation, smiling. "Let us talk."
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Grates and firebacks: these are pieces of fireplace furniture, which protect the stone or brick of a hearth from heat damage. A grate holds the fuel off the floor of the hearth, also assuring that the fire gets enough draft to burn well. A fireback is a plate of iron, sometimes decorated, that sits behind the grate; it absorbs and re-radiates the heat of the fire.
Thrir's Hall: the ancestral apartments of the chieftains of Veylin's line.
"the spring quarter-court, Midsummer . . .": Tolkien wrote almost nothing regarding Dwarvish calendars, so I have been forced to develop my own. The fact that Durin's Day falls on the "the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter" (The Hobbit, "A Short Rest") strongly suggests Dwarves use a lunisolar calendar. The Dwarves of Nogrod held high feast at Midsummer (The Silmarillion, "Of Maeglin"), which further suggests Dwarves recognize and celebrate the solstices. Since Dwarves issue contracts (The Hobbit, "Roast Mutton"), I have surmised that they have a regular system of courts to enforce them and borrowed the concept of quarter-sessions and quarter-days to represent this. To put a lunisolar spin on this, I here propose that Dwarvish quarter days are the first day of the first quarter of the second moon of a season: so that the Spring quarter-court of 2850 was held on April 29th, or the 8th of Lótessë (Lothron). If it seems idiosyncratic to use the second moon rather than the first (or last), this was done to prevent clashes and/or overlap with the solstice-based high-days.
As a fuller example, and to better illustrate the demands on Veylin's time, here are the principal dates in this year for Dwarves. Since Tolkien used the moon phases of A.D. 1941–2 for T.A. 3018–19 (The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, pp. xlvi–xlvii), I have used those of A.D. 1773 for T.A. 2850.
New Year/Durin's Day: Nov. 27 or Ringarë/Girithron 8, 2849
Yule: Dec. 21 or Yule/Yestarë, 2849
Winter quarter-court: Jan. 30 or Nénimë/Nínui 10, 2850
Spring quarter-court: Apr. 29 or Lótessë/Lothron 8, 2850
Midsummer: June 21 or Loëndë, 2850
Summer quarter-court: Jul. 26 or Úrimë/Urui 5, 2850
West Council/Autumn quarter-court: Nov. 21 or Ringarë/Girithron 2, 2850
New Year/Durin's Day: Dec. 6 or Ringarë/Girithron 17, 2850
Bar-iron: think of "sticks" of iron, not brick-shaped ingots. This is bloomery or forged iron, not pig or cast iron. Iron melts at an extremely high temperature (1540°C/2804°F), so that until recent centuries, producing iron from ore meant melting everything but the iron, and forging the metal left behind into a useful shape.
Cut nails: until the nineteenth century, nails were square rather than round—cut from a flattened piece of metal rather than drawn like wire.
Mandrel: a rod or cylinder, often set into an anvil, around which metal is bent or shaped.
Hundredweight: 112 lbs or 50.9 kg; a stone is 14 lbs. or 6.3 kg.
Settee: an elegant settle, usually upholstered and with a lower back.
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.