A Trinket Exchanged
Father called us to him after our duty hours. We received this summons with a hint of dread, and questioning each other, could not decide on what we had done wrong. Summonings were not dealt out lightly! "Something to do with that offended Dale merchant." "I doubt it. The loss of the wine shipment was worse. A conveyance under your charge, if I recall." Our whispered dispute died when we came to the appointed room. I took in the scent of ancient dust, wondering why Father would have us meet him there in the low halls, a level of only storage rooms and treasuries.
A servant ushered us to a room. We entered half-heartedly, slouching before the coming reprimands, but… were met with none. Father strode from a table, smiling his warmest. For a moment we stood rooted to the stone and felt confusion drown out all our unease.
"I have a task for you two."
At once a new dread grew and chores on every branch of dreariness passed through my mind. And finally, becoming so convinced that we were to tally something, I heeded not what Father was saying – then he uttered those words, which coming from his lips, were impossible. My imaginings of a desk-chained chore left me in haste, and I discerned again the dim light and the musty air. Surely I had heard him wrong!
"You must find a Dwarf-smith, one who will give a reasonable price, to buy weaponry for the household and for yourselves as well." He looked at me. "You do not seem pleased."
"I am and am grateful! But a Dwarf-smith? At a reasonable price?"
"There is my challenge for you. You will need to control yourself to accomplish it, Legolas."
"I will try."
"He will not," Thindorn said sadly.
While I looked hard at Thindorn, Father had turned to take a wrapped object from the table. "This is to be melted to pay for the purchases. See it and understand why your task is delicate." He carefully undid the cloth. We leaned in to watch a whiteness slowly peek out from the wrappings. I saw Thindorn's mouth fall open and knew mine had as well. Father placed the white object into my hands. It flowed over my fingers, chiming like bells: a corselet, light as cloth, of silver rings and white gems.
Thindorn had yet to close his mouth fully. "This is to be melted, Adar? Why would you want it melted?"
Father waved his hand. "Because sitting in the treasuries it is useless. And unfortunately, weapons are of more use now than family heirlooms. Mithril is too valuable, too rare to be unused."
"Then why mithril on a child's shirt?" I lifted it, noting it was far smaller than a man's size. "Ada, you said it is a family heirloom, but I've never seen it."
"You would find few princes willing to wear it." Father's lips twitched a smile. "It was worn by your sister last and before her, by your aunt."
Thindorn twisted his face. "I'd jump in the river before I was seen in this, whatever it be made of."
The shirt was wrapped back up and given to my care. After being dismissed, we walked aimlessly down the halls. I felt bloated by responsibility. Thindorn had no head for figures, so I did the calculations to myself again and again of the price that ought to be set for what Father wanted to order. While I kept myself thus occupied, Thindorn too had been thinking of prices, though not quite as I had.
"It seems shameful to destroy this thing," he said. I shrugged. "Yet I believe there may be a way to get twice what Father expects us to – and not have it melted." I looked at Thindorn, trying to seem skeptical. He ignored me. "I know a smith, Nár. No one crafts a better blade than he – I've seen one he forged for Captain Belegorn and never have I held a blade with a finer balance and beauty…" His hands gripped an invisible handle. "I have wanted a sword of his make, but Nár in his age has become a collector. He will no longer take common currency. But I believe he will give his beard for this shirt."
Excitement filled me as I considered the logic of my brother. I too had seen that sword of Belegorn – and also its sister long knife. I believed Thindorn to be right. Going to this Nár we could obtain, if we were shrewd enough, more weaponry than we could buy from the melted mithril. I prodded my light burden; it really would be a pity to destroy it, however garish it would look on the wearer.
Since Nár was not willing to come to the Wood and we not to the Mountain, we set up a meeting in Dale. It was set on an autumn morning at a tavern, one used to accommodating men of business, for it was plentiful with private gathering rooms.
We entered our arranged room and already at the table sat a Dwarf, bearing a silver beard, with black still streaking the braids. He wore clothes of rich green fabric; on his fingers were rings and in his beard were woven emeralds. Along the wall stood another Dwarf, red bearded, a young apprentice, I supposed. No fire burned in the small hearth as the morning was already warm.
The Dwarf stood. "Greetings, Thindorn son of Thranduil. It has been long since our last meeting."
Thindorn took over the pleasantries. "And here is Legolas, son of Thranduil also."
Half bowing my way, the Dwarf said, "Nár son of Nirád at your service." The younger kept to the shadows. I thought both their faces severe, almost distrustful, maybe disgusted, and that did not astonish me. They expected us to swindle them: an impossibility as neither of us was a skilled liar. In truth, I feared more cunning on their part and had told Thindorn so as we rode into the city the day before. "We'll keep level heads, then," he had answered.
Swiftly we came to our business. Thindorn carried a basket of lesser items and he set them on the table one at a time: broaches, rings, candleholders, a cup with the Two Trees. Nár fingered some, others he just nodded to. Most he ignored. We had planned for this, to wet his appetite, as Thindorn described it.
After the eleventh bauble, Nár began to mumble impatiently. Thindorn finally finished and signaled to me. I held the shirt, wrapped tightly in cloth, finer linen than that our father had presented it to us in.
I unwrapped it, and even before I had torn away the last strip, Nár was standing, open mouthed. The apprentice had inched closer, eyes burning and wide. I set the corselet gently down, letting the rings sing against each other. It was beautiful, more, if possible, than when we first saw it, gleaming with the milky silver-white of the moon. We had cleaned it and Adar had later found the pearl and crystal studded belt that accompanied it. As we had scoured it we noted that several rings were loose and we worried that would decrease the value in Nár's eyes – but now I saw we were mistaken. Nár touched the corselet with a hand trembling slightly. As though afraid to damage it, he hesitated a good minute to lift it, and even when he did, it was with the care of a parent holding a newborn. His business tone was lost and instead he spoke rapidly and excitedly.
"Mithril, mithril! Crafted in the late Second Age, aye, see, Uvi's mark. He was of Narvi's noble house. Uvi himself was a singular artist, able to shape raw true-silver into a beauty still greater, beauty pure as music. So little of his mithril work survives; ah, to touch the lightness of air in metal; the craft that no one of this day can approach…"
"How much will you offer for it?" Thindorn interrupted.
Nár blinked, grumbling, "It is costly, true, yet I see… some damage has been done." His nostrils diluted and he looked somewhat insulted. He grumbled lower, "Care as such for a king's crown should have been given to this! Let sit in a storeroom under a barrel, likely!"
He seemed to perceive us again and he set down the shirt. "I ask what you want for it."
"A dozen blades, only your finest work, Master Nár." We decided to offer thrice the worth of gold-plated mail. If, as we hoped, the Dwarf took the first bid readily, we would raise the number of our blade-order.
Nár sat down, rubbing the emeralds in his beard, his business voice returned. "I will give two dozen blades of any length and make and with any ornament of your choosing, for the mithril-coat."
He waved dismissively at the other treasures. Thindorn caught my eye. Two dozen was more, far more, than we had hoped to be able to purchase for our father.
We talked out the smaller details, of the makes – my knife's handle needed to be of antler bone I carried –and delivery, and a contract was signed. As Thindorn completed his final signature, the bells throughout the city began chiming the noon hour. We placed all of our trinkets back in the basket. Nár bowed again, deeper this time, so that his silver and black beard touched the floor.
"Farewell, my good Elves. May your fortunes ever be as healthy as on this day." We replied with our own leave-takings. When I looked to the younger Dwarf, cradling the mithril-shirt, I imagined there to be a smirk in his red beard.
I always suspected afterwards by that apprentice's glance that we had been cheated, but was not certain till Mithrandir told us in Moria the shirt's true worth, for I knew it to be the same shirt when I beheld it outside the East Gate. Nár could not have had any scruples about deceiving two ignorant Elves, who were more than satisfied with his offer. Ai, Ethan! The wealth of a whole country we traded for two dozen blades.
"Have you told this story to Uncle Gimli?" Ethan asked.
"Nay, not yet. It is too shameful," Legolas continued. "And Adar was not too pleased when he learned what we had done. He feared that the family heirloom given to Oropher by Lord Amdir would be on the open market thanks to his clever sons. He is relieved, do not doubt, that his grandson is cleverer."
The sun glowed warmly through Ithilien's trees. Swinging to hang upside-down from a branch of one, Legolas grinned at his nephew, who was on his final spurt of growth from Elfling-size.
The boy sitting at the tree's base laughed, partially from the absurd mess of his uncle's hair. "But I am glad you bartered it away. It never was on the market, was it? It found a better use than even in Nár's collection, in the hands of the Periain. Let them keep it."
Adar – Father
Narvi – the Dwarf who made Moria's doors.
Periain – Halflings
Notes:My thanks to Redheredh; she pushed me to redo the first part and hers was the idea that the mithril shirt might have been too "girly" for most princes.
That the mithril-shirt belonged to a son of Thranduil is not in any way from my own head; there are many other good stories out there that play with that concept.
The names Nár and Nirád (originally Nyrádr) came from "The Dwarf Names", The History of the Hobbit Part 2.