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Axe and Bow

A Legolas and Gimli fan archive

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Bargaining for Beginners

by Honesty

Category: Romance
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Chanslash
Disclaimer: Property of JRR Tolkien. I will return them when I've finished with them.
Feedback: YES!!!
Summary: For Celebrimbor and Narvi, the two craftsmen (craftsbeings?) who made the Doors of Moria. What happens when an Elf discovers the hazards of trading with Dwarves. Very, very mild slash.
A/N: This came out of nowhere.

It is based on very, very flimsy canon support: the inscription on the West-Gate given in FotR, and a single paragraph in Unfinished Tales. There is no evidence to suggest that Narvi resembled in the least the character I have portrayed here ... or Celebrimbor, for that matter. Still, this tale was sitting in my head, and I had to do something with it.

Celebrimbor was beginning to regret coming to Moria.

He had now spent two whole hours arguing for admittance at the West gate of Moria, and a further half in the hall just inside. The Dwarf Gorin, who had come to speak to him when he had said he desired to trade, had said he would return shortly; but half an hour had passed, and Celebrimbor was beginning to be distinctly impatient.

So much trouble, to do business with the Dwarves of Moria! One would think that they did not truly want to trade.

It wasn't that Gorin had been hostile - what Dwarf was, when confronted by a potential customer? - it was just that there seemed to be so much ceremonial to go through before he could so much as speak to any of Gorin's precious craftsmen. Especially being forced to wait in the near-dark while Gorin did whatever he was doing, being watched with unashamed curiosity by the three Dwarf-guards on the main door.

He wondered what they saw: a tall, angular, elongated being, perhaps, with pale skin and grey eyes, hairless save for the sleek near-black hair of his head. But what was he to them? A typical arrogant Elf? A potential customer? Or just a minor break from the dull routine of standing guard. Nobody ever entered from the West, after all, to judge by the unkempt appearance of the hall and guard-house.

Gorin chose that moment to reappear, bringing another Dwarf with him.

"This is Narvi, of my brother Norin's house," he said, in the most pompous way he could manage. "He shall be your guide."

Perhaps that meant that he would finally be free of Gorin son of Borin's unbearable long-windedness. Gorin, who was head of the Guild of Craftsmen, or some similar dignitary, had made it quite clear that handling potential customers - even if they be Elven-Lords - was far, far beneath him. Celebrimbor could not quite bring himself to be sorry for the fact.

The young Dwarf was pushed towards him, and Celebrimbor examined him with curiosity. He was little acquainted with Dwarves and their ways, but to his eyes, Narvi seemed very young indeed. He was short even in comparison with Gorin, and his thick dark hair was not plaited but merely tied back from his face in a stubby knot on the back of his head. The half-grown beard was but an inch long, soft and fluffy rather than the long wiry thicket the elder Dwarf sported. But more than that, he had that awkward, callow uncertainty that seemed to be common to adolescents of all races.

They'd sent him a child to be his guide round these halls. It was a clear, calculated insult: Gorin clearly did not wish him to get ideas above his station.

"Narvi son of Norin at your service," the Dwarf-child said truculently. It did not sound much like a greeting.

"Celebrimbor of Eregion - at yours and your family's," Celebrimbor replied, and even attempted the bow. He had learnt that much at least, by now.

"Ah good. Then I will leave you to your purchases, Celebrimbor son of Curufin. Good day to you." Gorin strode away purposefully, with Narvi staring balefully in his wake, muttering something in Khuzdul under his breath. It did not sound like a blessing.

"Follow me," he said without any attempt at airs and graces. "The market halls are this way."

Celebrimbor followed him, down a passage that seemed to lead North-East, his eyes flickering curiously round the arched ceilings and elaborately carved walls. There was skill here, that was for sure - skill such as few even of his own stone-wrights possessed. He felt a moment of awe that such a plain people could bring forth such fine workmanship, and then felt guilty for judging them so.

He followed Narvi through what seemed like many halls in silence. The Dwarf did not seem in the least inclined to talk, and his silence was starting to make Celebrimbor uneasy.

"I hope I have not taken you from your lessons," he said to Narvi, whose face was set in a sullen frown.

"No." The syllable was scornful. "I get all these chores. They won't let me do lessons now."

"Will they not? Whyever would that be?"

Narvi glanced at him sharply, as if he half suspected mockery, and then gave a bark of humourless laughter. "Father took me on as an apprentice. He's a mason, and he's not bad." It might have been intended as praise - Celebrimbor couldn't tell. "Apprentice's work is easy. I've passed all the tests already, three months since. But I've got to stay an apprentice until I'm of age. They won't let me start on journeyman's work."

"Oh? How old are you?" It was only once the question was asked that Celebrimbor stopped to ponder whether it was a polite question to ask a Dwarf, but Narvi seemed to have no scruples about answering.

"Forty-seven." His voice rose indignantly. "I've got to wait *three years* before they let me do any proper carving. And I'm better than Nar, and he's been journeyman for four years now. Nar's my older brother," he added by way of explanation.

"It may be there is more to it than you know. There often is, when first you learn a subject."

"There is," the boy said gloomily. "I just wish they'd let me learn-" He stopped, suddenly, probably recollecting that telling a stranger his people's faults might not endear him to Gorin. "This way," he muttered, turning down a side passage, his cheeks shining red under the light of the torches. "It's not far."

* * *

Celebrimbor came out of the first of the booths, uncomfortably conscious that he was sweating profusely, in a manner most unbecoming to an Elven Lord.

*Why* had nobody warned him? To resolve to do trade with the Dwarves was all well and good - but to have to bargain over every single little thing, even down to packets of nails? It seemed too peculiar to be credited.

He sighed. He was feeling altogether too hot and bothered now to think clearly, and very conscious that he was no longer sure of the value of *anything*. This was not a good state of mind in which to be negotiating with Dwarves.

He leaned against the wall for a moment, uncomfortably conscious of the many eyes on him. The hall was crowded, with buyers and sellers both - short, squat figures in clothes of coarse wool or leather, many of them wearing sleeveless coats of mail as if they were among enemies rather than their own people. A disproportionate number of them were staring at him.

To Celebrimbor's untutored eye, they seemed all alike, with their bearded faces and dark, deep eyes. It was just in their hair they varied. There were as many shades of brown in their hair as there were stars in the sky. It could be pale as straw or dark as loam, any of the colours of earth or rock or wood. They were starting to make him feel distinctly nervous.

Rather belatedly, he endeavoured to pull himself together. If he was going to have to do this again over every little thing he enquired about, it wasn't a good idea to show weakness in front of them. Narvi's reaction had been humiliation enough.

The young Dwarf had spent the whole bargaining session leaning nonchalantly against the rocky side of the booth with his arms folded across his chest. He had kept his eyes fixed firmly on the ceiling, which was hung thickly with tools of all kinds, and his body language had stated very clearly, ‘This person has nothing to do with me.'

"Well ... that was embarrassing, wasn't it?" Narvi was back again, his face as sullen as ever. He seemed to get some kind of twisted pleasure from Celebrimbor's discomfort. "You people don't make a habit of haggling, do you?"

"Well ... no."

"Why not?"

"We just don't. Among our people, the artisan charges what the goods are worth, and the buyer pays it."

"Without question?" Narvi's face was incredulous.

"Yes. No Elf would dream of bargaining for goods - and we would not dream of charging too much deliberately. We trust each other. It is the Elven way."

Narvi looked horrified. "You can't do that here. They would bankrupt you."

"So I see," Celebrimbor said weakly. This was ridiculous. He couldn't do this. Maybe he'd buy the rest of his tools somewhere else. There had to be other places nearby. If only he could buy mithril elsewhere...

He became aware of Narvi's face staring up at him intently. "You haven't changed your mind, have you? Only I'll have to tell Gorin and..."


It seemed cowardly to admit that he had been contemplating it, and even more cowardly not to admit it. Judging by the nervous look on Narvi's face, Gorin would not be pleased at the idea of a potential customer being scared off.

If he backed out now, he would be alienating his people from their nearest neighbours. He would be making it harder for them to find good tools and raw materials. He would be unable to learn more about the Dwarves, and the remarkable skills they possessed.

Not to mention the fact that he could wave goodbye to the chance of *ever* getting his hands on any mithril.

He became aware that Narvi was still staring up at him. "I could teach you how, if you want." The Dwarf-boy sounded suddenly very young and uncertain. "It isn't hard."

"You know how? To haggle?" But he's only a child, Celebrimbor thought. Surely *nobody* would expect children to haggle for goods.

Narvi scowled at him, interpreting his incredulity as a slight on his skills. "My mother taught me. She's good."

Celebrimbor hesitated only for an instant. "I would be glad of your help, master Narvi."

It won him a smile - a genuine one - from the child, transforming the youthful face from its habitual sullenness into something bright and warm, like an eager flame. "Then follow me. We can't do this here."

He led Celebrimbor down a side passage, and then down another, and Celebrimbor guessed that they were heading north. "Where are you taking me?" he asked curiously. It seemed improper, that he, a visitor, should be left alone with a child of another race, without any to oversee them.

"Somewhere quieter. Nobody ever comes this way." Narvi stopped for an instant, and untied a lantern that was attached to his belt, and lit it. "There's just the old workings down here. They don't light these paths, so we must go carefully."

There were no elaborate carved walls here. It was all crude rock tunnels, sturdily built but basic, the floor thick with chips of rock.

"This one's mine." Narvi turned suddenly down a passageway to the left, which proved to be a dead end roughly fifty yards in length. He held the lantern up, sliding it onto a hook in the wall, and Celebrimbor looked around him in amazement. It was not a simple bare passageway like the ones round it, for the uneven walls had been smoothed out painstakingly, and in many places the walls had been intricately carved. A practice area, he realised, and a well-used one. No wonder he had finished his apprenticeship with three years to spare.

Narvi watched him look around at the walls and scowled, the adolescent awkwardness making a sudden resurgence. "I had to practice somewhere," he said defensively. "And noone ever comes down here."

Celebrimbor wandered over to the end of the tunnel, which was framed with a complex symmetrical design of spirals. "I did not think Dwarves used spirals in their carvings."

Narvi sniffed. "It's too fancy," he said disparagingly. "But good practice for curves. Most of our lot can't do curves. They say plain lines are more suited to stone, but they're just lazy. Plain lines are just easier." The words were spoken with all the intolerance of gifted youth.

"But you did that - and it is fine work." Celebrimbor ran his fingers along the lines of the large central spiral, marvelling at the intricacy and smoothness of the carving. It must have taken many hours ... and in spite of Narvi's sullen words it must have taken great love and much care, to produce something so fine.

Narvi shrugged. "You just have to know the rock, that's all. It only takes patience."

Celebrimbor did not notice the Dwarf had gone rather pink, for he was still running his fingers along the spirals on the walls. There were mistakes, it was true – small chips missing, particularly in the upper right-hand corner, which Celebrimbor guessed had been the first section attempted - but there was the beginnings of real skill there. Give him fine tuition and a hundred years…

It was a shame, really, that the child had been born a mortal. Two hundred years, maybe three hundred, and then he would be dead and gone, able to create no more beauty. Only his works would remain to speak of him, and they too, gradually, would be withered by the ravages of time.

He turned back and examined Narvi anew … the soft young face, the thick, dark brown hair, which glinted copper where the torch-light caught it, the uncertain eyes, wide and dark, and the worn, hardened hands. There was something about the almost-adult face that-

Really, his thoughts were beginning to verge on the inappropriate. About a Dwarf too – and an underage Dwarf at that.

He managed to turn his eyes away just as Narvi's impatient tutting broke through his musings. "Is there some problem? Do you wish to learn haggling or do you not?"

"My apologies, Narvi," Celebrimbor said softly. He turned back to his companion and perched himself delicately on a pile of folded dust sheets beside the boulder that Narvi was using as a seat. "I would not see you in trouble with your uncle. Let us begin."

"Very well." Narvi paused a moment to marshal his thoughts. "It's very simple. If you must buy from us, the first thing you must forget is the notion that all things have a ‘right' price. Goods are only worth what the buyer is willing to pay for them. No more, no less."

Celebrimbor felt a little shocked. "That seems rather amoral," he said softly.

"It is our way. We charge high prices because we *expect* the customer to beat us down. It is a sport to us. We all know the rules, and abide by them."

"But pity the poor stranger who comes among you."

That earned him a grim smile from the youth. "Poor stranger must learn fast, if they would not be poor in earnest."

"Very well, then. So what should *this* poor stranger do, if he is not to be destitute by even?"

"Decide a price before you start, and then name a figure lower. And always be ready to walk away, should the price become higher than you will pay. Do not let them read your thoughts on your face - and never let them know how much money you have brought." Narvi counted the points out on his fingers, and Celebrimbor, watching his hands, noticed that they were already callussed and work-hardened, in spite of his youth. "And whatever you do, do not seem too keen to buy, or the price will mysteriously rise."

"So if you would kill for something ... you must be careful not to let them know it."

Narvi gave a twisted smile, as if he found the suggestion amusing, and Celebrimbor could have sworn there was something mischievous in his expression. "Not at all. If you are willing to kill for something ... then bargaining is simple. Just be sure you have your axe to hand - and they do not."

Celebrimbor laughed out loud. "A most valuable lesson. I shall remember it well. Though I cannot help but think it would be simpler to employ you to bargain for me."

Narvi laughed at that, and the sound was warm and rich. "Employ me? You could not afford my services."

"Name your price, Narvi Norinsson." Celebrimbor flung out the challenge recklessly, before he could think better of it. There was nothing like practice, after all.

Narvi rose to the challenge immediately. "Five silver pieces per transaction."

"Five! For an untried youth! I would give you two, if you proved proficient."

"An untried youth? Were I of age, I could charge you ten! And I could not possibly accept less than five silver pieces."

"Then I would be better to buy for myself, and pay the asking price, unreasonable as it is."

"You do me wrong! I would save you twice that sum at least, on each sale. But I will accept four silver pieces per transaction - as a token of my good faith."

"Make it three, and I will gladly retain your services."

"Alas! I cannot possibly accept less than three and a half."

"Three and a half? Then we have our deal."

"Done!" Narvi shouted, laughing. "Though you should have quibbled more before you agreed to the final price." He sighed, and wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes. "Did you decide upon that sum before you began?"

"I did, my friend," Celebrimbor said with more than a touch of pride. "Do you think I am fit to bargain for myself now?"

Narvi paused, but it was clearly for calculated effect rather than genuine doubt. "Maybe. You will not disgrace yourself - *if* you keep your head." He paused, and glanced up at Celebrimbor, his face alight with mischief. "Now tell me," he said. "Did you not enjoy that?"

"You know that I did, insolent whelp." Celebrimbor stood up, and then reached down to pull Narvi too his feet, a little too aware of the feel of the callussed hand in his. "Now take me back to the market before I lose the knack of it and embarrass you once more."

"At once, my Lord! But do not forget you are in my debt now."

"I have not forgotten it - though I do not know if I *dare* ask your price."

It was as if he had touched a raw nerve. Narvi's good humour seemed to vanish instantly. "I don't want-" He broke off suddenly, as if unable to name what he did want, and Celebrimbor could see emotions unreadable warring in his face.

Whatever they were, they clearly reached a deadlock, for Narvi said no more but set his face and pressed on.

"Then may I suggest a payment?" A doubtful look was all the answer he received. He took it as permission to speak further. "If I were to give you an open invitation to visit the Elves of Eregion, and speak with the masons among my people-"

"Done!" The offer was snatched from him before he had finished uttering it. "Master Elf-Lord … we have a deal."

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A/N: Thanks to Arachne (AlsoA on ff.net) for some inspired beta-ing! The geography here predates the Watcher in the Water, and the Sirannon is still the vigorous stream that Gandalf reminisces about in FotR.

A slight slip-up - the patronymic for Dwarvish names was the suffix -ul, whereas I've used the more Scandinavian -sson. My excuse is, the -ul is Khuzdul, so they use the nordic form before strangers. I have also slipped up foodwise, as I was under the firm impression that Cram was a Dwarvish food, and now find that we're told in The Hobbit that it was made by the Men of Dale, with no suggestion in the Dwarves' reaction that the recipe was originally theirs. Call it amnesia auctoris (creative licence).

I have tried dried beef, incidentally, and it is a little like eating very thick, stringy leather.

"So, young Narvi..."

Gorin paused ponderously, and Narvi choked down the desire to scream profanities at him. Gorin had already said everything he might conceivably *want* to say on the subject, and said it all at least thrice, not to mention a great many other things that were at best parenthetical and at worst utterly irrelevant.

Gorin did not wish him to come - that much was plain. In fact, had he not feared losing potential custom from the Elven community, he would probably have forbidden him outright. But one did not deny Elven-Lords with gold to spend, however strange their whims; and Lord Celebrimbor himself had requested that Narvi be included in the party of Dwarves due to visit Eregion at the next new moon. Gorin had spent the last hour laying down a long, long list of strictures on him: do not accept any favour from them, do not speak to them of Dwarvish matters, do not speak Khuzdul within their earshot, make no promises to them etc. etc. etc. Narvi had stopped listening long before. He was to be a guest of Elves ... it was a matter half of wonder, half of fear, and he could not decide between them.

A full month had now passed since Celebrimbor had come to Khazad-Dûm, a month which seemed to have been designed to drive Narvi up the exquisitely carved walls with frustration. A large and urgent order had come into the workshop, and all available hands had been set to work on it, working long into the nights to see the job done. He had been the youngest of the crew, stuck doing the kind of basic stone-hewing that any amateur with a pick-axe could have attempted - alternating with the even more menial work of carting away the rubble and dust from his colleagues' work.

There had been no time for other pursuits - no time for more than snatching a few hours of sleep before beginning the work anew. Narvi had found it frustrating beyond words.

His home life had scarcely been better, with his youngest brother teething, and wailing and crying all the night long, and making such a racket that Narvi defied any being to sleep through it. Last night, finally, he had been driven to distraction by it, and abandoned the family home to take refuge in 'his' deserted mine-tunnel, with a stolen jug of his father's best beer to keep him company. He had swathed himself in the dust-sheets to sleep, his back to the carved rock walls, and waited for sleep to overtake him in the silence.

But even there, he had been unable to rest.

He had taken the Elf-Lord there - there, to his deserted tunnel no other Dwarf had yet seen - and it seemed as though somehow the Elf-Lord's presence still lingered there, ancient and knowing in the darkness.

He had seen the spirals, and he had understood. Narvi had never in a million years expected that.

He had looked at the Elf-Lord's hands on their first meeting, as was his wont, and found them smooth and uncallussed, seemingly unstained by any toil. No artisan could possess such hands, surely - and to any not versed in the works of hands, the carvings would surely have meant nothing. The tunnel should have been nothing more than a convenient secluded spot, while he mastered the quite babyishly simple art of haggling for goods.

But he had seen the spirals, and he had understood.

Narvi had been unable to do more than watch in bewildered silence as the Elf-Lord had traced the curved lines with his fingers - even the shoddy top-right whorls that had given him such trouble - his bright face solemn and still.

And then he had turned and gazed at Narvi, and it had been his eyes ... his eyes as he had turned away from the carving, the grey irises dark and thoughtful, and almost remote, dwelling on Narvi's face as though trying to discern its meaning...
Who are you, Narvi Norinsson, those eyes had seemed to say. What are you, that you create such beauty and hide it in the darkness? And what will you someday be?

He spoke like an artisan - but who ever met an artisan with such hands?

When Narvi had finally slept that night, after long hours of restlessness, his dreams had been disturbing, haunted by the pale, unfamiliar face and the touch of that hand in his, as the Elf-Lord had pulled him to his feet. Smooth and cool as a river-washed stone, neither soft nor hard, but firm and strong. For some reason he remembered the feel of that hand in his extremely clearly-

"... won't you, Narvi?"

Narvi returned to the present with an unpleasant jolt. "Wha-?"

"My dear boy!" There was a bite of impatience in Gorin's voice. "You haven't been listening to a word I have been saying - and he will be here shortly to meet you."

Narvi lowered his eyes, trying to look properly penitent, and not in the least irritable.

"What I was *saying*, was that I am permitting you to accompany our party to Eregion on one basis, and one basis only."

That again, thought Narvi darkly - but he was wrong.

"You are going in order to find out as much as you can about Lord Celebrimbor and his fellow-artisans, and you will tell me what you discover. And particularly their stone-wrights, and what techniques they use. Do I make myself plain?"

Had he been less furious, Narvi might have noted that it was the plainest he had ever heard his uncle speak. "You want me to be a spy," he said contemptuously. "In defilement of my status as a guest of their lord."

No, this was not the first time - far from it. It was generally acknowledged that Gorin played politics far better than he hewed stone; but *now*? With the Elves? And Gorin had the nerve to involve *him* in his schemes!

"No," Gorin said, with maddening patience, as to a simpleton. "I merely want you to behave yourself and keep your eyes open - and your mouth shut. Now come, for your noble acquaintance will doubtless be awaiting us."

He gave Narvi no time to answer. He rose, and gestured to Narvi to follow him out of the door, seemingly oblivious to his nephew's desperate attempts to reason with him.

And what am I supposed to be spying for, Narvi asked himself bitterly, lengthening his steps to keep up with Gorin's longer stride. For my King? For the Guild of Artisans? Or to help Gorin Borinsson to line his pockets with gold?

* * *

"Mind how you go, lad."

Narvi did not answer the guard, for he was too busy blinking furiously, trying to adapt his eyes to the daylight. The world above ground was far, far brighter than it had any right to be, and Narvi could only squint around him, looking vainly for the other four members of the Dwarven party. In fact he was temporarily as blind as a bat.

He had had to turn back, and that had been his undoing. His night of broken sleep in the tunnel had woken him too late to return home for his pack and cloak, and he had had to take a long detour to fetch them, losing sight of Gorin in the process. His haste, alas, had left him with no time to accustom himself to the harsh light of the world's surface, and he had raced blindly through the doors and only then realised his folly. He had only walked the surface at night before. Walking above ground in summer at noon was a very different matter.

He reached for the rocky wall to guide him, trying to find his way along the West Wall, but he had gone but five paces along, when he missed his footing and stumbled, sliding sideways down the bank of the Sirannon and into the water, landing heavily on his backside.

He climbed to his feet, muttering some words which broke both his uncle's prohibition on speaking Khuzdul and his father's admonitions about politeness, and started to wade towards the bank. If anyone *dared* to laugh at him-

The bank of the stream was slippery with mud - he presumed from his graceless descent into the water - and he climbed carefully onto it, squinting down at his feet. Around him, the sunlight refracted from the surface of the water in bright sparks and spots, dazing and dazzling him, and bewildering his sense of balance.

Once again he lost his footing, and cursed loudly.

"Steady there." He felt a hand grasp his shoulder, and felt himsef being steered swiftly to firmer ground. He glanced up instinctively at a pale blur that was certainly none of his Dwarvish companions, and then blinked and looked away. The sky around the Elf's head was perilously bright.

"Oh, it's you," he said crossly, annoyed at being caught thus. He shut his eyes but even eyelids seemed but scant protection against the light.

"And hail and well met to you too, Narvi, son of Norin. Celebrimbor of Eregion at your service."

Narvi muttered something semipolite in reply, mortified that even the Elf-Lord had seen his idiot descent into the water. *Why* did he have to be so insufferably light-hearted at a time like this?

"Come now! Could you not use that thick hood of yours to shade your eyes, until you grow accustomed to the light?"
Narvi opened his mouth to inform the Elf-Lord that the hood was for ceremonial purposes only, and that its use was strictly proscribed by ancient custom, when he remembered that one of the ordained circumstances for its use was for when travelling among untrusted strangers. He thought for a moment of Gorin and his sordid schemes, and then of the other Dwarves (probably gathered nearby), who were doubtless watching him closely. Let them say what they wanted! There was only one untrustworthy person here. He cast the hood over his head, his thoughts angry.

Much as it would have pained him to admit, the hood helped instantly. It was of thick, dark grey wool, through which the light penetrated but meanly, and he could draw it far over his eyes, shading them from the bright sky above.

"That is better, is it not? Now let us rejoin your fellows, for we must soon be off."

Narvi nodded curtly, and slunk quickly over to where Gorin and the other Dwarves were standing. There were sniggers as he arrived, but he glared at the sniggerers until they ceased. At Gorin and Celebrimbor he did not look.

"Ah ... hmmm. Celebrimbor Curufinsson. Let me apologies for my nephew's undignified antics. Most irresponsible child. I hope he will not cause us further trouble."

Narvi gritted his teeth, just refraining from uttering some words that would certainly have seen him sent home in disgrace. He could feel himself going red, and shuffled a little further into the background, earning himself a suspicious glare from Hrín Hrársdottir, the sole Dwarf-lady of the party.

"It makes no matter," Celebrimbor said lightly. "All are ready now, are they not?"

"Aye, they are." As the party began to make its way towards the mouth of the valley, Gorin paid his nephew a backward glance that was almost certainly meant as a glare, had he been able to meet Narvi's covered eyes. "The rest of your party await us?"

"Perhaps two miles hence, where there is grazing for our horses."

Narvi managed a vindictive smile at the expression that appeared on Gorin's face. Shock, consternation and fear.... It would serve Gorin right, every bit of it, if he had to jolt the whole way there on horseback.

"Horses? Are we to ride on horseback to Eregion?"

Celebrimbor gave a light laugh at that. "Fear not! We shall not ask it of you. No, the horses bore us coming, but we shall go on feet as we return."

* * *

The way was easy at first, for they followed the course of the Sirannon, and it wove a simple path down the moutainside, too gentle for waterfalls or rapids. The faint breezes on his face were gentle and cool, and though Narvi had been but little acquainted with the world above-ground he recognised in the air the scent of living things. Now that his eyes were growing used to the light of a summer's day, he could make out the beauty of the mountains around him, and the long valley stretching out below them, green with grass, darkened by the outcrops of rock and the many clusters of the holly bushes.

But for his roiling temper and his wet clothes, the sight would have been blessed indeed. He was still in yesterday's clothes as it was - the coarse brown shirt and dungarees of a stonemason, with the incongruously fine travelling cloak flung over the top - and the combined bulk of river-water and stonedust made the garments stiff and unwieldy, chafing his legs and slowing his steps as he fought to keep up with the remainder of the party.

It had been little more than half an hour of walking when the other Elves - and their horses - came into view. They were a party of six, two still mounted, four standing. The four were like Celebrimbor in appearance: dark of hair and pale of face, dressed in fine fabrics and silver jewellery. The two were different: their clothes were plain and faded, of the browns and greens that would blend in best with the hills about them. Their hair was pale and braided, their faces tanned, and they carried bows and knives. Brought as guards, Narvi presumed, and surmised that they were of lower birth than the rest.

Celebrimbor halted, and spoke to them for a moment, before leading each forward to make introductions. Narvi listened closely, but the outlandish Elven names meant nothing to his ear and were almost instantly forgotten. He did note, though, that all four were introduced as smiths, and like Celebrimbor their hands were unmarked and smooth. The archers' hands were not so, though they were marked only lightly with the callusses typical of the trade. Narvi frowned, forgetting his anger for a moment as he endeavoured to read the riddle of those hands.

"The day is fine," he heared Celebrimbor say to the party at large, "and there will be eight hours yet until sunset. Let us stop and eat before we begin the bulk of our journey."

Narvi took himself a way off from the rest of the party, and sat down. He pushed the hood of his cloak back before he allowed himself to think about the action's implications, and was relieved to find that the Sun's light was no longer an assault upon his senses. pulling off his pack and searching for food. Cram and dried beef, he noted without enthusiasm - and it would probably not have been worth the eating before it had been submerged in the Sirannon. He started to chew without enthusiasm, watching Gorin corner Celebrimbor as the latter sat down. The Elf-Lord greeted him politely, but without enthusiasm, and Narvi saw Gorin launch into what appeared to be a long explanatory speech, leaning forward slightly and gesticulating expansively. Celebrimbor seemed to be listening politely and inscrutably, displaying no hint of restlessness or ennui.

He had no inkling that Gorin would take advantage thus of his hospitality.

And why, Narvi asked himself angrily, should it matter to me? He is not my kin - he is not even a Dwarf! I am under no obligation to him, save that of a guest to his host-

The thought broke off angrily, and Narvi bit savagely into his piece of dried beef, using his teeth to tug the strands of desiccated flesh apart. It was he - Narvi - who was being asked to betray the Elf-Lord's hospitality, not Gorin. No! Gorin would keep his hands scrupulously clean.

Mahal keep him from doing his own foul work, Narvi thought moodily. He was kind to me! He does *not* deserve to be treated like that.

Kind! And what was kindness beside the ties of race and kin? Nothing. It made no bargain. It begat no contract or obligation. Then why - why by all the rocks of the earth - was the prospect of betrayal so hateful?

Because he treated me as though I was real. Nobody else does that.

And what of that? How do you know that is not just the Elven way? How do you know he does not treat all creatures like that?

Narvi sighed angrily, and thrust the remains of his food back into his pack, lacing it up firmly. Maybe he should turn back pleading an urgent errand.

A sudden shadow fell across him, and he glanced up to see the Elf-Lord approach him. He looked beyond to see Gorin deep in talk with one of the other Elves (the one, Narvi noted instinctively, who wore the richest robes). The other three Dwarves were sitting stubbornly together, not mixing with the remaining Elves.

Celebrimbor seated himself silently beside beside Narvi, his slender, unmarked hands resting on his knees. Once more, Narvi found himself staring at them in spite of himself.

The Elf-Lord would not want him to turn back.

He would if he knew.

"Escape at last," Celebrimbor said lightly, breathing what was unmistakeably a sigh of relief. "I thought your good uncle would never cease his talk. Not even the Eldar can talk so much, and to so little purpose. But Elendir nobly stepped in to take my place, for he is as fond of talk of business as Gorin seems to be."

Narvi mumbled something indistinct, which Celebrimbor clearly took for agreement. He stretched his long legs out before him and stared into the West, out over the valley before them and beyond.

Narvi watched him curiously for a moment, trying to make sense of what he saw.

The Elf-Lord was clad in a tunic of deep blue linen, worn over silver-grey hosen and light boots. Unlike his companions, he wore no jewellery or adornment of any kind, and his straight hair - not quite black - shone bright where the light of the sun caught it. It was not Dwarvish habit to apply the concept of beauty to living things, but for an instant Narvi saw him through a stone-mason's eyes, and registered the symmetry of the long body, the fineness and delicacy of the lines of the face, the flawless texture of the pale, even-coloured skin.

It was a most disconcerting feeling - to see a living being as a work of art. It made him want to reach out and touch -

And that was an even more disturbing thought.

Troubled, he turned his attention to the more prosaic matter of his wet boots. He had ignored them thus far, though they were unpleasant and uncomfortable on his feet, so he began to unlace them - before remembering that removing boots in front of a stranger was yet another thing that should not be done in polite society.

Feeling, if possible, further displeased with himself, he began to lace them up again.

"You have grown used to daylight now?" Celebrimbor asked him, seemingly coming out of his reverie. Narvi nodded shortly, and the Elf-Lord smiled down at him, his eyes far-away and thoughtful. "I should have remembered. It took me a whole half-hour, when I visited Khazad-Dûm, to grow accustomed to its caves. I should probably thank your uncle for delaying me so long."

Narvi said nothing to the mention of his uncle, but it was an effort. He looked down over the valley, with its yellow-green grass and dark holly bushes, and wondered what on earth he could possibly do. He could say nothing, and sacrifice his honour as a guest - or he could turn back and pay the penalty for disobedience to an elder. If he said aught to the Elf-Lord he would be betraying the confidence of one of his kin, and if he refused to bring tales to Gorin he would be bringing trouble upon his father, whom everybody knew owed Gorin money. Every course of action offered him only shame and dishonour. A curse on your beard, Gorin! he thought vehemently. And may the fire-damp singe your bones!

By coming to the Elves' city he had accepted the bargain his uncle had offered him. He could not renege now without sacrificing both his honour and his pride. Nor could he be the guest of the Elf-Lord without breaking the code of hospitality - yet that was what he was being required to do.

He contemplated, briefly, taking a pick-axe to his uncle's head, but the thought gave him no satisfaction.

"Would it be an imposition to ask what troubles you?" Celebrimbor asked him softly, rousing him momentarily from his thoughts.

Of all the things life had thrown at him that day, kindness, it seemed, was the one he could least endure. He had to swallow heavily twice before he could speak, while Celebrimbor gazed out across the valley, his eyes fixed on the horizon with exemplary attentiveness to the horizon.

"I just wish he'd leave me alone," he muttered darkly.

"Who?" But how could he say who?

"Everyone." Celebrimbor's eyes were on him now, dark and thoughtful, questing and questioning on his face; and how *could* he withstand that gaze? "My uncle," he said sullenly. "But do not ask me to tell you more."

"I would not do so."

Narvi sighed, and then forced a laugh. "I swear, but for my father, I'd happily take his own axe to him."

Celebrimbor looked at him abruptly. "Do not speak such things!" he said sharply. "Not even in jest."

Narvi flinched away from him involuntarily, but it seemed the next second the anger was gone, and had left no trace. "Among my people, Narvi," he said mildly, "the slaying of kin is the most terrible of all crimes. Is it not so among the Naugrim?"

It had the sound of a truth half-told to Narvi's ear, but he did not question it. He had no right to pry after others' confidences, not after what Gorin was asking him to do. He would certainly not go out of his way to seek ammunition for Gorin's schemes, whatever they were this time.

"The slaying of a Dwarf-lady," he said. "Or of a master-artisan. Those are the crimes we hate the most."

He reached for his pack, and then changed his mind. If he was to wear wet boots, it mattered not whether his socks were wet or dry. "But do not fret over Gorin," he said scornfully. "I have no plan to harm him now or ever." Though I might reconsider that later, he added to himself firmly. And then, from an inexplicable urge to explain away his sullenness, "I ... beg pardon for my ill mood. I have had but little sleep of late."

"Oh? how so?"

"My youngest brother is teething - and it is all but impossible to sleep through his wailing." Any reason but the truth. He should probably not be saying even so much as that, he thought moodily. But he wanted to talk. He wanted more than anything not to think.

"Youngest? You are one of many?"

"The second of seven brothers."

Celebrimbor laughed, the sound high and delighted. "Seven brothers! Your mother must be industrious indeed! And you have no sisters?"

Narvi looked sharply across at him, not troubling to hide the scowl on his face. "It's not considered seemly to ask about the daughters of a house," he said shortly.

"Then accept my apologies. Clearly I have much still to learn about the customs of the Naugrim."

Narvi considered his words, feeling a little ashamed of his brusqueness. "It makes no matter. Our customs are strange to you, after all. I dare say you will have your revenge when I come among your people." He clambered to his feet, hoisting his pack across his shoulders. "I shall probably offend at every turn."

"Who can tell? I tried to introduce the noble art of haggling to the elders of my people - and they found it exceedingly strange and not at all to their liking. But you come to us as a stone-wright among stone-wrights - and one who shares their love of the craft will be welcomed anywhere.

No. Not if they knew what Gorin would have him do.

"Do you have many such among your people?" he asked suddenly, regretting his words the moment he had spoken.

I do not want information, he told himself angrily. I do not wish to know *anything*.

The Elf-Lord seemed to notice nothing amiss. "Not many. Most of us are workers of metal, as I am-" You? Narvi looked quickly across once more and inspected the pale Elven hands, but no signs of the smith's trade could he see. "-but we have some thirty stone-wrights, and perhaps fifty masons. We separate the hewing from the building, as I believe you do not."

Narvi shook his head. "No. No Dwarf would lightly trust his new-hewn stone to another for the building." A smith? A smith with such hands?

"We do not feel so, but we build much. But you will see in time ... Ost-in-Edhil we name our city, and we will reach it this day before the sun has set." Celebrimbor rose gracefully, and looking around Narvi noticed that others were doing the same, packing and making ready. "Are you ready now? For we have far to go this day."

Narvi nodded, and Celebrimbor smiled down at him and then returned to his kindred to begin mustering the party, seemingly unaware of the turmoil he was leaving behind him.

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With thanks to Arachne for the beta.

The city. He could see the city before him.

They had been travelling six hours, and the sun hung ahead of them in the West, though it was still high in the sky. They had come over a shallow rise, to see the wide expanse of a valley spread before them - and there, in its depths, it stood. To Narvi's eyes, used more to the stone dwellings of the Dwarves, it was more forest than city, with widely-spaced dwellings, sited as it was amid the many holly trees and bushes.

It had not been what he was expecting - of that he was certain - but what had his expectations been? He had known, after all, no cities save Khazad-Dûm alone, and it was always said that there was no place to compare with it. He peered ahead, examining what little he could see of it, until he noticed Gorin, deep in conversation with Celebrimbor and another Elf, do the same, an avaricious light in his narrowed eyes.

There were few houses in it; and Narvi remembered that Celebrimbor had told him that building was but little advanced, and that it was many decades more before they would see its completion. They were strange buildings, tall and narrow, their lines graceful - rather like the Elves themselves, Narvi was inclined to think. His heart rose suddenly within him, at the thought of seeing such buildings raised - perhaps even taking part in the work himself - and then sank as abruptly, as he remembered what it was that Gorin had pledged him to do.

"We are less than a mile from the edge of our city now," Celebrimbor said to the assembled company, looking down over the valley with bright eyes. "But few minutes, and we shall be there." The pride rang clear in his voice - pride for his city and his people and the works of their hands - pride that suspected no ill of its companions.

Under his breath, Narvi muttered an curse. Gorin would use these people for his sordid schemes, and he, Narvi, had been thrust into furthering them. The long journey had brought him no nearer an answer to his dilemma, or even to the question of why he was so unwilling to hurt the Elf-Lord, or why it pained him so to sacrifice his good opinion.

Celebrimbor, in fact, was starting to trouble him.

They were coming to the Elves' city for trade negotiations, and yet whenever a chance presented itself, Celebrimbor would slip away to speak to him - to Narvi, who could be of no more importance to the negotiations than a stratum of inferior shale - speaking of matters of craft, rather than striving with Gorin for the contract that both, apparently, desired. He had even overheard Gorin remark on it several times, to Grór, one of the King's Treasurers who was with them, and once he had seen two of the Elves exchange glances over it.

It would have been pleasant to have his company, but for the uneasy state of his conscience - but it was curious. Disturbing, even; and even more disturbing that he found himself missing Celebrimbor's presence once he had departed, and watching with greedy eyes the grace with which he moved, envying the others to whom he spoke.

He looked up from his musings, and realised that they were now close indeed to the entrance of the city. It looked greener, close to, and more wooded, and where a city wall should surely have spanned it there was only a boundary marked by slender branches, with two staves set upright in the soil where the posts of a gate would one day be.

He wondered absently for a moment what kind of gates they would be: something fine, no doubt - metal wrought in something close to a filigree manner, perhaps like the branches of a pair of trees, the gateposts pale stone carved very smooth.

The impracticality of the design in his head almost made him laugh aloud. And what protection would *that* give from foes? It would suit the Elves well enough, to be sure, but it would need to be backed up by a firm pair of outer stone or wood gates, like shutters to a window, if it was to be at all sound.

He glanced around at what he could see of the city, and came swiftly to the conclusion that Elves did not build their dwellings for soundness. The only way of strengthening those flimsy houses would be through solid buttresses - and they would spoil entirely the fine lines of the walls.

Stop dreaming, Narvi, he told himself firmly. Are you here to learn from them, or to redesign their city?

Learn from them, indeed. One day, he swore, he really would do something unpleasant to Gorin.

The party had drawn to a halt now, and Celebrimbor was addressing the assembled party, speaking with the courteous wordiness that the Elves seemed always to do so well. Narvi had missed most of his words, but it seemed to be something about the arrangements being made to welcome them.

Welcome. The word made him wince, and then it made him angry.

I am *not* going to do it, he told himself fiercely. I shall violate nobody's welcome, for nobody's sake, let Gorin say what he will.

They were gathered before the gates - the gates, at any rate, that would some day come to be made - ready to pass within the city. He tensed, watching as the party began to enter the city, and held his position. He could see the two archers looking at him curiously, and did not move, narrowing his eyes in determination. Gorin would have to force him to move, and then there would be trouble.

And then there would be more trouble.

The others had all passed the city gates now, save the two archers, and he saw Celebrimbor turn and look back at him, faint puzzlement in his eyes. He felt the blood rush to his face, but did not allow himself to look away.

No, he told himself firmly. Never. *Never*.

"Narvi?" Celebrimbor was by his side now, crouched slightly to be eye to eye with him. "Something troubles you."

Everything troubles me, he thought. *You* trouble me. He said nothing.

"You *are* welcome here," Celebrimbor said softly. "Do not fear to enter."

A burst of hot indignation, at the idea that he might feel fear over so slight a thing. It made him suddenly bold. "Not *that,*" he said scornfully. "I need to speak to you - now."

Celebrimbor glanced quickly up at the two Elves on horseback, who showed no sign of departing to stable their horses. "Can it not wait?"

"No." Narvi said starkly. "It cannot."

Celebrimbor looked up at the two archers again, and this time they accepted the command and turned away, leaping down lightly to lead their horses away. "Now, what troubles you, child?" he asked gently.

"I'm not a child," he muttered instinctively. "I-"

The words, damn them, would not come; and for a moment Narvi stood there with his mouth ridiculously open, very conscious of the Elf-lord's eyes, searching his face, his expression puzzled and a little anxious.

Speak, damn you, he exhorted himself. Tell him!

But whatever his mind's decision, his mouth seemed in no mind to betray his family. He swallowed awkwardly, and shook his head, angered at his own impotence.

"Narvi-" Celebrimbor reached out suddenly, as if to touch his arm, but pulled his hand back without making contact, glancing back towards the city, his ears pricking up as if at some slight noise. Over his shoulder, Narvi saw Hr¡n Hr rsdottir turn back to watch him, and then turn away again.

"I fear this is no place for speaking private words," Celebrimbor said quietly. "Come within, and we will speak later, as soon as we are able - I give you my word - but for now we must enter lest we be missed."

He straightened up, giving Narvi an enquiring glance. For a long instance, Narvi hesitated, and then he followed the Elf-Lord into the city.

* * *

Narvi sighed, and stared down at his plate, feeling thoroughly displeased with himself. He had not yet touched a mouthful of the food.

He was seated in a clearing in the trees, trying to be inconspicuous in a large crowd of Elves, the other Dwarves a few yards away, discussing some matter of business or other in low voices among themselves, the Elves around them respecting their privacy. Celebrimbor was further still, sitting on the edge of a well, surrounded always by others. Twice he stood, and made as if to approach where Narvi sat; both times he was accosted by some one or other of the Elves before he could get beyond a dozen steps.

He should not have entered their city; he certainly should not have accepted their hospitality - and as for accepting food from them-!

His honour still insisted that he tell everything to Celebrimbor immediately - yes, in defiance of any loyalty to kin or race. Narvi was a little shocked to find that he was prepared to do exactly that, with no thought to his own people. He would be stupid even to attempt it - he did at least have enough common sense left to realize that.

It did not help that right now he was angry enough to stand up and denounce Gorin before the entire assembled company of Elves, Dwarves, and even a few Men. To stand by idle any longer would drive him insane. He *had* to do something - anything.

I will, he promised himself, just as soon as I find a course of action that won't lead me deeper into trouble.

He was reminded suddenly of one of his parents' frequent quarrels about money (his parents' quarrels were always about money), and of his mother berating his father, as she did whenever he had been particularly feckless. "Are you a Dwarf or a dormouse?" she had demanded angrily. "I don't care how much you despise your brother - may his beard rot away! - but why for Mahal's sake can you not try *thinking* like him for once? Then maybe we wouldn't be in such debt to him."

He recalled that his father had snapped back angrily something about his principles not being for sale, and his mother pointing out that principles were all very well, but you couldn't eat them, and little Gróa had outgrown her skirts, and where was the money to get her longer ones? And on, and on.

It had made little difference, of course. Gróa, of course, would continue to wear her brother Nóin's old breeches, and the skirts would be set aside until her sister Sigdís was tall enough to wear them. The family would continue getting by on two meals of taters and dried beef a day, together with any rabbits Narvi's brother Nar managed to snare.

But that was not the point. The Elf-Lord, was, if possible, nearly as guileless as Narvi's father, before his mother had forcibly taken over all negotiations for the workshop. You could not afford to be straightforward and honest, Narvi told himself emphatically, when dealing with a - a *turd* like Gorin.

So much for what his mother would say - he *knew* that already. What he wanted to know what how to keep his honour in the process - which was what his father would say.

"My thanks, ma," he muttered, grimacing at his plate. "That really was not the advice I was looking for."

But he still started to shovel the food down, his mind pondering intently what his next step might be.

* * *

He ate absently, the way he always did when preoccupied with craft-work or business, automatically lifting from hand to mouth, utterly indifferent to what he ate.

The food, when he had the attention to spare for it, was perfect - venison freshly roasted, and pale-fleshed bread that contained no grit. He did spare a moment to wonder absently how they ground their corn, if they used no millstones, and then decided that they must have some system instead of sieving the grit from the meal. Wine was poured for all, though Narvi noted that Celebrimbor refused it, and drew himself water from the well instead, speaking as he did so to a tall Elf in white, whose hair was a startling bright silver. He watched for a few moments, wondering what they were discussing.

"Do I speak to Narvi Norinsson of Moria?"

Narvi looked up abruptly to find one of the Elves before him, a short figure with very dark blue eyes. He set his plate aside quickly and climbed to your feet, bowing slightly awkwardly, embarrassed at not having heard the Elf's approach. "At your service," he said, though he felt little disposed to be at anybody's service at that moment - and certainly not to one who referred to Khazad-Dûm as 'the black chasm'. He examined the Elf through narrowed eyes.

The Elf returned it, his eyes amused. "At yours and your family's," he said, as though the courtesy was natural to him. "I am Elgon of Nargothrond, master stone-wright of this city. Lord Celebrimbor has asked me to take charge of your welfare during your stay."

Narvi had worked out his trade already - he could hardly have failed to do so. The Elf's hair, which had seemed at first glance to be a dark grey, was in fact a jet black, heavily caked with stone-dust. The long apron he wore over his jerkin was also thick with dust, and a thick bandage was wound around one thumb. So Elven hammers also miss their mark, Narvi thought. He had been starting to wonder about that, and then felt guilty for wondering.

In fact, Elgon was the most reassuring person Narvi had met so far among the Elves - the most familiar, he supposed. He even had the preoccupied air of the committed craftsman, an air that suggested that though his body was present, more than half his mind still dwelled on his work. Narvi wondered if he resented being called from it.

He bowed again. It was a ridiculous honour to send a master artisan to supervise a visiting apprentice. He struggled for a moment for a suitably deferential phrase. "I am honoured, Master Elgon," he finally managed; and then, more awkwardly, "I hope I am not keeping you from important work."

The Elf waved the words away. "Our works will keep. Never before have we had the chance to speak with a stone-wright of the Dwarves. I should almost say that we should learn from you, and not you from us."

That stung; but Elgon, luckily, seemed oblivious to any discomfort Narvi might have felt.

"I am commanded to bring you with us, and show you what you would see of our works, if you are willing," he continued. The words had the tone of a question, almost of a summons, and Narvi cast a quick glance towards Celebrimbor, but the Elf-Lord was speaking with the silver-haired Elf.

Narvi hesitated for a long moment. Rebellion here - now - before this stranger who knew nothing of him, would serve no purpose, and if the Elf-Lord was still uselessly in conversation with that other Elf what more could he do?

"I shall be glad to come with you," he said, uncomfortably aware that his tone belied him.

* * *

The paths were wide and grassy, and Elgon's light shoes left but slight marks on their surface, altogether unlike the deep imprints Narvi himself was doubtless leaving in the grass behind him. He followed curiously, staring with unhidden interest at the buildings they passed.

As he had seen before, they were tall and slender, the walls thin and almost insubstantial, the door mere light screens that offered little privacy and no protection. Dwarves would never design their dwellings so flimsy; but then nor would they waste such fine symmetry of line on mere dwelling-places. He wondered how the buildings would weather the passage of time, and the cold winds that blew down the valley at the height winter.

He was brought up short, seeing that Elgon had halted suddenly. He stopped also, seeing a tall Elf-lady coming towards them, clad in long white robes, with hair that shone like gold and silver, bright enough to light the twilight, longer than any he had seen so far.

"My lady Galadriel," Elgon said, bowing low. Narvi bowed also, hanging back a little.

"Good even, Elgon. I trust the work goes well?"

Narvi stared up at the lady with unhidden awe. He had heard of the Lady Galadriel, of course, for she had visited Khazad-Dûm ten years ago to negotiate an alliance of arms with King Durin - but he had never seen her, until now. Durin, it was said, had been impressed with her understanding of warfare. Narvi could believe it - could almost envision her as a warrior, clad in silver armour like a fish's scales, bearing a long sword, with a shield at her back and her foes falling back before her. Rumour said that she had once been a warrior. He wondered if it was true.

He pulled himself abruptly from his reverie when he heard her address him.

"Be welcome, son of Khazad-Dûm," she said to him, and her voice was low and melodious. "Long may your folk dwell at peace with us."

The words struck him with a pang of guilt, and he looked up at her nervously, overtaken by a sudden urge to confess everything. She met his eyes easily, with a gaze that probed and questioned, but gave nothing away. He twitched nervously when he heard her voice ringing in his head.

Be easy, child, she said silently. For all who wish us well are truly welcome among us.

Narvi blushed and bowed. He managed somehow to stammer out a greeting, almost forgetting the proper words of the civilities.

"I thank you, lady," he managed to stammer out eventually. "You are most kind."

She laughed at that, a sound like the tolling of silver bells, and swept away, leaving Narvi staring at her, bewildered.

Elgon looked down at him with compassion at his confusion. "Fear not," he said. "So is it with all who meet our lady."

* * *

The hall Elgon led him to was wide and tall, at the very centre of the city. The building was almost complete, lacking only the carving on some of the pillars that supported the high arched roof. Tables were set out in its centre, littered with the tools of the stone-wright's craft, and two Elves sat by them, poring over a parchment plan and discussing it in hushed voices. A third (who must surely have been younger than the rest), was sweeping the floor beneath a suspiciously flimsy set of scaffolding.

But Narvi was not concerned with them, only with the stonework of the high walls, and their fine, intricate carvings, somewhat fussy to a Dwarvish eye, but undeniably lovely. He had the sudden feeling that peering closer would reveal more detail, and more, if he were to use an eye-glass upon it. And the way the interlocking stones of the walls met each other so smoothly - *that* would have taken someone - probably the youth - long hours of work to achieve.

They understood the rock here. That was plain.

"Our guest is here, friends," Elgon called, and the three looked up, walking over with graceful steps. Narvi regretfully abandoned his study of the building and looked up to greet them. They were all dark of hair, with eyes of grey or blue, and though their clothes were fine and well-made they were coated heavily with stone-dust, and covered with unbleached woollen aprons, not unlike those worn by Dwarf-maidens before they started their apprenticeships.

"Greetings," the tallest said to Narvi, bowing in the Elven style. "I am Anardil Findurion, and this is my brother Ailindil. Duilin here is our cousin, and he has but newly completed his own apprenticeship."

The younger Elf bowed, only a little less elegantly than his elders. "At your service," he said, and Narvi could have sworn for a moment that he saw a hint of nervousness in his eyes.

He returned the bow. "At yours and your family's," he said formally, more at ease for seeing another nervous.

"And what does a Dwarf make of our work?" Ailinsil asked, with a gesture that encompassed the hall in its entirety.

Narvi looked around him, glad to have the chance to examine the hall unreservedly. As before, the first thing that struck him was its beauty - the way the stone had been carved and finished, the arching lines of the roof and ornate stone balconies that lined each side of the room.

The main doorway was made in the shape of an arch, and Narvi noted with surprise that the roof of the arch was made of many stones, with the largest set in the centre to keep the others in place. Ingenious, of course, and sound in its way, but different. The Dwarvish custom was always to carve their arches from a single piece of rock and set them in place. Stronger, it had been found, though the rock had to be well-chosen; but the symmetry of the stones they had used here was pleasing.

He stepped outside once more and walked slowly round the perimeter of the building, exploring the carvings with his fingers and awed anew by the incredible beauty of the work, and the time and thought that must have gone into its creation.

He shook himself mentally, asking himself whether he was a stone-wright or not. Well enough to look at the surface of a building; but most of the stone-wright's business was with its bones.

He stopped, suddenly, at one of the open balconies, and examined the edges of the walls for thickness. Adequate, certainly; but to Dwarvish eyes rather thin and flimsy - structurally sound, granted, but hardly *strong*. If enemies came against it with a battering-ram it would fall within a day.

He returned inside, looking with more discerning eyes at the stone of the ceiling.

"What is this hall?" he asked Elgon, who was waiting for him. He had the sudden suspicion that in some small way he was being tested.

Elgon smiled, and the very vagueness of the smile confirmed Narvi's suspicions. "We call it the House of the Mírdain," he said. "It shall be our meeting-place when it is complete."

"Oh," Narvi said, listening to the echoes of his own voice in the bare hall. Suddenly he put two fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly. The four Elves flinched involuntarily at the sound.

"You don't plan to perform music here, do you?" he asked them.

"Why, no," Elgon said. "What makes you ask us?"

"The acoustics are dull, just at the pitch where the ear perceives most."

Elgon pondered this for a moment, and Narvi wondered if he was mistaken. He realised suddenly that he knew nothing of Elven hearing, or what it perceived most clearly. All creatures' ears, so he had been taught, were attuned to hear most clearly the voices of their own, and the silvery peals of their voices indicated fewer upper partials in their tones than the mellower Dwarven voices.

Elgon, though, seemed oblivious to his sudden doubt. "Well, so there is. But we have no need for halls of song: we sing only out of doors."

Outside? Narvi asked himself, amazed. "But you would lose the sound!"

Elgon laughed. "We do not so! Have you not seen how the birds make themselves heard in the forests? For they use the trees themselves to magnify their voices."

In truth, Narvi had never seen a forest and the only birds he knew were night-birds - owls and pipistrelles. He hesitated, reluctant to confess his ignorance.

"We shall show you later, if you would learn." Elgon looked up once more at the curves of the ceiling. "No ... never yet have I seen a building made for singing. I doubt that such a thing exists."

Narvi could not let that stand. If there was any part of the study of stone in which he knew he could hold his own it was the art of sound-smithying. "Of course it does," he said impatiently. "Do you not teach the mathematics of sound? A good sound-smith can make the walls sing as much or as little as he desires!"

Anardil laughed, a light merry sound that rang almost to the rafters, and Narvi noted again the slight deadness of the echoes. "Mathematics, say you? But it is but a branch of philosophy! Can numbers teach you the secrets of sound?"

"Yes," Narvi said emphatically, not liking at all to be doubted thus. "Numbers are the heart of all engineering, as the fire is the heart of the forge."

The younger Elf started forward eagerly at his words. "Could you not show us? I have learned philosophy and reckoning, and-"

"Be silent, young one," Elgon said with sudden sternness. "I doubt that it is permitted for Narvi to share such secrets with us."

Narvi tensed, suddenly very conscious that he had been letting his mouth run away with him. He'd forgotten for a moment that he was a Dwarf among Elves and been speaking only as he would to stone-wrights. Gorin would be apoplectic if he thought Narvi might tell anything here. In fact-

Oh, what fitting revenge! Very slowly, a smile began to spread over Narvi's face. Gorin wanted him to steal knowledge. Very well! He would pay for it in kind.

"Hardly a secret! It is but a knack we teach to children," he said, his voice taut with sudden reckless gaiety, trembling slightly on the lie as he spoke it. He crouched down, and began to draw in the stone-dust, an outline of the building they were in. "It is a simple enough matter, after all. I can show you easily enough."

* * *

It was more than three hours later before he returned to the Hall of Guests. He had explained all the principles of acoustics to them at length, (though he was beginning to doubt whether they had the wit to grasp them,) and was feeling decidedly lighter of heart and head as he pushed the door open.

Let that teach him, he thought exultantly. If I steal their knowledge then at least I can give them other knowledge back.

They had shown him much, to be sure (and the designs of the tools they used would doubtless be of particular interest to Gorin) but at least he had done enough to make some recompense. Call it fair exchange, he thought, exultant

He halted suddenly, passing the door to Gorin's room and hearing laughter inside. It made him go suddenly cold, and he stilled abruptly. He could hear the other three Dwarves also within, their voices good-humoured and happy.

Sounds like their negotiations went well, he thought sourly.

"...*such* an innocent. It makes matter very simple." It was Hrín who spoke, and Narvi was reminded suddenly that she was said to be an even more ruthless bargainer than Gorin.

"Ah well, yes, indeed. Such things will work in our favour, will they not? He is a most unworldly creature, to be sure, positively unversed in the ways of bargaining."

Narvi stilled, feeling his heart plummet. It took no difficulty to guess of whom it was they spoke. Very softly and slowly he began to edge backwards to the door, thankful that it was but a light and flimsy screen that would have been utterly inadequate by Dwarven standards .

He slipped through it, anxiously, and went quickly in search of Celebrimbor.

* * *

"What did you tell him?"

He had finally tracked Celebrimbor down in a clearing outside the city boundary, sitting alone under one of the many holly trees, his head tilted slightly upwards to catch the evening breezes.

"Narvi? I was seeking you earlier, and-"

"What did you *tell* him?"

Celebrimbor looked at him sharply and started to his feet. "Narvi! What is it?"

"You cannot afford to take risks when you bargain with Dwarves. I taught you that when you were in Khazad-D–m with us. I *know* you can do it! Did you forget? Did you-"

Celebrimbor seemed somewhat taken aback at that, and even took a step back in the face of Narvi's anger. "Narvi - Narvi, wait! We have as yet made no bargains, or even discussed what our terms will be," he said, his voice astonished. "Indeed, so far I have done little more than listen to your uncle talk. Rest assured we have struck no deals as yet, fair or foul."

It was not what Narvi had expected, and he simply stood there for a moment, unable to speak. "Oh", he said finally. "I-"

He could not quite bring himself to say any more. He felt torn, somehow, between relief and frustration, and totally at a loss as to how to proceed further. "Sorry," he finally managed.

He bit back a grimace at the word. Dwarves were not supposed to apologise, save to their loved ones or as a last resort in matters of honour. "You have to be careful when bargaining against Dwarves," he said. "You know that. And this is too important to mess up - whatever your principles might be."

"So you say. But I do not seek an alliance of commerce, but of crafts - we are artists here, not traders, and we would wish to work with your people for the glory of all. What are the laws of commerce to the forging of great works?"

"They are its fuel," Narvi said firmly, mentally muttering imprecations against feckless idealists. "Could you live without food? Or without the money for the tools of your trade or its basic materials? You cannot let him fleece you!"

Celebrimbor did not answer, merely stared at him for a long moment, and then stepped slowly forward to crouch before Narvi.

"What is it, Narvi," he said. "What is it that troubles you so badly? You speak as though your uncle poses some threat to my people."

Narvi swallowed and said nothing, unable to meet the Elf's gaze. He swallowed again, tensing his shoulders.

"What troubles you, my friend?" Celebrimbor asked softly, and the very kindness of his words caused a wave of rage to flow over his mind.

Why should I harm him, he asked himself vehemently, when he has harmed none? When he returned home, he swore, kinslaying or no, he would wrap Gorin's guts round his neck and choke the life out of him.

"Gorin," he said vehemently, spitting the word from his mouth like a bitter taste. "He would have me walk among you as your guest, and then return as his tale-bearer."

"His tale-bearer? Do your people believe us to pose some danger to you?"

"No," Narvi said scornfully. "Most all are keen to trade - and curious to know more of you - and father would never have let me come if he felt I might come to harm." He could feel his anger failing, and it seemed to take much of his strength with it. "No ... Gorin would not involve himself in anything so dangerous. He just believes there is profit to be had of you, and would claim for himself the richest of the pickings."

He could see the Elf-Lord stood still before him, watching him, and Narvi felt suddenly too weary to bear the reproach of that gaze any longer. "Do what you will to me," he muttered. "I don't care. But I *will* not take advantage because of *his* greed."

He tore his eyes away from the Elf-Lord's face, and looked steadfastly at the ground. So he had done it; and it now seemed a truly foolish action.

His mind, in an unhelpful surge of inspiration, showed him in quick succession all the possible consequences of his actions. He could have precipitated sudden and bloody war between the two peoples, he could have severed all hopes of trade agreements, not to mention any prospect of alliances or friendship - and if any of those things happened, his own people would either imprison or execute him, supposing, of course, that the Elves had not done so first. At the very least he would be disowned, and his name erased from the Mazarbul scrolls. Of course, before that happened, the Elves might have killed him, or held him hostage, they would certainly ban him from their city-

"Narvi." Celebrimbor walked softly over to him, crouching down before him and lifting his face, so that he had no option to look him in the eye. He shivered involuntarily as the Elf's fingers stirred and shifted the half-grown hair of his beard, looking helplessly up him.

The eyes that met his were terrifying.

"Listen to me, Dwarf-child." The voice was calm and remote, as if some terrible power underlaid it. "I am an immortal, of a race of immortals. I have lived already many generations longer than you ever will, and will live many centuries after you are gone. I have seen things already more terrible than you can ever imagine, and more deep than you will ever comprehend. We are the first-born, eldest of the free peoples. My people and I do not stand or fall by the petty concerns of mortals."

He paused; though Narvi did not dare speak. He hardly dared even breathe.

"Your uncle can learn nothing that will harm us, and little that he may turn to his profit; and in time even that will be taken from him. He is of no importance to us. Leave him to his petty profiteering, and do not let him steal your joy."

Narvi stared back at him, and felt somehow broken and lost. The Elven face ... so close to his, and yet so remote ... and so similar to his disturbing dreams, and so unattainable- Some part of him wanted nothing more than to curl into a ball somewhere dark and howl, like his baby brother in the night. He jeered at it, until it fled and he felt master of himself once more.

"I too am a mortal," he said flatly. "Why would you wish to waste your time on me, if our concerns are so trifling?"

"You are an artisan. The works of an artist stand long after their author has passed away. Is not that a type of immortality?"

"No." Very suddenly, very severely, Narvi *needed* to know why, whatever the price or the pain that came with it. "And do not tell me it was because of my skill. You met many of my people who had far greater skill than I will ever attain. You had no reason to single out a mere apprentice."

"I seem to recall that by the terms of our bargain-"

"You came to meet us, remember, at the gates of Khazad-D–m - and yet you spent more time talking to me than you did making deals. Did you have to do that?"

"I- no..."


Narvi stared bullishly at Celebrimbor, but though he returned the gaze, something of his normal assurance seemed to have escaped him. He looked ... uncertain ... as he had in Khazad-D–m, in the Hall of Artisans, trying to haggle before he had understood the rules.

But the Elf-Lord made him no reply - and Narvi could have ground his teeth in frustration. He *had* to know, if it killed him - but for this knowledge he had nothing with which to bargain. Or rather, nothing that he would willingly have used.

If there was one thing, after all, that the Dwarven way of bargaining could teach, it was the same lesson the prudent learned from any forms of combat, whether of mind or body, and that was the lesson of watching - of observing the opponent, of reading their hearts in the things they did and said, and the things they did not.

He could have asked why the slaying of kin was such a grievous subject to the Elf-Lord, or why, back in Khazad-Dúm, his jaw had tightened whenever Gorin called him 'son of Curufin'. But those would have been but base coinage - and every being had the right to keep their own secrets.

Better to receive no answer than to be reduced to bargaining by such means. He waited. He said nothing.

"There is a spirit," Celebrimbor said slowly, as if trying to utter something complex beyond the meagre limits of words. "A spirit that but few artisans possess, something separate from skill or talent or the love of the craft, though it is bound up with all those things. It is the spirit that would take wing where others are content only to walk. It looks always above and beyond the bounds the world sets, seeking to carve out the new paths. It seeks more than beauty ... it seeks perfection - and it strives for it. Such a spirit can transform the world, even if it lives but few years."

He smiled softly and sat down, beckoning Narvi to sit also. "I have always called it the spirit of Aul‰," he said. "He whom you call Mahal. He was my first teacher in matters of the forge, in the years of my childhood before I crossed the sea." He inhaled slowly, a long, soft breath, like the sighing of the evening breeze. "It was long, long years ago, but I have forgotten nothing."

Mahal ... Narvi realised suddenly that he had been holding his breath. He released it slowly. "He was your teacher?" he asked, half wondering, half unbelieving, not daring to look away lest he vanish away.


"What did he teach you?" The words came out as a whisper.

"Ohhh .... many things. Wonderful things. Too many to speak of now." Celebrimbor fell silent, and it seemed to Narvi as though he was lost in some bittersweet memory that threatened to carry him away in its tides.

"Will you show me?" he asked suddenly. "I want to see what you make."

Celebrimbor laughed delightedly, the rippling sound abruptly breaking the solemn mood. "Why, certainly I shall! It shall be my joy and pleasure, for I have been longing to show you my works since first we met." He rose quickly to his feet, running a hand absently through his hair. "I would very much value your opinion, in fact. Come! My workshop is not far."

He set off so quickly that Narvi was forced almost to run to keep up, and it was some minutes before he relaxed his pace, with a laughed apology, waiting for Narvi to catch up.

"I will disappoint you, I fear," he said, "for I have little to show you, I fear," he said, sorting through the contents of one of the drawers. "I have just delivered a large order to Harlindon, and only a few oddments remain behind for other customers."

"You keep no samples? Nothing to show new customers?"

"No," Celebrimbor said, and Narvi noticed that a strange tenseness seemed to have come into his back and shoulders.

"No keepsakes, even?"

Celebrimbor halted abruptly, wheeling round to face him. "Never!" he hissed angrily. "I keep *nothing*. Not one thing."

He paused suddenly, casting a hand across his eyes, and when he spoke again he seemed hesitant and somewhat lost. "It is better not, or so I have always believed. It is our part to make, and not to keep - that was what Aulë taught me. I ... have seen much of the ills that come when a craftsman cannot relinquish his works."

"What if you cannot sell it?"

"Then I would give it away." He smiled ruefully at Narvi's expression of incredulity. "But better that than clinging on to our works. *You* do not hold on to them so, I am sure."

"I am a stone-wright," Narvi said, with the air of one stating the obvious to a fool. "We can't usually take caverns away with us." The only reply he received was a raised eyebrow that made the tip of one pointed ear twitch. "And besides, if I didn't think I could make better some day I'd throw my tools - and myself - into the nearest mine."

Celebrimbor looked at him suddenly and laughed. "Then you are fortunate beyond all reckoning. Long may your hands be productive!" He turned from the path then, into a grove that was shaded with trees. "But I still fear you think me foolish."

Narvi chose to make no comment as to that. "Just don't tell my uncle that you give things away," he said. "He'll think you're a complete fool." No need to add that Gorin thought as much already.

Celebrimbor's workshop seemed to be a mere grove in the open air, with a single long table at its centre, littered with tools and oddments of wire, shaded by the holly bushes and rowan trees. Narvi looked around him in amazement, astounded by the lack of privacy or security which the open space provided.

Celebrimbor approached the desk eagerly, rifling through the rather disordered clutter of objects on its surface, and Narvi recognised in his manner the eager proprietorial pride of any artisan for their workshop. All trace of his customary vagueness had vanished.

The table was too high for Narvi to see much of its contents, so he climbed up onto the tall stool that stood on its long side, glancing with curiosity at the clutter that littered the table-top. His eye fell on a pile of parchments wedged under a smooth stone in the centre of the table, parchments that appeared to be covered with plans.

For an instant it looked as if Celebrimbor was about to speak, but he stopped short, and laid down his works silently for Narvi to inspect.

Narvi looked up at him, startled to see the apprehension in his eyes, and then looked back at the items of jewellery that had been placed for his inspection. He looked down and hesitated, indicating the magnifying lens on the table.

"Could I?"

Celebrimbor nodded wordlessly, and Narvi picked it up, wondering somewhat at the Elf-Lord's sudden shyness. He picked up the first of the pieces - carefully, for it seemed delicate - and began to examine it.

* * *

There was beauty, and there were things that were beyond beauty, things that seemed to speak direct to some hidden part of the soul that did not normally hear voices.

The first had been a simple silver circlet, designed, he supposed, for some minor noble, or the lesser son of a great house. It was plain in design - it should have been something unremarkable, but it was not. It was something in the line - something that reflected the flights of birds or the eddies of water - no, something that was all those things and more. It was a simple silver circlet, but somehow he had made the silver *live*.

The other pieces were likewise: a brooch in the likeness of a shoal of fish, a necklet of filigree-work so delicate and so beautiful that Narvi hardly dared handle it - and finally an engraved golden collar, studded with jewels and heavy, which but for the fineness of the work would have looked overdone and gaudy. He had looked enquiringly at Celebrimbor over that one: the commissioner had fancied himself an artist, and provided the design, leaving Celebrimbor only to carry it out.

"If there *is* a way of measuring greatness," he remarked over that one, "it is the capacity to save customers from themselves."

"It is a form of greatness I would relish never having to exercise."

Narvi hid a smirk at that. So even the Elves considered customers with pretensions to be fools ... perhaps they were not so different as they would have others think.

"I'm lucky," he said wryly. "I'm not important enough for that."

"You will be. Escape it while you can."

Narvi looked at the pile of parchments on the table for about the seventh time. Raw designs had always fascinated him - of the things that had been made, and those that never would be. They showed so much.

Celebrimbor had obviously perceived the direction of his gaze. "You may see them, if you wish."

Narvi did not wait for a second telling, lifting their prisoning stone off gently, and thumbing through them with careful fingers. *These* were the measure of an artisan - the simple bracelet of silver and jet, every dimension carefully measured and notated, the filigree pendant like the skeleton of a leaf, together with jottings from an experiment about tensile strengths of electrum, all set down in flowing letters, other designs, some detailed, some sketchy and fanciful, clearly never destined to be made ... and then a final parchment, of a design he recognised: a pair of metal gates, the two halves wrought in the likeness of two trees, the gate-posts smooth stone. The measurements were vaguer here - many question marks and scribbled jottings, lacking the normal elegance of the flowing hand. Written diagonally across one corner were the words 'not strong enough'.

Easy enough to guess where that design was intended for; easy enough for a Dwarf to solve the inherent weakness in that design. Strange that it should be so close to Narvi's own imaginings.


Celebrimbor came up behind him, looking over his shoulder.

"Those were my plans for the East-Gate of our city," he said softly, leaning over Narvi's shoulder, the weight of his body almost resting against Narvi's back. "But I fear they are unworkable. Metal for gates offers no protection."

Narvi looked up at him, intending to make some answer to that, only to find the Elf-Lord's face mere inches above his, staring at him as if at an unexpected stranger.

"Celebrimbor?" he asked. He had never said that name before, and it sounded strange, almost Dwarvish under his tongue - Khalebrimbur.

He heard Celebrimbor make some small, indistinct sound that might have been a name; it sounded like "Aulë". And then the last inches between them closed and were gone, and he felt the Elf-Lord's lips on his, the smooth, unmarked hands light and cool against his cheeks; the mouth strong and surprisingly warm...

He felt his body twitch, as if from some sudden sting ... and it seemed that whatever enchantment it was had been broken. Celebrimbor jerked away, letting go of him so fast that Narvi almost lost his balance, the stool almost toppling over, so that he had to make a barely-controlled descent from it, reeling back and sitting down abruptly on the ground.

He looked up, and saw that Celebrimbor was sitting also, not two yards from him, staring intently at the ground, a pale flush lighting his cheekbones, the rest of his face chalk-white in the light of the first stars of the evening.

Narvi was uncommonly conscious that his own face was glowing like a furnace. His heart was racing uncontrollably, and his body appeared to be thrumming like a plucked string. His suddenly witless brain was still trying to comprehend what had just happened.

"Forgive me, Narvi," he heard the Elf mutter, seemingly deserted by all his usual graces. "I should not have - You are but a child, and I should never-"

Normally Narvi would have reacted with anger to any who dared call him a child. But he seemed somehow to have mislaid his anger - and his voice had vanished with it.

It could not be that, surely? he thought, suddenly panicky. It could not be!

They never told you what it was like, just that you *knew*. They never spoke of it, they said it was unnecessary, that it wasn't seemly to discuss it. When it happened, the elders always said, it was like nothing else, it was unmistakable, you would know. But-

But it couldn't happen here, could it? It was only Dwarf-maids who stirred the love-longing. Everybody knew that, it was obvious.

It's too soon - I'm too young, he thought in a surge of panic. And it doesn't happen like that anyway. It cannot be that, surely?

No, it could not be. That was just not the way it happened, it was just -

He had never paid much heed to *how* it happened, convinced as he had been that it would never happen to him. It had been an irrelevance, to one so taken up with the love of stone, something that only happened to others and bore no relevance to him.

He remembered, suddenly, his aunt's disapproving words over two young Dwarf-males who had moved from their family's homes to share tunnels together. Everyone knows it happens, she had snapped, they don't have to make it *obvious*.

What are they supposed to do, his mother had snapped back. Transact their business in public tunnels for everyone to see.

That isn't the point, his aunt had answered, not at all daunted. It isn't right, and it isn't decent. And young Snorri's a well-brought-up young Dwarf who ought to know better, even if Már.'s boy lacks breeding - and manners.

She could hardly have meant-? Did they-? (And how did they, another part of his mind asked, with rather morbid curiosity.)

They had spoken about it as something ... something shameful. What if this *was* it? What if he truly had found the thing for which all Dwarves craved - and it was a deviant longing that would bring shame on him all his days?

Mahal, help! he thought, his hands suddenly shaky and unsteady. It isn't supposed to be like this. It doesn't- I shouldn't-

He looked up to find Celebrimbor kneeling before him, looking down at him with melancholy eyes.

"I've upset you. I'm sorry."

"No, you - I mean - I-"

Narvi took a deep breath, trying to pull himself together. He could make sense of it later. He was feeling precariously close to panic, and losing his head now wasn't going to help anyone.

"It doesn't matter," he said briskly, cutting off Celebrimbor in the middle of yet another babbled apology. "It just caught me unawares. It's not important." His voice was not quite steady, but even enough for him to believe himself in control. He forced himself to breathe slower, listening to his heart-beat gradually calming and stilling.

"But I should never-"

Narvi did not wait for him to finish. "And nor should I. Listen, this is all very well, but we've things to do. Do you want my uncle to bankrupt you tomorrow or not?"

"But I - what?" Celebrimbor lowered himself so that he was sitting on the ground, even though it left him still six inches taller than Narvi. "You would help me?"

"If you want me to."

"But why? Would you work against your own people to help me?"

The question caught Narvi short. On the one hand he saw his own people and their works, plain and strong, on the other the Elves, with millennia in which to hone their skills, creating beauty with almost an unearthly quality. They had so much - and so much time in which to create their beauty. And yet they wanted to learn what little the Dwarves could teach them. Why help them?

Because I want that alliance, he thought, surprised at himself. Celebr- the Elf-Lord's dreams may be unrealistic, but I still want to see them happen.

He wanted to see the Elven city strengthened. He wanted to see how they made their fine carvings, and perhaps try them out on the rock of Khazad-D–m. He wanted to work with the Elf-Lord and see his strange designs made up, and see what he made of some of Narvi's own plans, the ones he never dared show his father or the other stone-wrights in their workshop.

Did that make him a traitor?

No - an idiot; but better that than one of the scheming moneymakers that Gorin surrounded himself with.

He thought about some of the artisans he'd spoken to after Celebrimbor's visit to Khazad-Dûm - Tori Torvisson, whose grandfather was always scolding him because he spent more time setting up intricate weavings on the loom than he did making plain cloth, Oli Orisson, who would shortly be the youngest master-smith in the last five-hundred years, Hlíf Hjorrsdottir the potter, whose shop-sign had got Narvi into such trouble last year. *They* would want to learn something of the Elven work. They would be happy to teach, too, to *share* their own knowledge, if they could learn something in return.

"*My* people are the artisans," he said. "I'm not betraying *them.* Why should the moneymakers have their way all the time?"

Celebrimbor looked for a moment as though he would speak, but hesitated, and then stood up and reached out his hand to Narvi. Narvi looked at it for a moment, unsure. He felt a moment of doubt; but what was there left to doubt about?

He hesitated for the barest instant, and then took the proffered hand, letting himself be pulled to his feet. So smooth was that hand, unmarked and flawless to the touch - not at all like the hand of the smith he was.

And what difference did it make? They were still an artisan's hands, even if they did not have their craft written over them as Dwarves' hands did.

The slender fingers lingered for an instant around his, and then his hand was released. Narvi could feel the blush rising to his cheeks, and resisted the temptation to stare at his boots.

"I want to work with you," he said, looking up suddenly, "one day. When I'm fully trained, I mean."

"I hope you shall - one day."

Narvi hesitated a moment, feeling a moment of resurgence of his previous confusion before he could banish it. He turned immediately back to practicalities again. Gorin.

"We've got things to do first, you know," he said quickly. "Like persuading my uncle you're not easy prey."

"Of course," Celebrimbor said pensively. "The noble art of bargaining. It always comes back to that, doesn't it?"

Always ... Almost always.

Something like that.


Galadriel made her way barefoot between the trees of the city, seemingly oblivious to the many holly-leaves that littered the ground.

It was a clear, calm evening, not yet dark enough for stars, and the party of Dwarves had departed only four hours ago, back to their mansions under the earth. Celebrimbor had disappeared shortly afterward, saying nothing to anyone of his negotiations or their progress, not even reporting formally to Celeborn or herself, though the outcome was surely their concern.

She wondered, not for the first time, whether she should have taken over the bargaining herself.

She found him at the very edge of the city, where the trees grew thickest, their canopies thick and dark. He was seated under a tall holly tree, his back against its trunk and his knees drawn up before him; and Galadriel noted that a large jug stood beside him, and he held a goblet in his hand.


"My lady Galadriel." Celebrimbor rose and bowed, the motion somewhat lacking in its normal grace.

Wine. Galadriel suppressed a sigh. It was seldom that Celebrimbor drank wine - perhaps only once in a year, perhaps less - but when he did, its effect was invariably to cast him into a mood of such extreme melancholy that he was fit company for nobody.

"I trust your bargaining went well?" Galadriel enquired carefully. One did not probe with Celebrimbor.

Celebrimbor blinked owlishly at her. "Very well, my lady. Very well indeed, thanks to Narvi's aid."

"Oh?" Galadriel asked, her surprise not entirely feigned. "Was that why you requested his presence, then?"

Celebrimbor looked directly at her for the first time, registering her slight smile with something close to anger. "You know very well that it was not," he said, making no effort to disguise the bitterness in his voice.

Galadriel narrowed her eyes suspiciously. He had obviously drunk more than she had thought.

"I spoke with him briefly," she said gently. "He is a most remarkable creature."

"He is a child. I am captivated by a child," Celebrimbor said sullenly. "I almost forgot myself and-" He stopped, breathing heavily. "Is this the penance for my heritage, my Lady," he demanded, "to shame myself in this way?"

"They *are* very alike, you know," Galadriel said. She did not look at him as she spoke.

Celebrimbor gave her a sudden, anguished glance, and then looked quickly away. "I did not see it at first," he muttered. "He was just a child to me - a gifted child, but a child nonetheless. It was when I saw him here, under the stars, and - he has the face of Aulë, and I never saw it before - Why?" he burst out suddenly. "Why must I always lose my heart to those I cannot have?"

It was a subject about which Galadriel knew rather more than she might wish. After all, she herself had been, though briefly, the subject of one of Celebrimbor's uncontrollable infatuations.

"I think," she said in a level, clear voice, "that it is because you choose to."

Celebrimbor started, and the goblet fell from his hand, its contents mingling richly with the grass. "He is a child! I would not *choose* to set my heart on a child - nor to win a child's love. Those are villain's games!"

"That was not my meaning, Celebrimbor," Galadriel said, meeting his eyes gravely.

"What, then?"

Only that you feel safer loving from afar, never truly committing your heart. It was a sentiment he was not yet ready to hear. She evaded. "He is hardly a babe. It will be but three years until he is of age."

"What of that?" Celebrimbor asked. "You know the ways of Dwarven hearts. When he is mature he will set his heart on one of his race and think of none but her for the rest of his life."

"Perhaps. And perhaps he will not. If his heart is set already on you ... will you still hold back?"

"How can I do otherwise, when I gained it unfairly? I do not know if I would even have noticed him had he not Aulë's face."

"And yet you did, Celebrimbor. You said as much."

"I do not know-"

"You should not trifle with the affections of the Naurgrim, Celebrimbor. If he would have you, say aye or nay, but do not hold you back. What will you tell yourself then? What excuse will you make to him? What is it that you fear?"

Celebrimbor said nothing, but the fear showed clearly in his eyes.

"Think on it, Celebrimbor," Galadriel said, and turned to take her leave. "Think on it."


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