I am a sail maker from Erith Anduin. My little town of Sea Fair is all I ever knew. I was thirty years old when the blest king died, in spring. That autumn, the Elf came down the river with his grey ship and his need, destroying me with the past and leaving me to face an unimaginable end that is coming swiftly now; perhaps tomorrow. But before all that happened, came the Dwarf.
Sea Fair sits far down in the delta where the river meets the sea. Just now we are fishing town, grown up from being a village. We owe that to the blest king, who defeated the Enemy long before I was born and freed the coasts from the Corsairs. Because of that, we will be a mighty port city some day, they say. Sea Fair the Great.
“I am glad I shall not live to see it,” said old one-handed Berendil, as we sat in his tavern a few doors down from my shop. He had been a sailor until a shipboard accident crushed his hand – a mast tore loose and fell on him during a storm at sea. That he made it to Nesta the healer is a miracle; he says the salt water that nearly drowned him kept the blood poison down. She cut off the mangled flesh, cauterized the stump, and waited to see if he would develop the proud flesh and die. He recovered and thereafter used his one hand to pour ale and wine, a service I found most useful.
Just now I was sampling a glass of last year’s vintage of Dorwinion Red – one thing we did not lack at Sea Fair was water transportation, and another was trade. The tavern’s shutters were open wide. However all eyes were on a long, narrow scroll affixed to the wall over the bar, stretching all the way from one end of the room to the other. It was a calendar of sorts, and we were waiting for a golden ray of sun to touch the right place on the scroll. It came. All of us raised our cups and turned toward the westward-facing windows.
Out over the deeps, past Sea Fair’s stilt houses and walkways of planks that wound all about the oldtown quarter, past the docks and the rocking, moored fleet, the evening grew old and glorious as the sun set beneath the waves. We watched in silence, our breaths caught in our throats. The only sounds were the plashing of water against the pilings and the cry of the gulls. When we could see Her no more, a sailor spoke, trying to charm some girl:
“You will never see a more beautiful sunset than tonight’s in Sea Fair,” he said. This broke the spell, and the din of conversation rose again. Several folks laughed at the sailor’s sentiment; we had all said the same words many times over.
“You do not like cities?” I asked Berendil, and at that moment a familiar figure pounded through the open door – my head apprentice. We called him “Nath” that is old talk for “Web” for he came from a long line of great weavers, and with his strong, lanky limbs, he was a very spider among the ships’ riggings. No one dared call him “Ungol” of course. Tradition held this to be insulting and an invitation to bad luck, and sailing folk are superstitious.
“Mistress!” Nath cried, breathless from running. “You must come at once. We have a – customer. The customer –“
“I am done for the day,” I interrupted, “and I wish to finish my wine. You handle the customer.”
Nath stood up straight and raised his chin. “No, Mistress,” he said in front of everybody, and I sighed. I would have to send him to the master of boys and… “He asked for you by name, and he said, ‘I am looking for the best sail maker in Middle-earth.’”
Every shopkeeper and merchant in the place who kept apprentices chuckled.
“Oh, very well,” I grumbled, drinking the remaining wine in one swallow. “He had better still be there. Who is this knowledgeable customer, please?”
“He said, ‘Gimli.’ ”