Old. He was so old, I thought he might stop breathing. I could not see how he managed to move, much less walk without a cane. Old tales say Dwarves became fat as they aged. Not this one. He once had been stout and sturdy; you could see it still in the width of his shoulders and the way he stood. But now he was gaunt. About his body hung brown leather garments – tunic, breeches, purse – and he wore boots that looked as if they could walk to the ends of Middle-earth and still stomp rocks. He was a wealth of minerals, with copper-colored eyes deeper than any mine, a long corded beard as grey as iron, and thin hair on his head like mithril. His skin was translucent in places and splotched in others. His magnificent, craggy face was as wrinkled as a dried apple. In stature he was about a foot shorter than I.
“You are a Dwarf?” I said, but I could not help myself. He was not of my race! For the first time I realized that it was no story. A hundred years ago, and for ages before, many of these beings shared our world.
He ignored my comment. “I am looking for the sail maker Aerlinn,” he said. “I sent this lad here to fetch him.”
“I am Aerlinn,” I replied. “I thought you knew of me.” Most sea folk did. Merchants named their ships “Sea-song” in my honor and captains drank my health every night. Families strove to place their daughters and sons with me for I took only two apprentices every five years. But now I am boasting and not being honest, and time is too short for lies. ‘Aerlinn’ was only a name I had adopted for my craft. My family came long ago from the far north, near where the Old Forest Road meets the Running River. The folk of Gondor thought our traditional name outlandish. Well – that is not the only reason I did not use it.
The Dwarf bowed low, his hips creaking like a ship under sail. “Ask your pardon, pretty lady. Three months ago I sent you an order for sails. My friend was building a ship and needed the best. I am here to claim those sails.”
I remembered the order. It had come by riding messenger, one who makes a living off of honesty and horsemanship. They usually are of Rohan. The order had come with detailed instructions and a piece of gold. I had assumed the sender was some strangely-named prince of Dol Amroth. Never in my wildest dreams did “Dwarf” occur to me but then, I had never seen one of course.
I said, “Your sails are ready. I made them to your description and used my own judgment, just as you said. Designed by me for weight, shape and size, selected from the best of my woven goods, cut and colored by my head apprentice, and sewed by me and my second apprentice. Do you know much about ships and sails, Master Dwarf, ah, Old Father?”
“Call me ‘Gimli.’ As for ships, I know as much as I wish. Soon I shall know more. So do not think to part me from too much of my gold. No, I forgot – the gold does not matter.”
If the old tales were true, this was an astounding remark indeed.
“Show me the sails,” he said, all business, “and I’ll deliver them to my friend.”
So I led him to my shop, where I would give my second apprentice the surprise of her life and where I would receive my own.