The view of the boardwalk from my shop is good. We have a large front window. On either side is a pole with hooks, for displaying our small wares. From one pole we hung that vital instrument of sail sewing, the sailor’s palm; both the seaming and roping varieties. We did not make them on site; my original apprentice’s family made them to my specifications back on their farm, where leather is readily available. We also had a line of shipboard toolkits containing triangular sail needles, sail twine, beeswax, rounded-back sheath knives with wedge-ground blades, steel sailhooks, two sizes of fids, and oaken seam rubbers. Sailors loved them.
The pole at the other end showed merchandise smaller than our sails but equal in quality and reputation. Sailors’ ditty bags were my test of every prospective apprentice. I took the youngsters on for a week, gave them the materials, tools, and instructions, and let them do what they could. At the end of the week I always knew who was a true sail maker. My present second apprentice had been – there is no other word for it – amazing. They say she has pure Numenorean blood. She could take a lanyard and splice it into a cringle as if by magic, and her ability to size the cringle itself, so that subsequent shrinkage will hold the inserted thimble in place, was nothing short of otherworldly. But these are mere details and technique. All my apprentices made ditty bags if they were not making sails, and sea faring folk as far away as Mithlond used bags that bore my trademark, two gulls flying above a ship.
Whenever the shop was open we secured the tool kits and ditty bags with wire, for they were worth their weight in silver and would have walked off otherwise. But the sun had set and I saw that my second apprentice had already put the shutters in place, preparing to close up. Gimli could view our small wares another time. I opened the door for him and showed him into the darkening shop.
“Meet Stitch,” I said proudly. “She makes the best ditty bags in the world, and sews Rhûn canvas as if it were silk. Light us a candle or two, Stitch. Then fetch the special order. This is Master Gimli.”
Stitch, whose mouth had been open since the Dwarf walked through the door, lit the candles, bowed – not to me, I noticed with amusement - and went to the storeroom. I seated myself at the customers’ table and gestured for him to sit as well. He struggled to hoist himself onto the chair and once there his boots dangled. I hoped the cushion was easy on his bony old rump.
“You said your friend was building a ship. I know all the folk at all the shipyards. Indeed I tested your sails on a rig at the Meren-sûl. Is your friend with them?”
“He is not. He has already built the ship himself, with the help of some dozens of friends, in Ithilien. He will arrive with it tomorrow.”
“?! Ithilien !? But, but … your friend must be mad. Why would he not come to Sea Fair? We are, after all, near the sea. And we are known for our shipwrights.”
“As for that, my friend knows a shipwright that puts Mortals to shame,” Gimli replied, “and he himself is descended from a tribe of mariners taught by the Valar themselves. But he stayed in Ithilien as long as he possibly could, for his remaining friends and kin are mostly in that part of the world.”
“You say, Valar? Mortals?” My voice went as thin as his, for astonishment. “Your friend is – immortal?”
“My friend is an Elf.”
Here I toppled over backward in my chair. I crashed to the floor, hit my head sharply, and everything went black for a while.