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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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16
The Whitesmiths

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: I’ve seen the term “whitesmith” in one of Isabeau’s stories first. I still do not know whether it is a genuine one or made up, but I find it a very good one, used summarily for metalsmiths working with gold, silver, bronze, copper or brass, so I decided to use it.

The goldsmith of Halabor has first appeared in “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”, where he gave important testimony before the Lord’s bailiff in a murder case.

The Mírdain were a guild of Elven jewel-smiths, led by Celebrimbor, who lived and worked in Eregion (Hollin). Their little realm was destroyed by Sauron in the Second Age. This was the place where all the Great Rings had been forged, by the way.


~~~

PART 15 – THE WHITESMITHS

As in all other towns in Gondor, or indeed, in the whole of Middle-earth, smiths had a well-respected status in Halabor, with the matching privileges to go with that status. ‘Twas not by accident that Master Ludgvan, the ironsmith, had been chosen for the office of the provost, the head of the Town Council, which consisted of the leaders of various merchant and craftsmen guilds. The ironsmith was the single most important craftsman in these perilous times, as weapons and all means of protecting the town and one’s own family and belongings came from under his hands, just as a great many of the household items and the tools used by other craftsmen.

Yet while the ironsmith was undoubtedly the most important one of his trade, the other smiths, those working with other sorts of metal – and widely called whitesmiths as opposed to the ironsmith whose source material was black – had their own importance all the same. Aside from iron, pewter, tin, brass, lead, copper, mercury and bronze were widely used for a variety of purposes, and even gold and silver, though only the wealthy could afford that.

Bronze was the commonest metal right after iron, and thus it was not surprising that the guild of the whitesmiths majorly consisted of bronzesmiths. The Master Bronzesmith, Ludwan – the brother of the provost, by the way – ran his flourishing business with the help of his youngest brother (whose name was Ludan), that of his firstborn, Mybard, and Ludan’s son-in-law, Ernew, as their journeyman and Ludan’s thirteen-year-old son, Mawgan, as their apprentice.

Neoth, however, the second son of the Master Bronzesmith, had found his liking in even finer work, and gone to Dol Amroth to learn how to do silver work. He had returned with young Lord Herumor but a year ago, wedded his childhood sweetheart and set up his small workshop, together with Glywayath, the ring-maker (as goldsmiths were called in these lands), the husband of his sister Menfreda. The two of them went along well, even worked together on many a delicate item ordered by local noblemen or noblewomen, and between the two of them they had earned good coin so far. Sometimes even Derbrenn, Neoth’s mother worked with them, as she was the daughter of old Dungarth, the glass-worker, and knew a great deal about cutting and polishing and framing of semi-precious stones; a knowledge that came handy in the whitesmiths’ business.

On this beautiful day, however, Neoth was alone in the workshop, as his mother and Glywayath were in their booth on the fairground. He did not mind it too much. As he had only small corrections to finish on a silver broche set with opals for the Lord Azrubel’s wife, he could have his wife in the workshop with him. Maer, barely seventeen and eight months pregnant, liked to do her needlework in a comfortable armchair, keeping him company.

She was not a beautiful woman to anyone but Neoth, with her slight frame – now swollen with their first child – her pointed little face that seemed too small, framed by thick coils of light brown hair and dominated by a wide brow and deep blue eyes. Nor was Neoth remarkable in any way. He was of middle height, even for someone from the Old Folk, looked older than his twenty-six summers, had a wide-boned face under a thick thatch of brown hair, thick brown brows and wide-set eyes of a deep, sunny hazel. They were both very ordinary people, yet very much in love and very happy with each other.

Many a more handsome, wealthier couple would have envied them for that.

Neoth had not expected any customers in the workshop. His best pieces were displayed in the booth, under his mother’s sharp-eyed surveillance, and he was sure that Derbrenn would get the best possible price for them. Thus he was whistling cheerfully while giving the broche the final polish and did not even hear the door opening. Only his wife’s sharp intake of breath alerted him. He glanced up – and set his work aside, raising from his workbench respectfully.

For the customer who entered his shop was no lesser person than young Lord Herumor himself. And he was accompanied by Elves. By two male Elves, to be more precise, both tall, slender and raven-haired, with identical pairs of clear grey eyes.

“Your servant, my lord,” stuttered Neoth, staring at the mythical creatures in awe. Young Lord Herumor was a head taller than his subjects already, due to his Dúnadan blood, but those Elves towered even over him. And they were slim, elegant and fair beyond measure... intimidatingly so. Fortunately, Lord Herumor was an easy-going person and much concerned about making his subjects feel comfortable in his lordly presence.

“None of that, Master Neoth,” he said heartily. “We do require your services indeed, but for honest coin, just like any other customer. For Master Egnor here,” he gestured towards one of the Elves, “is of the same trade as you are, and his friend, Master Findobar, is a jewel-smith. The two of them happen to have a bit of disagreement about something I have recently purchased, and we would like to hear your expert opinion about the matter.”

With that, the young lord unwrapped a small item that he had had in his belt pouch and placed it carefully onto Neoth’s workbench. ‘Twas a tear-shaped pendant of clear, translucent, straw-coloured amber, about the size of a dove egg, with a tiny blossom like an iaros flower encapsulated in its middle. Neoth had heard of it, of course, but he had never seen it. ‘Twas truly a thing of beauty.

“Well, ‘tis a beautiful piece and no mistake, my lord,” he said, “but I cannot see what you hope to hear from me. My mother would be of more use; I know very little about amber and crystal and stones.”

“There is no need for that,” replied Lord Herumor. “You see, these two here cannot come to an agreement whether I should have it made into a broche to adorn the throat of a fine lady, or have it fastened on a chain for her to wear it close to her heart.”

“I very much doubt that I would be fit to tell what would be more proper for an Elven lady, my lord,” said poor Neoth defensively. Why did the young lord demand such an impossible thing of him?

Herumor grinned rakishly. “Oh, but this is not meant for an Elf! And I hoped that you as a married man could provide me with counsel about what a woman of our own kind would find more… appealing.”

“In that case, I think my wife would be a more adept counsellor,” said Neoth, looking at her in askance. “What say you, my flower? Broche or pendant?”

Maer came closer, albeit a little reluctantly, to take a look at the item in question. The presence of such noble lords frightened her, but if her husband needed her help, she would provide it, no matter what.

“It depends on the woman ‘tis meant for,” she said after a while. “If she is likely to show off your affection, my lord, then have made her a broche. If she would prefer to keep it close to her heart, then have the pendant fastened on a chain, so that she can wear it hidden under her clothes and only share its beauty – and meaning – with a chosen few.”

Herumor and the two Elves exchanged surprised looks upon the wisdom of such a simple woman. Then the one called Findobar, the jewel-smith, gave an exaggerated sigh.

“You have won,” he told his friend, the silversmith named Egnor. “A silver chain it be; and I will pay. Master Neoth, do you happen to have one ready – or one you could finish before the end of the Fair?”

“I do have something you might find acceptable, Master Elf,” replied Neoth, thinking quickly. “’Tis rather old; my father bought it from some foreign trader from the North, for very little coin, for it was broken in several places. I have always planned to repair it, as the silver seems to be of excellent purity, but there was always other work to be done first. Would you like to take a look at it?”

“By all means,” said the Elf, and Neoth brought the silver chain – or rather four dissected portions of a silver chain – forth and draped them around the amber pendant.

He was surprised when both Elves took a sharp breath of surprise upon seeing it.

“Master Neoth,” said the one who was a jewel-smith, “do you even have an inkling what you have here? ‘Tis not silver, ‘tis mithril… and of very good quality at that.”

Mithril?” repeated Neoth, his mouth hanging open. He had heard of the legendary metal of Dwarves, of course – who had not? But the thought that he had such precious thing in his possession, without even knowing it, baffled him to no end.

“’Tis way too valuable for such a little craftsman like me,” he finally said. “I would never be able to sell it properly… and it would be a shame, should it come into the possession of some greedy merchant in any case. If you want it, Master Elf, I will sell it to you. Pay whatever you think proper, and it is yours, with my thanks for taking it off my hands.”

The Elf grinned. “I have not nearly enough coin to pay for it properly,” he said, “but my Lord Gildor might be interested. I will ask him. In the meantime, however, I have lost a bet, and I always pay my debts,” he reached under his tunic and unclasped the silver chain worn around his neck. “Here you are, Egnor, my friend. As this is your own handiwork, you would surely be pleased to have it back.”

The other Elf laughed. “Only to give it away, as promised,” he turned to Neoth. “Master Neoth, can you make a small hook for the pendant, so that it could be worn on this chain?”

Secretly glad for the opportunity to examine Elven silverwork closely, Neoth declared that he could indeed do that. Thus Lord Herumor and the Elves left both pendant and chain in his keeping ‘til the work would be done.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When they came back for the finished necklace, they brought Gildor Inglorion with them. The Lord of the Wandering Company examined the parts of the mithril chain carefully, and his coldly beautiful face clouded over with sorrow.

“It surprises me that you did not recognize it at first sight, Findobar,” he said to the Elf who was a jewel-smith. “This was made in Eregion, a long time ago; the clasp, albeit damaged somewhat, still bears the holly leaf that was stamped into each item coming out from Celebrimbor’s own workshop.”

“I was not one of the Mírdain,” replied Findobar, “not even one of the apprentices. I was just helping out with small tasks in my father’s workshop, being hardly more than a child.”

“You still should have known the symbol of your old home,” said Lord Gildor sternly. “If we forget about our roots, what is to become of us?” He then turned to the stunned Man who could barely believe what was happening in his modest little shop. “I wish to purchase this chain from you, Master Silversmith. What do you demand for it?”

“To be honest, my lord, I know naught about things this precious,” admitted Neoth humbly. “’Tis not something I am familiar with, and I cannot as much as guess its true value. So I leave it to you to pay me as you find proper.”

The Elf-lord raised an ironic eyebrow. “You have said something like that to Findobar already. Do you truly trust us so much? What have we done to deserve it?”

“Nothing, my lord,” replied Neoth boldly. “’Tis not you whom I trust, ‘tis young Lord Herumor. His forefathers have led and protected us for as long as Gondor has stood; I trust him that he would not allow me to be cheated of my due.”

Gildor shot the young knight an amused glance, but Herumor nodded in agreement.

“I might not have my father’s wisdom,” he said, “and I surely have to learn a great deal yet about what it means to be a leader of Men. But my father has taught me what we owe to the people who look up to us for protection and guidance, and I do not intend to disappoint him… or them.”

Gildor Inglorion’s expression softened a bit upon hearing those words.

“You are a true son of Gondor, Herumor,” he said, “one who will, no doubt, bring honour to his name and the name of his House. One day, if the Valar allow, you shall become a great leader of Men indeed. The Prince of Dol Amroth will be proud to hear that you honour the white belt of the Swan Knights this much. May Elbereth protect you on all your journeys!”

With that, he turned back to Neoth and counted onto his workbench more golden pieces than the young silversmith had ever seen in one pile. Then he looked into the young man’s eyes long and deep, as if searching for something.

“I see very little of your future, Master Silversmith,” he finally said, “and what little I can see, I think it better to keep to myself. Yet this much I can and will tell you: keep the gold that I have just paid you for the refound piece of my youth set aside. For the son whom your wife’s womb is hiding now will have need of it one day.”

More he would not say, no matter how much Neoth and Maer begged, and he left them, torn between the joy about a son to be born and the worry about what Elven foresight might have revealed to him.

Remaining alone in their little shop, Neoth and Maer exchanged confused looks. ‘Twas Maer, in the end, who spoke first.

“Well,” she said in wry amusement, “there is a reason why they say Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.”

~The End – for now~

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