Gimli ordered the meal, while I paced up and down, trying to think of where she could go. Then my cousin took my elbow and pushed me into a chair near the fireplace. “I gather you met her before today,” he said dryly, his eyes sparkling with amusement.
I glared at him, in no mood for teasing. “Yesterday, in the Fifth Circle. She had harnessed herself to a small cart, trying to take her crippled and injured husband up to the Houses of Healing.”
“She was pulling a cart with a Dúnedan in it?” he asked, astonished.
“Oh, he was what they call a Mannikin, I think, perhaps our size or smaller, and sturdy—I thought at first glimpse that he might be one of our Kindred—propped inside with a pair of crutches. Even so, she could barely move. You saw how the harness had abraded her shoulders, and when I saw her, she was scarcely able to keep her feet. Men kept jostling or knocking her down, and she kept getting up and trying again. She would save him if she crawled the entire way, despite the chaos, the missiles exploding, those dishonored heads almost rolling under her skirts. I could not bypass such valor….”
He smiled at me. “No, you could not, my kind-hearted cousin.”
“I will not tolerate any teasing about her,” I warned, little caring how improper it was for me to speak so to my elder.
“Nor would I, in your place,” he answered, and chuckled as I gaped at him. “Nay, Dalf, I have learned much during my journey with a Wizard, two Men, four Hobbits and an Elf this past year and more! Her quality is plain to be seen.”
“She is brave as any Dwarf,” I declared.
“And is in worse case than any of us could ever be, from the look of things,” he said seriously.
At that moment, servants came in to lay the table for three and set out the meal, so while we waited, he spoke briefly to me of his journey, and I told him of cooling my heels while I vainly tried to get an audience with Lord Denethor.
A soft tap alerted us to our guest, and I opened the door with a bow.
She felt shy, I think, or perhaps it was exhaustion catching up with her. The gown did not quite fit, but I saw that her damp hair was not as pale as I had thought (that had been from ashes and dust), but a soft brown fretted with gold and silver and red, and her eyes were dark as well, deepset pools of grief. I suspected that she might be too thin, although I have little enough knowledge of Women, and certainly she was much shorter than most of the Dúnedain. Indeed, she was slightly shorter than I, and I am counted tall for a Dwarf.
“My cousin forgot to introduce us,” said Gimli. “I am Gimli Glóin’s son, lady.”
“And I am Dalfinor Baraz-zaram, Dalf Redglass, son of Thorin Stonebow,” I added hastily, “at your service.”
She curtseyed. “I am called Lindisilma Kuranya, Mistress Silma Clerk.”
“Please, come sit with us,” I invited, leading her to the table and seating her.
“Thank you.” She stood for a moment in the Standing Silence her people always observe, facing West, and we did the same in courtesy before resuming our seats.
“Will you try some of this soup?” Gimli asked. His hands flickered in the igleshmêk , the gesture-speech of our people: Don’t press her to eat. Clearly she has starved for a while, and too much may cause her to lose all.
How had he come to know that, I wondered.
She was daintily eating a few spoonfuls, interspersed with nibbles of a roll and butter, as we satisfied our heartier appetites with stew, bread, chicken, and potatoes in a white sauce. I poured her some wine, and we drank some very decent ale.
After a moment, she laid down her spoon, closed her eyes, and recited in slightly accented Khudzul, “May your beards ever lengthen and your axes remain sharp.”
We gaped at her like fools. She opened her eyes, looked at us, and turned very faintly pink. “I hope I said that correctly.”
“Very correctly,” I said, after closing my open mouth.
“Is Redglass one of your clan- or tribal names?” she asked.
“No,” Gimli replied. “You might term it a call-name. Dalfinor is a glassblower and solver of problems.”
“Then it has both meanings?” she asked. “Both as a glass-color and as a naming?”
Our jaws dropped again. I managed to recover first. “You are a loremistress! Few indeed would perceive that subtle a distinction,” I exclaimed. How had she come to learn even that much of our language?
She colored again, and there was a fleeting expression of longing before her face stilled. “Nay. I have only read a little.”
“Would that Lord Denethor was as discerning,” I said. “I have been trying to see him for weeks. He will have to give us recompense for the guards commandeering my goods, team and wagon.”
“You will have to wait a long time,” she told me. “I have heard that he no longer lives and that Captain Faramir, who is now his Heir since Lord Boromir has not come back, lies gravely ill in the Houses. I helped care for him, a little, last night, he and the Lady Ėowyn and the Perian who helped her slay the Ringwraith.”
“How is Merry?” asked Gimli eagerly. “The Halfling you spoke of. He is one of those I travelled with.”
“Suffering from the Black Breath, I fear,” she answered.
“Aragorn will set him right,” said another voice, and we looked up to see an Elf in the doorway, carrying a great bow.
The two Dwarves were courtesy and kindness itself, and I wondered inwardly about all the tales I had heard to their despite over the years. At first I thought I would not be able to eat at all, but the soup was delicious, and I managed to restrain myself from gulping it down like an orc. I don’t know what made me recite that old tag I had memorized from one of the scrolls, but I was so weary that the entire dinner seemed somewhat unreal. Surely I would soon awaken!
But I did not, and their reactions were almost funny, they were so astonished. My Dwarf—I mean, Master Redglass—almost appeared as if proud of me, which shows how unreliable my perceptions were. To add to the dreamlike state I was in, we were joined by an Elf, and if my memory of lore was correct, a Noldo at that, tall and blond and graceful, with calm grey eyes. I curtseyed deeply as Gimli introduced him, “This is Legolas Greenleaf Thradulion.” A Dwarf being friends with an Elven Prince?
“I am honored, Your Highness,” I said.
“The company I have been in, titles mean little,” he said casually. “Please, just call me Legolas. The King will take care of them.”
“The King?” I repeated. “But I heard that the King of Rohan was killed in the battle.”
“Nay, I mean your king, although Théoden’s nephew Ėomer is now King of Rohan,” he said. I looked blank, so he added, “Was not Lord Denethor Steward in place of the King you wished to return? Well, now he has.”
“Then that would be this Aragorn?” I asked. “He is from the North? What manner of Man is he?”
I was surprised that Gimli did not frown at this Elf for barging in on us, and further by the news that Gondor now had a king, when the Stewards had ruled for over a thousand years. My lady Silma is quick-witted, even when so weary, but I was surprised by the reaction when she asked about this Aragorn, “He is from the North? Was he fostered by the Elves? What manner of Man is he?” Both of them tensed, Legolas with his hand on his knife, and Gimli’s straying to his axe.
I cleared my throat loudly, frowning at them. “A logical question!”
“What makes you think it is Aragorn who is the King and that he is from the North and fostered by my people?” asked Legolas warily.
“Because ‘ara’ has been used by the kings of Arnor as part of their names for centuries,” she replied, “and he would be King of both Gondor and Arnor if his claim is allowed. It was not, years ago. Arnor is in the North, which I have heard is wild and unsettled. Surely the Enemy would want to kill him, since any alliance would only make his opponents stronger, and where safer for him than in Rivendell or Lothlórien? I am neither lackwit nor loose-tongued, my lord, and surely many will soon know of him. What manner of person is he?”
“Until the war is decided, he does not want much spoken of him,” Legolas said slowly. “As for what manner of Man he is, I can tell you that he is highly valued and beloved by my people and his own in the North. Aye, Elrond fostered him until he came of age to be The Dúnedan, leading the Rangers of the North. He is a warrior, and a healer, taught by Elrond himself and his sons, and he also has spent time in Rohan and other lands as a mercenary and in other guise, that he learn of them.”
“Other Kindreds also value him,” said Gimli. “The Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, the Pûkel-men of Taur Drûadan, the Rohirrim, and the Halflings, who know him as Strider. I have heard from Gandalf, who counts him as a close friend, that he traveled to Harad and perhaps farther, and even the Eagles and the Ents praise him.”
“Including Thorongil?” she asked.
The effect on them was stunning—the Elf surged up from the table, Gimli choking on his ale. She did not shrink back, regarding them steadily.
“I see that I hit in the gold,” she said softly.
“Whatever made you think of that?” sputtered my cousin as I thumped him hard between the shoulders.
She sighed. “I do wish you would recognize me as a sensible being,” she said mildly. “If he is who you say he is, then he is almost purely Dúnedain, and that means that he would be long-lived. It would be logical for him to acquaint himself with our realm, you said he was a mercenary, and while I am not old enough myself to remember, still I do recall my grandda saying that Captain Thorongil was mysterious and learned, healer as well as warrior. Many here wondered if he was an unacknowledged son of Ecthoniel, Lord Denethor’s father. He left here very abruptly. Grandda respected and admired him greatly, and always described him as wearing a cloak-brooch shaped like a silver star, like the token worn by the Northern Rangers, and that he was as fierce and noble as the Eagles. ‘Eagle of the Star’ is rendered Thorongil; it is an easy deduction. I come from a family interested in history, you see,” she added almost apologetically. “I am no threat, gentle sirs; I have no authority nor any importance whatsoever, and I will keep a still tongue in my head. I have no one to gossip to who’d believe me, anyway. But it lightens my heart to know that I live in such times as these, and I do thank you for telling me.” She rose to her feet and curtseyed to us. “And I thank you also for your help in caring for my dog. I will return the barrow to that shop.”
“Return it?” I repeated. “But you are both staying here.”
“I could not impose further, although I am very grateful.” Her voice was gentle but inflexible as steel.
“Where will you go?” I asked.
“To the Houses of Healing,” she replied. “As I said, I can stay there for a little while, and I doubt anyone would even notice Rimbor in the hut for a short time, until I devise another place. The meal was delicious, and I will long remember your company.”
“I will go with you and return the barrow,” I said quickly. “Doubtless they can’t tell one Dwarf from another. It will save you a trip.”
Just then the door swung open and the familiar tall figure of Thorkûn stood in the doorway—only now he was dressed all in white, instead of in grey as I had always seen him, and with a new staff. “So this is where you got to, Gimli and Legolas,” he said. “Well, the day’s greeting, Dalfinor!”
Silma looked terrified for a moment, hurriedly curtseying deeply as she could as I said hastily, “Hullo, Gandalf!"
He looked at her with gentleness in his blue eyes, and she murmured, “I was just leaving—"
“Lindisilma Kuranya,” he said. “You have suffered since I last saw you.” She looked stricken, and he smiled at her. “But joy and comfort will be yours, given and giving.”
“This is her dog Rimbor,” I said hurriedly. “Gandalf, she has lost all—“
“Oh, don’t bother him!” she said quickly.
“Where is your brother?” he asked.
“At the Refuges, Lord Mithrandir,” she almost whispered.
“Gandalf,” said Gimli suddenly, “would you mind if her dog stayed in the kitchen at the guesthouse until she finds a place to stay? She has been volunteering at the Houses of Healing and I doubt that they would welcome him, even though he is hurt.”
A look flashed between the two of them and Legolas, and the wizard replied, “Certainly. Just explain it to Pippin.”
“Then I will take him up, if you know where it is?” I looked at her inquiringly.
“Aragorn may be able to take a look at him in a day or so,” Legolas added.
She blinked at him. “I…could not impose—“
“That is an excellent idea,” Gandalf said cordially.
“Help me move him. Do you know where it is, my lady?”
“I’m not a lady, Master Redglass,” she said softly.
Gandalf whisked the dog, blankets and all, onto the barrow so fast we all blinked. “You have been, are, and will be that and more again. It’s the one on Isil Street, at the end.”
“I know it,” she said, and I seized the handles of the barrow, trundling it into the hall.
The maid appeared to give her a bundle containing her clothing, and before we left my lady promised to bring back the borrowed gown and shoes.