Bargaining for Beginners by Honesty
Summary: Legolas/Gimli may be the best know Elf/Dwarf partnership on Middle-Earth, but it certainly isn't the only one. This is for Celebrimbor and Narvi, the two craftsmen (craftsbeings?) who made the Doors of Moria.
Categories: FPS, FPS > Celebrimbor/Narvi, FPS > Narvi/Celebrimbor Characters: Celebrimbor, Narvi
Type: None
Warning: Interspecies
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 2 Completed: Yes Word count: 7530 Read: 5287 Published: November 12, 2008 Updated: November 12, 2008
Story Notes:
A/N: Thanks to Arachne (AlsoA on for some inspired beta-ing!

The geography here predates the Watcher in the Water, and the Sirannon is still the vigorous stream that Gandalf reminisces about in FotR.

A slight slip-up - the patronymic for Dwarvish names was the suffix -ul, whereas I've used the more Scandinavian -sson. My excuse is, the -ul is Khuzdul, so they use the Nordic form before strangers for reasons of secrecy.

I have also slipped up foodwise, as I was under the firm impression that Cram was a Dwarvish food, and now find that we're told in The Hobbit that it was made by the Men of Dale, with no suggestion from the Dwarves' reaction that the recipe was originally theirs. Call it amnesia auctoris (creative licence).

I have tried dried beef, incidentally, and it is a little like eating very thick, stringy leather.

1. Chapter 1 by Honesty

2. Chapter 2 by Honesty

Chapter 1 by Honesty
Celebrimbor was beginning to regret coming to Moria.

He had now spent two whole hours arguing for admittance at the West gate of Moria, and a further half in the hall just inside. The Dwarf Gorin, who had come to speak to him when he had said he desired to trade, had said he would return shortly; but half an hour had passed, and Celebrimbor was beginning to be distinctly impatient.

So much trouble, to do business with the Dwarves of Moria! One would think that they did not truly want to trade.

It wasn't that Gorin had been hostile - what Dwarf was, when confronted by a potential customer? - it was just that there seemed to be so much ceremonial to go through before he could so much as speak to any of Gorin's precious craftsmen. Especially being forced to wait in the near-dark while Gorin did whatever he was doing, being watched with unashamed curiosity by the three Dwarf-guards on the main door.

He wondered what they saw: a tall, angular, elongated being, perhaps, with pale skin and grey eyes, hairless save for the sleek near-black hair of his head. But what was he to them? A typical arrogant Elf? A potential customer? Or just a minor break from the dull routine of standing guard. Nobody ever entered from the West, after all, to judge by the unkempt appearance of the hall and guard-house.

Gorin chose that moment to reappear, bringing another Dwarf with him.

"This is Narvi, of my brother Norin's house," he said, in the most pompous way he could manage. "He shall be your guide."

Perhaps that meant that he would finally be free of Gorin son of Borin's unbearable long-windedness. Gorin, who was head of the Guild of Craftsmen, or some similar dignitary, had made it quite clear that handling potential customers - even if they be Elven-Lords - was far, far beneath him. Celebrimbor could not quite bring himself to be sorry for the fact.

The young Dwarf was pushed towards him, and Celebrimbor examined him with curiosity. He was little acquainted with Dwarves and their ways, but to his eyes, Narvi seemed very young indeed. He was short even in comparison with Gorin, and his thick dark hair was not plaited but merely tied back from his face in a stubby knot on the back of his head. The half-grown beard was but an inch long, soft and fluffy rather than the long wiry thicket the elder Dwarf sported. But more than that, he had that awkward, callow uncertainty that seemed to be common to adolescents of all races.

They'd sent him a child to be his guide round these halls. It was a clear, calculated insult: Gorin clearly did not wish him to get ideas above his station.

"Narvi son of Norin at your service," the Dwarf-child said truculently. It did not sound much like a greeting.

"Celebrimbor of Eregion - at yours and your family's," Celebrimbor replied, and even attempted the bow. He had learnt that much at least, by now.

"Ah good. Then I will leave you to your purchases, Celebrimbor son of Curufin. Good day to you." Gorin strode away purposefully, with Narvi staring balefully in his wake, muttering something in Khuzdul under his breath. It did not sound like a blessing.

"Follow me," he said without any attempt at airs and graces. "The market halls are this way."

Celebrimbor followed him, down a passage that seemed to lead North-East, his eyes flickering curiously round the arched ceilings and elaborately carved walls. There was skill here, that was for sure -skill such as few even of his own stone-wrights possessed. He felt a moment of awe that such a plain people could bring forth such fine workmanship, and then felt guilty for judging them so.

He followed Narvi through what seemed like many halls in silence. The Dwarf did not seem in the least inclined to talk, and his silence was starting to make Celebrimbor uneasy.

"I hope I have not taken you from your lessons," he said to Narvi, whose face was set in a sullen frown.

"No." The syllable was scornful. "I get all these chores. They won't let me do lessons now."

"Will they not? Whyever would that be?"

Narvi glanced at him sharply, as if he half suspected mockery, and then gave a bark of humourless laughter. "Father took me on as an apprentice. He's a mason, and he's not bad." It might have been intended as praise - Celebrimbor couldn't tell. "Apprentice's work is easy. I've passed all the tests already, three months since. But I've got to stay an apprentice until I'm of age. They won't let me start on journeyman's work."

"Oh? How old are you?" It was only once the question was asked that Celebrimbor stopped to ponder whether it was a polite question to ask a Dwarf, but Narvi seemed to have no scruples about answering.

"Forty-seven." His voice rose indignantly. "I've got to wait three years before they let me do any proper carving. And I'm better than Nar, and he's been journeyman for four years now. Nar's my older brother," he added by way of explanation.

"It may be there is more to it than you know. There often is, when first you learn a subject."

"There is," the boy said gloomily. "I just wish they'd let me learn-" He stopped, suddenly, probably recollecting that telling a stranger his people's faults might not endear him to Gorin. "This way," he muttered, turning down a side passage, his cheeks shining red under the light of the torches. "It's not far."

Celebrimbor came out of the first of the booths, uncomfortably conscious that he was sweating profusely, in a manner most unbecoming to an Elven Lord.

Why had nobody warned him? To resolve to do trade with the Dwarves was all well and good - but to have to bargain over every single little thing, even down to packets of nails? It seemed too peculiar to be credited.

He sighed. He was feeling altogether too hot and bothered now to think clearly, and very conscious that he was no longer sure of the value of anything. This was not a good state of mind in which to be negotiating with Dwarves.

He leaned against the wall for a moment, uncomfortably conscious of the many eyes on him. The hall was crowded, with buyers and sellers both - short, squat figures in clothes of coarse wool or leather, many of them wearing sleeveless coats of mail as if they were among enemies rather than their own people. A disproportionate number of them were staring at him.

To Celebrimbor's untutored eye, they seemed all alike, with their bearded faces and dark, deep eyes. It was just in their hair they varied. There were as many shades of brown in their hair as there were stars in the sky. It could be pale as straw or dark as loam, any of the colours of earth or rock or wood. They were starting to make him feel distinctly nervous.

Rather belatedly, he endeavoured to pull himself together. If he was going to have to do this again over every little thing he enquired about, it wasn't a good idea to show weakness in front of them. Narvi's reaction had been humiliation enough.

The young Dwarf had spent the whole bargaining session leaning nonchalantly against the rocky side of the booth with his arms folded across his chest. He had kept his eyes fixed firmly on the ceiling, which was hung thickly with tools of all kinds, and his body language had stated very clearly, 'This person has nothing to do with me.'

"Well ... that was embarrassing, wasn't it?" Narvi was back again, his face as sullen as ever. He seemed to get some kind of twisted pleasure from Celebrimbor's discomfort. "You people don't make a habit of haggling, do you?"

"Well ... no."

"Why not?"

"We just don't. Among our people, the artisan charges what the goods are worth, and the buyer pays it."

"Without question?" Narvi's face was incredulous.

"Yes. No Elf would dream of bargaining for goods - and we would not dream of charging too much deliberately. We trust each other. It is the Elven way."

Narvi looked horrified. "You can't do that here. They would bankrupt you."

"So I see," Celebrimbor said weakly. This was ridiculous. He couldn't do this. Maybe he'd buy the rest of his tools somewhere else. There had to be other places nearby. If only he could buy mithril elsewhere...

He became aware of Narvi's face staring up at him intently. "You haven't changed your mind, have you? Only I'll have to tell Gorin and..."


It seemed cowardly to admit that he had been contemplating it, and even more cowardly not to admit it. Judging by the nervous look on Narvi's face, Gorin would not be pleased at the idea of a potential customer being scared off.

If he backed out now, he would be alienating his people from their nearest neighbours. He would be making it harder for them to find good tools and raw materials. He would be unable to learn more about the Dwarves, and the remarkable skills they possessed.

Not to mention the fact that he could wave goodbye to the chance of ever getting his hands on any mithril.

He became aware that Narvi was still staring up at him. "I could teach you how, if you want." The Dwarf-boy sounded suddenly very young and uncertain. "It isn't hard."

"You know how? To haggle?" But he's only a child, Celebrimbor thought. Surely nobody would expect children to haggle for goods.

Narvi scowled at him, interpreting his incredulity as a slight on his skills. "My mother taught me. She's good."

Celebrimbor hesitated only for an instant. "I would be glad of your help, master Narvi."

It won him a smile - a genuine one - from the child, transforming the youthful face from its habitual sullenness into something bright and warm, like an eager flame. "Then follow me. We can't do this here."

He led Celebrimbor down a side passage, and then down another, and Celebrimbor guessed that they were heading north. "Where are you taking me?" he asked curiously. It seemed improper, that he, a visitor, should be left alone with a child of another race, without any to oversee them.

"Somewhere quieter. Nobody ever comes this way." Narvi stopped for an instant, and untied a lantern that was attached to his belt, and lit it. "There's just the old workings down here. They don't light these paths, so we must go carefully."

There were no elaborate carved walls here. It was all crude rock tunnels, sturdily built but basic, the floor thick with chips of rock.

"This one's mine." Narvi turned suddenly down a passageway to the left, which proved to be a dead end roughly fifty yards in length. He held the lantern up, sliding it onto a hook in the wall, and Celebrimbor looked around him in amazement. It was not a simple bare passageway like the ones round it, for the uneven walls had been smoothed out painstakingly, and in many places the walls had been intricately carved. A practice area, he realised, and a well-used one. No wonder he had finished his apprenticeship with three years to spare.

Narvi watched him look around at the walls and scowled, the adolescent awkwardness making a sudden resurgence. "I had to practice somewhere," he said defensively. "And noone ever comes down here."

Celebrimbor wandered over to the end of the tunnel, which was framed with a complex symmetrical design of spirals. "I did not think Dwarves used spirals in their carvings."

Narvi sniffed. "It's too fancy," he said disparagingly. "But good practice for curves. Most of our lot can't do curves. They say plain lines are more suited to stone, but they're just lazy. Plain lines are just easier." The words were spoken with all the intolerance of gifted youth.

"But you did that - and it is fine work." Celebrimbor ran his fingers along the lines of the large central spiral, marvelling at the intricacy and smoothness of the carving. It must have taken many hours ... and in spite of Narvi's sullen words it must have taken great love and much care, to produce something so fine.

Narvi shrugged. "You just have to know the rock, that's all. It only takes patience."

Celebrimbor did not notice the Dwarf had gone rather pink, for he was still running his fingers along the spirals on the walls. There were mistakes, it was true ... small chips missing, particularly in the upper right-hand corner, which Celebrimbor guessed had been the first section attempted - but there was the beginnings of real skill there. Give him fine tuition and a hundred years...

It was a shame, really, that the child had been born a mortal. Two hundred years, maybe three hundred, and then he would be dead and gone, able to create no more beauty. Only his works would remain to speak of him, and they too, gradually, would be withered by the ravages of time.

He turned back and examined Narvi anew... the soft young face, the thick, dark brown hair, which glinted copper where the torch-light caught it, the uncertain eyes, wide and dark, and the worn, hardened hands. There was something about the almost-adult face that-

Really, his thoughts were beginning to verge on the inappropriate. About a Dwarf too ... and an underage Dwarf at that.

He managed to turn his eyes away just as Narvi's impatient tutting broke through his musings. "Is there some problem? Do you wish to learn haggling or do you not?"

"My apologies, Narvi," Celebrimbor said softly. He turned back to his companion and perched himself delicately on a pile of folded dust sheets beside the boulder that Narvi was using as a seat. "I would not see you in trouble with your uncle. Let us begin."

"Very well." Narvi paused a moment to marshal his thoughts. "It's very simple. If you must buy from us, the first thing you must forget is the notion that all things have a 'right' price. Goods are only worth what the buyer is willing to pay for them. No more, no less."

Celebrimbor felt a little shocked. "That seems rather amoral," he said softly.

"It is our way. We charge high prices because we expect the customer to beat us down. It is a sport to us. We all know the rules, and abide by them."

"But pity the poor stranger who comes among you."

That earned him a grim smile from the youth. "Poor stranger must learn fast, if they would not be poor in earnest."

"Very well, then. So what should this poor stranger do, if he is not to be destitute by even?"

"Decide a price before you start, and then name a figure lower. And always be ready to walk away, should the price become higher than you will pay. Do not let them read your thoughts on your face - and never let them know how much money you have brought." Narvi counted the points out on his fingers, and Celebrimbor, watching his hands, noticed that they were already callussed and work-hardened, in spite of his youth. "And whatever you do, do not seem too keen to buy, or the price will mysteriously rise."

"So if you would kill for something ... you must be careful not to let them know it."

Narvi gave a twisted smile, as if he found the suggestion amusing, and Celebrimbor could have sworn there was something mischievous in his expression. "Not at all. If you are willing to kill for something ... then bargaining is simple. Just be sure you have your axe to hand - and they do not."

Celebrimbor laughed out loud. "A most valuable lesson. I shall remember it well. Though I cannot help but think it would be simpler to employ you to bargain for me."

Narvi laughed at that, and the sound was warm and rich. "Employ me? You could not afford my services."

"Name your price, Narvi Norinsson." Celebrimbor flung out the challenge recklessly, before he could think better of it. There was nothing like practice, after all.

Narvi rose to the challenge immediately. "Five silver pieces per transaction."

"Five! For an untried youth! I would give you two, if you proved proficient."

"An untried youth? Were I of age, I could charge you ten! And I could not possibly accept less than five silver pieces."

"Then I would be better to buy for myself, and pay the asking price, unreasonable as it is."

"You do me wrong! I would save you twice that sum at least, on each sale. But I will accept four silver pieces per transaction - as a token of my good faith."

"Make it three, and I will gladly retain your services."

"Alas! I cannot possibly accept less than three and a half."

"Three and a half? Then we have our deal."

"Done!" Narvi shouted, laughing. "Though you should have quibbled more before you agreed to the final price." He sighed, and wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes. "Did you decide upon that sum before you began?"

"I did, my friend," Celebrimbor said with more than a touch of pride. "Do you think I am fit to bargain for myself now?"

Narvi paused, but it was clearly for calculated effect rather than genuine doubt. "Maybe. You will not disgrace yourself - if you keep your head." He paused, and glanced up at Celebrimbor, his face alight with mischief. "Now tell me," he said. "Did you not enjoy that?"

"You know that I did, insolent whelp." Celebrimbor stood up, pulling Narvi to his feet as he did so. "Now take me back to the market before I lose the knack of it and embarrass you once more."

"At once, my Lord! But do not forget you are in my debt now."

"I have not forgotten it - though I do not know if I dare ask your price."

"I don't want-" Narvi broke off suddenly, as if unable to name what he did want, and Celebrimbor could see emotions unreadable warring in his face.

Whatever they were, they clearly reached a deadlock, for Narvi said no more but set his face and pressed on.

"Then may I suggest a payment?" A doubtful look was all the answer he received. He took it as permission to speak further. "If I were to give you an open invitation to visit the Elves of Eregion, and speak with the masons among my people-"

"Done!" The offer was snatched from him before he had finished uttering it. "Master Elf-Lord... we have a deal."

Chapter 2 by Honesty
"So, young Narvi."

Gorin paused ponderously, and Narvi choked down the desire to scream profanities at him. Gorin had already said everything he might conceivably want to say on the subject, and said it all at least thrice, not to mention a great many other things that were at best parenthetical and at worst utterly irrelevant.

Gorin did not wish him to come - that much was plain. In fact, had he not feared losing potential custom from the Elven community, he would probably have forbidden him outright. But one did not deny Elven-Lords with gold to spend, however strange their whims; and Lord Celebrimbor himself had requested that Narvi be included in the party of Dwarves due to visit Eregion at the next new moon. Gorin had spent the last hour laying down a long, long list of strictures on him: do not accept any favour from them, do not speak to them of Dwarvish matters, do not speak Khuzdul within their earshot, make no promises to them etc. etc. etc. Narvi had stopped listening long before. He was to be a guest of Elves... it was a matter half of wonder, half of fear, and he could not decide between them.

A full month had now passed since Celebrimbor had come to Khazad-dum, a month which seemed to have been designed to drive Narvi up the exquisitely carved walls with frustration. A large and urgent order had come into the workshop, and all available hands had been set to work on it, working long into the nights to see the job done. He had been the youngest of the crew, stuck doing the kind of basic stone-hewing that any amateur with a pick-axe could have attempted - alternating with the even more menial work of carting away the rubble and dust from his colleagues' work.

There had been no time for other pursuits - no time for more than snatching a few hours of sleep before beginning the work anew. Narvi had found it frustrating beyond words.

His home life had scarcely been better, with his youngest brother teething, and wailing and crying all the night long, and making such a racket that Narvi defied any being to sleep through it. Last night, finally, he had been driven to distraction by it, and abandoned the family home to take refuge in 'his' deserted mine-tunnel, with a stolen jug of his father's best beer to keep him company. He had swathed himself in the dust-sheets to sleep, his back to the carved rock walls, and waited for sleep to overtake him in the silence.

But even there, he had been unable to rest.

He had taken the Elf-Lord there - there, to his deserted tunnel no other Dwarf had yet seen - and it seemed as though somehow the Elf-Lord's presence still lingered there, ancient and knowing in the darkness.

He had seen the spirals, and he had understood. Narvi had never in a million years expected that.

He had looked at the Elf-Lord's hands on their first meeting, as was his wont, and found them smooth and uncallussed, seemingly unstained by any toil. No artisan could possess such hands, surely - and to any not versed in the works of hands, the carvings would surely have meant nothing. The tunnel should have been nothing more than a convenient secluded spot, while he mastered the quite babyishly simple art of haggling for goods.

But he had seen the spirals, and he had understood.

Narvi had been unable to do more than watch in bewildered silence as the Elf-Lord had traced the curved lines with his fingers - even the shoddy top-right whorls that had given him such trouble - his bright face solemn and still.

And then he had turned and gazed at Narvi, and it had been his eyes ... his eyes as he had turned away from the carving, the grey irises dark and thoughtful, and almost remote, dwelling on Narvi's face as though trying to discern its meaning...

Who are you, Narvi Norinsson, those eyes had seemed to say. What are you, that you create such beauty and hide it in the darkness? And what will you someday be?

He spoke like an artisan - but who ever met an artisan with such hands?

When Narvi had finally slept that night, after long hours of restlessness, his dreams had been disturbing, haunted by the pale, unfamiliar face and the touch of that hand in his, as the Elf-Lord had pulled him to his feet. Smooth and cool as a river-washed stone, neither soft nor hard, but firm and strong. For some reason he remembered the feel of that hand in his extremely clearly-

"... won't you, Narvi?"

Narvi returned to the present with an unpleasant jolt. "Wha-?"

"My dear boy!" There was a bite of impatience in Gorin's voice. "You haven't been listening to a word I have been saying - and he will be here shortly to meet you."

Narvi lowered his eyes, trying to look properly penitent, and not in the least irritable.

"What I was saying, was that I am permitting you to accompany our party to Eregion on one basis, and one basis only."

That again, thought Narvi darkly - but he was wrong.

"You are going in order to find out as much as you can about Lord Celebrimbor and his fellow-artisans, and you will tell me what you discover. And particularly their artisans, and what techniques they use. Do I make myself plain?"

Had he been less furious, Narvi might have noted that it was the plainest he had ever heard his uncle speak. "You want me to be a spy," he said contemptuously. "In defilement of my status as a guest of their lord."

No, this was not the first time - far from it. It was generally acknowledged that Gorin played politics far better than he hewed stone; but now? With the Elves? And Gorin had the nerve to involve him in his schemes!

Narvi narrowed his eyes, trying to stare his uncle down. To his mind there was no crime more filthy than the stealing of another worker's techniques. But Gorin was a mediocre jobsworth where actual labour was concerned - he would hardly respect the niceties of craftsmanship.

"No," Gorin said, with maddening patience, as to a simpleton. "I merely want you to behave yourself and keep your eyes open - and your mouth shut. Now come, for your noble acquaintance will doubtless be awaiting us."

He gave Narvi no time to answer. He rose, and gestured to Narvi to follow him out of the door, seemingly oblivious to his nephew's desperate attempts to reason with him.

And what am I supposed to be spying for, Narvi asked himself bitterly, lengthening his steps to keep up with Gorin's longer stride. For my King? For the Guild of Artisans? Or to help Gorin Borinsson to line his pockets with gold?

"Mind how you go, lad."

Narvi did not answer the guard, for he was too busy blinking furiously, trying to adapt his eyes to the daylight. The world above ground was far, far brighter than it had any right to be, and Narvi could only squint around him, looking vainly for the other four members of the Dwarven party. In fact he was temporarily as blind as a bat.

He had had to turn back, and that had been his undoing. His night of broken sleep in the tunnel had woken him too late to return home for his pack and cloak, and he had had to take a long detour to fetch them, losing sight of Gorin in the process. His haste, alas, had left him with no time to accustom himself to the harsh light of the world's surface, and he had raced blindly through the doors and only then realised his folly. He had only walked the surface at night before. Walking above ground in summer at noon was a very different matter.

He reached for the rocky wall to guide him, trying to find his way along the West Wall, but he had gone but five paces along, when he missed his footing and stumbled, sliding sideways down the bank of the Sirannon and into the water, landing heavily on his backside.

He climbed to his feet, muttering some words which broke both his uncle's prohibition on speaking Khuzdul and his father's admonitions about politeness, and started to wade towards the bank. If anyone dared to laugh at him-

The bank of the stream was slippery with mud - he presumed from his graceless descent into the water - and he climbed carefully onto it, squinting down at his feet. Around him, the sunlight refracted from the surface of the water in bright sparks and spots, dazing and dazzling him, and bewildering his sense of balance.

Once again he lost his footing, and cursed loudly.

"Steady there." He felt a hand grasp his shoulder, and felt himsef being steered swiftly to firmer ground. He glanced up instinctively at a pale blur that was certainly none of his Dwarvish companions, and then blinked and looked away. The sky around the Elf's head was perilously bright.

"Oh, it's you," he said crossly, annoyed at being caught thus. He shut his eyes but even eyelids seemed but scant protection against the light.

"And hail and well met to you too, Narvi, son of Norin. Celebrimbor of Eregion at your service."

Narvi muttered something semipolite in reply, mortified that even the Elf-Lord had seen his idiot descent into the water. Why did he have to be so insufferably light-hearted at a time like this?

"Come now! Could you not use that thick hood of yours to shade your eyes, until you grow accustomed to the light?" Narvi opened his mouth to inform the Elf-Lord that the hood was for ceremonial purposes only, and that its use was strictly proscribed by ancient custom, when he remembered that one of the ordained circumstances for its use was for when travelling among untrusted strangers. He thought for a moment of Gorin and his sordid schemes, and then of the other Dwarves (probably gathered nearby), who were doubtless watching him closely. Let them say what they wanted! There was only one untrustworthy person here. He cast the hood over his head, his thoughts angry.

Much as it would have pained him to admit, the hood helped instantly. It was of thick, dark grey wool, through which the light penetrated but meanly, and he could draw it far over his eyes, shading them from the bright sky above.

"That is better, is it not? Now let us rejoin your fellows, for we must soon be off."

Narvi nodded curtly, and slunk quickly over to where Gorin and the other Dwarves were standing. There were sniggers as he arrived, but he glared at the sniggerers until they ceased. At Gorin and Celebrimbor he did not look.

"Ah ... hmmm. Celebrimbor Curufinsson. Let me apologies for my nephew's undignified antics. Most irresponsible child. I hope he will not cause us further trouble."

Narvi gritted his teeth, just refraining from uttering some words that would certainly have seen him sent home in disgrace. He could feel himself going red, and shuffled a little further into the background, earning himself a suspicious glare from Hrín Hrársdottir, the sole Dwarf-lady of the party.

"It makes no matter," Celebrimbor said lightly. "All are ready now, are they not?"

"Aye, they are." As the party began to make its way towards the mouth of the valley, Gorin paid his nephew a backward glance that was almost certainly meant as a glare, had he been able to meet Narvi's covered eyes. "The rest of your party await us?"

"Perhaps two miles hence, where there is grazing for our horses."

Narvi managed a vindictive smile at the expression that appeared on Gorin's face. Shock, consternation and fear.... It would serve Gorin right, every bit of it, if he had to jolt the whole way there on horseback.

"Horses? Are we to ride on horseback to Eregion?"

Celebrimbor gave a light laugh at that. "Fear not! We shall not ask it of you. No, the horses bore us coming, but we shall go on feet as we return."

The way was easy at first, for they followed the course of the Sirannon, and it wove a simple path down the moutainside, too gentle for waterfalls or rapids. The faint breezes on his face were gentle and cool, and though Narvi had been but little acquainted with the world above-ground he recognised in the air the scent of living things. Now that his eyes were growing used to the light of a summer's day, he could make out the beauty of the mountains around him, and the long valley stretching out below them, green with grass, darkened by the outcrops of rock and the many clusters of the holly bushes.

But for his roiling temper and his wet clothes, the sight would have been blessed indeed. He was still in yesterday's clothes as it was -the coarse brown shirt and dungarees of a stonemason, with the incongruously fine travelling cloak flung over the top - and the combined bulk of river-water and stonedust made the garments stiff and unwieldy, chafing his legs and slowing his steps as he fought to keep up with the remainder of the party.

It had been little more than half an hour of walking when the other Elves - and their horses - came into view. They were a party of six, two still mounted, four standing. The four were like Celebrimbor in appearance: dark of hair and pale of face, dressed in fine fabrics and silver jewellery. The two were different: their clothes were plain and faded, of the browns and greens that would blend in best with the hills about them. Their hair was pale and braided, their faces tanned, and they carried bows and knives. Brought as guards, Narvi presumed, and surmised that they were of lower birth than the rest.

Celebrimbor halted, and spoke to them for a moment, before leading each forward to make introductions. Narvi listened closely, but the outlandish Elven names meant nothing to his ear and were almost instantly forgotten. He did note, though, that all four were introduced as smiths, and like Celebrimbor their hands were unmarked and smooth. The archers' hands were not so, though they were marked only lightly with the callusses typical of the trade. Narvi frowned, forgetting his anger for a moment as he endeavoured to read the riddle of those hands.

"The day is fine," he heared Celebrimbor say to the party at large, "and there will be eight hours yet until sunset. Let us stop and eat before we begin the bulk of our journey."

Narvi took himself a way off from the rest of the party, and sat down. He pushed the hood of his cloak back before he allowed himself to think about the action's implications, and was relieved to find that the Sun's light was no longer an assault upon his senses. pulling off his pack and searching for food. Cram and dried beef, he noted without enthusiasm - and it would probably not have been worth the eating before it had been submerged in the Sirannon. He started to chew without enthusiasm, watching Gorin corner Celebrimbor as the latter sat down. The Elf-Lord greeted him politely, but without enthusiasm, and Narvi saw Gorin launch into what appeared to be a long explanatory speech, leaning forward slightly and gesticulating expansively. Celebrimbor seemed to be listening politely and inscrutably, displaying no hint of restlessness or ennui.

He had no inkling that Gorin would take advantage thus of his hospitality.

And why, Narvi asked himself angrily, should it matter to me? He is not my kin - he is not even a Dwarf! I am under no obligation to him, save that of a guest to his host-

The thought broke off angrily, and Narvi bit savagely into his piece of dried beef, using his teeth to tug the strands of desiccated flesh apart. It was he - Narvi - who was being asked to betray the Elf-Lord's hospitality, not Gorin. No! Gorin would keep his hands scrupulously clean.

Mahal keep him from doing his own foul work, Narvi thought moodily. He was kind to me! He does not deserve to be treated like that.

Kind! And what was kindness beside the ties of race and kin? Nothing. It made no bargain. It begat no contract or obligation. Then why -why by all the rocks of the earth - was the prospect of betrayal so hateful?

Because he treated me as though I was real. Nobody else does that.

And what of that? How do you know that is not just the Elven way? How do you know he does not treat all creatures like that?

Narvi sighed angrily, and thrust the remains of his food back into his pack, lacing it up firmly. Maybe he should turn back pleading an urgent errand.

A sudden shadow fell across him, and he glanced up to see the Elf-Lord approach him. He looked beyond to see Gorin deep in talk with one of the other Elves (the one, Narvi noted instinctively, who wore the richest robes). The other three Dwarves were sitting stubbornly together, not mixing with the remaining Elves.

Celebrimbor seated himself silently beside beside Narvi, his slender, unmarked hands resting on his knees. Once more, Narvi found himself staring at them in spite of himself.

The Elf-Lord would not want him to turn back.

He would if he knew.

"Escape at last," Celebrimbor said lightly, breathing what was unmistakeably a sigh of relief. "I thought your good uncle would never cease his talk. Not even the Eldar can talk so much, and to so little purpose. But Elendir nobly stepped in to take my place, for he is as fond of talk of business as Gorin seems to be."

Narvi mumbled something indistinct, which Celebrimbor clearly took for agreement. He stretched his long legs out before him and stared into the West, out over the valley before them and beyond.

Narvi watched him curiously for a moment, trying to make sense of what he saw.

The Elf-Lord was clad in a tunic of deep blue linen, worn over silver-grey hosen and light boots. Unlike his companions, he wore no jewellery or adornment of any kind, and his straight hair - not quite black - shone bright where the light of the sun caught it. It was not Dwarvish habit to apply the concept of beauty to living things, but for an instant Narvi saw him through a stone-mason's eyes, and registered the symmetry of the long body, the fineness and delicacy of the lines of the face, the flawless texture of the pale, even-coloured skin.

It was a most disconcerting feeling - to see a living being as a work of art. It made him want to reach out and touch -

And that was an even more disturbing thought.

Troubled, he turned his attention to the more prosaic matter of his wet boots. He had ignored them thus far, though they were unpleasant and uncomfortable on his feet, so he began to unlace them - before remembering that removing boots in front of a stranger was yet another thing that should not be done in polite society.

Feeling, if possible, further displeased with himself, he began to lace them up again.

"You have grown used to daylight now?" Celebrimbor asked him, seemingly coming out of his reverie. Narvi nodded shortly, and the Elf-Lord smiled down at him, his eyes far-away and thoughtful. "I should have remembered. It took me a whole half-hour, when I visited Khazad-dum, to grow accustomed to its caves. I should probably thank your uncle for delaying me so long."

Narvi said nothing to the mention of his uncle, but it was an effort. He looked down over the valley, with its yellow-green grass and dark holly bushes, and wondered what on earth he could possibly do. He could say nothing, and sacrifice his honour as a guest - or he could turn back and pay the penalty for disobedience to an elder. If he said aught to the Elf-Lord he would be betraying the confidence of one of his kin, and if he refused to bring tales to Gorin he would be bringing trouble upon his father, whom everybody knew owed Gorin money. Every course of action offered him only shame and dishonour. A curse on your beard, Gorin! he thought vehemently. And may the fire-damp singe your bones!

By coming to the Elves' city he had accepted the bargain his uncle had offered him. He could not renege now without sacrificing both his honour and his pride. Nor could he be the guest of the Elf-Lord without breaking the code of hospitality - yet that was what he was being required to do.

He contemplated, briefly, taking a pick-axe to his uncle's head, but the thought gave him no satisfaction.

"Would it be an imposition to ask what troubles you?" Celebrimbor asked him softly, rousing him momentarily from his thoughts.

Of all the things life had thrown at him that day, kindness, it seemed, was the one he could least endure. He had to swallow heavily twice before he could speak, while Celebrimbor gazed out across the valley, his eyes fixed on the horizon with exemplary attentiveness to the horizon.

"I just wish he'd leave me alone," he muttered darkly.

"Who?" But how could he say who?

"Everyone." Celebrimbor's eyes were on him now, dark and thoughtful, questing and questioning on his face; and how could he withstand that gaze? "My uncle," he said sullenly. "But do not ask me to tell you more."

"I would not do so."

Narvi sighed, and then forced a laugh. "I swear, but for my father, I'd happily take his own axe to him."

Celebrimbor looked at him abruptly. "Do not speak such things!" he said sharply. "Not even in jest."

Narvi flinched away from him involuntarily, but it seemed the next second the anger was gone, and had left no trace. "Among my people, Narvi," he said mildly, "the slaying of kin is the most terrible of all crimes. Is it not so among the Naugrim?"

It had the sound of a truth half-told to Narvi's ear, but he did not question it. He had no right to pry after others' confidences, not after what Gorin was asking him to do. He would certainly not go out of his way to seek ammunition for Gorin's schemes, whatever they were this time.

"The slaying of a Dwarf-lady," he said. "Or of a master-artisan. Those are the crimes we hate the most."

He reached for his pack, and then changed his mind. If he was to wear wet boots, it mattered not whether his socks were wet or dry. "But do not fret over Gorin," he said scornfully. "I have no plan to harm him now or ever." Though I might reconsider that later, he added to himself firmly. And then, from an inexplicable urge to explain away his sullenness, "I ... beg pardon for my ill mood. I have had but little sleep of late."

"Oh? how so?"

"My youngest brother is teething - and it is all but impossible to sleep through his wailing." Any reason but the truth. He should probably not be saying even so much as that, he thought moodily. But he wanted to talk. He wanted more than anything not to think.

"Youngest? You are one of many?"

"The second of seven brothers."

Celebrimbor laughed, the sound high and delighted. "Seven brothers! Your mother must be industrious indeed! And you have no sisters?"

Narvi looked sharply across at him, not troubling to hide the scowl on his face. "It's not considered seemly to ask about the daughters of a house," he said shortly.

"Then accept my apologies. Clearly I have much still to learn about the customs of the Naugrim."

Narvi considered his words, feeling a little ashamed of his brusqueness. "It makes no matter. Our customs are strange to you, after all. I dare say you will have your revenge when I come among your people." He clambered to his feet, hoisting his pack across his shoulders. "I shall probably offend at every turn."

"Who can tell? I tried to introduce the noble art of haggling to the elders of my people - and they found it exceedingly strange and not at all to their liking. But you come to us as a stone-wright among stone-wrights - and one who shares their love of the craft will be welcomed anywhere.

No. Not if they knew what Gorin would have him do.

"Do you have many such among your people?" he asked suddenly, regretting his words the moment he had spoken.

I do not want information, he told himself angrily. I do not wish to know anything.

The Elf-Lord seemed to notice nothing amiss. "Not many. Most of us are workers of metal, as I am-" You? Narvi looked quickly across once more and inspected the pale Elven hands, but no signs of the smith's trade could he see. "-but we have some thirty stone-wrights, and perhaps fifty masons. We separate the hewing from the building, as I believe you do not."

Narvi shook his head. "No. No Dwarf would lightly trust his new-hewn stone to another for the building." A smith? A smith with such hands?

"We do not feel so, but we build much. But you will see in time ... Ost-in-Edhil we name our city, and we will reach it this day before the sun has set." Celebrimbor rose gracefully, and looking around Narvi noticed that others were doing the same, packing and making ready. "Are you ready now? For we have far to go this day."

Narvi nodded, and Celebrimbor smiled down at him and then returned to his kindred to begin mustering the party, seemingly unaware of the turmoil he was leaving behind him.
End Notes:
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