3. Ninth Part of a Hair
Virtue is like a rich stone—best plain set.
—Francis Bacon, Of Beauty
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"We have not put you off, I hope, with so casual a supper," Veylin said, leading Grimr out into the gallery. "Gunduzahar is a small place, and of necessity we are all familiar there. This way," he directed, swinging his stick towards the door to his offices.
His chief motive had been to see how the Longbeard bore the lack of ceremony, since some of that kindred could be aggravatingly haughty. Take Prut, who must voice his opinion on everything, although he was only a pitman. Two of them would be intolerable, reinforcing each other. Yet if Grimr was workaday as he seemed, he wanted to put the man at ease. Anything grander would have thrown his poverty into stark relief; nor had he wanted to burden him with hospitality he might find hard to repay. If they could not come to an agreement, a simple meal would discharge any obligation he might feel.
"Not at all," Grimr assured him. "I have been too long a stranger at the tables of other folk. Your sister was very gracious."
"I am glad you found her so, for she is more difficult to please than any other in our company." Let that be a warning to him, if he would hear. Veylin was uncertain whether he should be amused or uneasy, but Auð had certainly been gratified by Grimr's decently damped admiration. Her susceptibility surprised him. . . but then he found the fellow likable himself.
As they passed through the lazuli antechamber and into the study, Grimr hazarded, "I confess when I first heard there were women at Gunduzahar, I did not credit it. What has taken them there?"
The fire had burnt down in his absence, and Veylin went to the hearth to heap fresh coal on the grate. "In Auð's case, a desire to keep a watchful eye on her menfolk! Will you smoke?" he asked, gesturing his guest towards the chair nearer the corner. "I have Old Toby, and also Staddle-leaf."
"Old Toby, if you please."
Veylin was taken by the man's composure as they filled their pipes in silence. Was this confidence or fatalism? Grimr was bunking with a comrade from the War in a Fifth Deep bedsit and eating at cheap pie-stalls, but he savoured the leaf as quietly as he had the wine at dinner. After lighting his own briar, Veylin tossed the spill in the fire and lowered himself into the other chair. "Not that I tried hard to dissuade her. We mean to found a substantial delf, and a hall is not a home without a woman's touch. She has since persuaded Sút, her childhood friend, to join her, and Bersi's wife as well. I suspect she will work on Eigsa tomorrow."
"Will you tell me more of the company, and how you reckon shares?"
There: was that a shade of impatience at last? "I am one of the principals; the other is Rekk, Ekki's son. He is a waterwright and has been invaluable—is overseeing the plumbing of the baths even now—but his interest in the place comes from his brother Thekk, my partner in the venture that discovered its wealth." An interest that would go, in time, to Thekk's sons. It would not repay Thyrnir and Thyrð for the loss of their father, not even once his own share had been thrown into the balance, but it would establish them as well as Thekk could have wished. "We each take two pennies from a shilling's profit."
"Gross or net?"
"Net. If you come in on shares, you will get your food and drink, coals and lighting as perquisites. We have a very good cook, and generally dine together in the hall."
A knock on the door heralded Thyrð's arrival with the wine as the Longbeard weighed this. Taking his glass from the tray, Veylin noticed that an assortment of comfits had made their way into a dish beside the walnuts. Was that Oski's doing, or Auð's? "Thank you, Thyrð. Set it on the table there, convenient to Grimr. I want no more."
"Is the allowance of wine this generous in Gunduzahar?" Grimr wondered, topping up his glass with a moderate hand as the lad left them.
Was the fellow in earnest, or was that an attempt at jest, the humor sapped by restraint? Veylin decided to take it as the latter. "Alas, our bursary does not yet stretch as far as a common ration of wine."
"What are the provisions for bed and chamber?"
"We have just expanded the dormitory for short-term men. If you desire your own apartment, I would require a long-term contract . . . and it would have to be cut for you."
Grimr took a walnut from the tray and cracked it in his hand. "Provided I do not have to share the bed, I have no objections to a dormitory. Linens are supplied, or at my own cost?"
Taking a deep draught on his pipe, Veylin blew out the smoke. "You have been in some hard places." He had traveled enough to know the indignities one met on the road; and appreciated that when he had gone among Men to trade, they craved his jewels enough to treat him with some care. A blacksmith would get no such consideration. That the Longbeard was leery of inn-keepers' tricks from a fellow Dwarf, however, spoke ill of more than Men.
Grimr's gaze was level, rejecting pity. "I have."
"Then let me be clear. I do not believe a stinted man can give his best work. I want a man's best, and I am willing to pay for it. If you join the company, you will be decently provided with your necessities, save clothes for your back and boots for your feet, and divide a penny on the shilling with the prentices and other indebted men. If you prefer a wage, you must pay for your bed and board out of it."
"How many prentices and indebted men do you have?"
"Seven prentices and two miners beholden to Bersi, our coppersmith."
"How many are taking wages?"
"One. I do not include the plumber we have brought in to work on the baths, or his prentices—he has contracted for a set fee."
Casting the empty bits of shell into the fire, Grimr asked, "Do you distribute profits quarterly or yearly?"
"Will you tell me what those were for the last year?"
"Over three hundred pounds. That was only our second year, and the first we got much copper. This year looks to be as good, or better." Provided he could get out and find some nice stones. All the delving supplied ample ore for Bersi, and the peridots they had not gifted to the women had fetched a fine price; but he might have to sell some cabochon fire opals to uphold his part. The work on Regin's regalia had brought honor rather than profit, though the commissions he had received since Midsummer would pay very well indeed.
The ironmaster cracked another walnut, very thoughtfully. "Is any of a man's work his own, or does it all go to the company?"
"That would depend on how much of it came from Gunduzahar. Rekk, for instance, repaired a mill pond in the Shire last summer—all we got of that were the foodstuffs he chose to bring back with him." Veylin paused before adding, "If you forge for the Men of White Cliffs in their settlement, with your own iron and tools, the profit would be at your discretion." Should Grimr choose to rack the Men to secure his independence a little sooner, it would be difficult to prevent him . . . yet the need of Saelon's people was great enough to bear a premium, if their own shrewdness did not shield them.
"Who decides, if there is any dispute?"
"The company." Companions had more ways to discourage selfishness than their leader did. Therefore he strove to collect followers who shared gain as willingly as work, and was not displeased by his success. If Grimr grew too self-interested, he would find them uncongenial, as Siggr and Hodr had.
"Why have you not already found an ironsmith, with terms as fair as those?" Grimr asked, with frankness near challenge.
Trading pipe for glass, Veylin huffed with relief and annoyance. Was that what made the man so cautious? "Some fear the sea; others find the work too trifling. There is neither iron nor coal near to hand, so haulage will eat into their profits." Those were disadvantages; it was best to be plain. "My cousins and heirs, ironmasters both, were with us at the start—but the elder was killed when we slew the fiends, and his brother now prefers Sulûnduban. Nor," he sighed, "is it easy to find one who thinks well of Men."
"That is important to you?"
"It is." How often, in what was nearing two years since he had promised Saelon he would seek a smith for them, had that been the sticking point, frustrating his hopes? Now, when he felt a need to make amends to her for his brusqueness at their last meeting, it weighed more heavily still. "For they think well of us, and is that not a rare and valuable thing?"
Grimr gazed at the broken nutshell in his palm. "When I was young," he reflected, "the esteem of Men was a commonplace. I have since learned—to my great cost," he confessed, with rising bitterness, "that it is indeed rare. But valuable?" He thumbed through the fragments, then consigned them to the flames. "They were no help when the dragon came."
Yet he broke the freighted silence between them before it grew too perilous. "You may have found otherwise," he allowed, casting a brooding glance at Veylin's game leg and taking up his pipe again.
There were many things he might have said in reply . . . but he did not know this man well enough for any of them. "I do not require that you like them. Only that you use them civilly."
"That I cannot lose the habit of," Grimr said with a curt, crooked smile, "even when they abuse me."
"If the Lady or any of her folk abuse you," Veylin swore, "you may tear up your contract, and I will cancel your debt."
A gleam flared in the ironmaster's eye. "You will put that in writing?" and then, as swiftly, in a harsh voice, "No—do not tempt me! Your offer is generous as it stands. If you will still have me, I will dare the Men and the sea."
"I will," Veylin said promptly, to relieve what strain he could; for he judged the second cry was the truer sounding of the man. To be reduced to debt was a humiliation, degrading to confess even to kin. Yet Grimr had no kin left who could cover him, and of late the fathers of his kindred had brought more grief than aid to their people. It spoke well of him that he found this hard. "Do you want the advance for the metal?" he asked, for such practicalities might steady him.
With a gusty breath, Grimr raked a hand down his long beard. "Might you make it two stones of steel, in addition to the hundredweight of iron?" he countered, eyes grim.
He had already given the offer full consideration. Veylin calculated; the advance would be more than his share for a year, and there would still be the cost of his tools to repay, with interest. "If you like. Have you found the tools you need?"
"Bruni has made me an offer. I will look further tomorrow. When do you leave for Gunduzahar?"
Veylin rose and went to his desk. "In three days. Do you have a pony?"
"That," Grim said wryly, "I have. But I will need at least two more for the metal and my gear. You said you have one ironsmith—is there more than one anvil in the forge, or must we freight that as well? Furnaces? Bellows?"
Smiling privately at the "we," Veylin checked the point on his pen. "My cousins had so much trouble getting the larger anvils across the moors, I took pity on Vitnir and let him sell them to me. Their bare-furnished smithy is at your disposal; Haki has his own." Yet they would need more coal. Taking several sheets of parchment from the press, he asked, "Is there anything else you require? Speak now: you will get better prices on almost everything here in the mansion. My sister's tailoring does not come cheap!"
"I thank you for the warning, but I am not entirely without resources," the Longbeard asserted, a modest show of dignity. "Once we have closed, and I know where the next groat is coming from, I can loosen my purse-strings."
"Once we have closed, and you have signed," Veylin observed, "you are a member of the company, and my hall is open to you. As you have seen, it is sadly empty just now, and though I am pleased by my prentices, their youth can be trying. I should be glad of your company these few days before we depart, and the chance to know you better." That would spare him the price of his meals, at least, and further imposition on his friend. "Barring the advance, there will be no groats until Durin's Day."
Grimr said, gravely, "You are very good."
Veylin huffed, softly, and wrote the date broad and fair. "All to my own gain, I assure you. Be warned! If I like you and your work, I will try to keep you at Gunduzahar once your debt is paid." Let him understand that he was preparing the ground. If he was mistaken in the man, the hospitality cost him little; yet it might bring handsome dividends if time compounded the good will so gained.
With the reserve of one who had found fortune cruelly fickle, Grimr hesitated. "Let us see what time brings. Draw up the contract first, and we will go from there."
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"Whoever told you you could cook?" Auð demanded, taking the pot from her brother. "Get away, before you spoil another meal!"
"Spoil?" Veylin objected, taken aback but rallying swiftly. "What was wrong with supper last night? Or breakfast?"
"You mix porridge as if it were mortar, and cut the carrots in such great chunks that they were half-raw. Is that how you cleave gems?"
"They are carrots, Auð!"
Heaving one of the chests of iron from the larger pony, Grimr looked over his shoulder towards the sudden quarrel and frowned.
"All is well," Oski assured him, low, and chuckled as he bent to hobble one of Veylin's packbeasts. "They often squabble here. Auð is uneasy without a roof, and his leg pains him."
"There is no secure place to sleep hereabouts?" Last night they had sheltered in an abandoned house, cunningly cut into the knap of the land: small and snug, yet melancholy, speaking of a family extinguished. The overhang here would keep off no more than the rain. Not that he scorned it—for himself, he thought it a fine camping place—but a woman ought to have more.
"No. The only delf this side of the peaks is Gunduzahar, and that is another day's journey still. Shall I give you a hand with the other chest?"
"I will not say no!" That was very kind in the lad, when he had so much work of his own, but barring occasional sparks such as these struck between brother and sister, the party was an amiable one. Thyrð was coolest to him, looking unfavorably on anything near familiarity with his mother, but that was natural and did not reach incivility.
Even the ground was genial: the Blue Mountains were less precipitous than the Misty, round-headed and fingered with soft-bottomed vales. But the bogs were flagged with white-tufted grass, warning the traveler, and the long, fair days gave ample time for the heavily burdened ponies to trudge from ridge to firmer ridge, where there was also breeze enough to keep the midges at bay.
This was the pleasantest traveling he had done all year, after the deep snows of the past winter and heavy mud that followed the thaw. There was food aplenty, even if the roots in last night's stew had been a bit crunchy, and with four of them to take turns on watch, a man could get a decent night's sleep.
On the other side of the boulder, Thyrð swore.
"What is it?" Oski asked, but his fellow only hoisted a packsaddle onto his shoulder and stomped over to the small fire still wasting its heat on the air. As his mother vehemently reminded his glowering uncle of a supper he had marred a century before, Thyrð cast the frame onto the ground with a clatter.
His elders turned to him as one. "What is this?" Veylin demanded, storm-browed.
"One of the bars is cracked. Right through."
"Yes?" And when the lad did not answer, "Well, fix it!"
"With what? There is no suitable wood. Hardly," Thyrð kicked at the shrubby stuff they were burning, "any wood at all. Nor have I done this before."
"It is a few pieces of wood," Auð exclaimed, casting her eyes to the stone above them. "What can you not work out? Your brother was making such things when he was half your age."
"Thyrnir has a gift for wood," Thyrð said stoutly. "I do not."
"Give it to me," Veylin growled, taking a seat on one of his small, heavily bound chests. "Bring me the box of common tools."
The lad went without further excuse. Grimr followed after Oski, who carried his master's chests and boxes underneath the overhang without hesitation, stacking his own atop at the southern end to wall out the cool night wind. Auð took the pot back to the fire and set about repairing supper while her brother surveyed the saddle.
When Thyrð brought his uncle a battered box, Veylin said curtly, "Get those beasts watered and hobbled."
By chance, Grimr caught the quick flash of Oski's hands, directed towards his junior. You're a good boy.
Thyrð shied a stone at him, and stomped off towards the nearby tarn with his mother's string of ponies.
Was that derision? The stone missed its mark, and he had seen no evidence of ill-will between the two prentices, only a praiseworthy rivalry. Indeed, the lads seemed evenly matched, Oski's slight seniority contending with the scant favor Thyrð's kinship gained him with their master. Still, the younger lad was proud. Why should he make an exhibition of his incompetence and lack of endeavor?
Grimr glanced back at Thyrð's elders. Veylin was prying the front fork off the bars; Auð held the pot over the fire, nudging a supporting rock into better position with the toe of her boot. Both were absorbed in their work, disagreement blown over like a black-bellied cloud.
Perhaps Thyrð was a good boy . . . but if so, he was also uncommonly shrewd for his age.
His mother stinted him at supper, so if she was aware of any contrivance, she did not approve of the presumption. Veylin . . . . Grimr did not know him well enough to be certain. From all he had seen, he was diligent in teaching his prentices, but instead of explaining how the saddle might be mended and leaving it to the lad, or making Thyrð attend closely while he did so, he let Auð heap camp chores on the boy and did the job himself. He was not baffled by the want of wood, reshaping one arm of a fork to serve as a new bar, and requiring his nephew to bring withies back with him when he finished washing the dishes.
"Will that take a chest?" Grimr asked dubiously, when Veylin finished binding the bundled twigs to the other half of the fork.
"No," the gemsmith confessed, frowning at his creation. "The new bar is too narrow as well, but we will load the beast lightly and double the blanket, and it should not gall." Setting the packsaddle aside, he took up the cracked board, studying it closely before tossing it into the fire. "We will be in Gunduzahar tomorrow, and Grani or Thyrnir will repair it properly."
Grani, he had gathered, was their carpenter. "Thyrnir is the elder of Auð's sons?"
"Yes, and more of his father's temper than this rapscallion. But I know how to pay out his sloth." Turning on his seat, Veylin craned his neck, looking up to find the fat waxing moon, glowing through a gathering veil of clouds. "The weather will worsen tomorrow. It would be good to get an early start. Will the wind veer to the east, do you think?"
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"Ninth part of a hair": Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I—"But in the way of bargain, mark you me, I'll cavil on the ninth part of a hair."
Lazuli: lapis lazuli, a semiprecious stone noted for its vivid blue color. Blue is the "heraldric" color of Veylin's sept, which is why it shows up repeatedly in his hall in Sulûnduban, despite his personal preference for warmer colors.
Old Toby, and . . . Staddle-leaf: Old Toby was considered, by that grand master of pipe-weed lore Meriadoc Brandybuck, one of the best varieties of leaf grown in the Shire. Bree-hobbits, who lived mainly in Staddle, also grew pipe-weed.
The War: the War of Dwarves and Orcs (T.A. 2793–2799).
Bedsit: a single-room apartment, which serves as both bedroom and sitting room.
Briar: a pipe carved from a briar-root.
Spill: a sliver of wood, used to carry fire from one location to another.
"Gross or net?": gross is the total before costs have been deducted, while net is what is left after all deductions have been made.
Perquisites: benefits attached to a position in addition to wages or salary. Today we usually just talk about the "perks" someone gets.
Comfits: candied fruit, spices, or seeds.
Bursary: the treasury of a communal institution, such as a monastery or a college.
Cabochon: a rounded gem ground and polished into shape rather than cut in facets.
Press: a shelved cupboard, often placed in a recess in a wall.
Bar: one of the two pieces of wood that run along the animal's back in the frame of packsaddle. The forks are the crosspieces over the back.