Magweth Pengolodh: The Question of Pengolod

Part 10: The Traveller's Wind

By Tyellas

Summary: Silmarillion-based. Pengolod returns to find Rómenna astir amidst changing times, and he attempts to recount the glories of Khazad-Dûm and Eregion to an enthused but challenging audience.

Story Rating: Rated PG.

Disclaimer: These characters and Middle-Earth are the copyright of the Tolkien estate and this fan fiction is not meant to infringe on that copyright in any way.

Thanks to beta readers Aayesha and Suzana.


Pengolod’s experiences in Armenelos were welcome news when he returned to Rómenna. The indulgences and sights he had weighed with guilt were pure entertainment to most of his hearers. To Aelfwine alone did he tell most of his tale, confessing his midnight walk up the Meneltarma and his suspicion that, after Tar-Minastir’s company, he had been spied upon.

“Having spies watching you – it’s like a play set in the time of Tar-Anarion,” had been Aelfwine’s first remark. “I agree with you that any spies were likely set by Ciryatan. The Venturers’ scribes say that Ciryatan has near usurped the power the Lord of Venturers once held, through sending him to Lindon for long.”

“So you have been going to the Venturers’ library,” said Pengolod. “What else do the scribes say?”

“They were in a lather the last time I was there. The work Ciryatan gives them is not to their taste, and they want their old master back. I – ahem – suggested that I was available for some of these tasks. They pay well for their dignity.” Elf and mortal both laughed. Aelfwine said, “They were too good to do tavern broadsheets like these,” and took one out.

Pengolod read from it. “Join the King’s Sailors – Land and Fortunes – Men for Umbar,” he murmured. “Why Umbar, of all places in Middle-Earth? Númenoreans there are far too far south to be of any aid to Gil-Galad.”

“They have poor trading at the haven of Vinyalondë, say the Venturers, and soldiers and sailors alike curse the winters of Eriador.”

“They weren’t that bad,” said Pengolod, thinking of the winters in Gondolin. “But there are already men dwelling in Umbar, the northern point of the land of Harad. Once, a trade boat hailing from Harad sailed to Lindon, seeking the famous steel of the North. Neither elf-smiths nor the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains fancied their wares. The Haradrim got less than they sought, and did not come again.”

“What did they bring?” asked Aelfwine.

“Spices, silk, alloyed silver, some dull gems,” said Pengolod, casually.

Aelfwine looked at his broadsheet with new respect. “Spices? Silk? Silver? All that and a deep mooring…if the harbour is free, Umbar sounds very fine.”

Just then, though it was afternoon, Rothinzil came in, tripping lightly with her empty basket balanced jauntily on one hip. She shifted the basket in front of her when she saw Pengolod, saying, “Oh, hello. You’re back?”

“The last part of my stay,” Pengolod answered, not asking why Rothinzil was coming around when her work was done.

“The traveller’s wind will be taking you from us, then,” she said. No explanation was needed. Pengolod had learned that the summer doldrums were broken by a fair breeze, the signal that summer’s blending into fall would soon begin. “It’s a cool summer, to bring the breeze so early this year!” She and Aelfwine agreed that the hot period had been short, a mere month, making Pengolod glad he had chosen this year to tarry. He felt half-melted just contemplating a normal Rómennan summer.

Addressing her, Aelfwine said, “You’re here just in time. You know all the news going. Have you anything about the folk of Umbar, or the Southrons?” It turned out that Rothinzil did not, but being considered such an authority by Aelfwine, then offered a tumbler of water-cordial, set her smiling and turning her hips beneath her skirt. She was kind to Pengolod, in the same way that she was kind to Soup when he came in, sandals flapping after an errand. It was a slightly anxious kindness, the unfocused pleasantness turned upon a lover’s friends, lest they take a dislike.

After she left, Pengolod and Aelfwine talked late into the night of Pengolod’s work in the King’s archives, and Pengolod spoke of the question that troubled him, that of the imperfection and mystery of mortals. Aelfwine said, gravely, “That is an answer I sore wish to have, as you bethought. Oft have I wondered if one of my forebearers was cursed by the Sea, that my foot aches in the damp airs. Or, worse, if there had been some inferior blood in my Middle-Earth kin.”

“Inferior? What do you mean?” asked Pengolod. “Mortals in the lands I left were struck by plagues, and the weather there has less of the Valar’s favour, so they hunger more. Their arts are simpler. But they are brave folk and cunning – even when they are not the Elves’ allies.”

Aelfwine opened his mouth, but paused without speaking. Finally, he murmured, “I don’t even know what I mean. If folk move to Númenor, they grow well and fair, even if their grandsires were stunted and gnarled. Yet we speak of it all the time.”

“Mayhap it is the sense that Arda is marred, taking shape in your dark thoughts,” said Pengolod. “I know that mortals are more keen to Morgoth’s marring than Elves are. Perceiving it has troubled your kind since you first came to be.”

Aelfwine brushed it off. “Do not write too much credit on my slate. I’m more concerned with the shape of my clubbed foot.”

“Not all marring shows to the eye. Nor does it vex mortals alone,” said Pengolod.

Aelfwine said, kindly, “You’re a good friend. You needn’t start on yourself just to ease me.”

Pengolod started, then laughed. “There you go, plucking my thoughts from the air before I can speak them myself.”

“Must beat you to it sometime,” grinned Aelfwine, pleased to have been right.

“Would that you could have met my master Rúmil! Or some other friends of mine. You would have gotten along so well, you would not have had to speak at all; your thoughts alone would have flown.” Pengolod grew sombre, recalling his brief consonance with Tar-Minastir. They had had one hour when the King’s mind was open and at ease, but the warding of his pride had closed it up again.

Meanwhile, before him, Aelfwine was smiling, his fancy caught by Pengolod’s idea, welcoming and wondering as he had been in the hour of their first meeting. Now it was Pengolod himself who withdrew somewhat, to hide the stab he felt, remembering that their fellowship would end in some weeks.

In the days that followed, Pengolod found that keeping his turned-about hours worked well with his friend’s afternoon courting. He settled again into the Kingstown neighbourhood, and some of those who had been used to him came by to greet him. Though ever ready to feel wary, he felt no eyes upon his back. Testing this four days after his return, he even set himself up to lure watchers. After the sun set, he opened the shop shutters and lit several candles, seating himself in the pools of light to write as a panorama for the curious. With this, he scattered leaves crisp and dry from summer’s heat before the front and back windows, to betray any mortal’s tread. Despite this, Pengolod heard no lingerers.

The morning after this experiment, Aelfwine had unusual customers. He and Pengolod had just washed their hands after breakfast when the group walked into the shop. Pengolod had expected to see Drúedain in Rómenna as much as they had expected to see an Elf. The short, swarthy people lifted their eyebrows in silent surprise as they filed in, until ten of them stood before the counter, women and men, and two children. All save the children carried large packs on their backs. Thinking back on his discussion with Aelfwine, Pengolod thought that they were the best-favoured Drúedain he had ever seen, straight in their modest height, elegant in their darker skins and thoughtfully simple garb.

One of the men addressed Aelfwine. “You read and write?”

“Yes, Master.”

He reached under his wrap and took out an ordinary-looking letter. “How much to read this out?”

Aelfwine named a modest sum. The man gave him the letter.

Aelfwine began to read aloud, slowly and clearly. “I, Captain Lorongil of the ship Curuncir, state honourably that my ship will give safe passage to Master Ton-nuri-Ton and his nine associated kinsfolk to the port of Lindon in Middle-Earth. The terms of the passage are as stated by the King’s Rule, namely being…” He read out the rest of the page.

Ton nodded. “Good. We will not forget.” He turned to his kin and said something in a fluid, rumbling language. Flashes of it were familiar to Pengolod from Middle-Earth, but his accent was thick around the words. They all nodded, picking up the bags they had rested on the floor, and the smallest child. Ton put the small coin for this moment’s service on the counter, exactly when Aelfwine put the letter down again. Aelfwine knit his brows and added conscientiously, “I hear Lorongil is known for a good captain. But if he sails now, either he’s turning back immediately when he arrives, or he’ll be wintering in Middle-Earth. You may have to stay a long time.”

Ton laughed richly. “Good. We are glad to do it. We will go South and find our old kin.”

Pengolod said, alarmed, “Master, have a care. The South-roads are hard, and may yet be beset by war and evil.”

Ton said firmly, “The Prince is good for ships, the sailors say. Good for ships in this land means bad for forests. We are forest-people. This island is unsteady beneath our feet. It is time for us to go.” Ton was their negotiator, yet perhaps not their leader. The others were leaving the shop. A woman caught Ton’s eye and tilted her head. Ton looked at Pengolod with more to say held in his deep eyes. But he said no more, and went, closing the transaction with a nod of thanks.

Aelfwine watched them go. “Mighty talkative, for a Drúedan. I suppose our customs here in Númenor have rubbed off on them.”

“We said in Beleriand that they were as secret as Dwarves. But it is an Elvish thing of them to do, to choose a life of peril to live in the wide woods.”

Aelfwine replied, “Goes back to what Rothinzil said, about the traveller’s wind. This month and the next, if someone has a place to go, they’ll go to it while the wind and weather hold fair.”

They were both silent, considering this. The wind blew some of the dry leaves into the shop. Aelfwine inhaled to call for Soup, but Pengolod said, “Let me, it is little,” and swept them away.

Aelfwine grumbled, “Where is that boy? I send him off to the laundry and he goes to and from it by way of the docks.” When Soup eventually came in carrying a deep basket, Aelfwine dove into it right away, retrieving his best blue and yellow clothes. “That’s for the wedding tomorrow, is it?” said Pengolod.

Soup, still panting from his errand, said, “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t marry the bookbinder’s daughter, but he invited you to her wedding.”

Aelfwine answered, “He means to show off what I’m missing by turning her down.”

“Are you sorry?” asked Pengolod.

“Not when I heard who she’s marrying instead.” Soup looked puzzled as his elders smirked; dissecting the scandal had occupied them for an evening. “No wonder her father wants to take satisfaction where he can get it. I’ll have the last laugh, though.”

“Because you’re bringing Rothinzil?” Soup said.

“Don’t be saying such things,” said Aelfwine, sharply. “One doesn’t take a woman to another’s wedding lightly. I see my last laugh being some years from now, when I still prosper.”

“Well said,” Pengolod murmured. However, when Soup inevitably went to put the rest of the laundry in its place, Pengolod gave Aelfwine a look.

Aelfwine looked over-warm. “You’ve had twenty lifetimes; there’s no fooling you. It’s more mixed than I let on to the lad. But I stand by what I said as the heart of it.”

The next day, Aelfwine went to meet Rothinzil at her lodging, taking a wedding-gift of crystal and a feast-gift of wine. He left behind one of his pair of crutches, and his apprentice, the former to leave an arm free to squire Rothinzil, the latter to aid Pengolod. Pengolod was to mind Aelfwine’s business until he returned.

The sole business that fell to Pengolod in Aelfwine’s stead was naming an awed stevedore’s baby. As the afternoon drew on, Soup seemed to fall back into his restless, anxious ways. He set himself to drawing a map, next writing out something he would not show Pengolod. Then, he offered to help in one breath, and when demurred, asked leave to sit in the courtyard, which he did for fifteen minutes before returning to try and apply himself to his beginners’ work once more. When Pengolod, sorry for the scraps he was set to work with, gave him a clean sheet of paper, the lad visibly turned into doleful nerves, nearly spilling his ink-pot over the paper.

Pengolod smiled. “I would vow I looked the same, the first time my master gave me a sheet of the best vellum. The only way to manage it is as if it was common scrap for an exercise.” Having said this, he sat back and let himself appear absorbed in his own writing. Soup, thinking that he was ignored, did passably well with his map. Pengolod waited until Soup’s pen was nowhere near the paper before he said, “That looks well done. This is about when Aelfwine would let you free for a time, is it not?”

Soup twisted the quill he held. He stammered, “Yes, sir, but if you’re not busy – but you look busy – I’d truly like to hear one of your tales about Middle-Earth.”

Being presented with such admiration was like drinking strong wine; it intoxicated despite the best intentions, and whether the wine was good or raw. Pengolod asked, “About what?”

Soup gaped for a second at his own success, then said, “I don’t know. Not one of the ones that everybody knows all in rhyme, one of the ones that happened to you. Palaces and treasures and dragons and fighting.”

Pengolod recalled Ciryatan’s request at the King’s table and smiled. “Princely tastes, indeed. I am in no mood for dragons, but I will accommodate the rest.”

“Can we go outside and sit under the yard-tree? It’s, uh, more, uh, Elvish.”

“Cooler, as well,” Pengolod agreed. The westering sun heated up the shop as the hour grew later.

“I’ll, uh, go get it ready!” Soup ran out back as gracelessly as if he had an extra leg. Pengolod closed up the dead-quiet shop, wondering how you prepared a tree. He learned how in the courtyard. Soup had not only dragged a wide bench into the tree’s shade, but swamped it in a large canvas tarpaulin, “on account of the bird-lime on the bench.”

“Very considerate of you. You have learned well from Aelfwine.” Pengolod took the seat, and Soup sat on the ground before him, looking about at the trees and ground in his eternal distraction before putting on an earnest face. The courtyard still held several distractions, some goodwives gossiping by the well, some gulls quarrelling over crusts. Pengolod blocked out all distractions and began to recount. But his tale-telling proceeded in unexpected ways, with this audience.



“If you would hear of treasures, then I will speak to you of more recent days, days within this Second Age of the World. After the great War of Wrath, I joined the followers of Gil-Galad, and had a position in his court. Within a hundred years of our dwelling there, Lindon was become the jewel of Middle-Earth, and many of the elves of old dwelled there. I had a position in our High King’s court. So too did another loremaster, a fellow named Erestor. He was dismayed, for I gained a higher placement in the court than he did, despite his being elder in years and wedded.”

“Why you and not him? Sir?” asked Soup.

“A good question; he was as skilled as I in many of the points relating to the position in question. At a time before Lindon was established, the Elves were divided into factions. The factions had mended, but I had been on Gil-Galad’s side throughout, whereas Erestor, at one point, had not. This was less well thought of. Erestor’s dissatisfaction grew when he had a daughter, a girl wondrous fair. He was very unhappy on her account, because – “

Soup interrupted, excited. “You fell in love with her and your love was forbidden because you were rivals with her dad and you tried to run away together?”

Pengolod restrained a sigh. “Nothing of the kind. No, Erestor was grieved because, the moment she came of age, she took ship and went to Tol Eressëa, as any Elf might. Next his wife bore a son, and the same fate came to pass. Unhappy about this, they wearied of dwelling by the Sea, and were among the elf-folk who went to start a new realm, Eregion. Many of those who went had been in that same faction in the past. Others were simply wanting a change, and there were those who wanted jewels and gold, the heart of their craft.”

Again, Soup interjected, “Why did they have to go there to get the jewels? I thought all the Elves had lots of jewels.”

“I was getting to that. They went to Eregion because –“ Pengolod stopped and stiffened. Some instinct told him to listen. Hearkening to the sounds around he had blocked out, there were three mingled sounds, a moan of caution, the rustle of leaves, and the snap of breaking wood. He glanced above just in time to see a swaying branch fall away and deposit another hobbledehoy on the flagstones.

“Ow! Ow!” The newly-delivered youth scrambled up and said, directly to Soup, “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!”

“What were you doing up there, boy? Out with it, now!” said Pengolod, harshly for him. Was this what it was come to, that a lad had been hired to spy on him?

Dismayed, the newcomer blurted, “I just wanted to hear the story!”

Soup cursed under his breath and stood up. “The rest of you might as well come down.”

“The rest?” Pengolod asked, to be answered by four more youngsters, from ten to fifteen, descending from the thick leaves of the tree. Pengolod felt something bump against his leg; two smaller children were emerging from beneath the canvas-draped bench. To Soup, he said, “Did you set them here to listen?”

Soup, red as a plate of beets, nodded. He drew himself up, nobly ready to be chastised, only to have his face fall. For Pengolod bent double laughing in relief at the motley children and youths, until they were all laughing save Soup.

“You all might as well stay,” he said. “But I warn you, I’m not going to change the story I was about to tell.”

Nobody left, so he began. “As I was saying before we made each others’ acquaintance, I stayed in Lindon after the great war of the Valar, otherwise I would have no tale to tell you.”

One of the youths raised his hand and asked, “Why did you stay and not go to Tol Eressëssëa?”

“It’s just one set of esses, Eressëa. Why?” Pengolod paused. “At first I stayed because I was weary – we had all survived the great War of Wrath, and I had lost everything I knew, save some good folk. Then the King Gil-Galad would have me as the head of his loremasters. This gave me scope to do much that I wished, and I renewed the old fellowship of the Lambengolmor, the elvish masters of many tongues.” The youths snickered. Crisply, Pengolod clarified, “Which means diverse languages. Our elvish tou – languages shifted with time, and had many dialects. When our records of these were complete, we turned to the languages of mortal Men, first the Westron of Eriador, then those of more obscure folk. We documented the ways of speaking of the ice-men of Lossoth and the horse-lords of the East, and the few Haradrim of the South and wanderers of Dunland. The Ents, the tree-people, shared as much of their language as we wished to know, and helped us learn more of the tongues of birds and beasts.”

Pengolod paused. His young audience was unmoved.

He hastened to his point. “After a thousand years, there was only one language we Elves knew naught about; that of the fierce, treasure-hunting, smith-master Dwarves. This was what took me to the Dwarves’ greatest realm, Khazad-Dûm, and its hoards and secrets.”

This won them back, and Pengolod went on. “Near Lindon, in the Blue Mountains, there were Dwarves. But they were too used to us elf-folk. They ate our bread, drank our wine, and traded us our metals, but it had become their custom to be close and secret. We had no joy there, and several other loremasters decided their language was ever to be unknown.

Erestor, whom I had once known, had as I told earlier, gone to dwell in Eregion, a land of plains and hills, hard by the gates of Khazad-Dûm. We got on better apart than we had in the same scriptorium, and letters we exchanged on business turned into friendship. He told me of their dealings with the Dwarves of Khazad-Dûm, and said that I might have better luck at their fabled mithril door. Thus I arranged for a year’s sabbatical from my role in the King’s court. The year before, I did what any elf of Lindon did who would make their fortune: I dove for pearls in the bay of Lindon. When I had enough pearls to fill both my cupped hands, I was, I thought, fit to parley with the Dwarves far from the sea.”

Pengolod’s listeners interjected yet again, with exclamations about how much the pearls would have been worth, and distractingly, tidbits about the pearl-divers in Númenor. Pengolod protested, “Enough, enough! Back to Middle-Earth and the road to Khazad-Dûm. In the spring, I went to Eregion with a great party of traders. By chance someone I had known long ago was become one of the Gwath-i-Mírdain, the Jewel-Smiths of Eregion. Thanks to him, I was soon talking to a Dwarf of that realm.

The Dwarf, a man of rank among their people, was named Narvi. I will tell you how he looked, that you will know how Dwarves appear. They are more than half the height of a tall Elf. Narvi’s face was ruddy from his wanderings beneath the Sun in Eregion. He was so richly dressed that I took him at first for a lord of his kind. What treasures did he carry? He wore nigh every type of jewel you could name, his hood was heavy brocade, and his beard of brown and red spread out over a mail-coat knit tightly as fishes’ mail. Any one of the splendid weapons he carried, worked and gilt, would have been fit for a king. Such is the wealth of Khazad-Dûm, I learned, that this was only the garb of a goodly burgher.

I made my offer right away: pearls in exchange for the chance to learn somewhat of their secret language. Narvi laughed, and drew me off to converse with me alone. When we were by ourselves, this is what he said to me. “You tempt me sorely, Elf. Pearls are fair treasure. Yet not for pearls alone do we Khazad change the custom of ten thousand years. Our secret speech, the speech Aüle gave to us, is more precious than your jewels. What riches of knowledge will you give in turn? What language will you teach to us that we know not?”

I was amazed and humbled – and my hunger to learn this precious tongue scorched me like a bonfire. I spoke of the tongues of Elves, the tapestry of dialects, the diverse runes, and hinted that they might find this useful for trade.

Narvi said, “You offer what we know already. What else?”

I spoke of the tongues of diverse Men, yet every folk I named, either the Dwarves had the language, or merited it little. Scholarship had its limits to them, with their own language as their peerless treasure. Knowing that Narvi wanted a speech his folk could use, the offer to teach the rhythmic Ent-language died on my lips.

Thinking of the Ents reminded me of the last set of languages I knew. I hesitated, but I recalled a valiant old teacher of mine, who held that such speech had once saved his life – and underground, at that. Thus I offered up the ways to speak with birds and beasts.

Narvi raised an eyebrow. He pursed his mouth, silent for a moment. Finally, he said, “What kinds of birds?”

Twenty minutes after that, our bargain was struck. Dwarves esteemed few creatures. It was my stroke of luck that these included the birds that are easiest to speak with, ravens, lesser eagles, and thrushes. For the art of speaking with these, and a goodly amount of my pearls, I would dwell with Narvi in his deep hall, eat at his table, and learn the hidden language of the Khazad. The next day, I arose at dawn and departed with Narvi. I only saw the sun two hours before we came to the gates of mithril amidst the stone. “Go on, you open them,” said Narvi, jovially. I read the inscription above and smiled. All I need do was speak one common word, “friend.” I said the word, and the gates opened of their own accord. I complimented Narvi upon his enchanted workmanship, which he had signed. We went within. The gates sealed so tightly that not a line of light showed through. My sojourn amidst the deeps had begun.

As we traced our way through paths, stairs, and mine-work, all brilliantly lit with tin lanterns, Narvi spoke to me of the fortune that had led him to befriend the Elves. The Elves of Eregion, mad for craftsmanship and rich in gems, had traded more than usual with the Khazad on their arrival. The Dwarves of Khazad-Dûm, I gathered, are the most confident and prosperous of their folk. The traffic that they first saw as generosity soon turned into good fellowship.

Narvi was a jewel-smith and trader, and his forefathers had done the same for time immemorial. Amongst his people, he was considered the equivalent of a dashing, adventurous captain. The elf-lord Celebrimbor had stayed in his hall, and as seems strange to tell, he and Narvi had become fast friends. “Once upon a time, he seemed wondrous old to me, did Celebrimbor. I am married now, with children; I have chosen where my bones will lie; and it seems my friend has become younger, still living lightly as he does. His solidity is all in his stone-work. Come! We are at my door. Enter my hall, and let guest-friendship prevail.”

This is how the Dwarves live. Narvi’s hall, carved out of the living rock, was as long as a racing-boat, and its roof could have taken a good mast and sail beneath it. A tall seat of stone was on each side of its mighty hearth, and in one seat, another Dwarf was sitting. Even from where I stood, this personage glittered with gold, wearing a robe of brocade and necklace upon necklace below a beard. I assumed this was Narvi’s father, still young in dwarf-years.

The noble stood and greeted Narvi with a few sentences of the dwarf-language, eloquent with moving hands. Narvi knelt to do honour, then gestured me forwards and seemed to speak of me. He showed the pearls. Then, the pair leaned in and pressed their noses together before a kiss.

I was wrong. This was Narvi’s wife!

Several smaller dwarves hopped out of an alcove and lined up soberly. Narvi went down the line and gave each a greeting and a kiss, and one of the pearls. They grew gleeful, my first sign that they, with their own little beards, were dwarf-children, the eldest of them the age of the youngest amongst you.”

The idea of bearded women and children caused a sensation. In a moment, all the youths had agreed that this was the most unfair thing they had ever known of in all Arda, and that they wished they, too, had been born with their beards, instead of having to wait for them. The tallest youngster told them all to be quiet and commanded Pengolod to continue.

“Narvi introduced them all to me. His wife, with considerable ceremony, gave me a piece of bread and a drinking-horn. I was now their guest.

The language of the Dwarves that I learned at Narvi’s hearth was slow, ponderous, and deep. They claimed it had not changed since the first Dwarves spoke. This went so far that, instead of making new words to mean new things, they strung together existing ones. Its repeating syllables echoed the repetitive nature of the Dwarves’ lives in the heart of their great mountain. Though I am beginning to feel time’s weight, being over two thousand years of age, I felt young there, for the Dwarves had been living their lives in exactly the same way for five times that.

Many of the Dwarves he knew had never seen the light of the Sun, and were well content. We saw some of it during my first two months there; it was during this time that I taught Narvi and some others bird-speech. This involved finding and teaching the birds, as well, so there were some rambles on the high mountain-sides. Being Dwarves, as soon as they could talk to the ravens, they were asking if the ravens would take messages to other dwarf settlements, regarding trade.

With this done, and Narvi assured that our bargain was a good one, he brought me deep. We went about the forges and mines, and through the great halls of Khazad-Dûm, The stone arched so superbly high, it was a sky in itself, with its lanterns like a multitude of stars.”

“What about the treasure?” asked Soup, and the others echoed, “Yes, treasure.”

“They have treasure like you have fish here in Rómenna. It came from where they lived and was everywhere. I saw the scorching crucibles they used to melt the ore of mithril, and the hoards where they piled it waiting to be worked, and the slim fair things they made of it. There was one cave that was a hoard of steel, and another, its equal, held a hoard of gold. This was the property of their King; at that time, his name was Durin. The Dwarves hold that their first leader takes flesh again and again, and when this is deemed to have come about, the ruler takes up the name Durin. Durin wore a magnificent mail-coat of mithril to his knees, and a golden helm; there was strange wisdom in his eyes, so that I fancied their belief might be true. Durin’s son, half-grown by his side, also had a mithril coat. Around his granite throne were the six sages of the realm, each a mighty smith or wright, with a hoary white beard.

But even they held to the custom of old, to speak Elvish to the elves, even down to the name for their people, Naugrim, which means, unpleasantly, "stunted." I could walk through the greatest hall and hear Dwarvish in the distance, while near me, silence fell or a less secret language was spoken. So in the end, it indeed at Narvi’s table that I learned the most of the Dwarves’ language, from Narvi’s children. They had not settled into the pattern of their stony elders. Showing me words, and making me say them until I spoke with the proper harshness, fitted well with their sombre idea of play. Narvi’s wife supervised this, and oft a child would go over to her first, before vouchsafing some knowledge to me. They it was who taught me the iglishmek, the dwarves’ gesture-language.

I noted that Narvi’s wife never left their hall, even when her husband departed for some time. When I had enough of their tongue to ask why she did not go forth herself, she replied that it was not their way for women to leave their hearth after bearing children. It was not my place to criticize, so I said naught. With time, I understood better; she came to seem more a queen content in her demesne than a prisoner. All the male dwarves who visited her honoured her as a paragon of womanhood. She received unmarried dwarf-women as her guests, exchanged message-slates often with other women reigning in their own halls, made offerings to Aüle for the household, and laid powerful charms – this last only in the absence of men folk of any kind. Once, while I was there, she departed to a woman’s concourse, taking her daughters. Narvi, his son, and I all had to stay put for three days while the women roamed, for mysteries that were never explained to me. Her life as a dwarf-Lady was one of privilege and spiritual weight, but I understood why some dwarf-women remained unwed to escape it.

The Dwarves had come to not mind me, but by the end of my time, I felt I had overstayed. It grew wearisome, to eat the same dry bread and have the same simple conversation with new-met Dwarves ever and again, and I longed for the sun and the free airs. Learning the language and dwelling so strangely was the greatest challenge I ever faced as a lore-master, and I am glad to have had it, even though the Dwarves swore me to secrecy about much that I learned. I had enough knowledge free that I was the joy of the Lambengolmor when I returned.

I wrote a short book about my sojourn and my new knowledge. I owed fair copies of this to several folk in Eregion, as well as to Narvi himself. I returned to Eregion too late for this. Narvi’s bones had gone to their long home in the roots of the great mountain. His heirs remembered me, and I gave the book I had meant for Narvi to his son. The dwarf-man had married young, and thus never taken the time to befriend the Elves as deeply as Narvi had. He dwelt in his father’s hall, another dwarf-woman was honoured by the hearth, and all, he assured me proudly, was as it had been. The feel that it truly was so gave me something of a chill. I did not linger, but returned to Eregion.”

The spell of Khazad-Dûm was broken when Soup asked, “What happened then?”

“I visited with my friends who lived there. But I could not stay as long as I wished. For Eregion, while I was there, went to the brink of war.”

At the word “war”, the smallest child, young enough to cling to a sibling minding him, began to cry. The youths grumbled in impatience, and the child’s sister cuffed him and said, “Be quiet! I want to hear about it! He just doesn’t like hearing about the War since our father went for a soldier.”

Pengolod leaned to face the boy and said, “Shhhh, lad. I won’t speak of fighting. Would you like to hear something amusing?”

The boy gulped and nodded. “All right. Here is how it happened.” Pengolod exerted all the tale-teller’s charm he had, and drew them in so that he could recount with few interruptions.

“This happened in the first part of the war that your fathers from Númenor helped us with. We Elves of Lindon tried first. We went South to try and defend our people in Eregion, before the Evil One and his orcs came. We marched fast and fierce, at first going openly down the Great South Road, then diverting ourselves to go with greater stealth. Many streams and two rivers combine to become the Gwathlo River there, the waters twining and dallying, making the land about green and lush with life.

We slipped through marshes and along streams, carving their way through sandy banks and willow-glades. It was the fairest part of our journey south. The marshes knew naught of war. White swans coasted the meres and raised their cygnets, and flags and reeds blossomed for the spring. Being an interpreter and a scout, I rode at the front, but we walked beside our horses over the damp ground.

Along one stretch of sandy banks, we paused. “Do these look like orc-holes, d’you think?” one of our soldiers asked. There were some tunnels bored into the sand, too great to belong to otters or badgers. We decided that the area was too sunny and cleanly to draw orcs, but there was no scat or tracks from wild creatures. Our captain, to confirm this, leaned to peer inside one tunnel, poking his spear inside. His backside must have made an irresistible target. For someone out of sight threw a walnut in its husk at him, and hit true. He turned and straightened, well wroth, and several more nuts struck his armour, making musical noises. Our captain for a reason, he allowed himself to stay a target for a moment, then gave a signal. Several elf-warriors, creeping in stealth to the source of this barrage, pounced and routed the nut-wielding foes. From where we stood, it sounded like a fair fight.

Two minutes later, four elf-men slid down the bank, all as vexed as the captain and half-blinded, wiping away mud splattered around their eyes. “Some wretched mortal children, of all things!” one complained. “No, they were Dwarves. They still hate Elves in their hearts, I told you,” another said. “We only caught one, but you’ll see.” The captain, hearing these conflicting reports, called me. As the interpreter, I was to identify the captive, say what he was, and tell if he was good or evil.

Two tall elf-warriors, nigh seven spans like your King, drew their captive over. I had never seen anything like him. He was just over half our warriors’ height, shorter than a Dwarf, but as beardless as I am. Yet he was no child, but a young man of his kind, with dark curls hanging down his neck and over his brow, and eyes full of wit and fire, fear and courage. Under the dirt from his recent scuffle with our warriors, he was fair and cleanly, simply dressed in homespun. The most curious thing about him was his feet. His unshod, bare feet were large as his stature was small, feet larger than my own, and thatched with thick curls. Yes, curls on his feet.

If you are all done laughing, shall I continue?

There we were, I, the curious fellow, and our captain and soldiers. I went down on one knee before our unwilling guest, so that I was closer to his height, and we attempted to talk. I heard traces of other mortal languages in his speech, but not enough for real comprehension, and he understood nothing in any language I tried. Attempting the basics, I held my hand up to my chest and named myself. Quick-minded, he took my meaning and did the same. I understood how the first Elves, the Elves beneath the stars, had reached out to those of other kind, urging speech, and smiled. His responding gladness shrivelled as our captain stepped forwards out of the watchers and demanded, “Well? What is he?”

This curtness vexed me sorely. I knew what this fellow was not – no creature of evil – but not what he was. I longed to have the chance to learn a new language from the start, and a new people through it, but this was war. There was no time. Thus I chose an answer that would save the stranger’s life. I said, taking tremendous liberties, “By his curious dialect I believe him to be of a kindred of the Dwarves, perhaps the famed Noegyth Nibin, the Petty-Dwarves.”

The captain exclaimed, “But he’s got no beard!”

“His feet are bearded,” I said.

Fortunately, our captive, despairing, had adopted a grim look that gave him a Dwarvish mien. The captain looked at his scowl and said, “All right, all right! The last thing we want is to anger King Durin by spearing one of his folk. Give him some gold and let him go.”

After all that, the fellow almost doomed himself by giving the gold a dubious look, as no Dwarf would ever do. He ran his fingers over the image pressed on one of the pieces, and its craft won him over. Then, he pointed to my worked brass signal-horn at my belt. “He wants the horn? Give him that too,” said our captain.

I took horn and baldric from my belt and passed them to his small hand. He lifted it to his lips and shocked us all with a compelling horn-call. Then he smiled, bowed neatly, and was gone - wonderful quick, and silent as one of us. We remarked on this no more as we went; we had tarried and had to catch up, and it went down in our troop’s report that we had paid a toll to the Noegyth Nibin.

I never saw the curious small marsh-man again, nor any of his kind. When the war was over, and we were heading home, our company stopped in a hamlet of mortal Men near Imladris. A nomad pausing with them told me I had seen one of the holbytla, the hole-dwellers of legend.”

Pengolod’s young listeners erupted at this. Each of them had heard about the holbytla, from grand-dad or great-aunt, shepherdess or gnarled old sailor. They vied to tell Pengolod what they knew. Their story-fragments were confused with lore of Dwarves and Elves, all rolled together into one fey, elusive race, so that Pengolod was hard put to stay grave as he listened to their inventive or half-remembered misconceptions.

The chaos of recounting, and the sun’s setting, put an end to the session. Some of the young people thanked Pengolod, and some did not, but most gave Soup a coin, or half of one, as they went. “Pay you Starday when we meet at the docks, I’m good for it then,” said one, heading off.

When the last youth had gone, Pengolod stood up. “You – charged a fee – for this?”

Soup’s ears had turned red again, but he was stubborn. “It was a lot of fuss to set it up. The bench, and getting a good time, and all.”

Pengolod snapped, “What do you think your master would say?”

“I should give you half?” said Soup.

Before Pengolod could recover from Soup’s Rómennan logic, the boy went on. “I wanted to write up stories like pamphlets and sell them, but I’d have had to ask Master Aelfwine for the paper and he’d have wanted to see the exercises I wrote on them, and I can’t speak them like you do. I wanted some money my own so’s I could surprise the master with a wedding present when he gets married.”

His anger toppled by surprise, Pengolod asked, “Has he asked her?”

“Not yet. But he will,” said Soup, with unusual certainty. “They’ve been courting like two dolphins since you went to Armenelos. The day before you came back, he took the gold coin you gave him to hold your lodging to the jeweller who does rings. Please don’t tell him I told you!”

“I should have seen it on my own. Though it is soon…” Pengolod muttered. He saw Soup’s shame and fear. “The old tales and histories belong to everyone. You can write them as you will. Were any of those lads eager to hear about me?” he asked, thinking yet again of spies.

“Everyone wants to know about you!” said Soup, as if Pengolod was the last to know.

“Everyone? Surely there must be some in particular.”

Soup examined his sandals. “A couple people are always asking, ‘specially when you aren’t here.”

Pengolod could not keep the urgency out of his voice. “Does Aelfwine tell them what I do?”

“Oh, no. He told me not to either.” Soup explained, “If they don’t know, then they come around again a few days later and it’s good for business.” When Pengolod, still weighing this, did not reply, Soup said, “You’re going to tell Master Aelfwine what I did?”

“The story’s too good not to,” Pengolod admitted, exerting himself to not smile. “Not in a way that will get you scolded, if that is what you mean. But mind that you keep on as you have, and keep my business private.”

“Yes, sir, of course, sir!” Soup opened his hand, offering his humble takings. “Do you want half?”

It would have taught Soup a lesson to take it. Pengolod decided, “No. Use it for your paper, lad, or Aelfwine’s gift. And in the future, when you arrange an entertainment, the artist’s part is three-quarters of the takings, not half.” Debating the fairness of this kept them occupied until Aelfwine’s late return.

Story Notes:


Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted March 18, 2005.

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Magweth Pengolodh Sections

1 - At the Sign of the Open Book

2 - Romenna Days

3 - The Ship-Feast

4 - The Erulaitalë

5 - Armenelos

6 - Unien's Race

7 - The Hall of Venturers

8 - The Fat Man's Tale

9 - The Tomb of Elros

10 - The Traveller's Wind

11 - The Sea-Bells

12 - The Charivari and Epilogue

Series Notes