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From Wilderness to Cities White  by Larner

Written in honor of the Henneth-Annun list's ninth birthday, as well as honoring the birthdays of Agape and Rhyselle.  Joy to all of you!

Set during Aragorn's first visit to Harad as described in "Lesser Ring."

The Gift

            The northern trader watched with awe as the smith before him worked the white-hot metal bar on his anvil into a blade.  As often as he had seen this done, it was still a marvel to see the transformation.

            “He will fold the metal two more times at least,” said Bhatfiri, the captain of his caravan guards, from his place at the trader’s elbow.  “It will be a fine blade once it is finished.  Now, come, Horubi’ninarin, and see what swords and knives he has ready to sell.”

            Reluctantly the northerner turned away from the smith to follow his guide away from the forge and into the shelter of the awning set to provide shade from the blazing Sun of Far Harad.  “And you say that those who work metal in the region of Ephir are even better smiths than this?” he asked.  “I have watched many smiths throughout the northern lands, and he is the equal of most.”

            The Southron made a dismissive noise.  “He is nothing!” Bhatfiri pronounced in low tones.  “Oh, he is most competent.  But those who work in the forges of Ephir are true artisans, and their weapons are not only serviceable but are works of art as well.  Only the few Elven swords I have seen have been their equal—or better, perhaps.”

            “Then you’ve not seen the products of Dwarven forges,” the trader assured him.  “Their swords and knives tend to be broader and perhaps somewhat heavier than the work of Elven smiths, but still are filled with a beauty that must be seen to be fully appreciated.”

            “Then you have such works in your stores?” asked the guardsman.

            “I have four at home, one given me by a Dwarf I saved from an orc attack.  This was not made for trade, but by himself for his own use.  My brothers were most impressed, for such tokens of appreciation are not lightly given, and they say they have not seen better.”

            The smith’s wife came out of the houseplace carrying a tray of copper, on which sat stoneware cups of the herbal drink favored in the region.  She was a small woman, gone to roundness, her skin rather leathery, her hair thinned with age, her eyes bright and watchful.  “You sit,” she directed in the traders’ tongue.  “You sit, drink lûochi.  I bring out—samples.  Samples of husband’s work.”

            The trader bowed his head respectfully.  “And we thank you for the lûochi, mistress.”  He folded himself with remarkable grace onto the rug provided for guests, and she set the tray upon the low carved table between them, obviously pleased by his courtesy.

            She left the two men to serve themselves from the tray, and soon returned with a heavy box, which she set down heavily by the side of the northerner.  “Here,” she said proudly.  “My husband make these.”

            Each weapon was carefully wrapped in heavy cotton cloth.  Most were daggers or belt knives, but there were three short swords, two of which were protected by finely tooled leather scabbards.  The trader carefully lifted one of these from the box, turning it to examine the workmanship of the sheath and the grip.  The leather was embossed with what appeared to be poppy blossoms, through which a serpent slithered.  The grip was of an ebon wood, finely polished, with a copper serpent wound about it to bind the two sides together, the serpent’s head with its lapis eyes extending beyond the grip over the outside of the scabbard.

            “Beautiful work,” he known here as Horubi’ninarin murmured, drawing the blade from its sheath.  “Yes,” he said, definitely pleased, as he turned the short sword to examine the smith’s workmanship.

            The woman beamed.  “My husband—him good smith.  None better!”

            In the end the trader took this short sword, a dagger, and two belt knives, haggling skillfully with the woman, who appreciated the value of her husband’s work well.  If she commanded a better price from the northerner than she normally did, he was not upset, and when done awarded her with a shawl of fine wool carefully decorated in shades of blue with a beautiful butterfly motif.  “For you, mother,” he said.  “To keep you warm in the cool of the evening.  It is from the Shire, the source of perhaps the finest woolens in all of Middle Earth!”

            Her expression had softened, and she stroked the soft wool with eyes filled with wonder.  “The nemir!” she whispered.  “So beautiful!”

            As they secured their purchases onto their pack camel and made to lead it from the village, Bhatfiri commented, “You have just raised her status high within the region.  No other will have such a beautiful shawl.”

            “And she deserves it,” the trader said.  “She has a good husband, and does him proud.  Such respect between husband and wife deserves recognition.”

            Behind him the wife of the smith draped the shawl about her shoulders, relishing the softness and beauty of the work of a woman far away who belonged to a race she’d never heard of, recognizing skill equal to that of her husband in bringing beauty to something intended to be serviceable.

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