In the habit of handling heat and hammer to shape and bend what resisted the purposes of men and beast, Zilpharon was in this den, seated upon a crude stool, aware that he sat among jewels already finished. The long, soft slow pulling by gods, incessant grinding of facets innumerable, had shown their promise to this smith, who could admire the greater craft and wonder-working beyond his skill and training. Each woman was herself a gem of arts known only to Vala-kind, to be gazed upon in blessing the onlooker, and beheld in restoration of health and to the future’s promise. No darkness resided therein, and light in their midst was given back in splendor, arrayed in new bewitchment, geometric by precision, yet animated unlike dead things of earth and her tunnelings. These were some of his praise-musings, as they cooked river water for a remedy and cleansing wash, to be sanctified by alder cone and oak bark, and fragrant herbs hung to dry about the cavern. Green stained was the floor-stone, and yellows and oranges spread in powder-dye across the walls and ceilings, arching into a deep lavender; within the small light of his fire, he thought he saw tiny glittering lights, escaping certain identification of kind or place. And two children they tended, an infant and his brother elder, it seemed, who spoke an elvish tongue, and to who the secret of runes and letters had been opened; though presently he built a tower of small stones, and peopled it, and rescued therein a few without hope of escape; then he stood and swung a branch, and destroyed his tower, scattering the rocks against the wall.
The man was soon washed by the astringent waters of the remedy-concoction, and though it stung him well, less was this pain to the new ache in his heart, in fear of separation from these hill witches seemingly born out of the ancient days of peace and loveliness, before the shadow of masked hunters rose upon the hill tops, and fell from the stars in terrible ruin. Equally so he feared by being nursed and housed herein, hunters seeking him, discomfited by unsatisfied expectation of his painful capture again re-enacted for pleasure of hooded men and the Watcher in the Woods; that these or worse or crueler might enter this kingdom of peace and light cunningly concealed in the hills before his own forges beyond in the mountains Blue’s eastern steps.
But so great was the love these two suddenly blew into his heart, to make his spirit expand, and be burned of stain and corruption, that he stayed his fears, and remained whither joys before unknown filled his mind as clean air lit into his lungs.
Through the winter they remained protected from hurt and hunt, and Zilpharon learned words enough to express his joy and to receive of them likewise; the boy Dyacôm taught him also the tongue of stone-Elda, Onodrinlim; and from the boy he learned much that the mothers said not, and indeed perhaps knew not. To their wisdom and love of Eru he added a steadfast, fearless watch, and lore of dwarves and the smith’s craft and tools; and before spring Izilba revealed to him her sword, and seeing in it a shadow of a tale told before torments spent his spirit in gloom, he said naught but praise; and pondered it, being, in any case regardless of desire, unable to speak more to her that might be comprehended. And of Miriam’s gem he said nothing, though his admiration of it was apparent to Izilba, yet more obvious was the love in his eyes as he glanced ever more often upon the gem’s wearer.
As little might be thought, and most of all by him, Miriam’s heart returned his love, in tending to him, and being tended to by him; in climbing about the hills and slopes with Samuel upon his shoulders, helping the baby to sit and to crawl in the new turf that came with the retreat of cold and the light snows; for though early come, winter sat not deep on this land, and yielded its place courteously to the springing forth.
So the wains were repaired, and prepared to take their place in Gelion’s icy flow, and the family of four all insisted that no travel would they undertake, without their new kin-friend. Southward they paddled and fought the white waters rushing, or climbed and descended when walking was required, passing settlements without fear of capture or question, returning lore and worked materials for food and clothing, shoes and toys, along the way; and before summer had full come, they now faced another choice: to stay at the harbor where Gelion spread into a wide delta at the ^Inner Sea, or to turn west and north along the coast, one last search for the husband of Izilba, one perhaps, he feared known within his own clan: a brother long distant, yet seen by him (Zilpharon), in passing by; when soon thereafter his people were again taken, and he dragged before the Hunter, dragged north before the forges of the Blue Mountains, and maimed for his faith to the smith’s custom: to make stronger in defense, or sharper in killing, only when the face of one’s sponsor has been shown.
This Zhera’, he had known as a youth, a fisher and capturer of birds and wild creatures, his own father’s father’s lineage by apparent descent; though after the youth departed and returned not again, none of his own clan lamented his passing, for he was estranged from their ways even as a child; and seemed to, rumor said, to desire the company of other-kin elsewhere.
Then in time came the tall men of the sea, to bind in chains the men of his clan, and to carry off women to be burned and men to work as slaves. So he was committed to the keeping of Dwarves, few and furtive and without grace; and they begrudged the sudden call upon a debt unforgiven, to the tutoring in smithcraft this manchild, renamed. And Zilpharon remained exiled from his own clan, a people honored thereabouts, humble and without ambition to claim authority over even bitter rivals in neighboring lands. He visited more seldom as he passed into manhood, lastly several years earlier, when few were left, and they suspected every man of betrayal, and ill- intent. And when passing up the coastlands northward, as he searched for news and sought work to free him from bonds in the Blue Mountains, he came in passing upon a man, aged but familiar; himself seeking for news of his kindred long before by him abandoned. Little did either man trust the other, and the coincidence of their meeting far from home added further cause for mistrust. Yet in keeping with ancient norms to take in brothers, Zhera’ sat Zilpharon at this table, and fed him, while twin sons were dandled on the knees of elvish-males, and he introduced many girls, foreign and some familiar in kind to his own clan, as “daughters,” to Zilpharon a crude euphemism employed by a clan-brother caught in slave trading or worse; so many seeming children, and no mother to speak of.
These thoughts he kept in his heart, while one claiming Zhera’ as spouse long beloved, and separated for causes not entirely understood, sought his counsel before choosing whither to lead her true-family. It was not two days after eating with the man, he recalled bitterly, then he was betrayed along the road while asleep, and brought captive to smelt for enemies a suit impenetrable; for which by refusal he’d lost an eye, and only after looking upon Miriam did he grieve his loss.
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