A Jeweler Receives a Visitor
The bell on the front door of the shop rang. The Dwarf peered through the curtain separating the storefront from his workspace.
“Ah, it’s only you,” he said.
Eyebrows bristled over a broad nose and his beard was shot through with strands of silver. He pushed aside the drapes and emerged from behind the jewelry counter.
The tall visitor smiled and bowed. “Yes, only me.”
Gabriel wore an oilskin riding coat that was spotted with melting snowflakes. Outside the jeweler’s window, flocks of white flakes surged through the streets, softening the hard edges of the dingy downtown door stoops. Two sparrows huddled on the lamppost just outside the shop door.
“What do you want this time?” asked the Dwarf. “You know I have no new Mithril trinkets; they are too dangerous to harbor. And I can’t imagine you’ve come to purchase a Valentine’s Day gift….”
Gabriel smiled, but the jeweler showed no indication that he had attempted a joke.
The Dwarf looked past Gabriel and scowled. The tall man turned and saw a young woman approach the doorway. She hesitated as she glanced inside, and then turned away.
“Were you expecting someone?” asked Gabriel.
“No,” said the Dwarf. “That’s my secretary. She’s a fool and worse than useless, but she knows better than to interrupt me if I’m speaking with a customer. You aren’t a customer, though, are you?”
“No, my friend, I’m not. I’ve come to ask you a favor.”
“I don’t do favors. I’m a businessman, not a charity.”
“I’ve come to hire you for a service, then.”
The jeweler scowled once more, but turned around and motioned for Gabriel to follow him back behind the curtain. Gabriel recognized the oilcloth-covered table and the cabinets in the darkened workshop. As usual, tiny pairs of pliers, hammers, and rolls of silver and gold solder lay haphazardly on the table surface; the only light came from an ancient oil lamp that swung from the low-beamed ceiling.
The Dwarf perched upon a high stool and motioned for Gabriel to take a seat. He did so, and then surveyed the jeweler’s face closely. The Dwarf avoided his gaze, and looked down at the tabletop, pushing a golden chain he had been working on out of the light.
“Mistrustful still, I see,” said Gabriel.
“The world is full of fools and dastards, and even if you aren’t exactly like other men, I’ve no more reason to trust your motives than anyone else’s,” the Dwarf said. “Plenty of people hate me and my kind; why should I give them any opportunity to take more advantage than they already do?”
Gabriel frowned. “But, Dvalin, surely over your many years you’ve encountered some who gained your trust?”
“Yes, I have. And every one of them betrayed it. But…we’ve been through all of this before…”
“Yes, we have,” said Gabriel, shaking his head, “And I’m sorry for you. Short of a miracle, I can think of no way to help you overcome the bitterness you feel toward the outside world.”
“I don’t need your help, and I don’t need your pity!” growled the Dwarf, “and if that is the ‘service’ you wanted from me – to become a soft-hearted fool like yourself – than save your pennies, your piety and your platitudes. I’ve no use for any of them!” Dvalin glared at Gabriel and made as if to rise from the table.
“No, no. Stay! That is not the ‘service’ I sought; put your mind at ease. And hear me out.”
Dvalin remained seated.
Gabriel Gives a Ring to Dvalin
“I have a different request to make, one I think you alone are trustworthy enough to fulfill.” Gabriel reached into the pocket of his coat. He withdrew his hand and stretched it out, into the light.
In his palm lay a silver ring bearing a large, dark stone. It glittered in his hand. “This is Linya.”
“Not Mithril,” said Dvalin, eyeing the ring closely.
“Can you tell so quickly?”
Dvalin didn’t answer, nor did he reach out to take the ring. “Tell me what you know of it before I touch it. Nothing you carry, I’ll wager, would be entirely safe for anyone else to handle.”
Gabriel laughed. “That is your professional experience speaking, and you are not unwise in your caution. Linya is not safe. But neither is she malignant. She is incapable of causing harm; indeed, Linya can bring only good to her bearer.”
“Not one of the Great Rings,” the Dwarf said, looking up. “I know all of their devices and ornaments, and this one is new to me. Can you assure me that it will cause me no harm to touch it?”
“It will do nothing to you unless you place it on your finger. Go ahead, look as closely as you’d like.”
Dvalin gingerly plucked the ring from Gabriel’s palm and screwed a jeweler’s loupe into his eye. He studied the surface of the ring closely, and then gasped when he glimpsed the stone.
“Sapphire!” he exclaimed, “an exquisite stone! A natural gem, yet with such color!!”
Astonished, he removed the loupe and turned the ring over in his hand. “Such a piece would be worth a fortune on the open market, even if it had no…other qualities. There is some ornamentation, but not the emblem of its maker; delicately made and of fine workmanship, but of simple silver. You know its history…?”
“Indeed, I do, but we have not the time for that long tale. I came to ask you to hold the ring for me. Where I am traveling I do not wish to expose Linya to danger. Can you keep her safe until I return?”
Gabriel smiled. “I knew you’d be curious about her…powers. Let me just say that I expected you would be unable to resist trying the ring on. But, I cannot predict the consequences other than to say she will not harm you. That is different, of course, from saying that she will not change you.”
“Change me? How?”
“That I cannot say. The ring’s power varies with each new master, and she brings different gifts to each bearer.”
“But, is the ring safe to keep? Is it stolen? Or is anyone seeking for it? I will not put myself in danger for anyone’s sake!”
“No, no, my friend. No one even knows that Linya exists in our day. And all who have worn her in the past are no longer living.”
“Then they were killed by the ring?!” The Dwarf put Linya back on the table and shrank away.
“Not at all! They all died natural deaths – and happy ones, I might add. It is just that knowledge of Linya and her maker has faded, and those who inherited her never understood her virtues. Indeed, none of them even tried on the ring. And I doubt if she was ever written of in the ancient texts; as you observed, she is not one of the Great Rings.”
“How long do you want me to keep her?”
“Until I return. More than that I cannot say.”
“And if I am not here when you return? You know I often move shop.”
“I will be able to find Linya, regardless of where you take her. All I ask is that you keep her safe and guard her closely in the meantime.”
“I will, of course, charge a fee upon her safe return to you.”
“Of course. I will leave the fee entirely to you, and it can be whatever you deem just, up to the value of the ring itself.”
Dvalin looked at the ring, then slyly back up at Gabriel, then again at the ring. The oil lamp sputtered above them and in its flickering flame, shards of ultramarine and cobalt light flashed from deep within the ring’s sapphire.
“Done. I’ll keep her. But, aside from the fee, I may want a favor in return some day.”
“Certainly.” Gabriel smiled. “If you wish it.”
The two rose and returned to the storefront. Gabriel bowed to Dvalin, bid him good evening, and then left the shop, disappearing into the thickening snow.
Conversion & Healing
Dvalin stood behind the counter with the ring clenched in his fist, frowning as pedestrians hurried by. He recognized most of those who passed his shop window: many owed him money for jewelry or repair services; others he considered cheats, only interested in gouging him for the tools and materials he needed for his work; still more were competitors whom he considered grasping and unscrupulous. His secretary, too, he mistrusted, even though she had been with him for several years and had always done her best to please him.
“Too nice,” he muttered aloud. “She isn’t paid enough to fawn the way she does.”
He looked at Linya. “Might as well get this over with,” he said, slipping the ring onto his finger.
He felt nothing but a slight tingling sensation. He looked around him. The storefront had not changed, nor had his reflection altered in the mirror behind the counter. The hands on the store clock still read 5:30. Outside, the snow thickened further, but now dusk was falling.
He was about to take the ring off again when he saw a figure approach the shop door. It was his secretary. She peered inside, and seeing him alone, she gently opened the door and stepped out of the storm. She looked at him, shivering.
“For heaven’s sake, Cailie, get over to the stove before you catch cold!” Dvalin’s voice startled both of them. Cailie’s eyes grew wide, but she quickly stepped toward the wood stove that heated the room.
“Give me that coat,” Dvalin said, stepping toward her. She looked alarmed, but slid out of her coat and handed it to him. He hung it on a peg near the stove so that it could dry.
Dvalin turned back toward his secretary. She seemed suddenly small to him, and vulnerable. She was still shivering. He had never paid her much attention, but now he noticed how the cold had colored her cheeks, and how thin she appeared.
“Have you had anything to eat today? While you were out?” he asked.
“N-n-n-no….” She said, still shaking. “And…and I’m so s-s-orry I was g-gone for so long….”
“Don’t mind that. But for heaven’s sake, girl,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re as thin as a rail. I can’t afford to have you die of starvation on me.”
He rummaged in the back room and returned with a loaf of bread, some cheese, and a bottle of red wine. He placed them on the counter near her.
“Here, eat something and have some wine. It will warm you up.”
Looking astonished, Cailie slowly sat down behind the counter and began eating. Dvalin watched her for a moment. What was it she reminded him of? He recalled a featherless sparrow he had once found lying helpless on the ground, so many, many decades past, when he was a boy. He had fed it bits of bread and milk until it had fledged and flown away.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” she asked, looking up fearfully.
The question startled Dvalin. A scarcely-recognized emotion swelled within his breast, and as his eyes filled with tears, it occurred to him that he had never said so much as a kind word to Cailie before; he had always been too busy, too mistrustful, or too angry about some perceived grudge that he was nursing.
“I…I just want to make sure you’re alright. What with the snow and all…” he stammered.
He felt ashamed and looked down at his hands on the counter. Then he saw the ring, still on his finger. And he remembered Gabriel’s words: “She is incapable of causing harm; indeed, Linya can bring only good to her bearer.” He wondered….
“Are you warmer now, my dear?” he asked her, hesitantly.
“Yes. Thank you. I’m much better now.” And Dvalin continued to watch her as she ate, her pale fingers like the beak of some tiny hatchling, pecking at the morsels of bread and wine.
Jef Murray is an internationally known Tolkien and fantasy artist/illustrator and counterfeit essayist. His paintings, sketches, and writings sprout sporadically from the leaves of Tolkien and Inklings publications (Amon Hen, Mallorn, Beyond Bree, Silver Leaves, Mythprints) and Catholic journals (The St. Austin Review, Gilbert Magazine, The Georgia Bulletin) worldwide. Visit Jef’s website at www.JefMurray.com.
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