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Collected Drabbles

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To Let Go

Three days after Dol Guldur, he glimpsed her star-touched golden hair atop their talan. Clad in white, she sat there like a lost child, stroking powerless Nenya.

"It is gone," she whispered faintly. "Lórien will fall to ruin. It will perish under the light of this dying world, memories fading to nothing."

The proud golden head fell. With every moment he could hear the cry of her tattered fëa, resisting the Sea's call. In her eyes, heartache he could not heal.

Would he restrain her? Deny her serenity? No, he could not…

Glenno annûn, hiril vain nín. Hiro hîdh.

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Brothers and Lessons

"No, Faramir: like this."

She heard Boromir's clear voice from far down the hall, and smiled. What was he teaching his brother today, even when kept indoors because of rain? Swordplay, as always. Faramir was only five and already his brother was hard at work making her littlest one a warrior!

"Stroke down, and curve right twice. There, see? Perfect."

Her eldest son's voice was full of pride. Hearing that coaxing tone...

"I'm tired of letters, Fin. Can't I go outside and play now?"

She sighed, faintly exasperated: an adult's mind in a decade-old body. "Finish your lesson and you can."

"Fin, please? I'm almost done..."

Resigned sigh. "Let me see your letters." The paper was thrown across the desk, and she leaned forward, inspecting it. "Almost, Imri: the ngoldo character has a double bow. The lúva curves twice to the right."

She took up a quill, correcting his mistake. "There, see? Perfect."

The memories faded. Peering around the corner into the nursery, she drew back in surprise, then smiled.

Boromir, frowning in concentration, was kneeling next to the desk fixing Faramir's letters.

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Stalker

The lithe figure slunk silently, eyes fixed on her target. She watched as he lazily turned the page of his book. Hypnotized, she watched the wind teasingly blow his golden hair. Well, far be it from her to back down from a challenge! Body tensing, preparing to spring, she—

"Tinúviel! Where have you been?" A pair of arms picked her up, ignoring her shriek of protest. "Are you trying to go after his hair again? Honestly…"

Realizing defeat, she settled into her mistress's arms, watching regretfully as her quarry continued to read.

Another time, elf. There will be another time.

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Fine Dinings

"Master Gamgee, Gondor and the world is greatly indebted to you," Lady Emlin cooed, fluttering her fan.

"We have heard great repute of your skills in the kitchen," Lady Tuilinn interjected, "and being purveyors of the finest fare, we simply had to come see if the rumors were true."

Sam was wide-eyed. What were these fine ladies coming to wait on him for? He was surrounded by four, wrapped in silk and perfume and impeccable manners.

"I have heard rumors of a famous roast chicken—" Lady Emlin chattered happily.

"Oh, but I am on a strictly no-meat diet," Lady Niphredil said with a gasp. "I couldn't—"

"Do forgive me, Niphri. It slipped my mind."

"Or a lovely, home baked loaf?" said Lady Brennil hopefully.

"Renn, you know I am not to have breads, for my figure!" Tuilinn scolded. "For shame!"

"You change your eating habits twice in a fortnight, Linn: how am I to keep track?"

"We could simply have a nice, wholesome meal of spiced fruits; I am sure Master Gamgee can accomplish that," Lady Niphredil said with authority.

"For the sake of Elbereth, Niphri! You know I cannot have spices: what it does to my complexion, I shall not say…!"

"Perhaps some of those elfish wafers, then…"

Shaking his head, Sam back up and crept out of the kitchen. Once safely in the hallway, he exhaled. Fine ladies. They were mighty fair to look on, but none of 'em had a grain of good, solid hobbit-sense.

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The Circle

The Shirriffs were just leaving ("We're watching you and your crowd, Cotton.") when he got there. "Did they search the secret root cellar?" he asked wearily. "Tell me."

Silence.

"Yes, Da. They did."

He sank to the floor, burying his face in his hands. His family, his friends: they'd starve.

"But look what we did."

Rosie tugged the quilt aside, revealing a jumble of baskets, bushels, and sacks. His daughter's face was so proud that it made Tolman want to weep. "They're not going to break us, Da. Not so long as we keep together, and keep doing what's right."

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Teachers

"You think you can do better, Mirkwood whelp? Have the spiders taught you something that we do not know?"

Flashing him an irritated glare, Legolas rose and peered at the distant target. His opponent's shot had missed the center by no more than an inch, and yet it was perfection they all strove for. Watch and learn, Noldorin upstart. Nocking an arrow, taking careful aim—

THWAP! A clean, straight shot thudded into the target, splitting the preceding arrow directly down the middle.

"Well," Legolas said conversationally to the glowering twins, "clearly, the spiders are far better teachers than the orcs."

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Remembrance

She has been clad in the finest silks, and anointed herself with jasmine, sweet almond, and the faintest hint of galbanum. Shadows of kohl darken her eyes, and golden ornaments hang at her wrists, ears, and neck; bells chime around her ankles. It is for you, her eyes say. Not for him.

"They say," she whispers, "that the star-readers prophesy doom, the wise men mumble chants to the gods, and the sheikhan has called on your people.

"So if you are to leave with the black banners, then let not your last night with me pass unnoticed.

"Come with me."

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Once (double drabble)

Once, he was a man.

Once, he sat in the court of kings, surrounded by the stark glory of first his great-aunt's court, then the more lavish one of his father. Would you care for a sweetmeat, little prince? the noble ladies would laugh.

Once, he was married to a beautiful woman, who looked on him with such love and devotion that he wanted to protect her forever. I will always love you, she promised, as he took her into his arms.

Once, he sailed to Endórë in a fine vessel. The rude folk on the other shore gaped at him and his crew, overwhelmed by the splendor of far-off Númenórë. He is a god! they cried in rough and unfamiliar tongues.

Once, he met a man in the shadows of the city-on-the-far-shores, who promised him a mystic ring and a wealth of riches. Your sons will be Kings of this land, the man vowed, in a voice the essence of truth.

Once, he was a man. But years of trickery and deceit turned him into less-than-a-man: something small and shriveled and mean. And as he raises his mace against the slender warrior, proclaiming his supremacy and sovereignty…

He falls.

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The Return of the Banners

The caravan's frayed remnants slunk into Umbar like a wounded dog, trailing dust and blood and shame. They had marched out of the city chanting war-songs in myriad tongues. Their swaggers and struts had been almost comical to watch.

The holy diviner proclaimed our victory, she thought, listening as young women bewailed husbands who would not return. But she would not wail: she had given two husbands to the harsh sands before coming to live in the city, aside from three children.

Ragged scarlet banners muddled before her old eyes, twisting and warping until all she could see was blood.

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Biased Bedtime Stories

"And the great King Elrond said, 'You have done me great injury, spider-spawn, and now I must put you in your place.'"

"Where were we when this happened? You would never—"

"Hush up, Arwen! It's my turn! So the great King sent his praised Captains, Elrohir the Orc-Slayer and Elladan the Goblin-Crusher, forth from his realm to give the ugly Prince of Mirkwood his doom. On reaching Moria, Captain Elrohir said, 'How fitting: a spider fed to the dwarves.' And—"

"Elrohir! Your sister is hearing this!"

"Sorry, Nana. How about Orcs?"

Celebrían groaned. Will they ever respect Mirkwood?

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Everything's Wrong

Sam struck the flint and tinder again, producing a tiny flare which promptly died in the wind. Frowning, he tried four successive times, ultimately failing to light the tiny portion of wood.

Nothing had gone right that day. Boromir looked tense enough to shatter, Aragorn was withdrawn; Legolas and Gimli were arguing (again); Merry and Pippin were bickering; Frodo was brooding…

And he couldn't light the FIRE!

SNAP!

Instantly suspicious, he peered into the gathering gloom. He fancied he saw a creeping figure, skulking through the shadows near the boats. Sam shrugged.

A figment of your imagination, Samwise. Nothing more.

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Gone but not forgotten

During the gathering at their chosen tavern, Boromir observed his men.

The men joked that old Amlaith (who now sipped at a brew silently) wouldn't smile for his mother. Red-haired Ragnor sat with a barmaid beside him, whispering in her ear and fingering her skirt.

But there were empty spaces. Heldar, who wouldn't see his rosy-cheeked wife again. Baran, who had barely sprouted a beard.

The best comes with the bitters, or so they say. Taking a long look at the crowded, laughing, living tavern, Boromir drained his ale.

To a new year. Remember the dead, but still keep living.

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Replacements

Queen Arwen has dressed in the manner of our kingdom, abandoning elven styles in favor of our mortal variations. Rich velvets exchanged for flowing silks, embroidery for simple lines.

She has replaced her clothing as well as her life, I muse.

My father said the elven-folk feel sorrows and joys more intensely than we do. We feel a pang at the loss of a rowboat, he said, while the elves feel a shipwreck's devastation.

I feel sudden warmth for this exotic queen, who traded Valar's grace for unbreakable love.

"I am Lothíriel of Dol Amroth, my lady. Welcome to Gondor."

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Memory's Sake

A light touch along the dusty surface, raising the scent of old roses and musty perfumes.

Once, this dresser was pristine and free of dust. Finduilas had arranged his collection of seashells here with such maternal pride that he thought his face would crack from smiling. She had spent hours with him, setting out arrangement after altered arrangement on the dark surface, until they finally completed it. "I am proud of you," she said.

The dead are gone, and they will ne'er return. Yet still, for memory's sake, he took the small white handkerchief from the drawer, and pocketed it.

Later that night, sleepless and studying the delicate embroidery, he slipped out of bed and began to roam the halls. His wandering feet led him all over the Citadel, until he finally ended up before his father's study, seeing a flickering light from the door, which stood ajar.

His father stood by the window, staring out at the skies. His gaze was absent, remote. When he glanced back to see his son waiting by the door, he beckoned, and Boromir walked over.

Father and son stood in silence, watching the night pass by, and both thought of the same person.

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Survival Skills

"Ow!"

After applying a copious dash of balm to my ankle, I start towards the cluster of hutches on the grassy hillside. "Another new nuzgûl, how do they expect me to survive?" I grumble. "Damned nuisances! I already have stories: Celebrimbor's bugging me about Renewal, Fëanor will explode if I don't write more on Capture the Fire, and Nerdanel won't talk to me! What gives!

"And now another #&ing drabble! Honestly, how can I use these ridiculous words to talk about Fëanor!"

I stop, eyeing a doe-eyed specimen that has just popped out of thin air.

"Oh, no you don't."

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Turning

No more needless deaths, I had vowed. Not while I live. Blades kill girls as easily as warriors, and it hurts none the less. Fortune's circle (and father's favor) smiled, and my shieldmaidens became forces to notice and take pride in.

Now the circle turns to a hard winter bringing death and battle. I look around the square, half ashamed. Cwen and Geliefan are beside me, with their steadfast, unspoken loyalty.

Your fault, my people's silence accuses. Our sentence of exile to the Deep is because of you.

She is innocent, the silence of my shield-sisters retorts. She is innocent.

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Transition

March 14: Minas Tirith besieged.
March 15: The Battle of the Pelennor.

Every battle, every event, every specially important date laid out in neat black ink against the clean white pages.

Clear, precise, orderly: that was what a war finished was. A war going was something altogether different. A madness that made days reel towards an uncertain future like a drunkard. He closed his eyes.

"Father?"

He opened his eyes to see his grinning son. "Elboron. What is it?"

"Uncle Éomer and Aunt Lothy are here, hurry!"

The black memories faded, and Faramir returned to the living world of peace.

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Shells and Stories

"…and this one is a catspaw. These come from Queen Berúthiel's cats, you know. When Tarannon set her to sea, she cut off her cats' paws and ate them. Then—"

"Boromir!" she exclaimed in horror. "Tell your brother a different story, please?"

"All right, Mama," her eldest said innocently. "Here, look at this one, Faramir: it's a conch shell. If you hold it up against your ear, you can hear the sea. Do you know why?"

"Why, Bo'mir?"

"They're messages from the Valar, to remind us of our ancestors and our old home."

There: much better, Finduilas silently praised. Valar be praised, he does understand.

"'Cause they sank Númenor: CRASH! BOOM! SPLOOSH! So they put these shells here to remind us of Númenor and not to get too proud or else they'll sink Gondor too."

Clearing her throat, she said pointedly, "A happier story?" when her son looked back at her.

He frowned. "Mama, Uncle Imri didn't tell happy ones: he only told scary ones."

Finduilas picked up an iridescent white snail shell. "Do you know this one?"

"No."

"Look how it spirals upward. What does it remind you of?"

Boromir looked stumped, but Faramir grinned. "It'th Minath Tirith."

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Turn

Warped trunks bleed bile-dark saps, and the stench of decay is smothering. Here, even the air tastes of ashes and death. And there are always the watchers: shifting, spiteful eyes that vanish with a dark whisper of wind when I turn.

"Legolas?"

Leave the creature to his fate. "Turn back."

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Defiance

"Your daughter could wed my son: a great alliance for all…"

I flinch, but hide it. A shield-sister cannot afford to be emotional, not when mythmakers and deviants are set on using her as a pawn.

His gaze drifts lazily towards me, and I narrow my eyes.

"…surely you see the advantage…"

The smile on his face is arrogant, challenging: a hunter attempting to trap pray.

I fold my arms, fingering the knife at my belt.

Talk in your twisting circles, and gift my father with wine until he is drunk, but you do not fool me and never will.

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Vigil

"You received my—"

"Would I be here if I had not?"

"Yes, my lord. Follow me."

Two shadows cut across the courtyard, noiselessly. When they reached the pool of the White Tree, both king and guard stopped short.

"It has been waiting there since yesterday, my lord," the guard whispered.

Curled by the side of the pool, the cat turned its mirrorlike eyes on them and meowed. A strangely ominous sound: a warning. The king felt a chill, and heard a voice he thought had died years ago.

Ten years… and I will make sure you never forget me.

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Proof

Lightfoot had been given to him when he had returned: worth a king's ransom. While his Riders whispered curiously about his dark-haired queen, Thengel trained the headstrong foal.

It was as if he had to prove himself all over again, prove that he was fit to be their king. And on the autumn day he and the colt moved like seamless extensions of each other, with everyone watching, he knew he had succeeded. His people believed in him again.

He would go to Morwen in his winter years, but it was Lightfoot to whom he owed his summer and his people's loyalty.

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Biased Bedtime Stories, Part the Second

"And the hardy warrior-king Thranduil decreed that his bravest scout, Legolas of the Great Aim, would wreak Greenwood's vengeance on their enemies: Elrohir and Elladan, whose evil orc armies spread far. He-"

"Where am I, Legolas?"

"I was just getting there. Legolas and his fearless sister, Ithiliel of the Keen Eyes, made the long journey to Imladris together, bringing a legion of spiders, for the spiders had great hatred of the Elven Lords of Orcs-"

"Legolas!"

"Don't worry, Nana: these are our pet spiders. They won't eat us, only the twins."

His mother groaned. Will they ever respect Imladris?

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battle-thoughts

THUDTHUDTHUD!

No, dismiss the anxiety.

Remember:

Greatheartboldfearless
(so the scops sing in Meduseld)
loyalbravetruebesthorsemen

But in my innermost heart…
Fear, wrenching
blinding—
Gut-twisting nausea—

"DEAAAAATHH!"

Deep breath.

Again.

Raise blade,
adjust shield—

Look up,
(Béma, guide me)
into heavy skies…

Think one last time of her face, and

Scream:
"DEAAAAAAATHHH!"

Chapter Text

Many ways lead to Henneth Annûn...

"Hurry, this way!"

"STOP! WAIT! Ael, we're cut off, there's an ambush company coming that way."

"Sadron, how did you—"

"They're hooded by that stand of trees near the second pool."

"All right. We—"

"Ael! Captain, there's a little path other side o' the falls. Leads to a cave."

"Big?"

"Plenty."

"Follow Rhavan!"

"Swim! They'll be on us any second! SWIM, DAMN IT!"

"Rhav—"

"Bad footing, careful."

"Thirty-two uruks, eighteen yards back!"

"Come on, everyone in!"

"Quiet, be quiet!"

Silence.

Waiting in an anxious hush, hunted by Mordor, six exhausted Rangers first took refuge in Henneth Annûn.

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Under the Influence

Ouch.

"Drink this, my lord. You'll feel better."

"Thank you… Narthan?"

"Yes, my lord?"

"What exactly happened last night?"

"We went to The Swan's Nest, sir."

"And?"

"My lord, you indulged in too much drink, you…"

"What did I do?"

"Forgive me, my lord, but you took Beleth in your arms, kissed her soundly and declared your undying love for her, and bought everyone in the tavern a dozen rounds."

"Beleth… She's…?"

"The blonde wench, my lord."

"Ah. Yes. What else?"

"Er, there was nothing else, my lord."

"If I do not hear it from you, I'll hear it elsewhere."

"Well, there was the epic storytelling contest."

"I told an epic?"

"As fantastic a tale as I've ever heard, sir."

"What was it about?"

"Oh, many things, sir: a stolen princess, a massive armada of our ships, a great wooden swan, and a ten-year war, for starters. And that was before you were enchanted by a quartet of scantily-clad Elves, or held captive by Yavanna Herself."

"Really?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did I say anything else especially embarrassing?"

"Aside from accidentally declaring war on Umbar: no."

"My father must not hear of this, Narthan."

"I've already worked out an alibi, my lord."

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A Tour of Barad-dûr

Hello! Welcome to Barad-dûr, also known as the Fortress of Sauron! We hope you will enjoy your tour today. I am Khamûl, your guide for the afternoon.

This is Level One: the Dark Lord uses it for board meetings and union negotiations with the Easterlings. See the scorch mark on the wall? It is his most famous compromise technique; the plaque above it is in memory of Eärnur, the last king of Gondor. Imagine the historical deals that have taken place within these very walls!

Level Two contains the largest room in the entire building; Lord Sauron uses it to muster and train his legions of dark creatures such as orcs, goblins, Nazgûl, wolves, and corporate executives. Notice the fine architectural design of spiked ceilings and dark rock: the design was based off of Lord Morgoth's famous Utumno from the First Age, and was built through a combination of Lord Sauron's powers and slave labor.

The pillars on the walls go straight down to the infrastructure, holding the Dark Tower as immovable as Utumno itsel— Well, immovable, in any case: the eruptions from Mount Doom are not felt in the slightest, and the Easterlings have calculated that it would take at least a 9.7 magnitude earthquake to break the Tower, and when is that going to happen?

I'm afraid we can't show you Levels Three through Fifty-Seven; if we did, we would have to kill you.

The gift shop is on your left on the way out, and every child receives a free whip, compliments of the Dark Lord! The restaurant is serving until 4:00 PM, and the special today is elf flambé.

Thank you for visiting Barad-dûr, and we hope you will consider joining us in the near future!

Oh, the doors are locked? Such a shame... Well, we needed five humans for the dessert— I mean, to taste the dessert at the restaurant... Why don't you just follow me...? You haven't lived until you've tried Lurg's Flesh Flambé...

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The Seer

There is no warning before the vision takes me.

Instead of the windswept dunes, instead of the sun burning my back, I am swept northwards. It sickens me, this spinning, whirling sensation that whips me mercilessly from place to place, fusing individual places into mere color and blur. My eyes tear from the city of Umbar, to the crags circling Mordor, finally landing on the plain (ah, sacred gods, how green it is!) around the White City of the North.

My spirit flies above the plain, buffeted by high winds, and I see our mûmakil making their charge.

Jinan...

I hear my name whispered, echoing as though it were shouted, and I cry Rahim! before the vision wrenches me back to my body at nauseating speed.

"Amah?"

One shuddering breath, and I pull myself to my feet, wincing as my muscles twinge and ache. A cold spot settles below my heart. He is truly dead, then...

"Go get your brothers, Suha," I say slowly. "There is something I must tell you."

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Settled

When I saw my Rosie standing behind her brother, fiercer'n any beast I'd seen, well! Took all the breath out of me, and I felt I'd collapse into a heap of relieved hobbit right there, if I didn't shout out loud and sweep her into my arms first.

When she teased, it got me all flustered and uncomfortable; did she think all the quests and darknesses and great things had made me forget her?

But when my Rosie came after me, grabbing my hand and telling me to take care and come back, I found all the strength I needed.

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Whistling

At home, when the wind was blowing in just the right direction, it actually whistled through Pippin's round bedroom window. It did! He could hear it every night when he went to sleep: a changeable, quirky tune that made his toes twitch. Pearl (given the task of putting him to sleep from his childhood onwards, for she spun the best stories) told him that it was the earth ordering him to stop chattering and sleep. Pippin thought that if the earth wanted him to sleep, it shouldn't play such a lively melody upon his windowsill.

On a visit to Buckland, when he was a little bit older, he went fishing with Merry. At first, he had been very afraid: there was not such a huge amount of water within five leagues of Tuckborough; he would surely drown right from the bankside! But Merry had patiently coaxed him closer and closer, until he was wading in the shallows, and hearing the Brandywine grumble like a crusty old gaffer who liked you but would never admit to it.

Sometimes, on sojourns in Bag End, he would slip outside at night and go for moonlit strolls along the hedged avenues circling around The Hill. His favorite spot was beneath the great tree in the center of the field, with its wide-set branches and fat trunk. They were old friends, he and that tree: they had seen a few sunrises together, and observed the beauty of the stars a number of times.

Where others heard nothing, he heard unspoken words: a tree's quiet remarks, a river's complaining, or a breeze's blithe tune. His silences were filled with the muted rumblings of the earth, telling him all kinds of secrets.


Some years later...

"Pippin, stop whistling."

"Whistling lifts the spirits, Merry."

"Aren't you worried?"

"Of course. But being worried serves no one; I'd rather try to stay cheerful than be silent and grim. Besides, it's a fine day to whistle: look at the sky, Merry! It's just the color of The Water at midsummer. There is a nice wind, and just enough sun. There are even some larks singing. Just think: when Elrond fixes Frodo, he'll wake up to this splendid sky, these breezes."

"But Pip, what if—"

"No. I'm going to keep whistling, and keep my hopes pinned on the best."

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Most Worthy

Winking diamonds sold by dwarven merchants; enamels of only the richest colors; lush, extravagant fabrics from the East; pocketwatches that tick-tocked with solemn or grinning or delicate faces... Glirien wished she had ten eyes to take in everything at the Dale market.

The toymaker said this was her first test as his apprentice. "Buy one thing you think is most good, most worthy, and tell me why."

She returned at dusk.

"A toy dragon?" her master said, looking at the plain make, the dull materials.

"For my baby sister, sir. She'll like it."

And the toymaker smiled.