Everyone knew the stories about dwarves.
Dwarven greed was known around the lands, stemming from a history filled with blood and death and destruction. And for what? For shiny gems and precious metals. Wars had been fought over trinkets, countless lives lost in an attempt to reclaim stolen treasures and long-forgotten kingdoms.
"Did you hear about the dwarves?" people would ask, ones who had never met a dwarf in their lives and who most likely never would. "They sacrificed their people because of their greed for gold. How many children no longer have parents? How many of those left behind in their cities have lost their spouse? Does their avarice know no bounds?"
The men and the elves and the other races of the world, they all knew those tales. They were based on knowledge older than time itself, a stolid fact that none but the most foolish would dream of denying. And yet deny it some did, those who knew dwarves personally.
They were not dwarves, so they could not understand. Not completely, at least. But they had more knowledge than others who had never even spoken with a dwarf or taken the time to get to know them, and so they questioned what others stated as fact.
Had wars been fought over items? Yes, there was no denying it. Yet what the other races didn't understand is that for dwarves, those items were more than just treasure. It wasn't the price of the gold and the gems that prompted them to fight, to die, to spill their blood on the ground in an attempt doomed to fail. It was their history. It was the meaning behind the items, behind the gems and metals used to craft them.
More than anything else, the dwarves were crafters. Every piece they had ever created had a story of its own, and when those pieces were lost – whether through carelessness or treachery or something else entirely – a part of their culture disappeared as well. They didn't fight so viciously for riches. They fought to keep from losing what made them dwarves in the first place.
They'd already lost so much. They didn't want to lose more.
Still, there was more to it than that, something that even those who denied the lies did not truly understand. For how could they? The dwarves guarded their secrets closely, and very few of other races knew them well enough to glimpse the treasures they kept hidden.
No man or elf or other being heard the double meaning of their words. They did not know to listen closely to what the dwarves said and, more importantly, what they did not need to say.
Yes, the dwarves spoke of gold in reverent tones, but it often was not the metal that they meant. Gold was the sign of kings and queens, and those with hair and beards that shone with it were treasured no matter what blood ran through their veins. They considered it a sign of blessing from their maker, knowing as they did that darker colors more commonly overpowered their lighter cousins.
Sapphires were rare, and yet eyes of that same sky-true color were even rarer. Why would they not celebrate such a gift? As with golden hair, dark eyes more often won over their lighter counterparts, so it was a sign to not be ignored when the opposite occurred.
Even elves and men coveted the beauty of diamonds, yet only the dwarves saw their fallen tears in them. They were reminders of grief, of joy, of forgiveness, of change. Every diamond was a droplet, a tiny piece making up a much larger whole.
Rubies were a gem of great worth, but the ruby-red of spilled blood was beyond price. Each time a dwarf used that stone in their crafting, it was in remembrance of those who had gone before them. They honored those who had sacrificed so that others would have a future. The price of rubies was more than any man or elf could possibly understand, for it was the blood of those who died so that they could live.
When dwarves spoke of steel, sometimes they meant the metal that was used to strengthen their weapons and win them their victories. But not always. Because steel, like so many others, had more than one meaning. Steel was the color that dwarven hair turned with age, for those who were lucky enough to reach that point in their lives. Steel meant surviving. Growing old. Passing on history to those who came next.
Gold, sapphires, diamonds, rubies, steel. And so many others.
Every gem. Every metal. Every piece of artistry or weaponry that had ever been crafted or that ever would, each of them had their own meaning. Their own history. Their own future.
Everyone knew the stories about dwarves, and yet almost no one knew the hidden truths behind those stories. That was how it was, and that was how it would always be. Or so everyone thought.
But that is another tale.