Writing about dwarves is fun, but quite easy in some ways because they are ready-made characters. All the development is done for you: everyone knows how dwarves behave. They can be humerous or heroic, or both at once. So I wanted a new challenge. The challenge I eventually came up with was, "Can you have a tragic love story with dwarves?". So I tried, and I'm still not sure. Judge for yourselves. Dedicated to all the dwarves in RFI, especially any female ones.
It's been pointed out to me that, whereas Calvi says dwarf women are not bearded, J.R.R.Tolkien himself states that they are. I'm not sure if I've made a mistake recording Calvi's words, or whether he intended a slight deception so as not to reveal too many dwarven secrets!
I've also had discussion with readers about other aspects of the story. I reserve comments on these other matters to the end, to avoid giving "spoilers" here at the start.
The Prancing Pony in Bree is a pleasant place to spend an evening, especially with friends. Sometimes it is quiet and you can sit down for a good talk. When it is very quiet Barliman Butterbur often joins the talk himself. But other evenings are busy and noisy; there is "atmosphere", and Barliman is then rushed off his feet with serving good food and drink.
I remember a very busy evening, when I was there with friends I have told you of before. Calvi (a kinsman dwarf), Ottar (a man of Bree), Hamble (a well-to-do hobbit) and I, Brrokk Barrowbane, had our usual table near the fire. We had to lean close to hear one another because there was a thronging of other folk too. It was just after harvest-time and many labourers had recently been paid well and were rejoicing together. A group of men and women at an adjacent table could almost have been described as "roistering". Well, they were eating, quaffing, talking loudly and sometimes singing, but it wasn't proper roistering because they didn't have axes. Still, they were obviously having a good evening.
These revellers were on the whole good-natured, but sometimes things get out of hand and folk say things they wouldn't when sober. Calvi had just made his way to the bar and returned with newly filled mugs of ale. While passing their table he unexpectedly found himself the butt of their humour. This is something a proud dwarf does not willingly submit to!
We couldn't tell how the idea started, but comments were made, some in low voices but eventually shouted raucously. A young woman seated on the lap of her man, her cheeks reddened with drink, started the group idea and drove it along:
"Dwarves, do they have women?"
"Never seen any."
"Made out of stone?"
"Dwarf women have beards?"
"Maybe he doesn't know..."
The series of comments dissolved into general laughter.
"Oh dear", I thought, "I hope Calvi doesn't massacre them!" I saw his shoulders square and a gleam come into his eyes. But he knew that it would be unwise to start violence in the Prancing Pony. His face darkened with anger but he quietly made his way to us, set down the mugs carefully, then returned to the Bree folk and stood motionless, gazing at them.
They were still laughing uproariously, but under his stare they gradually subsided and eventually fell silent. I could see them realising, too late, that it was an over-bold thing to insult a dwarf. Barliman was looking across anxiously, realising that the situation was volatile.
But Calvi spoke, in a low voice; so low that those who wanted to hear him had to remain silent themselves and listen carefully. This is what he said:
"You have boldly demanded some of the closest secrets of the dwarves! Should I tell you what you ask? I will; I will vouchsafe hidden things to you. Yes, dwarves know love. Shall I tell you of it? I shall indeed, though it will give me no joy in the telling, and the tale will still your laughter too unless you have hearts of stone."
"Yes, there are dwarf women. They exist, and they are not bearded or made of stone; they are few. Women among us are precious and guarded close, going seldom abroad if it can be avoided. Marriages are also few, and so the folk of Durin grow ever fewer with the passing years."
"I will tell you of a female of my race, who I once met and who I long to see again, though I do not have hope."
"I was far abroad, prospecting in the hills above Evendim. On a cold day of winter it had snowed, but the sun was bright and the sky was clear. I heard the sound of a fight and the fierce snarling of a warg. Thinking to aid one who fought a warg, I followed the sound quickly and, on coming through a stand of pine trees, I saw a great black warg being held back by a dwarf who stood at bay, wielding a wooden club. I sprang to the aid of my fellow dwarf and together we slew the warg."
"I began to clean my axe in the snow and spoke words of greeting; 'Calvi at your service'. I expected a similar greeting in return, but instead I was startled by the sound of a musical female voice, and still more astonished when the other threw back her hood. 'I am Bede, daughter of Bodda', she said correctly. (Clearly, as an unmarried dwarf woman living still in her father's house it was not to be thought that she could state herself to be at my service)."
"I gazed at her, almost forgetting the warg. Know now that we dwarves, from our making by Mahal, the Vala whom you call Aulë, are simpler in mind and motivations than humans or other folk. I think that in all of Middle Earth, there is only one other that each dwarf can love, and when we see that one we know so immediately. If we never have this happy encounter we remain unmarried. Dwarf marriages can be arranged contrary to the design of Mahal, but the results are never good. Standing in the bright snow with Bede, I knew that I had found my heart's only true object."
The common room of the Prancing Pony was silent. There were looks of wonder on the faces of Calvi's hearers, mingled with a hunger to know more.
"Gazing at the lovely Bede, I was almost unable to speak", continued Calvi. "Her lustrous black hair, rosy complexion and wide dark eyes seemed to fill all my vision. But I forced the necessary words out. 'My heart is turned to you', I said simply, wondering as I did so. The words seemed at once impossible and also inevitable."
"'And mine to you', she replied, to my joy. 'Always, and forever will it be so'"
"Does this seem strange to you? A spoken transaction made in an instant and so of little consequence? I tell you that it did not seem so to us. For a long while we simply gazed into one another's eyes, until the cold intruded. Then our joy gave way to practical thoughts, plans, and (in my mind at least) the first pangs of worry. But I did not speak of my doubts; I turned to what we had to do. 'Let us skin this warg, I said, and then I would like to come with you and speak with your father.' Bede nodded, wordless now, and we fell to work."
"Eventually we were done with the messy business and we made our way to the dwelling of Bodda, high on a hillside above the lake. Bede told me that she and her father lived there alone, her mother being no longer living. I bore the warg pelt as a guest-gift; Bede carried the firewood which she had already gathered before encountering the warg. My admiration for her increased when I saw the size of the wood bundle she lifted without effort."
"Bodda lived in a small stone hut with an adjoining forge, on a high flat space shielded from prying eyes by trees. I do not think I would have found the place unguided. He received me cordially, but glanced sharply from me to Bede and back again. The happy look which Bede gave him told him all he needed to know about the reason for my visit, but of course we could not yet speak of it. Bodda accepted gravely the gift of the black warg-pelt and invited me to eat with him and his daughter. At this I relaxed somewhat. I had not realised the tension in me until it was gone, but the first hurdle was past: I was welcome in his house."
"A fire was lit, and it soon drove away the winter cold. We sat at table and enjoyed a good meat stew which Bodda had already prepared, fine bread baked previously by Bede and some dried fruits from my pack which were my contribution. Then Bodda produced a good sized jug of ale and three tankards, and we sat to business. Yes, I know that among humans things would proceed differently. There would perhaps be a long clandestine courtship until finally I would visit the parent alone. But among dwarves, Bede had to be present to hear and approve the negotiations."
"Bodda turned first to his daughter as was right: dwarven women are precious and his first concern was for her protection. 'I seem to perceive that Mahal has joined your heart with that of our guest. Is it so?', he asked gently. I knew that if he found any uncertainty in her I would be ejected from the house forthwith. But there was no trace of doubt in her reply. 'Father, it is so', she said simply."
"Then Bodda turned to me. 'And you, Calvi, do you find that your heart is given to my daughter?' 'It is so', I replied with equal certainty. Thus far the process was simple, but I felt that difficulties would now begin, and Bodda's next question showed me that I was right."
"'Is my daughter pleasing
in your sight?', Bodda asked me. I pondered my answer carefully, for this was
the point when I could praise her beauty with unstinting words. She would
treasure up these words and always remember them. 'She is', I replied. 'When I
first saw Bede, after we had slain the warg together, I saw that, although the
fur of the warg was black, it was not as black as the shining night of her
hair. The snow was white, but not as white as her perfect complexion. The
spilled blood was red, but not as red as the lips of Bede. The
Calvi spoke quietly with an odd catch in his voice, his eyes almost closed, seeming to see again a scene from the past rather than his present surroundings in the Prancing Pony. The woman who had started the ribald questioning sighed. Everyone else was silent.
Calvi continued. "Then Bodda spoke again, the question I knew had to come next: 'Would you take Bede from my home to your own, and may I hope that you will pay me suitable compensation?' Bede gazed at me, waiting for my reply. 'Yes, I would do so', I affirmed. 'And in consideration of her great beauty I believe that I must pay you very great compensation.' What else could I say? 'I will pay you gold to the weight of six axe heads, or gems of equal value if you prefer.'"
"'Oh, Calvi', Bede murmured, blushing. Six heads is the greatest weight of gold expected in this transaction, and by this bold offer she saw how much she already meant to me. Bodda nodded with satisfaction. But now I knew that I had to put a similar question to him. 'Bede is, I guess, competent and useful', I observed. 'Indeed, she is matchless', enthused Bodda. 'You have seen her gather firewood; you have tasted the fine bread baked by her, but there is much more I could tell you. If only you knew of her exploits in the forge: her tireless operation of the bellows and her skillful hammer-work. She is talented in every way.'"
"So I asked the next question. 'What then, will you offer as dowry for her to bring to the one she marries?' Bodda looked fondly at Bede. 'For such a one I could not consider a small dowry', he said slowly. 'It must be as significant as she is herself. I would offer you gold to the weight of six axe heads'. Bede coloured again and her eyes shone. 'That is a good offer from a generous father, and I accept it', I affirmed.
"But now we came to the difficulties which I had expected. 'As it happens, I do not actually have the agreed quantity of gold readily available', Bodda said reluctantly. 'However, I would see my daughter wed and I would like to complete the necessary business quickly. I notice the coincidence in the two payments we have agreed: both are for six heads of gold. So I wonder if you will help me in this way: I propose that you lend me six axe-heads weight of gold. Then I will pay you the dowry. After this, you can pay me the agreed compensation. Finally, I will repay your loan. Having settled all this, we can immediately repair to the anvil in my forge and I will speak the words of marriage for you both.'"
"Bede was smiling, but I knew that things were about to take a turn for the worse. 'Alas, I do not have six axe-heads of gold', I admitted. 'If only you were able to lend me the sum, we might proceed in a fashion similar to your suggestion, but in reverse. Then the wedding I long for could take place.' Bede frowned now, as she saw the problem for herself."
"'Oh dear', mused Bodda, 'now I do not see how to resolve this. Perhaps someone else – but it would be dishonour to borrow a dowry from a third party, even if it could be repaid quickly. I do not know what to do.'"
"We sat in silence, drinking our ale without tasting it for a few moments. There were no smiles now. After a while, Bodda spoke, haltingly and reluctantly, almost as if musing to himself. His words astonished me. 'Perhaps... perhaps we could note that the agreed amounts are, er... the same.' He fell silent and glanced guiltily at me and Bede. Bede's face burned crimson. Silence fell between the three of us. 'Go on', I murmured reluctantly, 'I am listening'."
"Bodda spoke again, almost in a whisper now. 'What I mean to say is, that the six gold... the same... cancel out. No actual payment need take place, and yet the reality would...' Bede sprang to her feet, an expression of anguish on her face. She cast her tankard to the floor. 'Am I then so useless?', she cried, 'That you would just give me away for nothing?'"
"I looked at Bede helplessly and spread my hands. 'All your father means is...', I began, but she interrupted. 'And you! Oh! All the talk of the black warg and the red blood and the deep lake! Do you in reality think me so ugly?' Hot tears streamed from her eyes and she ran from the room. Bodda and I sat in silence with our ale for a long time, hearing her distant sobbing."
"Well, there was the problem and there was nothing we could see to do about it. I lodged that night in Bodda's house. In the morning, Bodda apologised to me for his improper suggestion. I made my apologies to Bede for the offence I had given her and we were reconciled, taking joy in the sight of one another once more. Then I took my leave, promising that I would return to claim her as soon as I had made the necessary fortune."
"Thus I live here in exile, poor, gnawing my heart, as is my beloved Bede in her father's house."
Calvi made his way back to our table and sat down to his ale with a scowl. At the Bree-folk table there was silence, a few muffled sobs, even one or two tears.
"There will be no more mirth among our neighbours tonight", stated Calvi quietly to us. "I fear my tale has quite spoiled their party."
"But... but...", stammered Ottar, "is that how it is? Are dwarves so... Are you really...? I had no idea. Was your tale true?"
Now Calvi gave Ottar the stare. "Ah,
friend, you are not also asking me to reveal the deep secrets of the dwarves,
are you?", he asked.