“What do you mean, you do not have the money?”
“What do you think you were doing?”
Cambréthil winced at the raised voices emanating from his brother’s workshop. He had come to the House of the Mírdain to collect Erestor for their usual end-of-the-week ale, expecting to find him immersed in his work and forgetting about the time as usual. Instead, his brother seemed to be involved in what sounded like a shouting match with two rather unamused opponents, neither of whom was Erestor.
His first instinct was to hurry to aid his little brother out of yet another fix. Erestor would hardly be grateful, though, not as they now both were of age, apprentices in their own rights, and well established in the guilds of their respective crafts. But a bit of moral support certainly would not go amiss, so when the shouting stopped for a moment, Cambréthil rapped at the door and entered.
Three pairs of eyes in various states of upset turned to him, making him wince. Erestor looked a bit desperate, but Cambréthil could not tell if it was because he was in difficulties or because his brother now knew. Knowing Erestor, it was likely the latter.
“And what might you be wanting here? This is not the town square where everybody can come and go as they please!”
An important-looking elf in the robes of the Mírdain looked at him with raised eyebrows. Cambréthil shrugged, unimpressed by the craftsman’s haughtiness.
“I came to fetch my brother as usual, but I can wait if you still have need of him.”
The Mírdain snorted. “That we have indeed, for a matter of the utmost irregularity has transpired, and we need to --”
“Nothing of the kind has transpired, as you have been told before. This is not a matter of your guild, so will you kindly stop interfering and leave me to conclude my business as I please?” The third person present, a tall, dark-haired elf in outlandish garb and with a surprisingly deep voice, looked with so much disdain at the Mírdain that Cambréthil was immediately taken with him, no matter that he also obviously had strife with his brother.
“On the contrary, ‘prentice Erestor is a member of this guild, so any matter concerning business he transacts is --”
The tall stranger took a step towards the Mírdain. “Out. Now.”
Cambréthil’s respect for the stranger rose. Who was this, that a member of the mighty Mírdain obeyed him at a word, since the Mírdain in question was now indeed doing as he was told, albeit with much grumbling? Cambréthil was sure he had never seen him before in Ost-in-Edhil, although Erestor obviously knew him well enough to have business with him. Taller than most, with broad shoulders, a strong build and eyes of an intense, clear grey. A Noldo by the looks of it, probably related to the Master Mírdain if he had such authority over a craftsman.
When the door had closed, the stranger turned to Erestor. “Back to our business now that we are again undisturbed. So I did understand you right, you cannot pay me the agreed transport fee for the delivery?”
Erestor shook his head, cheeks reddening. “I am afraid so. You see, there has been a misunderstanding: I was made to believe that the sum already paid covered the whole delivery, not just the cost of the -- the wares.” He darted a quick look at Cambréthil.
Cambréthil decided it was time to aid Erestor after all. This was not some simple fix, but a matter of business with somebody it was unwise to cross. He stepped up to Erestor’s side.
“Forgive me for intruding, but perhaps I can help. I am Erestor’s brother and apprenticed with the Guild of the Healers, and if there is any sum still needing to be settled, or anything else, I am more than happy to help my brother out.” He refrained from adding that he wondered why Erestor had not come to him with such a problem in the first place, or had made an obviously costly order without telling him about it. It was not as if the brothers had any secrets from each other.
Erestor wrung his hands, his blush deepening. “No, please, Brethi, you must not know what -- I mean, I am well capable of dealing with this myself. It has just been a misunderstanding and I am sure I will be able to settle everything with Master Gildor in a moment.”
“If you have a reasonable suggestion to make, I am willing to hear,” the stranger said.
Master Gildor, Cambréthil corrected himself mentally. So this was the famous kinsman of the Lord Celebrimbor, well known for wandering the width and length of Ennor with his company. How he came to be the deliverer of anything Erestor wanted remained a mystery, though. Master Gildor certainly was no trader or businessman, that much he knew.
“Erestor, what on Arda have you ordered that you cannot pay for it? It must be something truly special if it was delivered by such an illustrious envoy.”
“Oh, just some rare spices, but they were to be sent with urgency, or so the missive said,” the illustrious envoy explained, lips twitching in amusement. “This also increased the delivery fee, but I imagine young Erestor here was not aware of this.”
“Spices? Whatever do you want with spices?” Of all the unlikely items Cambréthil could imagine Erestor buying, spices certainly ranged high, and particularly rare and doubtlessly costly ones from the far countries to the South.
Erestor shook his head, visibly mortified, looking from his brother to Gildor and back. “No, I was not, but it is of no consequence, Master Gildor. I deeply regret that I cannot pay the desired sum immediately, but I pledge upon the honour of my guild that your gold will be paid at the earliest possible opportunity, with any interest you deem appropriate. I never intended to cheat you out of anything that is your due.”
Turning to Cambréthil, he continued: “The spices are for you, blockhead! I wanted to give you something special for your first yén! It was no mean feat to order them in the first place, and to have them delivered in time, and I am really grateful to Master Gildor that he made this possible. But now everything is for naught as you know already everything and the surprise is gone!”
Erestor looked so distressed that Cambréthil put his arm around him for a quick embrace, not caring what impression this might give. Gildor, on his part, raised his hands, unable to hide a grin about the brothers' exchange. He was clearly at ease now, all previous anger gone, Cambréthil noticed with relief.
“Easy, easy, I never meant you would, Erestor!” Gildor said. “I suppose I was unduly enraged earlier, and unfairly so, as you certainly have not given me reason to be. You certainly had the agreed-upon sum ready, and if you were not aware of an additional delivery fee it is no problem to pay it later, with your word as a sufficient pledge. I must admit the presence of that high-and-mighty craftsman was what really put me out, as it felt insulting that you would asking a guild member as witness for our transaction, and had his arrogant self turned on me.”
“But I did not ask him to come!”
“Yes, I know that now. It was clear the moment when he accused you of doing business in the name of the Mírdain.”
Erestor nodded with a sigh. “I seem to have made about every conceivable mistake about that dratted order that could be made,” he said with a half-grin. “Thank you very much for putting him into his place. I should not have asked you to meet me in my workshop, but I wanted to avoid Brethi getting any notice of this.”
“That clearly went very well,” Cambréthil said drily. All three looked at each other and broke out in hearty laughter.
“I am sorry to have spoiled the surprise,” Gildor said. “Can I make this up to you both with an ale or two at the tavern? My throat is parched from all this talking, and I am dying with curiosity about what your brother would want with so many spices.”
Cambréthil and Erestor exchanged a glance.
“Gladly, but this is on me,” Cambréthil said. “If I had not come, or not insisted on knowing what is going on, Erestor might have succeeded in keeping his secret after all. Please take this also as our apology that you have to wait for your reimbursement, although I hope Erestor might allow me to disburse the necessary sum now that I know what it is for. Do not worry, I expect repayment of every penny,” he added at Erestor’s glare.
Gildor nodded. “Accepted, although I have a better suggestion. Bringing the spices here caused neither expense nor effort on my part; I do not regularly trade or transport goods, but accept a commission like this one on occasion as a favour to a friend. If you tell me about why a box of exotic spices makes for a fitting first yén present, and I might perhaps see or even sample some of the results, I consider myself amply paid.”
So while Erestor tidied and locked up his workshop, and they walked to the brothers' favourite tavern, Cambréthil explained about his passion for cooking and how he liked to experiment with herbs and spices he learned about during his training, and Erestor told how his brother’s enthusiasm had inspired this gift idea. They made a detour by the brothers' home to deposit the sizeable wooden box, which contained the aromatic treasure. Erestor refused to confirm any of Cambréthil’s guesses about the contents, though, claiming that he wanted to keep at least part of the surprise.
Gildor visibly enjoyed himself in the company of the brothers, the three of them becoming fast friends. He gladly accepted an invitation not only to the celebration on occasion of Cambréthil’s first yén begetting day, but also to a dinner cooked with the spices in the gift box on the next occasion when Gildor would be in Ost-in-Edhil.
The tavern the brothers favoured turned out to be one of Gildor’s favourite places in town, too, and the three of them settled down to a few hours of companionable talk. Cambréthil went to fetch the first round of drinks.
“What will you have, Resto?” Cambréthil asked. “They have your favourite spiced ale.”
“No, a plain brown for me, thank you very much,” Erestor grumbled. “I do not want to hear about spices anytime soon!”