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Why I Live in the Silver Mine

Written by Marissa Lingen
Illustrated by Jared Blando


When my sister Tourmaline went off to live above the surface with that Tall Folk man, we thought we'd never see nor hear from her again. And good riddance, too, I thought: Tourmaline was always somewhere else when her share of the delving needed to be done. And her backfill, well, that was best not even spoken of.

But the way Mother and Daddy and Uncle Gabbro carried on when she came back with that fiddle under her arm without so much as a kiss-my-boot, why, you'd think she'd invented the pickaxe.

"How long can you stay?" asked Mother.

"Is your Roger coming down to see the family?" asked Daddy.

"Since when do you play the fiddle?" I asked.

They all turned to look at me. "Quartz Marie, really!" said Mother, and Uncle Gabbro harrumphed in that maddening way he has.

"It happens to be an enchanted fiddle," said Tourmaline. "One of Roger's many friends and acquaintances gave it to me."

"In exchange for what?" I said.

"Quartz Marie, that's enough!" said Daddy. "Your sister can drive her own bargains."

"It was a gift, Quartz Marie," said Tourmaline, tossing her head in an affected manner she must have picked up on the surface. "Surface dwellers are not so mercenary as we. They do not want their friends only for their silver."

"More fool they, then," I said.

"That sounds . . . nice," said Mother cautiously.

"Roger would have come with me," said Tourmaline, "but he had a big job to do for the queen he works for. She's a very grand lady, with jewels on every finger."

"A big job? Gold?" said Daddy.

"Must be diamonds," said Uncle Gabbro.

"It's certainly not silver," I said. I do not like to remind people that I am the only person in this family who has ever—even with Daddy's help—started a silver mine. Nevertheless, it is my own and sometimes Tourmaline can use a reminder that Tall Folk suitors are all very well, but certain of us have achieved what really and truly matters to a dwarf.

"It's not a mining job," said Tourmaline, and they all looked at her blankly. I knew very well that her Tall Folk would be worth less than a butter berm when it came to mining; I simply do not know why the others couldn't see it.

I could have taken up with her Tall Folk Roger, but I didn't care to. Some of us had mining to do and couldn't be chasing around the surface.

"It's something about the heart of something in a box, a deer or a pig or a Tall Folk girl, something like that," said Tourmaline airily. "I really couldn't say. Roger has so many pieces of important business, I forget them all." Tourmaline rummaged in her rucksack. "He sent a gift for you all. Cherries!"

"How lovely!" said Mother, taking two handfuls. Daddy and Uncle Gabbro dove right in behind her. I peered down into the rucksack. The cherries were in a bag of white paper. They glistened. The stems were still on them; Mother and Daddy and Uncle Gabbro were dropping them on the floor of the cave, and we all know who would have to clean them up later. They were spitting the pits.

"Dwarves don't eat cherries," I said. Their mouths were stained red, like beasts'.

"Surface dwarves do," said Tourmaline. "Why, Sister, I saw Hap Schist eating cherries just the other day, in that little house he and his brothers have on the surface." Hap Schist means nothing to me, as Tourmaline well knows.

"Surface dwarves can scrub their own floors," I said, with a rebuking look at my assorted relations. Daddy had the good grace to look abashed, but Mother and Uncle Gabbro went on spitting cherry pits on the floor without so much as a kiss-my-boot.

"They don't scrub their own floors, though," said Tourmaline. "They have a funny-looking Tall Folk girl to do it. The Schist brothers, I mean."

"What the Schist brothers get up to is their own concern and none of mine," I said. Uncle Gabbro gave me one of those wise looks that are his specialty. They never fail to madden me, especially when combined with cherry pit spitting. Not that he gets much opportunity for cherry pit spitting in these parts, I'll swear to that much.

"Perhaps you'll like the fiddle better," said Tourmaline, "though of course everyone has always known how hard you were to please. I got it from one of the visitors that funny-looking girl had, an old Tall Folk crone with young hands."

"I thought you said it was from a friend of Roger's," I said. Tourmaline has never been able to keep track of all the tall stories she tells from one moment to the next.

"Roger," she said with that false dignity of hers, "is friends with every last being we meet, of any age or race. Roger is a true benefactor to the world, I feel."

"Unless they're pigs or some such, in which case he cuts their hearts, you were saying?" I said.

"Why, Quartz Marie, what a nasty thing to say to your only sister!" said Mother. Tourmaline has always been a great pet and a favorite of Mother's, because she was born between shifts, not down in the deep like me. Mother, like many dwarves of a certain age, believes that between-shift babies are lucky, but if you ask me, all it ever got Tourmaline was closer to the surface.

They never do ask me.

"Everyone has always known how hard you were to please," Tourmaline repeated, and Uncle Gabbro nodded, spraying a last chunk of cherry in his gusto. I paid them no mind. Such remarks are above my notice.

Tourmaline closed off the paper bag of cherries and got out her magic fiddle. If you can call it that—it didn't look any too magical to me. Enchanted, certainly, but hardly magical. It was a thin little fibrous thing—painted gold, true, but hardly any real gold in the paint, and none at all in the rest of the thing. You could tell by the way Tourmaline babied the awful thing that it wouldn't stand up to the good drubbing required for proper music.

"You ask for a song, and the fiddle does its magic," said Tourmaline. "I've learned the results several—not directly, of course. I wanted to share it with my loving family. It can transport you or transform you or—any number of things, really. Depending on what songs you choose." She waved her hands excitedly—like a Tall Folk, I noticed, but no one else seemed to care.

The others oohed and ahhed, but I sniffed. "If that is indeed how the fiddle works," I said. "She may well have just come up with all this on her own, you know. I won't mention who told tales after the Ruby Picnic with the Fluorite Clan, but I will suggest it wouldn't be the first tall tale someone present had told."

"Sister, well, I declare," said Tourmaline. "You must not know me very well if you think that. I went out of my way to ask the crow for very specific instructions on how to use this here magic fiddle. And he told me the whole story. He knows it well."

"Well, then!" said Uncle Gabbro.

"Obviously!" said Daddy.

"We should have guessed," said Mother.

"He always says the same thing, or that's what the Schist twins tell me. It might not even apply to your so-called magical gift fiddle. If you ask me, we should listen to a bird who knows more than one story," I said.

"We didn't ask you, Quartz Marie," said Tourmaline. They never did.

"I'm just saying, you know what tune you call, but you don't know how that violin will play or even where it came from. I'm not sure it's your violin at all. Do dwarves even play the violin? There may well be something wrong with it."

"It is so like you, Quartz Marie, to be jealous of every little thing I have," said Tourmaline.

"Quartz Marie!" said Mother. "I would expect better of you." Clearly she would not, as she is always expecting the worst of me, but I do not care to contradict directly.

Tourmaline lifted her fiddle to play it. It was too long for her, being made for the Tall Folk, so she had to stretch her arm all the way. "I," she said loftily, "am going to play good health for our dear Uncle Gabbro. And then we shall see who will do as she says she will. Certain people are not notable for that."

I rolled my eyes.

The bow across the strings sounded about like you'd expect from short hair on string: howly, yowly, and thoroughly without rumble. As the thing meandered through whatever it was intending to do, I noticed that Mother and Daddy had a tough time keeping their faces politely interested, and Uncle Gabbro looked like he'd mistaken coprolites for copper.

"He doesn't look noticeably healthier to me," I said.

"Stop interrupting!" hissed Tourmaline. "It's not finished yet."

As the wooden thing wheezed and squeaked away, Uncle Gabbro's face lost its healthy pallor. He went pink and then added funny brown spots to the bizarre coloration. His beard curled unnaturally around his ears. And his hands, his beautiful gnarled hands, straightened out so that his fingers were spindly and useless and longer than his head. He made a series of rude popping noises. The fiddle stopped.

"There, you see!" said Tourmaline.

"There, you see!" I said.

But they were all beaming like idiots.

"That's just lovely, Tourmaline," said my own mother. "Very sweet of you."

"Sweet!" I said.

"I'm much obliged, Tourmaline," said Uncle Gabbro. And Daddy beamed.

"I just knew you'd love it," said Tourmaline. "It was a gift, did I mention? And now we will go on a journey with it! Don't worry, Quartz Marie, we'll be home by night. Just a wee vacation, for fun."

"I am not going anywhere that thing takes me," I said, "and if the rest of you have the slightest bit of sense, you won't, either."

"Really, Quartz Marie!" said Mother. "What a horrible thing to say."

"You saw what it did to Uncle Gabbro's fingers," I said.

Uncle Gabbro harrumphed. "What's wrong with my fingers?" he demanded.

"Anyone could plainly see that they are not as they were this morning, dear Uncle," I said.

"Don't you dear Uncle me!" said Uncle Gabbro. "I like my fingers. They're mighty fine fingers."

"They were before certain people had their way," I said. "I am merely trying to protect my family from sinister upwards influences who may have strayed in."

"Don't you cut off my beard and tell me it's breezy, Quartz Marie," said my very own father, my own bone and tendon. "We'll have none of that here. We believe our own kin in this mine."

"That being the case," I said airily, "I will go on to my own mine, thank you very much. And don't you come running along to borrow my second-best spade, either, because I know where your true loyalties lie."

"Ridiculous!" sputtered Uncle Gabbro.

"If you think it's any shavings off my coin if you stay in your silver mine and make an ass of yourself, you may think again," said Mother.

"You have made that very clear," I said majestically. "Farewell, family. Enjoy your Tall Folk scrapings."

As I swept my gracious way out of the cavern, I heard them start up to sawing on that beastly thing. Tourmaline said, "Sister—" And then she was singing some Tall Folk song about a sister, and it was nothing to do with me. There was a cold wind in my back, like someone had opened a shaft to the deeps all of a sudden. I looked back. They all looked surprised. I suppose they thought I'd never go, but I have my dignity. I have my self-respect.

Then they all vanished. I sniffed. One-upsmanship does not become a dwarf; if they were going to try to show off with Tall Folk gadgets, it's none of my concern; I already gave them my opinion.

And that's the last I clapped eyes on my family. Some of the Schist brothers came by to tell me they'd heard funny fiddle music, but when they went in to check, there was no one there, just icicles. They all live in the world of the giants now, shivering and telling Tourmaline how clever she is and how sure they are that her Roger will come for her.

Some dwarves would go after them, but not me. I like it fine here in the silver mine by myself. The seams are producing beautifully, and I have all the tools set up just as I like them, and no one ever spits cherry pits on my nice dirt floor.

And I never will take a gift from a Tall Folk. You can stake your whole claim on that.

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