The Dûnhebaid Cycle
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After Stormy Seas: 10. Docking Fees
Prosperity doth bewitch men, seeming clear;
But seas do laugh, show white, when rocks are near.
--John Webster, The White Devil
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Though the stair treads were awkwardly deep for a Dwarf with a stiff knee, Veylin hummed one of Thyrnir's sprightly fiddle tunes under his breath as he came down, one step at a time, to breakfast. For as profitable a day as yesterday, he was willing to suffer a few indignities. Sirorn's commission, then another for a matched suite of common opal; Celebael's sister had brought the promised pearls—and, as the Falathrim always did, undervalued them—just before Gwinnor arrived to swap gold for the garnets spoken for at White Cliffs.
There had been others who came, he judged, merely from curiosity to see a Dwarf with the temerity to dwell by the sea, but few had left empty-handed. He was not here to entertain these frivolous folk, certainly not without some return for his time.
Veylin looked down from the last landing as he rested his leg, knitting his brows in puzzlement. Where was Saelon? And the Ranger? Of the Men, only the lad was at table, wolfing down bread and honey. After trading greetings with his fellows and taking his seat, Veylin asked, as if in jest, "Why such hurry, Gaernath? I do not see your elders here to drive you." Surely even Saelon did not make a habit of being up and about her business so much earlier than Dwarves.
Clearing his mouth with a long draught of ale, the lad stood and snagged three pears from the tray in the middle of the table. "They are already preparing for today's presentation—and I must get back to the stables, or Dírmaen will find fault with more than my cleaning of the tack." Gaernath flashed him a grin, apology for his abrupt departure. "Will we see you at the tower?"
Glancing around at his companions, Veylin found a variety of mood. "Some of us," seemed the safest answer. He meant to be there, if only to see the meeting of Saelon and Círdan, upon which so much might depend . . . yet he still awaited a reply to the note sent the evening they arrived, requesting a meeting at the Lord's convenience. Had his message gone astray, by chance or malice, or should he read silence as rejection?
Bersi handed him a cup of ale as the lad loped to the door. "So I have missed the Lady?" Veylin asked, as if casually. Bersi had passed on word yestereve that Saelon had asked after him, before accepting an invitation to dine with the Ranger's hunting companions.
"I have not seen her."
An attendant, the one with the moonstone eyes, approached. "The Lady Saelon is taking her meal in her room," he said, laying down a dish of fish, still hissing from the grill.
"Perch!" Vitnir exclaimed, his ill-humored expression lightening somewhat; Barði wasted no time in spearing one with his fork.
"These are to your taste, as well as trout?"
Veylin considered the Elf. Where had he learned what fish they relished? "They are. The Lady is well, I trust."
"Oh, she is in fine temper," the attendant assured him with an impudent grin, before strolling back to the kitchens.
Snorting into his whiskers, Veylin passed his plate. Why could Elves not answer plain? Fine temper . . . . With Saelon, that could be read either way. Absently taking two rolls from the breadbasket, he swapped it for his helping of perch and firmly set concern over Saelon aside as he breathed the fragrance of the fish. If anything of import had happened, she would have got word to him. Of that there could be no doubt.
Which left him the more consequential task of sounding out his companions. With trade so brisk, it was no hardship for him if Círdan desired to try his patience; but the others were finding their time less profitably spent. Bersi gamely allowed that the visit had been worthwhile—at present, the Elvish smiths were having difficulties getting as much copper as they desired—but since much of the stock they had brought was reserved for another purpose, he saw little point in staying longer and was eager to reach Barazdush, to see what price copper fetched there and begin negotiating contracts. Vitnir, too, wished to get back on the road and amid the bustle that filled the southern mansion during the council term.
Dare he tell the others to go on ahead, while he remained to trade and settle the question of the coastlands with Círdan? He was pondering the weight of four more axes amid so many Elves, should the worst befall, and having to choose between taking flight south to safety at Barazdush or north to warn Gunduzahar—with the Dúnedain, or would Dírmaen side with the Elves?—when, on the heels of a server who began to clear the table, Gaerol approached. Bowing with his unvarying courtesy, he offered Veylin a sealed billet. "This has just arrived for you."
Nodding his acknowledgment, Veylin accepted the folded paper, glancing at the elegantly drawn angerthas: the Elvish mode, of course, but his name nonetheless. "Excuse me," he murmured to his companions and took the note over to the lamp beside the hearth, where he might read in privacy. The ship-marked seal, in wax near the color of Saelon's sea-beryl, he had seen but twice before, and he broke it with near as much anticipation as the last time, when it had brought conformation of the judgment in his favor.
Brief, almost terse, but a polite request to meet with Círdan at his earliest convenience. Finally. No excuse for the delay, however. Refolding the paper, Veylin put it safely away in his belt pouch. "Thyrð," he called over to the table, making straight for the stairs, "go to the stable and ready my pony, and another to take the small chest. Oski, fetch the chest out and help secure it on the beast. I expect all to be waiting by the doorstep when I come back down."
Bersi, who knew what the chest held and for whom it was intended, asked as he passed, "When should we expect you to return?"
Veylin paused on the bottom step to consider. "Do you mean to witness Saelon's presentation to Círdan?"
"That was my thought."
"If the Shipwright is there and I am not," Veylin replied, starting the laborious climb, "begin making inquiries."
Upstairs, as he brought out his finery, he weighed the possibility of the meeting going ill. The risk was not great, or so he believed, else he would not go in this quiet way, with only two youngsters in his train. He had gotten a fair hearing and justice from Círdan before, though it had taken a little wrangling. Still, one who governed Noldor and Sindar together ought to be used to disagreement, and in a debate over how far Khuzdul rights extended, the eldest of the Falathrim was better than the least of the Noldor, his kinship to Thingol notwithstanding.
Nevertheless, Veylin decided it would be wiser to wear his chieftain's belt and chain—Firebeard rubies and amber in red gold, with the sapphires of his sept set into the massy links—rather than his own. Best not to tempt fate by flaunting fire opal before Lindon's lord, even if the stones were not from his shore.
When he came out into the courtyard—a fine morning, though cooler than yesterday, with more clouds flecking the sky—Oski and Thyrð were standing dutifully at the ponies' heads. Mounting, he led them out into the avenue. So short a distance to the tower: in the past, he would have scorned to ride, unless he wished to make a show. That was not his intent today, but neither would he hobble up, stick in hand, to the closely guarded gate of the inner keep.
They had gone perhaps a third of the way when he heard Thyrð mutter behind him, "I thought the Noldor were supposed to be good with stone."
At least the lad had the discretion to speak in Khuzdul; there was no knowing whether some Elf lounged amid the boughs of the trees. After a few more paces, Oski—who had a wider experience of the world outside a delf—replied, "This is not bad. Men often do not bother to set the stone, but simply drop cobbles into muddy places."
Thyrð sniffed. "I can believe it. The corn bin in the cave at White Cliffs looks like the work of a child with his first chisel. Yet I expected better from Elves famed for their skill."
Veylin smiled in his beard and glanced back over his shoulder at the two, who marched with otherwise solemn dignity on either side of the pack pony. "What do you find lacking?" he asked.
After a conscious silence, Thyrð answered, "The tower is thin and frail."
"As those who worked it? Are you of the same opinion, Oski?"
"It has that appearance," the Longbeard said more cautiously; but his fathers had been friendly with the folk of Eregion. "That seems strange, in those who live so long. Why do they not build with greater strength?"
An excellent question. "How long has this tower stood, do you guess?" When neither answered by the time they had passed between the next pair of trees, he prompted, "Thyrð, what say you?"
"I would say the same."
"I have heard that the sea wreaked much havoc along the coast at the downfall of Númenor." Of course he had; such talk was rife among those who doubted the wisdom of the Gunduzahar venture. "Surely so slender a structure could not have withstood the waves."
One would think so, to look at the thing, more like the silvery bole of a young ash than a fortress. "I have it on good authority that it is one of the oldest works in the town, designed and overseen by Gil-galad himself soon after they retreated here at the opening of the Second Age." A Noldor mason, at feud with his kin and desirous of having some jewels reset, had deprecated what he called such Epingolondë work: not the best style, so many great talents having returned to Tirion after the War of Wrath and the skill of their Endorë-born youth not yet come to full flower.
"Be wary," he warned his prentices, "of judging folk by the appearance of their works, for beauty is different in other eyes, and all strive to achieve it. Being slight themselves, that is what Elves like—and they employ their cunning in making such delicate things strong."
"Could they not use their time better?" Thyrð scoffed.
Veylin glanced back again and saw Oski give his nephew a scornful look over the pony's shaggy mane. "Have you forgotten that they are all deathless?"
It seemed he had forgotten, for the lad dropped his eyes. "They are not so foolish as they appear," Veylin continued the lesson. "Such tricks of craft allow them to use less stone and metal in their works, without sacrificing utility. While we might scorn such economy, it is sometimes useful. Besides," he reminded them both, "if you would have their gold, as I do, you must be able to follow their style closely enough to please their tastes."
"Why do they buy from you," Oski asked, "rather than from Gwinnor, or others of their own kind?"
"They have their feuds and factions, just as we do, and there are those among the Sindar who consider us less odious than the Noldor. Do your kin tell no tales of your neighbors of old, the Gwaith-i-Mírdain?" The most skillful and ambitious gemsmiths of the Noldor, deluded by the Enemy in the last Age. "Few survived the sack of their smithies, and the better part of those took ship here and rejoined their kin beyond the circles of the world." He had been privileged to handle many pieces by those long-departed masters and learnt much from them, though he knew no more than their names, and sometimes not even that. "Perhaps they merely grow weary of seeing so little novelty and welcome something fresh. Whatever the reason," he finished, for they were drawing near the garth, "I have found their custom well worth keeping, as my master did before me."
The question was whether Círdan valued the benefits of such commerce above a nominal claim to the western feet of the Ered Luin, awash though they now were, or if he would force Veylin to choose between the riches there and Lindon's custom.
It took a great while and much argument to pass the doors without surrendering their axes, but finally the three of them were left to cool their heels on a too-high settee in the anteroom to the Lord's audience chamber. Veylin began to wonder if there would be time to conclude this business before Saelon was to deliver her rent at noon. When his prentices once again began to divert themselves by trading assessments of the stonework, now in iglishmêk, he did not discourage them. Indeed, it was difficult not to join in, particularly when Thyrð signed, with punning brevity, that the best thing about the garland frieze—ostentatiously florid and deeply in-cut—was the tapestry that covered much of it. Oski countered with a reflection on the advantages of being a reasonable height; one had to make a special effort to look at the equally awful wilderness of the cornice. Was that an actual beetle on those beech leaves carved from tawny sandstone, or an enameled counterfeit?
The two of them were approaching the matter of the color scheme of the mosaic floor with relish when Veylin caught the muted sound of an opening door, beyond the one opposite their seat. He was reflecting that an altogether admirable art must have been applied to thwart eavesdropping by the Elves who must also wait here when the door before them swung violently open.
So furious was the towering Elf that he took two long strides into the room before their presence registered—and then he was instantly still, staring at them with a kind of wild shock. His breath hissed between his teeth, and Veylin's hand twitched towards his axe.
"Calennae." The Shipwright stepped into the doorway behind him. There was no mistaking him, taller still, with that splendid silver beard. "You have your orders."
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This confrontation ought not to have taken place; would not have, save for his over-patient attempt to govern Calennae's refractory hatred and Veylin's inopportune promptitude. For the span of a tight-drawn breath, the Iathrim's stark memories of the sack of Menegroth threatened to evoke the bloody past—then he forced himself beyond, stalking out with the baleful hauteur of a lynx.
The slamming of the heavy door behind him was comparative peace, and Círdan felt able to turn his attention to the Dwarves. Three of them were perched on the edge of the settee, their wide eyes and dangling feet giving them an incongruously childish appearance. A dangerous misimpression, given that their hands were already on their axe-hafts. "I am sorry I cannot say mae govannen, Veylin, son of Vali," he apologized, making a reverence that should assure the Dwarf of his respect. "Pray pardon the unpleasantness."
Maimed, Saelon had said; the russet-bearded gemsmith braced himself with a stout blackthorn stick as he slid from the seat, but his deep bow had such grace as ever it had. "Of course. At your service, Shipwright." Otherwise he looked much as he had when last they met, save for a grander display of gold and gems. Prosperous, consequential; the very opposite of Saelon.
"Who are your companions?"
The one whose blond beard was tucked into his belt bowed with watchful reserve, less willing to set aside Calennae's irruption of enmity. "Oski, son of Onar, at your service."
The other's whiskers were bright copper-gold, and he stared at Círdan's beard with an unreserve that suggested youth. "Thyrð, son of Thekk. At your service."
"At yours and your families'," Círdan replied in the Dwarvish manner, desiring to reassure them all. Thekk . . . was that not the name of one of the Dwarves slain near Habad-e-Mindon? There was no telling if these were kinsmen or followers, a guard or mere bearers of burdens—for Oski stood over a stoutly strapped chest like a mistrustful gander at his nest. Holding the door that led to his audience chamber wide, Círdan asked, "Will you come in?"
Calennae, and others, would think him reckless to madness for closeting himself alone with so many as three . . . yet Finrod had gone fearlessly among them, and Gwinnor, who knew Dwarves better than any other in the realm, spoke well of Veylin.
"My companions will wait here." Was it only the dwarven harshness of his voice that made that seem a brusque command, or did Dwarves have reservations not unlike his own? Only two of the many who had contended with Elu lived to carry their tale to Nogrod.
"As you wish." He offered Veylin precedence, and after a moment, the Dwarf took it. One of them must trust the other at their back in the narrow passage; though in truth Círdan did not wish to set a pace that might shame his guest. For he was lame, gravely lame, in spite of all pride could do to make light of his infirmity. Some consideration would be due, in regard to his delay in coming before him.
Still, being halt had not prevented him from confronting what had marred him, nor from slaying it. Thrawn, indeed.
When he reached the audience chamber, Veylin stepped aside to survey it at leisure, frankly appraising. No doubt he found it plain, but Círdan preferred it so, to encourage brevity and attention in petitioners. "Thank you for coming," he said, crossing the chamber to take his seat. "Is there anything you require? Refreshment? A seat?"
"No." Veylin came to the middle of the room and settled his brawny hands on the head of his stick. "Gaerol keeps a generous table."
"I am glad he has contented you. The rest of my people have been as agreeable, I hope."
"I could ask for no better," Veylin replied, rather than answered. "That other business has kept me from my usual commerce here has been my loss."
So it seemed. The folk who had come to deal with him at the guest-hall had surprised Gaerol, by their number as well as their kind . . . and there were surely others, more circumspect, who had not come. "That is regrettable. What business was it, that took you to our northern coastlands?"
Veylin's craggy face grew very somber behind its fox-colored beard. "It is true, then—you have laid claim to lands north of the Little Lune?"
Did he have a heart of stone, or one of brass? Círdan raised his brows in as civil a disbelief as he could command. "That is our border—east of the Ered Luin, where the stream runs. When this realm was established, your kings ceded the coastlands in return for recognition of their rights in the southern mountains. Is that no longer remembered among your folk?" So knowing a Dwarf, and a lord among them . . . surely he could not be ignorant on such a point.
"We remember our ancient agreements," Veylin assured him, pointedly and perhaps with the slightest emphasis. "Yet it has come to our attention that the sea has encroached on the mountains in the Ages since the maps were drawn. Has it not?"
"It has." The coast was much changed when Andor fell and the world was made round, more than twenty yén since. Had they only now taken notice? "In some places. In others, it has withdrawn. How far I could not say without viewing the land." A survey he had made, soon after the tumults . . . but then the siege of Mordor had taken him from the shore and, after Gil-galad's fall, the duties of lordship too often kept him in harbor. It was long since he was last north of Côfgelion.
And how should Dwarves know of the changes, save by rumor no less dreadful than the Sea itself—unless one, particularly audacious, should dare the prospect?
Setting his fingertips together, Círdan regarded the Dwarf standing steadfastly before him. "You were witness to the Lady Saelon's acknowledgement of our claims at Habad-e-Mindon, were you not?"
"A witness only attests to a bargain," Veylin maintained. "He need not agree with its terms."
"You were unable to persuade her to take your side?"
Their minds were guarded as jealously as their hoards; beneath lowered brows, his rufous eyes were flat, as though indifferent, though his voice was not. "The Lady preserves her own judgment, as you will learn. If she prefers to buy your good will, that is her affair."
Did he resent her independence? "So by your claim, Tumlhûn ought to receive her rent?" Here was a motive Círdan had not considered before.
"Nay," the Dwarf scorned. "When have we ever sought lordship over Men?"
"You think we desire their fealty?"
Veylin shrugged, rousing the gems of his chain to sullen flame. "I cannot say. Is that not how matters are arranged among Men, that the vassal takes land from his lord? I know the Ranger is displeased that she should pay any save their Chieftain."
"It is not how matters are arranged among Elves." Little wonder that Saelon was oppressed, caught thus between the demands of all the lords about her. Yet that was, it seemed, her free choice, a tangle it was not his place to unpick. "My charge is to keep my own folk, some of whom live on the lands you would dispute. From where would you dispossess them?"
"If Gwinnor has led you to believe that is my purpose," Veylin huffed, "he will pay dearly when next he buys gems from me. Do we lay complaints, when Elves take a stag from our hills? All we seek is the right to go about our business without interference. If they do not harass us, there is no need for any to remove from their homes."
"The right to pursue your own quarry you have," Círdan reminded him. "What you do not have is the right to dwell beyond the mountains, for you are wont to take more than the land can readily give, which impoverishes others who would use it. So I have heard is the case in the country about your abode on the coast."
"In the mountains, hard by the sea."
He had taken his stand; words alone would not shift him. "Such a matter will have to be laid before my council." It was as well that only beyond Rerir did the mountains come near the Sea; few dwelt in those lands, though there were others who wandered there in season. The Noldor seemed most likely to regard the Dwarves as poachers, jealous of whatever might lie belowground rather than fish and fowl . . . yet Gwinnor had made no complaint, not after his embassy to Saelon in the spring, nor after his unwonted sojourn in those parts since. The notion that the elegant Exile should be so smitten by the stark beauties of the wild north that he must revisit their charms was droll—and indeed, he laughed at himself.
Were they rivals, the Maker's child and his prentice, or confederates? Perhaps Gwinnor reckoned the cost of Dwarvish labor cheap, and would spare himself the effort of winning such riches as were to be had. Deliberation in council would give other of the Noldor a chance to speak.
Veylin inclined his head. "Of course. May I present you with something else for their consideration?"
Turning, Veylin stumped back to the door and, opening it, gave a piercing whistle. By the time he had returned to his place, his companions had come in, bearing the chest between them. Veylin passed the golden-bearded one a key. As Oski knelt to unlock the chest, the chieftain declared, "I have heard that your smiths find copper in short supply. If we can come to some reasonable accommodation, it would profit both our peoples."
Throwing open the lid, Oski turned the chest to show neat ingots of the ruddy metal, gleaming dully in the lamplight. Círdan reckoned the weight: enough to keep several of the larger barks free of worm for several loar. No trifle, but surely less than a tithe of what the Dwarves had found. Why should a gemsmith put himself to such trouble, for base metal? "You would buy our agreement?"
"Can it be had for so little?" Veylin asked, so blandly Círdan was uncertain whether he meant to be droll. "No. This is but a sample of the wares I could offer. Consider it an earnest of my intent, and," he added, voice dropping to a harsher rumble, "something to assure those who doubt our claims. I would not have it said that we are thieves."
Open-handed, in matters touching his honor rather than his livelihood. Saelon had wasted no time, it seemed, in passing word of Calennae's rancour on to her friend.
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Barazdush: Khuzdul, "red root"; so-called for the fine red slate into which the mansion is delved. A place of my own invention. The chief Dwarf mansion of the southern Blue Mountains and the seat of the king of the Broadbeams, between Harlindon and the lands once held by Arthedain. Its location should be imagined as something like Snowdonia in Wales.
Billet: a short document or note; like the more familiar "bill," it is derived from Latin bulla, seal.
Angerthas: runes, the script originally devised and later extended by Daeron of Doriath. Dwarves learned it when they delved Menegroth and, admiring the system more than his fellow Sindar, adopted and altered it to suit their own speech (HoME XI: War of the Jewels, "Grey Annals," § 31). Among the Longbeards, there were at least two recorded variants, the mode of Moria and the mode of Erebor (LotR, App. E). This appears to parallel the Dwarvish use of iglishmêk, which Tolkien said varied greatly between communities (HoME XI: War of the Jewels, "Quendi and Eldar," App. D).
"eldest of the Falathrim": a conjecture on my part, and a sign of profound respect on Veylin's. Recall that among Dwarves, Durin is referred to the the Eldest.
Epingolondë: Quenya, "post-Beleriand"; Ingolondë is "Land of the Noldor." This is a compound of my own invention.
War of Wrath: the Great Battle at the end of the First Age, when the Valar and a host of Elves who had remained in Aman came in answer to Eärendil's plea and overthrew Morgoth, breaking not only Angband but also Beleriand in the process.
Endorë: Quenya, "Middle-earth."
Gwaith-i-Mírdain: Sindarin, "People of the Jewel-smiths"; the craft brotherhood founded by Celebrimbor in Eregion during the Second Age. Under the influence of Annatar, Lord of Gifts (Sauron in fair form), the Mírdain created the Rings of Power and—in the story where they are explicitly named (Unfinished Tales, "History of Galadriel and Celeborn")—revolted against the rule of Galadriel and Celeborn.
Cornice: on an interior wall, an ornamental molding immediately below the ceiling. Tapestries are usually hung from it.
Andor: "the Land of Gift"; Númenor.
Côfgelion: Sindarin, "bay of Gelion"; the bay north of Forlindon and southeast of the Isle of Himring. A comparison of maps of the area in the Third and First Ages shows it is in the approximate location of the upper valley of the River Gelion, and so I have conjectured that the bay was named after its ancient headwaters.
"Their minds were guarded as jealously as their hoards": reflecting on ósanwe in relation to Dwarves, the "adopted" Children of Eru, it struck me as extremely odd that the normally very perceptive Elves (who commune so readily with other living things) should first mistake Dwarves for beasts and later consider them soulless. Might it be explained by Dwarves being naturally "closed-minded," as well as taciturn and secretive? This might well explain the "unfriendship" between them and other folk, especially Elves: since a closed mind is normally a deliberate rejection, it might very well be taken as evidence of offensive mistrust or malicious intentions. I am not necessarily suggesting that the default state for a Dwarvish mind is pahta or closed, whereas the other Children of Eru are láta or open; but in my interpretation, Dwarves are extremely security-conscious by Aulë's design, which in itself would predispose them to stay "locked down" to anyone they did not trust implicitly. Tolkien did not give us enough information to choose between these surmises.
Tumlhûn: the Sindarin translation of Sulûnduban.
Worm (shipworm, Teredo navalis): a marine clam that burrows into submerged wood; over time, they can severely weaken a ship's hull. They can only be deterred by reguarly removing the ship from the water for a prolonged period (which is difficult and impractical for large ships), or by sheathing or studding the hull below the waterline with copper, which is toxic to the creatures.
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