The Dûnhebaid Cycle
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Fair Folk and Foul: 12. Excess of Youth
Dh'fhalbh na diasan, dh'fhan an asbhuain? Are the full ears gone, and only the
Thuit na bailtean, chinn an raineach? Fallen are the townships, and up has
sprung the bracken?
A bheil tom luachrach air gach stairsnich? Is there a clump of rushes on every
A shaoghail, tha sinn ann g'a aindeoin; Oh, world, we are here and live on in
spite of it;
tha a' ghrìosach theth fo'n luaithre fhathast. the hot ember is yet under the ashes.
--George Campbell Hay, "Meftah bâbkum es-sabar" ("Patience the key to our door")
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The Ranger did not look so tall lying on the ground, with the blackthorn hard against his windpipe. "No," Dírmaen rasped. "You are not so lame as I imagined." Though he had let his hands fall from his sword, open, the hawk eyes in that lean Dúnedain face were grimly attentive. Humbled, but not beaten: he might still bite. "Your pardon, Master. I have been a fool."
"You have," Veylin agreed, between his teeth. The knee was a grinding fire, goading him to rage; though the success of his attack gave satisfaction, it was sour. Just when he had thought that, despite their many differences, they might come to terms, the Man had cast his lameness in his face—and capped the offense by attempting to restrain him. How could anything be retrieved from this impasse? "Why should I pardon that?"
At least Dírmaen had the sense to keep still, and not rush to an answer. "I would rather fight raugs than you," he finally replied.
Veylin gave a bitter laugh. That sounded honest enough, whichever way one took it. "I am glad to hear it! Yet you did not wish it enough to curb your tongue." How could he trust the Ranger at his back with a troll-spear now?
"Nor you yours. I will not fawn for your favor. If my candor offends, we must disagree."
The Man did not lack courage, saying such things in a voice roughened by the thrust at his throat. "My favor is not to be had by fawning," Veylin rumbled. If Dírmaen thought so ill of him, little wonder that he could not bear his assay. "I am not a Man, to desire lackeys. All I ask is stout folk I can trust to stand by me. I have proved I can stand," he said, leaning into his stick a fraction more to press the point. "Halpan must prove he is stout-hearted."
Dírmaen did not writhe. "How can he do that, save by going with you?" he grated, low and harsh.
"He can face me," Veylin declared, "and speak for himself, to start! Am I more daunting than a fiend?"
"He is ashamed," Dírmaen told him. "He is young and he was drunk. Were you never remiss, when you were so?"
Veylin grimaced. Saelon's Men thought him soft enough to swallow abuse; this one thought him heartless. "Then let him confess it and make amends! We are all fools," he growled, "at some time or other. What matters—" he drew back the stick and stepped warily away "—is what we do afterwards." Hopefully this was not foolishness, or at least such as he could do something about afterwards.
Dírmaen stayed where he was, only lifting a hand to rub his throat. "And I? How might I make amends?"
"I do not know." Veylin gazed down on him with deep discontent. One could hardly fault him for defending his kinsman, even if unwisely. That the Ranger could keep a cool head at need was now beyond doubt. Yet they seemed to understand each other very ill, and that could be more perilous than hate, since it could not be relied upon. As useful as Dírmaen might be against the fiends, they were not desperate. "I will not debate further with you, lest we disagree worse. If you would earn my good will," Veylin hazarded, "harden that young Man and teach him his duty. Halpan must treat with me for you both. We understand each other better—or we did."
Slowly the Man sat up and rested his arms on his knees; from his look, he was as little satisfied as Veylin. "What is it you want from these folk?" he asked, dark brows knotted.
"Good neighbors!" Veylin snapped. "Will you not leave be, at least until our tempers are cool?" He set his hand on his axe again. "Or would you have the breach past mending? Go!"
After Dírmaen had left him, Veylin turned back towards the ruin, limping heavily to a stray block where he could sit and ease his leg. The knee had held, but it had not pained him so since those first weeks he had put weight back on it. Kneading the muscles that took the strain, he brooded blackly over the wreck of his patient plans. He had waited until the Men were strong enough to face the fiends on a reasonable footing, yet it seemed that was also strong enough to fleer at his forbearance. Which only justified his kin's view of the folly of such consideration. Why should he trouble to forge an alliance between them? They did not need the Men. Having these folk so near, and friendly, was a convenience, no more. Was fresh meat and longer arms in a fray on occasion worth so much moil?
Under the sough of the wind and the mutter of the sea, he heard a patter and scrambling on the steep slope from the cliff-shelf, and piping, childish laughter; a breathless youth's voice chanted, "Race! Race!"
Shortly, a slim, dark-haired child scrabbled up onto the flat, clutching the tussocky grass with his hands as he climbed. Hot on his heels was Gaernath, hair flaming in the sun, grinning madly. "Beat you!" Hanadan crowed, turning and pouncing on him. The two tumbled together on the brink like tussling fox pups.
It was a wonder they did not roll back down the way they had come. He must have made some noise, for the two abruptly froze and turned their heads to stare, startled as beasts. But only for a moment. With a delighted cry of "Master Veylin!" Hanadan, who was momentarily uppermost, launched himself from Gaernath, who doubled up with a whuf, and ran to the Dwarf. He did not halt or even slow, but threw his arms around Veylin's waist, nearly knocking him off his rock. As Veylin cried "Ho!" in stern reproach, the Dúnedain child gazed up at him, smiling eagerly. "Can I go slay raugs with you? Please?"
Oh, if only his elder kinsman was so bold! "Ach, child," Veylin rumbled, prying him off and holding him at arm's length, with a louring frown. "No. You are still too tender for such work. We must wait until you are bigger."
"You aren't much bigger than me!" the slender rascal objected, with decided heat.
Veylin gave a snort of a laugh and ruffled Hanadan's hair. "True! Though I have plenty of small, fierce folk to fight by my side. If I take any of your people, they will be tall Men who can wield long spears."
Gaernath had clambered to his feet and wandered over, smiling down on them, but now his easy grin was replaced by a gravely earnest look. "I am tall," he said. "And I can use a spear. Please, Master, may I go?"
Looking up at that soft face, only now growing the first downy wisps of a beard, Veylin considered, more for the sake of the youth's pride than in seriousness. Gaernath had been brave and true-hearted through the trials that had brought their folk together last autumn, but this would be grimmer and more perilous work. "How old are you?" Veylin asked, and a furtive look in those blue eyes led him to add forbiddingly, "The truth, now." He did not know Men so well that he could tell if the lad added a few years.
"Sixteen," Gaernath answered, half-sullen, half-preening.
"Sixteen years?" Veylin exclaimed, taken aback. So few as that? Hardly old enough to be allowed out of the mansion alone—yet he had ridden, alone, to Srathen Brethil a year ago, under the threat of the fiends, to bring aid to Saelon . . . and Men were so short-lived. "How old is Halpan?"
"I'm seven," Hanadan informed him forthrightly.
"Are you? And so tall already?" Veylin replied, half-distracted, to content him. Great gangling babes: no wonder they were so thoughtless, and tender. "There is a difference in the span of years between common Men and Dúnedain, I know." Veylin gazed uncertainly at Gaernath, hoping that he was not rousing resentment. "You do not look like a Man of the West, with that fiery hair, yet Saelon claims you as kin. Which are you? Is there also a difference in when you reach manhood?" Perhaps he had expected more of Halpan than the young Man could give.
"My grandmother was Dúnedain, the youngest daughter of the lord," Gaernath told him proudly, then sobered. "But her children have not lived so long. I am Edain. There is not much difference when we are young, save that the Dúnedain wed later. We Edain cannot wait so long."
Veylin grunted. That the men of the Dúnedain wed late he had heard at the board last night, while Maelchon must have wed as a youth indeed to have a brood so large. If they were of an age to wed, one could hardly treat them as children, no matter how few their years. "Are you a Man grown, then?"
"Almost." The redhead's tone was defiant.
"I honor you," Veylin said gravely, "for your desire to avenge your folk, but this is no task for striplings. Halpan went against them, as high-hearted as you I do not doubt, and you have seen how ill he fared—though he had luck enough to come home alive and sound. Do not rush to take up such burdens when the need is not dire. The time will come, soon enough, when you will have no choice. The world grows no safer."
"How old are you?" Gaernath asked, liking this advice no more than any youth and demanding to know his grounds for authority.
It was an impertinent question, but his had been presumptuous as well. "One hundred and forty." Too young to resign himself to hall and workshop, leaving the labor to others. He had no wish to grow as fat as Bersa. If he could totter onto the shore to face the sea for the sake of opals, he could face the fiends to keep his honor. . . or it were better that he should go on to where the leg could be mended. "Come," he said, laying a hand on Hanadan's shoulder as he rose, setting aside the pain of his knee. "Let us go back down to the hall. It is nearly time for dinner, is it not?"
Hanadan flew ahead as they went down the slope, giggling over his falls and slithering slides; his delight distracted Veylin somewhat from the dignified travail of his descent. By the time he reached the narrow tail of the cliff-shelf, Gaernath courteously keeping him company, Rekk was waiting for them. "There you are," the waterwright said blandly, though he had one umber brow arched in silent question. "Has this fire-headed stripling badgered you into taking him with us?"
Gaernath gazed down on Rekk, disgruntled. "There is no call to make fun of me," he grumbled. "I would have spoken out, if I had been there last night."
"If you wish to be treated like a Man grown," Rekk declared without pity, "behave like one, and sit in council instead of frolicking with the little ones." As the youth's face grew near as red as his hair, Rekk cocked his grey-hooded head. "Where is your Lady?"
Under the scrutiny of the two Dwarves, Gaernath shuffled uneasily. "She keeps to her chamber."
"I did not think her so faint-hearted," Rekk sniffed.
Veylin scowled, yet held his tongue and kept his eye on Gaernath to see what explanation he might give, shifting his weight from his lame leg. "That is not—" the young Man started hotly, then shut his mouth and glared at them. "Is nothing we do good enough for you?" he flared up again. "You do not know what we have had to bear—what she has had to bear!—this year."
Rekk shrugged. "That you have borne it is to your credit, but that does not mean you could not do better. Perhaps," he allowed, "we expect too much from you. Few bear trials so well as Dwarves."
"Are we nothing but cottars to you?" The youth's words had the acid bite of disillusionment, as if repeating something he had not credited until now.
"Cottars?" Rekk echoed quizzically.
"Those who are suffered to live on the land in return for laboring on it."
One of those divisions Men made among themselves, setting some higher and some lower: this sounded little better than thralldom. Veylin was on the verge of pointing out that the land was in contention when Rekk said coolly, "We wait to see if you are content to be so."
When Gaernath had stalked off, Veylin sighed and frowned at his tactless friend. "They are not Dwarves," he cautioned, wondering if the youth would see beyond the harshness to the care beneath. "Why waste such words on that child? I begin to think they cannot distinguish doubt from hostility."
Rekk considered him closely. "Because there is good metal here, as you have long said. Though it needs working up. Why so dour?" he asked, sitting on a convenient chunk of cliff-fall; his gaze lingered on Veylin's game leg. "Did you give the Ranger that grim look he wears?"
Easing down beside him, Veylin muttered in Khuzdul, "He came near to getting my axe."
"You refused him, then."
Veylin gave a great huff of exasperation. "We came to blows. Well," he amended, as Rekk stared in astonishment, "I knocked him down."
"And he gave you no return?"
"Not with my stick at his throat and my hand on my axe. At least," Veylin said, fingering the blackthorn, "I have proved my fitness for battle to his satisfaction." If it had not been pity that stayed the Man's hand.
Rekk clapped him on the shoulder. "We do not need him. Your cousins are in a fair way of amendment. Vitr questioned me long this morning about Srathen Brethil, and how the tarn lies."
A year ago, not many paces from where they now sat, the two of them had sworn themselves brothers in vengeance for Thekk: Rekk's brother, Veylin's dearest friend and his sister's spouse. "I have not had the chance to ask you about your plan," Veylin rumbled. "Was it no more than a mad ale-spawned inspiration, or have you truly been weighing such a scheme?"
"Mad," Rekk scoffed. "No wonder you cannot convince the Men! No," he assured him, "I have been worrying at this since I stood on the verge of that befouled puddle. Nordri will come, and bring his sons; with Oddi and his followers, we will have all the delvers we need to swiftly cut an outfall channel that will drain the tarn. I can set off with Nordri and his folk tomorrow for Sulûnduban, to collect Oddi and those he can bring. Is there anything you need from there?" he wondered. "I thought you would meet us in Srathen Brethil with the others and supplies in a week. That will give us two days to cut a scrape for all to shelter in at night."
Yes, Oddi ached to avenge Vestri, his only son . . . and Veylin's prentice. So many ties drew him to battle with these fiends, even without his own score. Rubbing his leg, Veylin asked, "How many others are there likely to be?"
"Perhaps half a score. Is it the leg that makes you so glum," Rekk chuffed, "or the lack of Men? Do not fret about them. We may not have room to house them, if so many of our folk come. Even Grani is considering it, since his cousin Nordri goes. Thyrnir is working on him; it would be good to have a carpenter for the dam." Pursing his lips thoughtfully, he asked, "Have any of the Men satisfied you?"
"The huntsman; and that flame-headed child asked very prettily, though I will not have him."
"Child?" Rekk snorted. "He is not so young as that. You should have taken him: it would have done him good to go out with us. He will not get much training in arms here. What about Halpan?"
"I have seen no more of him than Saelon," Veylin admitted. "But I have set the Ranger to rousing him out."
Rekk raised disdainful eyebrows. "Not only does he allow you to knock him down, but he does your bidding?"
"He has a Chieftain of his own to avenge, since the Dúnedain's attempt to slay these things failed. What other chance is he likely to get? Since the two of us are flint and steel, I have told him that Halpan must treat with me on his behalf."
Veylin glanced along the base of the cliff towards the hall. What was Saelon doing, retreating to her bower? He could not believe, as Rekk had suggested, that she despaired of mending the breach and was simply hiding in shame; no more than he would suspect his own sister of being so craven. Yet as he had warned Saelon that she knew little of Dwarves, there was much he did not know of Men . . . and their women. She had no great jewel to flaunt to justify her actions and command respect, as he had; nor was she a warrior, to compel obedience through might, as seemed usual among Men. "No one but Saelon can master him, I think. Though I can no more imagine how than I can see myself putting a spear in his hands."
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Dinner was spread on the board and cleared away, and still Veylin had not seen Saelon, nor Halpan, nor Partalan. He began to wonder if there had been a quarrel that had taken an ill turn, so that Saelon was unable to come . . . only such a thing could not be hidden within so small a hall. Her folk were not as easy as was usual, it was true, and some of the women less complaisant with their menfolk and more attentive to his. Yet surely if Saelon had been overthrown or abused they would be more disturbed. Dírmaen was not at the board either, though as the shadows began to draw out again Veylin caught a glimpse of him striding across the plain towards the northern headland, head swiveling like that of a hunting hawk. Was one or both of the miscreants truant?
Time wore on; the threshing was finished and the corn bagged; and the ponies were being laden, save for his sorrel, hitched to the rowan nearest the bench by Saelon's cave. Sitting there, watching the Men and Dwarves working together, Veylin wondered which if any or indeed all of these Men—Maelchon, the greybeard and his fair-haired grandsons, Finean and Fokel—were cottars. None of them had come to ask for a place in the foray. Men who worked; Men who fought. So odd, for all Dwarves worked, all fought. What was the place of a servant who fought, such as Partalan? If a Dúnadan did not fight, did he fall?
He looked quickly around to find Saelon standing there, a cup in her hands. The title sounded strange on her lips. "A stirrup-cup," she offered, "to set you on your way."
"Thank you, Lady," he replied, matching her formality. Her lean face was austere and still angry; he had not seen that set to her mouth since the night Oddi and Rekk had craved her pardon in silver and gold. Perhaps it was not he the truants feared to face. "Did Aniel come to ask for your leave?"
"He did. I am glad," she said, very severely, "that he was able to make his peace with you. He at least will hold by his oaths."
It was hard, seeing her fall back into bitterness after so brief a taste of joy. No, she should not be lord: she did not love the work, and she did not love these people, who had never loved her. Yet she must bear the burden for a while, until her brother's son was of an age to relieve her. Halpan would not. How to help her look beyond his failure? "Of the other supplicants, I have refused two and set conditions on the third."
"Halpan and Partalan have already sought you out?" She sounded offended as well as surprised.
"Them I have not seen," Veylin admitted gravely. "Yet your youngest kinsman was very earnest in his entreaty, and if Gaernath had Halpan's years, I would have taken him."
"Youngest?" Saelon frowned in puzzlement, then gave an exasperated sigh. "Hanadan? A child knows what duty requires! Who was the third?"
Now she looked thoughtful. "What conditions?"
Before he could answer, Halpan came up the track with long, furious strides and turned towards the hall, moving so quick and single-mindedly that Veylin was unsure if the young Dúnadan even saw him or Saelon, though the cliff's overhang no longer cast a shadow now that the sun was midway down the sky. He caught Saelon's wrist before she could start after the youngster and, when she turned back to him with a bating falcon's glare, counseled, "Wait. See what he does. If he does not come back out, you can scathe him at your leisure."
"You would leave without an apology?"
Veylin frowned up at her. "I want no hollow words."
Now Dírmaen came from the track onto the yard, at a measured pace and with a discontented look . . . that changed quickly to grave surprise when he saw Veylin and Saelon before him. Swiftly, the Ranger glanced up and down the cliff-shelf, then stood at gaze when he caught sight of Halpan turning into the hall.
"The conditions," Veylin murmured to Saelon, "were that he harden Halpan to his duty—and that Halpan must satisfy me on both their counts."
From the look of exasperated anger on the Ranger's face, he was now of Veylin's mind about the younger Dúnadan's courage. Veylin watched him closely, curious to see what he would do. For a few breaths, they matched stares; then Dírmaen wandered off among the ponies, until he found Maelchon. As the two of them began to talk, Saelon asked, "Why did you not take Dírmaen on his own account? He is a better swordsman than Partalan, a better tracker than Aniel, and more help to me than any two of the others."
"We mistrust one another."
That did not content her; yet she let it lie. "When will you leave for Srathen Brethil?" she asked, sounding more like herself.
Veylin had hardly finished laying out the basics of Rekk's plan for her when Halpan came striding up, one hand tightly clenched in a fist. "Master Veylin," he said stiffly but clearly, in a carrying voice, not acknowledging Saelon, "I had too much ale last night, and was remiss in my duty as your host. Partalan offended you and your folk, not once but several times, and I did not check him as firmly as I ought." Beyond him, all work had stopped; Nordri thumped a pony that stood in his way, craning for a better view over its empty saddle. "That is bad no matter who the guest. Yet you are the staunch friend of our Lady, and have aided us so much this last year that nothing can excuse me.
"I have heard," he pressed on," that you are willing to lend troll-spears to those who can pay. Here is all I have of value." He threw whatever was in his fist toward Veylin, who snagged the small, dully gleaming thing from the air. "I hope it is enough, for I would serve you better than I served my own Chieftain."
Veylin looked at what he held and saw it was a silver brooch shaped like a rayed star, somewhat tarnished from neglect. Then to Dírmaen, and the brooch's brother clasped on the Ranger's cloak. Beside him, Saelon drew a sharp breath.
Dírmaen shoved his way through the half-laden beasts. "That is not yours to give," he cried out to Halpan, voice deepened by outrage. "It is a trust to keep!"
The youngster did not reply, or even look at him, only gazed fixedly at Veylin, waiting for his answer. Considering him carefully, Veylin decided he was not drunk: he could not have gotten through that brittle speech if he were. Nor if he were very ale-sick, though his color was not good. Perhaps his head was just ill enough to make him savage. Yes, Halpan was in his wits, such as he ever had.
And the brooch? A trifle of cast and polished silver with a stout clasp, of no great value. Arðri could make a better. Yet he had never heard of one in hands other than those of the Men of the Star. And Dírmaen's opposition sweetened its taste. Holding it up between two fingers and turning it to and fro as if admiring it, so the shape could be plainly seen, he asked, "Is this for you both?"
"Both?" Halpan shot a scowling, baffled glance at the Ranger.
They had fallen out before the elder Dúnadan told the younger he required his good will? Better and better. "I told Dírmaen that you must treat for him as well," Veylin replied evenly. "He did not say?"
Before the Men they considered beneath them; before their Lady, whom they did not honor as they should; before a dozen Dwarves, the two of them stood there and glowered at each other. Veylin waited with patient interest: yes, this contented him. The Ranger wished to avenge his Chieftain; he wished the younger Man to have the chance to recover his pride. Very well, he could have them both—if he let the Star go. Unless he had enraged Halpan so much that the youngster would deny him, as well as cast away his people's greatest honor. That, too, Veylin would not mind.
When he had set Dírmaen to rouse the youth, he had not thought there was such a fire in him. Nor had Dírmaen, it seemed.
"Yes," Halpan declared, still glaring at his elder. "For both." Defying the Ranger.
Folk said Dírmaen was a quiet Man, and he was silent now. When his silence had stretched on so long the answer was plain to all who watched, Veylin said, "Very well," and closed his hand around the brooch. "I accept. You had best pack swiftly. We leave as soon as the beasts are laden." He did not doubt either of them less . . . but he could not resist the temptation to see what shapes they would hammer each other into. There was time yet before they would face the fiends; if their temper grew worse rather than better, they could be left behind.
"It will take longer than that to ready our horses," Halpan protested.
Veylin shook his head. "No horses. Unless you are prepared to abandon them along the way. There will be no shelter for such beasts in Srathen Brethil."
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Assay: the analysis of an ore, to determine its worth.
"Hardly old enough to be allowed out of the mansion alone": Dwarves considered their children too tender for really hard work or fighting until 30, and not fully hardened until 40 ("tender" and "hardened" are Tolkien's terms). The measure of full maturity is that they rarely married before 90 (HoME XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, p. 284–285). Thorin was 24 when he survived Smaug's descent on the Lonely Mountain because he happened to be outside, a self-described "fine adventurous lad."
"wed as a youth indeed to have a brood so large": actually, Maelchon wed in his mid-20s, a good age for a prosperous farmer's heir, and Fransag has given him 6 children in 12 years. This is another area where Dwarvish norms are distorting Veylin's perspective. Not only do Dwarves wed late, but their birth spacing (the time between children) is long: Tolkien speaks as if 10 years is the norm (HoME XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, p. 285), and this is supported by the genealogy of Durin's Line given in LotR Appendix A. (Although there was only 5 years between the birth of Thorin and his brother Frerin, and their nephews Kili and Fili—perhaps this reflects an eagerness to ensure heirs in perilous times.) While a Dwarf who troubled to think about it would realize that Men have children more frequently, few probably have reason to do so.
"go on to where the leg could be mended": Veylin is literally thinking of going to meet his Maker. "For they say that Aulë the Maker, whom they call Mahal, cares for them, and gathers them to Mandos in halls set apart" (The Silmarillion, Ch. 2).
Dinner: traditionally, the main meal in the middle of the day.
Bating: the impatient or wild beating of the wings by a restrained bird of prey.
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