The Dûnhebaid Cycle
Playlist Navigation Bar
Of Like Passion: 19. Lee Shore
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.
--William B. Yeats, "To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing"
* † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † *
Saelon took Coll from Teig as he came down from the cliff-shelf, telling him she had an urgent errand. The simple hound-keeper surrendered the horse without question and would surmise nothing if asked. She rode up the river path to Maelchon's and gave Gràinne Gwinnor's warning, urging her to take the children to the hall before the weather grew worse—then turned the gelding's head north.
It was impossible to make any speed across this rough, pathless country, so she turned him west to the shore, where there were now long stretches of sand. She clung close to his withers as he pounded across the flat, the drumming of his hooves lost in the howl of the wind, and breathed him as they picked their way across the shingle and rocky headlands that broke the strand, cautiously leaping the long fingers of dark dykes, ragged rock slick with weed and sea-scum. And then they galloped again, eating up the leagues to Gunduzahar.
Inland, taking a deer track through the heather, to the high flat-topped hill. Saelon reined Coll to a halt where she and Dírmaen had been stopped by Fram only the day before, but there was no challenge. Who would be out in such weather? Up the narrow way to the rill-shelf they scrabbled. Would the Dwarves open to a knock on the hidden door?
"Halt!" a harsh dwarven voice cried, thunder that overrode the wind, and Saelon saw the gleam of a drawn axe as a red-hooded figure leapt onto the path before them.
The gelding snorted and half-reared. "Oski!" Saelon exclaimed in relief, bringing the blown beast back down. "I must speak with Veylin!"
"Lady!" The blond Dwarf stared at her in stark astonishment, and hastily sheathed his axe. "What—" He cast his gaze about, clearly seeking her escort. "I—" he stumbled for what to say before finding, "What is your message?"
Could she speak of this to Veylin's prentice? No—she had promised to guard her tongue. If she must err, let it be on the side of discretion. "I have not ridden here in this—" she flung a hand into the eye of the wind "—for pleasantries. Tell him that I am here, with news that will not keep! I cannot tarry!"
Oski frowned, the wind worrying his beard, tucked into his belt for greater security. "Come to the doorstep," he said at last, "and wait there." Then he turned and ran up the track before her.
Dismounting, Saelon led Coll the rest of the way, murmuring praise and patting his sweat-dark shoulder. She let him lip at the little rill as she waited—there was not enough water there to do him any harm—and gazed up at the ugly clouds. If this were a gale, she would guess that the rain would hold off for some hours yet . . . .
"What is your news? Has some calamity befallen you?"
Saelon started when Veylin spoke at her elbow. "Not yet, and—" seeing his frown deepen "—with the blessing, we will be spared the worst of the coming storm." She looked to Oski, standing a few paces beyond him. "I must speak with you in private, Veylin."
His shaggy russet brows, knit so low, leapt nearly into his hair. "Must?"
"You would wish it, I think."
Veylin hesitated, then turned to Oski. "Leave us," he commanded and, for good measure, walked out to the edge of the shelf, where gusts blew the little fall up in sudden curtains of spray. He leaned more heavily on his stick than Saelon had seen of late; perhaps his old wounds felt the weather. Certainly he looked at the sky as dubiously as a man with so sound a roof could. "What is this news that you must bring yourself, for my ear alone?" His voice was pitched so low she could barely hear it through the blast.
"You once asked me," Saelon said, "about the pattern of the tides."
His eyes, usually so warm, were fixed on her now, shuttered as if to face the coming storm. "I did."
"The coming storm is so great that it has broken the pattern. When the tide was high, the wind let the water come no higher than the ebb. As it ebbs, it is falling further still. A great expanse of the shore," she explained carefully, " will be laid bare, exposing what is ordinarily hid."
That disinterested tone did not deceive her, not when his eyes roused to a flame near as bright as the Noldo's. She had come on no fool's errand. "It is about a third of the way to the ebb now. Gwinnor," she added, "is helping us secure our beasts and gear."
Veylin had turned to stare towards the sea, face set as he gauged wind and weather. "Very kind of him, I am sure."
"I thought you would like to know."
"Yes, I thank you for the news," he replied, courteously distant, mind elsewhere. Somewhere on the shore, no doubt.
Yet Dwarves feared and mistrusted the sea, even when it was placid. Would he dare it now? "Then I will take my leave. I must be getting back."
"Of course." Then, for a moment, his thought came back to her. "Take care, Saelon!"
"And you. When the wind and tide turn," she warned him earnestly, drawing Coll to a rock she could mount from, "the sea will come in with terrible fury. Do not linger overlong!"
* † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † *
The boys were not at supper; nor was her brother. Auð sat by Vitnir and listened to the subdued talk at table: Haki's hopes that Rekk was on the other side of the mountains and under a good vault of stone; Grani and Nordri wondering if the thatch roof the Men had put on the house they built would stand the blast, or whether slates would have been better. Oski was there, and she saw Bersi stop to speak with him—but the Longbeard shook his head and did not answer the coppersmith's quiet questions.
Where were they? Surely not without, not when you could hear and feel the fury of the storm, dim and distant, reverberating through so great a thickness of hard rock. Had Veylin some project here within that he would work on when none were nearby, relying only her sons for assistance? If he trusted them with the secret, why not her? Unless the fond fools were crafting a covert gift for her, such as a hidden way to the storerooms, or a spelled strong room for her treasures.
The difficulty with having clever menfolk was that they had so many irons in the fire. At some point, one had to trust them, despite their failings. Yet it was hard to go back to her empty chambers and occupy her mind with commonplaces. At such times, Auð was most grieved by Thekk's death, and rued her decision to come to this lonely place, far from her friends and kinswomen.
As she sat in her parlour and worked at the broidery on a new tunic for Veylin to wear at the autumn councils, the hour-candle slowly dwindled. More than a quarter of the night had passed and her doubts were growing on her again when she finally heard the bolt lift and the outer door open. Two pairs of booted feet entered: slow rather than brisk, though not halt, and trying to be quiet.
Setting her work aside, Auð rose, stepping soft and quick to the door she had left ajar, to be sure it was the boys and see what state they were in. It was the pair of them, though their hoods and cloaks were strangely dark under the light of the entry-lamp. They had just passed her, and she gaped at the trail of wet they left behind them on her floor. Sodden, absolutely sodden! What had the scamps been up to now? They were prentices, and ought to have outgrown boyish larks! "What is this?"
Thyrnir near jumped out of his boots at her growl; both turned sharply to face her, Thyrð stepping closer to his brother rather than away. Her breath caught: they looked spent, as if returning from hard labor or an arduous journey. Was Thyrnir trembling? He was certainly an ill color, skin so pale his beard was lurid against it. Their hair and beards were wild, draggled wisps everywhere, and there was a smell about them she did not recognize. "What have you done with yourselves?" she demanded, going to them.
Her eldest gave an undeniable shudder, which made her blood run cold. "Has there been a battle? What has happened?"
"Nothing, Mother," Thyrð said firmly, taking his brother's arm under his own. "We have been outside."
"Outside? In this?" If anything the storm had intensified; the very air seemed thick with impotent rage, oppressive as siege. "Whatever for?"
"Let us get into something dry, Mother," Thyrð did not answer, "before we make a worse mess of the floor."
Auð fixed her gaze on Thyrnir. "Why do you not answer me?" He had always been the more forthcoming of the two. "Are you wounded?" Reaching out, she plucked a strip of some strange dark stuff from his beard, leathery like hide but thin and an ugly green-brown, with a foul, slimy feel. She did not see any blood, but they were so soaked—
"No, Mother," Thyrnir assured her, drawing back and making an effort to master himself. "I am not wounded. Merely over-chilled. When I am dry, I will be well."
His hand was cold, but no so cold as that. They were making excuses. "Did you have leave from your masters for this mad adventure?" Had they no better way to try their courage than to brave such a storm? Thyrnir, at least, should be beyond such childishness: he had faced the fiendish water-trolls, and by all accounts acquitted himself courageously.
Thyrnir nodded dutifully. "Yes, I had leave."
Auð looked to her youngest, and he looked back, draggled jaw resolutely set. "And you?"
Thyrð remained obstinately silent.
"Where," Auð demanded, with sudden horrible suspicion, "is your uncle?"
That, he would tell her. She left them to make themselves less of a disgrace to look upon, and set off for her brother's workshop. Not the boys' foolishness, but his. She would stake half her marriage portion that this had something to do with that Lady from White Cliffs. She and Veylin had been sitting long after dinner, discussing how they might extend the kitchens without incurring Bersa's wrath, when Oski barged in, saying the woman of Men was without, bearing urgent news for her brother.
And Auð had not seen him since.
Two visits in two days, and this one without the excuse of trade. Something peculiar was afoot, and she was determined to find out what it was, if only to lay her own dreadful anxieties to rest.
Turning the last corner, Auð came to an abrupt stop. Half the corridor was awash, as if a water-seam had been cut, puddles standing on the paving stones . . . yet the roof and walls were dry. Striding onward to Veylin's workshop, she saw little rivulets running from under the door. Auð hammered on the cherrywood panel, imperious with uncertainty, using her knock so he would know who demanded entry. It was so queer! Had all her menfolk become deranged? Again she pounded, and again, until Veylin could no longer believe she would give over and go away . . . .
The door opened. He, too, was sodden to the skin, wild-looking—but where the boys had been pale and drained, her brother was flushed, eyes fire-bright. Seizing her arm, he dragged her within, then slammed the door shut and threw all the bolts.
"Are you mad?" Auð demanded, furious at being handled so. She pulled away from him—and nearly tripped over a sack of stone. Glancing down, she saw the floor was strewn with lumpish, dripping sacking. One sack lay open on the workbench, where the lamplight struck a hand's-breadth of variegated color amid dark, dark stone.
Veylin laughed with such joy that she let him seize her hands again. "How many more levels shall we delve, Auð? As soon as the autumn councils are finished, I will bring Rekk back to plumb the baths you have been longing for, and you may furnish the women's as sumptuously as you wish!"
"Is this all—?" she gaped, as he attempted to caper in a ring with her, hindered by his lameness and the clutter about their feet.
She had not seen him so giddy since he was given his first steel axe. "Yes! Did I not tell you your doubts were groundless?"
Auð glanced back at the stone on the workbench, then the floor—even if the proportion of gemstone to rock was less than what she saw . . . . Let Thyrnir be shaken: he might find a wife despite his preference for wood, if he could give even a tithe of this wealth in gift. "But—" She choked back forbidden questions. "What is this?" she demanded instead, pulling a strip of the leathery greenish stuff from his hair.
Veylin's grin was fey. "Wrack."
Had she misheard him? "You faced Orcs for this?" Troll hide was greenish, she had heard.
"No, not Rakhâs. Something far more terrible." He sobered somewhat. "Has Thyrnir recovered himself? I would not have taken him," he earnestly assured her, "save that I did not know how Thyrð would bear it, and there was precious little time to work—"
Taking a deep breath for patience, Auð set her hands on his shoulders. "You are speaking in riddles, brother, or babbling: either way, I do not understand you. I hope you might find a way to speak more plainly, for I do not know how much longer I can endure such strangeness."
He folded his arms to lay his hands over hers: they were warm but wrinkled from the wet, cut by careless working. "Your pardon, sister," he murmured, bowing his storm-tossed head. "All this opal has gone to my head, like strong spirit."
"As there is so much of it, you have hope of pardon." She picked another bit of wrack from his tunic. "Have you eaten?"
"Not since dinner."
Nor the boys either, most like. "Get out of these wet things, and come to my parlour. I will send the boys for some supper, and we can talk." Auð looked around at the floor. "You must tidy this as well, Veylin. It is draining into the passage, and will cause talk."
"Let it," he rumbled, the fire flaring up in his eyes. "Let them wonder—they will never guess."
She found the boys together in Thyrnir's chamber, looking more dwarven; ignoring the shame in her eldest's eyes, she authorized them to raid Bersa's larder for whatever they and their uncle might desire. After what she had seen in Veylin's workshop, the silver it would take to pacify the tight-fisted glutton was a trifle.
Veylin arrived just before they returned, dry-clad and combed, but clutching a chunk of raw fire opal half as big as his fist, his face as triumphantly possessive and besotted as any new-wed groom. "I give you joy of your strike, brother." Auð came over to admire it; such a brilliant play of color. She had never seen an opal so large. "May it bring even greater riches to your hands."
Thyrnir brought a basket laden with food and the setting for the table, while Thyrð carried two brimming pitchers of ale. Auð let the three of them eat, picking up her broidery where she had left off. As Thyrð chased the last of the brambleberries around the dish with his spoon and Veylin topped up his tankard, she ran an eye over her men. They looked well-satisfied, and it seemed they had every right to be so. "Well, are you in a mood for tales, now? For," she rumbled in mild warning, "I dearly wish to hear some."
"Where shall I start?" Veylin asked biddably.
Auð considered where the warp and weft of her understanding had become disordered. "The sullen Man who escorted the Lady yesterday, Dírmaen." Biting off her thread, she began unwinding another length. "Is he not the Man of the Star who helped you slay the fiends? Why does he look on you so resentfully?" If Bersi and Thyrnir had not been companionable with the dark Man, she would have questioned the wisdom of admitting him to their halls.
"Yes, he is the Man of the prodigious spear," Veylin confirmed. "Though he is honorable, the two of us have never agreed. Like the others of his badge, he would rather Saelon and her folk dwelt east of the Lune. He thinks I play upon Saelon's gratitude for undue advantage, involving her in intrigues against Lindon." Whiskers quirking in self-satisfied disdain, he concluded, "He is jealous that she prefers my counsel to his."
"Why should he not be?" Auð asked, baffled. "It is very odd that she should favor those of another race over her own kind." No wonder the other men had been so hospitable to the Man.
"You would not find it strange," Veylin declared warmly, "if you knew how ill Men treat their women. They do not want judgment, only obedience. Dírmaen thinks I am to blame for her willfulness."
Auð snorted. The Lady was headstrong enough; she had put Bersa firmly in his place, once she understood the proper value of things. "All men want complaisance, but they must earn it. It is not so among Men?"
"No. It is demanded as a right."
Absurd. "Before strangers, perhaps—"
"They beat them," Thyrnir said baldly, "as some beat their ponies. I have seen it."
She saw her own disbelief mirrored on Thyrð's face, but Veylin's was grim with distaste. "Why do they suffer it?" It was unimaginable. A man might strike a woman—but he had best be prepared for the return blow.
"They are not Khazâd," Veylin muttered darkly, and took a pull from his tankard. "You have seen that their women are smaller than the men. Smaller, weaker . . . nor are they taught the use of arms. Any contest is uneven."
"Their kin do not protect them?"
"Their kinsmen are no better . . . nor worse," her brother allowed. "Good Men do not compel their women; but good women of Men do as they are told without debate. Why do you think Saelon dwelt alone so long? She was an outcast, considered rebellious because she will not surrender her own good judgment. Though," he rumbled contemptuously, "her folk did not scruple to flee to her, when they were in dire need of courage and sense. The Ranger grudges that, and that I have stood by her in her resistance."
Outrageous; yet it put a different complexion on the Lady's singular boldness, and her brother's regard. If it were true, no wonder Saelon was committed to alliance with Veylin: a Man would be reluctant to abuse one a Chieftain of the Firebeards called friend. How queer, though, ordinary women of Men must be, if the Lady had something like a dwarvish temper of mind! "And the intrigues? Is that what brought her here twice in as many days?"
Veylin's expression began to close, but he looked at the chunk of red-gold gem still in his off hand and seemed reassured. "Not against Lindon. You heard her answer to Nordri, when he asked for limestone. Yet Gwinnor, Lindon's herald . . . ."
She waited for him to find a better way to tell it to her than he had done in the past. When the Lady had first sent word of this herald, soon after they arrived, Veylin had sallied forth as if Orcs had been seen near the delf, though he saw fit to take Thyrð alone with him. They returned as if it had been naught but a visit of courtesy, bearing word of the Lady's secure tenure, but ever since, double watches had been set and Veylin spent more time in his workshop than abroad. Yesterday, the Lady had told him that the herald had returned—and Veylin had taken the news like one who had long anticipated such a complication, his repeated assurances that there was no danger here notwithstanding.
"He is not one of Círdan's Sea-Elves, but a Noldo mírdan."
"A mírdan!" One of the gemsmith allies of the Longbeards in the last Age? No wonder Veylin did not trust Oski in this! Auð stared at the opal in Veylin's grasp. What had he said, that Gwinnor was a keen hunter? "Are you mad, to be taking gems such as this when such a one is about?"
"Gwinnor will never see where this came from," Veylin growled with fierce satisfaction.
"What, is he dead?" She looked from him to her sons, and back again. "Have you slain him?"
"Slain him?" Veylin looked startled. "When he is one of my best customers? Mahal forefend!"
"Then how do you know the lode remains secret? Did the Lady bring some news of him?"
"Some," he confessed, suddenly reticent.
Auð gaped. "Veylin! Do not tell me the Lady knows where it lies!" How could she have told him the way was clear, if she did not?
"Not exactly! Only somewhat of its setting. I never told her," he swore, seeing her face. "We have never spoken of it!"
"Then how could she know anything of it?" The woman of Men knew where his treasure lay, and she did not.
"Her folk say the sea speaks to her," Thyrnir murmured. "Is that how you knew the tide would ebb so far?"
The sea. Wrack: yes, the Lady had spoken of it on her visit in the spring, the weed the sea heaped on the shore. Something more terrible than Orcs, that even her stout-hearted Thyrnir would tremble before. Auð saw, in her mind's eye, the fine sea-beryl, caught in arching, pearl-flecked silver. Four times the height of a Dwarf, in storms.
"I once asked her about the tides," Veylin admitted. "That is all. She came to tell me of the tides. What else she has surmised, I do not know!"
Enough, it seemed. Enough to deliver Veylin's heart's desire into his hands, in despite of his rival. Truly, a fitting return for his support, which had kept her by the sea she was said to love. The Lady gave full measure in trade, even if she did not understand the worth of the wares.
Auð met the rich russet of her brother's distressed gaze, and chuffed softly. "You have despaired, I think, of ever putting a certain sea-beryl into the Lady's hands. It seems to me that it would be some return for so much fire." She nodded significantly at the opal in his clutch. "Presuming you would keep friendly with a familiar of the Lord of Waters."
* † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † * † *
Lee shore: a lee is a shelter; the lee side of a ship is the side protected from the wind; and a lee shore is the one on a ship's lee side, i.e., the one the wind blows towards.
Hour-candle: before the development of fully mechanical clocks, the commonest way of telling time indoors was the use of candles that burned at a calibrated rate. Although not as accurate as sand-based "hour-glasses" (which only appeared in the later medieval period), they didn't require such careful attention; it was easier to tell when one "ran out," at least at night. I certainly believe Dwarves had the skill and/or magic to make more sophisticated time-keepers, such as a clepsydra or water-clock, but it seems to me that such things would be "showpieces" for more public areas of a mansion, where all could consult—and be impressed by—them.
It is hard for us, in our intensely time-conscious culture, to appreciate how careless our predecessors were about time, unless obsessed with orderly ritual observances like the liturgical hours. For common Men (and Elves and Hobbits), a glance at the sky, day or night, would normally tell them as much as they needed to know. Since Dwarves spent much of their lives underground, where the sun, moon, and stars could not be seen, I expect they would have given more thought to time-keeping, but being a pragmatic people, only so much as was useful. I don't see them punching time-cards or charging by the hour.
Water-seam: an aquifer; a porous layer of rock saturated with water.
Rakhâs: Khuzdul, "Orcs."
Mahal: the Dwarves' name for Aulë, the Vala who created them—and a particular friend of the Noldor.
Playlist Navigation Bar