The Dûnhebaid Cycle
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Hand to Hand: 25. Paterfamilias
Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.
—Alexander Pope, Ode on Solitude
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Pausing to admire the splendid enamelwork on the door to the king's suite, Veylin smoothed his russet beard and reached for the gilt chain of the bell-pull. The deep, mellow peal, dimmed by intervening stone and steel, had hardly begun to fade before the massive door swung open. "Welcome," Reykr, the younger of Regin's sons, greeted him, his bow correct without being punctilious. "Father is in the Topaz Cabinet. May I carry your casket for you?"
Veylin shifted his cherrywood stick back to his right hand, leaving the gold-chased and steel-strapped strongbox alone in the left. "No, thank you." Stepping into the brightness of the marble foyer, he considered Reykr as the lad closed the door behind him. He was near Thyrnir's age, a little older; but unusually well dressed for a doorward, even a royal one. "Will you be joining us for supper?" Regin's invitation had amiably invoked kinship rather than office, and gatherings such as these, the cordial conclave of cousins, were excellent occasions for youth to learn statecraft.
"Yes," Reykr replied, inviting him to continue on with a gesture and falling in beside him when he did so.
A deft compromise between the deferential reticence his age required and a host's duty . . . which was a pleasure to see in a king's son, especially one junior to the heir. As they entered the Great Hall of the king's household—modest in size compared to the First and Second Halls above, where all the folk of the mansion might gather, though more beautiful—one of Regin's prentices strode past them, dropping a short nod to Reykr on his way to take his post by the door.
"You are following your father in armoury, are you not?" Veylin asked. A tedious, shopworn beginning . . . but this was the first opportunity he had had to converse with the king's son, and he would not be thought prying or over-familiar.
Staid as a tafl-player moving his first piece, the lad agreed, "I am. Reynir it is who prefers axe-craft."
Yes; he had heard some whisper amongst themselves over the heir's decision not to follow his father in every thing—to give over the opportunity to learn the making of mail from one who helped forge Belegost's never-surpassed excellence in that art—but since his own passion had run in a different vein than his father's, Veylin saw no fault in that. "That will serve you both very well, should we see another war," he declared stoutly. "What could be better than a brother's steel between you and your foes, whether in your hand or on your back?"
Reykr acknowledged this sagacity with a slight bow of his head. "Whose work do you favor, in weapons?"
"My father's." Since there was also murmuring over whom had the future king as prentice, it was good to have so virtuous a reason for denying favor to any of the living masters. None was Vali's equal. The work of Keypti, the best of his prentices who remained in Sulûnduban, was technically faultless but uninspired, his axes without soul; while those of Geirr, son of Vali's despised rival, were brilliant, beautiful things, as temperamental as their maker. That Reynir should be under Geirr's tutelage was not altogether reassuring, but Geirr was of Regin's Line, and the only other master of great note was a Broadbeam. It would never do to have the king beholden to a junior kindred.
"Might a father's work be even better than a brother's?" Reykr wondered, as they turned into the Curtal Gallery.
The lad's expression was innocuous enough, but his eye had a lively depth that Veylin would treasure in a gem: this looked to be a sly riposte rather than self-doubt. "In some instances, doubtless. But I have no brother; my trial was to please both mother and elder sister. Fortunately, cloth is not so long-lived as steel."
That drew a smile from the lad, as he opened the door to the Topaz Cabinet for him.
"Ah, Veylin," Regin said, turning in his chair. "Come in! Was your journey from Gunduzahar agreeable? What will you have—wine?"
"Thank you, yes. The ways through Sunnadale and Ravenmoor are still a mire, after all the snowmelt, but otherwise it was pleasant enough." Once past the threshold, Veylin paused to savour the chamber, which he admired exceedingly: all in the warm golden-brown of the Ered Luin's finest topazes, several of which gleamed on the mantelshelf. Poorer stones had been cut and set in patinated bronze to sheathe the walls. Some of it was citrine, true; but the color had been well-matched. Seven well-upholstered seats, the ochre leather suppled by long use, were ranged about the hearth; on the left hand, the table was already set for supper, gold and crystal gleaming in the lamplight. He had expected to see Reynir seated beside his father, but not Sút's brother.
Sút had—as was only to be expected—asked him to carry a letter to her kin. He could not, in honor, have refused, and had dutifully sent Thyrð to deliver it as soon as they reached the mansion two days ago. Yet it had piqued him for the whole of the journey across the mountains. What news had she sent? Had her letter prompted this summons to dine with the king? There was so much she might have told that would perturb: news of the brigands, Men in the delf, her own forays to White Cliffs. Veylin did not know how much confidence lay between her and her brother, nor even whether he would admit his sister's unconventionality. "Well met, Godi!" he greeted the silversmith heartily, putting a bold face on his uncertainty. "Sút gave you a favorable account of Gunduzahar, I trust."
"Indeed," the king's cousin assured him, stroking his sable beard with a smile that only deepened Veylin's doubts, "though she says there is less silver than she was led to believe."
"I have never claimed there was a quantity of silver at Gunduzahar. A little with the copper, yes; hopes of more, certainly. If Sút was told there was enough to supply her, that must have been my sister's doing."
Regin snorted, amused. "There is no end to women's scheming for their own comfort. How many are in Gunduzahar now?"
Reassured somewhat, Veylin laid strongbox and stick on a small table to hand and took the nearest vacant seat. "Three. Bersi's wife has joined us as well. Thank you," he said to Reykr, as the lad handed him a brimming goblet.
"So many so soon?" Regin exclaimed, ruddy brows rising. "It has not been three years since you set pick to stone there—has it?"
Had it truly been that short a time? Veylin considered, goblet poised. "It will be three years this Urimë since I first saw the place." Three years since Thekk's death; since he first met Saelon. Shaking his head, he drank deep of the king's good garnet wine. "It seems longer."
"I wondered that Sút would travel to a prospector's scrape for any friendship—or weight of silver," Godi confessed, "but from her description, you are founding a considerable hall. The rock is rich enough to warrant long habitation?"
Veylin reached for his strongbox. "In all my travels, I have rarely seen its like. There is little in the Ered Luin that our longfathers did not know of before us," he explained, taking the key for the lock from his pouch, "but there the sea has driven us back and gnawed the land, exposing what lay too deep for discovery. Between our dislike of the waves and the passivity of the few Noldor who remain, treasures such as this languish in the dark." Lifting out one of the smaller chamois bags, Veylin loosened the drawstring and slipped the peridot within into his palm. "This is one of several found while cutting a new chamber this spring. I brought it," he told Regin, "to see if you might wish to include it in your new chain of office."
As he started to rise to take it to the king, Regin waved him down, setting his cup aside and coming over himself. "Fire opal, copper, cinnabar, garnet, rain-stones . . . and now peridots," he observed, taking the rough stone and holding it up to the light of the lamp. "A fine color—though so much green will quarrel with the fire opal. You have the chain there? Good. We will consider what might be done after supper." Turning, he held the peridot out to Godi. "Though it is not silver, I imagine a share in this would please Sút."
"There is no telling what pleases Sút," Godi replied, a complaint so worn there was no grumble left. Balancing the gem on his fingertips, he examined it closely, lips pursed. "Is the sea as dreadful as is said?"
"Some find it so," Veylin allowed, as a knock came at the door, "but the hall is half a league from the shore, and one need not go nearer." Unless one wanted fire opal, or to feast with Saelon and her folk.
"There you are!" Regin called, when Reykr opened the door. "Come, Vitnir, and see what Veylin has brought from Gunduzahar."
Surprised, Veylin twisted in his seat to look. Sure enough, there stood his cousin and heir, dressed—overdressed—as though he had been invited to sit at the king's table for a high feast, as taken aback as himself.
At least, Veylin surmised, Regin had not invited Vitnir to sit with the privy council in his absence.
"Greetings, cousin," Vitnir said, gruff, stiff as his tunic. "All is well at Gunduzahar?"
Conscious of the king's eye on them both—not only father in title, but Father in fact, forbear several times over—Veylin replied genially, "Very well, save a greater need for ironwork than smiths to supply it. You and Skani are missed." There was only a scruple of falsity in that; Skani was missed. "Lof tells me all has been quiet here. Your trade prospers?"
"The roads were very bad this spring, and Men tightfisted after the hard winter."
Giving a short laugh, Godi drained his goblet. "Perhaps you should return to Gunduzahar. The Men of White Cliffs are keen to trade, Sút reports, and give good measure."
"She has traded with them?" Vitnir challenged. "Or does she echo what others—" his gaze went to Veylin, an accusation "—say?"
Veylin set his goblet down, fearing for the crystal stem. How could he deny the slur, without impeaching Auð and Sút?
Taking back the peridot from Godi, Regin rubbed a contemplative thumb over its smoothest face. "Aðal tells me that the Lady of White Cliffs regularly visits Gunduzahar, often to trade, and the only person dissatisfied with her bargains is a Broadbeam who cannot get honey as cheaply as he desires. Copper and cloth, masonry and carpentry . . . you and your brother provided the Men with a plough, did you not?" he asked Vitnir. "Were you stinted of your fee?"
"No," Vitnir replied, grudging the admission.
"Then I do not see why you should be disgruntled," the king said. "Iron does not often stir the passions as gems do—" he passed the peridot back to Veylin "—but it is not fickle. We all rely on it, every day. Why do you think Thorin Oakenshield has turned to iron to rebuild his fortune? You were in negotiations with one of his kinsmen during the West Council this autumn, were you not?"
Royal interest in his affairs and the subtleties of Regin's table soon put Vitnir in better humour; Veylin absorbed tidbits of news and the excellent blue-veined cheese, letting the others take the conversation where they would. He would have enjoyed the meal very much, were it not for the extra vigilance required on his tongue and a certain anxiety about the meeting with the king that was to follow. Not about the chain—he was sure Regin would be pleased with how his regalia was progressing—but the questions that were bound to be asked over it. Regin's rule was like the craft of a venerable master who barely needed to touch a gem to make it shine . . . but Veylin was learning how profound a knowledge of one's materials such artlessness required, and could not see a clear path to candor.
Watching Reynir and Reykr, silent and intent as novices in the workshop, eyes gleaming as they looked from speaker to speaker, and occasionally at him, Veylin wondered what it was like to be one of Regin's sons, always beneath that ancient, five-fold authority.
It seemed an age before Godi rose, pleading an early appointment the next day, and the lads set to clearing the table. Vitnir did not take two plain hints that supper was at an end, doggedly pressing his proposal for a new furnace south of Thôntaen, which would supply the necessary charcoal—so much nearer the Emyn Uial and the Shire, and needing only the king's intercession with the miners that now sold their ore south to Barazdush. "As I said," Regin declared heartily, "a most interesting plan. Let me consider it with the map before me, and sound the temper of Nef when he comes for the quarter sessions. I am glad you told me of it, but it has been a long day, and I still have business with your cousin. Thank you for coming," the king went on resolutely, all but leading Vitnir to the door. "Good night!"
Once the door shut behind the ironmaster, Regin leaned back against the panel as if to brace it against an assault and gazed on Veylin. "Does he believe the Elves will allow charcoal-burning on their side of the mountains, or only that if you can provoke them, he may do likewise?"
Veylin emptied his goblet and reached for the flagon to refill it. "I do not know. I have included him in my ventures—took him to the Havens with me in the autumn, so he could see my business there—but it has lessened rather than increased the confidence between us."
"Few bear those of alien race—or the Sea—with your equanimity," Regin observed, pushing off from the door and going to take up Veylin's strongbox. "There are advantages in that, I am sure. Yet you sometimes bring back an echo of outlandishness in your manner and work that makes folk uneasy." He set the steel and gold casket on the table before Veylin. "Show me what you have for me."
Praying it would be unimpeachable, Veylin drew out, one by one, the pale, butter-soft bags of chamois, laying the hard blaze of their contents on the snowy table-linen: gems polished and rough, settings cast but unfilled, and the massy red-gold chain that would bear all, coiled like a sleeping fire-drake.
The king stood silent over the work, stroking his beard while his discriminating eye considered each piece. "The chain is excellent," he finally said, lifting it as if to judge how it would weigh on him. "Long it has been since I saw such purity of style."
Veylin bowed his head. He had made it in the archaic manner—the simplicity of round rings, two through two, invoking the mail Regin made—to honor the king's endurance, a remembrance of a more prosperous age . . . but only after lengthy deliberation, and many hours laboring on his other vision, each link a pair of arms joined by clasped hands. His judgment that it was too contrived, over-fanciful for so solemn a purpose, had proved correct; yet it had been a near thing.
Amethyst for Rauða, emerald for Nidr, sapphire for his own sept, the great royal ruby: Regin passed all of these, setting the tip of his finger lightly on one of the tablets of opal. "I have rarely seen such a play of fire as in these stones. Little wonder they have captivated you."
"Only once have I seen its like," Veylin said, very low. "A stone no larger than the nail of my little finger. The owner would not part with it for any price, for it was the only thing of value left him from Erebor. I cannot leave it where it lies, in the maw of the sea, to be beaten to sand."
"No." When they had discussed which pieces he preferred and where they should be set, with what accents, Regin took up his favorite tablet again and leaned in towards the lamp, angling it in the light. "How is it that some folk mistake your passion for a liking of the Sea?"
Veylin spared him a sidelong glance, as he packed the rest away. "How many do you think know where this can be found?"
Regin blew softly, something between a snort and a sigh. "The lack of confidence is not, it seems, all on one side. I do not say you are unwise!" he declared, raising his hand to forestall Veylin's retort. "He is your cousin, after all. Still . . . would any of the privileged belong to Nidr's Line?"
"Thekk dared venture to the shore with me; together we found it. It is not right that his kin should lose the profit as well as him."
Shaking his head, Regin handed the fire opal to him. "You are just, Veylin; perhaps too just. But do not pretend to be disinterested. To aid your sister and her sons is commendable, though not to the cost of your line. Can you not give them more of your time, at the least? Stay to keep the Midsummer feast with your kin?"
Veylin dropped his gaze to the gem. He had not been to the shore to seek more of this since the great tempest, and this was the sea's most peaceful season. "I was not able to prospect as I desired this spring. Men of the Star hunted brigands across the mountains, to the grief of White Cliffs. The Men slew them all," he assured Regin, whose grave surprise began to look like reproach, "before the news reached us, but to be certain none escaped, Men and Elves scoured the country for weeks."
"Elves?" the king repeated, disapproval deepening. "Why did they involve themselves?"
Sút, then, had neglected to mention the scare, or her meeting with Hanadan and Coruwi. "The Lady Saelon pays rent to the Shipwright for White Cliffs, and their agreement requires her folk to watch his border."
Regin drew on his beard, frowning. "Yes . . . I remember now. You told me of their pact at the West Council. This does not inconvenience you at Gunduzahar?"
"It inconveniences me," Veylin allowed, "but since the delf itself is our chief mine and work, few others."
"And the women—what do they say?"
"That they see no need to return to the mansion. Do you think I would keep my sister where she was not secure? The doors are triple-spelled, and Feldir set the locks. We offered to escort them hence, but all declined."
"Perhaps they desire a stronger guard than Gunduzahar can provide."
Laying the last bag in the strongbox, Veylin shut it with a snap. "If so, I cannot believe Sút did not say as much in her letter. What does she shrink from?"
Regin scowled, still tugging on his beard. "True. Sút is not shy. You are sure the brigands are dead, and the Elves have departed?"
"I am sure, in regards the brigands. Who can be certain where Elves are concerned? I take what comfort I can from finding the Shipwright's marchwarden civil."
"Where did the brigands come from, do you know?"
Here the king had some grounds for discontent; yet there had been no fit opportunity to tell him of them earlier, with Vitnir prosing on. "The Men of the Star first found them on Coldfell, and they fled into the mountains when harried. Some were Men of Angmar."
Grim as all grew when that cursed place was mentioned, Regin rumbled, "We will keep a closer watch that way. Is this not another reason," he pressed, "to reconsider? You came with only your prentices, did you not? Few axes, should you meet with trouble . . . and there is always some trouble, it seems, west of the mountains."
At least he said nothing of his lameness. "I came with just the lads, yes, but Haust and a packtrain of lead will return with us. I am more anxious about the mire of Sunnadale than a few starveling Men."
"Hm." Though still unsatisfied, Regin nodded in commiseration. "Perhaps it will be passable, if the weather remains dry. If you are confident of the way otherwise, is there any reason you cannot return for Midsummer?"
Veylin folded his hands and met the king's umber gaze. "You wish me to be here."
What was there to say? "Then I will come, sire."
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Cabinet: while we now think of this as a piece of furniture, originally it was a small chamber used for more exclusive or "privy" councils—which is why second-tier government officials are often referred to as the Cabinet.
Urimë: Westron/Common Speech (from Quenya), August.
"not only father in title, but Father in fact, forbear several times over": not only are Dwarvish "'kings' or heads of lines . . . regarded as 'parents' of the whole group" (HoME XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, "The Making of Appendix A," p. 285), but Regin is the fifth "incarnation" (see the note for "Reawoken" in Ch. 7) of the Father of the Firebeards. Anyone who had been king five times in the history of Firebeards would appear multiple times in the genealogy of so high-ranking a dwarf-lord as Veylin.
Scruple: a very small unit of weight, equal to 1.2 grams.
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