The Dûnhebaid Cycle
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Fair Folk and Foul: 5. Proper Place
The barbarian loves his own pride, and hates, or disbelieves in, the pride of others. I will be a civilized being, I will love the pride of my adversaries, of my servants, and my lover; and my house shall be, in all humility, in the wilderness a civilized place. Pride is faith in the idea that God had, when he made us. A proud man is conscious of the idea, and aspires to realize it. He does not strive towards a happiness, or comfort, which may be irrelevant to God's idea of him. . . . Love the pride of God beyond all things, and the pride of your neighbor as your own. The pride of lions: do not shut them up in Zoos. The pride of your dogs: let them not grow fat. Love the pride of your fellow-partisans, and allow them no self-pity.
--Isak Dinesen, "Of Pride," Out of Africa
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"This is not," the dry Dwarven voice rumbled, "where the rill falls over the shelf."
"I was moving that way," Saelon replied, plucking one last sprig before straightening up and meeting Veylin's gaze. "You have excellent stonecrop here . . . and my errand is not so urgent that I need hasten to your door."
His russet brows unknit a little. "I am glad to hear it. What has brought you—besides the excellence of the herbs?" Setting both hands on the head of his stick, he waited for her answer. In his shirtsleeves, without cloak or hood, he might have stepped just outside his door, although there was nothing resembling a door to be seen.
"Do you know the Rangers?"
"The Men of the Star? Yes, our paths often cross, on the roads," he said, little plainer than she had been. "Is that who your Chieftain has sent to aid you?"
If he knew they were under the command of the Chieftain, he knew enough. "Six of them."
"Six!" he exclaimed, brows knitting again. "Why so many?"
"You think that over-generous, too? And these are not young men," she added, "save one, but stern Dúnedain of full age."
Veylin was scanning the slope below them. "Were you followed?"
"I do not think so," Saelon told him, hefting her basket. "I have rambled much after my herbs. And three are away, scouting Srathen Brethil with Halpan and others, while the nights are so short. Yet," she admitted, "they are Rangers. Who can tell?"
He grunted. "Come," he urged, gesturing for her to follow and stumping up the slope. "This is no conversation to have in the open air."
The path he took wound much, but was less of a scramble than she had expected. The rill made a pretty little fall where it dropped off the shelf, even now when there had been no rain for some days. Thyrnir stood on the ledge, beside a tumble of fallen rock. "Greetings, Saelon," he began.
"Not now," Veylin said shortly. "There may be prying eyes about. Let us get inside."
Thyrnir led her to a narrow cleft behind a great angled slab that had fallen from above; ducking her head, she followed him. A few paces in, as the light grew dim and she began to wonder where this was meant to go, a rough grotto opened on the right hand. Picking up a rock from the floor, Thyrnir knocked against the wall, a quick staccato rhythm.
The wall of the grotto cracked . . . and swung outwards, pushed by a blond-bearded Dwarf she did not know. "In," Veylin pressed, as she stood and gaped, prodding her with his stick to break the spell of amazement. Only after Thyrnir helped the blond draw the stone door shut again did he heave a sigh and smile. "Welcome to my halls, Saelon," he said warmly, and bowed.
She gazed around as she curtseyed in return. Here the stone was dark, rougher-textured than that of her cliff, but though it had not been finished as finely as the hall they had delved for her, this was a larger and more elaborate entryway, with an alcove and seat for a doorwarden. The blond doorwarden was regarding her with surprised curiosity.
"This is Oski, son of Onar," Veylin introduced him.
"Saelon, at your service," she greeted him.
"At yours and your family's, Lady," he replied, bowing deeply. Of course; they would have heard of her.
"Come," Veylin invited. "Let us go into the hall."
When she followed him through the next door and into a high-roofed space, Saelon better understood how her hall could be described as small. Six pillars, like the boles of mighty ash trees, upheld the wide vault. Between them, lamps hung from long chains, casting a faint light in the cavernous darkness. Marveling, she trailed after Veylin to the better-lit space before a great hearth cut back into the wall. It held only a modest fire—it was summer—but Saelon still found ample cause to stare. "You burn rock?" she wondered aloud. It was all wondrous, like something out of a tale.
"Have you never seen coal?" he asked, taking a chunk from a wide-mouthed metal pail and passing it to her.
It was black as jet, but harder, with a shine like a broken glass bead. "No." They burned this?
"Sit," he indicated a low cushioned seat, "and tell me about these Rangers." They had lost Thyrnir as they crossed the hall.
Saelon eyed the seat dubiously, still fingering the glassy coal. It looked too low for comfort, or ease in getting up again, but remembering how awkward the Dwarves found her benches, she lowered herself into it. "They arrived six days ago, courteous and considerate; concerned kinsmen, asking how they might best aid us."
"That they asked should be reassuring," Veylin remarked, settling into the seat across from her and laying his stick on a stool beside. It was not the sturdy blackthorn she had seen him carry when he visited her, but polished cherrywood, with a ferrule that gleamed warmly in the lamplight.
"Aye, it should be," she allowed, troubled by her unease with the Rangers, or at least Râdbaran. "Their leader, Râdbaran, is very polite, though there are shrewd questions behind his pleasing words. He is curious about our dealings with Dwarves."
"And what have you told him?"
"Nothing he could not have heard from others, though there is no telling what some may have said." Saelon was not ashamed of her friendship with Veylin, but neither had she made much of it. Perhaps some of the Dwarves' reticence was rubbing off on her. "He says he wishes to talk to you about the raugs."
Veylin shrugged. "I know no more than you do. Less than Tarain or Aniel."
"So I have told him. Either he does not believe me, or it is a pretext." There; she had said it.
She did not want to give a false impression of the man; although she misliked his manner, she respected him. "He seems a man who wishes to understand before judging. Our measure he has taken," she admitted, pained that it had been so easily done. "He has sent half his men to learn more of the raugs and Srathen Brethil. Your part still eludes him."
Thyrnir came, bearing a tray with a silver flagon and matching cups, and a silver plate of small seed-cakes. Laying it on one of the settles beside the hearth, he poured and offered her a cup and the cakes.
Taking the cup, her eye caught on the intricate inlay below the rim, almost the same dusky red as the liquid within. Her breath caught at the beauty . . . and she was suddenly overwhelmed by the richness around her. Dwarves were fabulously wealthy, so all the tales said, but one vaguely imagined heaps of hoarded gold and silver and gems, not such splendid, luxurious things for use . . . or at least she had not.
She had known that her people were straitened, but not that they were poor, not that they had always been poor, not until she saw this unimagined opulence. And it was all Veylin's? Was it any wonder he was so secret, with such treasures to guard? It came home to her that she knew little about the Dwarf herself, though she had presumed to consider him a friend.
"What is wrong?" Veylin asked. "Would you prefer mead to wine?"
"This is wine? True wine, from grapes?" Saelon stared into the dark redness and smelt its fruity bouquet. "I have never had it, so I do not know." She sipped: not so sweet as mead, lighter, but more robust than their flower wines. "Very nice," she said, and took a cake. What good could come from confessing her pang of insignificance, the sense of smallness in the face of the grandeur of the Dwarves? It would sound absurd; and she did not desire pity.
Yet perhaps it was good for her to have seen this. Râdbaran's curiosity about the Dwarves seemed well justified now. Why would those so rich ally themselves with folk so poor as hers?
Veylin was still gazing at her, dissatisfied, as Thyrnir handed him his cup and asked her, "Did I hear you say that Men have gone to Srathen Brethil?'
"Yes," she answered, glad for the question, something to distract her. "Three of the Rangers, one of whom has experience slaying evil things, with Halpan, Tarain, and Aniel. They left three days ago, and meant to be there yesterday, when the day was longest."
"They will have company." Thyrnir brought over a seat to join them, then took up his wine. "Rekk and Oddi have gone likewise."
"You did not think," Veylin asked her, lowering his cup, "that we might wish to do the same?"
Was that reproach, for not letting them know of the journey in time for them to join it? "They did not take counsel with me beforehand," she replied shortly. "Only told me of the plan the day before they departed, when they sought rations for the journey. Men's work," she sniffed, and silenced herself with the cool silver of the cup and the warmth of the wine.
The silence, as the two Dwarves sat there, regarding her, was oppressive, relieved only by the small sounds of the fire; pings and clinks as alien as the inscrutable gleam of their eyes. "So," Veylin finally asked, "you have come to fetch me to speak with this Ranger?"
"I came," she replied, rising with more grace than she would have thought possible from that low seat, "because you wished to know if there was talk of moving us. At present, Râdbaran puts off the question, but I expect him to decide before he departs—and if he does not find the report from Srathen Brethil favorable, I suspect that he will insist we all accompany him." Setting cup and cake down on an arm of the seat, she said, "I thank you for the wine, but I should not idle here, gossiping."
"Gossiping?" Veylin exclaimed, taken aback. "Nothing you do is idle. What has distressed you, Saelon? Is my hospitality too much kindness for you, or—" those deep-set eyes glittered in the flickering of the lamps "—do you mislike the weight of so much stone over your head?"
"I have dwelt for a score of years under near as much," she declared. Though, in truth, it was not the same. Her cave had been open to the sky; and the hall at Habad-e-Mindon was neither so dark nor so silent as this one.
"So, it is your pride that is tender," he said with quiet gravity, interlacing his fingers between the arms of his seat. "I thought we had settled that between us in Girithron. This Râdbaran galls you, for all his courtesy?"
"I did not know about this—" she swept her arm around, taking in the hall, everything "—in Girithron."
"What difference would it have made? Would you have asked more of me?"
"Asked more?" She had not thought of payment when she saved his life. He was the one who had insisted on the debt, and pressed the priceless gift of the hall on her. "Did I ask for anything?"
Veylin looked at her very strangely. "Would you ever have asked for anything?"
He sounded curious rather than angry. She was the only one who seemed to be angry. After several long breaths for thought, she confessed, "I do not know."
"Then what does all this matter, if you do not regret not having a larger share of it? Or will not even take a bite of hospitality? If that is too rich for your tastes," he offered, nodding at the seed-cake, "I can send Thyrnir to the shore, to fetch seaweed for you to gnaw upon."
Seeing Thyrnir's look of uncertain trepidation, Saelon nearly choked on a laugh. "You would not be so cruel."
"To be kind?" Veylin put up a bushy russet brow in warning. "Do not try me. Come," he rumbled, "sit back down. You seem to have come here to escape the courtesy of your kinsmen. Tell me why the pleasing words of Râdbaran do not have you in a better temper."
She sat back down; the seat was more comfortable than it had looked. "Because I suspect he would speak as pleasantly to his horse, if it would make the beast more biddable. Not that that is a such a fault," she allowed, "but I am perverse enough to resent being humored into complaisance."
Thyrnir stared at her in disbelief and what might have been disappointment. "You let his flattery sway you?"
Giving him an irritated look, she replied, "It sways others, and unless I wish to appear a surly shrew, it is better to smile and hold my tongue."
"A shrew?" Veylin asked, puzzled. "The small, fierce creature?"
"That is what we call a woman who is forever finding fault, unreasonably complaining—an object of scorn." Saelon bit into the seed-cake to take the bitterness from her mouth . . . and again. She had not realized how much she craved bread until she tasted it. How long had it been since she had eaten corn? She could not remember; it was all she could do not to wolf the cake down.
When she finished, Thyrnir was holding out the plate. Ashamed of her greed but unable to resist, she took another cake, forcing herself to nibble it.
She had not seen Veylin's face so stony since the morning they left to lay his companions to rest. "They did not bring you corn?"
She shook her head.
He muttered something under his breath in the harsh Dwarvish tongue. "It is consideration, to send you six more mouths and not the wherewithal to feed them? Why would complaint be unreasonable?"
"Rangers are not sumpters."
Veylin gave a great chuff of disbelief—or distain. "I do not expect Men to bear such burdens as Dwarves do, but they could not bring a few laden beasts with them?" He paused, then asked distastefully, "Or do they wish your hunger to drive you when they point the way?"
She had not expected relief in the way of supplies, but put so, it did seem neglectful. At the least. "There would be little need. Most would go where they were told, without complaint."
"Have we not spent an Age of the world teaching Men to look to Dúnedain for leadership?"
"You are Dúnedain. They would not stand by you, their Lady, if you remained?"
"Númenor may have had ruling Queens, but this side of the Sea, women are not equal in authority to men. It is praiseworthy that I should keep my folk when all my near kinsmen are slain—" Râdbaran had not stinted there "—but now that capable men are at hand, I am expected to return to my proper place."
"What place is that?" Veylin asked, regarding her from under lowered brows. "Living in a cave with one faithful fosterling?"
She shook her head and stared into the wine. "That is lost to me," she said, throat tightening. "Or at least until Halmir comes of age. I cannot abandon them, whatever befalls; Halladan entrusted them to me."
"What is the use of that," Veylin growled, "if you have no real authority, and must bow to the wishes of whatever distant kinsman will trouble to take charge of you? I saw you with your brother, Saelon, and I cannot think he would have wished such a—" he groped for a word he disliked enough "—a mockery on you. Six days of flattery has made you quarrelsome; how do you think you could bear bending to another's will for years?"
Did she not know it? Why else had she left Srathen Brethil, so long ago? "What choice do I have?" she countered. "How do Dwarves order such things, when your womenfolk must keep their people?"
"Such a thing has never come to pass."
"Never?!" In the tales of the dark days of Men, there was almost always some strong-willed woman who held the hall or preserved the children, when the men had gone to war . . . or after they were slain. Yet she could not immediately think of similar stories of Elves; their great women were renown beside their lords. And the tales she knew did not speak of dwarf-women at all.
"Truly, never," he assured her. "Yet no dwarf-woman would surrender her judgment to one she mistrusted, most certainly not for the simple reason that he was a man."
"If there has never been any dire need, how can you be sure?"
"Did you not once tell me that Dwarves are not known for their complaisance?" Thyrnir said blandly.
Saelon stared at him. Did he mean that their women were as stiff-necked as themselves? "Is that why you dwarf-men are so often from home?" Among Men, that was often the way of it, when the wife had more will than the husband found pleasant.
Veylin eyed her in a way that made her think she had hit closer than he liked. "Not for my part," he maintained stoutly.
The temptation to ask further questions—was Veylin wed? were there any dwarf-women in this place?—was great, but she could see that, as ever, they were uneasy with the subject. "Is that why you have been so tolerant of my willfulness?"
"Tolerate it?" Veylin frowned as if she had made a lame jest. "Your steadfast will is what sets you above the common frailty of your kind."
The frailty of women, or was he speaking of Men? "Alas, few Men think strong will a virtue in a woman."
"Did your brother?"
Had he thought it a virtue? Probably not; her obstinacy had given him much grief, let alone the trouble of riding so many leagues over the years. There could be no doubt that he knew she would not willingly leave the sea. Yet . . . had he counted on that, or had he expected her to sacrifice herself—as he had—for their people? "My brother was an uncommon man."
And the brusque counsel of this Dwarf was the nearest she had come to one of their arguments since Halladan came last to Habad-e-Mindon. Now that she had lost him, Veylin was the only one who spoke to her as an equal.
Staring at the garnet inlay on the silver wine cup, she thought how strange that was.
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Saelon walked slowly along the strand, where the rising tide firmed the dry sand. She had little time to give to the shore of late, and as she listened to the murmur of the surf, she wondered if much of her discontent was not due to her neglect of the sea. Hopefully she would have the chance to amend; but at the least the sound soothed her, which she badly needed. She particularly wished to keep both her temper and her wits about her during the conversation to come, even though she had arranged it here to avoid other ears.
Halmir halted at the edge of the dunes in a spray of sand, and turned back to look behind him. Râdbaran came after, looking as if he found the difficult footing tiresome. By the time he and Halmir joined her, however, he had regained his easy smile. "What brings you to the shore, Lady?" he asked. "Gathering more limpets?"
She smiled back, but her eyes narrowed at the reminder of pursuits he had hinted were beneath her station. "No," she said, and forbore to repeat her explanation of the virtues of that humble creature. "Eapag and her daughter are doing well now. I often come here, to walk the strand and see what the sea brings me." Stooping, she picked up a leaf of slake. "This, for instance, is a wholesome food. We would not have survived the winter without it. Unfortunately, being unfamiliar and now from overuse, the children are loathe to eat it." She placed it in her basket and sighed. "I wish you had been able to bring us even a little grain. A single horseload would have been invaluable for the weanlings." Even he could not find this an unwomanly concern.
"I regret we did not know that you were in such dire straits, or we would have brought you some."
"I am surprised the Elves did not mention it, since they particularly objected to the tilling of the machair."
"If they did," Râdbaran assured her, "word did not reach me."
Perhaps it was true. She did not know how their tale might have changed as it passed from mouth to mouth. She shrugged. "Ah, well . . . it is too late to be wishing for such things now. We will have to wait until harvest, I suppose." Reminding him, if walking past the fields had not, that they had crops in the ground, and would be loathe to move before then. "How did they find things in Srathen Brethil?" If they were thinking of moving them back there, at least that was nearer the sea than beyond the Lune, and they would probably leave them here until they had dealt with the raugs. "Will you be able to clear the raugs, so we can return?"
"We hope so, Lady. We know where they nest, and how many there are. But as you know better than I," he deferred handsomely, "these are terrible foes. I wish to lay this before the Chieftain, to see what forces we can muster against them."
"Do not forget the Dwarves," she told him. "They greatly desire vengeance, and would be keen to aid us."
Was that a jaded glint in his grey eye? "So I hear, from Srathen Brethil as well. But if you do not know where to find them, it will be difficult to include them in our plans."
If Veylin had not seen fit to come talk to Râdbaran in person, and Rekk had not made some tryst with the Rangers in Srathen Brethil, she certainly was not going to tell them where to seek the Dwarves. When there was surer word of an attack on the raugs, she could get word to them. "What are your plans? You said you wish to return to the Chieftain?"
Râdbaran was silent for several strides; Saelon bent to gather more slake; behind them, Halmir was studying their tracks in the sand and experimenting with his own. Since the men had returned from Srathen Brethil, he had become enamored of tracking. "Yes," was all the answer she got.
"Would all of you go?" she asked. "Or would some of you remain with us?"
"I think it would be good to leave some, since your men are so few. Yet perhaps," he observed, "they would be more of a burden than a help, with food so scant."
She must be careful how she chastised him. "So long as they can hunt and fish, they ought to be able to feed more than themselves."
He considered her, thoughtful. "If some of your folk wish to go as well, the need might be further reduced."
Saelon smiled regretfully, to assure him she was not opposed to the possibility. "Urwen, I know, has long wished to go to her kin in the Emyn Uial, and I am sure there are others who have not opened their hearts to me. If any wish to go, and you are willing to take them, you all have my blessing." Let the unhappy go; they bred discontent among those who would be willing to remain. Few of them would be much loss.
Râdbaran bowed his distinguished steel-grey head. "There are two in particular I would like to take," he hazarded, "but I am not sure you will look favorably on their departure."
She had thought he would be pleased to merely reduce their numbers, not that he desired anyone in particular. "Who?"
He glanced behind them. Halmir had paused some way back, poking at a tangle of wrack. "Your nephew." Râdbaran was watching her closely. "He is a fine boy. However, he will not be able to learn what he needs to be a fine lord of his people here."
Tight-lipped, Saelon nodded. That was true. "That has troubled me since his father's death," she admitted. "What would you propose?"
"Would you foster him with me, Lady?" Râdbaran asked boldly, then grew circumspect again. "Granted, you do not know me or my estate, and," he flicked a grey eyebrow, "I sometimes think you do not like me. All I can say is that I am near kin to the Chieftain, and—"
"—high enough in his favor to be entrusted with the task of disentangling stray sheep from the affairs of Lindon and the Dwarves? I do not know you by reputation," she agreed, "but I hope I have taken some measure of you by now. I would like you better if you did not so plainly desire me to settle down by the hearth to spin or attend to some other womanly chore now that you have come," she told him bluntly, "but my liking is neither here nor there. I think you are a man of honor and irritatingly adroit in statecraft. It is Halmir's liking we must consult. He is old enough to have some judgment in such things. Shall we ask him now?"
That earned her a long, penetrating stare. "Perhaps I should wonder where you learned to weigh such matters . . . instead of spinning."
"Healing teaches one judgment, and necessity is a stern master," she replied. "I have tried to learn from all I have met. Some, including the coastwarden of Lindon, have been so good as to give me counsel."
From his look, he was wondering exactly who had counseled her, and how. "Certainly, let us ask Halmir."
"Halmir!" Saelon called, and he came running up. "Halmir, Râdbaran has asked if he might foster you, so you can learn lordship under his tutelage and become acquainted with all the chief of our people. Would that please you? If you say yes," she warned, "you will not be able to change your mind lightly. It is a long journey, and a perilous one these days." She considered her nephew closely, but from his eager face, she knew what his answer would be. "You do not have to decide this moment, if you are unsure."
"Yes, I would like it very much," Halmir said, with barely decent restraint.
He was a boy, and very much wanted to be a man; she was fond of him, but he did not prize it. Not now. "Then you shall go, and have Tarain as your man."
"Yes, in case you wish to send us a message, and Râdbaran has no men to spare; or to bring you back to us should you feel the need."
"Perhaps I should speak now of the second I would ask of you, Lady. It might ease your mind to know Halmir would have near kin at hand, when he is so far away and among strangers." She was expecting Râdbaran to ask for Rian as well—to strip them of all of Halladan's line—and was preparing her objections, when he said, "As sore a loss as Tarain will be, though, I fear. I would like to invite Halpan to become a Ranger, but not without your good will."
"Halpan!" Suddenly she saw herself shorn of all her Dúnedain kin. For Urwen would surely go, and Bereth with her if Halpan did not stay. And how could she ask Rian to stay, if both brother and cousins went? Was that Râdbaran's true desire, to pull the Dúnedain from the wreck? To leave the rest to fend for themselves as best they might; and she, so wrong-headed as to have no husband and no children . . . .
She felt her rage rise, but throttled it tight. If they would go, she ought not chain them here. And Halpan, as much as Halmir, deserved wider scope than this narrow shore. "That is kind, indeed—to him," she agreed, "though not to me. We cannot give him what he needs to grow, either, and I would not see him stunted like one of our wind-writhen trees. You might have had him in any case, if tragedy had not befallen us, for he loves to see new places. He has my good will, whatever he decides."
Halmir laughed joyfully.
Râdbaran bowed. "You are generous, Lady, to give the Dúnedain your nearest kinsmen."
The look she gave him in return was cool. "The Dúnedain have always had them." She walked the sand in silence for some paces. "So what would you give me in exchange, Râdbaran? As you have yourself acknowledged, they will be a sore loss."
"Would Meagvir and Dírmaen be acceptable to you?"
"The quiet one?"
Râdbaran smiled. "Yes, Dírmaen is a quiet one, but do not misjudge him because of that. His woodcraft is superb. He will assuredly be able to feed more than himself."
"I know of no objections to either," Saelon allowed, "but both were away several days to Srathen Brethil. I have had so little chance to become acquainted with them. Shall we talk to each other's people, and see how we suit? Then we can see who is willing to companion whom."
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Stonecrop (biting stonecrop, also wall pepper; Sedum acre): medicinal herb. Or perhaps seregon, "blood of the stone," a stonecrop with deep red flowers found in Beleriand in the First Age.
Coal: what peat becomes when it's been buried long and deep enough. There are various grades of coal, from the softest, lowest-carbon lignite; to bituminous or soft coal; and anthracite or hard coal, which burns hot and clean. This is anthracite.
Jet: a black, easily carved semi-precious stone commonly used for jewelry and ornaments in Bronze Age Britain, and again in Victorian times for mourning jewelry; actually a variety of soft coal.
Blackthorn (also sloe, Prunus spinosa): small thorny tree used for hedges with white flowers March through May; its tough wood valued for making clubs and walking sticks (most notably the Irish shillelagh).
Ferrule: ring or cap of metal, which prevents a wooden shaft from splitting or wear.
Sumpter: Middle English, one who drives a packhorse; in later English, it refers to the beast.
Slake (also sloke or laver, Porphyra umbilicalis): edible seaweed, eated boiled and buttered, fried, or made into cakes. It was believed that a person could live on this alone, even while doing heavy labor.
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