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Of Like Passion: 5. Charged with Affairs

An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the commonwealth.


--Henry Wotten, Reliquiae Wottonianae


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"Saelon is back," Hanadan reported, eyes bright in his mud-smutched face.  He was panting—having run, no doubt, from wherever he had taken up watch.  "There is a stranger with her, and he is even taller than you!"


"Are they afoot, or on horseback?"  Dírmaen let the bridle he had been mending fall onto the bench and strode to where his spear lay in rest.  There ought to be a horse ready for saddling in the byre-cave.  Taller than he?  Who could that be, save another Dúnadan . . . or an Elf?


He had warned her.  Pray she had governed her tart tongue, and provoked no anger.


"Afoot," the Dúnedain boy said.  "Though a great grey horse walks beside the stranger.  They are climbing the far slope to the tower."


The boy had probably tumbled down the nearer slope in his haste.  That would explain the liberal slathering of mud.  "Run down to the fields and tell Halpan.  There may be no cause for alarm, but we must not assume he is a friend.  Go!" Dírmaen commanded, pushing Hanadan ahead of him on his way out of the small cave where he housed.  Turning hard left, he ran along the cliff-shelf.


"What's amiss?" Airil cried from the bench beside the hall door as he passed; but the Ranger did not waste breath answering the old man.


A horse could not come down the steep slope from the tower, but must go along the cliff-top to where the scarp failed beside the small river, then out to the green lea where Halpan, Maelchon, and the cottar lads would be waiting.  It was difficult enough for him to scrabble up the faint track the children were wearing into the tussocky grass, burdened by his spear, with only one hand to clutch at what holds could be found.


As he neared the top, he slowed, catching his breath, listening.


"—a watchtower of the First Age," Saelon said conversationally.


"Aye, one of Caranthir's."  An Elf; the tone detached, even disapproving.  Peering over the lip, Dírmaen saw they were both gazing on the tumbled ring of stones.  Saelon appeared well—as well as ever she did, the relentless wind having worried wild wisps from her thick brown braid.  The Elf . . . .  Beside him, she looked a drab indeed.  He might have been one of the lords of Elrond's household, seen once on a visit to Rivendell and never forgotten.


Dírmaen came up onto the hilltop as quietly as he could, knowing it would not be quiet enough.


Sure enough, the Elf glanced over his shoulder at him, coolly taking in the spear before considering the star brooch.  A cased bow was at his back, and a long scabbard broke the graceful billow of his cloak.  "Mae govannen," he greeted him, bowing politely.  "I am Gwinnor of Lindon."


Saelon started and faced him as well, a guilty expression on her face.  Did she blush, or was her skin only chafed by the wind?  "Mae govannen.  Dírmaen of the Rangers."


"Gwinnor has come from Círdan," Saelon told him, before the silence could become awkward.


So it had come at last.  She was composed, but her usual assurance was lacking.  He wondered where she had found Gwinnor, and how long ago.  And what had already passed between them.  He ought to have gotten Partalan to rout out that vixen, and followed after her.  "Welcome to Habad-e-Mindon, lord."


"No lord," Gwinnor said with an easy smile.  "Merely a herald."  Turning his head, he gazed down on the lea below, fine black brows drawing together in concern.  "I hope they are not in such a taking on my account."


Glancing that way, Dírmaen saw Halpan staring up at them, fingering his swordhilt and looking torn, as Hanadan gestured excitedly; Maelchon was urging Artan and Leod to unhitch the sturdy draft horses from the plough.  The Ranger raised his spear and waved it in a signal of all-clear.


"Falathar saw the ploughed land as a grievance," Saelon murmured.


The Elf angled his head like a sated yet interested falcon, considering.  "It had more beauty as it was, but I suppose your folk must eat.  The black-bearded fellow turns a neat furrow," he allowed.  "A good eye, to cut so straight.  Is this the only field?"  He strolled towards the cliff-top as if he knew the way down well.  His mount—a long-limbed, elegant mare, richly caparisoned—was before him, keenly cropping the lime-rooted grass.


Saelon fell in beside him.  She hardly came to his shoulder.  "Yes."


"Though you have near thirty here?  Is that enough, for so many?"


Pacing behind them, Dírmaen thought Gwinnor sounded like a bailiff.  Yet some accounting must be expected.


"The yield was very good . . . and, since you have wandered here," Saelon acknowledged, "you know the land is rich.  With the bounty of the sea, it has been enough.  Maelchon—the black-bearded fellow, our husbandman—has been extending the field, meaning to sow more ground this season."


"Hm."  Having whistled to his mare, who was falling behind, Gwinnor asked, "You have stock, I assume?  Other than your few sheep, and the horses I see below."


"Between Maelchon and myself, some four-score kine, seventy sheep, and two dozen horses."


Gwinnor looked at her in surprise.  "So much was saved from Srathen Brethil?  Did you not say the raugs reaved the beasts, before turning to Men?"


"Many of the beasts came with my cousin's widow, who left before things grew grim; Master Elrond's sons did not wish to be burdened with them when they escorted her to the Emyn Uial last summer.  The best of the horses were my brother's joy, and he sent them to me with his children."


"You have become a woman of property, Gaerveldis," the Elf said, with an ambiguous smile.


Sea-friend?  Dírmaen frowned.  They spoke as if he knew her of old.  But then she had lived on their lands for long years; was is it likely that none had made her acquaintance?  Perhaps she had not been so solitary here as was thought.


Saelon shook her head.  "I would rather be plain Gaerveldis again."


"And why not?" Gwinnor asked smoothly.  "You say the raugs are slain, and your young kinsman wishes to resettle your scattered folk in Srathen Brethil.  Send these people home!  It is not you we object to."


Dírmaen found the glance Saelon gave the Elf oddly reassuring: that brow-knit scowl of offended pride she had leveled at him only yesterday.  "Neglect my brother's dying wish?"  Though complaisant, she was not cowed . . . nor charmed.  "I am charged to keep them until his son is of age."


Gwinnor gave a slight smile and graceful shrug of regret.  "Such devotion speaks well of you, Lady—but things would have been easier so."


They walked the rest of the way to the lea in silence.  Saelon seemed sunk deep in oppressed thought, while Gwinnor looked about him with sharp-eyed interest, as if comparing what he saw to his memories of the place.  Dírmaen stifled a sigh.  He had not been here a year, and already he could see changes for the worse: they had harvested what small timber they had more heavily than could be long borne; the herbage was over-grazed, for want of men to take the stock to the hills in summer; the trackways worn to mire, deeply rutted by the feet of Men and beasts.  Oh, it was not so shabby as many a hamlet of Men, but to Elvish eyes, the land must look ill-used, especially at this season.  If Círdan's herald had come but a month later, the new green would have covered much.


And the fields would have been sown.  Would that they had taken his counsel, and sent Maelchon and the cottars ahead to Srathen Brethil, to plough and repair such houses as they would need, instead of wasting their labor here.  Now it would all have to be done again, with beasts weary from bearing their goods over the mountains.


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When the formalities of greeting were over, including the embarrassment of Gwinnor presenting Saelon with his letter of introduction from Círdan—which neither she nor Halpan could read, though it was written in Westron as well as the noble tongue—Dírmaen packed his few belongings, that their guest might have the small cave for his chamber.


"It is good of you to make way for me like this," Gwinnor said, leaning casually against the doorframe, a silhouette against the light beyond, picked out by the glitter of his jewels.  "Thank you."


Dírmaen shrugged.  "It is nothing.  I shift into the hall during the winter gales."  The mouth of the cavern was closed off with a wall of heather-thatched wattle, but he had found it little defense against days of roaring tempest.  How Saelon had endured such storms in these quarters, he did not know.  "I hope you will be comfortable here.  At least," he gave the Elf half a smile, "you will not always be stared at."


Gwinnor laughed.  "One must expect that, when going among Men.  Have you spent much time with Elves?"


The Ranger shook his head.  "A few forays with Elladan and Elrohir, and a mission to Rivendell."


"Ah, Imladris!  No wonder you are not overawed by a little finery.  What is the Lady's experience, that she is so unsusceptible to splendor, do you know?"


He sounded somewhat nettled, or Dírmaen would have answered sharper.  "You do not?"


"No.  Why would you think . . . ."  Those bright grey eyes suddenly grew cool.  "I think we are on the verge of a misunderstanding.  Are you one who thinks her too familiar with men of other race?"


"You have heard of that?"  The harshness of his voice surprised him.


Black brows high, Gwinnor's look was perilously near distaste.  "She told me of it herself, to explain why she preferred to walk two leagues, rather than accept my invitation to ride."


"I have never said so," Dírmaen replied brusquely.  "Though others have."  A spiteful woman, in the bluntest terms, before all her people; Partalan, drunk, insinuating as much before Veylin himself, very nearly wrecking the alliance.


The eyes of Elves were piercing, it was said, and Dírmaen felt them now.  "Wise-heart, the Lady is called; but she is not that adaneth who gave her heart to one of the Eldar, my own lord's brother.  Many of us have seen her from afar, as we wander these north shores, though she has never sought our company—and I would not be here if we wished for fellowship with Men.  Gaerveldis we named her in courtesy, needing some way to speak of her; but I have been told that melethril would be truer."


Sea-touched; had he not seen it himself, when she came from the thundering shore with spume in her dark hair?  Dírmaen felt mortified and somehow dismayed, hearing a stranger speak of her thus.  "Your lord's brother?" he asked, grasping for safer ground.  He had not heard that Círdan had a brother.


"Aegnor."


"Was that not the brother of Finrod?"


Gwinnor sighed, hooding those keen eyes.  "Aye.  You do not know the story?"  When Dírmaen shook his head, he shrugged.  "Well, it does not make a good tale."


"Why?"


"They were wise.  He went to the marches of Ard-galen, and she became a mistress of lore, much like your Saelon."


Not for the first time, Dírmaen wondered what had driven Saelon to these shores.  "Why do you call Finrod your lord, when you follow Círdan?"


"Follow the Shipwright?"  This appeared to restore Gwinnor's good humor.  "No.  I am merely a guest of his—the interminable kind, who comes with a friend and lingers after they have gone, having no better place to go.  I make myself useful enough that he does not send me back to my lord's sister, who is indulging her husband in his taste for forest living.  It is only fair," he allowed after a pause, seeming disappointed that Dírmaen did not appreciate his wit more, "he having suffered her preference for stone."


Perhaps he would find it diverting if he knew more of what the Elf spoke, but he was no loremaster.  Finrod's sister . . . was that not the Lady of the Golden Wood?  He had never heard of a Ranger going to that land.  Tugging tight the knot on his pack, Dírmaen swung it onto his shoulder and took up his bow and quiver.  "Being neither Dwarf nor Nóm, I wish you success in your mission, Gwinnor, so I may sleep under a roof-tree once more."


That earned him a flashing grin.  "Facing Dwarves and your limpet of a wise-woman, I will gladly take whatever good wishes come my way."


"You know," Dírmaen said, pausing as he passed—so strange, to look up when speaking to another, "that the Lady has sent word of you to Veylin."


"I hoped she would," Gwinnor replied, with a satisfied quirk of his lips.  "I very much wish to see friend Veylin."


"He is your friend?"


"He is certainly not my enemy!  Did he not sell me most of the gems for this?"  Leaning down, the Elf picked up his mare's headstall: fine black leather set with stones of blue, or clear as the water that fell into the basin without.  "Since Veylin became chieftain," he explained, "we have grown used to seeing him in the autumn, as the year fades.  He would take in the Havens on his way to their southern mansions . . . until two years ago, when his kin left word of the terror in the north.  This last year, we did not even get news from the Naugrim.


"Truly—" though Gwinnor's voice was genial, there was a glint like mischief in his eye "—I will be glad to see the fox.  I feared his wounding might have ended his smithcraft, and that would be a grief indeed.  The loss of Thekk is ill enough."


Dírmaen recalled his first sight of Veylin, set about with more gems than Gwinnor wore now, fiery stones in bright gold.  A chieftain and a gemsmith . . . little wonder he had not hesitated to treat with Elrond's sons.  Yet that made it all the more strange that he should spend so much time here, far from those who could afford his work.  "Thekk who was Rekk's brother?"


Gwinnor made an amused noise.  "It seems like enough with such names, but I know no Rekk.  Is he in Veylin's following?"


"More like a fellow captain."


"That might well be so, if he is the brother of the Dwarf I knew, for though Thekk was under another chieftain, he and Veylin were close as brothers."  He considered this for a breath, then regarded Dírmaen more soberly.  "Word reached us that Dwarves and Men together slew the raugs in Srathen Brethil.  Were you one of the Men?"


"I was."


"I have seen how few your numbers are.  Were there many Dwarves?  Surely so, to do what the Brethren of Imladris and your own Chieftain could not."


The Ranger gave him a lean smile, seeing what the Elf sought.  "Fifteen."


"Fifteen!"  Gwinnor frowned.  "Yet—" as if he would reassure himself "—Veylin is a chieftain, after all.  His kin would turn out to avenge him."


"They were all of his company here," Dírmaen told him, "and not all of them.  A dozen visited us less than a fortnight ago, on their return from their mansion."


"They return to Sulûnduban in winter?"


"This year.  The previous Yule they spent here, celebrating the newly finished hall."  When Gwinnor's silence settled deep, he asked, "Do the Dwarves trespass on your lands as well?"


The Elf gave a soft snort.  "That seems unlikely, hating the sea as they do.  Save for Veylin, who will dare anything if his will drives him, I wonder that they suffer coming so near as this.  Why do they do it?"


"Come here?"  Dírmaen shrugged.  "I do not understand it myself.  The Lady's ale is good, but not that good, and these folk are too poor for much trade."


"No; they would not come so far merely for a draught and a joint."


"So far?"  The Ranger could now cock his brow at the Elf.  "They are but three leagues north."


"North?" Gwinnor exclaimed.  "You are sure?"


"I have been in their hall."


It seemed he had thought—as Dírmaen himself had, at first—that the Dwarves were settled in the foothills this side of the mountains.  "I thank you for this news," the Elf said, with a grateful bow of his head.  "I hope your Lady will not be displeased with you for your candor."


"She is not my Lady.  I am a Ranger, and the Chieftain does not wish his people embroiled in quarrels between your folk and Veylin's."


"Indeed?"  Strangely, Gwinnor's expression grew droll.  "Does your Chieftain not also wish them back in their proper bounds?"


"Of course."


"Then," the Elf asked, with an insinuating smile, "why have you not already taken them there?"


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Notes


"Charged with Affairs": a minor diplomatic officer sometimes bears the title chargé d'affaires, "one charged with affairs."


Bailiff: not an officer of the law, but one who manages a farm or estate.  In Gaelic, a farming village or township was called a baile, and the factor for an estate a bàilidh.


Westron: the Common Speech.


"The noble tongue": Sindarin.


"Wise-heart, the Lady is called": Saelon is a variant of Saelind, the name the Elves gave to Andreth of the House of Bëor (Beren's great-aunt).  Andreth loved Aegnor, the youngest brother of Finrod Felagund.  For a fuller story—and much Elvish philosophy—see HoME X: Morgoth's Ring, "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth."


Adaneth: Sindarin, "mortal woman."


Melethril: Sindarin, "(female) lover."


Ard-galen: the great plain in the north of Beleriand in the First Age, between Morgoth's stronghold of Angband and Dorthonion.


Nóm: "Wisdom," the name Men gave Finrod at their first meeting.  His more common name Felagund is often glossed as "Lord of Caves."  While Dírmaen is no loremaster, he has heard many tales, and Finrod has a special place in the history of Men by virtue of his discovery of the Edain and his aid to Beren.  By comparison, Galadriel has had little to do with Men.


Roof-tree: the wooden ridgebeam at the peak of a roof.


Naugrim: Sindarin, "the Stunted People," i.e., Dwarves.


Joint: a large cut of meat, usually including bone.  Gwinnor recognizes that this would be the nearest source of fresh beef or mutton for the Dwarves.



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Last Update: 13 Dec 08
Stories: 5
Type: Author List
Created By: Adaneth


Dúnedain and Dwarves--and oh, yes, some Elves--on the northwest shore of Middle-Earth, not quite a century before adventures first befall Bilbo. Rampant Subcreation and Niggling in the margins. The ever-lengthening saga, in order.

Why This Story?

Dûnhebaid III: the Men come to terms with Lindon, and Veylin fears a rival.

 

Story Information

Author: Adaneth

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/26/11

Original Post: 05/31/07

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