The Dûnhebaid Cycle
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Of Like Passion: 7. A Little Knowledge
Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.
--Francis Bacon, Essays, "Of Studies"
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Dírmaen was standing by the mouth of the byre-cave, giving only half an ear to Partalan's coarse, low-voiced complaints about so many uncanny folk underfoot, when his eye caught on a slight, cloaked figure moving with hasty purpose across the dooryard, making for the track.
For a few quick strides he thought it was Murdag, slipping away to tryst with whichever of the two lads she fancied today. Last night, when Gaernath discovered that Finean's daughter had spent the hours he was out riding the bounds with Gwinnor walking with Leod, who had been left idle by the stalled ploughhorses, there had been what Airil gleefully called a collieshangie. Most of Saelon's people had enjoyed the diversion from their anxieties, Partalan calling loudly for wagers, as if he were in a tavern; but it had been a disgraceful spectacle before their guests, having to part the youths as if they were dogs fighting over a bitch. Well the girl might hide her face with her hood.
Then he saw the packbasket. "Lady!" he called sharply, striding after her.
Saelon halted and turned, face set beneath the tattered edge of once-sturdy woolen. "Yes, Dírmaen?"
He met her resentful eyes. "You are going abroad to collect herbs?"
"As you see."
"May I accompany you?"
Now he was providing a spectacle. Partalan was scowling at him, though he agreed Saelon ought not to wander alone; Gwinnor looked up from the children gathered about him with keen interest; and on the bench beside the hall door, Maelchon broke off his murmured conference with Veylin, while the Dwarf's stare was apt to bore a hole into him.
The silence was lengthening perilously when Gwinnor swept curly-haired little Ros off his knee and rose, smiling broadly. "An excellent idea! Might I come as well, Lady? I have seen how your men harvest the creatures of this land," he observed genially, "but not how you take leaf and flower."
Saelon divided a swift, almost mistrustful glance between them, then bowed her head to the Elf. "If you wish, Gwinnor; but—" she rallied a warning smile "—you ought to leave your gems behind you. I am principally after bogbean, and it would be a pity to lose such lovely things in the pools."
"You would put me to work, Lady?" Gwinnor laughed. "I warn you, I know little of the lore of growing things. My time was spent with Aulë, not his spouse."
"Can you be trusted to know nettles, at least?" Saelon asked.
"I think I can manage so much." He favored her with the good-natured grin Rian found so captivating. "And if I require assistance, Dírmaen will help me, so we do not take you from your work. Why do you not set out, the two of you? It will take me only a few moments to shed my jewels, and I will catch you up."
"Very well. Dírmaen?" Without waiting for him to speak, she went on her way.
Petty of her, to call him to heel as if he were a hound. He spared a glance back at Veylin, as Gwinnor strove to loosen Maelchon's youngest son from his knee, but the little of the Dwarf's face that could be seen above his broad russet beard was closed, inscrutable. At least he did not seem inclined to join them as well: a merry party they should make then.
"Where are we going?" Dírmaen asked complaisantly as they went down the rutted way, determined not to match her spleen.
Towards the Dwarves' hall, almost halfway there; yet surely there was no special purpose in that, since Veylin was at Habad-e-Mindon. Saelon showed no inclination to speak, as they crossed the lea, passing the abandoned ploughland, and Dírmaen respected her silence, reflecting instead on the awkward situation they were in. This was Gwinnor's second morning here. He had expected the Elf to render his decision last night, but he had not . . . and Saelon and Maelchon were shy of pressing him, lest he kill their stubborn hope of tenure. The delay was not harmless: whether they stayed or went, these early spring days were precious—days needed to finish ploughing here, or begin breaking the fallow fields of Srathen Brethil. Late sowing, late harvest . . . more likely to be lost to wet or frost. Did one who walked the earth in the Elder Days not understand the tyranny of time?
Or was this a stratagem, driving Saelon to make the choice to take her people home and save Lindon the appearance of compulsion? From the severe set of her fine-boned face and hooded eyes, as she strode onward, such thoughts occupied her mind.
At the northern edge of the lea, the river was full, fed by meltwater and rain on the hills. They picked their way across on the tumbled stones beside the ford, and were well up the heather-clad slope beyond when Gwinnor came loping after them, hardly slowing as he crossed the slippery rocks. His long legs made short work of the hill and, having caught up with them at the low peak, he halted and turned in a small circle, gazing appreciatively on the country round about. "This land has such a stark beauty," he sighed, eyes as bright as a joyful youth's, "and this is the finest spot for leagues. How did you come to settle here, Lady? Did you know of it before you came, from some report or tale among your kindred?"
Saelon shook her head, looking out at the somber grey waves flecked with breaking whiteness. "No. Many of my kin are disturbed by the sea, and were glad to put their backs against the mountains when Arthedain was broken. I merely crossed the hills and, when I reached the shore, wandered northwards. I came here," she remembered, with a faint, fond smile, "after a week of unrelenting rain, and was so grateful for the caves that I decided to remain for a time."
"It is a wonder," Gwinnor observed, with the sympathy of one who has recently traveled far, "that such weather did not turn your thoughts and feet back towards a well-made roof."
"It was less stormy here," she said shortly, her look warning him off, and began traipsing down the hill.
What gale could have been so great that it blew a woman such as this so far from her home? And that her kin left her here, in self-sought exile? Following behind the others, Dírmaen tried to imagine circumstances under which he would let his own sister—even one of his cousins!—stray off into the wild. Granted, the North Downs were nearer the Mountains of Angmar and the Ettenmoors, perilous country even for a hardened Ranger, long under the sway of evil; but what safety could a solitary woman find anywhere, save in desolate obscurity?
Perhaps Gwinnor's mind had turned down similar ways, for after they had gone some furlongs, he asked, with the air of one seeking to make polite conversation, "Does Veylin often come to visit you, Lady?"
Dírmaen glanced between their backs, raven-black hair falling over the finely woven silver-grey cloak and brown over well-worn brown, taken aback by the Elf's smooth forthrightness and wondering if Saelon feared offending him enough to give a passable answer.
"Not often," she replied, in like tone, "but he has a friend's happy knack of coming when his counsel is welcome."
"The counsel of your own men does not please you?"
Saelon's laugh had that dark, unsettling edge. "For reasons of age or station, the few men we have left have little counsel to give. Why do you think my brother set me over them?"
"Having suffered such grievous losses, you were not glad of the succor of your more distant kin, such as this good Ranger?" Gwinnor cast a glance back at him.
"Dírmaen has been a boon indeed," Saelon agreed, with unexpected warmth. "Yet—" her voice took such a judicial turn "—they were not here when our need was sorest."
And it seemed nothing could make amends for that. Veylin had stolen such a march over the Dúnedain in her affections that there was no challenging him.
"Regrettable, to be sure," Gwinnor conceded. "But what has that to do with the quality of their counsel at present?"
"They have but one string to their bow," was her answer. "That we should return to Srathen Brethil, or across the Lhûn, and I should surrender my charge to some man more fit to fulfill it."
The Elf shrugged with eloquent grace. "What is wrong with that, Lady? It sounds like wisdom, and I know it chimes with your desire."
"If my brother had thought that was best, he would have sent them to the Chieftain by the straightest way, and spared them the crossing of the Ered Luin in Girithron."
"So," Gwinnor exclaimed gleefully, "there was one Man you could be governed by!"
Saelon snorted. "Governed is too strong a word, or I would never have come here, let alone remained. My brother and I debated often, and had many bitter arguments, but even if I did not always fall in with his wishes, his judgment was sound." Her head bowed, and after a few strides, voice thick, she murmured, "I miss those disputes more than I can say." As Gwinnor looked down on her, his fair face grave, she jerked her head up again and concluded, wry-tongued, "Though no doubt others would find such contentiousness unnatural."
"Only if they do not understand the pleasure to be found in testing one's wits against another." Gwinnor's reply was matter-of-fact, but his expression grew puckish. "Do you dispute with Veylin? His wits are keen, I know."
"Argue with a Dwarf?" Saelon regarded him dubiously. "I do not expect Veylin to be as forgiving as a brother. Yet—" she cast a sharp glance back at Dírmaen "—neither does he expect me to be as biddable as a sister."
Gwinnor laughed. "That would be unreasonable, Dwarves being so thrawn themselves. One doubts their womenfolk are much better."
"They have women?" Dírmaen asked, breaking his silence.
"Assuredly they have women. Are they not Mirröanwi?" Gwinnor paused, considering. "Although I cannot claim to have seen one myself, to my knowledge. Finrod and Pengolodh, however, asserted as much, and they knew more of the Casallië than any Elf, save perhaps Eöl, who was not one to reveal secrets. I have heard that they value their women above their hoards—which they keep close indeed—and that dwarf-women are bearded, and hard to distinguish from the men." The Elf shook his head. "What Aulë was thinking, when he made them, I cannot imagine."
Dírmaen cast his mind back, recalling what he could of the conversation he had had with Veylin in the ruined tower last harvest: the bit regarding the sore point of Saelon's familiarity with the Dwarf, not the part that ended with the ferrule of Veylin's stick at his throat. There had been something very odd about the exchange, which had deepened their misunderstanding rather than settling the matter. The ways of your women are strange to us, he had said, and your dealings with them. Had it been because Veylin would not speak of dwarf-women, and what dealings they considered proper? And Rekk repeatedly tasked them with not guarding Saelon as they ought.
Was the familiarity between Saelon and Veylin less disturbing, knowing they need not seek women elsewhere? Or more so? There had been a certain ease in believing them sexless.
When his thoughts threatened to become mired in the conundrum, Dírmaen brought his attention back to the conversation between Saelon and Gwinnor. They had continued speaking of lore and Aulë, and now Saelon was pointing towards the shore. "Those lines of dark stone that reach out into the sea," she asked. "Are they walls, built in the Elder Days? Or perhaps by our forefathers, the Númenóreans? I have heard of a great tower that they built at the end of the Misty Mountains, near Dunland, like a fang of black rock. There are many of these lines hereabouts: so straight, but so different in thickness and sometimes crossing. They have long puzzled me."
"Yes, the tower of Orthanc is the work of your fathers, but these are not," Gwinnor told her. "Only Aulë and his Maiar build such walls." He gazed pensively on two fingers of stone, which indeed looked like low ramparts, emerging from the undulating turf to run boldly across the pale strand, straight as a rule. "They are found where the very rock was rent by some ancient cataclysm. The fiery blood of the earth welled up into the cracks to mend the rifts. They do seem like walls, and so they are called dykes."
Saelon paused in her steady northward tramp, putting her head to one side as she stared at the dark stone. "They are scars, then? The proud flesh of the earth?"
"If you like." The Elf was considering her now. "You have a deep mind, Lady. Who was your grandmother?"
"Nárwen. Her people were from the Tower Hills. When the depredations of Orcs came, a hundred years ago, they were raided, and her kin took refuge with us in Srathen Brethil."
Gwinnor frowned and shook his head. "That was an ill time; and the Long Winter after."
"Her herblore stood us in good stead, then, and in the days of dearth that followed."
A terrible year, within memory of the older Dúnedain; when the snows fell deep and early, Dírmaen had seen the worry in his father's eyes. How deadly had it been in Srathen Brethil, which lay further north than his home? The knowledge Saelon had used to keep her people until their first harvest must have sprung from some such bitter root.
The Elf bowed to Saelon. "Women of such wisdom, with hearts of fire, have always been the preservation of your race, Lady, from the days of Haleth and Emeldir. It is lamentable to see the Dúnedain in grievous case once more: scattered and lost amid the desolation of what was once a fair kingdom, like gems from a broken carcanet."
Fair words; any other woman would no doubt have been excessively flattered by the bow alone. "I am glad to hear you speak so," she replied, with a mild smile that did not reach her sea-grey eyes. "I hope you will follow the example of your lord Finrod, who was ever a friend to Men, rather than that of Thingol."
"To what end—" Gwinnor went sharply cold, an untimely frost "—you know."
Saelon angled her head like a hunting hawk. "For which one?"
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The three of them returned in the middle of the afternoon, the Ranger bearing Saelon's basket and the Elf walking a little apart. From where he sat on the bench by the hall door, Veylin watched Gwinnor take leave from the Dúnedain with a formality that seemed unusual even for a Noldo, given that they had been mucking about after greenstuff together half the day. As Saelon and Dírmaen came towards the hall, Gwinnor strode purposefully along the shelf.
Casting a deprecating glance at Saelon's sodden skirts—truly, the woman would be happier if she were a fish—Veylin rumbled, "This is not another of your weeds from the sea, is it?" He prayed not. Not from the shores north of here. Why were all the Men's feet turned north these days?
"No, Master," she assured him. "It is a weed from a lochan, very strengthening when taken in the spring."
She expected her people to need strength? "Has Gwinnor given you an answer yet?"
"No," Dírmaen said, as Saelon shook her head.
"Where is he going?" Veylin looked after the Elf with equal bafflement and vexation. There was nothing that way but the slope to the tower ruin.
"To check on his mare," Dírmaen told him. "She is pastured on the cliff-top."
"Not with your beasts?"
"She did not agree with them."
Veylin snorted, having some experience of elf-horses. Doubtless the creature considered itself above such company. Sheathing the knife he had been using to carve some shuttles for Rian, he picked up his stick and got to his feet. "I had best make sure he will be down for supper. I suspect it will be broadening even for his experience to eat whatever it is you have dredged from your pool."
"It must simmer all night," Saelon explained," and the broth is drunk."
He met her narrowed gaze and hoped she was simply piqued by his raillery. "Will you give me leave to threaten him with the brew? Perhaps that will spur him to finish his business with you."
"Come," he urged heartily, "it would be a good jape." She was badly in need of a jest, even a lame one. Otherwise she might shatter herself against the Noldo, like steel against mithril.
If anything, her lean face hardened. "It was kind of you to speak to the sons of Elrond on my behalf, when I was in council with my people, but you must not think you are always to negotiate for me, Veylin."
He had not negotiated for her then. Yet none of her folk, nor this Ranger, had been at that meeting, and those with little opinion of her ability might well think the credit was his. She had learned enough of leadership to understand how important appearances were. How was she to command the respect of her people, if she appeared to continually lean on him? Sitting back down again, he knotted his hands around the head of his stick and gazed on her with deep misgivings.
She was turning towards the door when Dírmaen spoke. "When conference brings no conclusion—" he spoke with hesitant, even reluctant care, frowning on Veylin with dissatisfaction "—it is sometimes as well to ask another to try on your behalf." As they both stared at him, he added, consciously, "Truly, Lady, you have done all that could be expected—more!—to press Gwinnor for a decision. He will not answer me, either. We cannot remain in this uncertainty, so close to planting." His steel-grey eyes, meeting Veylin's, were nearly as crabbed as his lady's. "Perhaps Master Veylin, who knows him better, can find some lever to budge him."
Saelon regarded the Ranger with the same mistrust Veylin felt in his own heart. "You counsel me to turn to Veylin?"
It was extraordinary. Did Dírmaen think the case so hopeless that there was no harm in letting him try . . . and much good, if it helped Saelon accept that she must go to Srathen Brethil? He was an honorable man, but he neither liked nor trusted Dwarves—particularly himself, believing him too familiar with Saelon. Or did he suspect their affairs were snarled together, and Gwinnor required some satisfaction from him as well?
"So determined a refusal to answer is in itself an answer," Dírmaen said shortly, "but you will not leave unless compelled. You will not heed me, nor Maelchon's distress. Something must give, Lady. He—" flinging a hand towards Veylin "—says he is your friend. Let him prove it. If even he cannot get an answer, will you go?"
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Collieshangie: Scots, a noisy quarrel; literally, a dog fight.
Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata): an aquatic plant of shallow water and highly prized medicinal herb; one of its uses was as a spring tonic.
Aulë: the Vala whose province is the material substance of the world, a smith and master of crafts; also the creator of the Dwarves. His spouse is Yavanna, the Queen of the Earth and Giver of Fruits, whose special care is given to all growing things.
Arthedain: after the death of Eärendur in T.A. 861, Arnor was divided into three smaller kingdoms by his sons; Arthedain constituted the lands in the north and west, and was the only realm to preserve the line of Isildur. It was broken by the Witch-king in T.A. 1975, just over 500 years before this story takes place.
Thrawn: Scots, perverse, obstinate, and intractable; also cross, sullen, or dour. One of the names given in Sindarin to Dwarves is Dornhoth, "the thrawn folk" (HoME XI: The War of the Jewels, "Quendi and Eldar," App. B, p. 388).
Mirröanwi : "Incarnates, Children of Eru"; language-using creatures having both hröa (body) and fëa (soul), i.e., Elves, Men, Hobbits, Dwarves, and Orcs (HoME X: Morgoth's Ring, "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth," p. 350; HoME XI: The War of the Jewels, "Quendi and Eldar," p. 405).
Pengolodh: one of the great Elven loremasters, born in West Beleriand in the First Age and a resident of Gondolin from its founding to its fall. He remained in Middle-Earth until late in the Second Age, and lived for a time among the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm to further his linguistic research (HoME XI: The War of the Jewels, "Quendi and Eldar," p. 396–7). For those who feel I have slighted Legolas by leaving him out of this list of Dwarf-friends, allow me to point out that this takes place thirty years before Gimli is born.
Casallië: Quenya, "Dwarves" as a people; derived from Khazâd. This is the respectful term.
Maiar: the lesser Ainur, the followers and vassals of the Valar.
Nárwen: Quenya, "fire maiden."
Haleth: a woman of the First Age who led her people from Thargelion to the Forest of Brethil after the death of her father and brother. Thingol claimed Brethil, though it was outside the Girdle of Melian, and would have denied Haleth the right to settle there, but Finrod convinced him to relent.
Emeldir: "the Man-hearted," wife of Barahir and mother of Beren, who armed and led the women and children of the surviving folk of Bëor from Dorthonion to the Forest of Brethil when their men's resistance to the forces of Morgoth became desperate.
Carcanet: a highly ornamented necklace.
"For which one?": for those of you who are not well versed in the lore of the Elder Days, this is a pointed rhetorical question. Yes, Finrod died, rather horribly, for his faithful friendship to Beren, the son of Barahir. Yet Thingol was also slain in a chamber far underground, scathing Dwarves in his pride and his greed for the united Silmaril and Nauglamír. There is little to choose between in their respective ends; but what brought them to those ends—and what those motives accomplished—are as different as day and night. As a descendent of Beren and Luthien, Saelon has a decided preference.
Shuttle: the object used to carry weft threads, which runs across the width of a piece of fabric, through the warp (lengthwise) threads in weaving.
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