The Dûnhebaid Cycle
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Of Like Passion: 8. Ebb-Tide
Practical people, I have been told,
Weary of the sea for his waves go up and down
Endlessly to no visible purpose;
Tire of the tides, for the tides are tireless, the tides
Are well-content with their own march-tune
And nothing accomplished is no matter to them.
--Robinson Jeffers, "Practical People"
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"And if I can," Veylin countered, glaring up at Dírmaen, "and they are granted tenure, will you leave off your objections to them dwelling here?" The Man would get no one-sided bargain from him: if he and Saelon must hazard something, so must the Ranger.
"I have not said yes!" Saelon protested.
"Yes," Dírmaen agreed, thrusting out his hand.
They were about to clap hands on the bargain when Saelon smacked Dírmaen's away. "I have not," she repeated furiously, glowering at them both, "said yes."
Veylin hesitated, drawing his hand partway back. "Have you no faith in me, Saelon?"
"I will not give him—" she stabbed a finger at the Ranger "—and Partalan the satisfaction of proving that I cannot manage, and must turn to some man or other, even if of other race."
Dírmaen looked both startled and incensed at being named in one breath with the swordsman. "I—and Partalan?" Veylin had seen that he liked the Dunlending little better than Dwarves.
"Who else objects to my actions? Not Halpan. Not Maelchon. Not the men of Srathen Brethil," she drove her point home savagely. "And you," she turned to Veylin, "I am not sure I wish to be a pawn—I and my people!—in some game you have played with this Elf for longer than most of us have lived."
"You think I would treat you—and them—so?"
She gave a strangled sound of rage. "No—oh," and her eyes filled with tears, "I wish none of you had ever come here! Why could you not leave me in peace!"
As she whirled to flee, Veylin lurched off the bench, stifling his knee's objection to a harsh grunt, and blocked her way with his stick. "Do you wish him to think you weak," he demanded, jerking his head towards the Ranger, "when it is only that the Elf has driven you to distraction?"
"I do not think she is weak," Dírmaen snapped. "Nor that she cannot manage."
"Are you not supposed to be a quiet Man?" Veylin growled. "Give her a little of the peace she wishes!" Turning back to Saelon he said, as evenly as he could, "Come; sit down, Lady. If you wish to set about Gwinnor yourself, you have my blessings. But you cannot begin in a mood such as this. You are like good steel that has been hammered too long."
"I—" Saelon looked between them, the louring Ranger and himself, and dragged her sleeve across her face. "I have said all I dare . . . and more than was wise," she confessed bleakly. "He is too much for me."
"Well," Veylin rumbled, grieved by her mortification but glad she was able to recognize when she was truly overmatched, "now I have your measure. Something more than three armed Dwarves, and something less than one born in the Blessed Realm."
She grimaced at him. "I did not do well against the Dwarves, either."
"Nor badly, or we would not be in this predicament." She did not sit, but at least her anger had broken. "You must choose, it seems, between having your pride in Srathen Brethil, or the chance of quarrelsome menfolk here."
"Chance," she scoffed, under her breath.
"Chance of you all being quarrelsome here, where at least you can quench your vexation in the sea."
Still dour, Saelon sighed. "You have a dreadfully plain way of putting things, Veylin."
"One must, if one is to keep peace between Dwarves."
Looking to Dírmaen, she asked, "Did you suggest that as honest counsel, or in spite?"
The Ranger's hawkish face grew austere with reproach. "You think that I bear Master Veylin so much ill-will?"
Saelon considered him gravely, dark brows drawn together. "I do not know."
That struck him dumb long enough that Veylin began to fear he had retreated into silence, as he did when stymied. "I hope all my counsels are honest," Dírmaen finally murmured.
"Then I will take you at your word." Her gazed lingered on the Man as she said, "I will be grateful for any effort you wish to make, Veylin, whatever the result. You do not need to prove your friendship to me."
Veylin snorted—the thought did not deserve words to dismiss it—and joined her in eyeing the Ranger. "Like most Men who wear the star-brooch, Dírmaen takes a deal of convincing," he acknowledged. He could not, in justice, quarrel with that; yet he wished the Dúnadan had more of Saelon's penetration. "I have told him before that I desire good neighbors. If he requires more proof than he has already seen, I will strive to content him."
Brave words, he had time to reflect, his game leg making the climb to the tower laborious. Though between Saelon's distress and the Ranger's abiding mistrust, his heart burned hot enough that he did not repent them. Some heat would not go amiss, for he had retreated into cold caution with the Noldo, concerned that his first bold stroke had only revealed how much he feared to lose. He must keep his anger firmly in check, however, despite this aggravation to his knee; he did not wish a breach with Lindon . . . nor such a reliable buyer of stones. Well, he would undoubtedly have ample time to cool his heels and his temper as the Elf petted and prattled to his beast.
Glancing up from the treacherous footing of the slope to see how much further he must climb, Veylin found Gwinnor standing at the top, only a half-dozen paces away, gazing down on him. That solemn face—had there been a touch of pity there?—curved into an inquisitive smile. "Have you come to seek inspiration from the work of your ancestors, Veylin?"
The jaunty Elvish impudence was more grating than his knee. "No," he began testily, then caught himself and moderated his tone. "No, I wish to speak with you, Gwinnor."
"Of course! Shall we go down," he waved his hand back the way Veylin had just come, "where we can sit in greater comfort, with a cup to hand?"
Aye, he might well have a thirst, having just returned from tramping with the Dúnedain, but Veylin was not about to turn around and stump back down that slope just yet, not until he had rested his leg. "No, let us sit up here, where we will not be pestered by the children." Putting his head down, he concentrated on climbing those last few paces as creditably as he could, setting his teeth on the pain.
Gwinnor fell back and began casting about for a seat that pleased him. "You find them a trial?" Veylin heard the smile in his melodious voice. "I think they are charming."
"Really?" Veylin muttered, as he finally reached the top, then, more civilly, "I am glad you find them so." Let the Elf be fastidious; he sat on the first decent stone that offered, and fixed Gwinnor with his gaze. "I had thought otherwise, seeing how you are harrowing their elders."
"Harrowing?" Gwinnor, who had been contemplating one of the broader stones, looked around at him, black brows arched high and the corner of his supple mouth quirking. "In what way?"
"Killing their hope with indifference. If you mean to refuse them, it would be kinder to say so. They will be hard-pressed to plough enough land in Srathen Brethil to keep themselves, if they do not start soon."
"Then let them go and begin," Gwinnor replied with a careless shrug. "They know they should."
Veylin scowled up at the towering Elf. Subtlety, even a certain underhandedness, he had expected, but not such frank heartlessness. "So you are proof against charm, and these smiles you give them are false."
Gwinnor gave a soft snort. "Puppies are endearing creatures, but I do not wish to crowd my house with hounds. One Man, even a few, would be tolerable, but surely you have seen how quickly they multiply, Veylin. Two of their women are carrying now, and if that fetching black-haired lass will but make up her mind who the sire is to be, she will be in like state ere long. Oh, it is a glad thing to see," he admitted, folding himself down onto his chosen seat, "but we do not wish to be overrun by Men."
As well that they had not gone down; such blunt talk could only have offended their hosts. "Their numbers can increase swiftly," Veylin allowed, wondering if the Elf had divined that his own hopes were pinned on the fact, "though they often fall even faster. Were the lands east not thickly peopled, when there were still kings? Men are frail creatures, and the world grows no safer." Seeing no change on that fair mask of a face, he declared, "These folk of Srathen Brethil long lived on our lands, north of the Little Lhûn, and we never found them any trouble."
"Then you may have them back. You desire to trade with them, to save yourselves the trouble of raising your own food. We do not, and they take many of the beasts we would eat ourselves."
"Many?" Veylin questioned, dubious. "The fowl and fish are innumerable."
"Waterfowl, yes. Yet the birds of the moor are much diminished, and there are far fewer deer than I remember."
Veylin shook his head. "You have been told that they were without corn most of last year?"
"That does not explain their inroads on the oakwood—especially," Gwinnor said, and now he seemed genuinely aggrieved, "since they did not need the timber to build, you having provided them with a roof. Men do not eat wood. There are few enough trees this far north, and it is a grief to lose any."
The subject could not be avoided any longer. Veylin prayed he would not regret this. "Do you think my folk have used none?"
The Noldo's eyes, the color of blued steel, cooled as he calculated, lips slightly pursed. "If the Men have not been wasteful, your following must be larger than I thought. I suppose you have been making free with the beasts on our lands as well?"
"Your lands? We are north of the Little Lhûn."
Gwinnor dismissed his counterclaim with an impatient gesture. "I grant that your kin have dwelt in the Ered Lindon since before I crossed the Ice. But you are not settled in the mountains, my friend. This has been Elvish land since your forefathers built this tower for Caranthir."
"How do you know where I dwell?" Veylin challenged, even as his heart clenched.
"Am I blind?" Gwinnor scoffed. "You have been here long enough to start beating bridleways through the heather, and the Men keep no ponies. However do you keep Dwarves so near the sea, Veylin? Have you found treasure in the black heart of that flat-topped hill?"
The awful silence lasted only a few heartbeats before he added with dry courtesy, "Pardon me, Veylin. I ought to know by now that asking such questions of Dwarves is vain."
Better he should think it there, than where it truly lay. Stony-faced, Veylin prayed he had not given the smallest sign of relief, which might reveal his error to the Elf. "Now that the fiends are slain," he said, voice brittle with restraint, "I will come to Mithlond as usual in the autumn, and discuss the matter with Círdan himself."
"We will be glad to see you and your work there again," Gwinnor assured him, with warmth as well as courtesy. "I will tell Círdan to expect you."
Veylin bowed his head slightly in stiff-necked acknowledgement, suspicious of the encouragement after such a sally. If the Elves insisted on some accounting from him, he would give it—but to the Shipwright himself, who cared little for the bounty of Mahal, and not to this foster-brother, whose love for the Maker's brightest gifts was still unsated after three ages of the world.
For a time they sat there, eyeing each other, until Gwinnor gave a restive sigh. "Since you want some decision on their behalf, will you at least tell me why you wish these Men for neighbors?"
That had never been a secret. "They are honest and stout-hearted." Simple folk, too, which he was inclined to consider a virtue at present.
Gwinnor bowed his head. "Praise indeed, from a Casar such as you. Yet surely, if you have a goodly company, you have no need of their slight strength."
"Few as they are, our vengeance on the fiends would have been more costly without them," Veylin asserted. "The fell creatures have taught me that complacence is unwise. Erebor had no notion of a dragon falling on their heads, but the proud Longbeards have had to seek refuge with us here, far from the mansions of their fathers. Where would we turn, should calamity befall?" He clenched his hands on his blackthorn stick; such thoughts had weighed on him since his wounding. "One cannot have too many friends in perilous times. Even one person of good will can make the difference between life and death." Saelon spoke of sowing and harvest; he would hoard what treasure fell his way.
Gwinnor let his gaze fall to Veylin's stiff, outstretched leg. "Certainly you found that to be the case. Such a strange friendship," he mused. "I marvel that you did not mortally offend each other before the first day was out. Yet," he observed, with a suggestion of cynicism, "whether by affinity or design, you and the Lady harp on the same theme. Did you know she had the cheek to imply I was more of Thingol's mind than Finrod's, in dealing with folk of other race?"
Veylin's eyebrows shot up in mingled delight and alarm. "Cheek?" he exclaimed, wondering just what Saelon had said. "That is a feeble word for audacity such as hers." Then, remembering how shrewd a judge of character the Dúnadaneth was, his brows fell again, russet thickets shading his narrowed eyes. "Are you?"
The Elf stared at him. "You ought to know better than she. How long have we known each other, Veylin?" When he did not answer, Gwinnor grew solemn. "You think so highly of her judgment?"
"I do." Dwarves long had profit from their dealings with Thingol, before that last ill-fated bargain; profit, but no friendship.
"Because she finds your company congenial?"
Veylin chuffed. "Do you think me susceptible to mere regard? Given the circumstances of our first acquaintance, yes. As you said, it is a wonder it did not come to a tragic end. It would have, save for her courage and forbearance. We do not," he rumbled, "find fair-minded understanding among other folk so often that we misprize it And it is not limited to Dwarves. She freely admits your rights and grievances, and argues them against herself."
"Then why is she still here?" Gwinnor demanded.
"Do your folk not call her Gaerveldis? Because she cannot bear to part from the sea!"
The Elf lapsed back into jaded indifference. "Yes, that she has a taste for it, we know. But her infatuation is no reason we should suffer so many unwanted guests. Let her go and do her duty by her people," he concluded. "The sea will still be here when she is done."
"Infatuation?" Veylin rejected the derisive word with a snort. "Does a sensible person sit on a rock amid the sea in Girithron for infatuation?"
"Why else would a person of any sense do such a thing?"
Deep the Noldo might be, but he did not fathom this. "Because it speaks to her."
"Oh," Gwinnor sighed, raising supercilious brows, "she fancies herself one who hears the Ulumúri, does she?"
Words would not do. The Elf was too apt to twist them to suit himself. "Go," Veylin growled, "and ask her for the token I gave her on the shore in Girithron."
"You, on the shore?" That roused his interest. Grinning, he asked, "Whatever took you there?"
"Go and see."
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Blessed Realm: Aman, where the Valar dwell.
Quench: to cool suddenly by immersion in liquid; an ironworking process that produces the hardness (and therefore sharpness) desirable in a good blade.
Star-brooch: the "brooch of silver shaped like a rayed star" (LotR, "The Passing of the Grey Company") worn by Rangers.
Ered Lindon: the name the Noldor gave to the Ered Luin or Blue Mountains.
The Ice: the Helcaraxë, a narrow, frozen strait in the far north between Aman and Middle-Earth in the First Age. The Noldor who were left behind when Fëanor burned the ships taken at Alqualondë crossed here with many losses.
Casar: Quenya, "Dwarf"; derived from Khazâd. This is the respectful term.
Ulumúri: the horns of Ulmo, wrought of white shell.
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