The Dûnhebaid Cycle
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Fair Folk and Foul: 9. Harvest Home
Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of Harvest-home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
--Henry Alford, "Come Ye Thankful People, Come"
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Veylin laid aside the burin and turned the tablet of malachite from side to side under the lamp, studying the design cut into its alternating bright and dark layers. "Yes?" he responded when someone cleared their throat behind him, not taking his eyes from the stone.
"A message from the White Cliffs," Arðri told him.
A little more there in the corner, to deepen the shadow; a hair's-breadth, or he would strike light again. Taking up the burin, he delicately cut that mite more, then considered the result.
Perfect. As the light shifted, the leaves seemed to flutter, as if in a breath of air. Setting stone and tool down, he turned to his eldest prentice. "They harvest?"
Arðri held up a circle of braided barley-straw: hand-broad, bright fallow gold, bristling with heads of plump grain. "So it would seem."
"Have Vitr and Vitnir been told?" Veylin turned back to his bench, smiling as he laid the malachite in its chamois-lined box. The setting could wait, since he had not decided whether muted silver-grey or verdigrised copper would suit it best. Once his cousins had taken their share of the Men's crop, perhaps he would have peace enough to decide. How they had been fretting, since they saw its promise last month, fearing some ill chance would rob them of their payment.
"Aye. There was more to the message: we are all bid to their harvest feast on the morrow."
"All?" Veylin chuckled and began returning his tools to their places. "That is hospitable, although they would not expect so many as we are. Still, not all will wish to go." Glancing over his shoulder, he asked, "Do you care to see the White Cliffs? One cannot avoid the sight or sound of the sea, but the Lady brews a fine light ale and I do not doubt that we will be fed very well." Proud as she was, Saelon would almost certainly aim to clear the shame of months of scant hospitality in one grand stroke.
"Are they not very poor?" Arðri asked dubiously.
"In everything but foodstuffs," he assured him, "which will do us no harm." No indeed; a bit of fresh beef or mutton would be welcome, and if fortune favored, they might see it on the table more often henceforth.
That brought a smile to Arðri's face. "I suppose not. Are they truly friendly?" he asked. "I have never found Men so."
"Nor I, before this," Veylin admitted. "Yet as with all folk, there are Men, and there are Men. Those still at the White Cliffs have been through the furnace, and are staunch folk of good will. I have heard," he said, "Longbeards of Erebor speak with regret of the Men of Dale. They must have been like to these."
"Much wealth came to Erebor through them, it is said."
Veylin laughed. "I do not aim for so much, at least not in my lifetime. I have no wish to find a dragon on my doorstep." Taking up his cherrywood stick—the fiend-torn knee stiffened when he sat long at his work—he levered himself to his feet, leaving the shavings and slivers of malachite for Oski to tidy away. "How far has word spread?"
"Fram is on the door, and took the token to your cousins," Arðri replied. "Skani brought it to me."
"Then," Veylin hooked the plaited ring from his prentice's hand with the head of his stick, "I had best make the rounds, and see who wishes a holiday. Close up here, then let Oski know. The two of you can help my cousins capture the ponies." Leaving Arðri to douse the lamps and lock up, Veylin stumped out into the passage and around the corner to Bersi's workshop.
His old friend had only lately come out to see why he was so mad as to dwell this side of the mountains, but one visit to the lower level Nordri and his sons had opened over the summer had been enough for him to send his son back to Sulûnduban for his equipage and prentice. Since the door was part open, Veylin rapped with his stick.
He hardly had time to lower it before Barði swung the oaken panel wide. "Come in," Bersi called heartily from beside his hearth, "and see what Nordri's spoil gives us. Trust you," the Broadbeam coppersmith chuckled, "to sniff out the best ore I have seen in these parts for a century. You are wasted on those crystals of yours."
Veylin snorted; this was their perennial argument. He loved copper for its ruddy warmth, but it did not engross him. "Where is the challenge in something so malleable?"
"In the alloying, of course. Take the chest to my chamber," Bersi told Barði, nudging the strongly banded box with his boot, and tossed Veylin an ingot. He appraised the weighty, hand-sized bar of gleaming metal while his friend's son hefted the load and left. When the door had shut behind him, Bersi shook his head. "You fox," he murmured, grinning. "I knew you must be onto something good. Especially when you came back here after that," he gestured at Veylin's bad leg.
"So you are willing to stay a while?"
"As long as it is worth our while."
"What of the Elves?" Bersi rumbled.
"I have heard no complaints. Though," he admitted, smiling, "I have not been to the Havens recently. It is not Círdan that concerns me. A chest or two of these—" he pitched the ingot back "—for his ships should balance any disagreement over borders. It is the remaining Noldor smiths, especially Gwinnor, that I would hide from."
"Hm." Bersi's narrowed gaze said, more clearly than any words, that he knew there was more than copper here. The Noldor would not trouble themselves for copper. "And what of the Men we hear of, led by a woman?"
Veylin held up the circle of barley straw. "Our neighbors have just invited us to their harvest feast. Vitr and Vitnir go to collect payment for past work. Come meet them and their Lady, and judge for yourself."
"You are friendly with this Lady?"
Such tact, from so old a friend, was in itself a kind of warning. Much of his behavior must seem strange to his folk; it would not do to be seen as too eccentric. He ought to spend most of the winter, when little could be done at the opal dykes, back home, reassuring kith and kin . . . and finding buyers for his own harvest. The wine-dark garnets and bright fire opals, more golden than any grain, would unknit many brows.
"She saved my life, and my leg," Veylin said plainly, kneading the now-familiar ache. "The things that did this took her brother from her. We have found common cause. And," he added, with a sly grin, not wishing to spoil his mood with brooding, "she can bring a goose to the table in a way that puts your brother to shame."
"That," Bersi declared, brows raised in challenge accepted, "is a claim that must be proved."
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An even dozen they made as they rode to the White Cliffs. The day was fair, the hills amethyst with heather: very like that day he had tramped down to the shore with Thekk and Vestri—had it been a whole year?—and found his treasure.
Yet this was treasure of another sort, traveling with good company in anticipation of a merry feast. When they were not singing, those who had been there took turns telling tales of the folk at White Cliffs, to prepare the others for what they might meet. Nordri rhapsodized on the limestone of the cliffs; with his laconic outrage, Rekk managed to turn the perilous misunderstandings of their introduction to Saelon into farce. The dry, matter-of-fact way Thyrnir spoke of the sea nearly curled the beard with dread, so it was as well that Vitr turned the talk to music, including the beautiful harping of the otherwise churlish Partalan. Vitnir told of the sorry state they had found the Men in at the start of the winter just past: new-come from ravaged Srathen Brethil, houseless save for a few caves too small for their numbers, and Aniel's gift of venison as Veylin and Saelon strove in generosity and pride.
Veylin laughed, as he could afford to, having won, and was giving them the story of her interest in the ruined tower and lore as they came down the track by the broad stream. He was interrupted by a hail from the thickets.
"Good day!" It was two of the younger womenfolk with laden baskets. The taller, a goodly brooch of silver and enamel at her breast, was Saelon's niece. "Welcome, masters," she greeted them, giving a bob of a curtsey. "We are glad you can join us for our harvest feast. Ride on, and you will find my aunt by foot of the track. Forgive us for not accompanying you—" she hoisted her basket, laughing "—but there will be no berry pie if we do!"
"Well met!" Veylin returned cheerfully, with enough of a bow for form's sake. "We will leave you to your work, then, since supper depends on it."
As they went on, Rekk scanned the rising cliffs and surrounding thickets with leisurely suspicion. "Is there reason to be wary?" Grani asked. He rode between Rekk and Thyrnir, who had just become his prentice.
"I doubt it," Rekk replied, "but I feel eyes on us. It might be no more than the children, although I do not know how many of those are left. The Dúnedain boys were the worst," he grumbled, not unapprovingly, "playing at ambushes, but they will have gone with their mother."
"Unless Hanadan ran away again," Vitnir chuckled. "It is hard to say which are madder: the Dúnedain who will not stay here, or those who will not go!"
"They are all as mad as hawks," Rekk rumbled, craning to look up at the cliff. "There is one, perched there! Did you know he was to stay?"
"Who?" Veylin asked, gazing towards the narrow beginning of the cliff-shelf. The black beat of Craec's wings against the pale stone drew his attention, and he saw the raven lighting beside a dark-haired Man.
"Dírmaen," Rekk answered, raising his hand in reply to the Man's brief wave of greeting. "He is one of the Men of the Star who scouted Srathen Brethil. And he was in the hall when they held their council."
"Was he?" Veylin lifted a hand as well. "I do not remember seeing him there." Had the Man remained as a concerned kinsman, or been set as a watch upon Saelon and her people?
"Some of those Men of the Star are near as bad as Elves that way," Barði observed, as they came out onto the plain between the cliffs and the sea. "So much stealth cannot be honest."
Honest or not, one was less troublesome than a half-dozen. Or the heirs of Rivendell. "If he would roost up there rather than join the feast," Veylin dismissed, "let him keep Craec company." Before them, the field was reduced largely to stubble, studded with stout stooks of barley. "Ai!" he roared at the Men laboring along the last edge of the crop, standing in his stirrups. "Khazâd ai-mênu!"
Their heads lifted like those of startled deer, then Maelchon's booming laugh rolled back, echoing dimly off the cliffs above. Passing the sickle to his servant Fokel, who had been binding sheaves behind him, the big black-bearded husbandman gave a sweeping wave and strode to meet them. "Welcome, masters," he greeted them heartily. "At your service!"
"Well met, Maelchon," Veylin answered, removing his hood and bowing. "At yours and your family's. Is the crop worth the troubles it has given you?"
"You know it must be good," the farmer beamed, "if, starved for corn as we have been, we feel the need of our neighbors to help eat it. And drink it!" He was so cheerful that Veylin wondered if the ale was already flowing. "Come—the hearth in the hall was too small for our thanksgiving, so we have spread our board on the earth itself." Maelchon gestured towards the foot of the track and, as Rian had said, busy womenfolk were gathered there, near the drifting smoke of a fire. "Hai! Artan! Leod! The ponies!"
Saelon left the bustle around the fire to greet them as they dismounted. "Is this all you could muster, Veylin?" she asked, in a tone of disappointment that her smile gave lie to. "Granted, I see some new faces, but there are others I miss."
"Am I supposed to drive my folk to your table, so you may make amends for past niggardliness?" Was that a whole stirk over the fire? He could not help but laugh. "Truly, Saelon, you beggar belief."
"So long as you believe that we are grateful for your aid and counsel," she replied, offering him the cup she carried, "I will be content." Looking past him, she added, "And you, Vitr and Vitnir. We would not have this harvest but for your trust. We are all at your service."
"At yours and your family's, Lady," Vitr assured her, as Veylin relieved her of the cup. "That trust looks to be well-rewarded."
Saelon gestured one of the younger women forward—Muirne, was it?—with cups and ale. "You will forgive us, I hope, for taking something from the crop before it was divided."
"So long as we still get our share," Vitnir chuckled, taking a brimming cup.
"Master Nordri." Saelon dropped him a curtsey. "The hall has served us well . . . and been admired by those who are better judges of your craft than I am. Where are your sons? I would thank them as well."
He swept off his hood and bowed low. "Their work detained them, Lady, but I will tell them of your kind words. May I present my cousin Grani, Guti's son, in their stead?"
"At your service, Lady," the carpenter greeted her, favorably impressed by her courtesy to his kinsman.
"At yours and your family's, Master Grani." Taking a cup from Muirne, Saelon offered it to Rekk. "Master Rekk."
"You are not wearing my gold, Lady," he observed. Was he displeased? Even Veylin was unsure, for what had begun as a reproach had shifted strangely.
"No," she said, sobering. "As a token of lordship, it had ceased to serve, so I gave it in return for more practical wealth."
Rekk shrugged and took the ale. "It was yours to do with as you would."
"Since your young kinsman's continued attendance was the condition of the trade," Thyrnir noted, "I assume you gained your point with the sons of Elrond . . . and his mother."
"His mother?" Saelon looked bemused for a moment, then gave a clipped laugh. "Hanadan, you mean. Yes, he is here—somewhere." She cast a vain glance around. "Actually, I have kept two kinsmen. Urwen would not foster her son to me, so Halpan remained as well. I am surprised he was not here to greet you," a shadow fleeted across her face, "but he has his heart set on including salmon in the feast, and had no luck last night."
That young Man, hardly more than a stripling, had been deeply troubled when Veylin last saw him. He had been on the fiend-hunt where the Chieftain of his people had found his death, and felt in some way responsible. With the loss of his elders, he had taken as much of the burden from Saelon as he could, but had proved too tender for the load. "The more ale for us, then," he made light of the matter. There was a tale here, but now was not the time for it. "Here are friends of mine, who have but lately come to our halls: Bersi and his brother Bersa, the sons of Berg; Bersi's son Barði; Arðri, Orð's son; and a follower of my cousins, Skani, son of Skaði."
"Welcome, masters," Saelon greeted them, curtseying. "At your service."
Bersi took off his peridot-green hood and bowed. "At yours and your family's, Lady: for your generosity in including us, as well as your preservation of my friend."
"That has been its own reward," she assured him. "And is it not said, the more the merrier? After the grim year we have had, this bounty is a blessing unlooked for. Who would not share such joy?"
"Most folk," Nordri said bluntly, saluting her with his cup. "A pity you did not have more of this when we delved your hall, or it might have been larger!"
"For this?" Bersa exclaimed. "Oh, it is good if you like such thin stuff," he told Saelon, then turned back to the stonemason, "but if you will delve for drink, we must talk about enlarging the kitchen."
"The stone here is as light and sweet as the Lady's ale," Nordri informed him, with a sniff. "Even you cannot brew a fair match for that dark, bitter stone."
"If your belly was not your master—" Vitnir gazed pointedly at Bersa's more than ample girth "—you could shape the kitchen as you pleased."
"But then he would not much care what the kitchens were like," Bersi said in his brother's defense.
Veylin glanced at Saelon. She was watching them with interest, and a smile only just restrained by politeness. "Feed them," he advised. "It is the only way to stop their mouths, short of work or war."
"One usually feeds guests at a feast," she told him mildly, gesturing to the other women, who brought laden platters and bowls, "though not to silence them. Is this so dire a quarrel?"
Grani had taken Bersa's part. "No," Veylin sighed. It could not even be called a quarrel, not in comparison to the bitter divisions that had riven her people, though it could grow tiresome. "Yet I had thought you wearied of argument."
"You are not shrill," she reflected, then gave him a sidelong grin. "And they are not my folk."
On the verge of jesting reproach for making light of another's misfortune, he caught Bersi's eye upon him and forbore, tasting the ale instead. It was as good as he remembered, and so were the bannocks, served with cheeses new and aged, butter, and honey. As he listened to Maelchon's tentative plans to double the extent of the field next season, Veylin watched Saelon move among his companions, topping up cups and horns, speaking with those unfamiliar to her as readily as to Thyrnir or Rekk.
He had forgotten how strange her forwardness was, even for a woman of Men, until he saw the stiffness of the newcomers. If you did not know the sea-forged boldness of her heart, what could explain it, save a fool's confidence or madness? Bersi was punctiliously polite, as if she had been a companion's maiden aunt newly introduced to him. Arðri, with less experience of Men and the unguardedness of their women, seemed scandalized, so gruff was his manner; when Saelon had passed on, a low-voiced comment from Thyrnir made him bristle.
"Will you show us your hall, Lady?" Grani asked, as the platters were cleared away. "My cousin has often spoken of the fineness of the stone. Is it true that an Elf of Lindon praised it?"
"He did," Saelon assured him.
Barði cocked his head skeptically. "Was it one of the Noldor?"
"No, Círdan's coastwarden, originally of the Falas, I am told."
Veylin eyed her. Who could have told her that, save one of the sons of Elrond? What had passed between them, down on the shore, that she could now speak calmly of Lindon's emissary?
Bersa snorted. "A Sea-Elf. What would he know of stone?"
"Felagund built their havens," Nordri declared, "so he will have seen good work."
"Let me find you another guide," Saelon offered, "so you can judge for yourselves. I would take you, but I must attend to the division of the crop with Vitr and Vitnir."
"Do you think Maelchon needs your support, Lady?" Vitr spoke lightly, but his brows lowered.
"Indeed, no," she laughed. "I would learn from him, now that part of the crop is mine."
Vitnir regarded her with narrowed eyes. "We had not heard that you had a claim on the crop."
"You should have lingered longer on your last visit," Maelchon chastened, grinning. "Saelon bought out both Urwen and Mais."
"With the chain?" Rekk's interest roused; he looked as if he were calculating what that might amount to. Veylin, who had made a point of inquiring before he and Thyrnir had departed, smiled with satisfaction, seeing another part of his plans fall into place. Some two score kine, half a hundred sheep including her own, and a less certain number of horses . . . . She would not need so many. Nor would the smaller number of people she led—and Maelchon had stock of his own.
"In part," she allowed, with a reserve that showed she meant to bargain.
Vitr's stare was an accusation. You knew this? he shaped in iglishmêk.
Veylin gave a curt finger-slash of denial. Her intent only. All depended on the kinswoman that hated her. What difference does it make?
Will you favor her?
The directness of his heir's accusation shocked him, but not as much as the implied misunderstanding of his motives for aiding these folk. "Lady," he said, giving Saelon a bow, "would you allow me to show your hall to my companions? We should not interrupt your folk at their work, especially since it is on our behalf." Infuriated though he was by the insinuation that he did not place his kindred's interests foremost, Veylin choked back his anger. To have it out here, now, would offend their hosts.
And shame Saelon. I do not need to. Let his cousins deal with her directly and learn her mettle. The woman who could use the sons of Elrond to gain her will had no need of his patronage.
Though Saelon was still smiling, the sharpness of her gaze told him she had sensed the tension among them. "Of course. You will find Murdag there, milling, with Gràinne and the babes, but they will not trouble you, I am sure."
Bersa saw no reason to trudge up to the cliffs to see one small hall, when there was still food and drink where he sat; and, unaccountably, Rekk elected to remain as well, nursing his ale and watching Vitr, Vitnir, and Skani head into the field with Maelchon and Saelon. The rest of them trooped up the track, silent behind his anger.
When, halfway up, he growled a curse against the fiends for his lameness, Bersi murmured, "So clear a show that she trusts you as a kinsman may not help."
No; probably not. In his haste to find a passable excuse for stalking off, so he would not do or say something even more rash, he had not considered how this would appear. As a kinsman? That was the best complexion that could be put upon their freedom with each other. How had he fallen into such unguarded familiarity? "That she is a shrewd judge of character, I cannot help," Veylin grumbled. And, to justify himself, "Is a just regard for our kind so common that I should spurn it, when I stumble upon it?"
Bersi glanced at his game leg, but said only, "She speaks very fair."
It was his judgment that he doubted. Like Vitr, he thought him over-grateful. Or worse.
"She is rarely otherwise," Thyrnir noted, the plainness of the statement pointing up his underlying meaning, "even when she is bitter."
Veylin's heart was soothed somewhat by his nephew's support. He knew what cause Veylin had to regard Saelon so highly, and understood why cultivating her was likely to more than repay the modest efforts they had made. But Thyrnir was notoriously fond of his mother's brother, and he was young. What weight would his words carry?
They had reached the cliff-shelf. "I wonder," Nordri mused, gazing up the sheer height with longing, "what she would take in return for some of this stone? We could quarry it from the other cliff," he continued, "which would trouble them not at all. It would make good facing, to lighten the halls and passageways at Gunduzahar."
So it would. Perhaps as much as the timing of the older Dwarf's prosaic speculation eased the blackness of Veylin's mood. The stonemason had no special cause to favor her, and he thought Saelon worth dealing with.
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Burin: an engraving tool with a sharp pointed tip used on metal or stone.
Malachite: copper carbonate; a green semiprecious stone with light and dark banding, usually found near copper deposits.
Chamois: a soft, pliable leather; originally the hide of the goat-like antelope of the same name (Rupicapra rupicapra), but it could be made from other hides as well.
Verdigris: a greenish compound formed on copper due to weathering or the application of acetic acid (vinegar).
"been through the furnace": the Dwarven metaphor here is to smelting, where ore is tried and the pure metal extracted; i.e., you know what you're getting.
Spoil: the rock or soil removed from an excavation. The tableland in which Veylin's halls are delved is basalt, an igneous rock frequently rich in valuable minerals, including copper.
Broadbeams: one of the seven kindreds of the Dwarves; like the Firebeards, their Father awoke in the northern Ered Luin (HoME XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, p. 301).
"for his ships": studding or sheathing the hull of an ocean-going ship with copper below the waterline was the only practical way (except for taking the ship out of the water on a regular basis) to deter teredos or shipworms (family Teredinidae), which would burrow into the wood and weaken it.
Amethyst: violet to purple-red quartz; the gem-quality stone is usually found in geodes.
Khazâd ai-mênu: "the Dwarves are upon you"; the second half of the traditional Dwarvish battle cry.
Peridot: golden-green gemstone, a transparent variety of the mineral olivine; commonly found in basalts.
Iglishmêk: dwarven gesture-language.
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