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The Dûnhebaid Cycle

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Of Like Passion: 1. No Friend Like

            Where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.


--Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Homesick in Heaven"


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Introducing Dwarves into a delf was as delicate and uncertain a business as the first tap on a rough gemstone.  The two-day journey from Sulûnduban, the mansion at the headwaters of the Lune, had given Veylin a clearer view of the character of those he had invited to join them, but the icy heights of the Ered Luin at the tail end of winter were not so trying as uncongenial companions in the close quarters of new-delved halls.


Even though the frost had gotten into his fiend-rent knee, irritating his temper.  Perhaps it would have been wiser to let Rekk and Nordri show the place—the design and delving had been their work, after all—but Gunduzahar was Veylin's foundation, and his pride demanded the sight of their praise . . . or blame.


Auð ran a hand over the dark, rough basalt of the wall and frowned, flame-bright beard jutting ominously.


"You must use a mort of oil for the lamps," Siggr said, gazing up into the groin vaulting above the great hall, where many-branched lights hung between the high heads of the pillars, casting their warm glow over all.


Of course he had sent his prentice Oski to ready the hall to receive them, and set all ablaze.  Veylin was opening his mouth to defend the siting of the delf in such stone when Nordri snorted and waved objections away with the hood he had drawn off on the stair from below.  "It is still a work in progress," the mason reminded the half-dozen newcomers to their company, with a knowing smile.  "The stone is not pretty, but what it yields is.  There is a fine, pale limestone not three leagues from here that will make beautiful facing."


"Limestone here?" Aðal murmured in surprise, for it was rare in the northern Ered Luin.


"Wonderful stuff," Nordri assured the carver.


"This would be White Cliffs," Auð asked, "where the Men live?"


Siggr accepted a cup of mulled wine from Oski and looked to Veylin.  "Are these the Men who fled from the fiends you slew in Srathen Brethil?"


"The doughtiest of them."  Rekk passed a cup to Veylin.  "Some aided us in the slaying."


"Truly?"  Hodr hiked a skeptical brow.  "I had no notion these hill herders could handle worse than wolves.  Those seem to give them trouble enough."


Bersi, who had mutton to collect and a copper cauldron to deliver, explained, "Two are Dúnedain, though there is also a Southron swordsman, with the manners and ferocity of a warg."


As Rekk snorted, beard quivering with amusement, Veylin gave his two friends a warning scowl.  Did they think him so sensitive to their allies' honor that he could not hear the others speak slightingly of Men?


"Three only?" Hodr sniffed.


"The fourth," Nordri said, voice pointed as his pick, "was slain beside my son."


That stifled Hodr, who as a delver would work under Nordri's direction.  Veylin marveled that he should now sound so temperate when he observed, "Their count was eight more than a score when we parted, with but a third menfolk grown."  Only three more than their own number.


The sober silence—Dwarves would have been hard-pressed indeed, for women and children to be so thinly guarded—was broken by Narfi.  Bold of him to speak, as a prentice; but then he was also a cousin of Nordri's.  "Why did they flee here, further from other Men?"


Well he might wonder.  "Their lord's sister, the Lady Saelon, has long dwelt at White Cliffs.  She it was who, with her kinsman Gaernath, found and tended me when I was wounded by the fiend that slew Thekk, as we prospected here.  When the fiends broke their halls in Srathen Brethil, her brother sent his children and those who remained by him to her, and named her Lady of their folk until his son comes of age."


"He had no brothers?" Siggr asked, agog at such a thing.  "No cousins?"


"A young cousin, just hardening," Rekk answered.  "One of the Dúnedain who speared the fiends for us."


"Then why has he not taken charge of his folk?"


Rekk gave a dry laugh.  "When you have met Saelon, you will understand."  Holding out his empty cup for Oski to take, he said, "The prentices should have your baggage shifted by now, save—" he grinned at Auð "—for yours.  Come, let me show you to your chambers, so you can make good use of the time left before supper to settle in."


Cocking a warning brow at his impertinence, Auð ambled over to join Veylin as the others filed out of the hall, pausing to scuff at a gouge in the red-mottled pegmatite paving with a booted toe.  "Well?" Veylin asked, with a sudden qualm.  "What do you think?"


"That you should sit down."


"It is so bad?"  He knew he would find honesty here, and a discriminating judge.


"Fool."  Auð chuffed, and set him an example by taking one of the leather-covered armchairs near the well-stoked hearth.


Hooking a stool closer with his cherrywood stick, Veylin settled into the other armchair.  After a quiet winter in the mansion, his leg was almost as useful as it had been before their foray against the fiends—yet it would never serve him as he wished again, an ever-present vexation.  He propped his foot on the stool, laid his stick on the table beside, and folded his hands together.  "Satisfied?"


"It is better than I expected," Auð allowed, eyeing the settles dubiously.  "A paler facing will improve it greatly, but it is too spare, and the storerooms are completely inadequate.  A grand bachelor's scrape, but a bachelor's scrape nonetheless.  If you have any idea of permanence, it needs to be taken in hand."


"Why do you think Rekk and I invited you here?"


Auð sniffed.  "Because you need looking after, brother, and none of your followers dare check you, not even Rekk.  Going off to fight some kind of water-troll on that leg," she growled, but there was pride as well as derision in her gleaming beryl gaze.  "If I wish to keep my few remaining kinsmen, I must be in a position speak out against your eccentricities."


Veylin chuckled.  "When I cannot persuade you to join in them?"  His steadfast elder sister would not be here, so far from the mansion, if she had not found his arguments convincing.


"Persuade," she scoffed, fixing a stern eye on him.  "I know very well that if Thekk had not been killed, he would be here.  Thyrnir has always chased after you, since he could walk, and now that Thyrð is your prentice, where else should I be?  The boys are all I have left of him, and I would be where my heart is."


Neither the grinding in his knee nor her sudden frown stopped him from rising and going to her.  Sitting on the arm of her chair, Veylin took her hand, with its graceful rings of gold and beryl: Thekk's work, splendid things.  "Tell me what will make you comfortable, Auð, and we will get it."  Coming here was a sacrifice in security and company for her, so profound he had hardly dared ask.  Her heart notwithstanding, if the privations were too great, they could not hope to keep her.


With a sudden laugh, Auð snatched her hand away and slapped his.  "Careful, Veylin, or I will hold you to that!  You seem to be doing very well here," her teeth flashed in her fiery beard, "but is there enough to sate me, as well as your heir?"


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She must not play on her brother's tender heart, his gravest fault.  For a widow, Auð was in easy circumstances.  Her sons were old enough to earn their own way, prenticed to excellent masters; and in the fullness of time Thekk's share in this venture, which Veylin had granted to Rekk, would come to them.  As for herself, she had managed her marriage gift shrewdly enough that her craft need not support her.  She had not left Sulûnduban, the only home she had ever known, for any necessity; did not cling to her kinsmen . . . .  They had sought her aid in the most gratifying way, plying her with the opportunity to establish their halls as she thought fit, at their expense.


Halls where her grandchildren might dwell, if her sons prospered and women would deign to follow them here.  A rare and precious chance to found a delf, in these days when whole galleries of the mansion would lie empty but for the Longbeards who had fled from the dragon.  Still, it was unsettling to walk in unfamiliar passages, where she must pause to recall which way to turn.  When she saw the cherrywood door, Auð knew she had not gone astray . . . but it did not open at her sharp rap.  She did not know the patterns of their lives here yet, either.  Trying once more, she used their private knock from childhood.


As she was turning away, the door opened to show her brother's russet-framed face.  "What is it?" Veylin asked curtly.


"I wish to speak with you about Siggr," she told him, and signed, You were not at breakfast.  Both of his prentices were, but Thyrnir had been missing as well.  And he was answering his own door?  Rumors ran that he had a secret mine hereabouts.  "If this is an inopportune time . . . ."


"Siggr?"  His thoughts were elsewhere, his eyes weighing her.


"Yes."


He pushed the door out enough for her to enter, then locked it behind her.


The workshop was much like the one that now sat silent most of the year at Sulûnduban, compact and neatly ordered, iron-bound chests strapped and bolted to the dark floor along one wall, sheep fells thrown over those nearest the door.  The hearth burned only to drive off the damp today, the crucibles cold, but all the lamps blazed at his workbench, shining on chunks of dark stone and sometimes striking a fiery glint.


Auð politely averted her eyes from them.  When Veylin had left the mansions so soon after his maiming and kept away near a year, speculation had been rife among their sept.  Who would stay near the sea—if that was truly where he was—save for great profit?  The muttered doubts had been laid to rest in the autumn, his return bringing copper and cinnabar and a wealth of garnets, treasure enough to reassure their kindred that his wits were undamaged, as shrewd as ever.


Then there were the fire opals.


"Come," he invited, limping back to his bench.  "See what keeps me from Sulûnduban."


Her heart warmed by the gesture of confidence, Auð followed and, once he seated himself, laid a hand on his shoulder as she gazed on his great love.


Even in the rough, they took one's breath: chunks of frozen fire coyly peeping from their rough matrix, clear as golden glass or flickering like sparking flame.  Such beauty: if there was much of this, little wonder that he wished to dwell nearby.  "They have always enthralled you."


He smiled over his shoulder at her, and took up the opal he had been carefully freeing from the dull stone around it.  "How is Siggr troubling you?"


"He is glad to hear my suggestions for how to furnish the hall," Auð mimicked the jointer's over-tactful speech, "but they do not accord with his views . . . and," she added, dryly discontent, "he is under the impression that you have authorized him to fit it out in his own style."


Veylin sighed.  "I will speak to him after supper.  His work is very good," he told her, by way of explanation.


"Yes," she allowed, though grudgingly, "and his prentice is Nordri's cousin.  So I did not quarrel with him.  Much."  Her gaze caught on a beautiful jewel, hanging from the lamp at Veylin's left hand by a silver chain: a sea-beryl, as cool as the opals were warm.  "May I?" she asked, feeling her brother's eyes on her.


He nodded, yet there was a hesitation, telling her she had asked much.


Why, she did not know.  Though undeniably his work, the colors were not those he favored, and the subject one she had never seen him handle before.  The gem, pale blue shading towards green at one end, was as large as her thumb, its long facets splendid, untouched by art.  It was capped by tumultuous silver waves, foam-flecked with flakes of pearl.  "Is this a commission for an Elf of the Havens?"  Beyond their own people, his trade was mainly with Lindon . . . or had been, before he settled on their shores.


"No."


Auð glanced sideways at him.  "If not for all that fire before you, one might credit the whispers that you have taken a liking to the sea."


"Hah."  Veylin hoisted a scornful brow.  "I bear it better than others, that is all.  Wait until this evening," he warned.  "I gave the boys leave, so Thyrnir and Oski might show Thyrð the country round about.  Thyrnir will surely take his brother near enough to give him the horrors."


"Good," she declared, pleased that her youngest should be so tried.  "If he can face that, he should be proof against lesser fears."  Thyrnir had told her, voice solemn and low, of the fearsome potency of the unbounded water, which even the most obstinate rock could barely defy; ever-restless, forever shifting the shape of the land within its reach.  By all reports, he had not flinched from the fiends, monstrous as they were.  It was his place, now that their father was slain, to help harden Thyrð.


Her own younger brother looked suddenly roguish.  "Would you like to see the shore, Auð?"


"Bad enough that I let you lead me so far astray from the mansion," she rebuked him primly.  "Do not think I have grown reckless!"  She gazed down on the jewel in her palm; even in miniature, she could see the might and menace in the glinting grey curls.  "How great are these waves?"


"I have seen them more than twice my height," Veylin said, sobering, "and I do not approach when they are higher.  I am told they can be as high again when winter storms drive them ashore."


Her mind balked at the image.  To turn her thoughts, she asked, "If this is not a commission, what inspired it?"


Veylin turned the rough opal in his hands as he considered whether to answer.  "Saelon.  Foolishness," he admitted, shrugging, "for I will not sell it to anyone else, and she will never be able to afford it.  I planned the piece and came by the sea-beryl as my redemption, but she required more practical assistance.  Though you are right: it would fetch a fine price in Mithlond.  Thyrnir or Thyrð can take it there when I have gone."


Saelon.  The woman of Men who had preserved his leg . . . and his life.  Auð carefully returned the jewel to its place.  "You regard her highly."  She would never forget the day when Rekk burst into their chambers, seeking Thyrnir, after the young raven Thekk had favored came with rumor of his death.  Or when they finally returned, beards ragged with grief, bearing her brother . . . and no other.  Denied even a body to mourn over, Auð had thought it a blessing, then, that Veylin had no wife, for the burden of caring for him buried some of her own pain.  Having seen his wounds, she knew what was owed to that stranger of other race.  Magnificent as it was, the silver-set sea-beryl would have been a well-earned fee.


Yet the tales Rekk and even Thyrnir told of this Saelon were fantastical: she dwelt unprotected, far from her kin; had recklessly defended her stripling kinsman empty-handed; her passion for the sea, even in its wrath; obstinately generous despite extreme poverty.  And they had grown no less outrageous this winter—she had taken charge of the best part of her fiend-shattered folk, defied the Brethren of Rivendell and bent them to her will, and bartered Rekk and Oddi's guilt-price for stock and grain, the wealth of Men.


"I do," Veylin said plainly.  "She is resolute beyond the measure of her kind, both forthright and astute.  She does not look down on us."


"She is not over-tall?"


He smiled wryly.  "Not so much as other Dúnedain, but I did not mean her height."


"Ah."  The scorn of Men.  Auð met her brother's brooding russet gaze.  "Thyrnir found her very strange, and what Rekk tells I can hardly credit."


"Men are odd folk, and find us the same."  Veylin made a resigned noise.  "I do not know how to tell you of her, without making her sound distastefully queer.  Yet I have found her good company.  Would you like to meet her," he asked, cocking his head, "and judge for yourself?"


Auð regarded him mistrustfully, knowing that reflective glint in his eye from when he was an over-inquisitive beardling.  Several of the men meant to visit the Men in a few days, if the weather improved.  "Are you suggesting I go with you to White Cliffs?"


"No," he said, so firmly that she was reassured.  "We do not know how things stand there, and not all of the Men are as trusty as Saelon."


"How, then?"


"Perhaps we should make some return for the hospitality they have given," Veylin mused.  "I could invite her and her kinsman here."


"You would have Men in the halls?"  Folk of other race sometimes visited Sulûnduban, but the mansion's defenses were stout and deep.


"A few have been here already, in the great hall," he confessed, the corner of his mouth curved with amusement, "though fewer know where the front door lies, and only Saelon has seen the way in."


Auð stared at him, uncertain which was the greater wonder.  "You trust her so much?  She came here alone?"


"Yes, I do.  Come, sister," he chided her, in a tone that, though light, was decided.  "Do not look so shocked.  Five days I lay helpless under her mercy, when she was a stranger to me; four days she was alone with four of us, bearing the mark of Rekk's anger on her face and the gold of his regret in her hair.  Having started so, there is a certain confidence on both sides."


Put so, it did not seem quite so incredible, but Auð still found it disturbing.  She could not imagine herself in such a position: if a Man had seized her, she would have killed him.  Was this woman of Men surpassing brave, or merely weak?  She frowned at Veylin.  Hardly the latter, or her brother would not honor her so.  As the silence of her consideration stretched on, he calmly assured her, "You need not."


"And have you think me less courageous then she is?"


Veylin chuffed, with a quick scowl.  "Never!  Her boldness is admirable, but she is not Khazâd.  Women are common among Men, and the harsher fate treats them, the faster they multiply."


Would that it were so among their own people.  "I doubt the wisdom of revealing so much," Auð cautioned.  "Not for my own sake: I have borne my children, and they are old enough to fend for themselves.  Yet you yourself have said that not all the Men can be trusted, and there is the future to think of."  A small delf, near the sea—if it were known Men frequented the place, would any women would be willing to risk removing here?


"What is the use of allies, if they cannot warn you of impending ill?" he countered.  "Do you think I have been needlessly indiscreet?"


She shook her head.  "No.  Do as you will," she told him.  "Or must.  I am curious enough to look on this Saelon if the opportunity offers, but do not create it for my sake."  What were the Men to her, if they were too poor to provide enough food for the larder, or coin in exchange for craft?  Veylin had amply repaid his debt, and the fiends had been slain.  What else could threaten here, at the edge of the world, that they should need the aid of Men?


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This is the third story in the Dûnhebaid ("Westshores") cycle, which is set on the north coast of the Ered Luin during the mid-29th century of the Third Age of Middle-earth.  For the fullest appreciation of the characters and events, I recommend that you read the preceding stories, Rock and Hawk (T.A. 2847) and Fair Folk and Foul (T.A. 2848).  The web is becoming increasingly intricate, and the differences between the characters' perspectives—over time, as well as between individuals—is frequently significant.


As explained in the author's notes for Rock and Hawk, this cycle takes its sense of place from the West Highland coast of Scotland and draws heavily on the archaeology and traditional lifeways of that region, as Tolkien drew on the languages and lifeways of the English West Midlands.  For those who are interested, images of some of the real places that inspired me can be found under "Setting the Scene" on my HASA forum, "The Heart is Highland," and under "Places" in the "When, Where, and Who" at the end of this story.


Please bear with the many and wordy notes regarding the culture and history of Dwarves, as I delve deeper below the surface.  Their lore is little known, which has led to many misunderstandings between them and folk of other races.  A little "ethnography" is useful, to better understand their motivations and unique perspective on the world, but I do not want to lumber the story itself with info-dumps justifying my interpretation.


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 Notes


"No Friend Like": "For there is no friend like a sister  In calm or stormy weather."  —Christina Rossetti, "Goblin Market"


Basalt: a dark, hard igneous rock, often containing rich mineral deposits.  Gunduzahar is delved in a plateau basalt (an ancient lava flow) with amygdaloidal structure, where the hollows formed by trapped gas have been filled with quartz and other minerals, and significant deposits of copper.


Groin vaulting: a vault is the arched structure that supports a roof; a groin vault is a form of cross-barrel vaulting where the arms are of equal height, forming arched lines of intersection (the groins) that direct the weight to a point, such as the top of a column, instead of a line, like the top of a wall.


Pegmatite: an igneous rock, usually granitic, with very large, coarse crystals.  This is a granite pegmatite with striking red and black and white crystals, matching a piece I found on a beach in Scotland.


"sacrifice in security": Dwarves are a secretive people, taking such care to conceal their womenfolk that there is a "foolish opinion among Men that there are no dwarf-women, and that Dwarves 'grow out of stone'" (LotR, Appendix A.III).  Why should this be?  I suspect that the scarcity of their women—no more than one-third of their numbers (LotR, Appendix A.III)—and the smallness of their families—four children being rare (HoME XII: The People of Middle-Earth, p. 285)—makes women very precious . . . and you know how jealously Dwarves guard their treasures.  In light of the strong-willed nature of the breed, dwarf-women must have internalized this view; no one could make them sit safely at home if they didn't want to.


 For the Naugrim [Dwarves] have beards from the beginning of their lives, male and female alike; nor indeed can their womenkind be discerned by those of other race, be it in feature or in gait or in voice, nor in any wise save this: that they go not to war, and seldom save at direst need issue from their deep bowers and halls (HoME XI: The War of the Jewels, p. 205).


"Thekk's share in this venture, which Veylin had granted to Rekk": Rekk is the only brother of Thyrnir and Thyrð's father.  Since Dwarves are strongly patrilineal (HoME XII: The People of Middle-Earth, p. 285) and Rekk did not wed, they are his heirs.  Veylin did not give them their inheritance directly for strategic reasons: to found new halls, he needs support from established, conventional Dwarves such as Rekk.  The "Dramatis Personae" section following these notes provides relevant genealogical information for Dwarves and other characters.


Marriage gift: Tolkien does not go into such details, but among Men, strongly patrilineal societies where farmland is not the most valuable resource frequently give bridewealth, a substantial payment by the groom to the bride's family to "buy out" their stake in her children.  Given the independence of dwarf-women in regard to marriage—"they are never forced to wed against their will (which 'would of course be impossible')" (HoME XII: The People of Middle-Earth, p. 285)—I would expect such a payment to go to the bride herself.


"when whole galleries of the mansion would lie empty, but for the Longbeards who had fled from the dragon": even in prosperity, Dwarves multiplied slowly, and by the end of the Third Age, their numbers were dwindling in the West.  The Longbeards are Durin's Folk, the eldest of the seven Houses of the Dwarves.  After Smaug descended on the Lonely Mountain and destroyed the Longbeard kingdom of Erebor, many of the refugees—including Thorin Oakenshield—settled in the Ered Luin in T.A. 2802 (LotR, Appendix B; see entry for 2799), where the Firebeards and Broadbeams had dwelt since before the First Age (HoME XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, p. 301).


Signed: Auð is using iglishmêk, a secret (and intentionally cryptic) dwarven gesture-language.  See HoME XI: War of the Jewels, p. 395.


Garnet: a reddish gemstone.  These are the more common almandines, with often contain flaws.  Here are some in a schist like that found around Habad-e-Mindon.


"give him the horrors": Dwarves don't like the sea.  In trading with Elves during the First Age, they seldom went to the Falas, "for they hated the sound of the sea and feared to look upon it" (The Silmarillion, "Of the Sindar").


"pleased that her youngest should be so tried": Dwarves believe in tough love.  See HoME XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, p. 285.


 To these [their children] they are devoted, often rather fiercely: that is, they may treat them with apparent harshness (especially in the desire to ensure that they will grow up tough, hardy, and unyielding), but they defend them with all their power, and resent injuries to them even more than to themselves.


Brethren of Rivendell: Elladan and Elrohir.  This is an overstatement, but did you expect Dwarves to make Elves look good?


 Khazâd: the Dwarves' name for themselves.



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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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