10. Drunken Oaths
The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.
--Alfred Houseman, "Last Poems"
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When they came out of the hall, Nordri as well-pleased by his companions' praise as by the lack of faulting in the work, Veylin saw Men busy down by the larger cave . . . and a Dwarf perched on a nearby boulder, his lapis-blue hood cast back on his shoulders in the warmth of the sun. Waving the others off towards the track and the hospitality waiting below—and giving Thyrnir, who hesitated, an emphatic glance—he strolled along the cliff-shelf to see what occupied them.
The blond stripling brothers, Artan and Leod, were spreading sheaves on a broad slab of old cliff-fall under the exacting direction of their greybeard grandsire. Finean, wiry and hale despite the hoary grey in his brown hair and beard, was checking the leather strap on a flail. "Do you not grow your own corn, Master?" he wondered.
The younger of Veylin's cousins finished puffing his pipe to life. "No. We have no gift for growing things."
"It is easy enough," Airil declared, flashing them a crooked, near-toothless grin. "Plough, plant, and pray!"
Vitnir chuckled. "I prefer the surety of iron, oldster."
That was civil of him, for even though the Man was ancient for one who was not Dúnedain, Vitnir must be half a century his elder. Their objections, it seemed, were not to the Men as such, but to their Lady. As Finean stepped over to join the younger Men, one of whom also took up a flail, Veylin drew attention to his presence by asking lightly, "What work is this, with the feast preparing below?"
"We are threshing out the ironmasters' share of the crop," Airil told him, and gave Vitnir a look of tolerant scorn. "For some reason, they do not wish the whole of their payment."
"We do not eat straw," Vitnir answered in kind. "Keep it, and be welcome!"
Glancing down at the plain, Veylin saw Gaernath and Maelchon's servant lading one of the Men's great work horses with sheaves. "Surely this could wait until the morrow," he protested. Why were his cousins in such haste to leave? There were Maelchon and Vitr, sitting companionably with Rekk and Bersa; Saelon had rejoined the womenfolk around the fire.
Airil gave a cackling laugh. "If we wait until tomorrow to begin, we will not be done until the following day! Who among us will bear that noise—" he pointed at the threshers, and the dull, steady thump of their flails "—the morning after a feast? Let the lads make a start," he declared, with the complacence of one too old for such labor, "and whet their appetites. Even with the help of your folk, Master, it will take steady work to get through that beeve."
Reassured, Veylin snorted, not quite ready to laugh again. "Did your womenfolk brew so much?" he asked. "Or have you lost your heads for ale after such a long drought? We will be helping you drink, as well as eat!"
"Oh, Saelon will not stint us," Airil assured him, licking his thin lips with anticipation. "If we do not all wake with sore heads, it will not be her fault. Ho, Leod!" he broke off, scowling at his younger grandson. "Strike the grain, not the rock, or you will need to make us a new beater for that flail!"
When the old Man had moved off to correct the stripling's technique, Veylin looked up at Vitnir, resting his hands on the head of his blackthorn stick. "Are the two of you content?" he rumbled in Khuzdul.
"How could we not be?" Vitnir replied in the same tongue. "Such a crop—and these folk no more know how to bargain than babes. Maelchon claims the yield was more than double his expectation, but did they use that to argue for reducing our share? No." Pausing to blow a contemptuous stream of smoke, he gave a curt paff. "He even gave us our pick of the stooks, and the Lady stood by with a foolish smile on her naked face. Perhaps," he mused, eyeing Veylin, "we have misunderstood your motive for succoring them."
Clearly they misunderstood many things. Vitnir thought he meant to keep Men as Men kept sheep, to have mutton ready to hand? "Do not," Veylin warned him, "mistake gratitude for simplicity. These are not Shire-folk, too fat to trouble themselves over a few pennies. They are poor, yes, but not for lack of shrewdness. These are the ones who valued their oaths and honor more than goods. All they have of worth is their pride, and they will spend whatever else they can come by to keep it, as you should have seen last winter."
Vitnir shrugged. "They will not keep their pride for long, if they must continually be grateful to others for the necessities of life. Their pride did not plough that field, nor did it house them. You do not mean to take advantage of their vanity?"
"No, it was not pride that housed them," Veylin agreed, losing patience with his cousin's stolid short-sightedness. Could he and Vitr not see that Men of honor and good-will would be valuable neighbors, allies in these days of growing evil, as well as partners in trade? The Longbeards had found it so, not only in Erebor, but in the Vales of the Anduin as far back as the Second Age. "That Saelon earned—"
"Not their pride," Vitnir rumbled, in blunt correction.
For three breaths Veylin glared at him, beard bristling, jaw set so hard his teeth ached. "Which do you and your brother grudge more," he asked, voice as cold as his heart was hot, "that I spent so much of your inheritance redeeming my life, or that you are not already enjoying the whole of it?"
Now they were both wrathful. "We have come here," Vitnir growled, "and lost much good business, to support your whim to live hard by the sea—" he flung a hand towards the relentless, disturbing expanse of water that stretched into the uttermost west "—and you accuse us of wishing you dead?"
"Your brother accuses me of placing the concerns of Men before those of my own kin!"
"Why should you dwell here, if you are not enthralled by that sea-mad woman?"
Reaching under his beard and into his shirt, Veylin grasped the great fire opal he carried over his heart. Snapping the gold of its chain, he thrust the matchless gem, flaming like his rage, under his cousin's nose. "Are you such a fool as to think copper and garnets are paying for those halls?"
Vitnir gaped in astonishment, then his breath caught with desire and he reached for the jewel.
Veylin locked his hand around it, hiding it from sight, and left his fist there before his cousin's face. "If you ever wish to see this gem again," he said, voice brittle with fury, "or any of its lesser kin, you and your brother should concern yourselves less with providing pitchforks to Breelanders and more with regaining my regard. Your brother may become chieftain after me, if any will follow someone so like a tramping blacksmith, but my hoard is mine, and I may bestow it as I see fit."
"You would give it to Thyrnir?" Vitnir demanded, outraged. "Take it from our sept?"
"Why should I heap treasure on a fool? He will only do ill with it, to himself and our kin." Turning his head away in contempt, Veylin glared along the cliff-shelf . . . and saw the four Men had left off threshing to gape at them. With a stab of fear, he thrust the hand holding the opal into his pouch. Had they seen the gem? Probably not; or no more than a bright flash in the sun. Stiffly peremptory, he turned his back on all of them, and marched back to the track as briskly as his game knee allowed.
Who was the fool now? No one else living had seen that stone, not even Thyrnir, whom he trusted with the location of the dyke that had produced it. And to break the chain . . . . He would be anxious for the opal's safety until he could return to his workshop and repair it, fretting over the absence at his breast. As he came down the track, he retied the pouch with his secret knot and hitched it around to the front of his belt, where his beard would at least partly cover it.
At least there should be less talk of him having unnatural tastes.
Bersi had wandered over to the foot of the track and met him with a cup and raised eyebrows. "You are falling behind," he jested, passing him the ale as Gaernath led the laden horse by them. It took Veylin a moment to remember that the fire-headed stripling meant nothing in particular by his broad grin, only joy in the harvest feast and pleasure in his company. He feared his nod of acknowledgement was rudely curt.
When the Man was out of earshot, Bersi murmured, "Have you quarreled with Vitnir as well?"
Veylin drank deep, not yet trusting his voice. "What makes you think so?" he asked, when he had slaked his thirst and some of his anger.
"You look so like an ancient war-mask that you may frighten the Men."
Veylin snorted in derision, but glanced over the sprawling spread of the feast to see how much disruption he had caused. Around the fire, the womenfolk were too much taken up with their work to be troubled by a tardy guest; Saelon and Fransag seemed to be having their own difference of opinion over a basket of something. Save for Thyrnir, all the other Dwarves were conversing with the Men, the remainder of whom had arrived in his absence: Halpan and Partalan, Aniel and his brother, the Ranger Dírmaen. Perhaps he had not made such a spectacle of himself after all.
"My heirs," he grumbled, "would mistake gold for pyrite. Their imagination is so limited I no longer wonder why they are content to be glorified blacksmiths."
"Kin." Bersi rolled his eyes, then laid a hand on Veylin's shoulder. "Come and join the feast. The young Dúnadan and their huntsman have been asking after you."
And indeed, Halpan rose to greet him, smiling and bowing. "Pardon me, Master Veylin, for not being here to welcome you. You must think me a poor host!"
Returning his bow, Veylin answered, "On the contrary—I see you are much richer than when we last met. Did you succeed in finding us a salmon?"
His drollery was not a success; the young Man's smile suddenly seemed forced. "I am sorry, no," he apologized, with unwarranted contrition. "You will have to content yourself with trout, I fear."
They had to content themselves with far more than trout, brought piping hot to the board as soon as they were seated. Great platters of beef; goose and grouse; venison pie and a stew of young hares; a salad of cress and sweet herbs, boiled onions and peas, and beans flavored with bacon; and still more bannocks, with more butter and cheese and honey. The only shortage was of board and bench, but the children and lesser Men sprawled happily on the green grass with their trenchers and bowls, their liveliness less restrained there.
Then came the sweets: stewed crabs and sloes, pies of brambleberries and cherries, and honeycakes. Even his cousins, who had come to table stiff and smouldering, were mellowed by the excellence of the fare, and Bersa paid the cherry pie the compliment of taking a third piece.
"I am glad to see that you have found something to compensate you for the thinness of the ale," Saelon told him with a smile, as he poured a generous helping of cream on top.
"Ach, do not take that to heart, Lady," he rumbled, agreeable with content, and raised his cup to her. "It is a pleasant enough drink, though pallid."
"Compared to dwarven ale," she agreed.
"You have tasted our ale?" Bersa asked, brows raised.
"Once," she confessed. "I prefer your mead."
Hands folded around the smooth wood of his cup, replete, temper mended, Veylin idly wondered if circumstance was not to blame. The ale she had tasted when tried almost beyond endurance by the desperate need of her driven folk and news of her brother's death; the mead on a fine evening in spring, accompanied by companionable counsel.
"In fact, I was thinking I might brew mead myself," she said. "The honey is very good this year. Finean has offered to make some larger tubs for fermenting after the harvest is finished, so perhaps next time you visit, we will be able to offer you some."
Bersa shook his head. "Do not bother, Lady. You will not get drinkable mead if you prepare your must in the kettles you have."
"Must?" she echoed, not knowing the word. "Our kettles serve well enough for our ale."
"The wort for ale is made of malt; must is made of honey or grapes, and they quarrel with iron."
"Yes," Rian spoke up. "Mother had a bronze cauldron she used to brew mead."
"Bronze would do," Bersa allowed, "but copper is best."
Saelon gazed on him with what looked, for all the world, like the slight interest of a gorged hawk. "And where would we get such a thing?" Yet there was something in that hooded gaze that made Veylin glance surreptitiously towards Bersi.
The coppersmith cleared his throat. "I work copper," he said, as if admitting a weakness.
"Do you, indeed?" Saelon asked. "Is that why you and Veylin are friends? He seems fond of the metal."
Bersi looked at him, frowning in thought. He had not his brother's objections to Saelon's ale. "It was over copper that we met."
"Yes," Veylin agreed.
"You were thinking of prenticing with me."
"No," Veylin rumbled, "the bronze you gave Radsvinn had too much tin in it for our purposes, and he sent me to return it."
"And you were taken with the enameled bracers," Bersi recalled. "Whatever happened to them?"
"Mangled in an Orc-den during the war. I reused the metal later." He was wearing some of it now.
Do you mean to trade with her, Bersa signed, half-vexed and half-amused, or swap drunken reminiscences?
The look Bersi shot his brother from under beetled brows nearly brought Veylin to open laughter. "They were not made for battle," he defended his work. "But I am glad you thought the metal good. If you are thinking of brewing mead," he told the patiently watching Saelon, "I happen to have some copper as good on hand, enough for one—or more—cauldrons."
"It was only a thought," she demurred. "Still, it would be good to know what such a cauldron might cost. Say, one as large as our great kettle."
"That will not make much mead, Lady," Bersa protested.
"How much do you think we will drink?" she wondered, smiling.
"If it is as passable as your ale," he shrugged, with a meaningful glance at his brother, "others might wish to drink it as well."
"Do you think so? Well, half again as large, perhaps."
Bersi considered. "Beaten or cast?"
"What is the difference?"
"Cast requires more metal and is heavier; a beaten cauldron will have joins, and may leak as it ages."
"Cast would be more?"
"Four silver pennies, against three."
Saelon choked on her ale. "What do you take us for?" she demanded. "Men of Gondor in the south? I do not think I have ever seen more than ten pennies together."
"What do you have, Lady?" Bersi asked. "Your beef is good, I know."
"Beef?" She put up an eyebrow. "Veal, more like, with perhaps some mutton on the side."
"Veal?" Bersa echoed with obvious relish, earning a glare from his brother, who countered with, "You might get a good beaten cauldron for that."
"I will keep that in mind," Saelon replied, leaning back. "Thank you for making the matter clearer."
From the corner of his eye, Veylin saw Bersa signing emphatically, but he was watching his cousins pretending not to watch this exchange. All the rest of his folk were following it with undisguised interest. He had no doubt that Vitr had already made his opinion of the Men's trading skills known among them . . . and then there was the accusation Vitr had made against him. Yet even if there had not been that extra spice, and the desire to judge the shrewdness of their nearest market, no Dwarf could resist the play of keen bargaining. Was Saelon truly disengaging, or was her coolness a stratagem?
"You are welcome," the coppersmith replied, with the same tepid interest. "If you decide to pursue your plan, let me know. I cannot guarantee the price," he warned. "Copper is in demand, and supplies are not what they were."
"I understand. However, my people have had a hungry year, and I am loathe to cull our herd much just yet. Next year, perhaps, if calving is good."
"You do not fear losing beasts over the winter?"
Saelon smiled, and only a simpleton would have thought it foolish. "Ah, you would not know. It is so mild here by the sea that stock does well on pasture all the year. There is no need for a winter slaughter."
Bersi folded his arms. "How much mutton?"
She considered. "Two head."
"For a beaten cauldron that will hold near twenty gallons."
"Three head, with good woolfells."
"That may as well be four quarters of beef and the hide," Saelon objected, shaking her head.
Fowls, Bersa urged. Honey.
"A veal, two sheep with good woolfells, four geese, and a bushel of honey in the comb."
"Two geese and two bushels of honeycomb."
Bersi snorted and stuck out his hand. "Clap hands on it, Lady. Will you give part in earnest, or pay only when you see the goods?"
"Oh, I think you might have the veal now," she told him, smiling at his brother as she clasped his hand. "It would be a poor return for Vitr and Vitnir's forbearance to insist that you wait."
Rekk nearly sputtered into his cup; Vitr and Vitnir set expressions of aloof dignity on their faces and prepared for siege.
Suspicious of her turn of liberality, Bersa asked, "How old is this veal, Lady?"
Saelon glanced around among the Men lounging on the grass, savoring their ale. "Canand," she called, spotting the one she searched for, "I have just struck a bargain with Master Bersi. When it pleases them, show Master Bersa the two bull-calves; they may have whichever they prefer."
"Very good, Lady," the lanky older Man replied, and nodded to Bersi and Bersa.
"Who is he?" Veylin murmured, refilling his cup. "I have seen him, but little."
"Canand? He was Mais's drover," she explained. "Like Maelchon, he favors this land, and since the stock remained, so did he. He has joined my household."
Not only a Man of property, but she kept a servant. "This is a far cry from how we found you last harvest." Then she had reaped alone, her only guests four unwelcome Dwarves, grim with mourning. Ah, the ale was making him melancholy, it seemed.
"So far," she agreed with a wry shadow on her smile, "that I sometimes wonder if I am the same woman." Looking down the board, she caught Fransag's eye. "Pardon me, masters, but since you ate so little," she chaffed, "we must do something with all this food. Please, help yourself to the ale," gesturing towards the stoups amid the greasy trenchers and dregs of the other dishes, "and if you desire anything more, call."
When she had left them and the other womenfolk rose to clear the board, Halpan came from where he had sat at the foot of the table with the greybeard Airil and the younger Dwarves. "What deal has Saelon struck with you this time?" he asked, taking Rian's empty place on the bench across from Veylin and reaching out for the stoup to refill his cup.
"With me?" Veylin shook his head. "None at all." Head to one side, he studied the young Dúnadan. By rights, he ought to have sat here, beside his kinswomen; by duty, he ought to have been present to greet them when they arrived. Something was amiss . . . yet the Man seemed light-hearted enough. Though that might be the ale. "Bersi, however, has seen fit to cater to his brother's love of the table by both sides of the bargain: a cauldron for Saelon, so she can brew a surfeit of mead as well as ale; and fresh meat and honey for us."
"Hmm, well," Halpan said, lowering his cup with a grin, "I can hardly object to more and better drink, can I?"
Rekk chuckled. "Is that why you gave over the Men of the Star?" he jested. "The prospect of better fare and drink at home? Or were you afraid I would chastise you for leaving your kinswomen unguarded, yet again?"
As Halpan gazed blankly back, his wit suddenly astray, Maelchon came to his defense. "His kinswomen are so divided," the big husbandman proclaimed, rolling his eyes, "that a man would be puzzled to choose between them! The honor of being a Chieftain's man was the safest course between. Yet," with a careful glance to be sure Saelon was well away and dropping his voice to a low, resentful rumble, "you have seen how masterful these Dúnedain women can be. They settled the lad's fate between them without so much as a by-your-leave."
"And not even for his own sake," Aniel put in, coming up behind Halpan and laying a hand on his shoulder before dropping onto Saelon's seat. Taking the stoup from Halpan, he topped up his horn.
"You make it sound like I am a broken-down mare taken for the sake of her foal," Halpan objected peevishly, and drank. "Saelon had no part in it, save her desire to keep Hanadan as an assurance of the long bond between our kin and yours. It was Urwen who bound me here, in revenge for my insistence that she and her boys," he muttered, after another deep draught, "stay earlier, for the same reason." He raised his eyes and looked down the board to Maelchon. "Would you be content without some heir of our line here with you?"
"It is a comfort to have you and the little lad," the black-bearded Man answered. "Your kin have been good lords to us, and we grieve that you are now so few. A pity," he sighed, "that Saelon never wed."
"Why was that?" Startled, Veylin twisted to glance behind him. He had not thought himself drunk to unwariness, but it was the soft-footed Man of the Star.
Aniel gave Dírmaen an arch look. "Would you have a lord for wife?"
Partalan had wandered over in Aniel's wake, and stood between Halpan and the huntsman. "Dúnedain like their women strong-willed," he said thickly, his surly gaze fixed in Veylin's direction, presumably on the Ranger behind him. His sallow face was flushed with drink, and it was hard to tell if he meant his words as compliment or accusation.
"Yet they fear to match with them until they are twice their years!" Airil, who had tottered up to Fransag's place so as not to miss any of the talk, gave a well-fuddled cackle and smacked his old lips with a leer. "Or do you need such fire to heat your grim blood?"
"We have enough widows and orphans as it is," Dírmaen replied, voice coldly quelling. "Untried youths would make more."
Halpan drained his cup and reached across the board for the stoup, face set.
Veylin flinched from the loom of the tall Man, who stretched a long arm over his shoulder to catch Halpan's hand on the wooden vessel. "Enough," the Ranger said sternly. "You take too much guilt to yourself. The fell thing got past you: such things happen in battle. At least," he added dryly, "you made no widows or orphans, neither your own nor another man's."
"No," Halpan said bleakly, "Argonui is of full age." He relinquished the stoup, and Dírmaen promptly passed it to Bersi, who looked startled for a moment before handing it off to Bersa. "Will he mourn his father less for that?"
"Arathorn was old, even for a Dúnadan. He should not have gone on such a hunt, at his age, but perhaps he dreaded the creep of infirmity more than death. Did you allow that shattered woman to chain you here because you fear the Chieftain will blame you for shortening his father's long life?"
"And my responsibilities to my kinswomen," Halpan pointed out bitterly, with a wry tip of his hand to Rekk. "And these good folk." A wider gesture, taking in the Men roundabout.
"Then take responsibility," Dírmaen asserted, "and for more than providing fish and game."
"What then?" Halpan demanded. "Saelon has everything else in her hands."
Indeed; and getting it out again would require determination and perseverance. More than this youngster had.
"There is something you can do," Rekk proposed, looking from the Ranger to the young Man beside him on the bench, "that is beyond her."
"What is that?" Halpan asked, almost scoffing.
Veylin snorted. How much had Rekk drunk?
As Halpan stared, mute, Partalan snorted, "Fiends. All you Dwarves do is talk. You told Halladan you would get him troll-spears," he accused, glaring resentfully at Veylin, "but you did not. In the winter, you said you were waiting until spring. When the Rangers went to Srathen Brethil, you were hiding. You will knock a woman about and try," he sneered, "to shoot a lad in the back for vengeance, we know. But what else have you done? Nothing!" He thrust his face into his drinking horn.
"And what have you done?" Rekk bit back, turning to face him. "I, at least, have been to Srathen Brethil, to scout their lair. Have you been there since you fled? It is foolish to fight such things without preparation—as you should know! Standing by the tarn, amid their tracks, I told Halpan—" he set his hand on the young Dúnadan's shoulder "—we would come to plan an attack with him. But what happened? He left and your Chieftain attacked without us. With what ill result you know," he growled, with something savoring of black satisfaction.
"How can you prepare for such things?" Partalan scoffed, ale dripping from his beard. "Even the Chieftain's pet Elves could not save him, famed goblin-slayers though they are said to be. You runts can do better?"
"Partalan!" Halpan cried, in the tone used to quell snapping hounds. Rising, he seized the horn from the Man's hand. "Masters, do not mind him—he is still bitter over Halladan's death, and has drunk far too much."
"Or not enough," the swordsman rumbled, eyeing them as if he would fight them all, including the Ranger. Suspecting Saelon was the only one who could truly command him—for some unfathomable reason, she was fond of the ugly-tempered brute—Veylin glanced quickly towards the fire, but she was not there.
Bringing his legs to the other side of the bench, Rekk leaned back against the board, hands resting as if casually on his axe. "Yes," he told Partalan bluntly, "I think we 'runts' can put you all to shame, Men and Elves."
"How?" The Man's contempt was insufferable.
"We can drain the tarn."
"Drain the tarn?" Aniel repeated, at a loss.
"Could you?" Dírmaen mused speculatively.
This was the first Veylin had heard of it; the Dwarves were staring as dubiously as the Men.
"What would that do?" Partalan fleered.
"We can attack them by daylight, if that alone does not finish them."
Perhaps . . . . Yet how long would the works take? How many Dwarves laboring for how many days, in reach of the fiends? Was this a plan that had been maturing in the waterwright's mind, or the fantastical spawn of drink and cut pride?
Rekk looked to Halpan, brows raised. "Would you still like to wield that troll-spear? If the sun does not do the job, some long-armed Men to pin them for us would be welcome." Sliding his gaze to Partalan, he sniffed, "Or can you only stick pigs?"
"Talk, talk. Bring me a spear, and show me the beasts. Then we will judge."
"A spear for me," Aniel claimed. "I have sworn an oath."
"Would I be welcome?" Dírmaen asked.
The corner of Rekk's mouth twitched. "You could sneak up on them, eh, while they snooze in the sun?"
The Ranger chuffed and shook his head, but smiled: a sober Man indulging drunkards. "If they will oblige by snoozing."
All gazed on him; he gazed into Partalan's empty horn, as if he would find courage there. "Of course," he responded, clapping the swordsman on the shoulder and handing him back the horn. "Climb back on when they buck you off."
A good principle; but his resolve rang ill, like a flawed blade. A dangerous companion in battle. "You do not sound keen," Veylin said in warning. "Will your heart hold, when you face them again?"
"How should you question the lad?" Partalan derided him. "You will not be facing the beasts, crippled as you are. Not," he added, eyes hot, "that it keeps you from stumping over here to meddle with Saelon. Perhaps it is not your leg that is lame."
"Meddle?" Veylin rumbled perilously. The swordman's words were like a cut gem, glinting offense from every facet, with shades of more below the surface.
Bersi grasped his shoulder. "The Man is drunk, and his heart twisted. Leave him."
"Yes," Partalan cried. "Give us the spears, and leave us to kill your fiends, as you give us ploughs and kettles to feed you."
Down the board, Vitr gave him a look of sour satisfaction as he rose to go. Before following, Vitnir flashed, There is your gratitude.
Bersa was rising, and Maelchon, too; at the foot of the table, Thyrnir had Skani by a handful of his shirt. Halpan shook his head in dismay and turned to walk away. "Halpan!" Rekk called, a demand, and when the Man did not even glance his way, shot a furious, imploring glare at Veylin. Even the Ranger, as he strode after the younger Dúnadan, spared him a look of sad disappointment.
The alliance was coming apart; how could he have expected it to hold, before it had been properly forged? Did no one have the will to bring it to the fire save him? "We have given you nothing," Veylin reminded them, in a harsh voice that halted all save his cousins. "If you wish something from us, you must pay for it. Lame I may be, but I do not need your aid to avenge my losses. I had thought you would welcome a chance to strike a blow or two for the sake of your own dead—" Of course they wished it, those who were warriors; even the Ranger could not resist. "—but why should I arm someone whose heart is hot against me? Stay, then, and eat your hearts out in impotent anger, since you cannot distinguish friend from foe. I will go with Rekk, and such of my folk who will follow me, and we will finish these things without you."
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Faulting: fractures in the stone, where the change in weight and tension cause the stone to crack and shift.
Lapis: lapis lazuli, semiprecious stone composed primarily of lazurite, noted for its vivid blue color; the original source of the pigment ultramarine.
Flail: the basic preindustrial threshing tool, a short length of wood attached to a longer handle, usually by a leather strap. The primary characteristic of domesticated grains is that the seeds do not naturally drop off the stalk and must be removed by beating or rubbing.
Beeve: a head of cattle. Usually used in the plural, beeves, "beefs." Modern English usage is to refer to a single bovine as a "cow," but this is most correctly used only for a mature female. See Cattle in the Dûnhebaid Dictionary for details. Herders use very specific terms for their animals in regard to sex and age, since these are critical for understanding a beast's uses and value. These people would never eat a cow until it became barren and stopped giving milk, or died from accident (or some diseases).
"in the Vales of the Anduin as far back as the Second Age": in "Of Dwarves and Men" (HoME XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, pp. 295–330), Tolkien discussed how Dwarves came to adopt their use-names from an archaic language of Men of the North. After the destruction of Angband, Orcs fled east seeking new homes, so many that even Dwarves felt the need of allies against them. The Longbeards made alliance with Men akin to the House of Hador, whose military contribution was mounted scouts and horse-archers. "In these ways the Alliance of Dwarves and Men in the North came early in the Second Age to command great strength, swift in attack and valiant and well-protected in defence, and there grew up in that region between Dwarves and Men respect and esteem, and sometimes warm friendship." The Alliance came to an end when Eregion was destroyed, Moria besieged, and Orcs and evil Easterlings invaded the region (c. S.A. 1695).
"the great fire opal": this is the largest and best of the stones Veylin found on his first visit to these shores, and can be seen in the rough in Dûnhebaid I: Rock and Hawk, Ch. 3.
"ancient war-mask": the Dwarves of Belegost "wore great masks in battle hideous to look upon" (The Silmarillion, p. 193). The Helm of Hador/Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin, which was originally the helm of Azaghâl Lord of Belegost, had such a visor "and the face of one who wore it struck fear into the hearts of all beholders" (Unfinished Tales, "Narn I Hîn Húrin," p. 75).
Pyrite: iron pyrite or "fool's gold," a yellowish metallic mineral frequently mistaken for gold (and sometimes associated with it). Iron pyrite crystals were often used as strike-a-lights with flint, particularly before the Iron Age.
"stewed crabs": crabapples, not the crustacean.
Must: the mixture of honey and water fermented to make mead, or grape juice for wine. See Brewing in the Dûnhebaid Dictionary for details.
Wort: the mixture of malt (ground germinated barley) and water fermented to make ale. See Brewing in the Dûnhebaid Dictionary for details.
Silver pennies: to give you a rough idea of the cost, Barliman Butterbur paid Merry Brandybuck 30 silver pennies in compensation for his five lost ponies. Far off the beaten track, the folk of Srathen Brethil were more familiar with payments in kind (goods and services) than coin. See Coinage in the Dûnhebaid Dictionary for details.
Winter slaughter: traditionally, there was a substantial cull of livestock in the late autumn, to reduce the number of animals that would need feeding with hay over the winter when grazing was poor.
Woolfells: a sheepskin with the wool left on; Bersi is asking for sheep that will give quality hides as well as meat.
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