Of Like Passion: 18. Tempest

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18. Tempest

Our passions are most like to floods and streams,
The shallow murmur, but the deep are dumb.

--Sir Walter Ralegh, "Sir Walter Ralegh to the Queen"

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On their way to the Dwarves' halls, Dírmaen's heart had been hot with resentment; now it burned with shame, and he was relieved that Saelon seemed deep in her own thoughts and disinclined to continue the debate Bersi had so mortifyingly interrupted.

Was his mistrust of the Dwarves—of Veylin—unjust?

Like most Rangers, he had some knowledge of Dwarves from the road.  Dour and ready-handed, quick to take offense, they seldom required—or rendered—aid, traveling all but the worst ways in small companies with their strings of pack ponies or stoutly built carts.  They traded news as readily as knives and needles, but were as close regarding their own affairs as any Ranger.  Wise that might be, in these darkening days, though it engendered chary respect rather than amity.  Rangers knew their own charge, the reasons for their secrecy . . . .  What were the hidden purposes of the Dwarves?

Not the protection of what little remained of the realm of Arnor, nor the succor of those in need—so naturally they had doubted the motives of these Dwarves, when word came that they had aided the broken men of Srathen Brethil.  Râdbaran, grown old and high in the Chieftain's counsels by virtue of his shrewdness, had believed Veylin desired to exploit the Men in trade, or confuse the issue of his own residence in Lindon with their presence, if not both.

Who was exploiting whom in trade was unclear, as he had just seen, yet the matter of the Dwarves' presence in Lindon was certainly confused.  Yes, Gwinnor did call Veylin friend and treat him courteously, but Veylin was no more than courteous in return.  Something lay between the Elf and Dwarf; something grave enough that Saelon would make an excuse to visit the Dwarves, so she might tell Veylin of Gwinnor's return.

Why had Gwinnor returned?  Why should it concern Veylin, if he was not trespassing?  Was Saelon privy to some part of the mystery, or was she standing by the Dwarf in blind faith?

When he saw how readily she smiled on the little man, jealousy darkened his sight and gnawed his heart with its poisoned maw.

Mistrust . . . .  She, too, called Veylin friend.  What lay between them?  Branded into his memory was that fraught evening last summer when, before all, Lis shrilly charged that Saelon had lain with the Dwarf, and the folk of Srathen Brethil divided.

No.  The woman had been spiteful, a baited wildcat furiously seeking to wound.  He could not . . . must not . . . imagine Saelon so . . . wanton.

Dírmaen stifled a bitter laugh.  Who could call Saelon wanton?  Every other woman and lass in the place followed Gwinnor with wistful sheep's eyes, even if heavy with another man's child, yet the only heat Saelon showed the comely Elf was her temper.  If her blood were tenderly warm, his hopes would not be so desperate.  Why must he increase his torment with perverse fancies, save to shift the blame for his disappointment elsewhere?

Friendship.  Dírmaen had seen some unlikely comrades in his time, men thrown into hardship together who served each other so well that their differences were of little matter ever after, dear to each other as brothers; sometimes dearer.

When Saelon had told Gwinnor that she had argued much with her brother, the Elf had promptly asked if she debated with Veylin.  And though she denied it, she had not spared Veylin her ill humor when they returned to the hall.  Dírmaen had grown testy with the Dwarf once, and been ruthlessly pinned by the throat; yet Veylin had borne Saelon's anger as a rock bears a wave, letting it break on him and run away to lose itself in the sand.

Was it because she was a woman?  They had women, Gwinnor had declared, who were precious to them; perhaps that was who had taught Veylin his gruff kindness.  Dírmaen would give his horse to know that the dwarf-lord was contentedly wed, with children or grandchildren hidden in his deep halls.  The favor he showed his nephews, however, suggested otherwise.

If he were wise, he would return to regular duty once Halpan and Partalan came back.  There was already far too much territory for the Rangers to cover, without extending this far west.  These folk were well able to fend for themselves and deaf to the Chieftain's wishes.  He was neither needed nor wanted here.

Dírmaen was considering how long passing through the North Downs might delay his reporting to the Chieftain—if Halpan did not tarry, he could be home in time for the harvest festivities—when a cry from Saelon broke his forlorn reverie, as her mare heaved itself up onto the cliff-shelf.

Urging Mada upwards, Dírmaen was in time to see Halpan catch Saelon as she slid from her mount's back.  "You're back!" she exclaimed, embracing him.

"Did you think we would stay east?" Halpan laughed, giving her a buss on the cheek.  "Although with so poor a welcome as we got, with everyone gone—"

Saelon gave a deep sniff, and chuffed.  "A poor welcome . . . . You have been at the mead!"

Her cousin gave her a careless grin and shrug.  "Since it had been broached, Rian saw no harm in consoling us with it.  How have you fared in our absence?  You look well."  Smiling up at him, Halpan jested, "I suppose Dírmaen has kept the larder well stocked."

"And Gaernath, too," she championed her younger kinsman.  "Did they tell you of his wolves?"

"How could I miss the pelts?"

One would have to be blind not to see them, stretched on their frames beneath the shelter of the cliff to cure.  "I'll take him for you," Artan said quietly as the two went eagerly on, coming up with Saelon's mare already in hand.

"Thank you."  Dismounting, Dírmaen gave him the reins.  "Where is Partalan?"

The fair-headed lad grinned and jerked his head towards the hall.  "Within, drinking and spinning yarns."

"Wait!" Saelon called out, as Artan started to lead the horses to the byre-cave.  "My linen!"

Since he was nearest, and tall enough to reach into the baskets without taking them from the mare, Dírmaen retrieved the great bundles of cloth.  "Here you are, Lady," he murmured, setting them in her outstretched arms.

"Thank you," she said.  "And for escorting me, as well."

Dírmaen bowed his head, not trusting himself to speak.

"Aye," Halpan agreed, clapping him on the shoulder.  "My thanks as well, for looking after them all.  Not," he added, with a sly sidewise glance at Saelon, "that some of them want looking after."

A hint of rose enriched the brown of her cheek; from her look, Halpan would have gotten a sharp rap if her hands had not been full of cloth.  "No, but I am grateful for the help in looking after the others."  Her gaze sharpened.  "Someone has been looking after you, it seems.  Where did you get that shirt?"

Indeed, the shirt Halpan wore was whole and unpatched, collar and wrists unfrayed.  "A token of our people's support," he told her, then cracked a roguish grin.  "In truth, Partalan's harping was much admired by several lonely widows."

For a moment Saelon stared in bafflement, then rolled her eyes and shook her head in disapproving resignation.  "Then Dírmaen and Gaernath will each get two shirts from this."  She hefted her burden to a more secure position.  "The bull is in better temper, I trust?"

The Dunlending swordsman was in mellower mind than Dírmaen had yet seen . . . though mead had no doubt played a part.  Both men were equally pleased by their summer's progress and to be home after long journeying.  They had found most of the former tenants of Srathen Brethil, and gave Saelon a detailed account of them as she saw to as good a supper as so little warning could afford.  Some had been welcomed by near kin and were of no mind to return; of others there was news of their deaths.  Time had softened the blow, but Dírmaen could see that the Dúnedain of Srathen Brethil cherished their people, for even Saelon, who had not lived there for a score of years, knew every family, their condition and number, and grieved for the loss of the least of them.

Two of the freemen and one of the cottars, dissatisfied with the refuges they had found, had agreed to resettle on their former lands in the spring, with five years' remission of rent.  The men would come in time to plough, and their families follow later, if all was well.

After such a terror as had driven them from the valley, it was a good beginning.  Others would follow, if they prospered.  Yet as he listened to Halpan's plans, it became clear to Dírmaen that he intended to spend the better part of the spring and summer in the vale with them, both to assure them of its safety and oversee their work.  Sitting on the bench beside Maelchon after supper, looking out over the sea, the young Dúnadan debated with himself over the merits of dwelling at his brother's hall or Halladan's.

Dírmaen said as little as was polite at such a merry homecoming.  Halpan presumed much, if he believed the Ranger would remain here at Habad-e-Mindon in his stead . . . but Dírmaen was loathe to mar Saelon's happiness as she sat beside her long-absent kinsman..

Tomorrow he would seek her out; tomorrow he would open his heart to her.  He had no hopes of a smile such as now graced her lovely face, but for good or ill, his doubts would be done and his doom known.

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The better part of the morning passed before Dírmaen found an opportunity to speak to her.  Private enough to spare them both shame if it went as ill as his fears threatened; open enough for honor and her security.  Halpan had gone out with Canand to see how the herds had prospered in his absence, and Hanadan with him, but Partalan sat in the sun by the byre-cave, cleaning and mending his hard-used saddle.

He had gone out to meet Orcs with a quieter heart than now beat in his breast.

"What do you think?" Saelon asked cheerfully, drawing the full heads of wheat through her hand as he came to her amid her small plots of grain, where the curve of the little river caught and held the sun at the foot of the far cliff.  "Should we sow a field of this in the spring?  The oats look as promising."

Dírmaen looked at the green fading towards gold: a hopeful sign, or ominous?  "Growing things are your province, Lady, not mine.  Maelchon could advise you better."

She smiled at him, and his resolution wavered.  Ought he to wait a while longer before forcing his fate?  "Maelchon knows little of these crops—did not think they would ripen before the season turned wet."

No.  She was in mild temper, yesterday's quarrels forgot or forgiven; best to take his chance now.  There was no telling when Gwinnor would return, and the Elf unsettled her, sharpening her mood and mind.  "You must do as you think best.  You are usually right."  Such a craven he had become!  "Saelon—"

So still, like a hare under the shadow of an eagle's wings.

"—have you not seen that I love you?"

She had not.  Stricken, she looked, as if the talons had taken her.

He thought he had no hope until he felt it die.  Turning from those wide, astonished eyes, barren as the sea, he found himself unable to say the clever things he had imagined, that would make light of his pain and ease her conscience.  How could she be so blind, save that she did not wish to see?

"Why should I look for such things!" she cried, before he took his third step.  "Do you think me a green girl?  You are twenty years too late—thirty!"

Surely not so much: she was Dúnedain, descended of kings, yet her dark hair was still untouched by frost, despite grievous afflictions.  "My heart does not reckon such things," he confessed, voice low.

"Your heart?" she flung back.  "Is that what prompts you to censure me?  We do not even agree!"

He bowed his head, unable to defend himself on such a charge.

"Do you think to become lord over me with such talk?  Lord of Srathen Brethil?"

"No!"  Never: she was merely regent for her brother's son; and who could hope to rule her, when she was undaunted by one who had dwelt among the Powers?  "I only wish to be a help to you, to lighten the burdens you bear.  But you spurn aid and counsel, and cleave to your hard way—so that," he had stumbled into the same slough again, "all I do is anger you."

He could not bear the keenness of her eyes.

"Forgive me, Lady."  He swallowed his bitterness as best he could.  "I never meant to vex you."  It sounded absurd, even to his ears.  How could he have deluded himself this way?  "You do not need me, and have no doubt long been wishing the Ranger gone.  I will—"

"Everyone vexes me!" she broke in.  "Why do you think I had rather dwell alone?"

That was no improvement.  "I would take them all from here, Lady, but you will not hear of it."

"If only it were so simple."  She gazed at him, mouth crooked in dissatisfaction, while the grain tossed in gentle billows between them.  "I am sorry."

Wanting to hear it plain, he said flatly, "You do not care for me."

"Do not look at me so!" Saelon snapped.  "I do not despise you.  What more do you want?  I put love from my mind long ago.  Did you think I would fall into your arms in melting gratitude?"

"No."  He felt graceless as Gaernath; if he scuffed the ground, he would complete his humiliation.  What had he expected?  Nothing of substance: his wits were astray among fantasies either torrid or bleak, where loneliness and lust goaded each other to excess.  Like a callow lad or base-born oaf, he simply wanted her.  Where was his Dúnedain pride?

"Then give me time to consider this," she demanded, "before we speak of it again."

Dírmaen bowed deeply and fled, before he could disgrace himself further.

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During the summer, Saelon had recaptured the serenity of her bond with the sea as she walked the strand seeking useful weeds and the tastier shelled creatures, or sat on the rocks with a limpet-baited line, catching cuddies.  Now, for the first time since spring, she sought it with a troubled mind.

Dírmaen loved her.

So much that had seemed strange about the Ranger made sense now: his stilted formality, his harping on propriety and honor . . . his long absences from Habad of late, and deeper silences.

Was the man mad?  She would be three-score next year; if he had any idea of heirs, he needed to look to a much younger woman.  Why should such a fine, noble man fancy a short, plain shrew who dug her own garden and defied their Chieftain?  Did he think to beguile her into marriage, so that he might gain a husband's authority over her?

No, this was no mere ruse.  The longing and despair in his eyes had been raw as a wound.  How long had he been carrying this, hidden, in his heart?

And her own heart?  It was pleasantly fluttered by the compliment of so striking a regard, to be sure, but no more.  Dírmaen had her respect and gratitude, but not her affection.  He was at odds with their policies, and with Veylin.  Though she was very sorry for his pain, that was no reason to suffer more of the behavior he had exhibited yesterday.  No sensible woman would attach herself to a man who would give her no peace.

Why, then, was she still uneasy in her mind?  Was it the prospect of Gwinnor's imminent return, and the need to be always on her guard, against his wit if not his wiles?  If the Elf found Dírmaen's infatuation amusing, he might be intolerable.  Or was it the muted undertone in the murmur of the sea, not unlike that which heralded the storms of winter?

Leaving her rock on the strand, Saelon toiled up the dunes and started across the machair.  Under the bright blue sky, the barley was golden-ripe; Maelchon and Airil stood by the base of the track.  "Another day yet," Maelchon judged, chewing ruminatively on a few grains of the corn.  "It is a week early, in any case, and the weather is so fine it will parch hard."

Airil scowled on the ear he had broken open, the wisps of his grey beard fluttering in the rising breeze.  "Tonight is the start of the harvest moon.  And I do not trust this weather," he grumped.  "It has been too fine, too long . . . and my bones ache, worse than they did before that great storm the first winter we were here."

Maelchon laughed at him.  "That will be the jig you danced last night, gaffer.  You are getting too old for so much ale!"

"Shall I make you some liniment?" Saelon asked the old man, eyeing the stiff way he stood.

"Thankee, that is kind."  With a fretful look that echoed her own unease, Airil said, "You have lived here long, Lady.  Is this weather right?  My old bones tell me we are setting for a howler."

"I have never known a gale to come in Ivanneth, but something seems unsettled, yes."  Saelon cast her gaze back at the perfect blue of the sky, then looked to Maelchon, who waited stolidly on their crochets.  "Perhaps it would be as well to begin reaping tomorrow."

The black-bearded husbandman shrugged in easy tolerance.  "As you like, Lady."

By supper the wind had freshened and settled, blowing steady from just north of east.  In the cove before the caves and hall, the air was calm, but below, the corn soughed like an echo of the sea beneath a high band of delicate cloud, a carcanet of color in the vivid light of the setting sun.  Saelon pushed a straggle of damp hair from her face and sighed.  It was close within, where they had been cooking enough to feed everyone on the morrow.

She had not seen Dírmaen since he left her.  That he was reluctant to face her again, she could understand; but he must eat.  He had stinted himself too much already.  If he did not come by full dark, she would send Hanadan out to seek him . . . even if the lad might eat half of what he carried.

Hooves, below in the twilight.  Two, no, three horses, cantering easily towards the cliff from the river; the coat of one glimmered in the deepening gloom.  "Halpan!" Saelon called out, "Gwinnor and Gaernath have returned!"

The third horse bore Dírmaen, and Saelon withdrew to see to supper for the hunters while the men swapped greetings and news.  Yet she hardly had time to set a bit of the beef roasted against tomorrow's need on the board before Halpan and Gwinnor strode into the hall.  "Ah, I ought to have trusted," the Elf declared as if relieved, smiling on the baskets of bannocks, "that you would heed the omens, Lady.  It would have been better, though, to have started today."

"Harvest, you mean?"  Did he think she could divine the thoughts of others, as it was said his people could?  "We will begin as soon as it is light enough.  Will the weather be so very bad?"

Gwinnor's sudden sobriety was more worrisome than any weather-sign.  "I fear so."

"I have never seen a gale this early," Saelon protested.

Gwinnor accepted the cup of ale Halpan had poured him.  "It is rare for these storms to match a winter's blow," he told her, and drank thirstily.  How far had they ridden today?  "Yet once a ennin or so, they are worse."  His blue-grey eyes were bright but grave.  "This one feels as if it will be a true tempest."

"As I have told them!" Airil burst out from his place by his grandsons' door.  "My bones pain me.  Even the Lady's liniment gives no ease," he complained, testy as an offended Dwarf.

Looking between her and Halpan, Gwinnor asked, "You cannot begin now?  It is a beautiful moonlit night."

"Not if we are to keep all our fingers," Halpan allowed, shamefaced.

Saelon shook her head.  "We will work better for a night's sleep.  We are not tireless, as you Immortals."

In the grey light of dawn, the wind was as relentless as it had been on that Gwaeron day when she first met Gwinnor, and ever it strengthened.  Four sickles they had, and the men all took turns, even Halpan, relieving each other as their pace slackened.  Coming close behind, lest the wind take the stalks and send them tumbling across the machair, the women bound it into sheaves.

Already stooks would not stand.  "Where are we to put it all?" Finean despaired, as Hanadan chased after the sheaves that had blown from the peak.  "There is not room in the byre-cave for so much!"

"When it is full," Saelon said, taking a draught from the water-pail, "stack it in the hall.  It need only be for a day or two, until the weather clears.  Let Airil see to it, so he is of some use."

And back she went to binding sheaves.  Stoop and gather, tie and drop . . . .  A touch on her arm broke into the ruthless rhythm.  "Come, Lady," Gwinnor said—near-shouted, to be heard above the hissing roar.  "Take a moment for a draught and a bite.  There is a marvel I would show you."

Rian stepped into her place, her soft hands marked with blood where the sharp stems had cut her, working without complaint.

Cloud was thickening overhead now, but Saelon guessed it was near noon as she followed the Elf towards the shore, champing on a bannock.  Casting a glance over the field, her heart lightened: so much stubble; so much grain safe in store.  She trudged up the dunes, glad the wind was at her back—though the sand would cut at her face when she returned—and wondered what Gwinnor wished to show her.  He had stopped at the crest, the wind whipping his dark braids and molding his shirt to his slim body.

For a moment Saelon stared across the wide strand, seeing nothing strange . . . and then she gasped.  It was the full of the moon.  The tide should be high, at the springs, lapping at the feet of the dunes.  Instead, the cross-looking waves broke half a furlong out, where she would expect them at the ebb.  "What has happened to the tide?" she cried.

"Nothing!"  There was, however, a fey light in his eyes.  "Come again at the ebb to see the true spectacle!  The wind blows so mightily it has thrust the water away from the land.  I have only seen this a handful of times.  Lady, get all you can to shelter, for when the storm breaks, it will be terrible!"

Thank the Powers—thank Veylin—for the deep-delved hall, which no storm shook, high above any possible flood.  They and the corn would be safe there.  "What of our beasts?"

"Where are they now?"

"On the machair south of the tower hill."  The low cliff sheltered them somewhat from this wind.

Gwinnor shook his head.  "They cannot stay there!  When the storm passes over, the wind will shift, and the water will be pushed as high as it is now low."

"Where else can they shelter?  Not along the river, if it may rise."

He was silent for scarce more than two breaths.  "The oakwood.  May I have Dírmaen and Gaernath, as well as your herdsman?  It will take that many to get the beasts so far, against the wind."

"Take them, and my thanks!"

The Elf ran lightly across the broken turf and loose sand.

Saelon turned briefly back to face the strand, and tried to picture how low the tide must fall, if this was the spring flood.  A huge expanse would be laid bare.  What wonders lay hidden beneath those choppy, contrary waves, the secrets of the sea?  She must find the time to come and see—

Secrets of the sea.  Veylin had once asked about the pattern of the tides, as innocently as he knew how.  Not a month past he had come perilously near wrath when she spoke of the dykes on the shore and Gwinnor in the same breath, then relented and obliquely confessed that fear of the Elf kept him to trifles.  Why would a Dwarf dwell so near the sea they all loathed?  Why would he return to the place where a monster had crippled him and slain his companions?

His heart was given to gems, he had told her, as hers to the sea.

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Notes

Sheep's eyes: longing amorous glances.

"The bull is in better temper": bulls have a savage reputation, but those kept with their own herd of cows are usually mellow, contented fellows.

Progress: a journey through a particular region, particularly a lord's tour of his dominion.

Slough: deep mud or mire; a bog.

Cuddy (also saithe, Pollachius virens): fish related to pollack and cod, easily caught with a handline from rocky shores.

Harvest moon: the full moon nearest the autumn equinox, so-called because its bright light allows farmers to work into the night during the busy harvest season.

Freshen: for wind, to become stronger.

Ennin: Sindarin, "year"; actually 144 years of the sun.

Springs: spring tides occur at the full and new moon, when the tidal range is greater than average; the high tide or flood is higher, and the low tide or ebb is lower.


This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

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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Comments

WARNING! Comments may contain spoilers for a chapter or story. Read with caution.

Of Like Passion

Elrûn - 23 Oct 07 - 7:28 AM

Ch. 18: Tempest

Ah Adaneth,

my heart bleeds for Dírmaen... Maybe the storm will clear his mind - or Saelon's?

Elrûn 

Of Like Passion

Adaneth - 23 Oct 07 - 9:14 AM

Ch. 18: Tempest

It's an ill wind, Elrûn, that blows no one any good!

Hang in there--

Adaneth


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Playlists Featuring the Story

The Dûnhebaid Cycle - 5 stories - Owner: 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.
Included because: Dûnhebaid III: the Men come to terms with Lindon, and Veylin fears a rival.

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