Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
--Robert Louis Stevenson, Requiem
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Linen fluttered among the thorny may, winking paler than the cliff behind; folk were gathered on the high ledge at its foot, while two horsemen pelted down the twisting track faster than was wise. Saelon bit her spray-salted lip and shook her head.
"They appear uneasy," Cairrâd observed, his keen Elvish eyes seeing more than hers at this distance. "You have not neglected to tell me of any reefs?"
She snorted mildly and pushed wind-worried wisps of hair aside once more. "How would we know if there were?" Presuming he spoke of rocks, rather than other hazards. "It is long since we were creatures of the sea."
The captain of the ship Círdan had dispatched to speed her journey home canted one slim sable brow. "You cannot be speaking of yourself, Gaerveldis. Surely you know where the Sea shows its teeth on the ebb."
An apt image, calling to mind the gnashing white breakers outside the cramped cove where they spent the day of storm, the horses gratefully cropping sodden turf as she strolled the stony shore, glorying in the tempest's tumult. "Along the headlands. The bay is clear, save for one black rock in the midst of the strand." She knew it well, her favorite seat amid the surf.
Cairrâd lifted his head and, when that did not give him the view he wished, leapt lightly onto the narrow topstrake, clasping a stay against the lively motion of the ship. "Ah! Anhwest," he called to the Elf at the steerboard, "bear towards the higher dunes."
"There is Hanadan!" Gaernath cried, as the other mariners trimmed the sail.
"Where?" Saelon stepped forward to join her red-headed young cousin by the swan-necked prow, where the spray flew freely.
He pointed to the break in the sandhills near the rock. "There!"
Yes; a dark-haired child slithering down the sandy slope. Saelon laughed as he shook like a dog when he reached the firmer strand, before beginning to caper and wave his arms in their direction.
"One of your kin?" Cairrâd asked with a smile, joining them.
"My eldest cousin's son." The youngest of their line still living, a trust for the future. She waved back across the water and grinned to see him run in a circle, antic as a puppy. "A fetching child," she warned, "but curious beyond obedience."
Now the horsemen crested the dunes. She waved to them as well, eager to reassure, for they bore spears in their hands. Halpan wagged his in reply and welcome, while Partalan sat unmoved.
"The swart-skinned baldpate does not seem gladdened by your return."
"Little gladdens Partalan, save a tuneful harp and a brimming cup." He had been jauntier before his lord's death. "He was my brother's faithful swordsman, sent from him with the charge to keep his kinswomen."
Cairrâd pursed his lips. "Why then did he not come south with you?"
One need not be as perceptive as an Elf to see that Dírmaen kept apart from her. Even now, he stood among the horses: to reassure them, he said, though a few words from the Elves seemed to do all that was needful. "Because Partalan trusts none but Men, and few of those! He knows he must not bite without cause, but it is hard to stop his growling."
Ashore, Halpan was speaking to the swordsman, who turned his mount and dropped from sight as he rode away. Perhaps her lieutenant also feared what the Dunlending might do or say before folk of Lindon, whose land this was.
As the sailors busied themselves with preparations for bringing the ship ashore, Saelon idly wondered whether Partalan would have made a better escort. Foolishness, that spoke more to her dissatisfaction with Dírmaen than to sense. Among the suave, subtle folk of Mithlond, a bellicose bigot, too often drunk, would have been far, far worse than the lovelorn and sometimes jealous Ranger. Imagine Partalan's answer to Calennae's insults, or what the baleful marchwarden might have said to one tainted by Easterling blood! Swords would have been drawn.
Saelon wished she had more and better men at her command—yet if any could have been found, she need not command. As well wish for the days when she had dwelt alone in her high cave, pleasing none but herself.
Muted thunder on the strand, as Halpan galloped from where horses could be brought down the dune-face, spray and sand flying from his mount's hooves. "Halloo!" he called out as he passed Hanadan, the boy chasing after. "Do you not want to come into the river?"
"No!" Cairrâd shouted back
She would have asked the same herself a week ago, knowing naught of sailing but what came into the tales of Eärendil and Númenor. The only other ship to visit them had moored in the mouth of their little river, yet it had been smaller. This one, freighted with half a dozen horses, was unlikely to scrape across the bar even now, on the flood of the springs.
So, with her assurance for the bottom, Cairrâd was running his ship onto the beach.
Like their masters, the fine appearance of Elvish craft belied their sturdiness. The art, she had been told, was in judging the speed to a nicety: at a halt, the swell would heave you in broadside, leaving the deck at an awkward angle and making it difficult to get off again; too swift, and the shock might rend timbers.
The keel kissed bottom and bit, slowing as if it had run into a deep bog. Falfrem and Fânchast tossed out the anchor-stones, then leapt into the thigh-high water to place them to their satisfaction, so the ship would not shift before the ebb left it hard fast.
Halpan rode Auril up alongside, Hanadan perched on his saddlebow: uncle and nephew wore similar expressions of astonished wonderment, though the elder found his tongue first. "Welcome home, Saelon! What is this?"
"Círdan was kind," she said, to assure him on many counts. "How are you all?"
Her Dúnedain cousin laughed. "Everyone is well . . . but I had best tell you now that there are still stooks of corn unthreshed. We did not expect you for another week, at least! Greetings, Dírmaen!"
"Halpan," the Ranger acknowledged, stroking his gelding's neck as the beast whickered, stretching out his head towards Halpan's bay and snuffing deeply.
"And you, Gaernath: have you seen enough of Elves to content you?"
"Never!" the lad declared. "You cannot imagine how fair Mithlond is! You must come with us next Yáviérë to see for yourself."
"Can I go?" Hanadan wanted to know.
Halpan laughed and scruffed the boy's already unruly hair. "No, nor me neither, for we must look after Srathen Brethil. Bargoit will be coming back there. Do you remember him?"
"Yes," Hanadan answered, though his former playmate's name cast a cloud over his shining face. "I don't want to go to Srathen Brethil."
Little wonder, when his last memories of the place were evil: father and eldest brother slain by raugs, mother half-mad with grief and foresight of worse to come. "You needn't go," Saelon told him. "Yet you cannot go to the Havens until you are older."
"How much older? I'm a big boy now," he asserted. "As big as a Dwarf, and they go!"
"Did I say you could go when you are tall?" she scorned the attempt to change her conditions. "You may be Dwarf-high, but you do not have their years. Perhaps, if you are as dutiful as Gaernath, you may go when you are his age."
"But that's forever!" Hanadan protested.
Cairrâd came up, grinning. "What is your age, Pînadan?"
The boy glowered at the lofty Elf, yet his birth-name was true enough that he did not argue with him about his size. "Eight. What's yours?"
"I should not like to say, but I knew your eight times eight great-grandsire, and a very fine mariner was he."
"Eight times eight?" An excellent reply, for the boy promptly began counting it out on his fingers, to see how much it came to.
"Shall I set him down and fetch you ashore?" Halpan asked, smiling.
She was home. "No," she scoffed, sitting on the topstrake and swinging her legs over. The water was shallower here by the bow, and the ship lay to windward, breaking the waves. "Do not you treat me as a fine lady now."
The cold kiss of the surf was not the same as further south, more familiar somehow; and when she brought her hand to her mouth, she fancied the salt had a different savour as well. As she waded ashore and wrung out her skirts, Gaernath followed, their bags perched high on his shoulder.
She was telling over Hanadan's tally for him—his count continually became hopelessly muddled between the third and fourth set of hands—in the wave-smoothed sand, name by name, and had gotten to Tarcil before a familiar voice cried from above, "What wyrd is this?"
"Well met, Maelchon!" Saelon called up to him, and followed the beefy husbandman's staring gaze to where the horses stood snorting, fetlocks draggled from their plunge into the sea but glad to have still earth underfoot once more. Hearing him, his black mare strode eagerly to the dune-foot, where she was balked by the sliding sand, and whinnied plaintively. Smiling, Saelon assured the Edain, "This is not enchantment, but the kindness of Círdan and the skill of his mariners, which has spared us many a weary league."
"Kindness, ay?" Maelchon repeated distractedly, looking for an easy way down and finding none. "Stand, lass! I'll come to you. So the Lord of Lindon was pleased with our rent?"
After herself, Maelchon was most wedded to this land, though not from any love of the sea. As a husbandman, he found the sweet, light soils of the machair a joy, and had little desire to return to the cold clay of Srathen Brethil. "Well-pleased, despite the thinness of the pelts."
"I am glad to hear it, Lady," he said, though he sounded less than charmed as he beat sand from his clothes after ploughing down to the strand. "Ho, Blackie! Yes, I am happy to see you, too. Do not knock me down!"
Chuckling, Saelon left him to greet his beasts and assure himself that they had taken no harm from their long journey. "Cairrâd! You and your crew will permit me to repay Elvish hospitality, I hope, when the ship is secured."
"Gladly! By the time you have finished your lesson, we will be done here."
Dírmaen saddled Mada and took her horses off for water and to rejoin their fellows on well-known pasture; soon after, Maelchon led his away, promising to return with wife and children for a celebratory supper. Halpan watched the Elves and Gaernath at work, fascinated . . . and perhaps a bit envious of the lad, who had learnt enough of ships to be some help as they closely furled the sail and coiled ropes.
When all was trim and the ship settled by the retreat of the tide, they left the strand and strolled across the machair, Auril bearing their baggage as Halpan walked alongside, conversing with Cairrâd. After so many days among Elves along their verdant shores, Saelon was ashamed to see how much beauty the plain behind the sandhills had lost: Falathar had had cause for harshness. Once a lush mead of flower-starred turf, all the center was now a waste of close-cropped stubble, a few hardy but unlovely plants flourishing amid the plough- and hoof-churned sand, the very grains dusty and dirty in comparison to the wave-washed strand. Thankfully, none of their guests said aught of it, though they must find it grievous. Yet her folk must have corn.
The rutted track up to the cliff-shelf was another disgrace, compared to the paved ways of Mithlond, but there was nothing to be done about that, either.
When they reached the narrow flat at the foot of the cliff, however, there was little to blush at, save for the still-damp laundry. Rowan and may were in their full autumnal beauty, leaves fading but berries bright, while straw shone like pale gold on the slab where they threshed their corn, the abandoned black bogwood flails laid cross-wise against gusts that might scatter the stalks. Her garden was in good order, the kail flourishing and carrots ready for pulling, though it would have been better if the bean-haulms were already dug in; yet someone had braided three new skeps for her bees.
"Ah!" Fânchast exclaimed. "You have kept the spring just as it was. I am glad!"
"You have been here before?" Saelon looked from brimming basin, carved from the cliff by the slender fount that filled it, to the mariner. For a score of years she had dwelt here, visited by none save her brother . . . but that was nothing, as Elves reckoned time.
"My father loves to pursue the herring shoals up and down the coasts. When I was young, they favored the waters about Himling, and we would pull out here to cure our catch. The sands have shifted somewhat in the bay," the Sea-Elf reckoned, casting an appraising glance over the shore, "but less has changed here." Stepping towards the cave beside the basin, he peered curiously through the doorway in the wattle that walled out the weather, new-thatched with heather. "And aside from this screen, this has hardly altered either!"
The caves' shelter and sweet water made the place so fit for habitation, she should not be surprised that others had used it before her. "I hope you will feel quite at home, then," Saelon told him, wondering how many Elves had turned away, finding their favored spot occupied by a Man. "I meant to offer you all its roof this evening."
"We should turn you out your first night home?"
Saelon smiled at the disavowal. "Alas, I no longer house here, but a little further along—" she pointed to the right with her chin "—in the hall the Dwarves delved for us, the first winter my folk were with me. The caves could not hold us all, and you must know what the gales can be here."
Fânchast shook his head, perhaps in wonder at their foolhardiness. "Too well! If you are willing to suffer the dark season of storms for love of this shore, should we deny you the blessings summer brings?
"I thank you for your good word." Saelon bowed her head in gratitude and wished all Lindon's folk were of his mind. "Come, let me introduce you to my niece."
Rian stood patiently before the benches that had been set out on the greensward for their visitors, but when Saelon drew near, the lass dropped a deep curtsey to the Elves and begged, "Your pardon, sirs," before casting her arms about Saelon in a fierce hug, and kissing her cheek. "I never knew how much you did!" she whispered in her ear, before drawing back and saying more decorously, "Welcome home, aunt. You had a pleasant journey, I trust. Who are these guests you bring us?"
"However pleasant the journey, it is better to be home," Saelon assured her. "These are the mariners of the good ship that shortened our way, by Círdan's grace."
When she had named Cairrâd and his crew, Rian gestured forward the black-haired sisters Murdag and Unagh, who bore bowls of water and linen over their arms. "I am sure you will wish to wash the dust—or rather, the salt and sand!—of your sea-road from you. Would you prefer ale or mead to refresh you?"
Some chose one, and some the other; Muirne, who seemed to have gained somewhat in assurance during her absence, filled the finely turned wooden cups. "I must beg you to excuse us," Rian said with winsome regret as she handed the captain his mead. "Dinner will not be hearty, but if I can prevail upon you to remain so long, we will make amends at supper."
"We are at your mercy, lady," Cairrâd told her. "The tide has turned and our ship is hard aground. It will not float sooner than the middle of the night and, as the moon has hid his face, we will be grateful if you suffer us until tomorrow's morn."
"No more grateful than we, that you suffer our presence on your shore," Rian assured him. Turning, she accepted the cup that she offered to Anhwest. "The chance to return your hospitality is very welcome."
Perhaps, Saelon reflected, as she took her turn to lave her face, she ought to send Rian to Mithlond next Yáviérë. Her niece took a candid pleasure in the courtesies that she often found trying, and had the grace Saelon had so admired in her mother, Rian's grandmother. It was a blessing that the lass took so little after her own dam. "What have you in the larder?" she asked as she wiped her hands. "Thank you, Unagh. Let me see—"
"No, aunt," Rian said very firmly, taking a cup of mead and setting it in her hands. "You have only just arrived—sit and take your ease while you may!"
"Yes, Lady," Halpan concurred, rejoining them after stabling Auril in the byre-cave. "Let Rian see to the table: I do not think you will be disappointed. Tell me of the Havens, and how you fared there!"
Her Dúnedain kin had closed ranks against her; the cottar lasses would not meet her eye. Saelon hoped this was no more than cover for some degree of squalor about the hearth she would not approve of. Well, she had returned earlier than had been expected. After a long enough pause to give warning of her suspicion, she doucely said, "Very well." Settling on the nearest bench, she tasted her mead. If they could repair whatever was amiss in the course of dinner, she would happily forgo the chance to take them to task, and if Rian desired to take on a larger share of the household duties, she could forgive much.
There were things she would not tell before Círdan's men, but much else that could give no offense, and mayhap some pleasure: praise for the fair town about the ancient tower by the firth, and the beauty of its ships; the bountiful hospitality of its guest-hall; and the benevolence of its lord.
"And Master Veylin," Halpan wondered, "he has settled matters between himself and Lindon?"
Saelon took another draught of mead, remembering her friend's murmured reassurance—if such it was—in Círdan's council chamber. "He seemed not displeased by how their negotiations were proceeding, but did not expect any immediate resolution."
Cairrâd gazed across the arc of the cliffs, to the whiter patch that was the fresh cut of Nordri's quarry. "You speak of the Dwarf who is your neighbor?"
"Yes. Did you not see him in Mithlond?"
"No." The captain cocked his head. "I have heard that Dwarves fear the Sea. Is that why he did not sail with us?"
"Fear the sea?" She considered. "From what I have seen, fear is too strong a word. Mistrust, certainly. They see the signs of its arising in the past writ in stone—" gesturing to the sea-carved cave beside them, nearly a score of fathoms above the machair "—and are chary. But no, that is not why Veylin and his companions did not return with us. He had business among his own folk to the south."
Falfrem drained his cup and smiled at Muirne, who had remained to serve while the others retreated to marshal the midday meal. "May I trouble you for more of that excellent ale?" As the young goodwife hastened to comply, blushing very prettily, the Elf considered the pale scar in the far cliff. "I had wondered why none of your neighbors came out to greet you. So all of them are away?"
Did he hope the Dwarves were so few, or merely wished to avoid meeting any? "Neighbors, yes, but not so near as that!" Saelon replied, with what she hoped was a mollifying smile. A pity, in some ways, for it would take the better part of a day to bring them the news from the Havens; there would not be time enough after the ship departed tomorrow. "That is not their doorstep—they dwell some leagues north of here. Their mason loves this fine, bright stone, and wished to use some in their halls. That is one of the things Veylin is negotiating with your lord, if Dwarvish rights do not stretch so far."
"Círdan will know the right of it," Cairrâd said, watching as Finean and Artan set up trestles and boards, and the lasses began to lade them. "Is that boar?" he asked as Murdag set down a ham, steering the talk towards calmer waters.
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Hand to Hand: author's notes
This is the fifth story in the Dûnhebaid ("Westshores") cycle, which is set in northwestern Eriador during the mid-29th century of the Third Age of Middle-earth. 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 the Shire. As the story moves to other parts of Eriador, I have attempted to give each area its own flavor through the use of appropriate vocabulary as well as geographical and cultural details. In general, I prefer "Dark Age" (post-Roman, early medieval) models for the Mannish cultures of what was the Kingdom of Arnor. (Gondor, in this view, is not unlike the surviving Eastern Empire, whose capital Byzantium was reknown for its civilized sophistication. Thorongil a Varangian?)
At the request of several readers, I am trying to cut down on the "dictionary" notes; if you find an arcane or oddly used word that is not clarified in the notes at the end of the chapter, please go to the Dûnhebaid Dictionary. Since many of these words are used repeatedly in my stories, putting them in one place seemed simpler than continually repeating them.
As ever, I am grateful to the good folk at the Garden of Ithilien for fellowship and constructive criticism. Lia (whose suggestion won out), Ragnelle, and Gwynnyd were especially helpful regarding the tricky mount and dismount in Chapters 32 and 33.
For the fullest appreciation of the characters and events in this story, I recommend that you read the preceding parts of the cycle: Rock and Hawk (T.A. 2847); Fair Folk and Foul (T.A. 2848); and Of Like Passion and After Stormy Seas (T.A. 2849).
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Pînadan: Sindarin, "little man."
"his birth-name was true enough": hanadan is Sindarin for "intelligent man."
Tarcil: the sixth king of Arnor.
Wyrd: magic, enchantment.
Haulms: the stems or stalks of crop-plants after harvest.
Himling: the island north of Forlindon; in the First Age before the drowning of Beleriand, this was the Hill of Himring.
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.