1. Longest Day
Forðon domgeorne dreorigne oft
in hyra breostcofan bindað fæste;
swa ic modsefan minne sceolde,
oft earmcearig, eðle bidæled,
freomægum feor feterum sælan,
siþþan geara iu goldwine minne
hrusan heolstre biwrah, ond ic hean þonan
wod wintercearig ofer waþema gebind,
sohte seledreorg sinces bryttan,
hwær ic feor oþþe neah findan meahte
þone þe in meoduhealle mine wisse,
oþþe mec freondleasne frefran wolde,
wenian mid wynnum.
Therefore those desiring reputation
often shut up sorrow in the casket of their breast.
So I have had to fetter fast my heart—
often wretched, deprived of homeland
and far from noble kin—
since years ago my gold-giving lord
in earth's hiding-place I covered.
And thence, distressed, desolate as winter, I went
over the waves, sadly bereft of hall,
seeking one who might bestow treasure;
if I can find, far or near, one who, in his mead-hall,
would know of my mine own folk,
or comfort my friendlessness
with winning custom.
—Anonymous, "The Wanderer"
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The deep din of a close-packed hall was pleasant to Grimr's ear: it was long since he had sat down to the Noontide Feast under a mansion's roof, and the rumbling babel brought back memories of Midsummer under the Mountain, when Dwarves and Dalemen had toasted one other, bumper after bumper, until long after the laggard sun had set.
Though there were no Men here; no Men, and neither kin nor friends of his at this Firebeard feast. His neighbors at table, near the lowest in Sulûnduban's grand hall, were a charcoal burner who had not troubled to clean his black-rimmed nails and ate wolfishly, speaking little, and a pair of brothers, tinkers whose business was mostly in the Shire.
Grimr drained his stein, though the ale served to scroungers such as they was sour, the dregs of the cellars. He had often had worse, yet it was another galling reminder of how cruelly his fortunes had fallen. Heir to one of the great foundries of Erebor, eighty years ago he had been keenly piling up craft and gold against the day he and his beloved would wed. They had slipped away from the Midsummer festivities to walk hand in hand through his father's deserted workshops, and she had given him a kiss, sweeter than the rich wine of Rhûn.
Half a life ago. More than half his count of years, yet he had been left with less than half a life, bereft of spouse and children to put heart into his labors. Would that he had been under the Mountain with Heilsa when the dragon came, rather than seeing to a cargo of ore from the Iron Hills in Laketown. And now he was worse off than the threadbare tinkers beside him, for all the skill in his hands. The northernmost lordling in the Hills of Twilight had not been content to cheat him of the fee for the mending of his ill-used sword, but had robbed him of pack pony and tools as well, crowing like a dunghill cock as his hounds ran Grimr off, baying and snapping at the hocks of his riding pony as it bolted.
He had cursed the Man, but that would not bring back his hammers and tongs, anvil and files, nor would the four crowns, three florins, and single groat in his purse, even with the two Erebor marks sewn into his bootsoles, replace them. Long he had staved off this day, but he must choke down his pride and labor for another's profit, praying his luck would turn so he could earn enough to equip himself again. A week it had taken him to reach Sulûnduban, the nearest place he knew folk of his kindred dwelt; a hard-riding, belt-tightening week of roots and berries and water from the burns. Here he had found Raun, who was ashamed that he could spare little more than a blanket and a chair by his meager hearth, but Raun had introduced him to Onar, whose son Oski was prenticed to the gemsmith Veylin, one of the chieftains of the Firebeards. Veylin was seeking an ironsmith who would not object to blacksmithing for Men, Oski had told him, filling his tankard with a generous hand; Men friendly to Dwarves, the lad added, as he scowled.
Were there Men friendly to Dwarves left in the world? Grimr had begun to doubt it, for he had met none since he turned his back on the ruin of Dale. Still, he could ill afford to spurn any opportunity and Oski spoke favorably of his master's generosity. A chieftain ought to be great-hearted, and any gemsmith worthy of the occupation should be able to afford benevolence—the glimpse he had gotten, across the hall, gleamed and glittered enough: ruddy as autumnal bracken beside his king's golden hues; somewhat halt.
"Who is the lame one, on the dais by the king?" Grimr asked Skeggi, the more garrulous of the brothers. Only a foolish prentice would speak ill of his master, but these two would carry any gossip and were Broadbeams to boot, no kind of kin to Veylin.
The tinker glanced that way, then went back to spreading dripping on his black bread. "Veylin the Venturesome, chieftain of Thrir's line."
"The venturesome?" That was a word like a sword, which might cut both ways.
"Aye," the other brother, Kaupi, affirmed, reaching for the pitcher. "You have not heard of him?"
Skeggi sat back, regarding him with disbelief. "How can that be? Is he not renown from the mountains to the sea?"
"That may be so, but I have been long on the road."
The knowing look in the tinker's eye—no doubt he often used the excuse himself, when dealing with those fortunate enough to be settled in a delf—was offensive. "Ah. Then you have missed a good tale. What would you give to hear it?"
Such chaffering asked for the jaded chuff Grimr gave. "Little, if I can get it from any of my own folk for the asking. Yesterday I was told one of us is prenticed to a gemsmith of that name. Are there two Veylins among the Firebeards?"
The charcoal-burner snorted as he seized the last piece of bread.
"Do you tramp beyond the Brandywine?" Grimr asked, taking out his pipe. "I can tell where you would find a welcome."
Skeggi shook his head dismissively. "There is trade enough among the Beardfoots. But a fill of pipe-weed would not go amiss."
Grimr stared at him, pouch in his hand. "Surely there is no lack of pipe-weed in the Shire!"
The tinker glanced away, an unconvincing smile on his lips. "Such prices they ask for it in springtime! We always buy ours after the harvest."
When the Hobbits were keen to sell off the previous year's stock, as the fresh leaf cured. That was still some months away, however. Well, what else could he expect at these footling tables but the improvident and spendthrift? Grimr weighed his pouch in his hand: he had not much left himself, but a pipeful of leaf was a fair price for a tale. "Pass me your pipe, then, and tell me of this Veylin while we smoke."
"What would you know?" Skeggi asked, watching closely as Grimr packed the briar.
No doubt he wished he had the filling of its bowl, but Grimr did not stint him. "What it is that has made him so renown. Why is he called venturesome, and how did he come to be lame?"
"All that he has earned," Skeggi said, puffing to set the weed alight, "because he is not content to stay here among his own folk, though they hold him and his work in great esteem. That splendid chain, which blazes on Regin's breast?" the tinker pointed out. "That is by his hand."
"It looks very fine." Not that they could see more than the gleam and glint from here, but surely Durin's brother would settle for none but the best. "But what is to be gained, beyond wealth and honour among one's kin?"
"The gems that bring him both!" Kaupi declared, putting an elbow in his brother's ribs and taking the pipe from the hand flung in his direction.
"He has long traded with the Elves of the Havens," Skeggi harrumphed, scowling at his brother and snatching his own back after a few puffs. "And having lost his dread of the sea, he began to prospect near the shore."
"Where he has got much treasure."
"Who made this bargain?" Skeggi cried, fending off his brother's attempt to take the pipe again. "Get your own next time!" Clenching his teeth on the stem, the tinker muttered, "Or so it is said. Who can tell where the stones come from? But it was by the sea he was lamed, and his friend and his prentice slain, by some water-loving kin of trolls."
Kaupi drowned his disappointment in the sour ale. "He is not so lame he could not take vengeance on the creatures. Storri says Bersi swears he slew the very one that killed Thekk."
"With the help of Men," Skeggi sniffed. "Why do you accept Bersi's word? He favors Veylin above his own kindred."
"If there are not riches at Gunduzahar, why has Bersi's wife joined him there? And Veylin's own sister removed there as well?"
"Because she would keep her sons near their uncle, now that their father is dead."
"Why would she do that, if the profit did not outweigh the risk? Besides, they will inherit from Rekk, who has his brother's share."
Gunduzahar was Veylin's delf across the mountains: a fine place, Oski had assured him, not too near the sea. The company was but one shy of thirty, though pick had first been put to stone not three years before. He had not mentioned the women, however. "What is this of Men?" Grimr asked. They provided Gunduzahar with fresh meat and some corn, according to Oski, and would give good measure for knives and harness buckles.
"The Men who dwelt in Birkidale were driven out by the troll-kin, and some took refuge by the sea, not far from Gunduzahar. They are ruled by the sister of their slain lord, and—" Skeggi added, with the sly relish of gossip "—Veylin is very friendly with the Lady of White Cliffs, it is said."
More charitably, Kaupi allowed, "It is also said that she mended his leg, after the water-fiend shattered it."
"No wonder it is crooked," the charcoal-maker muttered, and went back to gnawing on his black crust.
It sounded very peculiar, even nonsensical, but what could more could be expected of rumour that had passed through so many mouths? Still, there was little ill of Veylin in such report, save that he took risks and gained great profit thereby, and was more familiar with the women of Men than was usual in these unsettled lands, where Men guarded their families more closely than they had in the fair town of Dale.
As some began to clear the tables and benches away from the center of the hall to make room for entertainment and dancing, Grimr was glad of the opportunity to repay his hosts with labor, for it allowed him to distance himself from his less than congenial companions. Holding the end of one table while waiting for the next to clear the way also allowed him a nearer look at Veylin. Not too near, for the chieftain was seated between Balin and Glóin at the king's table and Grimr would rather not be noticed by the kinsmen of Thorin, but close enough to better assay his appearance. His chain and jewels were magnificent, as a fine gemsmith's must be, and his garb equally rich, russet overlain with copper broidery and accents of a bluish green. Grimr had never seen one of his rank favor copper over the noble metals, but it suited his coloring very well. And though Glóin was but a youngster, he was attending his speech with more than polite interest.
If he must serve another, Grimr would rather it not be a haughty man, proud in descent but not deeds. He had had enough of that.
The music and dancing whiled away the time pleasantly: the ale passed around among the throng was a sound, nutty brew and their hosts played many a Longbeard tune, in honor of Gróin and his companions. Grimr kept an eye on the high table, however, not wanting to lose a chance to speak to Veylin. If a shabby Longbeard petitioned at his door, would he get a hearing? At best, he must wait until those with better claims on their chieftain's time had been seen, and that wait might be long, with the quarter sessions upon them, while he ate what was left of his money.
The water-clock had struck the third hour before Regin took leave of the revelers, wishing all great profit from the Midsummer Fair and a most prosperous summer; Gróin went with him. Balin and Dwalin, Óin and Glóin, and Regin's two sons then came down from the dais to join in more frivolous amusements, and Grimr drifted nearer the door. Yet the chieftain who had sat at Gróin's right hand, the one with emeralds in his chain, came and took Balin's seat beside Veylin, and they were deep in talk for so long Grimr began to mistrust his plan. Foolish presumption, to accost a chieftain of another kindred on his way to his bed after a feast—what was he thinking? All this ale had gone to his head. Let him go back to Raun's and doss down before the fire, then petition in a more fitting fashion tomorrow. Oski would speak on his behalf. Though it might be that Veylin had already found a smith—any of the grandsons of Farin would suit, surely.
Grimr was looking for a place to leave his stein when movement on the dais caught his eye. Veylin clapped his companion on the shoulder and slid his golden goblet towards him, then pushed himself up from table and took up a stick. It was not a crutch: he stumped, stiffly but doughtily, towards the small door at the back of the dais.
The postern! Why had he not spent his time considering where it might lead? Plunking the stein down on the nearest bench, Grimr strode through the archway. Since the door was not concealed, it was unlikely to lead directly to any of the lordly halls. The king's household was above them; Veylin's halls, Oski had said, were in the First Deep.
Down the Great Stair he went, the few folk abroad looking askance at his hurry.
Yet when he reached the First Deep and gazed into the fine semicircular arcade, a fountain playing where three streets met, his heart misgave him once more. Even if he found the chieftain here, would not his headlong desperation give a bad impression?
Everything he did turned to ill.
Grimr stood, hand on newel, overburdened by doubt. What now? The pattern of his life was broken; he felt like a houseless spirit, disconnected and alone. Who here would profit or lose by either his presence or absence? Who would care if he stayed or went? Uselessness gnawed at him like rust.
Fearing now to be found lurking where he did not belong, yet unable to bear the descent to Raun's, where he was an imposition, Grimr turned and climbed slowly back up, not to the revelry in the Second Hall, but to the First, where a few keen souls were already setting up their counters for the Fair. Might one of them want assistance? He would not get much more than the price of a mug of coffee as a porter, but the work should drive the chill from his heart. Pacing along the colonnade, he eyed the tradesmen, trying to judge who to approach.
The tap of metal on stone warned him of another's presence. Halting in a pillar-shadow, Grimr peered ahead. Where the light of the great lamps fell between the columns, benches were set along the wall, convenient for conversation, and on one sat Veylin, hands clasped on the head of his stick.
There was no mistaking that blaze of russet and copper. Yet he wore a very different face than he had at the feast, joviality quenched, replaced by pensive dissatisfaction.
What cause could this splendid chieftain have for discontent, Grimr wondered, resentment rousing in his breast. Had his pride been dunted by the chore of entertaining the younger Longbeards at the feast instead of their elders? Perhaps he had seen a jewel he could not possess?
With a deep sigh, Veylin chafed his right knee and rose, leaning heavily on his stick; and when he moved towards the Great Stair, he went very lame indeed.
There were misfortunes in the world he had not suffered. Ashamed of his bitterness and the sight of the man's weakness, Grimr slipped around the pillar and fell back, soft-footed, towards the Stair. When he reached the last pillar, however, he paused, irresolute. Where did he mean to go? Was he not throwing away the opportunity he had so earnestly sought?
"Many thanks!" he called heartily towards one of the early tradesmen, who did not even look his way. "May the Fair profit you!" How foolish he felt, shouting at strangers in a delf he barely knew: but it served his purpose, for when Veylin emerged from the colonnade, his stick was loose in his hand and there was no pain in his eyes, only curiosity at the sight of a noisy fellow he did not know.
"Good evening," Veylin greeted him, very civilly. "Or, I should say, good morning."
"And to you," Grimr replied, bowing and praying it was neither too little nor too low. "Pardon," he asked, with a hesitation that was not in the least contrived, "but are you Veylin, Vali's son?"
"That is my name." Those eyes, russet as his beard, grew more reserved, but not mistrustful. "You are—?"
"Grimr, Linr's son, once of Erebor, at your service and your family's. Or so I hope. I spoke yesterday to my kinsmen, Onar and Oski, and Oski told me you are seeking an ironsmith for your company at Gunduzahar."
Directness did not offend him. "I am. How do you come to be seeking employment?"
A fair question, bluntness for bluntness. "My goods and gear were stolen from me."
Grimr clenched his jaw to restrain his bile. "The lordling at Coldmouth."
Shifting his weight more onto his good leg, Veylin looked very grave. "Oski told you I seek a smith who will work for Men?"
"There are Men and there are Men," Grimr declared. "I liked those in Dale, and Oski speaks well of those near Gunduzahar."
That guarded face softened a little. "They are the best I have ever met with." Chewing on the ends of his whiskers, Veylin considered. "You would not object to a trial of your smithcraft?"
"Where will a message find you?"
"I am staying with my kinsman Raun, who houses in the North Reach of the Fifth Deep."
Though such quarters did nothing for his reputation, the chieftain seemed indifferent. "Look for a message, then, in a day or two. Oh, can you shoe a horse?"
"A horse? Not a pony?"
Veylin pursed his lips. "Some of us keep our ponies shod, but the Men have asked particularly for a farrier. One of their great strapping ploughbeasts has problems with its feet."
Grimr regarded the chieftain with narrowed eyes. Was he trying to daunt him? "I have shod carthorses once or thrice. So long as there is a Man to hold the beast, I am willing."
That earned him a smile. "Splendid! I look forward to our next meeting, then." Veylin bowed in leavetaking. "May the Fair increase your fortune."
"Yours, no less." When Grimr raised his head from his own bow, Veylin was already stumping towards the Stair. A man of mettle, beyond doubt. Though he would wager that the chieftain did not falter again until he was safe behind his own doors, Grimr turned away from the sight of his travail.
That had gone better than he dared imagine. A proud Dwarf, yes, but not inclined to temper. The pain of his leg would have justly excused ill will towards any who kept him standing, let alone an importuning stranger, yet he had given him a fair hearing. That was what a chieftain ought to be.
How grievously the world was faulted, that he did not find such consideration among the chiefs of his own kindred, the dethroned heirs of the Eldest. Bitterly they complained of how few still followed them, of those who had gone to the stripling Dáin or sought homes among Firebeards and Broadbeams, kin their fathers had abandoned ages ago for the wealth of Khazad-dûm. They would say that of him, he was sure, though the fathers of his fathers were all born in Gundabad. Did they reck those whose bones had been laid in the Misty Mountains, seeking Azog, or the multitude burned after Azanulbizar?
Bitterness. Some was desirable in a weapon, to sharpen its edge—and there was a dragon to be slain—but too much and the blade would shatter, as likely to wound friend as foe. Was it a sin to mistrust the temper of his king, Heir of the Deathless?
If so, he must pray Mahal would pardon him, for he could not be a dutiful son to so baleful a father. Thorin had turned his hand to iron to reforge his fortunes: he would not brook rivalry in trade, but neither was he able to employ his own folk or place them where they might prosper. Nor was such neglect new—his father and grandfather before him had abandoned their people to seek fortunes in the wilderness with a few boon companions only. To what end? Thrór was dead; and Thráin's companions, some of whom reveled in the feast hall above, had returned without him years since. Should a like fate await Oakenshield, Grimr would not be in the least astonished.
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This is the sixth 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 Dûnhebaid I: Rock and Hawk, this cycle takes its sense of place from the West Highlands of Scotland. In general, I prefer "Dark Age" (post-Roman, early medieval) models for the Mannish cultures of what was the Kingdom of Arnor, but this tale focuses on Dwarves, whose singular origins sets them and their culture apart from all others.
While I hope you can enjoy this story on its own merits, for the fullest appreciation of its characters and events I recommend reading the preceding parts of the cycle: Rock and Hawk (T.A. 2847); Fair Folk and Foul (T.A. 2848); Of Like Passion and After Stormy Seas (T.A. 2849); and Hand to Hand (T.A. 2849–2850).
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"The Wanderer": an Old English poem, which Tolkien knew well. I have adapted this translation to suit my Dwarvish protagonists.
Hills of Twilight: Emyn Uial.
"four crowns, three florins, and single groat in his purse, even with the two Erebor marks": this comes to two pounds, six shillings, and fourpence—which might buy you two tons of wheat (enough to feed ten people for a year) or 46 cows. (See "Coinage" in the the Dûnhebaid Dictionary.) That may seem plenty to re-equip a smith, but consider the quantity of iron (a hundredweight was worth one pound and eight shillings) and tool-steel (five times as expensive as iron) involved, let alone the skilled labor needed to produce even a basic set of tools. Technology requires capital.
Dripping: the fat from cooked meat, used like butter when cold.
Beardfoots: a name some Adaneth!verse Dwarves give Hobbits.
"Durin's brother": the current king of the Firebeards is Regin V, the reawoken Father of that kindred, as the recurring Durin is the Father of the Longbeards.
Postern: a back or private door, often designed to facilitate escape.
Newel: the central post of a spiral stair, or the post at the end of staircase handrail.
"kin their fathers had abandoned ages ago for the wealth of Khazad-dûm": at the end of the First Age and beginning of the Second, many Dwarves from the Ered Lindon/Luin moved to Khazad-dûm. After the destruction of the host of Nogrod at Sarn Athrad, Dwarves of Belegost "hastened their departure eastwards"; and when the great mansions of Nogrod and Belegost were ruined in the breaking of Thangorodrim, more joined the Longbeards (Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn," especially n. 4; LotR, App. B, Second Age, q.v. c. 40).
Gundabad: Mount Gundabad, where Durin first woke, was revered by Dwarves and the place of assembly for the seven kindreds early in their history. However, Orcs have repeatedly captured and used Gundabad as their own "capital" since Sauron invaded Eriador in S.A. 1695 (HoME XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, "Of Dwarves and Men").
The Deathless: Durin.
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.