11. The Innocence of Our Neighbors
And for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors
—Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations
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Sitting with his back to the sun-warmed stone of Maelchon's house with his pipe and a jack of Fransag's ale, Grimr watched Finean forking heather up to Artan and Leod, who balanced on the roof-beams of the new shed across the barnyard, and wondered what Auð was doing. In his mind's eye, he saw her strolling through the stalls of Sulûnduban's grand market, driving hard bargains when she found cloth she liked, or sitting by the hearth, putting the final exquisite details on one of the splendid outfits she had crafted for the celebrations of the West Council. But he could not see her pausing to think of the hired ironsmith back in the small hall by the threatening sea.
Grimr smiled at his own presumption and drank the good brew in his leathern cup. It was true that the delf was duller now that so many of the company had gone home to Sulûnduban, but quiet comforts were still comforts, and he had no discontent that could not be dealt with by riding to White Cliffs a little before his appointed time. "What do you cut the heather with?" he asked Maelchon, who sat beside him, not altogether idly.
"Sickles," the husbandman answered, gazing on the laboring cottars with complacent satisfaction.
Grimr nearly choked on his ale. "Sickles!"
Maelchon looked down on him, bushy black brows knit in mild bemusement. "What else?"
No wonder their sickles had been so notched and worn! "Do you not have a billhook?"
"Aye, but for lopping withies or branches for fodder. Do you cut heather with a bill?"
"I have never cut heather," Grimr confessed.
"Ah." Maelchon took a pull from his jack. "Then you do not know how awkward it would be. Or," he mused, "perhaps it is not, for Dwarves."
Perhaps it was, for Men; they would have to stoop as low as they did when they reaped. "Yet a sickle's edge is forged for straw and suchlike soft stuff, not the tough wood of heather."
Grimr had heard other Men compare Maelchon to a bull, and now, meeting the husbandman's placidly watchful eye, he saw the resemblance. "We have always used sickles to cut heather. I will remind you, when next you work on our sickles."
"Could you not use some sickles for heather, and others for corn?"
Maelchon laughed and poured Grimr more ale. "It is no use, Master. You have already taken all I can spare in trade. Perhaps next year."
Suppressing a sigh, Grimr smiled civilly and drank the Man's ale. He had not been seeking to sell Maelchon more of his work—not earnestly—but it pained him, thinking of the fine edge he had put on those blades for the harvest being used to hack heather stems . . . and of the steel that would be wasted when they must grind the sickles keen again.
Of course, if they used their tools so, they would need him more than they might otherwise. Still, it pained him. "When do you expect the Lady and Dírmaen to return?" Grimr asked, to turn the subject.
"Soon," Maelchon replied. "The Elves' Autumn Feast lasts for three days, the Lady says, and it is at least ten days from the Havens ahorse. Although last year, they came home in an elven ship, horses and all!"
"Did they? The Elves are friendly to your people, then?" The only Elf Grimr had seen since he crossed the mountains was the marchwarden Coruwi, at the Men's harvest feast, and while the Elf had been courteous, he had not been merry and took his leave early, despite the rain. Perhaps he had merely been ill at ease under stone with so many Dwarves, and none of his own folk beside him. The Blue Mountain Dwarves had given the Elves ample cause for such misgivings.
"I would not say friendly," Maelchon said, his stolid air of contentment now somewhat troubled. "Certainly they are not as neighborly as you Dwarves. For a time, we thought they would run us off. They claim this land, but the Lady came to an agreement with them regarding ground-rent. That is why she has gone to the Havens, to pay our fee."
Auð had told him, his first night in Gunduzahar, that there was some question whether Gunduzahar was in the mountains or by the sea, but that was the last he had heard of it. When he had heard the Men discussing their rent, he had assumed it was what they owed their own lord, not Lindon. What else had Auð said? That Veylin had discussed the matter with Círdan? What, if anything, had been decided by that discussion? It was bold indeed to establish a hall on land claimed by Elves—yet what Dwarf would pay for the right to dwell in the stone of Mahal?
If opportunity offered, he would have to ask Bersi how things stood. "And that is in addition to the dues you pay your lord?" Who was their overlord? The nearest lord of Men he knew was that cursed robber at Coldmouth, who no doubt wrung his tenants for all he could.
Maelchon coughed, as it were discreetly, and lifted his jack. "The Lady takes no rent, as this land is not hers, and her lord has given her ten years' grace on what is due for Srathen Brethil, so Halpan might coax our scattered folk back to their homes."
The stone wall behind Grimr's back was not yet paid for, and his own future depended in part on how much he could sell these Men. Traveling to Srathen Brethil would eat into his profit. "Will you be returning to your home there?" he asked, as the husbandman drank.
"Would I be building a proper farmstead if I were?" Wiping his beard with the back of his hand, Maelchon gazed around his yard, at cowshed and hayrick, the pen where the horse with the weak white feet lounged hoof-cocked and the new shed. "The sea does not speak to me, and the gales are a trial, but the land here is better than what I had in Srathen Brethil and there is enough for all my sons to have their own. Perhaps I will send Gormal to Srathen Brethil to hold our steading in a year or two; one of the lads may get a wife who does not like being far from her kin."
This was how the Men of Dale had spoken over their cups when fortune favored them, though prenticeships and places with prosperous traders were what they had sought for their sons. But was not farming also a craft, and some land, like some mines, better than others? "Speaking of wives, does yours have any butter she would like to sell? Or cheese?"
Maelchon smiled. "I believe so, but you should speak to her. Fransag!" he bellowed, turning his head towards the door.
His stout goodwife came out, frowning as she wiped her hands on her skirts. "Hae ye drained the stoup already?"
"No, lass. Master Grimr was wondering if you had any butter or cheese to spare."
"Some. The best of the season is past. Hae ye not put up enough for the winter?" Fransag asked, with somewhat of disapproval.
Grimr smiled. "We have, Mistress, but sweet butter and green cheese is a treat, so long as it lasts. If you want all you have, we will not go without." With Bersa in the kitchen, there was little danger of their stocks running low. Famine was the fat cook's greatest fear. Knowing how much of the Men's produce he had sold Bersa over the quarter since he came to Gunduzahar, Grimr could contemplate the onset of winter without worry for the first time in many, many years.
"Da! Da!" cried Maelchon's elder daughter, running across the farmyard.
"What is it, my rose?" the husbandman asked, as the child came pelting up, breathless but smiling.
"Donnan and Blackie are home!"
"Donnan and Blackie—" Fransag repeated, frowning as if at nonsense, then her puzzlement fled. "By the Mother, it will be the Lady. Your pardon, Master," she asked, giving Grimr a quick bob, and bolted back into the house.
"The stoup is still half-full," Maelchon called after her. "Have we enough to ask them to dinner?"
"Dinna be a gowk!" came the muffled response from within. "She willna put off seein' Rian so long."
Grimr considered taking his leave, but he could already hear horses approaching on the river track and settled back with his pipe. Fresh news would be even more welcome in the delf than fresh butter.
"Ho, lads!" Maelchon called out to the cottars working on the shed. "Come down, and greet the Lady!"
It was a very modest cavalcade for the attention. The Lady Saelon rode at the head on a fine-looking bay, while Dírmaen followed on his brown, leading a string of four horses, only one of which bore any packs. Grimr recognized Maelchon's two strapping workbeasts, whose packsaddles were bare; they trotted briskly into the yard, heads up and ears pricked, snuffing the familiar scents of home.
"Welcome, Lady!" Maelchon called out, rising and coming forward to greet her . . . or his horses. "How was your journey?"
"Well met, Maelchon! Long," the Lady said, "but not unpleasant. Thank you, Artan," she said, as one of the blond brothers took her horse's head. "How have you all fared here?"
"Very well," Maelchon assured her. "Will you light down and take a cup, or something more?"
"Gladly! Indeed, I am happy to be near enough to walk the rest of the way."
Dírmaen, swinging down from his mount, appeared to sigh.
"I am sure I ken how ye feel," Fransag said, coming out with another stoup, a wooden cup like a small bowl, and another jack. "Sit ye down, Lady. And you, Dírmaen. Will ye take a bite, as well as a drop?"
"That would be very welcome," the Man of the Star replied.
"Here, sir." Finean took the lead-line. "I will see to the horses."
Dírmaen gratefully clapped him on the shoulder and came to join his betrothed. Or his wife, for a time, if drunken tattle was to be believed. Had they truly traveled to Lindon and back without any other companions? That did not look much like betrothal.
Yet the Lady was not in the least self-conscious. "Master Grimr!" she exclaimed, smiling and taking Maelchon's place on the bench. "Greetings! All is well in Gunduzahar, I hope."
Grimr bowed his head and slid to the end of the bench to make room for Dírmaen. "At your service, Lady. Yes, all goes well with us in Gunduzahar."
"Were the Elves content, Lady?" Maelchon asked, as his goodwife served the ale.
"Thank you, Fransag." The Lady Saelon took the carved cup. "Yes, they were satisfied with our rent," she assured the husbandman before drinking. "That is to say," she elaborated, tartly droll, once she had slaked her first thirst, "those who are amiable were even more amiable, while those who are not kept other company."
"Rest easy," Dírmaen told Maelchon, who began to look uneasy, as he sat down between Grimr and the Lady with his jack. "The Lord Círdan was very gracious."
"He did not send you home in a ship."
"He offered," Saelon replied. "But we chose to return as we went. That is too much kindness to accept, year after year," she maintained, meeting Fransag's knowing smirk with bland assurance.
"We need not worry about it next year," Dírmaen spoke, drawing attention from the women. "Círdan will come here a fortnight before Yáviérë, which will spare us the journey."
Maelchon moved restively, like one of his horses being shod. "Why is he coming here?"
"He wishes to see our settlement for himself," the Lady answered. "He has not been to these lands for many years, he says. I believe," she leaned forward, peering at Grimr past Dírmaen, "there is also some question of whether this land should be reckoned as mountains or as shore."
"So I have heard, Lady," Grimr said cautiously, unsure where this might lead. "Heard, but no more. I have not been at Gunduzahar long."
"Be sure to tell Master Veylin of Círdan's visit," Dírmaen told him brusquely.
"Veylin left for Sulûnduban a week ago, and we do not expect his return until the end of Nénimë, or later."
"Do not be ill-tempered," Saelon told the Man of the Star, sounding very much like a spouse. "So Veylin told me, Master Grimr. But if you or anyone else in your company has reason to send him messages, pray mention this. I am certain he would want to know."
Grimr was certain, too. "I will, Lady."
"What does it matter whether the land is reckoned as mountains or shore?" Maelchon pressed, at a loss.
"That is a matter between Dwarves and the Elves," the Lady answered. "It does not concern us. Círdan and Veylin have both assured me so."
"What is this Círdan like?" Fransag asked, eyes narrow and lips pursed. "Is he like Gwinnor, or Coruwi?"
Saelon sat back against the stone of the wall. "Neither. I cannot tell you, for I have never met anyone he might be compared to. Can you imagine a greybeard Elf? That is his appearance. Surely you recall something of him from my tales of the Elder Days?"
"There was a lord of the coast by that name, was there not?" Maelchon hazarded.
"Who helped Eärendil build the Foam-flower, Da!" Ros prompted, from where she hung about her father.
Fransag reached over and swatted her daughter. "Whisht, chiel, when your elders are speaking!"
Saelon held out her hand to the girl, drawing her to her. "Yes, Ros—the very same Shipwright. For that is what Círdan means in Elvish. When first I met him, he was shaping timbers for a ship."
"A white ship, like a great swan?"
"Perhaps. The prow was very like a swan's neck, but it was still being built."
"And did he not fight with Gil-galad and Elendil against the Enemy?"
Fransag snorted. "I did not ask for fireside tales."
"There is good metal in fireside tales, Mistress," Grimr said. "My kin were at the Battle of Dagorlad, and we are told that Círdan was there, as well as Elrond. Since he seldom leaves the coast and our ancient homes were far from the sea, I know little else of him. I had not heard," Grimr glanced skeptically at Saelon, "that he was bearded."
"'An Elf who is a craftsman and has a beard,' that is how Veylin described him to me," she maintained.
"It is true," Dírmaen said plainly. "It is very strange, but true."
"Well! Such things we have seen since we left Srathen Brethil," Maelchon muttered. "Troll-demons and Fair Folk and Dwarves a-plenty. I hope it will not be dragons next."
Such innocents these Men were. Grimr drained his jack. He would not say what he might about dragons, even though it rankled to be included among the creatures Maelchon found uncanny. "Thank you for the ale, Maelchon. Since you have no work for me, I will be on my way."
"Wait!" Fransag urged. "Ye wished to truck for butter."
Grimr looked at her, head canted. "You do have some you would part with?"
"Aye. Will ye step into the hoose, so ye can see wha I have? Ros, run to the burn and fetch the butter-box."
He would remember that her severity might be a mask over eagerness to trade. "Certainly, Mistress."
"Forgif my man," the goodwife asked, once they were within, as she crossed the chamber to fetch a large basket. "He is a semple creature, and can be a gowk. Yer folk hae been naught but good to us."
Grimr bowed. "My fellows speak well of your hospitality, Mistress." And of her fortitude, but he would not remind her of evil things, not under the roof that had witnessed them.
Heaving the basket onto a bench, Fransag huffed. "I hope I hae the wit to follow the Lady's lead. Noo, here are hazelnuts, and some of the ferst sloes. Hae ye any use for them, as well as the butter?"
"Perhaps." It was not a question of whether he had a use for them, but of whether Bersa would. After haggling with the greedy cook the first few times, Grimr had negotiated a fixed price for the commoner produce, which allowed him to say, "The usual price for butter?"
"I dinna know . . . . It grows dearer as the leaves drop," Fransag pointed out. "Mebee if ye take the rest. If I hae any to spare when next ye come, though, ye must pay more."
"That is fair dealing, Mistress. What do you ask for the rest?"
She looked over her goods as if appraising them for the first time, lips pursed. "Twa pennies."
"Two?" Bersa was not the only one who was greedy. Grimr stepped forward and hefted the basket, gauging its weight. Near two stone. "No, that is too much. Half a pence is more like."
"Nordri reckons so much barley at three," the goodwife countered, frown returning.
"That may be, but corn packs more tightly and there is no shell." Reaching in, Grimr drew out a nut and smacked it on the bench to crack it, considering the size of the meat. "We have no use for the shells, Mistress, and there is the trouble of opening them."
"D'ye say ye want them shelled?" she asked. "They will not keep long so."
"No, they will not. But I do not think the first of the season will reach the storerooms." If Bersa would not give him a decent price, others would, for the treat of fresh plump nutmeats as they sat about the hearth of an evening. Or it might be worth sharing them freely with the prentices and his fellow hirelings, for the good will it would buy him.
"What of the sloes?"
"What of them, Mistress? They are not to everyone's taste." The only uses he knew for them were as flavoring for spirits, or stewed once drying had taken the bite from their flesh.
Fransag sniffed. "Weel, if ye dinna want them, ye will hae to gie me more for the butter."
"Let me see how much butter there is," Grimr said, "and then I will decide."
While waiting for Ros to return, he ate the hazelnut he had opened—the meat was small, but the flavor very fine—and looked about. This was the first time he had been invited into the house; indeed, one of the few times he had been under a common Man's roof, west of Mirkwood. He doubted the house itself was common, Nordri and Grani having built it, though its outer form was not unlike what he had seen elsewhere.
This chamber, which looked to serve them as common room and kitchen, took up most of the space within, and like all Men's houses, even those of the lordly, it was meanly furnished. A few benches no better than what sat outside the door ranged down the sides along a central floor-hearth; even on so fine a day as this, when the door and small windows stood open, its smoke coiled in the rafters about strings of fish and joints of meat. A small trestle table, some crude chests and tubs . . . little else there was of joinery, and none of it Grani or Thyrnir's work.
Indeed, there was more of his own craft about the place, or at least the part that served as kitchen: a goodly set of spits and several griddles, as well a pair of bronze cooking pots, the smaller of which looked like Bersi's work. Yet that hung over the fire by a hook on a stout frame. "You do not have a pot-chain, Mistress?" The Lady had one in the hall; a fine one, made by Veylin's cousins, he had been told.
"Nae yet." The goodwife regarded him with narrowed eyes. "Wha would ye ask for yin?"
Grimr considered the distance from the roof-beam to the fire. The metal alone would be more than a shilling, and chains took much forging. It would be long before the small copper and occasional penny that he had given into her hands added up to so much. "Thirty pence, or five well-fleshed beeves."
There might have been resignation as well as surprise in her grunt, but her daughter trotted in then, hugging the butter-box close, though it was still wet from the river that kept it cool. "Gie it to Master Grimr, chiel."
Less than half a stone; nearer five pounds without the box. Something more than a farthing's worth, and a bawbee for the nuts . . . . "Will you take a penny for the lot?"
"Master Grimr," Fransag reproached. "Whoo am I iver to gie ye thirty pennies, if ye do nae gie them to me ferst? A penny an' a half."
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Gowk: Scots, fool.
"a wooden cup like a small bowl": this is a quaich, a broad, shallow cup with flat handles on opposite sides and no foot..
Whisht: Scots, "be quiet!"
Yin: Scots, one.
Bawbee: half a pence.
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