13. Taking Counsel
There is no better ballast for keeping a mind steady on its keel, and saving it from all risk of crankiness, than business.
—James Russell Lowell, Literary Essays: "New England Two Centuries Ago"
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The Council's days were full and long, with many considerable matters before them. The desirability of altering the weight or purity of pennies was argued with profound passion for three of the first four days around the broad ring of oak beneath the keystone of Regin's Great Hall of Council. Oakenshield insisted that Durin's measures be respected, while the Broadbeam's king, Hilmir, repeatedly—a hammer beating on stubborn steel—pragmatically observed that clipping was rife since the price of wheat had risen from eight pennies to a shilling the bushel. Three days, and much of the intervening nights, between the courses of lavish feast and counterfeast, and over flagons of wine and ale, seeking agreement enough to act upon.
The division of responsibility for maintaining the Blue Mountain road and the causeways towards Tharbad, pressing in light of the poor harvest here in the north, was dealt with more briskly, but led naturally to somber discussion of the advisability of well-armed companies beyond Sarn Ford. Gondor's law had retreated further from the Fords of Isen, though Saruman held Orthanc in the name of the Stewards, as he had for the last ninety years. As naturally, the mention of the wizard's name sparked scowls and sour words from Thorin and his chieftains, who had found him a disagreeable neighbor in Dunland. High tolls he charged for the crossing of the Isen, and sold weapons to Men on both sides of the mountains at prices their own smithies could not match.
Veylin remembered his passage through the Gap of Rohan twenty-five years before well, but not favorably. After very profitable trading in Gondor, where he had got many fine pigeon's blood rubies from beyond Khand and learned to love the equally rich red wines of Belfalas, the Rohirrim had seemed uncouth and poor. Suspicious of Dwarves, too: partly on account of Scatha's teeth, yet some also muttered that Dwarves had supplied the weapons Dunlendings used to drive the Rohirrim into Helm's Deep during the Long Winter of cursed memory.
The Dunlendings, for their part, were even poorer, sullen still after bitter defeat, the cup of victory dashed from their lips. There Veylin had overheard that Dwarvish smiths armed the defenders of the Hornburg and those who slew Wulf.
Little wonder Thráin had brought his people away from there, for in truth few Dwarves dwelt or traded so near the ruin of Khazad-dûm at the time of the Long Winter, when the Longbeards were fat and prosperous in Erebor's Mountain far to the east, while in the Blue Mountains, Firebeards and Broadbeams dug deeper to house their own outlying folk, harried by Orcs and falling back on their ancestral strongholds. From his seat by his friend Tregr, chieftain of the Broadbeam's youngest line, Veylin watched disapprovingly as Thorin, a mere child at that time of trouble, told Regin Reborn and Hilmir, nearing his second century, what would be wise.
Thráin should have put off his quest for vengeance until his son was fit to lead his folk. However, he had not, and so they must listen to Thorin, beaten to brittleness by the burdens upon him, prate pompously upon the dignity of Durin's Line and what was due to him as Durin's heir. How Regin bore it, Veylin did not know. If Thyrnir or Thyrð's sons gave themselves such airs, he would boot their backsides.
"What of the Elves?" Thorin proposed, when Thjalfi tartly reminded him that, after Azanulbizar, there were few men who could be spared for work on the fenland causeways, so far from their mansions. "Their wine comes from Belfalas, does it not? They, too, have an interest in the road."
"We do not deal with Elves," Grytr, chieftain of the sept nearest Hilmir's line, replied, guttural as a growl. The fathers of his fathers had dwelt in Tumunzahar.
"Some of you do," Oakenshield chopped back, turning to gaze on Veylin.
"There are mariners at the Havens," Veylin said, though it should be self-evident. "They bring their wine around the coast from Dol Amroth." With less trouble and in better condition than any that traveled by land, which is why he bought his when he was in Mithlond.
Hilmir scratched his chin through his bushy brown beard, keeping a guarded eye on Grytr as he wondered, grudgingly, "Do they carry corn the same way?"
"I do not know. I doubt it, for they use little, and strange kinds. Did Thranduil get much corn from the Men of Dale?"
One-eyed Thili, deeply scarred in Dimrill Dale, who sat at Thorin's right hand, shook his head. "Not that I heard. Wine in plenty, and butter, and plump sweet apples—better than their own bitter woodland crabs!—but little wheat and no barley. Elves prefer mead and wine to ale."
"Even if the Elves of the Havens traded in corn," Holl rebuked Veylin, from where he sat on the other side of Thjalfi, "would they be likely to give us a good price, when you have stirred them up?"
If only Holl were beside him, so he could have strangled his gabble! Or at least thwacked his shins with his stick, under the table. "I did not stir them up," Veylin countered firmly, mustering all his composure under the suddenly sharp eyes of three kings and eight chieftains, as well as the heirs and ealdormen sitting in attentive silence on their benches along the walls. "It was the Men who came, fiend-driven, to the sea's shore that roused the Elves from their torpor."
"Men you have befriended," Grytr said, as if in accusation.
"I am a friend to the Lady Saelon at White Cliffs, who saved my life," Veylin confessed, unashamed of the fact. "She has contented the Shipwright on her folk's behalf—and," Veylin cut Holl off before he betrayed still more of his business, "I have spoken with him regarding certain disagreements about my company's use of timber and game."
Tregr mouth twitched, a twinkle in his eye. "Were they civil words?"
"Clearly," Veylin said, regarding his friend with amiable contempt, "you have never met the Shipwright."
"Is he so formidable?" Thili asked curiously.
"He is not to be taken lightly," Hilmir declared, and his gaze, as it lingered on Veylin, was displeased, at their levity or the prospect of a dispute with Lindon. Or both.
"Indeed," Regin agreed, pushing back his seat and rising. "A break is in order, I think. Let us return in . . . half an hour, and then perhaps we can come back to matters easier to resolve, such as whether it is just to levy poll taxes on Longbeards in our mansions. Thorin, will you take some wine?"
A near brush, and an all-too-obvious deflection, which would do more to call attention to his dealings with Lindon than all the rumors traded before the Council began. Still, Veylin was relieved to see it was Holl whom Regin drew aside for a private word before they reconvened rather than himself.
Later, it seemed his chastening was merely deferred, for Regin, smiling, seated him by Oakenshield at supper, and on the dais, so that their cordiality—or lack thereof—would be on full display before the crowded hall. The excellent food and wine helped Veylin swallow this dubious honor and keep up courtesy; better still, a happy inspiration led him to ask Thorin about the relations between Longbeards and Men in the Second Age, a subject which positively invited Oakenshield to regale him with Khazad-dûm's ancient power and glory—tales not only of their influence over Men, but of the works they accomplished in partnership with the Noldor of Eregion.
"Do you know Gwinnor Tinnath?" Veylin asked, as Thorin passed him the partridge pie. "Vingenáro Tinwi, he may have been called in Eregion. He was a gemsmith there, in the following of Galadriel; before the drowning of Beleriand, he was with Felagund in Nulukkhizdîn."
Thorin paused briefly, spoon poised over the poached pears. "No," he replied dismissively. "I have never heard of him."
Biting his lip until he could school his tongue, Veylin contented himself with, "I am sorry to hear it, for now he dwells in Mithlond. I thought he might be useful, if you wished to trade with the Elves."
That woke Oakenshield's interest. "That is a good thought! I had heard few of the Noldor were left this side of the sea, and thought most of the folk of Eregion who remained dwelt with Elrond in Rivendell. If I speak to this Gwinnor, may I say I have your recommendation?"
"Certainly." Veylin smiled to think of a meeting between the supercilious-seeming Noldor and this gravely haughty young king, but he would take care not to be present, should it come to pass.
He managed to get through the rest of the evening without giving offense or taking much, but he took his leave soon after the dancing began and did not scruple to lean heavily on his stick as he went. Let Oakenshield misjudge him, if he would. Veylin preferred his unfriends to do so.
There was no escaping Regin's shrewd eye, however. "Have you done something to your leg?" he asked, as they passed on the steps of the dais, Regin bounding up to snatch a drink before the next set.
"No—it is the weather, I believe." There were torrential rains without and, truthfully, he had felt a twinge or two in his knee. "I will soak it, and it should be better in the morning."
"I am glad it is no worse," his king said in a tone of concern that could be read two ways, his eyes profoundly knowing. "I had hoped to speak with you later. May I come visit you—" he considered "—around the eleventh hour? I would not rush your care of your leg."
"Whenever is convenient, my king."
Regin clouted him on the shoulder, not unkindly, and hastened towards his cup.
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Having left the doors to his study ajar in anticipation of Regin's visit, Veylin heard the jovial din as Brodi and Tregr returned from the feast. Having almost no household of his own, he was always happy to oblige Tregr by finding room for him as well, there being no fifth sept of the Firebeards to host him. Ordinarily, he would be coming in with them, roaring with laughter at one of Tregr's sly jokes . . . but not this year. His heart was not in it.
It must be nearer the first hour than the eleventh. Knocking back the last of the topaz liquor from his palm-cup, Veylin picked up the bottle, wondering whether he should drink more. The mood was upon him, but it would not do to be drunk when Regin came.
A little more would make no difference. Pouring a finger's worth into the cup, he cradled it in his hand, staring into the glowing heart of the fire.
Quiet crept back in, without. So much so that he started at the soft tap of knuckles on the door. "Your pardon, Veylin," Regin said, hanging in the doorway as if uncertain of his welcome. "I did not mean to be so late."
Veylin shook his head and gestured towards the other armchair. "I am the one requiring pardon, for shirking my duties as host. Will you take some of my sister's spirits?"
Regin shut the door behind him, eyeing the bottle warily. "I have heard of them. Is that the double-distilled or the triple?"
"A very little then." Regin frankly considered Veylin's wry leg, stretched out on a footstool before him. "I do not think you are fit to carry me home. What is that smell?" he asked, sniffing.
"Mint," Veylin told him, pouring. "Its scent quarrels with the spirit, I know, but that is what the Lady Saelon recommended, and she is the master of herbs and healing."
Taking the cup, Regin sat down. "Is not mustard more usual?"
There was comfort in mustard's heat, so like that of a forge, promising repair. Promising, but it did not deliver. "It is. But I used so much my leg blistered as iron throws scale. Hot water is more tempered, and the coolness of mint numbs the pain."
Regin did not answer immediately, for he had tasted Auð's liquor and was momentarily breathless. "That is very like your sister," he pronounced huskily, when he was able.
Veylin smiled. "I will tell her you said so."
"Only if she will take it as a compliment, pray." Regin set his cup aside and reached for the pouch at his belt, finely tooled and studded with topaz and cairngorm. "I begin to be curious about this uncommon friend of yours. Here," he said, producing a folded letter and passing it over. "Read this. Hilmir brought it, and it worries him."
The broken seal was the color of sea-beryl, and the remaining fragment of wax bore the prow of a swan-necked ship. "Has he read it?"
"No." Regin took up his cup again.
Veylin angled the parchment to the light.
To Regin, Fifth of that name, King of the Firebeards
A fortnight before Yáviérë next, I will be at Habad-e-Mindon, which your folk call White Cliffs. There is some question of where the border between our realms properly lies. Should you desire to resolve this matter swiftly, I propose we meet at or near Habad-e-Mindon in the middle of Ivanneth, each bringing no more than six of our people, in order to survey the land and clearly mark our bounds. If this is agreeable to you, I am at your service.
The first day of Narbeleth, the 2850th sun-round of the Third Age of the World
Having read it thrice, noting the Sindarin month-names and that it was dated after Saelon should have paid her rent, Veylin passed it back. "Would reading it reassure him?"
"I doubt it. If anything delayed us on our way to Barazdush for next year's council, he would imagine us slain by Elves."
Veylin snorted softly and picked up his cup. "Does it reassure you?"
Regin pensively tapped the parchment on the arm of his chair. "I do not know. It sounds fair."
"Have you met the Shipwright?" Veylin guessed the ancient Elf had written the missive himself. A scribe or counselor, most of whom originally served Gilgalad Fingon's son, would have used the Quenya names of the months, as was usual in Common Speech. At any rate, the letter had Círdan's forthrightness. Why was he going to White Cliffs? Had ill befallen Saelon on her way to the Havens, or had she offended in some way that warranted formal scrutiny?
"Once, long ago, before the madness in Menegroth." Whatever he saw as he gazed into his cup, it was not the amber liquid within. "Fools. All of them, fools. Círdan is near kin to Thingol, is he not?"
Had Regin visited Menegroth? Walked with the masons who delved it for Greymantle? He rarely spoke of his earlier incarnations, and the annals of Belegost had been lost in the wreck of Beleriand. "So I have always heard. He has been just in his dealings with me, however, when he need not have been."
"It is your venture at stake here—no other's. Would you accept this offer, and the bounds so decided?"
A year ago, it would have been hard to answer, for the fire opal he had snatched from the raging sea sang in his blood, rousing him as no woman ever had, the gem-lust more potent and besotting than any liquor Auð ever crafted. Anything that might constrain his prospecting would have been intolerable.
Yet his prospecting had been constrained, by things more difficult to defy than the claims of Elves: his duties as chieftain; the weakness of his leg. All year—two years, in truth, save for that one awesome strike, Saelon's gift—his desire to find stones worthy of his skill had been frustrated, and disappointment was digging into his heart, sapping the joy of his successes. For he had successes, notable successes. Compared to others, many others—take Grimr, or even Thorin—what grounds could he have for complaint? Gunduzahar grew and prospered; his work was widely admired and profitably sought after; he was on good terms with his king and his nearest kin . . . .
The overall design was very well, but there was an essential lack of harmony in the composition, and the harder he labored to bring the sometimes wildly varied elements together, the more details he found flawed. Saelon and Gwinnor: he valued them both highly, for very different qualities, as one might prize coal and marble; yet he was now on awkward terms with them both, for very different reasons. He had more commissions than he could fill in a timely fashion, and why? Because he did not have enough prentices sufficiently skilled to see to the rough work.
What did one do, when the most cunning work began to go awry? One returned fundamentals, and rebuilt from there. A fine neck-chain or belt might pass from father to son for generations, but it was better to pass on one's art. Though he would have no sons of his body, he could still get sons in his craft.
"I would accept," he answered Regin. "Some Elves will always consider us thieves, but those of better will begin to doubt me, and they have deepened the mistrust of the Men of the Star. Let us have the matter clear."
That brought a frown. "The West-Men are ungrateful, when you have slain the fiends for them and aided their kin?"
Veylin drew his hand through his beard. "I fear Rekk and I have rebuked them for neglecting their kinswoman, and not all my counsels agreed with theirs."
Regin chuffed and shook his head. "You should have left her to her own, Veylin."
"If she had left me to my own, I would be dead."
"You have paid that debt." His king was curt. "More than handsomely, I hear."
Draining his cup, Veylin warned, "Should you come to White Cliffs, Regin, beware. The Lady Saelon is apt to give without thought of return, and some of her gifts are beyond price."
"I have also heard that the Men of White Cliffs are very poor." Regin's eyes had narrowed. No doubt he was wondering what she could give that was more precious than life.
"Dreadfully. In everything save spirit." Seeing the dubious cant of Regin's brow—did he think him drunk?—Veylin shrugged. "If you suspect my judgment, ask Rekk, or Auð. They, too, have been drawn in by her gifts."
Regin set aside his own cup. "Is this meeting at White Cliffs one of those gifts?"
He had not thought of that. Perhaps the spirits had gone to his head. "I do not know. We spoke of her journey to the Havens at their Harvest Feast, but mainly of the roads she might take. Her dealings with the Shipwright are her own." He had told her he was satisfied he and Círdan would come to a settlement. He had also told her to be patient; yet patience was not one of Saelon's gifts, not where her heart was engaged.
"I wondered why she pays him rent, when you claim the land is ours." Regin sighed, setting his hands together and to his lips as he gazed into the fire. "How near to the Sea is Habad-e-Mindon?"
"Not quite ten chains, though the hall sits sixty paces above the bay's plain." He would not tell him Saelon's cave was wave-carved. If he did, was he likely to come?
Regin and the Shipwright at White Cliffs . . . . If this parley was set, they must do something about the wretched path up to the cliff-ledge. It was a disgrace, marring the hall as a crude setting dimmed a fine gem, and it was not as if they wanted stone . . . .
"Ten chains! So near as that?" Regin rumbled, looking at him askance. "And you are there often, you and your company?"
"Not that often. If you dislike the sea's noise, it is muffled within the hall, and in Nordri's quarry across the little river, where you might house. Or we could assemble at Maelchon's, behind the cliffs."
"Who is this Maelchon?"
"Their chief farmer, who supplies us with barley. Nordri and Grani built his house."
"Hmph. I will think on it." Rising, Regin looked down at him. "I will give you my decision before you leave for Gunduzahar. When did you plan to return?"
"I do not know," Veylin said. "I will—with your leave—go with the Broadbeams to Barazdush after Yule. Hilmir has a kinsman whose son desires to be a gemsmith, and he has suggested I take my leg to the Smoking Spring. I will ask Vitnir to serve on the Winter Court in my stead, but you would want me here in the spring, would you not?"
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Clipping: taking metal from a coin, often by cutting or shaving down the edge. When coins were made of precious metals, this was a common and profitable form of pilferage, and a good set of scales, to detect the lighter weight of clipped coins, was a trader's only defense. (This is why recent coins often have small ridges on their edges, so one could see that they hadn't been shaved down.)
Pigeon's-blood rubies: considered by many to be the finest rubies, these pure red to slightly purplish-red stones are enhanced by a natural red fluorescence. Some simply use the term to describe rubies of a certain quality and color, but others maintain such stones only come from one locality in Burma/Myanmar.
Khand: the land southeast of Mordor. This is probably analogous to the region sometimes referred to as "the 'Stans" (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc.). Historically, this area was often ruled by Central Asian steppe nomads such as the Mongols, whose title for their leaders was khan.
"Scatha's teeth": when the ancestors of the Rohirrim dwelt in Éothéod, between the north of Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains, Fram, the son of their chief, slew Scatha, the great dragon of the Grey Mountains (LotR, Appendix A.II, "The House of Eorl"). Dwarves claimed Scatha's hoard as their own, but all Fram sent them was Scatha's teeth made into a necklace, saying, "Jewels such as these you will not match in your treasuries, for they are hard to come by." Tolkien concludes with "Some say the Dwarves slew Fram for this insult. There was no great love between Éothéod and the Dwarves." Echoes of this ancient quarrel may help explain the quick hostility between Éomer and Gimli at their first meeting.
Wulf: the son of Freca, a man who claimed Rohirrim royal descent though he had much Dunlending blood. Freca insulted Helm Hammerhand, who refused to give his daughter in marriage to Wulf, and Helm slew Freca with a blow from his fist. In revenge, Wulf raised an army of Dunlendings, capturing Edoras in T.A. 2758 and sitting as king in Meduseld (one of the many ill things heralding the Long Winter), before he was slain by Fréaláf, Helm's sister-son (LotR, Appendix A.II, "The House of Eorl").
Nulukkhizdîn: the Dwarvish name for Nargothrond, Finrod's deep-delved stronghold in First Age Beleriand.
Mint vs. mustard: the principal medicinal chemical in mints (Mentha spp.) is menthol, which is a potent partial anesthetic, blocking sensation except for cold, and therefore useful for pain relief. Mustard seed (either Brassica nigra, native to the Middle East, or Sinapis alba, white mustard, native to the eastern Mediterranean, both late introductions into northwestern Europe, my analog for western Eriador), crushed and mixed with cold water, produces sulfur-based irritants that stimulate blood flow and therefore healing, but prolonged direct contact with the skin can be damaging. Given Dwarves' "tough guy" values and immunity to disease, one suspects their medical practices are brusquely focused on promoting healing, with little concession to palliative measures.
Scale: when heated to high temperatures in the presence of oxygen, the outermost layer of iron flakes off in flecks known as scale. A good smith carefully controls this wastage of metal.
"the Smoking Spring": a hot spring, analogous to that the Romans called Aquae Sulis, which now feeds the King's Bath in the English spa town of Bath. Taking Tolkien's equation of the Shire with the English West Midlands, and my view of Wales as Harlindon, the Spring should be south of the Brandywine (Severn) north or northeast of Eryn Vorn (Cornwall).