The Dûnhebaid Cycle
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Hand to Hand: 30. Plumbing the Depths
Let there be spaces in your togetherness.
—Kahil Gibran, The Prophet: On Marriage
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As had become their twice-weekly custom, the dwarf-women sat together after dinner, each with her own work. Today they were in Sút's newly-finished parlour, still filled with the lingering smell of mortar rather than furnishings. Auð found the black granite facing dark and the schist flooring coarse, but once her friend had crafted and hung her wonted profusion of silver lamps, such stone would give back the pale sheen Sút loved. Nor would the chambers long remain so starkly bare: by the hearth, Hlin stitched slate-blue leather to cover the chair forms in Grani's workshop, while Auð hemmed silver-figured curtains for the bed-niche beyond the door behind her. "Would it be better," she wondered aloud, tacking down a stray strand of fine-drawn wire, "to serve the Men cakes rather than pies? There was nothing like mincemeat on their tables at Spring Day, and too many strange dishes may be off-putting."
"I think you should wait until they have agreed to come before making decided plans," Hlin said very sensibly, pausing to whet her needle. Having secured the assurance that the Midsummer feast would be spread on Gunduzahar's broad green roof rather than in the hall, she could afford to be disinterested. "Bersa is already grumbling about the outlay, but if only a few come, he will be less unwilling to show away."
"Time to make arrangements is growing short," Auð complained, vexed. Especially if Bersa chose to be tiresome. "Yet none of the men will carry the invitation to White Cliffs." How many guests should they expect? There were near thirty Men, but would the women come, save Saelon? The Lady had said it would not be proper for her niece to visit their halls, and surely some must stay with the children; the youngest, at least. Then menfolk must remain to guard them . . . . Auð worried at an unruly strand of her beard. A dozen, perhaps, if the Men of the Star were included? Or would it be nearer a score?
"Is that not your brother's privilege?" Hlin asked.
"Yes—and no doubt he would be displeased to lose the honor, but where is he?"
"I do not understand what can be keeping him," Sút rumbled, bearing down on the silver bowl she was buffing, part of the set that would repay Hlin for her upholstery. "The spring sessions are always brief, with so many of the men abroad on trade. News!" she cried, as Auð scowled at her. "We are in desperate need of fresh news. This is a profitable little delf, Auð, but you must admit it provides scant material for conversation."
"The lead for the plumbing is massy," Hlin observed phlegmatically, damping the anxieties Sút had roused. "Did Nyr not say the weather has been foul? Perhaps they halted at one of the empty houses along the way." As a coppersmith's spouse, she was used to the uncertainties of packing hundredweights of metal across roadless country.
"Rain would not delay Veylin," Sút scoffed.
"Maybe not," Hlin agreed, "but Haust is not so hardened a traveler, and Veylin could hardly leave him to find his own way here."
Catching Auð's reproachful glower, the silversmith shut her mouth and bent back over the half-gleaming arc of the bowl. How could Sút be so thoughtless as to deepen her apprehension for Thyrð and Veylin, especially when brigands had been abroad? To Sút, Veylin was no more than the leader of their venture, true; but such tactlessness in a friend was wounding, one more irritation in an unsettled season.
Still, it may have been a kindness in disguise—did not naming call? The hour-candle had hardly sunk another mark before there was a knock at the door. "Pardon the interruption," Thyrnir murmured, when Sút opened the door and he had bowed, "but Veylin has returned, with Haust in his train."
"And your brother?" Auð asked, still sharp.
"And Thyrð, though Oski remained in Sulûnduban to visit with his kin." The fist at his belt, however, warned, They are ill-tempered.
Setting her needle in the fabric, Auð folded the curtain, laid it in her workbox, and stood. "They are in the hall?"
Yet when she passed into the hall, Auð did not see a russet head among those seated at table, and the only fiery red was Aðal's, bound back in a tight queue against the dust of his carving. "—double the freight," an unfamiliar, crusty voice was saying. "You assured me the journey would be short, Rekk."
"It has never taken me more than five days, with copper in train," Bersi observed, topping the stranger's tankard. "Though the winter was uncommon wet, this side of the peaks, and the snow deep on them. Did you come down the Alder-Stream, by White Cliffs? That is the surest way."
"No. Though we might have spared ourselves the effort of discretion." This must be Haust: a wayworn fellow, eyes sunken above a draggled hazel beard, drinking deep. Setting down his mug, he reached for the plate of meat pies set before him. "Two Men waylaid us hardly a league from your door."
"Waylaid?" Rekk rumbled, brows lowering.
"What Men?" Bersi asked.
"Some impertinent fellow—Dírmaen, Veylin called him—and a drab creature he said was their lady."
Rekk laughed heartily, taking the pitcher to refill his own cup. "Little escapes those two: Men of the West, wayfaring as Elves and near as long-sighted."
"All is well at White Cliffs?" The coppersmith was frowning.
Haust took another draught to clear his mouth. "So they said."
"Did Veylin quarrel with Dírmaen?"
"Not that I saw, though I found the Man offensive enough. Are they always so presumptuous?"
Enough. Auð curtly waved Sút and Hlin on as they hesitated, seeing her come back through the deepside arch. At the bottom of the stair, she caught a glimpse of her younger son's back, hurrying down the passage she purposed to take. "Thyrð!" she commanded.
He halted obediently, turning to face her—from the tray he carried, he had been to the kitchen—but she was not pleased by the jut of his beard. "Mother?"
"I am glad to see you are well," she said tartly, casting a distasteful glance at the mud still clinging to his boots and the hems of his trews. "Your uncle is indisposed, that he leaves Rekk and the Broadbeam to host our guest?"
"We have already had a surfeit of his company. Rekk contracted with Haust," Thyrð huffed. "Let him deal with him."
Auð raised her brows at this. "We? How has he offended you?" She loved the steel in Thyrð's spirit, laborious though it was to hammer into shape, but he must learn to govern himself! Youth must respect age, before their elders.
"May I not resent having to dig his ponies out of every slough between here and Sulûnduban, when he has two prentices of his own? Or being on half-rations since the Crooked Pass?"
"Why did you not leave the work to his prentices?"
"Because," he answered, very curt, "I did not want to be on quarter-rations."
Looking down on the heavily-laden tray in her boy's hands, Auð wondered how much of his temper was due to hunger. "You may resent it," she allowed, "but show some discretion! We must live with him and his prentices, if we want proper baths. Off with you, now, before your uncle grows as savage as yourself. Tell him," she added, as Thyrð turned to go, "that I will be in my chamber when he has eaten, waiting to hear the news of Sulûnduban." When her son stopped, casting an uncertain glance back over his shoulder, she narrowed her eyes at him. "Do you have something else to say?"
"You know best," Thyrð murmured. "But I believe his leg is very bad."
Auð stared at him, thin-lipped, until he hastened away. She was not used to hearing excuses from her menfolk: the incompetence of others, incapacity . . . . What was she to do? Return to the hall for the evening and get shopworn news from someone who might be a fool? Occupy herself elsewhere for an hour, until Veylin had eaten and drunk himself into better humour, and then go to him? Or hold by her word and oblige her brother to come to her, putting her pride and his own above his pain?
Even supposing Haust was a poor packman, who had guided him but Veylin? There had never been any difficulties when she traveled with him, not even this past winter, when snow lay deep about their paths. Had he been preoccupied by graver ills, such as a break with Vitnir or Regin's displeasure? Or had he taken them on less favorable tracks to avoid robbers still lurking in the mountains?
How could they expect her to celebrate Midsummer out of doors when she was beset by insecurity? Marching down the corridor to Veylin's cherrywood door, Auð rapped on it sharply and waited, arms folded.
Veylin himself opened the door to her. "Come in, Auð. Nothing is wrong, I hope."
He sounded glum rather than cross, and had not yet changed out of his travel-stained clothes; the stick in his hand was the blackthorn cudgel he carried outside. "Only if you are not well."
"I am fine!" he chuffed, returning to his table, though his gait was stiff. "Or will be, if I can get a decent meal and keep away from Haust for a while. Must you hear my news first, or will you tell me how things have been here while I eat?"
"There is little to tell," she said, taking one of the seats by the hearth as he filled cup and plate, "but I will stretch it out as best I can." Yet peace and prosperity were soon got through: Sút's suite finished, the gallery for the first level rough-cut, and the jobber's dormitory extended; Nordri and Aðal began to speak seriously of a fane; the big node of agate Sannir found while delving the cistern.
"Banded or mossy?" Veylin asked, wiping traces of mutton gravy from his whiskers as he took up his wine.
He drank deep, unmoved. "Have Nordri and Rekk brought in the granite for the baths?"
"Yes. We settled on the rose-colored."
Veylin looked at her, tousled brows knit. "You wanted the green, did you not?"
Auð sighed regretfully. "There is not enough of the proper hue, even for the women's side."
"Surely there is some other stone near enough the color." Veylin frowned. "If it is only a question of freight, I will pay it."
He had promised her whatever she desired, the dear fool, when giddy on a glut of fire opal. "The pink will suit very well. It takes a better polish than the green."
"You are sure?"
"Do you think I am pernickety?" Auð huffed, rising to put more coal on the fire. Thyrð should have seen to it, but he was eating as only a long-stinted youngster could. "There are better uses for the money than carrying stone over the mountains to humour a fancy. Give me news instead!"
Veylin picked at the rim of crust on his apple tart. "Where shall I start?"
"What is the worst?"
"Worst?" It seemed to take him a long time to choose. "Svarri has gone to Mahal—"
"Has she? Well, the blessing on her." One of the last of their mother's circle: Auð had been daunted by her tart tongue as a girl, but the broiderer had been kind when Thekk died, taking some of Auð's work so she could tend Veylin while his leg mended. "I am sorry I was not there to see her under stone."
"—and Regin's regalia must be finished by the feast that opens the Midsummer Fair."
"Why?" Veylin would consider that a trial—he would have to go back to Sulûnduban again as well hasten his work—but there was no real ill in it.
"Because Reynir is to be prenticed to Gróin, Farin's son, of Durin's Line, at the Midsummer Fair, and Regin means to honor Gróin and his kin with an especially grand feast."
"Of Durin's Line!" Auð exclaimed. Children of the Eldest though they were, the Longbeards had come to the Blue Mountains after the war with scarcely more than mail on their backs. She remembered the grousing: after so many had died avenging Thrór, Firebeard and Broadbeam alike resented that the exiles should choose to settle in their lands, where ore and coal were no longer plentiful for the taking, instead of remaining in Dunland or joining their kindred in the Iron Hills. And the younger men's beards bristled when Durin's Folk courted lasses in Sulûnduban and Barazdush, so few of their own having escaped the dragon. The kinship of all Khazâd notwithstanding, there might have been a breach that would have proved difficult to mend save that Regin, then new-Woken, was unstinting in his support of his elder brother's children and cold to any who spoke openly of their discontent. Dwarves were too few to quarrel so, he maintained; if they divided, their enemies would make—and he used the word—short work of them.
Despite Regin's backing, Thráin and his son chose to delve their halls nearer Barazdush, just this side of the gulf that had swallowed Gabilgathol and Tumunzahar. No doubt Thráin had found it easier to bargain with Hilmir, the Broadbeams' king: a stout, sage fellow, but not forged of the same metal as Regin. Only seven-score Longbeard families had sought refuge in Sulûnduban, though there were many more widowers and bachelors in its workshops and outlying mines, toiling to re-establish themselves in some dignity. And now the king was going to send his heir to labor among their kindred? "What is Regin thinking?"
Veylin shook his head. "I do not know. It was announced in council, not discussed."
Auð set the poker back in its stand. Who could argue with the judgment of the Reawoken, whose penetration was beyond the understanding of common Dwarves? "Where does Gróin stand in the succession, now that Thráin is lost?"
"Not very near, though he is the eldest surviving of Durin's Line. Ironfoot is the heir, unless Thorin finds a wife; Fundin's sons, Balin and Dwalin, come before Gróin and his."
"They dwell together at Furnace Fells, do they not?" Thorin had a sister, she had heard. Perhaps Reynir could even the marriage account a trifle.
"Save for Dáin, who rules those in the Iron Hills."
It was not like Veylin to be taciturn; ordinarily, he would relish recounting his visit to the halls Grór had founded in the east, or praise the valor of Dáin, the merest lad when he slew Azog before the Great Gates of Khazad-dûm. "Why are you so grum?" Auð regarded her brother narrowly. "Are you not glad to have Regin flaunt your work before Thorin's kin? Or will Thorin be at the feast as well?"
"No, Mahal be praised," Veylin rumbled. Somehow, he had taken a deep dislike to Oakenshield. "I am jaded by too many days wasted in the saddle, that is all. Regin pressed me to remain at the mansion until the feast, but I wish to visit my opal lode. If there will be time, with all the work I must do on Regin's chain before setting out again. I would curse Haust for delaying us, if our plumbing would not suffer for it! Why must so much take place at Midsummer?"
"Midsummer!" Auð gave a guilty start. The doings of the royals had driven all else from her mind. "What of our feast for the Men?"
"Has the invitation been given?" Veylin asked, with curious gravity.
"Not yet—none of the other men would go in your stead," Auð complained. "But we have made the puddings and started malting the barley."
Veylin grunted, staring into his wine-cup. "We will have to put it off. I do not think the Men would come, in any case."
"Because you will not be here?"
Her anger at his perfunctory dismissal of her effort fell like flame on cold clinker. "Because they will be celebrating the union of Saelon and Dírmaen at White Cliffs."
"Where did you hear that?" she challenged, before remembering what Haust had said in the hall.
"From the couple themselves." Setting down his cup, he pushed it away from him. "We met them as we came down across the moss."
"Did you not even mention our feast?"
"I was given no opportunity!" he snapped, like overburdened stone—a rare thing for him. "The Ranger spied us almost the moment Haust's dratted beasts bogged in the mire. I did not understand why he was so genial, until he crowed out his triumph. If Saelon had not pressed me to witness their vows," he muttered, darkly harsh, "I should never have believed him. Having disappointed her, was I to urge her to give over her nuptials in favor of dining here?"
"Yes, if you are so sure she is being a fool! Is she your friend, or is she not?"
Clenching his fists in his beard, Veylin cried, "She is not Khazâd! How can I know what is wise, for Men?"
It was good to hear him acknowledge it, though his distress was hard to see. He was too apt to polish his reputation as one who saw into folk of other races as into rough gemstones. "Are there different kinds of wisdom? She seems to value your counsel in other things." This should cut off the scurrilous rumors his regard for the Lady had raised, however; that would be no bad thing.
"Lordship, and dealing with those who would humble her: matters I know well. But how should I give advice on marriage?"
Auð snorted. At least his wits were not entirely astray. "Are you saying that you are baffled not by Men, but by women?"
"The women of Men," Veylin declared, with inarguable conviction, "are unlike the women of the Khazâd."
"True," Auð conceded. Though, as she gazed on her brother's louring uncertainty, she could not but wonder how deep his knowledge ran . . . and where the differences lay. Their being came alike from the Allfather, it was said, though the Fathers of the Dwarves were eldest, forged to endure by Mahal. Were the women of Men strange only in form: the same brew, as it were, in different cups? Or did folk take their character from their shaping, as the same stone might be a strong wall or a fine-featured carving, whet an axe or grind corn to flour? Was the Lady's freedom recklessness or courage? Regarding the Ranger, was her heart inconstant, or had she always wanted him, if she could get her own terms?
No wonder Veylin was tearing his beard, mazed in such mysteries. These things were best left to the masters of the teachings. Sitting down across from her brother, she took up the cup he had abandoned and drained it dry. "Well, this is all very vexing. Bersa will contrive to be put out and pleased at the same time, I am sure. I think you will have to take me to the Fair so I can escape him." She would be able to get that rust-touched green woolen she wanted for Thyrnir's cloak, silver broidery wire to trade to Rian, and a fair whack at the cloth new-brought to market, the work of women like the Lady and her niece through the long winter—plus the satisfaction of assaying the kin of Oakenshield for herself. Reaching across the table, she fingered a small tear in Veylin's jacket. "You will need a new tunic."
"The one you made me for the West Council in the autumn has hardly been worn," he grumbled, too wise to object outright.
"Once folk have admired Regin's new chain, they will look to you. We cannot have you less splendid than your work!"
Veylin huffed. "You just want to see your work next to mine at the high table."
"There is that." Auð smiled. "Pay me well, and I will buy truffles. We can serve them to the Lady when we return. That should requite her for your absence on the day of her wedding."
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Black granite: both diorite and gabbro can go by this name; this is the harder diorite, which takes a better polish.
Jobber: one who works by the job; i.e., on short-term contracts.
Fane: sacred place.
"the gulf that had swallowed Gabilgathol and Tumunzahar": the Gulf of Lhûn. A comparison of the maps of First Age Beleriand and Third Age Eriador show that the Gulf of Lhûn cuts the Ered Luin where the River Ascar ran up to the great dwarf-mansions of Belegost and Nogrod.
"made the puddings": these would be something in the line of a steamed plum-pudding, the spirit-drenched ancestor of holiday fruitcake. Those less than a month or two old were considered hardly worth eating, and true high-day versions were made a year in advance.
"malting the barley": an early stage in ale-brewing. See the entry on "Brewing" in the Dûnhebaid Dictionary for details.
Clinker: the fused, slag-like impurities left after coal has been burnt.
Allfather: Ilúvatar, "Father of All"; Eru. Although Mahal/Aulë made the Fathers of the Dwarves, he could not give them souls of their own; this Eru did when he accepted them, although he referred to Dwarves as "the children of my adoption" as opposed to "the children of my choice." Or so some Elves tell.
"masters of the teachings": many have observed that there is something Jewish about Dwarves—the echoes of a Semitic language in Khuzdul, their preoccupation with wealth and trade, the disdain and hostility they get from others. So when seeking terms for Dwarvish religious life, I have turned to Jewish models, and it seems propitious that the Hebrew word rabbi means "my master."
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