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The Dûnhebaid Cycle

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Of Like Passion: 4. Onset with Eternity

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.


--Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach"


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To assert her liberty, lest the little remaining be eroded further, Saelon set out early the next morning with a hearty dinner in the bottom of her packbasket.  She climbed the slope to the tower while Fokel angrily thrust a dead dog-fox under Dírmaen's nose, as if the Ranger was remiss in not having extirpated any vermin that might threaten a lamb.  The collie had done its duty, and she was not particularly concerned for her flock, despite its new value.  Yet finding the vixen was work more fitting to Dírmaen's skills—and more useful—than serving as a guard of honor for her as she picked posies.


Not that picking posies was trifling: the virtues of herbs were often most potent while the plant was in flower.  But unless he was willing to lend a hand, there was no reason for him to accompany her . . . and she did not want him.  He had spoilt her good opinion of him with his grave-faced misgivings, whether they arose from suspicion of her alliance with the Dwarves or doubt in her competence to look after herself.  The want of confidence had been unexpectedly wounding.


With luck, the long tramp to the shingle-filled bay where coltsfoot grew in such profusion, three headlands to the south, would sweat out her ill humor; or the wind, Gwaeron going out with a roar, would blow it away.  At the least, there would be no mortal soul to be offended by her crabbed silence or curt speech.  The ever-present thunder of the driven waves on the rocky shore and the cries of gliding seabirds was company enough; the taste of salt in the keen air brought savor back to life, as she strode through the budding heads of thrift and squills.


Beyond the tower hill, a broad belt of machair ran between the teeth of the stony shore and a low cliff: both dark, unlike the sand and pale heights of the bay she had chosen for her home.  On and on it ran, near a league to the next headland, a long, low finger of rock so straight and regular she believed it was a wall, the work of the Elder Days or the Númenóreans, running out into the frothing waves.  She would have to ask Veylin.


Then on to a crooked bay, half shingle, half sand, where the tide pools grew warm in the summer, near the mouth of a great cave awash at high tide.  At this season the water was cold, bitter cold; but still she paused to see the red and pale green sea-flowers in bloom, their fleshy petals swaying as if in a breeze beneath the wind-whipped surface of the pool.  Strange to see such peace, here in a precious lee, amid the din of the surf and flying clots of spume.


Up the hill, and down to another strip of machair, this one narrow, backed not by a cliff but the steep green flanks of the higher land, fronted by small bays nibbled from the edge of the land.  The fourth, broader than the others, was full of shingle, growling and rattling in the churn of the waves; in the trough of the higher ridges, yellow coltsfoot flowers were strewn thick as stars in a clear night sky.  Heaving off her packbasket, Saelon sat on rounded cobbles long enough to take a bite and a draught from her waterskin, staring out over the water—due west, into the eye of the wind—and breathed deeply of that clean, sharp air.  The world might be round, but one could imagine such purity blew straight from Taniquetil.


All her days had been spent like this, not so long ago . . . harvesting the herbs she took as her gift to Srathen Brethil at Yule, when Halladan would ride over the mountains, grumbling in the wet and ice, to fetch her.  Working in her little garden; tending her few sheep and geese and bees; spinning and weaving and the other small chores needful to keep one woman and a garron and a dog alive and well.


Had it really been almost a year and a half since this lordship had been thrust upon her by Halladan's untimely death?  More than two since she had reluctantly agreed to foster Gaernath, then a slip of a lad, made sullen by his father's new wife.  It seemed but yesterday, that this stolen freedom was the measure of her life.


Rising, she drew her knife and bent to the task that had brought her here.


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The sun was high in the sky when Saelon shouldered her basket again and stretched her cramped back.  She had harvested enough for a season as deviled with coughs as that just past, and for Rian to try her hand at another flower wine; now she wanted a bit of shelter to eat her dinner in, before the tramp back.  The wind was like a spring torrent, pouring across the land so forcefully it pushed her up the last, highest ridge of cobbles and towards a sprawling clump of whin halfway across the flat strip of machair.


As good a place as any, in this open land.  She took a few paces towards its bristly, wide-flung branches, then stooped to finger a patch of ground ivy.  There was less about Habad than there had been, so much had she made into tea for Gràinne, and this had particularly vigorous blooms.  There was still plenty of room in her basket—


She glanced up with a start at a sharp thump, more felt through the ground than heard in this young gale, to find a horse between her and the whin, looking at her askance.  For a brief instant, she wondered how one of their beasts could have strayed so far; but Saelon did not know the long grey face, ornamented with a snip and a star . . . and a headstall flashing with blue gems.  They stared at each other as she slowly straightened.  The tall mare stamped again, narrowing her nostrils and putting her ears half back.


After a few cautious backward steps, Saelon walked north along the edge of the cobble ridge, watching the beast out of the corner of her eye.  If it charged, she could retreat further into the shingle, treacherous footing for anything with hooves.  When she had gone perhaps a dozen paces, far enough that the horse tipped its ears forward again, she began to angle gradually inland.


The mare was having none of it.  Saelon halted, not wanting to annoy the beast further, for there was plenty to see from where she stood: the rest of the harness was as magnificent as the headstall.  Clearly, the animal was not simply astray.  Had some ill befallen its rider?


"Tinnu."  The voice was melodious, Elvish.  "Do not be afraid.  She will not hurt you."


Beyond the horse, in the lee of the whin, a raven-haired elf-man sat with his elbows on his knees, smiling reassuringly.  He was as showy as his steed, though windblown, clad in blue and silver-grey.  Saelon had met a few Elven folk of late, but this was the first who wore jewels, as was told in tales.  "Unless I should trouble you, no doubt."


He laughed, a joyful sound.  "No doubt!  You must be one of the Dúnedain of Srathen Brethil, whom fate has cast upon our shores.  Mae govannen!"


"Well met," she returned, unwilling to expose her graceless Sindarin to scorn, and gave him a courteous bob.  "Yes, I am of that people.  You are from Lindon?"


Rising and coming a little nearer, he bowed gracefully.  "This last age.  Gwinnor, I am called."


She considered him.  He was very tall and bore a fine scabbard, a gem glittering on the hilt of his sword.  "I am Saelon."


"The Lady of Habad-e-Mindon?"


Though his eyes were bright with curiosity and delight, she had seen the first flicker of astonishment.  "That is my charge," she admitted, yet could not resist asking, dryly, "Had you expected someone less short, or less plain?"


"Both," he confessed, his smile undamped.  "Reports of your boldness, however, do not do you justice."


Saelon cocked a rueful eyebrow at him, wondering what reports those might be.  Word of her resistance to Râdbaran's counsel or her disgraceful scathing of the sons of Elrond?  Certainly her brusquerie last spring with Lindon's coastwarden, who, she had since learned, had sailed with the Mariner.  "Is that meant to be a compliment?"


Again he laughed.  "I see why you sort well with Dwarves, Lady.  They like plain speech.  Please," he stretched out a shapely hand towards the lee of the bush, "do not let us stand on ceremony when you are fatigued.  Will you come out of this torrent of wind?"


"Thank you."  Gwinnor spoke as graciously as a host; but then this was more his land than hers.  If he meant to do her harm, there would be little she could do to prevent it.


As she shrugged off her packbasket a few paces from a grey cloak that had been spread on the short turf, weighted against stray gusts with saddlebags and a cased bow and quiver, he asked, "What brings you so far from Habad-e-Mindon, afoot and alone, on a day such as this?"


"Lhewig thind," she replied, uncertain if he would know the country name for the plant.  When he gazed at her, puzzled, she wondered if she spoke it so ill and carefully drew the rolled cloth from the basket, turning back the corner to show him her harvest.  "Coltsfoot.  Lótë rácina hwesto.  I am a healer."


"Ah!  Is it more efficacious when collected on a day when Súlimo is so hearty?"


Saelon tucked the cloth back in and laid it gently down.  "I do not think so.  Is that one of the names of Manwë?"


Gwinnor laid an arm across the withers of his mount, which had come to stand beside him.  "You know the names of herbs in three tongues, but not those of the Elder King?"


He sounded curious rather than disdainful.  "I know what my grandmother could teach.  Learning has waned among us."  She shrugged regretfully, and lifted her dinner and waterskin from the bottom of the basket.  "Have you eaten?"  If he had come from the Havens and stayed west of the mountains, he must have ridden at least a hundred leagues.  An Elf might travel light in this land, but even so this was the season of hunger, when there was little greenstuff and the game was thin.


"Yes, Lady," he assured her.  "Please, do not scruple on my behalf."


Glad to be off her feet, she settled down and laid the cloth holding her dinner in her lap: bannocks split and filled with new cheese and early cress.  "And what brings you to these empty lands at this season, Gwinnor?"


"Círdan has sent me in embassy to you, Lady."


Saelon gazed up at that fair, immortal face, heart suddenly cold.  "You have come to see us back to Srathen Brethil?"


He clapped the horse, which was showing a keen interest in her meal, on the shoulder, sending it further off.  "It seems you do not know the function of an ambassador either, Lady," he said, with that same light courtesy.  "I have come to discover why your folk have not returned to their homes, and to discuss the matter with you.  If it comes to 'seeing you back' there, I will have done my job very ill."


She did not find that reassuring.  Looking down at her food, she found her appetite had died.


"Why so surprised?" he asked quietly, barely to be heard above the wind.  "You have had ample warning of our claims."


"We have," she agreed.


"Did you think we would not press them?"


"Some of us—" truly, was it any but she? "—are much attached to the place."


Gwinnor came and sat down, near enough that she could see the color of his eyes; grey-blue, like a falcon's back.  "That you are, Gaerveldis, we know well.  I have seen you myself, on the shore below the ruined tower, in the days before you kept sheep."


How long ago was that?  A dozen years, at least.  Had she glimpsed him as well, one of those Elves seen from afar?


"But it is more than you alone now, and matters have become complicated," he told her.  "That is why I must come to Habad-e-Mindon and see how things stand, and we must talk."


"I understand."  She stared at her hands, lying in her lap, and wondered if this was payment for her complaints that Râdbaran had not talked seriously with her.


"Lady," he pleaded, ducking his head to catch her gaze, giving her a small, plaintive-looking smile, "please, do not look so much as if Doom has come upon you, or you will make me feel crueler than I have been this last age."


So one might speak to a frightened child.  With an effort, Saelon collected herself and took up a bannock.  "Forgive me.  It was unexpected, hearing it so.  We had begun to think Lindon had forgotten us, with planting so near."  Her food had no savor, but she must eat.  Planting—at least she had not yet sown the wheat and oats that Veylin had slipped her at the end of her visit, though she had meant to do so very soon, to see if the longer-season grains would thrive as well as their bere, here by the sea.


Oh, yes . . . matters had become very complicated.


Dírmaen would have something to say, when she had gone out alone, and came home with an elf-lord in her train.


"You seem to know much of me already, Gwinnor," she said, as she reached for her waterskin.  "Will you tell me something of yourself?  I fear I offended the coastwarden Falathar by speaking of the Dwarves as I did.  I would have been more moderate if I had known the sack of Doriath was not merely a tale to him."


"Your grandmother knew something of the Elder Days, then, as well as herblore?"  He leaned back on his elbows and stretched out his long legs.  "Well, you will not offend me by speaking of Dwarves in any way, good or ill.  Vingenáro, my father named me; I followed Finrod Felagund across the ice to Middle-Earth and dwelt in Nargothrond, which the master builders of Belegost hewed for him.  After, I joined his sister's people in Eregion, which you may know as Hollin, hard by the West-door of Khazad-dûm.  I have worked and traded with Dwarves for three ages of the world, Lady," he assured her.  "That you have their friendship does you no harm with me.


"Indeed," he admitted with a smile, "I accepted Círdan's charge in part because I have missed Master Veylin of late.  He is one of the few Dwarves who will come to the Havens to trade, defying the sea.  How does the good gemsmith?"


Jewels glowed on the clasps of his fine tunic—flowers like blue and white flags—and the buckle of his sword belt was a marvel to behold: grey and cream and black stones set in silver, in the form of a hunting heron, the water at its feet blue and pearl, with slivers of green bearing tiny gold flag flowers.  Was any of this Veylin's work?  "Well, I believe.  Travel may perhaps be more of a burden to him, since his wounding by the raug."  It might be well to remind the Elf what had driven so many folk to these shores.


"That is what brought you together, was it not?  He must have been sorely wounded indeed," Gwinnor observed gravely, "to require assistance."


"If he had been a Man, he would have died."


"So bad as that?"  It was hard to read the stillness of that sculpted face.  "I hope it has not affected his smithcraft."


Did he value the work more than the man?  "It did not prevent him from slaying the raug that injured him and slew his companions," she said.  "Though he is somewhat halt."


Gwinnor's smile was like the sun breaking through a sudden shower.  "He avenged himself?  That is good.  Dwarves are gloomy and tedious when such a debt weighs on their minds," he told her, with a sympathetic sigh, "as you have probably learned all too well."


Saelon kept her voice carefully bland as she replied, "I cannot say I found Master Veylin tedious.  The raugs weighed on my mind as well."  Her own temper had been more savage than gloomy, but she did not now have even that slight excuse for rudeness.


"Forgive me, Lady."  He sobered immediately.  "I did not mean to make light of your greater griefs."


She shrugged.  "We have also taken what solace there is in revenge."  If they must leave Habad-e-Mindon, at least they would not have to rely on the mercy of a lord who had offered them no succor.  Shaking the crumbs from her cloth, she folded it and rose to repack her basket.  Her solitude broken, there was no reason to linger.  Whatever must come, she would rather it come soon.


"Will you tell me your story as we go, Lady?"  Gwinnor had remembered his formality, and came to gather his own gear.


"Certainly."  She would rather he heard it from her own lips, and not rely solely on report.


When he had donned his cloak—such a magnificent brooch: a pair of circling golden otters, one with a silver trout in its paws—set his baggage on his mount, and tightened the girth of his light saddle, he held his hand out to her.  "Will you mount, Lady?"


Saelon eyed the tall mare, then gazed thoughtfully on him.  "A kind offer," she acknowledged, bowing her head, "but no.  I do not mind the walk."


"If you do not care to ride pillion," Gwinnor offered, "I will be glad to walk.  It would do me good," he assured her gallantly, "after so many leagues on horseback."


"Then perhaps we can walk together and give your beast a rest," she suggested, and started north.


In a few strides he was at her side, bow case on his back, black brows low in a puzzled frown.  "Do you trust me so little, Lady?"


For a moment Saelon thought it strange that he had abandoned his mare; then she remembered that it did not wear a bridle—there were no reins to lead it by.  "Truly, I like to walk, and have less opportunity now that I am Lady."  His face smoothed, but she could see she had not been convincing; it was a peculiar thing, after all.  "My reputation has already suffered from my familiarity with outlandish menfolk," she added wryly.  "What will be said of me when I come home with you at my side, I do not care to think.  Just yesterday, the Ranger who has remained with us upbraided me for going abroad alone, as heedless as if I were still only Gaerveldis."


One side of his mouth quirked in a smile as he arched a brow.  "You escaped his watch?"


Saelon snorted and shook her head.  She wished she were certain Dírmaen was not on the higher ground inland, watching them now . . . although perhaps Gwinnor would be aware of him.  "I told him I needed no guard."


"Lady," he declared, his laughing eyes taking any sting from the words, "your menfolk must find you a trial."


"Why," she asked dryly, "do you think I came to the sea?"


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Notes


Dog-fox: a male fox.


Shingle: a deposit of large rounded stones (many fist-sized and larger) found on ocean shores.


Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara): a medicinal herb used for respiratory complaints, which blooms in March and April before putting up leaves.


Thrift (also sea pink; Armeria maritima): a distinctive coastal plant,  with pink blooms from April to October; of no practical use.


Squills (Scilla verna): a blue, wild-hyacinth-like flower, found along the coasts.


"red and pale green sea-flowers": sea anemones, particularly the beadlet anemone (Actinia equina).


Taniquetil: the "High White Peak," highest of the mountains fencing Aman, on whose summit dwell Manwë and Varda.


Mae govannen: Sindarin, "well met."


The Mariner: Eärendil.


Lhewig thind: Sindarin, "grey ear"; this is a literal translation of the Gaelic name for coltsfoot, cluas liath.


Lótë rácina hwesto: Quenya, "flower of broken breath"; this is loosely based on the Latin name for coltsfoot.  Tussilago literally means "cough suppressant."


Súlimo: Quenya, "the Breather," "the Lord of the Breath of Arda"; one of the names of Manwë.


Cress (also watercress, Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum): a highly nutritious water plant, commonly used as a salad green.


Gaerveldis: Sindarin, "sea-friend" (female).  A name the Elves of Lindon have given Saelon.  Thanks to Darth Fingon for the correct form of this name, and advice on Gwinnor's!


"Nargothrond, which the master builders of Belegost delved for him": Tolkien said only that Dwarves of the Blue Mountains delved it, but given that Dwarves of Belegost made Thingol's Menegroth, which Finrod so admired, and Thingol advised him in his plans for a similar stronghold, I have guessed that Finrod used the same contractors.


"flowers like blue and white flags": this is the Florentine iris or orris (Iris germanica var. florentina), a native to the Mediterranean whose flower inspired the fleur-de-lis.  The three inner petals or standards symbolize faith, wisdom, and valor.  The root, if dried for at least two years, gives a strong violet scent long and widely used in perfumery.


Brooch: today this is usually a purely ornamental pin; in the past, it was a sturdy (and often highly ornamented) clothing fastener.  This is a penannular brooch: a circle with a gap for the pin to pass through.


Otter (Lutra lutra): a large aquatic weasel, shy of humans but sociable and extremely playful.



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Last Update: 13 Dec 08
Stories: 5
Type: Author List
Created By: Adaneth


Dúnedain and Dwarves--and oh, yes, some Elves--on the northwest shore of Middle-Earth, not quite a century before adventures first befall Bilbo. Rampant Subcreation and Niggling in the margins. The ever-lengthening saga, in order.

Why This Story?

Dûnhebaid III: the Men come to terms with Lindon, and Veylin fears a rival.

 

Story Information

Author: Adaneth

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/26/11

Original Post: 05/31/07

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