The Dûnhebaid Cycle
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After Stormy Seas: 9. Bow and Stern
All that we do
Is touched with ocean, yet we remain
On the shore of what we know.
--Richard Wilbur, "For Dudley"
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Bersi's grouse-brown brows rose and his whiskers twitched in the way Dírmaen was beginning to suspect betrayed a hidden smile. "No, I have not seen her since breakfast." Setting his cup aside, he gazed up at Coruwi from where he sat beside the guest-hall hearth. "Do your women give you such trouble," he asked the Elf curiously, "or are only Men so vexed?"
"What man is not vexed by woman?" Coruwi countered, flashing Dírmaen one of his ready grins. "Yet the consolations are great. You need not pity us." Taking a cup from the proffered tray, he passed it to the Ranger. "Do you know where the Lady Saelon has gone, Alagos?"
The server was chuckling at the marchwarden's drollery. "To the strand, with Sercherch for guide."
"Ah, then she will have already had the fish course, and should be ready for game!"
"Thank you," Dírmaen murmured, for the wine. When he discovered it had been watered, he gratefully drank to slake his thirst, noting that Bersi bore the Elvish merriment with bland complacency. It seemed that at least some Elves shared with Men the view that Dwarves did not breed as other folk, though Gwinnor had assured him they did. What was the truth of the matter? "Who is Sercherch?"
Like the coppersmith, Coruwi lofted slim brows, a shade darker than his winter-oak hair. "Is this zeal or jealousy, that you do not trust us to safeguard our guests?" he chaffed, with a lightness that made offense difficult. "Sercherch is one of the fisherfolk who knows enough of your speech to be of service here in the guest hall. A rare hand with line or net."
He must be less particular, if he did not wish his ill-received affections to become the subject of Elvish raillery: their wit was as keen as their arrows, and they scented game as quickly as any hound. "That ought to have pleased her. I believe she fished a great deal herself, before her folk joined her at Habad-e-Mindon." Nevertheless, Dírmaen felt a pang of guilt: he had not given thought to what Saelon was to do while he and Gaernath were hunting. She was not a woman who could be left by the fire, happily occupied with broidery.
Elf, Dwarf, and Man were saved from what was like to become a ponderous silence by voices coming up the steps without. "—ought to oil it frequently."
That sounded like Saelon. As Dírmaen turned, the door—left half-open for the sweetness of the evening breeze—was swung wide. "That will depend on how often you take it out," the Elf who had thrust it open answered with a shrug, sauntering in by her side, "and the weather. Before the hide appears parched."
"This does not sound like the talk of anglers," Coruwi declared. "Or not of successful ones."
"Anglers?" Saelon's companion exclaimed, with something like a sniff, as she halted to stare rather blankly at the marchwarden. "Angling is what your father's folk do when they are not quick enough to seize the trout laying to hand in a stream. Have you hunters come back empty-handed, Coruwi, that you look to us for fish?"
The tart tone made Dírmaen look from Elf to Elf. They were much of a height, long-limbed and lithe, though the forester held himself a little higher. Sercherch, who this presumably was—Dírmaen remembered those eyes, oddly pale against bronze skin and seal-brown hair, serving at board last night—had an easy, careless air. He looked the servant, in his short, loose garments of soft-colored stuff, but Coruwi only laughed at his cheek. "Far from it! The Ranger brought down a fine buck, sparing me such indignity. I have come," he explained, giving reverence to Saelon, hand at his breast, "to ask the Lady if she will join us for supper, and do honor to her countryman's quarry."
The brief touch of Saelon's gaze, alight with pride, and the promptness of her reply was headier than any wine. "Of course." Dírmaen thought there was more grace than usual in her deep but simple curtsey. "How can I refuse, when you have been so kind as to include my men in your hunt? I hope," she murmured, casting her gaze about, "that Gaernath behaved well?"
"A charming youth," Coruwi assured her.
"He is attending to the horses." Suspecting her immediate concern was the lad's safety, Dírmaen thought it was as well that she had not seen him following the hounds, taking stream and copse at the Elves' breakneck pace until Coll began to stumble with weariness.
Saelon's quick smile of gratitude stoked the glow in his heart. "Then if you will give me time to change—"
Coruwi laughed. "You are fine as you are." He slapped some of the remaining dust from his fawn and sage-green hunting leathers by way of proof. "This is merely some men of my company gathered about a dish or two in honor of the season, not one of the grand Noldorin entertainments. If you change so much as your shoes, you will put us all to shame."
She dropped her eyes to her feet: although her color had been heightened by the day's sun, Dírmaen was sure she blushed at the mud clinging to the pierced leather. Yet she laughed rather than growing crabbed. "Very well, I will leave the brogues. Though surely I may fetch my cloak against the coming night?"
"If you feel the need." Coruwi made it sound a most courteous boon, then looked to Dírmaen. "Will you bring your Lady, while I go to see all is in readiness? A Ranger can find his way back to our hall, I trust."
"I hope I can be trusted so far." A little way beyond the tower, no more.
"Then we will see you shortly. Do not tarry overlong," Coruwi warned, "or the meat will grow cold!"
And he was gone, springing lightly down the stairs.
Saelon gazed thoughtfully after him. "That is one of Círdan's marchwardens?"
"Yes." Dírmaen hoped she did not mistake his merry manner for frivolity. "He who wished to hear all I could tell of the raugs."
"He is very different from the coastwarden I have met."
"Who was that?" Sercherch asked. Head canted, he looked rather like one of the slim, black-capped gulls that nested in decreasing numbers below the tower at Habad.
"Ai! No wonder you sometimes shy," the fisher-Elf cried, grinning broadly. "He has spent too long in Ossë's company, and his temper is no longer trustworthy. Do not tell me you thought us all so severe!"
"A pity Círdan did not send you to us," she said, no answer. Still thoughtful, Saelon turned to Bersi. "Where is Veylin?"
Dírmaen watched as the coppersmith took up the shapely silver of his cup once more. "Still engaged, I believe." His tone was reserved, as only a Dwarf's could be; yet there was a glint in his deep-set eyes as he drank, regarding each of them in turn.
What did Saelon want with Veylin? Did Bersi know of his jealousy, as well as his indiscretion regarding the siting of their halls? "Lady," he prompted, uncomfortable under that cryptic gaze. "Your cloak?"
She was quick, though she contrived to tidy her hair as well, and her face was damp from hasty laving. If she had found an opportunity to speak to Veylin while abovestairs, it could have been no more than a word or two in passing.
Feeling a vague sense of shame at his dogged suspicion, Dírmaen offered by way of apology, "May I carry your cloak for you?"
The flash of her sea-grey eyes instantly reminded him that commonplace courtesies nettled her. "This condescension grows tedious, Dírmaen. How many leagues must we travel?"
Would she take nothing from him? "Perhaps two furlongs." He was glad the Elf had withdrawn to the kitchens, and for the Dwarves' politic disinterest, as Bersi and Barði quietly discussed their own affairs.
"I think I can bear the burden so far," Saelon decided, settling the wool more tidily over her arm, turning the frayed edges under. "Lead on!"
An ill turn, when he had begun to hope he might see more smiles, yet who was to blame save himself? He began to repent of the scorn he had once heaped on Randir, when his fellow Ranger lost his heart—and, for a time, half his sense—to Harpend's dark-eyed daughter. Did lust deaden the wits, or was it that his soul no longer dwelt wholly in his body, circling Saelon's as heedlessly as a moth about a flame?
She seemed preoccupied as they crossed the courtyard: no longer piqued, less melancholy than yestereve; no more than pensive. He longed to ask what troubled her, yet did not dare, certain of being spurned. Was it counsel she sought from Veylin, and if so, on what? Tomorrow was Yáviérë, when she would present their rent to Círdan . . . and then she would be free to return to her beloved bay, secure in her holding.
With a soundless sigh, Dírmaen turned his mind to the practicalities of their homeward journey. They ought to make better time, for the packhorses would be unburdened, and they need not hold them to a dwarf-pony's pace. Saelon riding pillion had also slowed them . . . and vexed her greatly; the effort towards propriety would be pointless when it was only the three of them. The first time he had seen her, she had been astride Coll, with Gaernath at pillion.
Perhaps when she was less fretted by formalities, and the quarrels of Elves and Dwarves, he might finally get a proper hearing.
As they passed out of the carven gate and into the avenue, they found themselves among many small parties of Elves coming in from the countryside, their fair voices lifted in songs of praise: for the beauty of the coming night, the myriad stars, the season just passing and that to come. Looking up between the boughs of the elms that stood like a guard of honor along the way to the tower, Dírmaen saw the bright day tempered to dusk, the high fish-scale clouds touched with violet and gold.
A lovely end to the day . . . and the summer. There was yellow amid the dusty green of the trees. The balmy warmth notwithstanding, tomorrow was Autumn Day.
From her place by his elbow, Saelon broke in on his reflections. "I must congratulate you on your kill," she said in her forthright way. "Did you have a pleasant chase?"
Did she seek to avoid her own thoughts, or clean the rust from her manners before they reached the guard-hall? No; he must not be so mean-minded. He had found fault too often. Let him be glad of what she would give. "Very. This is fine country for a gallop." Indeed, it was. In the north, save on the wave-beaten strand or the machair alongside, one risked mount and neck for a run. It was too easy for a beast to put a hoof wrong amid heather or bog. "Yet you must not think me a great huntsman. It was courtesy that gave me the shot, for any of the Elves might have taken the buck from further off."
"I am sure you are too modest. Aniel admired your skill, and you seldom fail to bring meat to the board. We would not," she granted, "have gotten the wolf pelts but for your efforts."
That was just of her. Feeling both gratified and abashed, Dírmaen murmured, "Do not make little of Gaernath's part. There is a reason the glory is in the slaying."
"Small chance of that." She wore one of her crooked smiles of dissatisfaction, as though her fondness for the lad were a fault. "Yet is that not also to your credit, having taught him so well?" As they paced out of the deeper dusk under the elms, she added, "Thank you for securing him a place in the hunt."
This outpouring of esteem was too much. Her praise was so rare. "Forgive me," he asked, ducking his head in acknowledgment and apology.
Saelon glanced up at him, dark brows knit in mild puzzlement. "For what?"
"For leaving you alone this morning, without even Gaernath to attend you."
Her sigh was resigned rather than irritated. "Let us not begin that debate again, for we will never agree. I am glad that you went, and took Gaernath. We must be on good terms with these folk. My talents do not lie that way," she admitted ruefully, "yet I would not hinder those who make friends readily."
"Now you are too modest," Dírmaen protested. "You seem to have made a friend today."
"Sercherch?" She hitched her cloak a little higher up her forearm. "Yes, he was a pleasant companion."
She seemed likely to grow pensive again. "Did you fish?"
"No, though we went to the market where fish are sold. He introduced me to boats."
"What kind of boats?" Perhaps that explained her easier temper. At Habad, when vexed, she went to the sea and was calmed by its tumult. They had been beyond even a sight of the shore for more than a week on their journey, and here at the Havens, the waves did little more than lap. Even now, when they walked no more than a few furlongs from the Gulf, the only sound of water was the lively burble and splash of the great fountain as they passed through the tower courtyard.
She considered. "There was a skiff and a . . . bark, I believe, building in the shipyard, but we crossed the river in a coracle. Do you know coracles?" When he stared, briefly at a loss, she prompted, "The little hide boats they skim about in like waterbugs?"
Dírmaen chuckled at the vivid picture. "Not by that name. The folk of the Swanfleet use something like."
"I am thinking of attempting one. It is naught but withies and an ox-hide."
Startled, he regarded her more closely in the twilight. "What would you use it for? You would not take so slight a craft on the sea, surely." If only he were sure: her expression was not one of idle speculation, but that she wore when reckoning how much ale would be needed for a feast. Was this what had been occupying her mind?
The glint in her answering glance was too sharp to be called mischievous. "Not to start, certainly, and probably only at slack water. Still, it would let us fish further off the rocks. We might even try our hand with nets," she mused. "They serve these folk very well."
Why must she be so daring? If a man had proposed such a trial, he would have thought well of him; but while he admired her shrewd mind, his dwelt on all that might go amiss. Great though his reservations were, Dírmaen let this pass in silence. He would not be the one to spoil the evening with a quarrel.
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"How can you say so?" Dírmaen challenged, his note of grievance jarring amid the pleasant voices of the party. "When," he demanded of the captain, "were you last on the North Downs?"
Saelon turned from Eregai, who had been telling her the finer points of certain woodland herbs, to stare at the Ranger. Lagoreg laughed before replying, that light dismissal she found so galling. "Six long-years have passed, admittedly. You have a special fondness for that land?"
Dírmaen looked like a ruffled hawk. "Was I not born and raised there?"
Lagoreg bowed his sable head, smiling through the sketch of gravity, and took up the nearest flagon. "I did not know that the Dúnedain had returned thence. That is glad news," he declared, pouring the Man more wine, "in these all-too gloomy days."
Saelon hid her smile in the finely-turned bowl of her own beechwood cup. Perhaps now Dírmaen began to understand why she was sometimes out of temper with the Elves. They spoke with such suave assurance—even when they were assuredly wrong.
It was heartless of her, but she was finding the Ranger's discomfiture amusing. The evening had begun with the obligatory account of the hunt . . . for her benefit, and that of the other guests who had not taken part: two more foresters of Coruwi's company; another marchwarden, who cheerfully refused to be displaced from the chamber of their office; and Lagoreg, the guard captain who came along with Galdor, a robed councilor from the tower. They were a round dozen, in all, gathered about the board. Ramaeron had unfolded the tale with wonderfully vivid skill, capturing all the excitement of the chase, while Dírmaen sat at their host's right hand, mumchance as ever, his sun-bronzed ears taking on a ruddier hue.
No doubt if the telling had been left to him, it would have been over before the wine had gone around—a few bald words, doing himself scant justice—rather than carrying them through the carving of the succulent haunch.
It was served simply, as promised; yet the sauce was extraordinary, and it was in trying to learn how it was made that she fell into conversation with Eregai, one of the foresters who had been part of the hunt. There she had lost the thread of the others' conversation, until the sharpening of Dírmaen's voice caught her attention.
"And you, Lady," Lagoreg asked, looking across the board with polite curiosity. "Where is your Srathen Brethil? I do not think I ever heard of such a place in Arnor."
"Perhaps," she told him, setting down her wine, "that is because it was not in the kingdom, as it was of old. It is a glen in the eastern knees of the Ered Luin."
"West of the Lhûn?" The captain appeared bemused. "Then why have I not heard of your folk's trespass before?"
Before she could bristle, Coruwi smoothly chaffed, "Because, Lagoreg, you have hardly been out of the Havens since the fall of the North Kingdom. They dwelt north of the Little Lhûn, in Dordornhoth."
Brofaron, the other marchwarden, asked her, "Is that where you got your liking for Dwarves?"
She was not sure this was an auspicious turn for their talk to take, but too much prudence might be misinterpreted for evasion. "No. I never spoke to a Dwarf until I met Master Veylin."
Another forester, Talrui, whom Saelon thought might be a Laegrim of ancient Ossiriand, said dryly, "They must have charged a cumbrous rent."
At least these were points she could answer with perfect candor. "If so, I never heard of it. We were not the first Men in those parts. Edain dwelt in the glen long before my kin fled the wreck of Arnor."
"So the Dwarves had trade with you there?" Galdor offered her the bowl of nuts that was passing around. "They trade much with Men, I have heard."
"If so, they got their beef and mutton from the drovers in the hills, for only twice did they come to Srathen Brethil in my youth, to deal with my father. We had little corn to spare."
She was plucking out the small, angular beech-nuts—a treat, for the trees were not found in the north—when, from the doorway, a new voice wondered in strangely accented Elvish, "Why, then, have you befriended the maggots, who gnaw even the earth that spawns them in their greed?"
Twisting around, Saelon stared, almost too astonished for outrage. A tall Elf—taller than those assembled here, though not so tall as Gwinnor or Círdan—with closely braided, mouse-dun hair walked in uninvited and helped himself to Talrui's cup, refreshing it from the nearest flagon. "Who are you, sir?" she countered. The word "pardon" had been on her lips . . . but she would not return courtesy for such flagrant offense.
"Lady," Coruwi said with hasty grace, frowning pointedly at the intruder, "this is Calennae, one of my fellow marchwardens." As she had kept to the Common Speech, so did he. "Once of Doriath. What brings you back so early, Calennae? We did not expect you before leaf-fall."
Reaching out a long arm, Calennae snagged the heel of the last loaf and laid a few slices of venison on it. "All was quiet along the Baranduin." Casting a slighting glance over Dírmaen and his narrow-eyed silence, he continued, pointedly and still in his own tongue, "The Men have taken the hint and abandoned their camps along the river, retreating back into Minhiriath."
Being one of Lindon's marchwardens might give him rights to this chamber, but no license to be so crass towards guests of his lord and his fellows. "Greetings," Saelon said, coldly courteous. Did he think they did not know his Sindarin speech?
Calennae looked down on her from his great height. "You have not answered my question. Gaerveldis, some call you. If you are enamoured of the Sea, how can you suffer those who hate the very sound of it?"
Green-grey his eyes, yet no shade found in water. "As my own brother did, haunted by fearful dreams of the Akallabêth?" To speak of kindness or generosity in the face of such enmity would be pointless. "I have found Dwarves scrupulous in returning such attentions as they are given. Perhaps it was chance that put me in a position to do Master Veylin a service, but he has faithfully repaid me in kind, in trifles as well as weightier matters."
"So, you understand the noble tongue, at least." Under that hotly distasteful gaze, she wondered how she had ever thought herself disdained by Elves before. "Maybe you are right not to speak it. The Stunted Ones faithful? You do not know the history you claim as your own, Woman of the West. There is no knowing what lurks behind the scrub and stone of their faces. Like Anglachel, the blade of Eöl who found their crooked company congenial, they are treacherous tools, ready to cleave friend as well as foe."
Feeling all those elven eyes upon her, Saelon held her anger tight. "If you will speak of cursed things, must we not consider the Jewels, which spawned madness in so many? Even, I have heard, in the Blessed Realm itself? Who, save Beren, ever gave one willingly into other hands?"
"Has our grief not always come from Men?" Calennae countered. "Should Erchamion not be blamed for bringing the thing to us? Or Húrin, for that thrice-cursed carcanet?"
"Who was it who set Beren the task?" Of Húrin's house she would not speak: their tale was naught but a snarl of malice, and there was too much ill in the air already. Who would have dreamt that Fair Folk could harbor such hostility? She had thought Elves scorned them out of pity.
"This is an ancient argument," Galdor declared with a decidedly weary sigh, before the marchwarden could come to the defense of his long-slain king. "Let us not mar the evening with another tedious repetition."
Calennae fixed his baleful gaze on the councilor briefly, then cast a cutting glance around the other Elves at the board. "Because she is devoted to the Sea, Men should have the Shipwright's leave to dwell in Lindon? When has good ever come of mingling with mortals? Whether the Thrawn Folk or the Self-Cursed, they bring us nothing but woe."
"Fair Menegroth, Dwarf-delved, was an evil?" Galdor asked blandly. "Was it not a Man who slew Sauron?"
"Twice," Ramaeron murmured, very wryly, into his wine. "If you count his downfall with Númenórë."
"Yet all they do comes to naught in the end," Calennae sneered. "The caverns did not protect us, and the Shadow has returned. What can these ragged vagabonds bring us, save a few bundles of hides?"
Enough. This must be what Veylin felt last harvest, when drink loosed Partalan's sneering bitterness and none checked him . . . yet she was unable to set down this adder herself, by word or deed. Even Dírmaen, so jealous of her honor—where Dwarves were concerned—seemed careless, reaching across the board to take an apple from the bowl. "News of your northern marches, it seems," he finally spoke into the brittle silence, setting the edge of his knife to the fruit's red skin. "Have you withdrawn your patrols entirely, or do they pass so infrequently that we mortals are born and die between them?"
"Few of our folk go to those treeless barrens," Brofaron answered, taking up his cup with a look of irritation. "Other places require closer attention. I have not heard that you Rangers keep all of Arnor well. Do not be tiresome, Calennae," he brusquely overrode the Iathrim's retort. "One would think you had rather find Orcs on the border."
"One knows what to expect from Orcs."
That could be nothing but an attempt to goad her to impotent fury, before Elves of consequence who were disposed to be amiable. Saelon rose and gave their host a short, cold curtsey. She need not fix her reputation as a termagant. "I thank you, Coruwi, for the excellent meal, and some pleasant conversation." He had made no attempt to rebuke the ill-omened thirteenth to the party. As Veylin had advised, she would remember that.
"I regret we could not give you more of it, Lady." Mere courtesy, his fair face as inscrutable as any Dwarf's.
Dírmaen laid aside his half-peeled apple and rose likewise, mouth set in dour discontent. With her or the Elves? Both?
Calennae promptly took the back of his chair and, drawing it aside, seated himself, ignoring the Ranger's sharper scowl. "Clearly, we will have to make amends for our neglect. It has been too long since I was in the north, and it will be as well to see that you do not presume overmuch on the Shipwright's forbearance—and that the Stunted Ones are not thieving."
It was easier to walk out this time. Practice, perhaps. Yet what could she have done that would not have made matters worse, as Dírmaen's sally had?
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Elvish views on Dwarves: It is interesting to see how Tolkien's own conception of Dwarves shifted over the decades, from downright nefarious—hiring Orc mercenaries to attack Doriath in HoME II: The Book of Lost Tales, Part II, "The Nauglafring" ( written c. 1916–1920)—to gruffly just in The Lord of the Rings. The turn of the tide becomes apparent during The Hobbit (written 1930–1936): compare how Thorin and his companions are portrayed in the earlier and later chapters. I have chosen to take the whole range of attitudes found in Tolkien's writing as canon, giving versions of the earlier, darker views to more prejudiced characters . . . although I allow that some of the alleged misdeeds (such as selling weapons to the Enemy) may have been perpetrated by black-hearted Dwarves.
I am sure that many Elves—who are not all that interested, in any case—are ignorant of the nature of Dwarves. Take, for instance, this quote from HoME V: The Lost Road and Other Writings, "The Later Annals of Beleriand," written post-Hobbit:
It was not known in those days whence the Dwarves had origin, save that they were not of Elf-kin or of mortal kind, nor yet of Morgoth's breeding. But it is said by some of the wise in Valinor, as I have since learned, that Aulë made the Dwarves long ago, desiring the coming of the Elves and of Men, for he wished to have learners to whom he could teach his crafts of hand, and he could not wait upon the designs of Ilúvatar. But the Dwarves have no spirit indwelling, as have the Children of the Creator, and they have skill but not art; and they go back into the stone of the mountains of which they were made.
Soulless, with hearts literally of stone. Golems.
This passage implies that among the other races, only loremasters or those with a particular interest in Dwarves know anything of their origin, and not all of them are willing to grant Dwarves the status of Children of Ilúvatar, even by adoption. (Don't be too shocked: the Spanish and Portuguese requested that the Pope rule on the humanity of Native Americans soon after their discovery, and they were and are physically more similar to Europeans than Dwarves are to Elves or Men.) The more charitable accounts of Dwarves found in the Red Book of Westmarch probably post-date the Third Age, for "most of the references to Dwarvish history in Elvish records are marked with 'so said Legolas'" (HoME XII: The Peoples of Middle-Earth, "Last Writings," n. 21).
Buck: a male deer, usually referring to the fallow deer (Cervus dama). Bucks were considered better eating than sport.
Swanfleet: the great marshes on the lower Glanduin, east of Tharbad.
Slack water: the time around the turn of the tide when there is little or no current.
Long-years: a long-year is a yén.
Beechwood: the brown-flecked, bright buff wood of the beech (Fagus sylvatica) was favored for making cups and bowls, because the sap did not taint the contents. The tree also produces small, triangular nuts, an important food for wildlife—and also enjoyed by people.
Dordornhoth: Sindarin, "land of the Dwarves." This is a term of my own invention.
Akallabêth: Adûnaic (Númenórean), "the Downfallen"; Númenor. It is unusual for Saelon to use the Mannish name.
"thrice-cursed carcanet": the Nauglamír, brooded over by Glaurung, Father of Dragons; Mîm the Petty-Dwarf; and Húrin, while still in Morgoth's thrall. The smiths of Nogrod claimed the necklace—and, indefensibly, the Silmaril Thingol had them set in it—on the basis of provenance, their forefathers' original work creating the piece.
Self-Cursed: an Elvish name for Men (Silmarillion, "Of Men"). The epithet may come from the events related in the Tale of Adanel, which Andreth told to Finrod (HoME X: Morgoth's Ring, "Arthrabeth Finrod ah Andreth," author's note on the commentary 11): it tells that Men were seduced to the worship of Morgoth soon after their first waking, and were dealt mortality as a punishment.
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