11. Hard of Heart
'Tis pride, rank pride, and haughtiness of soul;
I think the Romans call it stoicism.
--Joseph Addison, "Cato"
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"Must you go?"
"What was your answer, when I asked you much the same question?"
Saelon frowned and sat down across from him, resting her lean hawk's face in her hand. It was nearly as concealing as a beard by the light of the lamp, so that all he had to judge by were her eyes, green-shaded grey, as implacable as the sea. "Do not tell me," she said, voice low, "that you carry that stick for show."
Halpan and the huntsman had taken Partalan away, not gently; the Ranger convinced Maelchon to do the same with the sodden greybeard. Most of the Men were little disturbed, hardly having noticed the raised voices for their own merriment: some of the youngsters were dancing around a driftwood bonfire behind him, to a lively tune from the cattleherd's simple pipe. Nordri had gone after Vitr and Vitnir; halfway down the board Rekk was speaking earnestly to Grani, Thyrnir at his side . . . supporting his nephew's petition for leave, no doubt.
Not that it could be denied. Yet it was an awkward way to start a prenticeship.
His own prentice was huddled with Bersa and Barði in another pool of lamplight at the end of the table, drinking a little, watching much. They were strangers here, wary of these folk. Would they choose to return to the halls tonight? His cousins would not leave without their grain, of that he was sure.
She was angry. Good. Let her be the hammer; he would be the anvil.
"No," he admitted. Laying his blackthorn on the board, he ran his hands to the ends along its gnarled length. A stout cudgel, but no weapon for battle. He would have to keep a spear for himself. Haki could cap the butt as an ice-staff: a surer bite, on ground or foe. "Yet I do not need it to stand." He met her gaze again, knowing his was as hot as hers was cold. "I will not retreat."
"Neither would my brother."
"With respect, Lady," Bersi told her, glancing uncertainly between them from under lowered brows, "your brother may have been a doughty Man of war, but he could not have been a match for Veylin."
Courteous without yielding: Veylin was glad to have him here. Rekk was true-hearted, but his tongue could not be trusted. This called for a careful touch.
Saelon said nothing, but lifted a dark, skeptical eyebrow. No doubt she was remembering him at the point of her brother's spear.
It was a grief that he had been slain before they could join forces. Such a fair-minded Man; he would not have allowed his swordsman to speak so of an ally. Another vexation of having a Lady for comrade—she had no place among the warriors. How much did her menfolk conceal from her? "You have come to know something of Dwarves," he told her bluntly. "Yet you still know little—and your folk less. Do not fall into errors of supposed familiarity. It is perilous," and his honest bitterness broke through, "to take us for granted." Save for herself and Gaernath, these folk had known nothing from him and his but kindness.
And were not those two their staunchest friends here? Tenderness did not breed respect.
"Have I done so?" Saelon wanted to know.
Veylin considered her quiet demand. "No." No; she asked for little, and expected less. Perhaps too little, from others as well as himself. "Partalan considers himself your dog," he declared. "Why does he bite at me?"
Her gaze dropped to her hands, which had knotted themselves together. "I will speak to him in the morning," she replied, no answer. Did she not know, or would she not say? "When he is sober. Will you stay so long?" It was not a plea, but dully dutiful words, steel turned to lead. "There are heather beds and blankets in my cave, enough for you all."
This was to have been a joyful visit, her glad gesture of gratitude. Marred, by his heirs and her guard. Was it jealousy, on both sides? "Of course. Vitr and Vitnir will wait for the rest of their grain." Taking up his stick, he rose. "What the others will do, however, I cannot say."
"I hope," she offered, glancing to Bersi, "that they will not hold the offenses of one against all."
"We will see."
As he limped to the end of the table, Rekk and those with him rose and moved that way as well. Arðri took one look at his face and asked, "Shall I bring the ponies?"
Veylin snorted. "Do you think I would leave my heirs here, unsupported?" he asked his prentice. "We may have quarreled," he allowed, "but they are my kin. You and the others may do as you please, but I do not fear the Men. They still owe us."
"Where is Saelon putting us for the night?" Rekk asked, as if nothing untoward had passed.
"In her cave."
"Then you had better fetch a pony," he told Arðri, with a sly glance at Bersa. "He will not wish to climb up to the cliff, not after such a feast!"
Bersi's over-fed brother gazed along the board to where the coppersmith sat gravely considering Saelon, arms folded; then over at the Men reveling in the firelight. "Do not hurry for my sake," he told Arðri, rising from the bench and taking his cup. "The evening is still young. Come, nephew," clapping Barði on the shoulder, "the drink here has run out, but I see more by the fire."
Grani drew his wine-dark hood up against the cool night-breath of the sea, eclipsing the golden gleam of his hair. "It might be better if we retired to the cave," he said, "and left the Men to themselves."
Bersa waved his fat, ringed hand. "Suit yourself! I will drink your share of the ale as well, and perhaps then I will need that pony. If we shunned Men for every slight they flung our way, we would spend half our time grubbing for dinner rather than stone. Let them make amends for their fellow's drunken ill-will with good cheer."
"You have your shawm, do you not?" Thyrnir asked Arðri. "Let me find my crowd, and we will join them."
Veylin turned to Rekk, denying his prentice's searching look. Arðri could do as he pleased in this. They all could. By their choice, he would see how much they desired this alliance.
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A fair morning, though there were hints of rain to come in the high clouds. Even with a late start, they should finish threshing the barley and get it safely to Gunduzahar, but it would be sloppy weather for crossing the mountains: to Sulûnduban for Oddi and gear of war, and to Srathen Brethil.
No one could be seen on the shore, and the sea looked cross-grained, a sullen and ugly grey.
Veylin turned from the sight and settled on the bench outside the small cave, drawing pipe and weed from his pouch. There were few folk about, Dwarf or Man. He had withdrawn to the cave soon after leaving Saelon the night before, to plan and brood; yet none of his folk had joined him until late. Not drunk; not very drunk, made cautious by the quarrel, but nearly all more mellow-minded than when he had left them, and they still slept, snoring peaceably.
High, cheerful voices coming up the track, laughing gaily; Saelon's niece and the two raven-haired sisters, laden with pails. Rian, keen-eyed as all the Dúnedain, spotted him. "Good morning, Master," she called across the dooryard. "Would you like something to break your fast?"
"I will not say no," he replied. Though Rian's manner was no different from what it had ever been, impeccably courteous yet reticent, the other young women stared at him, their dark eyes warier than he remembered. Word had spread, then.
"Let me see to the milk," she said, lifting her pails a little by way of excuse, "and I will bring you something."
She returned with admirable promptness, carrying a leathern jug and a trencher laden with cold beef and cheese, leftover brambleberry pie and bannocks. "We were sorry not to see you by the fire last night."
Veylin accepted what she offered, considering her from under lowered brows. Despite her Dúnedain poise, Rian sounded almost timid. He was wondering if rumor had exaggerated his anger when it came to him that she was very young, perhaps no older than Gaernath.
And a woman, alone with him. They were not all so singular or bold as Saelon.
Though the Lady was unwilling to face him, it seemed, else this tender child would not be daring his displeasure. Placing the trencher beside him on the bench, he gave a bow of his head by way of thanks. "It was a pleasant feast." Glancing towards the leather drape over the door to the cave, he raised the jug. "My folk seem well-contented."
When he had drunk and set the jug down to attend to the trencher, Rian reached up and drew her moss-green shawl closer around her shoulders, as if she were chilled. "But you are not."
"No." The bannocks were still hot from the griddle.
That sounded more like, sharp with touched pride. Among Men, hospitality was women's work. Veylin looked up at her; she was already half a span taller than Saelon. "One of your folk offered me such insult that, were it not for the regard I have for your lady, I would have had him under my axe."
"So bad?" she breathed, then, with exasperated distain, "You must not mind what Partalan says when he is drunk."
"I do not mind what the fool said," he told her, "so much as that none of your menfolk saw fit to muzzle him."
"Oh." The girl gazed on him with dismay, mouth twisting. "We are sadly fallen from what we were, Master, else my aunt need not lead us. Do not blame her," she pleaded. "She would have prevented it, if she could."
"I am sure," he acknowledged. "Yet they are her Men."
Her grey eyes, bluer than Saelon's, searched his face, but whatever she was seeking, she did not find. "Yes, Master," she murmured, like a chastised prentice. "Can I get you aught else?"
"No, this will do."
When girl had left, the leather drape was pushed aside and Bersi looked out. He watched Rian retreat towards the hall, then turned his gaze to Veylin. "Your heart has not cooled?" he asked.
Casting his peridot-green hood over his rumpled hair, the coppersmith came out and sat down beside him on the bench, taking a pull from the jug as Veylin drew his knife to split the bannocks. They sat in silence for a while, eating; as he divided the pie, Veylin asked, "Does your bargain with Saelon stand?"
"Yes. It was a shrewd deal, but fair . . . and no matter what my brother says," he added, peering into the jug, "I would not mind drinking more of this." Having done so, he asked in turn, "You will fight these fiends, lame as you are?"
"You doubt my word?" Veylin rumbled, eyes narrowing.
That earned him a reproachful look. That may please Vitr and his brother more than anything you have done this last year, Bersi signed.
It will please them less than it might have a day ago. He was curious to see if they would accompany him to Srathen Brethil. If they did not, he would leave his wealth to Thyrnir.
Must you fight three battles at once?
Veylin snorted, the closest he had come to a laugh since watching his friend haggle with Saelon. "Not at once. I hope I can maneuver better than that." He cocked an eyebrow. "It is my leg that is lame, not my wits."
"One wonders," Bersi muttered, with a wry smile, then stilled. "One of the Men comes," he murmured low.
Turning to look, Veylin saw it was Aniel. If Men had favored hoods, the huntsman's would have been in his hand: he approached with a hesitant step, head bowed. "Morning, masters," he greeted them.
"Aniel." Veylin gave him no more than the bare acknowledgement, eyeing him closely. Drink did not look to be chiefly responsible for his crestfallen manner; though lowered, his eyes were clear enough.
Taking a deep breath, the Man said, "I have come to beg the favor of going with you to Srathen Brethil, Master Veylin."
From the corner of his eye, he caught the slight flick of Bersi's startled glance. "Have you?" he rumbled.
"Aye, Master," Aniel sighed, with a rueful sketch of a smile.
He was unmoved by the guilty scapegrace charm. Their years might be few, but these were not children. "Why should I indulge you?" he demanded.
"Indulge?" the huntsman wondered. "Will the trip be such a treat?"
"No, which is why I do not desire your company. If you will not raise your voice to defend me from the slander of a drunkard, how can I trust you to raise your hand with mine against the fiends?"
Sun-darkened as his face was, his flush was still visible. "Because I have sworn to slay the fell things."
Veylin shrugged, careless. "What has prevented you from fulfilling your oath?"
"You know we do not have weapons that will bite on them." Aniel seemed torn between bafflement and quickening anger.
"Ah. So you want more from me than my company."
They locked stares; Aniel's brown eyes dropped first. "I would be honored to bear a spear for you, Master," he said, voice low.
Relentlessly, Veylin agreed, "Yes, you would be. What will you give me for that honor . . . and the use of the spear?"
"Give you?" Now his puzzlement was plain.
"Did you not hear me last night? If you want something from us, you must pay for it."
The Man's dark-stubbled jaw set. "My service," he declared, "against the fiends."
Veylin bowed his head a little. "That would be something," he allowed, "if I needed it. But I do not. I have followers enough of my own."
"Then why have you not already slain the things?" Aniel challenged.
"Consideration for a neighbor's honor. We have only waited until you were strong enough to take a part, knowing how greatly some of you desire your own vengeance. Seeing that consideration is not returned—is even turned into a slur—we will delay no longer. Salve your own honor as you may."
The Man glared at him, rage warring with shame on his shaved face. "I will hunt for you and your folk," he offered. "For a year."
"If you are slain by the fiends, I will be cheated of my price. No."
"What would I do with the beast?" Veylin scoffed.
Oh, he had him. The dogs were dear as kin to him. "Of no more use to me than the horse."
"What would you have?" Aniel cried. "My bow? My spear? My blade? I have nothing else of value. I am a huntsman, not a lord!"
Veylin crossed his arms and gazed on him, remembering his fair words last Girithron, when he brought them the gift of venison for the delving of the hall. He was a good Man, as Men went. "Your goods I do not want, and your service I do not need. Yet there is something I would have from you."
"What?" the huntsman asked, with tardy caution. Perhaps he had called to mind some of the dark tales Men muttered of the bargains of Dwarves.
"Knowledge. Tell me of this Man who distains me so."
"Partalan?" Aniel sounded surprised and wary, as if he suspected some trickery or trap.
"Aye, Partalan!" Veylin growled. "He does not look to be one of your folk, yet he is more jealous of your honor than any of you. Especially of the Dúnedain. Who is he, and how did he come to be your lady's cur?"
Aniel weighed this, as if looking for hidden cost. "If I tell you, you will loan me a spear and take me with you?"
"If I feel you are honest and give full measure. I want none I cannot trust."
"Very well." The reluctance and sullen respect in his gaze was part of the price as well; he would not take Veylin's good will for granted again . . . or not for a long while, as Men measured such things. "Partalan was Halladan's man. A few years before his father died and he became our lord, Halladan made a journey far beyond the Downs, south and east, seeking good horseflesh. When he returned, Partalan came with him. Who his kin are, and why he left his people, I do not know—Partalan will not say, and if Halladan knew, he did not say either. At least not to us. He made it plain that he valued the stranger, and those who treated Partalan ill felt Halladan's disfavor.
"So long as we have known him, he has been, as you say, Halladan's cur: a surly hound, but a faithful one." Aniel did not like speaking in this cold-blooded way of his fellow, and to those stranger than a Man from far lands; Veylin honored him for his distaste. "He may take a kick for himself, but raise a hand to Halladan and his teeth would be at your throat. And he has teeth! He was and is the best among us, save perhaps Halladan, in arms, the bane of reivers and wolves alike. When the fell beasts began to press us close, Halladan charged Partalan to bring his children to Saelon and keep them all safe."
The huntsman was silent a while, considering whether he need say more. Veylin waited patiently, and seeing it, Aniel sighed. "Partalan and Saelon have always respected each other, despite some disapproval on both sides, but he wants a lord who can master him. He is worse than he was. That he was not with Halladan at the end eats his heart." Shaking his head bleakly, he asked, wry-mouthed, "Will that content you?"
Picking up the jug, Veylin held it out to him. "Yes." That was not true, but what else he wished to know he did not think this Man could tell. Or would not, not for what Veylin could offer. "Get leave from your lady, and ride with us when we leave. We will need to fit the spear with a shaft that suits you. When that is done, we will go to Srathen Brethil."
"You have my thanks," Aniel said, bowing his head stiffly as he came forward.
Their hands met on the jug. "We are not a kindly people," Veylin told him. "If I seemed so towards your lady, it was because she had earned my regard. Do not," he warned, "waste this chance to repair the damage that has been done, for you will never get another."
"I will remember," the huntsman promised, and drank.
When the Man had gone, Veylin turned to Bersi and found him gazing at him very thoughtfully indeed. "I think," the coppersmith murmured, "I am glad that we have never fallen out." What will you demand from your heir?
"Demand?" Veylin questioned dryly. If Vitr and Vitnir—or any others—were listening behind the door-drape, as some surely must be by now, let them hear. "Of a Dwarf? Save me from such foolishness. They must decide for themselves how much they are willing to give for my good will. And I will decide if I am pleased. Yet," he added, with a sharp twist of a smile, "it is said that I am over-generous, is it not?"
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Saelon had been correct; Dírmaen found the Dwarf sitting amid the ruins of the tower his ancient sires had built, the russet of his hood and beard like a patch of autumn bracken against the green turf and pale stone. He seemed not to have heard the Ranger come, lost in brooding over the smoke from his dark, carved pipe, his gnarled blackthorn stick propped by his side.
Standing in what had been the doorway, Dírmaen took the opportunity to consider Veylin at leisure. When he had first seen him, he had looked like a dwarf-lord, glittering with gold and fiery gems, come in state to support the Lady's defiance of the sons of Elrond with a half-dozen followers in his train. Now he might have been any prosperous Dwarf upon the roads, flaunting no more than bright copper and good cloth, save for the stick: the relic of his wounding by the raugs, a crutch for his lameness.
He had heard the Dwarf was a tried warrior, who had seen long service in their war against the Orcs. What was he thinking, to swear to face the raugs in Srathen Brethil? Was it mere stiff-necked dwarven cussedness, willing to stare down death for the sake of his pride, or did he honestly think that leg would serve in battle? Dírmaen could not imagine a Dwarf leaning on a prop he did not need.
Or, like Arathorn, did he dread death less than incapacity?
"Master Veylin?" Dírmaen said quietly, not wishing to seem a spy.
Eyes near as russet as his beard flicked sharply up under those bushy brows, before he raised his face to gaze at him, taking his pipe from his teeth. "Yes?" Civil, but no more.
But then, like the other Dwarves, Veylin had always looked upon him with suspicion. "I have come to see what, if anything, you would take from me in return for the use of a troll-spear against the raugs."
It was hard to read the subtleties of their mood, masked as they were by their beards. Veylin went back to his pipe, eyes narrowed as if in calculation, taking time for thought, and Dírmaen waited patiently. There was no rushing Dwarves. "You are not," Veylin finally observed, "one of Saelon's folk. What is your interest in the matter?"
A fair question. Saelon's folk they knew; he was a stranger to them. "I am not the Lady's near kin, it is true," Dírmaen replied. "Yet we are akin, and I would not have it said the Dúnedain abandoned their own . . . nor any of their charges, no matter how far afield they might be. And," he added, though it was no afterthought, "I have an interest of my own. I would avenge my Chieftain."
"Even though you suspect he sought his own death in that cursed valley?"
He remembered that? "Even so."
Veylin grunted and stuck the pipe back between his teeth. Though Dírmaen had not tried it himself, some of the Rangers who frequented Bree had taken to pipe-weed, and swore it cleared the mind and aided thought. Having puffed away for a while longer, the Dwarf asked, "Why should I trust you so near me with such a weapon?"
That Dwarves were mistrustful was a maxim, but Dírmaen had not known they thought him a threat. "Do you know of some reason why I should be your foe?" he asked, with a wry smile. "I know none." As much as Dwarves were on the roads, they should consider Rangers their friends.
"Your Chieftain holds that this is Elvish land, does he not? That you are allies of the Elves, I have seen."
Ah; perhaps his conscience was not easy on that point. "I have not been a party in councils discussing such matters, and do not know the right of it." Dírmaen shrugged. "You seemed on good terms with the sons of Elrond." Lindon was not his charge; if the Elves objected to the Dwarves here, they could attend to the matter themselves.
"Still, you wish these Men on the other side of the Lune."
It could not be pleasant for the Dwarf to crane his neck that way, staring up at him. How much of their hostility came from little things? Stepping within the ring of stone, Dírmaen sat on ground, which brought them nearly eye-to-eye. "Yes," he admitted without reserve. "We could do more for them if they were nearer the rest of our folk. It is galling—" it was hard not to be bitter, but he kept his tone light "—to be accused of neglect by those who seem to have gone out of their way to make aiding them difficult."
"If you had aided them earlier, while they were still in Srathen Brethil, perhaps they would not have fled to the sea."
"Perhaps," Dírmaen allowed, and gazed on him consideringly. They had thought Veylin wished to keep these folk here for his own convenience; this sounded as if he looked on them with some concern. "Yet Eriador is wide, and the Dúnedain are few. We trust our own to keep their own, until it is plain they cannot."
"Then what do you do?" Veylin chuffed, with a disdainful look. "Send more mouths, without bringing the stores they sorely need."
Dírmaen frowned. He had heard something like this before: the bitter discontent Saelon had cast before the sons of Elrond. Had this Dwarf been poisoning her against her kin? "Where were we to find so much grain so late in the season? After sowing, most folk are short. If you have granaries, why did you not feed them?"
"They are not my folk." A flat dismissal.
"And they could not pay?"
Veylin shook his head in irritation, not denial. "Saelon was able to keep them without asking for aid. If she had asked, we could have come to some agreement."
Only last night Veylin had declared that if Men wished something from him, they must pay. Dírmaen leaned back against the scarred stones of the tower foot, trying to restrain his distaste. He had come to make a kind of peace with the Dwarf, not quarrel with him. "We might debate these things all day, to no avail. Can we come to some agreement about the spear? I believe," he declared pointedly, "that we both wish the raugs dead."
"What can you offer that would tempt me?" Veylin wanted to know.
Tempt a Dwarf who might armor himself in jewels? "What did you get from Aniel? He has little enough, I know."
"He told me some things I greatly wished to know," Veylin replied, fingering his flowing beard and regarding him speculatively. "Yet there is something I did not press him on, which you might tell me."
Austerely, Dírmaen informed him, "I am not known for a loose tongue."
"Hold it then," the Dwarf told him with brusque haughtiness and, taking up his stick, stood. "And I will hold my troll-spear."
Dírmaen struggled with his own pride as the small lord turned to go, and managed, "Will you not even tell me what you would know?"
Looking back over his shoulder, Veylin asked, "Why does Saelon's hound bite at me, when I have been her friend?"
Her friend. Did he truly consider himself so? She had saved his life; and he had repaid her with the handsome hall below, freeing himself of further obligation. Halpan had said he gave her counsel; in Srathen Brethil, Rekk had taken for granted that Veylin and Saelon could come to an agreement that would put troll-spears into her men's hands. What counsel? And an agreement favoring whom? She and Maelchon had been far too generous with their corn.
The easy way her name passed those bearded lips sat ill with him. And she had known where the Dwarf could be found. "Because," Dírmaen replied, watching his face closely, "he thinks you too familiar."
Veylin wheeled to face him, glowering, the hand without the pipe clenched on his stick. "He thinks so ill of his lady?"
He spoke to her honor, not his own. Dírmaen suddenly wondered if Saelon had struck Lis for the insult to herself, or to Veylin. There was something, some strange regard, between the two. What did they see in each other, an impoverished Dúnadaneth who loved the sea and a wealthy Dwarf who could hardly bear the sight of it? "Dunlendings," the Dúnadan told him, "think women weak-willed and inconstant, easily swayed by their passions."
For a long moment, the Dwarf stared at him blankly, then gave a bark of harsh laughter. "He is in for a shock."
"I believe he is," Dírmaen agreed gravely. "Is that all you wished to know?"
Veylin continued to gaze at him, but as if he debated with himself. When he spoke, his deep voice was curt, as if he misliked his own question. "The ways of your women are strange to us, and your dealings with them likewise. Have I given grounds for offense?"
"Not," Dírmaen replied carefully, "that I have seen." It was said that Dwarves had no women; could it be that he did not understand Men's jealousy regarding them? Were they truly ungendering, growing from stone? "Yet it is considered . . . unseemly for a woman to be so free with men not of her kin or household, or her betrothed."
"I have met many mistresses of hall and inn," Veylin scoffed, scowling, "who are as brisk as their menfolk with strangers."
"Unmarried women of high lineage?"
"You trust them so little?"
"It is not them we mistrust," Dírmaen answered, face and voice stark. This was too much simplicity. Even if they themselves were sexless, they were too much among Men not to see how much danger there was for women.
"Then why do you blame them, when it is your own care that is lacking?" Veylin demanded, with baffled contempt. "How can she be lord to these folk, if she must be as bashful as her niece?"
"She ought not to be," Dírmaen declared.
"No," Veylin agreed plainly. "She should not be. I boggled that her brother did such a thing, until I saw how ill-suited her menfolk were for the charge."
"You think so?" The longer they spoke, the less Dírmaen understood the Dwarf.
"You do not? After last night?"
No, Halpan had not showed his finer qualities yesterday. Yet what could you expect of one so young, wrestling with such doubts, and given his fill of ale after long deprivation? "I wish," Dírmaen sighed, "that you had not questioned Halpan's courage in that way." The Men had not been the only ones with their sense blunted by drink, or he would not be here, bartering for the right to slay raugs.
"You would have someone so doubtful at your back in battle?"
"In truth," Dírmaen said bluntly, having had his fill of the Dwarf's carping, "I would rather have him beside me than you, as you are." He looked pointedly at the stick the Dwarf leant on.
As soon as the words were out, he regretted them; still more when he saw how the little man drew himself up as high as he could, off the support of his prop. "Then you will not go," Veylin declared, coldly resentful, and turned to go.
"Master Veylin," Dírmaen implored, giving a vexed sigh as the Dwarf limped away. He thought he could battle raugs, halt as he was? "I do not think you a fool—"
Yet it would be easier to call him so, than to show him pity. And Dírmaen guessed the first might be forgiven, but the latter never.
The Dwarf gave him neither glance nor pause. Dírmaen rose to follow him; he could not let him depart in this mood. How had it come to this? Already outside the ring, Veylin was heading for the steep slope down to the cliff-shelf. Surely he did not mean to stump down that way, simply to prove he could? "Master Veylin—" Dírmaen reached out to grasp his shoulder.
No sooner had his fingers touched the russet hood then the Dwarf spun—on his good leg, out of Dírmaen's grasp—and struck out, low, with his blackthorn stick. Savagely, he hooked the Ranger's lead leg out from under him as his weight came down on it.
Taken off guard, Dírmaen went sprawling and only just saved himself from falling onto his face. Rolling aside to free his scabbard, his hand flew to his sword hilt—
The iron ferrule of Veylin's blackthorn stick pinned him to the ground by his throat. "Not so crippled as you thought?" the Dwarf growled, eyes blazing with fury. His other hand was loosening his axe in its sheath. "Or must I prove it with steel?"
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Shawm: early double-reed woodwind instrument. I prefer this term to "oboe," which Tolkien used for a dwarven musical instrument in The Hobbit.
Crowd: ancient Celtic string instrument with three to six strings, played by plucking or with a short bow. An early form of fiddle.
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