Fair Folk and Foul: 13. Doubtful Friends

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13. Doubtful Friends

I do desire we may be better strangers.

--Shakespeare, As You Like It, III, ii, 276

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The three of them trailed in the wake of the Dwarves' pack-train.  Veylin rode at the head, conversing with Rekk and the one with the Lothron-green hood who had bartered with Saelon—Bersi?  Or was he Bersa?  No, Bersa was the fat one with the buff hood nearest them, who puffed and grumbled into his tawny beard as he led his laden beast through the hummocks of flowering heather.  Veylin was the only one not afoot: was that his pride, or his leg?  Or both?

Ahead of him, Aniel demanded, "What of Partalan?  Where is he?"

When Halpan did not answer, Dírmaen said dryly, "Still sleeping off the drink, when I found them."

"Still?" Aniel exclaimed, astonished.

Dírmaen looked to Halpan.  "When did you stop drinking?"

"Long before Partalan did," he admitted.

Aniel looked between the two of them and shook his head.  "He has always turned to drink to drown his woes . . . and when did he not have them?  But this is too much.  Saelon will flay him."

"Will he care?" Dírmaen wondered.

"A kinless man, far from his home—what does he have, save his bond?"  Aniel shook his head again.  "Perhaps she will send him to Halmir, and we will get Tarain back."  Aniel and the golden-headed swordsman had been close comrades, Dírmaen remembered.

Halpan snorted.  "Unless Sorcha has trammeled him."

"Then he would bring her, too," Aniel asserted.  "Another family here would be a good thing."

No, it would not.  The fewer Men this side of the Lune, the better.  Dírmaen held his tongue, however.  Keeping watch by night, he saw many things; lately that included Aniel and Unagh, Finean's eldest, clipping in the dark.  He had already spoken overmuch this day, and naught but ill had come of it.

Walking at a burdened pony's pace through country he now knew well gave the Ranger ample time to regret his harsh words to Halpan, spoken as they left the hollow in the highest dunes where he had found him with the snoring Partalan.  We all make many promises and we cannot keep them all.  Men are respected for choosing well in hard places, not for making excuses . . . even if they are good ones.  He had been speaking of the promise that bound Halpan here to foster Hanadan, made to a shattered woman full of spite—not of his oath to the Chieftain.  Who could have imagined he would give over the Rangers so readily?  The oath was to the office, not the man.

Perhaps the Dwarf was not mistaken.  Perhaps the trials of the last year had broken Halpan as well, though in ways less obvious than his brother's wife.

When they had been near three hours on their way and the sun lowered towards the sea, Dírmaen began to wonder where they were headed.  He had often given thought to where the Dwarves might dwell, and knew it could not be more than three leagues from Habad-e-Mindon: Gaernath could not have gone further than that between the arrival of the sons of Elrond and his mud-spattered return to the hall on that stormy day last month.  With so much stone in this land, however, that was not much help.

He had assumed that their halls were in the knees of the Ered Luin, on the far side of the moor, but they had not crossed those deceptively flat barrens on the drier land along Habad's little river.  That suggested they dwelt further north: though none of them liked the sea, the way was easier near to it, and Dwarves were expert in finding the least laborious route across the land.  But neither did they turn inland on the broken ridge that fenced the bog-moor—the place where Veylin had been attacked by a raug—on the north.

Dírmaen considered the great flat-topped hill that stood solitary before them, rising like a tower above the wave-battered headlands.  Was this the place?  He had been here twice since he came to this shore, for from its top one had an unsurpassed view of all the country around.  He had seen no sign nor track of Dwarf—nor anything except beast and bird—either time.  Would Dwarves dwell so near the sea?

So it seemed, for when they reached the foot of the hill, they halted.  After the Dwarves talked briefly among themselves in their harsh tongue, some took ponies from others.  Veylin rode back to the three of them, Rekk and Thyrnir walking alongside, their hoods in their hands.  "We are nearly on our doorstep," Veylin told them, heartily cheerful, "so whatever thirst you have raised, you can quench it soon—and with something stronger than your Lady's good ale, if you wish.  Yet," he went on, more soberly, "you must bear with us.  This is a small place, far from our mansions, and its chief defense is its secrecy.  You must be hooded this last step, so you cannot see the way."

"Hooded?" Halpan exclaimed, jolted from his morose silence.

Aniel stared.  "You mistrust us so much?"

The mounted Dwarf gazed at Dírmaen.  "Some of you," he said bluntly.  "My folk feel it would be best to treat you all alike."

Rekk smiled, as if this was a jest.  "Veylin is too trusting."

The huntsman scowled at the brown-bearded Dwarf.  "What offense have I given," he protested, "to be treated like an enemy?"

"We do not," Thyrnir told him, "suffer enemies in our halls, alive or dead.  Come, Aniel."  He held out his dark green hood.  "Humor us."

Unlike the other two, Dírmaen was not surprised by the request—if request it was.  That did not mean he liked it any better.  "If you do not trust us, why should we trust you?"

Veylin leaned back in his saddle, brows raised.  "Because you wish to use our spears against your foes?  If you do not like this condition, you are free to walk home again."

"Give it to me," Halpan said shortly, taking the hood from Thyrnir.  "Aniel, take Rekk's.  If nothing else will content them, we must be as hawks.  And when we are blind and douce," he asked, perilously close to scorn, fixing his eye on Veylin, "will you take us up on your wrists and carry us in?"

The dwarf-lord laughed, and urged his pony closer, extending his russet hood towards Dírmaen.  "Why you Men treat valiant birds so, I do not understand.  Yet Rekk and Thyrnir will handle you as carefully."

So they did, though they took them a mazed and weary way, up and down and slowly around the trackless sides of the hill, until even Dírmaen was uncertain which quarter they were on.  Muffled in thick wool, he could not feel the breeze or sun on his face; the unevenness of the rough slopes made counting strides almost useless, as they doubled back and forth on lopsided switchbacks.  There was only Rekk's calloused grip on his wrist, leading him onwards and usually upwards, and the Dwarf's patient words of guidance.  After a while, Dírmaen could not even hear the shuffling steps of his companions—although once he heard Aniel yelp, and Thyrnir's low laugh and quick apology, not far off.

Dírmaen guessed they could have walked around the broad base of the hill at least twice before Rekk halted him on a welcome flat.  "We will wait here for the others," he told him, and withdrew his hand.

The Ranger nodded, and shifted as if easing weary feet.  In truth, he was seeking some glow through the hood that might tell him which way west lay.  If the clouds would spare him enough sun for such a clue, or they were not still on the eastern side of the mount.  He could hear the cheerful sound of a little water falling . . . and, after a while, the firm fall of dwarven boots and the uncertain steps of his fellow Men.

"Here," Rekk said, "I will take Halpan."

"A high step up, Aniel," Thyrnir encouraged, "and then there will be no more climbing.  It is all flat from here."

"Where is Dírmaen?" Halpan asked, sounding troubled.

"Here," he assured him.

Close beside, Aniel chaffed nervously, "Did you run the whole way?"

Rekk chuckled.  "That one knows how to set his feet.  Go on with Halpan," he said, presumably to Thyrnir.  "I will wait with these two."

The silence between them felt strained and unnatural.  Not far off, Thyrnir could be heard murmuring, "Duck your head.  Lower.  Lower."  Aniel cleared his throat; Dírmaen had the sense that the huntsman wished to speak, or at least jest, about their awkward trek, but not in front of the Dwarf . . . or at least not blindly.  Yet they were not kept in suspense long.

"I am back, Aniel," Thyrnir said.  "This way."

"We will follow close behind," Rekk told Dírmaen, clasping his wrist again.  "The passage is narrow and low.  Go slow, or you will crack your high head!"  In a few steps the light dimmed further and stone brushed the Ranger's shoulders, so he was forced to go half-sideways, trying to keep sword and pack clear as well.  "Two more steps, then hard right—and keep your head well down."

A wide space, so that his free hand could find no rock.  Rekk drew him on.  "Your way is straight and clear," and, a few longer paces further, "you no longer need stoop."  From the sound, so far as he could tell through the fabric, Dírmaen thought they were in a passage; then he sensed they had entered a larger space, a much larger space.  A hard, somehow weighty noise came from behind him, then a sharp click, like a bolt going home.

Rekk halted him and, near to hand, Thyrnir said, "Take off the hoods."

Dírmaen stripped the cloth from his head, glad to breathe free air once more.  Quickly he glanced around.  The three of them stood at one end of a grand hall, whose roof sprang from columns like the boles of mighty trees, higher overhead than any canopy of leaves.

No, he need not stoop.  Nor was it dim, despite the darkness of the polished stone, for the broad space was well-lit by lamps hung from the soaring vaults and others fixed to the pillars.  Before them stood Veylin.  "Welcome to Gunduzahar," he greeted them, and since Halpan and Aniel were gaping with stark astonishment, offered the silver cup he held to Dírmaen.

Accepting it, he drank in token of peace.  It was red wine, a fine, strong vintage; rarely had he tasted a better.  He would have thanked the Dwarf, but for the demeaning manner of their entry and the look of amused satisfaction he was bestowing on the other two.  Deliberately gazing around in a more leisurely fashion, Dírmaen commented dryly, "A small place?"  It was at least twenty-five paces in length and a dozen between the pairs of pillars, with aisles on either side.  The far end held a long table that would easily seat a score.

"Truly," Veylin assured him.

"No," Halpan protested, shaking his head.  "Our hall is a small place."  Dírmaen guessed the younger Dúnadan had never seen a hall so large as this.  He himself had only been in one, larger still, whose carving was more elegant, and the walls hung with colorful, storied tapestries.  Beside Rivendell, this place was stark and unlovely.

Though perhaps the comparison was unfair.

Veylin chuckled and pressed a cup of wine into Halpan's hand.  "A shelter against the winter's storms, no more.  Did I not say so, at the time?"  Going to Aniel, he gave him a cup likewise.  "Drink," he invited.  "Sit—" he gestured towards the aisle, where some low seats and benches were gathered around a manteled hearth, carved into the wall and sporting a cheerful blaze "—if your feet are weary after so tiresome a climb.  Supper will be on the board soon.  No feast, I fear," he shrugged, "for we must busy ourselves, if Rekk and his party are to set out tomorrow morning.  If you lack anything," and he motioned forward a Dwarf with a beard of pale gold, who had held the other cups for him, "Oski here will see to it."

"At your service," Oski said politely, bowing.

Halpan gazed at him thoughtfully.  "Were you not at Habad-e-Mindon last month, and helped search for Hanadan?"

"The child who ran away?  Yes," Oski agreed, "I was one of the hunters."

"At your service and your family's."  Halpan bowed in his turn.  "The boy is my nephew."

"The boy is a rascal," Veylin rumbled.  "I am surprised we did not find him hiding in a grain sack."  Yet he looked pleased rather than otherwise.  "Until supper."  He took his leave with a slight bow.

With such mixed kindness began their sojourn among the Dwarves.  Baffled by the harshness and hospitality, the Ranger fell back on his greatest skill: he watched in silence, seeking some pattern he could read, as he might divine the presence of wolves by the drift of deer or the prospect of fair weather in the shapes of clouds.  Dwarves on the road he had believed he knew; but like Man or beast or bird, their manner was altered on their own ground and his understanding had failed him.

More than a score of Dwarves sat down to supper at the long cherrywood table, though it was more like a council of war than a meal.  Veylin, with Rekk at his right hand and Halpan placed on his left, spent more time speaking than eating, laying out the plan and what needed to be done.  His folk interrupted him freely, with questions or counsel or simply to volunteer for some duty.  The only ones who seemed on their dignity were the chestnut-bearded brothers who had traded with Maelchon, Vitr and Vitnir.

Dírmaen was unsure of the ranking among them, if there was any.  In all honesty, without their colorful hoods, he had trouble distinguishing between those less well known to him, let alone the many he had never met before.  Were those who did not speak lower?  Yet Thyrnir, Veylin's nephew, said nothing.  Were they merely younger?  Yet they all looked to be of full age: no downy-cheeked youths, no greybeards.

A few times they consulted with Halpan or Aniel over details such as the lay of the land, sometimes asking questions even they could not answer, like what kind of stone lay about the tarn.  Otherwise, the talk was all among the Dwarves.  The two Men of Srathen Brethil were mumchance, daunted by the strangeness of it all, including the awkward lowness of the table.  Dírmaen's counsel they did not seek, though he could see few flaws in their plan, so far as it went.  What they would find when the raug's nest was laid bare, none could guess.

Once the council was finished, Veylin and his folk excused themselves on the grounds of much work and little time, leaving them to Oski's care.  He brought them bedding and bolsters against the hard stone of the floor, and when after a last cup of wine they made camp in a corner of the great chamber, doused most of the lamps and settled himself with a blanket on one of the finely carved settles by the hearth—near enough to be within call but not so near that Aniel feared to whisper, "Did you have any idea there were so many of them? Or such a hall?"

"Not so many, no," Dírmaen murmured back.  "Nor so far from the mountains.  What brought them here, do you know?"

The huntsman gave a tiny shake of his head.  "Have they not always been here?"

"In the mountains, yes.  Yet not here.  You have seen how much they mislike the sea."

"What does it matter?" Halpan muttered, pulling his blanket over his head and turning from them.

"You have a rich and powerful neighbor," Dírmaen said quietly.  "You take his good will for granted?"

"Hardly.  Was I mistaken," the younger Dúnadan's muffled voice was sour, "or did you think I bought it too dearly?  No, I err—too dearly for myself alone."

"Hush," Aniel hissed, glancing towards Oski.  "This is no place for such a quarrel.  What has come between you?"

Halpan was silent; Dírmaen sighed softly and turned over himself.  Pride; honor; a piece of silver.  Petty, insurmountable things.  What could he say that would not make matters worse?  Such things must be left in the hands of the One, in hopes that this twisted path they were taking would bring some good, and not merely more rancour and death.

Yet it was long ere he could sleep, in the close darkness under stone.

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Dírmaen slept brokenly for unease and the strangeness of the place.  When he woke to somewhat more light and the muted clatter of a board being laid at the other end of the hall, he gave over.  Leaving Aniel and Halpan still sleeping—their rest had been little sounder—the Ranger tidied away his bed and stepped out to the closet, where the water was as chill as the fountain that sprang from the cliffs at Habad-e-Mindon.  Wits duly braced by dousing, he strode down the hall to confront the day.

"Good morning," Oski greeted him politely, laying forks beside the plates.  "If you desire coffee, Bersa has some in the kitchen."  He pointed to the modest door set in the end of the right-hand aisle. "Or it will be out shortly, with the rest of breakfast."

Coffee: a dark, hot brew, more bitter than dwarven ale.  "I would prefer small ale.  Can I help you?"  Dírmaen looked down the table at the cool gleam of silver: plates, utensils.  The same as last night.  Was this really their common ware?

The golden-bearded Dwarf gave him a strange, skeptical look.  "You are our guest."

"I do not feel like one," Dírmaen told him plainly.  "It is hard to sit idle."

Oski gazed on him a while longer, then nodded towards the head of the table.  "There is a tray there.  You could set out the bowls, if you wish."

The bowls were silver, too, heavy in the hand; over two dozen of them, each chased with a bold band of many-stranded interlace below the rim.  And cups to match.  Dírmaen was standing at the foot of the table, examining the last cup—he could not find where the design began or ended—when Rekk came up and asked, "Has Oski not filled it for you?"  Save for a helm, he was clad for battle, a coif of fine rings laid back on the shoulders of his hauberk.  A similarly armed Dwarf with a black beard stopped just behind him.

"I was admiring the workmanship," Dírmaen explained, setting the cup on the board.

Rekk smiled, a flash of ivory in his dark beard.  "I must remind Veylin to count the silver before you leave," he said, eyes narrowed.

Dírmaen frowned down on the Dwarf, who, sturdy though he was, came no more than breast-high on him. "Is that a jest?"  Was he supposed to swallow the slur of thief for the privilege of carrying a better spear against the raugs, in addition to the slights he had already borne?  Other Dwarves were coming in, some armed and some not; all he had for support was Halpan, who had ambled up, still sleep-tousled.

The smile vanished.  "We must hope so," Rekk replied dryly, cocking a sardonic brow, and continued on to the head of the table.

Halpan cast a cold glance on him as he passed, following after Rekk.

The morning went on as it begun.  Halpan added disdain to his resentment, companioning the Dwarves and speaking to him only when necessary.  Aniel was deeply troubled by the hostility between them, but there was little opportunity for explanation with the three of them penned together, and naturally the huntsman inclined to the man he had known since they were children rather than the stranger.  Indeed, he was more a stranger to them than some of the Dwarves, whom they had known for near a year.

If the purpose of the Dwarves' kindness had been to turn the hearts of this remnant of the folk of Srathen Brethil from their own kin and kind, they must be content.  Though Dírmaen did not think they would profit much by it.  Withdrawing a ways, feeling his fellow Men's unwelcome, he could hear their shared murmurs of awe whispering off the high roof above.  Charmed as children, they did not look beyond the wonder to the strength that had made this hall and however much more might be delved beyond it, the unplumbed resource and secret schemes of Dwarves.

"Do you intend to whet that blade to a bodkin," a droll dwarven voice asked, "or would you welcome the diversion of tafl?"

Looking up from his seat on the floor beside his pack, Dírmaen found Oski standing beside him.  "Of what?" he asked.

"Tafl.  You do not know it?"  The golden-bearded Dwarf opened the long box he held, displaying two miniature armies, one of carnelian and the other of jet.  "I have been told it is a Men's game."

"Not by that name."  Watching to see that he did not offend, he reached out and removed one of the black horsemen.  The horse's mane seemed to whip in the wind, and he could see the stipple of hauberk-rings on the rider.  "Yes," he answered, lightly rubbing a finger over the carving.  "I would like to play."  If only to handle the pieces.

It was more like throwboard than chess, but the differences deepened the diversion, and by dinner he had mastered the variations well enough to give Oski a good game.  This was a quieter meal, after breakfast's brusque chaff among those leaving to face the foe; eight fewer places set at the board.  Exactly when Rekk's company had departed, Dírmaen did not know: they had not gone out the way he and the other Men had come in, through the tall arch at the other end of the hall.  There was more than one door to this den.

Dírmaen did not attempt to rejoin his fellows, but left them to converse with Thyrnir over the ham pie and rarebit.  Veylin was deep in discussion with Vitr, and not long after folk began to rise from the board, Arðri, one of the first to leave, returned, bringing three troll-spears to the pair of them.  Veylin gestured to the empty end of the table, and coming down, Arðri laid them out.

The dull grey of the broad-bladed heads set off the fierce gleam of their keen edges, there in the lamplight, against the warm glow of the waxed cherrywood.  Dírmaen leaned over to inspect them more closely.  Few could rival Dwarves in the forging of steel, and the short shafts showed these had been made for their own use; dark stains on the wood, that they had been blooded.  There was no mistaking this for Elvish work: they were beautiful, but it was the austere beauty of pure intent.  These had been made to slay evil things, and every line and curve served that purpose.  Perhaps they were worth the price after all.

"Go on," Veylin invited him, limping down from the head of the table.  "Choose one, and tell us how you would like it shafted."

Though his hands craved to do as the Dwarf bid, Dírmaen shut them and shook his head.  "Let the others choose first," he said.  "I am used to getting good service from whatever weapon comes to hand."  A quirk of balance or line that might trouble the younger Men would vex him not at all.

After a hesitation, Halpan, who had followed Veylin down, stepped over and lifted them one by one, then walked out into the empty center of the hall to try a few thrusts.  Watching him, it was plain he had never speared anything shrewder than a boar; and when Aniel took his turn, though he handled the weapon with the skill to be expected in a good huntsman, it was much the same.

Sliding a glance to where Veylin sat on a bench pushed back against the base of a pillar, smoking, Dírmaen thought the dwarf-lord had rather a disenchanted look.  Meagvir had told him that Veylin was a veteran of the great war between the Dwarves and Orcs.  If so, he knew what battle was like, and that foes rarely charged headlong at one's face.  The raugs had certainly been cunning enough when Arathorn went against them with the sons of Elrond.

Dírmaen picked up the last spear and weighed it in his hands.  It was heavier than any he had held before, with the foreshaft and crossbar forged in one piece with the head; even so, it was butt-heavy, as if to keep the point up.  As it was meant for use against an enemy twice a Dwarf's height, that was entirely sensible.

Striding out onto the empty floor, Dírmaen turned it in his hands, trying to feel what it might be like on a much longer shaft.  On this one, it reversed nimbly for all its weight, but he could not get the extension he wanted on the thrust.  Looking over to where Halpan and Aniel were sorting through a bundle of ash staves for shafts that would suit them, he asked, "Do you have any that are longer?"

"Longer?" Vitr exclaimed, and the carpenter with the red-gold beard, Grani, stared at him.

"Another half a ranga."  Those they had brought out were not much taller than Halpan.  Dírmaen held the spear out full-length with one hand on the butt, steady and still.  "I think I can manage it on a shaft so long, but I cannot be sure without trying."

"You would keep your enemy that little further off?" Veylin rumbled.

"If I can."  If the Dwarf would disdain him for that, let him.  All who had battled these things remarked on their length of arm and terrible clutch.

"I will see what we have," Thyrnir offered, and strode briskly off.

They found a pair of stout seasoned ash staves they had meant for a ladder, and the Dwarves stared as he tried them.  They were wieldy; they took his weight without complaint; the reluctant curve in the darker was clean and true.  "This should serve, Master," Dírmaen said, as he handed it over to Vitr.

The ironmaster gazed up the stave, near twice his height.  "This I wish to see," he muttered, somewhere between incredulity and doubt.  Turning to Halpan and Aniel, he told them, "Tomorrow we will return these to you refitted, so you have time to become acquainted before your lives depend on them."

"Thank you, Master."  Halpan bowed his head courteously, passing his spear and chosen shaft to Vitnir.  "I have been wishing this since Rekk first let me handle one, on the verge of the fiend's tarn.  It will be good to stand there again, with such a weapon in my hand."

Fiends.  Now he even called the foe by the Dwarves' name.  Yet at least they had talked him into greater resolution.

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The next morning, most of the Dwarves lingered long over their coffee and pipes after breaking their fast.  Given that they were usually so brisk, getting about their work or onto the road, Dírmaen wondered at this—he began to think he understood them not at all—until the ironmasters appeared, carrying the newly shafted spears.

Halpan was given his first, with a bow, by Vitnir; and Aniel took his next, from the tawny-bearded Skani.  Both were prompt to praise the weapons, pronouncing them excellent almost as soon as they had hefted them, and Veylin said some lordly things in return that put Dírmaen in mind of a retainer's oath-taking and soured his mood anew.  Had they all forgotten that the spears were merely hired, and cost them dear?

Not where he was concerned, it seemed.  Vitr did not bow when he handed him his long spear, and his deep-set eyes held a glint of challenge.  In equal silence, Dírmaen carried it out to where there was room to try it: thrust and swing, reverse and vault, at full reach and with his grip choked up on the wrist-thick shaft.

He walked back to Vitr, feeling the eyes of the Dwarves on him.  Nearly all had risen from their benches and come to stand around the end of the table, where they could see him clear.  They made no comment, murmured or otherwise; their expressions were inscrutable behind beard and pipe.  "A noble weapon," Dírmaen told the ironmaster, "but I have overreached myself.  Might you shorten it by half a span," he held up his spread hand, "and add two ounces to the butt?"

Vitr held up his own hand to gauge the distance, and nodded.  "Certainly.  I will have it to you by dinner."

"I am sorry," Dírmaen apologized, "to put you to the extra work."

"Nonsense," Vitr dismissed, with a scowl and shake of his head, then clouted his arm.  "I will not grudge such a trifle to make a better bane of our foes."

The Ranger looked down at where the Dwarf had struck him, then around at all those sober faces with their intent eyes.  No, they did not trust him, and perhaps even disliked him; yet they knew how to value things.  A better bane of their foes was apparently worth much, that they should bring him into their secret stronghold and set such a terrible weapon in his hands.  "A trifle?" he echoed, and looked up the long shaft, high over even his Dúnedain head.  "Ah, but you consider this—" Dírmaen cast his glance about "—a small place.  Let us hope your peculiar notions of size do not apply, when we make short work of the raugs in Srathen Brethil!"

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Pace: Dírmaen is using the ranga, or Númenorean yard (38 inches).

Coffee (Coffea arabica): some of Thorin's companions call for coffee when they first visit Bilbo in The Hobbit.  This tropical shrub could not grow in the Shire, and it seems likely that both coffee and the habit of drinking it reached the Shire through trade with the Dwarves.  That they had some connection to the part of the world where coffee originated can be seen in linguistic similarities between Khuzdul and the Semitic languages, and the Egyptian dwarf-god Bes.

Bodkin: a slender, pointed weapon such as a stiletto, or a similarly shaped tool for making holes in cloth.

Tafl: this is not a Khuzdul word, but Old Norse—the same language from which Tolkien took the names of the Dwarves.  Technically, this is hnefa-tafl ("King's Table"), a game of strategy where one side attacks, the other defends the king that tries to escape the board.  That it is in origin a Mannish game is clear from the objective: no Dwarf would consider escape from a defended stronghold a victory.  Many thanks to Gwynnyd for drawing my attention to the many different sorts of tafl!

Throwboard (tawlbyund or tawl bwrdd): a Welsh tafl game.

Carnelian: a reddish variety of chalcedony, a semi-precious stone well suited for fine carving.  Traditionally chessmen were red and black.

Rarebit: a savoury dish, consisting of melted cheese, mixed with seasonings such as mustard and ale, served on toast.

"the stave, near twice his height": while thrusting spears were usually around the height of the men who used them, Dírmaen is having them shaft this as if it were a pike, the pole arm preferred against cavalry.  These could reach lengths of twelve feet (more than a ranga longer still) among Scottish troops during the War of Independence.  Given that there have been no battles in Eriador involving massed cavalry since the fall of the North Kingdom, this suggests Dírmaen has seen service in the South . . . or has a taste for obscure weapons.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Adaneth

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/26/11

Original Post: 12/10/06

Go to Fair Folk and Foul overview


WARNING! Comments may contain spoilers for a chapter or story. Read with caution.

Fair Folk and Foul

Aganaphel - 24 Mar 07 - 1:49 PM

Ch. 13: Doubtful Friends

Excellent new chapters, Adaneth!

I have a bad feeling that the hunt will end badly for Haplan and Aniel. Only Dírmaen seems really up to the task. Please continue your wonderful story,

Cheers, Aganaphel

Fair Folk and Foul

Adaneth - 25 Mar 07 - 6:42 AM

Ch. 13: Doubtful Friends

I'm glad you're enjoying the ride, Aganaphel.

I have a bad feeling that the hunt will end badly for Haplan and Aniel. Only Dírmaen seems really up to the task.

What, you don't think 15 Dwarves can handle 5 Dunedain-slaying monsters without the help of a few long-legged striplings?  Wink



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Playlists Featuring the Story

The Dûnhebaid Cycle - 5 stories - Owner: 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.
Included because: Dûnhebaid II: Lindon puts the trespassers on notice, and tragedy is avenged.

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