6. Rivals in Affection
The good old rule
Sufficeth them, the simple plan
That they should take, who have the power,
And they should keep who can.
--William Wordsworth, "Rob Roy's Grave"
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"Elen sila lúmenn' omentielvo, Vingenáro," Veylin said civilly from the bench by the doorway, as the Noldo stepped out of Saelon's cave in his shirtsleeves. Indeed, there were still a few stars in the west, glittering bravely in the crisp clarity of the air.
It was worth the sleepless night, to see the quick-caught start from the towering Elf. Veylin had never succeeded in taking one by surprise in this way before, and supposed he never would again. Yet grave threats called for bold measures: patience alone was little use against those who might outwait the rocks themselves, if their will held, and this one had sought the secrets of the Dwarves since the days when three hundred leagues lay between the tower above them and the sea.
"Well met, Veylin!" Gwinnor replied heartily in the Common Speech, a smile gracing his smooth, pliant face as he bowed. "At your service, and your family's, as ever. I confess," he admitted, with a look of pleased astonishment, " that I told these folk I was anxious to see you, but there was no need for you to come in such haste!"
Now that the smoke could not give him away, Veylin took out his pipe and weed. His wits would need all the allies he could find: this was not one of those Elves whose mind had already gone West. "If you would come all this way to find me, at this season, you must be in dire straits indeed. Have you cracked a stone?" This was perilous ground, but having committed to attack, it would be folly to grow coy under that calculating gaze, keen as the finest steel, and betray what he would defend through his own silence.
Gwinnor laughed, a glad sound in the grey dawn. "Do you have some good ones on offer?"
"When have I not?"
"The ondolaurëa you sold me four years ago was gravely flawed."
"And you did not see as much when you handled it?" Striking sparks, iron on flint, he puffed his pipe to life. "I have some smaller ones, without flaws, if they would suit."
"In truth, I would be more interested in wine-stones, should you have any the shade of a fine Anfalas red."
Was that a shot at a venture, or had he already prospected these lands? So adept a mírdan could not but see how favorable the schists hereabout were for garnets. "Ah, you ought to have come to me in Sulûnduban this winter. I had a score, well-matched in size and color, but Andvari got them. He may be willing to sell."
"You would have me turn around and ride back south in hopes that he has not already?" Gwinnor's gaze was vaguely reproachful. "Have some mercy on my steed, if not on me."
Veylin chuffed under his breath at such dramatics, and immediately regretted it. Their sparring might be an amusing diversion to the Noldo, but he was in earnest . . . a serious handicap.
Would that it was only garnets at stake, so he could play the ancient game with a lighter touch, but having this shrewd creature within two leagues of his opal vein both fired and froze Veylin's blood. The halls were safe, shut and locked against his kind, even if he found the doors; yet the dykes that gave the precious stone were defended only by surging waves—and Elves were not daunted by the sea. If this immortal huntsman of gems suspected that rich treasure was the reason why the Dwarf dared the Lord of Waters and Lindon's displeasure, he would search it out with passionate zest.
The underlying humor left that strong-faceted face, and Veylin braced himself for the start of hard bargaining, meeting Gwinnor's eyes with defiant mildness. Now, when it was just the two of them, Dwarf and Elf, with no Men to muddy matters, he would learn how jealously Lindon meant to guard its claims.
"I was grieved to hear of Thekk's death," Gwinnor offered, with every sign of sincerity.
The Elf had wrong-footed him, revenge for his ambuscade. "His taste in stones was always nearer yours," Veylin observed, to fill the poignant silence with something safe, resisting the urge to occupy his hands with his blackthorn. Gwinnor had not looked at the stick since that first startled, devouring glance. Ardently as Veylin desired advantage over this cunning rival, he would not play for pity.
"A good thing, that."
They were smiling on each other when Gwinnor glanced sharply back over his shoulder. "Fair morning, Hanadan," he called, his smile softening, "and Guaire, is it not?"
Craning to peer past the Elf, Veylin saw two boys lurking beyond the rowan that grew between the cave and the hall door, its bare limbs providing poor cover at this season. Having been stalked by the Dúnedain lad himself, he was not surprised when the rascal stepped forward and pertly piped, "Mae govannen, Gwinnor. Good morning, Master Veylin." He stared at the Elf with frank curiosity, even as he drove an elbow into his companion's side. "Greet them," Hanadan urged in low hiss.
Guaire, clearly one of Maelchon's great brood with his black thatch of hair, already sturdier than the Dúnedain child, stammered, "M-morning."
Gwinnor laughed, but kindly. "So many visitors," he exclaimed with an air of amazement, "and day barely broken. What can I do for you fine fellows?"
"Rian says," Hanadan declared, with a frown of skepticism, "that you knew Finrod, friend of Men."
"That is true," the Elf assured him.
"And Beren?" Guaire asked, only to look shocked by his own boldness.
"I met Beren, yes."
Veylin frowned at the admiring awe on the boys' faces. Would that it were only the children of Men who were so enthralled by Elves. "Hanadan," he asked, to break the spell, "would you do me a kindness?"
"Of course, Master."
"Will you carry word of my arrival to your Lady, then run up to the tower to fetch my prentice and our ponies down?"
Gwinnor looked back to him as the lads pelted off on their errand, seemingly as eager to flee the Elf as they had been to gaze on him. "You left him on that height half the night, Veylin, chill and cheerless?"
It had not been so long. They had not departed Gunduzahar until after the middle of the night, Saelon's message having destroyed any chance that he might sleep. Yet if the Elf was fishing for clues to the whereabouts of his hall, he would not rise to the hook. "Though little is left, the ruin is still well worth study."
"Belegost work, is it not?"
"You would know better than I." That was bitter to confess. So little survived of the craft of those great masons: Belegost itself lost, and most of their other works perished in the drowning of Beleriand. Yet Gwinnor had dwelt in Nargothrond . . . and doubtless vexed his ancestors as he vexed him now. Veylin counseled himself to endurance.
"It is not the one with the sable beard, is it? I doubt he would appreciate good stonework."
"Arðri or Vestri?" Both had been black-haired, and accompanied him to Lindon.
"Whichever one wears a cream-colored hood, and favors silver—really, not the best taste, Veylin."
Perhaps not, but less offensive than speaking ill of the dead. "That was Arðri. No, he was slain by a fiend." Let Gwinnor understand what had already been paid for their presence here. "As was Vestri."
That put a stop to the Elf's determinedly cheerful chatter and stripped the blithe mask from his face. After a little while, with a more fitting gravity, he acknowledged, "You have done us all a great service by destroying the foul creatures."
Veylin bowed his head and looked past him. Saelon was approaching, with the Ranger in her train. "We could not have done it without the aid of the Men of Srathen Brethil, and Dírmaen."
"Master Veylin," Saelon exclaimed, looking uncertainly between him and Gwinnor, "welcome!" She appeared astonished, even alarmed, but was shrewd enough not to blurt her questions out before the Elf. Unlike Gwinnor, she was not shy of considering his game leg. "Have you no companions this morning?"
Did she think he had walked here? Veylin stifled a smile. "Thyrð is tending our ponies, Lady. I have asked Hanadan to help him. I did not wish to disturb anyone, at so early an hour, with unexpected hooves." Dírmaen, as befitted the chief guard of these people, was frowning on him—if a Dwarf could creep up on an Elf, what chance would the Ranger have, should it come to the test? Yet the look Dírmaen gave Gwinnor was little easier. There was something reassuring in that.
Side-by-side with the Noldo, Saelon's falcon gaze seemed a slight thing. "You and Thyrð will join us to break your fast, I hope."
"Gladly, Lady." Taking up his stick, Veylin rose as smoothly as he could, his knee having stiffened during his chill, still vigil at the Elf's threshold. The warmth of the hall and a piping dish of pottage would be very welcome . . . and he would like to see how her folk were bearing up under Gwinnor's formidable presence. Though protecting the opals was nearest his heart, he would also mislike losing his neighbors, especially when they were just beginning to repay the pains he had taken to help establish them.
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"He asked after you," Saelon said, "almost as soon as we met." Turning her gaze from the plain below, where the little troop of riders cantered towards the northern headland, she considered his troubled scowl. "He is not your friend?"
Veylin snorted. "No." He stood by the edge of the cliff-shelf, hands clenched on the head of his blackthorn, and watched them go: Gwinnor and Halpan, Dírmaen and Gaernath. There were only two paths for beasts out of this cliff-backed crescent of land, and they were taking the northern ford, the straightest way to the opal vein. He told himself it was mere chance; that Halpan, in the lead, did not know where the dykes lay—or, likely, even what a dyke was—but it did not ease his mind. "What is the purpose of this ride they are taking?"
Saelon sighed and sat down on the slab of cliff-fall, folding her hands together in the lap of her brown woolen skirts. "For Gwinnor to see the state of the land. I have asked him to consider Maelchon's hope, that we might pay Círdan some manner of ground-rent."
That was a fair proposal. She had never disputed Lindon's claim, and Veylin had not seen any sign that the Elves used the land much themselves. Why should they not wish to get some profit from it? "How did he receive your offer?" Whatever Lindon required could not be traded with his folk, but so long as the rent was equitable, it was better to have things settled. He would rather be sure of less than hope in vain for more.
And the sooner the matter was settled, the sooner Gwinnor would be away south again.
"He is turning it over in his mind. It will depend, he says, on how we have used the land already. They would not want indifferent or rapacious tenants."
Veylin chuffed. He had seen many settlements of Men, often little better than the sties where they kept their pigs—when they bothered to pen the filth-loving beasts. Saelon's folk were neat-handed and thrifty, and not merely due of poverty; such habits were not learned in a season. Staring down at their field, the plough lying idle mid-furrow where the Elf had interrupted the work, he reflected for the first time that perhaps their Chieftain had more practical reasons for wishing them back in his fold. Meeting them in a time of desperation, Veylin had not reckoned on what Srathen Brethil must have put in their lord's purse. "What more need he see than this?" His gesture took in the newly planted gardens on the cliff-shelf as well as the arable below.
The curt dismissal eased the worry on Saelon's face enough for her to favor him with a diffidently arched brow. "The oakwood, where we have cut timber."
"The oakwood does not lie in that direction." His folk had felled trees as well, and why should they not? They had taken such timber as they required from the forests at the mountains' feet since their Fathers woke here, before Elves came into these lands. If Gwinnor would not acknowledge as much, their dealings would swiftly become rancorous.
It was as well that Nordri had not begun quarrying the far cliff.
"No," Saelon agreed, "but there is also the matter of game. We have made heavy inroads there."
This was too much. "They lay claim to the deer and fowl, that come and go like the wind and rain?"
"You once asked what they do with the land, that we injure them," she reminded him, pulling her shawl more closely about her and growing austere. "These are their hunting grounds and salmon streams. Elves do not plough, no more than Dwarves; the wild beasts are their herds and flocks. We have slain and eaten them, and our cattle take their pasturage."
"Saelon," Veylin rumbled, displeased by her tone. It was good that he had remained standing, so he could meet those stern, sea-colored eyes levelly. When it came to debt, she was as stiff-necked as any Dwarf . . . only recklessly prone to over-pay, to preserve her threadbare nobility. "Do not speak so, as if you and your folk were beggars or thieves, who should be grateful for any clemency. How much use would Lindon have gotten from these lands if the fiends had been left to multiply? They have gotten off cheaply, and they know it."
"Gwinnor allowed as much this morning," he declared, with fierce satisfaction, "so there is no need for you to grow so grim. It is a common stratagem, in negotiations of lordship, to daunt by the appearance of wealth and an assured manner. Those who think they cannot succeed often surrender ground that would be hard to win through honest bargaining."
She frowned at this. "He is a High Elf, is he not?"
"High? Aye, he is tall enough," Veylin scoffed. "Or you might say Golodh, a Deep Elf, as their less friendly kin do. Should I have put on my finery before I came, as I did for the sons of Elrond," he asked, fighting peevishness, "so you would value us in proper proportion?" As if he wished to rouse Gwinnor's passion for fine stones and set him to thinking on the wealth of Dwarves.
Still, that got a short laugh from her, a welcome sign of relenting. "Would you not have to deck your pony in jewels to match him?"
"If that is what it will take for you to esteem him no more than you should, it can be arranged. Truly, Saelon," he said, sobering from such wry levity as he could muster, "he does not deserve such deference as you Men give him. His experience is deep, yes, and he is subtle, very subtle, beneath that trifling manner he affects. Like most Noldor, he plays with words as he might juggle knives. Do not take him lightly, but do not fear him overmuch, either. I have always found him fair-minded."
Her frown was back, but it had turned to thoughtfulness. "Have you known him long?"
"Since I was a prentice." After consideration—for all he knew, Gwinnor had declared as much himself—Veylin told her, "He is a gemsmith."
Seeing the change in her expression, he knew Gwinnor had not said. "Are you at risk as well?" she murmured, her lean face hawkish.
"How often must I tell you that I can fight my own battles with Elves?" Veylin growled, though his heart was warmed by her ready concern. "You have enough to do, defending your own interests from him. Gwinnor and I have fenced for half a century. It is a game with us."
She might not have the Noldo's advantages of age and birth, but she was shrewd enough to recognize a reply that was no answer. "As you wish," she said quietly, rising. "I am in your debt again, for your good counsel."
Cross-grained . . . . "Saelon, do not take it so."
"Why not?" she wanted to know, soft-spoken yet implacable, ominous as the rising tide. "If we are allies, I think I should consider my own interests touched by such a matter."
His own words. "Did you not tell me last spring that we were allies against fiends, not Elves?"
"Yes," she admitted, with the candor of strength. "Yet since then, whenever I am troubled by Elves, here you are."
It was true, and such an imbalance could not be stable, not with this uncompromising woman of Men. But how could it be redressed? Surely she saw the weakness of her position. Or did she not regard it? Mad; he was no young kinsman, to require rescuing. "Will you be content," he asked, altogether uncertain of her answer, "with the promise of word, if I find they press too close? And a favor I would ask? It is an inconvenient one," he assured her, trying for lightness and failing.
"What is it?" If nothing else, he had piqued her curiosity.
"Could you find room for two more guests?"
Saelon glanced from him to Thyrð, who sat a few paces off, waiting attendance with patient detachment. "You are staying?"
"If we may."
The look she gave him, under those slim dark brows, was not unlike one of Auð's alloys of long-suffering affection. "There will always be a place in this hall for you."
Who would have thought the gratitude of Men could be a burden? "Thank you," he muttered gruffly, and bowed for good measure.
"You are welcome," she replied, and went back to her work without answering his question about content.
Scowling, Veylin stumped over to the slab where Thyrð sat and thumped down beside him, rubbing his aching knee as he watched Saelon take up her spade and bend to digging in the half-finished garden. "Now," he muttered in Khuzdul, "you have truly seen the infamous Saelon of White Cliffs."
His nephew's face was suspiciously bland, though his words bordered on impudence. "I wonder that Rekk did not slay her at their first meeting."
That warranted a warning glare, but was true enough. Snorting, Veylin shook his head. "I feel caught between the wave and the wall. If only she will handle the Elf so!"
Thyrð considered him, head canted curiously. "You think she will not?"
Veylin drew a deep breath and let it out again in slow dissatisfaction. "I do not know. You have seen how scrupulous she is in matters of trade . . . even in favors," he grumbled. "She has always acknowledged Lindon's claims." If she were trying to reconcile herself to leaving the sea, little wonder his urgings made her contrary.
The youngster gazed down at the part-ploughed field, then back at Saelon, thrusting her rough wooden spade doggedly through the turf. "She is unaccountable indeed," he mused, "if she will plant where she does not hope to harvest."
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Elen sila lúmenn' omentielvo: Quenya, "May a star shine at the hour of our meeting." Dwarves usually learned the languages of their customers and were skillful speakers, readily adapting themselves to the style of their company (LotR, Appendix F.II), despite a marked accent.
Noldo: Quenya, the singular of Noldor, "the Wise."
Ondolaurëa: Quenya, "golden stone"; a word of my own invention for chrysoberyl, a yellow to greenish stone, harder than the other beryls.
Anfalas: a coastal fief of Gondor, west of Dol Amroth.
Mírdan: Sindarin, "jewel-smith."
Arable: land where crops are grown.
"Elves do not plough": there is no evidence in Tolkien's stories to support the position that Elves are what anthropologists call agriculturalists; that is, that they practice intensive farming (for which the diagnostic artifact is the plough). Nor is there evidence that they keep substantial herds of domesticated animals. These subsistence practices cannot be carried out in a forest environment: one must cut the trees to make fields, and the animals would prevent the natural regeneration of woodland by eating young trees. The descriptions Tolkien left us instead support the view that Elves were usually horticulturalists; that is, that they cultivated crops (including tree crops) in gardens or small fields, with hand tools like hoes. As an example, consider this description of the landscape just outside Nargothrond, one of the great elf-strongholds of the First Age: "The hoes unrecked in the fields were flung, and fallen ladders in the long grass lay of the lush orchards" (The Children of Hurin, p. 270). While horticulturalists keep some domestic animals, much of the animal protein their diet comes from hunting, and they often use other wild food resources such as nuts: an excellent reason to wander the wilder parts of the Shire in autumn, as Gildor Inglorion apparently does.
Golodh: a Sindarin term for a Noldo, but an unflattering one, since its root, gûl, "magic, long study," has been tainted by connotations of the black arts (HoME XI: The War of the Jewels, "Quendi and Eldar," Part C, p. 383–4).
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