The torch answered: Have I kindled a morning?
For again, this old world's end is the gate of a world fire-new, of your wild future, wild as a hawk's dream,
Ways hung on nothing, like stars, feet shaking earth off; that long way
Was a labor in a dream, will you wake now?
--Robinson Jeffers, "The Torch-bearers' Race"
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"You did not!" Halpan exclaimed, then remembered himself and cast a furtive glance around the dooryard before hissing, "How could you?"
Dírmaen bristled at the younger man's reproach, as he had not under Saelon and Veylin's mistrustful eyes. "He says he is on good terms with Lindon, and that he wishes you for neighbors. Why should you not ask him to speak on your behalf? Besides," he declared shortly, "he wished to do so."
That only deepened the cleft that had settled between Halpan's brows since yesterday. "I do not like this," he muttered. "None of it. Do you know why Gwinnor will not give us some decision?" he pressed. "If he says we must go, Saelon will go. We will never see him again—let her resent him."
Rather than Veylin, should he fail to win her heart's desire? "No, I do not understand why he has not simply ordered you off. Yet Elves are loathe to command Men." Dírmaen had always found that, and their strangely ambiguous counsel, singular, given their great store of wisdom . . . . Could it be that they knew the resentment of Men too well? A woman such as Saelon, telling the old tales by the hearth, might embitter generations.
Yet how would this ungenerous circumspection breed better feeling?
Halpan was opening his mouth to make some reply when Dírmaen saw Gwinnor coming down from the tower with long strides, and made a small, sharp gesture for silence. Even the Elf's slipping slides were poised, as if deliberate, to hasten his descent. He was alone; the Dwarf was not with him. Not that Veylin could have kept pace, even if his leg had been sound.
Turning with a frown to see what warranted such abruptness, Halpan drew a short breath at the sight of Gwinnor strolling along the cliff-shelf towards them and schooled his face to a proper expression for a host.
"Friends," the Elf greeted them, with one of his warmly courteous smiles, "do you know where I might find the Lady?"
Had Veylin won his approval? Halpan nodded westwards, eyeing him with uneasy curiosity. "On the shore."
"Indeed?" Gwinnor gazed down towards the dunes that hid the strand, very thoughtfully.
That did not look so favorable. "Where is Master Veylin?" Dírmaen asked.
"Hhm? Oh, up at the tower still," Gwinnor replied, flashing out a grin that made him look no older than Gaernath, "in a pet. He will be down in his own time, I am sure. Do either of you know," he asked, "of a token the good Dwarf has given the Lady? In Girithron? On the shore, as it happens."
"The shore?" Dírmaen echoed, incredulity flattening a pang of gall. Dwarves gave nothing without return. "Veylin does not go to the strand. No Dwarf does."
"It must have been when they were delving the hall," Halpan mused. "They were not here last Girithron. But I know of nothing save counsel that she has ever had from him, except the hall, though that can hardly be called a token." His mouth crooked in long-suffering fondness. "Saelon is more apt to give than to take."
"What of her dwarf-knife?"
Halpan shook his head. "That he gave her before even I came, in return for one she ruined burning raug-poison from his shoulder." Looking at Gwinnor, he asked hesitantly, "Have you quarreled with Veylin?"
"We do not," the Elf replied lightly, "see eye to eye. He told me to ask for this token. Apparently it is to put me in his way of thinking."
Dírmaen frowned in bafflement. He could not imagine any thing that would speak more forcefully than Saelon and Veylin. "Perhaps Rian might know? Or—here, Hanadan," he called. There the boy was over by the geese, barely far enough off for politeness, watching the Elf with lively attention. "Run down to the strand and tell the Lady she is wanted."
Having come closer, Hanadan glanced towards the shore, then offered, "I know what he gave her."
There was something uncertain in his voice. Surely he was not trying to get out of the errand? It was a far step, but he ran it several times each day in any case; and Saelon would not scathe the boy, as she might others, for calling her back so soon after she had reached her refuge.
"How would you know?" Halpan chaffed him, reaching out to good-naturedly scruff his already untidy hair.
"No one else would tell him where to find her," Hanadan asserted, pulling away from the indignity. "Veylin said it was a secret."
Gwinnor hunkered down and looked the child in the face. "Master Veylin told me of it himself," he assured him, then, in so good an imitation of the Dwarf's harsh grumble that even Dírmaen could not keep back a smile, "'Go and ask her for the token I gave her on the shore in Girithron.' It would be a shame to fetch her back for so small a thing, if you could tell what it is."
Hanadan giggled, then looked to Halpan and then Dírmaen. Seeing no disapproval, he ducked his head and kicked a tuft of grass with his muddy toes. "It is a rock."
"There are many kinds of rock," Gwinnor told him. "Can you describe it for me?"
"It is this kind of rock." Hanadan pointed at the cliff. "Would you like to see?"
"Please, if you know where to find it!"
As the boy pelted off towards the hall door, Gwinnor stood and cast a droll look on Dírmaen. "You need not fear that her favor has been bought by some great gift. Unless, of course, you consider the hall. This stone has little value save for building and sculpture."
Halpan frowned at Dírmaen with exasperation. "How many times must I tell you, Veylin has no improper influence on Saelon?"
Under the Elf's daunting eye, Dírmaen merely gave a wan smile of acknowledgment. His judgment had been humbled on that count; his judgment . . . and other things. The wrangle earlier had plainly shown that Saelon did not fall in readily with Veylin's wishes; indeed, he seemed chary of pressing her, at least when she was in so fell a mood. Yet the Dwarf's brusque bluntness had given her some relief in her distress, where his effort at complaisance had failed.
"Will she admit any influence?" Gwinnor grinned at Halpan. "I would pity you for having such self-willed kinswomen, save that they seem to serve you so well."
Halpan laughed wryly. "Few of our women are mild, it is true, but my cousin—as you know—has never feared to go her own way. She will listen to counsel, but that does not mean she will heed it."
"Not even that of the sea?"
The young Dúnadan stared at him, seemingly struck dumb. Dírmaen suddenly remembered him on his horse over his brother's grave in Srathen Brethil, crying out against Saelon's wisdom, cold and pitiless as the waves.
"That is how she explains herself, is it not?" Gwinnor encouraged.
"Begging your pardon—" Maelchon, who had been sitting on the bench by the door, fiddling about with a leaky pail and pretending not to attend to them, rose and came over, his usual bluff heartiness subdued by his awe of the Elf "—I should not speak, I am sure, but I could not help overhearing . . . and of course the lad," he glanced at Halpan with apologetic pity, "is loathe to speak. You will not, I hope, hold the Lady's sea-madness against her—or us." He smiled like an anxious hound. "She can not help herself, poor woman."
Gwinnor raked his gaze over the three of them: the big, half-bowing husbandman; Halpan, eyes cast down in shame; even Dírmaen could not bear that piercing glance. "Sea-madness?"
"Not," Maelchon hastened to assure him, "that she is not entirely sensible otherwise—"
"You think she is mad?" Gwinnor exclaimed, outraged. "Ai, little wonder that her brother set her to rule, if your wits are so lacking! Or that she prefers the company of Dwarves!" Hanadan, trotting from the hall, stopped in his tracks at the Elf's scathing tone, clutching whatever was in his hand more tightly. "Come, child," Gwinnor urged, voice a shade too tight for kindness, "help us settle this moil. Show us what can convince a Dwarf—" the emphasis he laid on the word sharpened the reproach "—that a fondness for the sea is sound judgment."
Hanadan came, reluctant now, but slowly opened his small fist around a rough chunk of pale stone . . . revealing something silver-grey embedded within. Dírmaen drew closer, to see it more clearly. "What is it?" He could not puzzle out the shape.
Gwinnor started to reach for it, then halted, and quietly asked the boy, "May I?" After a moment, the boy nodded, though mistrustfully, and the Elf took it, turning it delicately in his long fingers.
"Is it—a sea shell?" Halpan murmured, leaning in to stare.
"In stone?" Dírmaen frowned doubtfully.
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Saelon trudged through the dunes with her basket of winkles and dulse, and set off across the machair, heart still heavy but more nearly resigned. Whatever would come, she could bear it. Foolish, even silly, to grieve this way: no one was dying. At worst, she must go and see Srathen Brethil in spring, tender green on the birches instead of ice, and listen to the swift chatter of the burn over the ford near the hall. Staring at the early flowers peeping through the turf, she set her mind to the herbs she would not find, or rarely, across the mountains: linarich and carrageen, centaury and carran, lovage and stonecrop, henbane—
She started half out of her skin at Gwinnor's voice, and checked herself hard, ashamed to have been so lost in thought that she had not seen a great gaudy Elf coming across the grass. "Your pardon, Gwinnor," she said, forcing her voice to calmness and meeting his solemn blue-grey gaze with as much dignity as she could recover. "My mind was elsewhere. What brings you here?"
As if she could not guess. If the verdict had been favorable, there was no reason he could not have waited until she reached the hall, and given it before all her people.
Stretching out his hand, he opened it to reveal a broken piece of cliff-stone . . . with a shadow-shape trapped within. "What is this?"
How had he come by that? "A curiosity Veylin found as they delved the hall, and gave to me," she replied coolly, reining in resentment that he should handle her things without leave. What did it matter? She had told Veylin that if she must leave the sea, such reminders would be bitter things. "Surely you know better than I."
Gwinnor looked down on her with dissatisfaction. "Yes, I have seen such things before. Yet where they are found, there are usually many, not one alone, and I have seen no others in your cliffs. This is more than a curiosity—or so Veylin thinks."
Saelon shrugged. "I would not know."
"For your sake, Lady," Gwinnor sighed, irritated, "I hope you have not picked up the tiresome Dwarvish habit of reticence. It needs strength to play that to advantage, and you are standing on sand." He fixed his keen stare on her. "Does the sea speak to you?"
The dunes muted the comforting rumble of the breaking surf to a low mutter, barely to be heard above the wind. "Do I hear voices? No."
"I am not one of your clod-pated Firiath, who calls anything he does not understand lunacy," the Elf said shortly. "Sea-madness! Why do you suffer such contempt? Send them back to Srathen Brethil, where they belong!"
"Because they are all I have left of my kin, and I understand it no better than they!" she snapped. "How many times must I tell you, I will not relinquish my charge!"
"Even if it parts you from the sea?"
Gwinnor stared at the ancient, stone-cased shell in his hand. "I wish I might lay this before Círdan," he murmured, discontented. "My own understanding of the sea is not profound. Yet there is not time to consult him before you must plant—and," he added swiftly, as if to forestall her, "no good can come from deferring this further."
Saelon shifted the heavy basket to her other hip, wearied by the contention more than the day's strenuous work. "Then say what you would have us do." Yes; they must have some decision so they could carry on with their lives, the Dwarves as well as her folk: plowing and planting, bargaining and building . . . . "If we must go, say so, and we will go."
"And if I do not, you will remain, though you know we do not want you."
Closing her eyes, Saelon said flatly, "Tell me I must go." If he thought her bond with the sea no fancy, how could he expect her to sever it?
Silence. Which dragged on. Just as she was about to open her eyes again, the basket was lifted from her grasp. "You," Gwinnor declared, tucking the basket into the crook of his arm as she gave him a startled glare, "are either the shrewdest woman of Men I have ever known, or so nobly disinterested that your men might be forgiven for thinking you mad."
She set a fist on her empty hip. "Are we to go or not?"
"Is this how you got that lordly hall out of Veylin?" the Elf reflected, turning and walking slowly back across the machair. "By not asking for it?"
"Of course I did not ask for it." Was he toying with her still? Furious, she strode after him. "How could I ask for so great a thing?"
Gwinnor shook his head, as if in disbelief. "He owed you his life, Lady. You might have asked for his weight in gold thrice over, and he would have paid it."
"I did not save his life in hope of riches!"
She had caught up with him, and he looked at her sidelong. "No. And so you have gained what cannot be bought: the friendship of a great-hearted Dwarf. Who will undoubtedly," recovering his lightness of tone, "be wroth with me if I send you further off, and spoil whatever calculations he has made." Saelon halted, alarmed, but he shook his head as if in warning and kept walking. "Now, since I do not wish to be reproached by Finrod when I see him, and he—" Gwinnor glanced into her basket and snorted in soft scorn "—winkles the story out of me, let us make some calculations as well. What did you think you would give in rent?"
Though she had just caught up with him, she stopped again. "We might stay?"
He waited for her this time. "If you can make it worth Lindon's while, as well as Veylin's."
"You have seen all we have," Saelon said, trying to rally her stunned wits, afraid to believe him. He seemed changeable as the weather: cheering sun one moment, threatening clouds the next. "What would Lindon value?"
"Let us start with some conditions." The levity was gone. "Between your folk and the Dwarves, the land has been hard-used. No more than three-score Men are to house between the mountains and the sea."
That was more than twice their present numbers. Even if they prospered, it would be a generation before they had so many, and by then Halmir ought to have taken his father's place as lord of Srathen Brethil. "Very well."
"Each year, you are to take no more than a score of deer, and may fell only a single tree from the oakwood."
"One large tree? What of the smaller ones we use for hurdles and baskets?"
"Yes, one large tree," Gwinnor agreed. "But you would be wise to coppice those that will bear it well—hazel and alder, osier and sallow—for your smaller timber."
Saelon bowed her head in thanks for the advice. That was less harsh than it seemed, there being so plentiful a supply of driftwood; and they did not require wood for fuel. "We can manage that without hardship."
"And you must guard these lands against evil, whether the servants of the Enemy or fell creatures such as the raugs or outlaws of your own kind."
Gwinnor smiled at her prompt indignation. "I expect the Dwarves will remain useful allies in that regard until you have more men of your own. Little that troubles them roams long in the mountains."
Saelon smiled back, glad he recognized their worth but still uneasy on their account. "Since you know the Dwarves use the land as well, might I ask what agreement you have with them? I do not wish to quarrel with Veylin because my folk are being held accountable for what his have taken." She thought of Nordri and his wish to quarry from the cliff above.
"It is . . . complicated," Gwinnor told her, with a mild frown. "The Dwarves of the Blue Mountains have certain rights to wood and stone in the lands around their own that go back to the Elder Days, but Veylin appears to be pushing the bounds of those customs. He has promised, however, to come to Círdan this autumn and content him. I do not think," he said reassuringly, "that there will be grounds for confusion, unless your folk take up mining."
Nodding, Saelon began walking again. "Then what would you have for the right to plow and herd, hunt and fish and fowl, gather and build?"
The Elf's fair face grew cool as he considered, but after several strides he noted her anxiety and smiled again. "Do not fear, Lady; unlike Dwarves, we will not take the food from your mouths. What do you say to a half dozen hides from your kine, as many calfskins suitable for vellum, three woolfells, the fleeces from dozen wethers, the hides from half the deer you take, the hide of a boar with its tusks, two wolfskins, a dozen fox pelts, four woolsacks of down, and a tithe of all the herbs you gather that can be used to treat wounds or dye cloth?"
There were two fox pelts stretched to cure already; so many hides and so much wool from their stock would be a sore loss for the next year or two, until they built the herds up somewhat, especially since—she gazed mournfully at the tattered hem of her skirts—they were much in need of cloth and leather themselves. "I will need to take counsel with my menfolk, who provide most of what you ask, but I believe we can pay that. Would Círdan send someone to collect it, or would we need to bring it to the Havens?"
Gwinnor thought about this for several strides. "Let us say you will bring it to Mithlond by yáviérë each year. If that proves unsatisfactory, we can make other arrangements."
"Is the tenure to be at Círdan's pleasure, or for a set term?"
"If you find a way to offend Círdan, Lady," Gwinnor informed her forbiddingly, "you will not wish to be anywhere near the sea." At her look of trepidation, he laughed. "Never fear; the Shipwright is not easily offended, save by abusing one of his beloved ships. Do you sail?"
Saelon shook her head, eyeing him reproachfully. He would jest of such a thing? "I have never been on a boat." She had never even seen one before last spring, when Falathar came.
"Ah, then you will have to come to Mithlond yourself," he said, all warm courtesy once more. "You would like sailing, I think."
Frivolous creature. They had reached the foot of the track, and she had seen that most of the men were gathered near the top. The picture she and the Elf had given, as they walked back, could not have settled anyone's mind. "What proofs will there be of our agreement, Gwinnor, once I have secured my people's approval? I suppose Veylin and Dírmaen can witness it."
"Indeed," he agreed. "We will get friend Veylin to write it all down, so you have no doubts regarding the faithfulness of the account: one copy for you, and one for me to take back to Círdan." Gwinnor paused, and gazed down on the stone-set shell in his hand. "Lady, would you allow me to take this to Círdan as well?"
She frowned. What would the Lord of the Havens make of the battered, misshapen ghost of a shell in a rough lump of rock? "If you think so trifling a thing would interest him, very well. But please, take care of it and see that it finds its way safe home. I have a fondness for it, on account of the giver."
Gwinnor bowed. "If you do not come to Mithlond yourself, Lady, I will give it into Veylin's hands. He knows well how to carry such gems in safety."
"Tell me, Gwinnor," Saelon asked dryly, as they passed the rock at the turning, "how am I to take you seriously, when you sometimes say such errant nonsense?"
"Nonsense?" he protested, with a wounded expression. "Please, do not tell me that your rustic folk and Dwarves have spoilt your appreciation for a poetic turn of phrase, Lady. Surely Veylin has taught you the importance of recognizing gems in the rough."
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Carran (scurvy grass; Cochlearia officinalis): a shore plant rich in vitamin C, also used medicinally.
Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum): celery-like potherb and salad plant.
Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger): a member of the nightshade family with narcotic and sedative properties; a potent and dangerous medicinal plant.
Firiath: Sindarin, "Mortals, Men."
Coppice: cutting trees that regenerate quickly in such a way that they produce large numbers of suckers or shoots, which can be harvested for wood without killing the root system.
Sallow (Salix sp.): the shrubbier types of willow, for instance, the pussy-willow; these were also traditionally used for basketry.
Vellum: the skin of a calf, lamb, or kid, prepared as a surface for writing; vellum is finer than parchment, which could be made of the split hides of adult animals. It was also used for the book covers.
Yáviérë: Quenya, "Autumn-day"; the extra day inserted between September and October in the Steward's Reckoning. This is very close to Michaelmas (September 29th), a traditional quarter-day, when rents were due.
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.