14. A New Road
The path of duty lies in what is near, and man seeks for it in what is remote.
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Regin sat back down, staring from under his ruddy brows. "You will not prospect this winter?"
Veylin chuffed. "The more chances I strive to make for prospecting, the fewer I get. Something is not propitious. On consideration, it will be better to go south and mine the admiration your regalia has wrought. There I know what I can justly take."
"True." Yet it seemed something rang false, for Regin regarded him with dissatisfaction. "The Spring is a good thought, but surely you do not mean to soak there in winter! Why not rest your leg until the roads are better—or, if we meet with the Shipwright at White Cliffs in Yavannië, there will be time to visit the Spring before the Council. More of the Broadbeams will see my regalia then, and you will have more commissions than you can easily fill."
"That is one of the reasons why I wish to go earlier. I lack prentices enough for the work I have, and there is little interest here."
Regin frowned. "Because Arðri and Vestri were slain?"
"I would prefer Firebeards myself, but would you allow your son to prentice himself to so perilous a master?"
"The fiends were a strange new evil. Such things are difficult to guard against."
Veylin smiled dryly. "If I had sons, I would not. Still, I need prentices, and their fate is less well known in Barazdush. Or perhaps I will find another Longbeard desperate enough to work for me!"
Now he was sure Regin thought he had drunk too much of Auð's strong spirits, for his king snorted in scornful dismissal. "Durin's sons know a profitable thing when they see it, and sometimes they are wiser than our folk. Name those you wish to take into your workshop, and I will speak on your behalf. That may tip the balance."
"Thank you," Veylin said, sincerely grateful, and considered. "Sterk spoke to me regarding Stigi before I first crossed the mountains, and Rekk tells me that Foss, Mosi's son, has a shrewd eye for a stone."
Regin nodded. "If I cannot get you one of them, you have leave to prospect in Barazdush this winter."
"If you do, I cannot?" Veylin asked, stabbed by dismay.
Now Regin looked on him like a father, levity replaced by disapproving suspicion. "There is more to this than you are saying, Veylin. Why would you forsake Gunduzahar and Sulûnduban for Barazdush—and do not try to sell me one of your profitable schemes! You always have two or three ready to hand."
He had drunk too much. "I do not wish to forsake Sulûnduban, my king—or Gunduzahar. I merely think it wise to go abroad for a time."
"Share this wisdom with me," Regin invited, gone cold, "for I do not see it."
Shifting in his chair, Veylin regretted mentioning his plans, only resolved on this evening while he waited. More ill timing, Regin's flattering confidences calling forth his own. "It is a private matter . . . " and when that brought no clemency " . . . involving a woman . . . ."
"Veylin!" Regin exclaimed, sternness shattered by astonishment.
"No! No," Veylin repeated emphatically, finger raised in something dangerously near admonition.
Surely his king was not fighting to suppress a smile, though his eyes were suspiciously bright. "I think I am glad to hear it. You have gone too far, Veylin, and yet not far enough to reassure me. Would you earn this woman's favor, or avoid her?"
He could make this long, or he could make it short. "It is Sút, Sire."
If there had been mirth, this slew it. "Sút?" Regin repeated, scowling and brusque. "What new mischief is this?"
"Nothing new—nothing since what befell at Rough Beck—"
"Befell is the word, or so I hear."
"—but I would be certain of not seeing her for a time. We are expelling her from Gunduzahar's company and taking her share for repairs to the bridge."
"You would be fools if you did not. Do not tell me you fear to face her anger."
"No . . ." Veylin said slowly, seeking a creditable path through this mire. If he did fear, it was not her anger at being cast out of Gunduzahar. "I do not know that she is angry. We have not spoken since the day after she fell."
"Why then should you flee? If someone must leave to prevent your meeting, it should not be you."
"I—" Words failed him. For all her sins, he did not wish to have Sút driven out of the mansion. Then she would have nothing but whatever dark passions she carried in her heart; nothing left to lose. What might she not do then? Could that fail to stain the love between him and his sister? But neither would he use Auð to justify his behavior.
As he desperately rummaged for an honorable reply, Regin reached for the bottle and poured himself more spirit, gazing on Veylin with dreadful patience as he drank.
Perhaps it was the strong drink; perhaps it was the late hour, after a long and trying day . . . he could find no good answer. Was that not why he wished to go to Barazdush? Sút, too, had accused him of fleeing, and that was what this was—the hope of finding a solution elsewhere, as a gem might be found in fresh rock, or of time resolving the problem, one way or another. Now he saw that, like debt, trouble had only been put off and was coming due with interest. Why did he believe this deferment would improve matters?
Veylin sat, glumly resigned, awaiting Regin's just rebuke.
"It is not often," Regin said, turning his gaze to the liquor, admiring its color in the firelight, "that I have cause to find fault with you, and never before have I doubted your courage. Or is it only my kinswomen you find daunting? Last time it was Safna, was it not?"
"It was, Sire."
"Hm." Regin had Woken not thirty years before Veylin left for the Iron Hills, and was still becoming acquainted with his children's children then. Another half century had deepened his understanding considerably. "You profited much by your travels, to our people's benefit, but I cannot do without you for so long."
"However, since you obliged me tonight by entertaining Thorin, so my attention could be more gainfully bestowed elsewhere, I will make you an offer. Tell me, candidly, what is between you and Sút, and I will give you leave to go until spring."
So ore must feel, when it was tried. Veylin sighed. "Nothing save misunderstanding, on my oath."
"After I drew her from the stream and brought her to the Riven House for shelter, I learned that she desired to be my spouse; a desire I cannot share. From what was said, I believe she came to Gunduzahar to be near me and to jealously observe my relations with the Lady Saelon."
"Is the Lady so often in your halls? Is she?" Regin pressed, when his answer was not prompt.
Gunduzahar's reputation must suffer, or Sút's, and hers was already marred. "No, Sire. Saelon has passed the doors but thrice. Only two Men entered Gunduzahar this last year, and one of those a child, who brought us word of the brigands."
"Did I not hear you gave the Men a feast?"
"On the roof, yes. Not within."
"How then could Sút observe you with the Lady?"
Veylin hesitated, seeking fit words. "As you might guess, Sire."
Regin scowled. "I do not know why you think leaving would spare you, then."
"I do not believe she has ever been to Barazdush, or knows the way."
His king drained his cup with a grimace. "I should be glad the two of you did not wed! Your children would have been dragons!" He huffed, expression settling into something nearer what he wore in council. "You do not know if she is angry?"
"Our last words were cold, and we kept apart the rest of the way to Sulûnduban."
"Does she speak to Auð?"
"I do not ask."
Regin turned from him to the fire, and stared into its red depths. "Very well," he decided. "Go to Barazdush. I will expect you in the Spring, and we will meet the Shipwright at White Cliffs on our way to the West Council in the autumn, to settle the dispute about our bounds. Then Veylin," he told him sternly, "you must settle into some pattern that can be relied upon. At Gunduzahar if you wish, and if your leg will suffer the journey here often enough to do your duty by your sept, but no further. A chieftain is not a bachelor, free to follow his own desires, even if he has no wife."
Veylin bowed his head as Regin stood. "Thank you, Sire."
"At your service. Now, get you to bed, for I will need your wits tomorrow, when Hilmir protests the Longbeards' inroads on his people's trade with the Shire. I do not think their custom worth so much ill-feeling, but you have been in that land, have you not?"
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"Look!" Varði exclaimed in delight, crawling over to point at the tiles depicting an axe being tempered. "That is just the color the iron should be!"
"Of course it is," his mother said, but she was watching her elder son walk appraisingly around the sculpture of Azaghâl and Glaurung, wrought of gold and steel. "Do not dirty your good clothes on the floor."
Auð pressed her lips together, determined to say nothing. Perhaps Duna's floors were dirty, but they might have eaten their Yule feast from this one, instead of off the best plates laid on the table in the hall. Veylin had made a particular effort in his preparations, this being not only a holiday but the farewell feast for their Broadbeam guests and an offer of reconciliation to Vitnir.
A farewell feast for Veylin, too, since he would be leaving with Tregr and Brodi in two days.
"Very good, is it not?" Bakki, one of Tregr's ealdormen and Bersi's cousin, asked Vegr, joining him by the dragon's thrashing tail.
"I suppose," the lad replied, with the maddening diffidence of those approaching their twentieth year.
"Vegr!" the little one called, still admiring the mosaic's forging scene. "May I live here with you, when this is yours?"
Duna bustled over to Varði then, taking him by the arm and lifting him up. "Enough. We will go home now."
"Come, Duna," Veylin said affably, moving their way with a swiftness surprising in one so lame. Logi, Lof's son, came with a flagon at his gesture, bowing and offering to refill Duna's glass. "It is Yule. Do not hurry off when there is still so much wine to be drunk. You must harden the lad to long hours."
Auð stood near enough to see the suspicion in Duna's eyes, but aware of the august audience about them, Vitnir's spouse inclined her head. "True. A little more, if you please," she said to Logi.
Veylin gazed benevolently down on the boy. "You will live here sooner than that. Would you like to see your great-grandfather's forge?"
Such a fetching child, the close curls of his beard the same rich chestnut as his father's. "Yes, please!"
"Come, then," Veylin said, offering his hand. "I will show you where it is hidden. Will you come too, Vegr?"
Auð watched the three of them go, heart conflicted. So Veylin had been with her lads, a charming uncle, his kindliness but lightly burdened by the discipline that was a parent's duty. She should not be jealous for her sons' sake: they were too old for such simple pleasures, and Veylin's kindness to them was unfailing, though tempered in Thyrð's case by a master's demands. She found she was uneasy at the thought of Veylin, with his unsound leg, on the road without one of them, for Thyrð had remained in Gunduzahar and Thyrnir must go there soon to rejoin his master.
She always said she had gone to Gunduzahar to be with her boys, but the prospect of traveling there without the assurance of Veylin's company was disagreeable. Thyrnir had not his experience, and Rekk did not take so much care. What road would they take, with the bridge over Rough Beck down? What if brigands were abroad, as they were last year? The harvest had been poor in much of Eriador and doubtless—she could not help recalling the ragged Hanadan and his prodigious appetite—some Men had been driven to desperation.
There was work enough to occupy her profitably if she remained here in Sulûnduban, Thjalfi having begged for two suits that would not be outshone by Veylin's, but she had not heard from nor seen Sút since their parting at her door, and that absence was a like a void behind a screen of stone, more haunting than the loss of Thekk. His spirit was safe in Mahal's keeping and his body at rest in Gunduzahar, but Auð would have welcomed sure word of her friend's fate. The nearest she could come was an elderly third cousin who left food at Sút's door and shook her head, dismally mute, when questioned, no matter what was asked.
At least she ate. But breathing alone was not life.
Auð forced her mind from such morbid reflections. Gunduzahar: should she return there? The company would be dull without Veylin and Sút, though Hlin was some consolation. Grimr's admiration was not unpleasant. If she went, she was not likely to see Veylin again until after Midsummer, since he would come here first for the Spring council. But if she did not go, would he feel she had taken a distaste to the delf he had fitted out especially to please her?
He had not asked whether she would stay or go. That too brought her pain, his reserve so like his foolish guilt over Thekk's death. Only the death of the fiends had laid that—but what resolution could they hope for here, where vengeance was not called for?
"I hope you will be glad to see us in Thrir's Hall," Vitnir said quietly, startling her from her unpleasant reverie.
"Of course!" Auð answered, heartfelt, for unlike her brother, she had always liked their cousins. "Father would have been grieved to see it so dark and quiet, and Mother too. It is only right that your boys should grow up here, so they love the place as much as we do." The outer limbs, at least; Veylin had reserved the family suite, the somewhat shabby heart of the hall, for his private apartments. Auð was glad, for Duna, ever eager to impress, would surely have swept away the venerable furnishings.
"I hope it is not too late for Vegr," Vitnir muttered, mouth set in dissatisfaction.
Auð chuckled. "Boys are like that, at his age. Did I not have two of them, and a younger brother? They ache for meaningful work and we will not trust them with it, so they smoulder. When you give him more fuel, he will flare up again."
From the lad's livelier expression when Veylin brought them back out to the gallery, the smithy of his father's fathers may have already fed the fire somewhat. No doubt that had been Veylin's intent, but after Vitnir and Duna took their leave and the Broadbeams made their merry way towards their beds, Auð drew her brother away from Nordri and Skaði. "Shall I say my farewells now, or might you have time to dine with me before you go? You would be welcome at any meal."
Veylin leaned in to kiss her cheek. "I would like that, but I cannot abandon my guests. Would you come to breakfast the morning we depart? It will be very early," he warned.
She smiled, hoping her regret did not show through. "I would rather take leave now, when I have you to myself. You will be troubled by ponies and the baggage, and Foss has not yet learned how you like things."
"He will have learned by the time we get to Barazdush," Veylin assured her.
"The new coat fits?" He had grown stout enough that his old ones no longer did.
With a shuffle and cough, he muttered, "It is huge, Auð."
"I do not care how it looks," she replied tartly. "The shearling will keep you warm. Does it fit?"
"Yes." More a grumble than gratitude, but he would thank her if the snow grew deep.
"Is there anything else I can do for you? Before you leave, or after?"
"I would be grateful if you helped make Vitnir and his family comfortable here. They may do as they please with the old Warder's Wing. I have given Lof a purse they can draw on for refurbishing, but if Duna overreaches, speak to Vitnir. He will listen to you."
Was he assuming she would remain here? She could not restrain Duna from Gunduzahar. "If I can."
For a breath his eyes were searching; then he glanced away to the patch of floor where Varði had been enthralled. "I like the boys, especially the younger."
"Be more circumspect there," Auð advised. "Duna does not like it. She fears you will steal their hearts from her by cozening them."
Veylin arched one brow. "They belong to Thrir's Line, and she must remember that."
"As Thyrnir and Thyrð belong to Nidr's?" Auð observed, not without wryness. "I know you do not like her, but do not be unfeeling. You men take our boys from us soon enough, and she has no daughter to keep by her." Nor did she. Who would she pass her craft on to, the knowledge their mother had entrusted her with? To assume Thyrð or Thyrnir would wed a suitable woman was foolish. Perhaps she too should look about for prentices, now that the boys were grown. They would provide her with company, and occupation for mind as well as hands.
But would they come to Gunduzahar? Would their kin allow it?
"Thyrnir and Thyrð are not in Nidr's Line, and Thjalfi has given me leave to borrow them," Veylin came swiftly back, then sobered. "You cannot think I will neglect them. They are the sons of my heart."
Auð punched his arm, hard enough to rock him. "Fool! You cannot content everyone, however hard you try." Vitnir already begrudged the wealth that had gone into Gunduzahar, for her sons' sake, and as his sons grew older and began to look around for wives, they would begin to expect support.
"No. But I will try," he promised, rubbing where she had hit him.
Rolling her eyes, she kissed his cheek in return. "Take care, on the road. I will not be happy until I see you again."
"So you always say, and then you weary my ears with all the delights I have missed when I return. Away with you now," Veylin dismissed, waving her off. "I must speak to those two—" Nordri and Skaði, conversing quietly over the last of the wine "—before I seek my bed, and the nights grow shorter."
Only because this had been the longest night of the year; but she turned and walked away without demur, letting him have the last word. They understood one another well enough, deeper than any speech could ever tell. Whatever else Sút had ruined, this was unshaken, solid as the ancient rock beneath their feet. Wheresoever their tangled paths led, her brother would always be with her, in the secret chambers of her heart.
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Sire: a title of address used in the past for any lord, though now especially associated with kings; literally "father." Adaneth!Dwarves, you may have noted, although often punctilious about honorifics, rarely address each other by titles of rank. The purpose of such titles is to acknowledge and accentuate dominance, and since Dwarves "ill endure the domination of others" (The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"), everyday use would be apt to rouse resistance through irritation. How often did Thorin's companions use his title on their way to the Lonely Mountain? Veylin's repeated use here marks his abashed submission to Regin's authority.
"driven out of the mansion": Dwarves have, at least in the First Age, punished deviance with exile. "The great Dwarves despised the Petty-dwarves, who were (it is said) the descendants of Dwarves who had left or been driven out from the Communities, being deformed or undersized, or slothful and rebellious" (HoME XI: The War of the Jewels, "Quendi and Eldar," App. B. Elvish names for the Dwarves.). This makes sense in light of their (literally) patriarchal authority, the Fathers saying, in essence, "Not in my house!" Dwarves being so stiff-necked, if filial piety and peer pressure don't persuade them to behave, what else could you do except execute them, which smacks of kinslaying?
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