Quickies Qtr 2, 2003

Ranga of Wool, A

1. A Ranga of Wool

   
   
   
The squawk of birds told Adrahil he was in the wrong corner of the market. Stumbling over a pair of kirinki cages, he retreated down the street. His mother, who did the family’s shopping, gave him the directions to the wool merchant, but as usual he jumbled her instructions. Two streets west from the Guild of Venturers, then three south from that, or was it three streets west from the Guild and two south? His steps took him past stalls displaying fragrant woods and perfumes distilled from the blossoms of Hyarrostar, and metalwork from the foundries of Forostar. He paused among a rack of daggers, admiring the workmanship, but Ammê’s voice in the back of his mind hurried him along. You think I’ve got all day to wait while you dawdle about? Now mind you find the wool merchant and buy me the eight rangar I asked for. She’d go herself, he knew, but Adrahil’s youngest brother was ill with the croup and she didn’t trust his other brothers to look after him. Aglahad did the shopping with her sometimes, when he was on leave from his ship, but he’d been gone a full three months. “He should’ve had a good cloak ‘afore he went,” lamented Ammê, “but we didn’t have the coin then. A good, sturdy cloak to keep off the cold. It’ll be cold on the mainland, don’t you think?” “Well, ammê, it’s almost Erulaitalë,” said Adrahil. “I’m sure it’ll be quite warm.” “Oh, but at night he’ll want to sleep in it and nights on the ship are quite cold, he says.” His father was less sympathetic. “Stop your worrying, woman. That nûph of a boy had plenty of coin when he last took leave. If he’d wanted a good cloak, he ought have bought one then and not gone whoring off in some alley.” “He wanted a bow,” Adrahil said softly. And not just any bow, but one of the great steel bows carried by the men of the Ciryatur, the King’s Admiral. Before leaving, Aglahad unwrapped it and showed it to him. It stood almost as tall as Adrahil himself, and with it went a quiver of black-fletched arrows a full ell long. Adrahil couldn’t even pull the bowstring when he tried. “How will you shoot?” he asked, rubbing his arm where trying to pull the string strained his muscles. Aglahad chuckled and ruffled his younger brother’s hair. “Nârak let me practice with his bow. It’s not as good as this one, though.” Now Ammê wanted a cloak to keep her son warm while he sailed with the Ciryatur’s fleet to fight the enemy on the mainland. How she planned to get the finished article to him, Adrahil didn’t know. Supplies regularly went out from the port, but there was no reliable way of getting messages or goods to anyone in particular, and Adrahil’s father chided Ammê for her optimism, saying all that effort would probably end up on the shoulders of some stranger. Common sense did not, however, keep Ammê from pressing the four mirian into his hand and instructing him on exactly what sort of wool she wanted, making him repeat it back to her until she was satisfied he could manage on his own. Adrahil ambled along onto another street, where he heard vendors loudly hawking grain from Orrostar and wine pressed from the finest grapes of east Hyarnustar. He was higher in the city now, away from the smells of salt, sand and pitch that came from Rómenna’s great harbor; through a gap between buildings he could see the hazy outline of Tol Uinen. He’d been to the leather market with his father to buy shoes and once, while his grandmother was still alive, helped her carry a basket of fish back to the house; he still remembered the smell, which clung to his clothes and skin, but not the way he’d taken. He wanted to stop one of the vendors and ask for directions, but Ammê had warned him not to stop and talk to anybody else they’d try to wheedle him out of his coin. “You, lad!” cried a woman. “You’d like a taste of the finest yavannamírë from Eldanna, wouldn’t you?” Adrahil hadn’t the slightest idea where Eldanna was, but he liked the fruits and the way the juices dripped down his chin when he bit into one. Now don’t you go throwing your attû’s coin away on some foolishness, Ammê told him before shoving him out the door, and don’t you go wasting the day watching the jugglers, else you’ll forget why I sent you. “Uh, I-I’m looking for the wool market.” The woman’s double chin shook as she laughed. “Wool? What d’ya want wool for at Erulaitalë, silly mîk?” “It’s for my mother.” Rolling her eyes, she waved him back the way he’d come. “Four streets up from the Venturer’s Guild. Come along now, eh, and try a bit of fruit. We’ve plums and pears from—” Sputtering his thanks, Adrahil ran back down the street, counting the ways. He passed a performer in blue and red motley who was juggling flaming knives (oh, I’d love to stay and watch that) on a corner before his aching legs and a stitch in his side forced him to slow his pace. He was near the leather market now; he could see hides, belts and straps hanging from the stalls, and could smell the tannin used to cure them. “Want a pair of sandals, lad?” wheedled an old man. “Such a sturdy lad, you’re already outgrowing those.” “Wool…market,” he gasped. The man motioned down the street and turned his attention toward a more promising customer. * * * “Ooh! Is that you, Adrahil?” giggled a voice. Adrahil felt a flush creep across his face even before his brain told him who the voice belonged to. “Inzil?” he choked. The girl winked at him, shifting her weight from one hip to another under a basketful of colorful silken squares. “What’re you doing here, Adra?” she asked shyly. He could barely meet her eyes, framed by two glossy black braids (she’s so pretty), and looked at the ground instead. “Um, I’m looking, um, for wool.” “What’s that? Oh, speak up, silly nûph, I can’t hear you.” His embarrassment was suddenly replaced by indignation. “Who’re you calling a nûph, you—you mîth!Mîth? Is that the best you can do, Adra?” She was laughing at him, and he hated it when girls laughed like that, like they were so much better than boys, but her cheeks were so rosy when she did it and her eyes sparkled. If only she could be laughing at something or someone other than him. “No,” he grumbled. Aglahad had, in fact, taught him a number of off-color phrases he’d learned aboard the Azarbêth, but Adrahil didn’t think he ought to say them to Inzil. “So what’re you looking for, Adra?” “Wool,” he grumbled. “Where’s your ammê?” “At home looking after Nâlo.” “Why do you need wool?” Were all girls this nosy? he wondered. “Ammê wants to make a cloak for Aglahad. She says he’ll be cold on the mainland without one.” “Well, we’ve got wool at our stall.” Inzil edged closer (she smells so nice) and gently but persistently tugged him away from the bolts of cloth he was looking at. He avoided the annoyed gaze of the wool vendor, who’d been watching him with skeptical eyes ever since he approached; her look said a sixteen-year-old boy hadn’t any business buying cloth and unless he had coin and unless his hands were clean he’d better not do too much touching. “At your stall?” He knew Inzil’s father worked in the customs house next to the warehouse in which his father worked, but he didn’t think the family had any other business. “Of course, silly mîk. My ammê sells cloth.” Hooking her arm under his, she pulled him along when he didn’t budge. “Oh, come along. You don’t want what they’ve got here.” “I’m not a mîk,” he grumbled halfheartedly. “Yes, you are,” she purred. “Now I have some pretty silk handkerchiefs here and we’ve some bright silks and cottons for Erulaitalë. You’ll be going to see the singers and jugglers, won’t you? Attû says some dancers are coming from Tol Eressëa. I’ve never seen Eldar before, have you?” Girls were as noisy as kirinki, he reflected. “Wool, I need wool,” he mumbled. Instead she poked him in the arm. “Oh, you’re no fun. What color wool do you want?” “Gray, ammê says it has to be gray.” “How boring! What about a nice blue or red?” No, he corrected, girls were noisy and silly. “He’s gone with the Ciryatur,” he explained, as if to his younger brothers. “They all wear gray. They can’t wear red or blue, or the enemy will see them.” She made a sniffing noise. “Wars are silly and stupid.” Even though Aglahad explained to him why the King was sending the fleet east, and why he had to go, to his surprise Adrahil agreed with her. He didn’t care what some Elf-king whose name he couldn’t even say was doing across the sea, or who he was fighting, as long as Aglahad came home safe and didn’t get hurt. Attû said the King would go up to the Meneltarma at Erulaitalë to ask the blessing of the Valar, but that didn’t mean Tar-Minastir would ask them to keep Aglahad and the other men safe. “Yes,” he murmured, “war is stupid.” As they reached the stall, Adrahil recognized Nithil, Inzil’s mother. “Now what are you doing in the cloth market, eh, lad?” she asked. “He wants wool, ammê,” answered Inzil. “He wants boring old gray.” “For my brother,” Adrahil added. “Which one?” laughed Nithil. “You’ve so many.” “Aglahad.” “Ah, the one on Azarbêth. Have you had news of him, then?” A week ago, his father reported that the enemy had withdrawn to the line of the Gwathló, but whether that was good news or ill Adrahil didn’t know. He didn’t even know that Gwathló was a river until his father barked at him to look it up on one of those maps they had in the customs house. He repeated the news for Nithil, at which she smiled. “I’m sure it’s good news. A great many ships went, not just from Rómenna, but from Andúnië, Nindamos and Eldalondë, too. Some of the merchant ships who’ve come in say they saw the fleet like a great cloud on the water, going east. And many ships means many, many men. Our King never does anything by halves, they say.” Inzil, meanwhile, laid aside her basket of handkerchiefs and was tugging down several bolts of gray cloth. “What kind did you want?” Adrahil gaped at the selection. He hadn’t known there were so many kinds of wool, nor so many different shades, some light, some dark. Closing his eyes, he recalled the answer Ammê told him to give. “It can’t be too thick or heavy, but snug enough for a cold night and light enough to wear by day. And it has to shed water better than it soaks it up.” “Did Dâirabêth make you memorize that?” Nithil sounded impressed. From under the pile she pulled a bolt of medium slate-gray wool. “This is just the thing for a mariner. Here, feel it. Very nice, eh?” A bit coarse on one side, the wool was softer on the other. “It comes from the pastures near Emerië,” said Nithil. “Very popular with the wives and mothers of the Venturer’s Guild. A few months ago we couldn’t keep it in stock, what with all the men going with the fleet. Why didn’t Dâirabêth come see me sooner?” “We didn’t have the coin then,” murmured Adrahil. The family wasn’t poor, but new clothes were an extravagance his father’s meager income in the warehouses couldn’t often afford. Nithil made no comment. Well, how much is your mother wanting?” “Eight rangar.” “And how much did Dâirabêth give you to spend?” “Four mirian.” “I’m sorry, but eight rangar comes to six mirian, lad.” Adrahil’s face fell in defeat. “But I—” He couldn’t very well go home without the wool and tell Ammê he couldn’t get it. She so wanted Aglahad to have his warm cloak, and so did Adrahil. “Four mirian will get you six rangar, lad. Do you want a moment to think about it?” As Nithil began to put away the other bolts of fabric, Inzil bent forward and whispered in Adrahil’s ear. “Don’t you know how to haggle, nûph? Four will get you seven rangar, and that’s enough for a man’s cloak.” He bit his underlip. “I am not a nûph.” “Yes, you are,” she said teasingly. “Now do you want the seven rangar or shall you go home with six?” Seven was better than nothing. He nodded dumbly and started to fish the silver coins from his pocket when a hand on his arm stopped him. “Well, I’ve got to pay you,” he said. “I’ll haggle,” replied Inzil, “but I want a kiss first, and then I’ll take the money.” A…kiss? Suddenly he was very much aware of her thigh pressing against his and the way she smelled, which wasn’t at all the way his mother smelled. It was something sweet and pungent and indefinable, that made him want to get closer and inhale more strongly. But she was Inzil, and she wouldn’t stop teasing him. She was watching him blush. Even though he avoided looking at her, he could feel her eyes on him. “Never kissed a girl?” she whispered. He looked straight ahead, at the other stalls, and didn’t answer. If only she would stop looking at him, if only he’d brought the right amount of money so he could just take the cloth and go. Yes, he wanted to kiss her, but not with her looking at him like that and not with her ammê standing just three feet away. “You are very silly,” she said at last. “I’m going to have to show you how to do it properly then.” He did look at her then, mouth agape. “You—you’ve done it?” He suddenly wanted to know who she’d done it with, because it wasn’t him. Giggling softly, she punched him in the arm. “Of course, silly, and no, I’ll never tell you who. Now give me the coin and I’ll get you the wool, and then we’ll go someplace and you keep your part of the bargain, eh?” Nithil raised an eyebrow when her daughter came back and began haggling for Adrahil, but relented and began cutting the cloth. “Seven rangar it is, lad, because my girl likes you and because it’s for your brother that’s with the Ciryatur’s fleet. We try to do our best by the King’s men.” He gave her the coins and took the heavy, paper-wrapped package she gave him to carry. “Now you tell your ammê I have patterns for sale if she wants them.” Inzil tugged him along, telling her mother Adrahil had twice gotten lost on his way to the cloth market and wouldn’t be able to find his way back home if she didn’t show him. She picked up the basket of silks. “And I’ve still customers who’re wanting kerchiefs for Erulaitalë. Here, I’ve five canath for you.” Nithil fisted the copper coins and watched her daughter go, admonishing her to behave herself. “Of course I’m not going to behave myself,” she laughed softly once she and Adrahil were out of earshot. “And neither are you, mîk.” “I’m not a mîk,” he grumbled, with even less conviction than all the previous times. She paused, seized his arms and pulled him into an alley behind a cobbler’s stall. “Why don’t you show me, then?” Before he could protest, she pushed him up against the wall, tangled her hands in his hair and pulled his head down so his lips were touching hers. “I—oof!” The package dropped from his hands and landed between them as he clung to her. “Inzil, I—” “Oh,” she purred, “did you expect to get away from me with just a sisterly peck on the cheek? Now why don’t you use your tongue for something other than talking?” “We shouldn’t--” He’d heard his father say as much to Aglahad, telling him he didn’t want trouble on account of some girl and her big belly. “Of course we should, silly. What do you think men and maids do together?” “But we’ll get in trouble and you’ll get—” “With child? From kissing?” She laughed into the kiss she planted on the side of his mouth. “Oh, silly mîk, you don’t know anything, do you? You can’t get with child just from kissing, and a maid can keep from getting with child altogether if she knows how.” More than ever, he wanted to know where she’d learned that and who she’d done it with. He didn’t understand why he should be so…. jealous? Yes, that was the word: jealous. “You’ve done it before.” “Once,” she admitted. “It was nobody you know.” He was at once jealous and curious. “Did—did you like it?” Now it was her turn to chew her lip. “He was seventeen and very pretty, and he said pretty things to me—not like you.” She gently punched his side. “Why don’t you ever say pretty things to me, Adra? I’d rather do it with you.” “You—you would?” “Of course, nûph. Now why don’t you say some nice things to me or maybe try kissing me again?” “Uh, I—” He really hadn’t any idea what men were supposed to say to maids to get them to like them and wished he’d asked Aglahad when he’d had the chance. “Your, uh, hair smells nice and you’re, uh, very soft to touch and—” “And you’re terrible at seduction, you know, Adra?” She leaned in and took his mouth, teasing his lips with her tongue, before he could protest. “Why don’t you try kissing me and see if you’re better at that, eh, mîk?” “How many times do I have to tell you?” he growled, kissing her back with a full mouth. Ah, this is nice. “I am not a mîk?” * * * Notes: (All translated terms are in Adûnaic unless otherwise noted) 1. ammê: mother 2. Erulaitalë: the Númenorean midsummer festival 3. nûph: fool 4. Ciryatur: Although Tolkien refers to the leader of Tar-Minastir’s great navy as Ciryatur, this seems to me more of a title than an actual personal name. 5. mirian: a silver coin used as currency in Gondor. It is, however, entirely possible that mirian was used previously, in Númenor. Tolkien doesn’t say one way or the other. 6. attû: father 7. mîk; baby boy 8. mith: girl-child. 8. canath: a coin worth ¼ of a mirian. Tolkien doesn’t specify whether a canath is copper or silver; because it’s a lesser domination, I took the liberty of making it a copper piece.

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.

   
   
   

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Zimraphel

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/31/03

Original Post: 06/07/03

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