1. Chapter 1
Since the age of eight, I had been apprenticed to the Weaver, and I had lived in her house in the third circle of Minas Tirith. My real parents were farmers, country people—I don't remember from where, but I think we came from north of the city. There were happy years, years of plenty, when the crop was good and our tables were laden—but then the Dark Years came. My father had never neglected the offering of the first fruits to Illuvatar, but drought and blight struck his crops nonetheless. Finally, cursing his fate and the land that had betrayed him, Father led us all from the farm to the city.
I barely remember coming to the Weaver's house for the first time. I had little comprehension of what was happening, even as my parents begged the Weaver to take me on as apprentice. "See her hands," my mother pleaded, desperation in her voice. "Long fingers, skilled ones. She will work hard for you."
The Weaver wrinkled her sharp nose as if the smell of dung still clung to us. "I do not give gold for apprentices, and especially not for farmers' brats." I hugged close to my father at hearing that. I might not have understood what was happening, but I did understand that this old woman did not like me.
"Enough of your stubborn pride," my father said sharply. "Our family is one of landowners, not hired pig herders. And every one in the city knows you are without husband or child. You need our daughter."
Finally, the deal was closed, I suppose. My final memory of my mother was of her leaning close to me, telling me that I must be a good girl and not cry, before she kissed me and turned away with tears in her eyes. My father had his back turned to me the whole time. Before I knew what was happening, they walked out of the house, and I was left alone with the Weaver.
For eight years I lived this way, without mother or father or anything to call my own. I learned to hold back my tears, to be cold and strong as the stones of the city, my new home. Crying brought only beatings, so I often lay awake at nights in my little attic room with a sharp pain in my heart. Curled up on my pallet, I would stare at the moon and stars through the gaping holes of the roof tiles. I would hope with the faith of my childish heart that perhaps my parents were coming back for me tomorrow. As I grew older, I realized how silly my dreams were, but I never cried. A child who cannot cry is a terrible thing; yet I did not shed a tear from the time I was eight to the time...but I will come to that later. That is also part of my story.
At any rate, on my way to the well that day, I saw many of the people I knew. Every circle of the city had its own well, fed from the waters of the mountains. The pipes, which ran to the city from the deep mountain springs, had been laid centuries ago, in the days of the Kings. Carrying water was women's work, so the well was the gathering place of women and the best place to hear all the news of the neighborhood. The housewives and maids relished the rare chance to talk to one another, and if I ever heard gossip at the well, I could be sure it was at least mostly true.
As I dipped my stout oaken bucket into the stone trough, a familiar voice called my name. "Aelin! Aelin, foolish girl, haven't you heard?" It was my friend Lindë, a potter's apprentice who lived two doors from us. She bounded up to me, her unruly hair already escaping its braid, and grinned as she bent to fill her own bucket.
"What was I supposed to have heard, Lindë?" I asked, smiling at her. Round-cheeked Lindë always had some interesting bit of news to share, and she loved telling a new rumor almost as much as she loved hearing one. Physically, she and I were as different as night and day. My broomstick figure made hers seem even rounder, and where her hair was fair, mine was straight and dark. We might have seemed an unlikely pair, but as apprentices, we shared many of the same trials, and she was as close as I had ever come to having a real friend.
"Soldiers," the potter's apprentice simpered at me, sloshing water on my feet. I frowned at her; my shoes were light and hardly protected my feet from the damp. She misinterpreted my frown as a quizzical look and elaborated. "Many companies are coming into the city—and there isn't room for all of them in the barracks. They are going to quarter here in the third circle. In our houses."
"Soldiers? Here?" I felt slightly queasy at the thought. I'd walked enough in the streets of the city to know what soldiers could be like, and they were hardly the gallants of Lindë's daydreams. "You know, Lindë, that might not be a good thing."
She raised a blonde brow at me and grinned even wider. "How so? Handsome soldiers in our houses...handsome soldiers who'll carry us off to the country...how is that a bad thing?"
"Have you thought about why they're in the city? The Darkness is coming and everyone knows it," I pointed out. "The army has not moved so many men since the Weaver was a lass, and that's nearly an age of the Elves. You know how old Mistress is."
The other girl smiled weakly at my joke before looking fearfully towards the strange gloom in the east. "I am not so stupid, Aelin," she whispered. "I'm frightened too. This is my way of keeping hope alive. You understand."
"I do understand." I took her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. "Keep well, Lindë, and we will meet again tomorrow." We exchanged a sympathetic look before she headed in the direction of the Potter's house, buckets sloshing the whole time.
For once, Lindë wasn't exaggerating. As I returned to the Weaver's house, I was so lost in thought that I nearly collided with a strange man standing in the doorway. I took a few hasty steps back and glanced furtively at his clothing before setting the water buckets in the corner. A Captain of soldiers, he looked to be...and he was having a rather heated discussion with the Weaver.
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.