2. Chapter 2
Although my back was turned, I could picture the Weaver's disapproving scowls as she spoke sharply to the Captain. "My neighbors are also men. I ask you, how can soldiers lodge in a house with a lone woman and her apprentice? How can my Aelin keep her virtue with a band of young rowdies coming in drunk at all hours? I will not have it!" I felt great relief at hearing the Weaver use me as an excuse, but I knew she wasn't doing it out of the kindness of her heart. Her ability to make a prosperous marriage for me was directly linked to my reputation. No man would give a rich dowry for a woman known to be, let us say, somewhat less than pure. It wasn't only that the Weaver was greedy; every father or master in Gondor had a like interest in making a good marriage for the young girls dependent on him, and the Weaver was no different.
The Captain sighed heavily, his frustration evident, but he still spoke to the Weaver with as much patience and respect as if he were addressing his own mother. "I assure you, Madam, that my men will honor your house as if it were their own. They are country men, good men in their own way. Most are young. Many have just come from behind the plow. I give you my word that they will do you and your apprentice no harm."
I saw the familiar spark of greed glittering in the Weaver's eye. "If there is compensation involved..." At that moment, she must have glimpsed me trying to eavesdrop, for she whirled around and began to shout at me.
"Foolish girl! Don't stand about like a lazy wench, spying on your betters! You remember what I told you to do last night. To the weaving room with you, my girl." She would have chased me out of the room, had I not been prudent and left as fast as my feet would take me.
The Weaver often found fault with me, but there was only one thing in which she had never been able to fault me. She had never had to force me to the loom; I had a natural love for the craft. There were three great looms in the weaving room; I sat down at the smallest of the three and began to ply my shuttle, enjoying the feel of the soft wool in my fingers. I was already familiar with this loom, having woven several simple linen cloths on it in the past two years. This was my first attempt at working fine wool, and I hoped to have the length finished by Yuletide. The holidays were only a month away, but I was confident I would have it done by then.
I became so engrossed in my work that I did not notice the Weaver standing over me, until she coughed loudly. The old woman had always coughed, more or less, but of late her coughs had become disturbingly deep and hollow, and I had found flecks of pink on her handkerchiefs. At any rate, she might have been ill, but that made her no less exacting when it came to my work. She examined my cloth closely, then coughed again. "It will do, child," she said, more softly than was her wont. I knew then that I had earned her approval, for that comment was the closest the Weaver ever came to praising me.
I turned to face her, looking up into the flinty grey eyes. "What of your breakfast, mistress?" I asked, almost craftily. "Do you not wish me to prepare your porridge?"
The Weaver laughed, coming close to a coughing fit. "I see I have raised you well. Sly girl! I know what you want. You want to know what that Captain of Soldiers was all about. Well, my fine lass, you'll find out soon enough." With that cryptic remark, she stalked out of the weaving room, leaving me mystified and embarassed.
I had some idea of what the Captain wanted, but I wasn't entirely certain of it until I came home from some small errand to find our common room filled with men. They looked to be as the Captain had said, young farmers' sons, but I couldn't help fearing them. I had heard too many tales about what such men did when they found girls in dark alleys. I was too naive at the time to know that those horror stories were simply the Weaver's attempt to keep me away from boys who might get me into "trouble".
The Captain was addressing his men as I entered the house, and I couldn't help noticing the difference between him and the men he commanded. He was obviously of good breeding, a man of the city, and he gave orders as a matter of course, like a man used to being obeyed. His "soldiers", on the other hand, were little more than boys. My stomach turned with fear when I noticed that most of them were not much older than I. Had it really come to this? Was the Shadow grown so great that Gondor must call on such inexperienced youths? I quietly went to my little stool at the hearth and busied myself with some sewing, listening to what the Captain had to say.
"Listen, and listen well! We are guests in this house, and guests of this woman and her apprentice. Respect this house as if it were your own mother's. Treat the girl as though she were your sister." A few of the soldiers glanced at me with curiosity; I blushed and bent closer to my sewing. "If I hear a single word of complaint from either of them about any of you—well, I need only tell you that the punishment will be most severe."
"You are in the City now, and you shall conduct yourselves as men of the City. There will be no drunkenness and no fighting in the house. We will spend the better part of our days training, so you will have little time for mischief. I hope to make you into true men and good soldiers before winter is up. Gondor will have need of your strength ere long. See that you do not fail your native land!"
The Captain had more to say to his men, I think, but I never got to hear it. At that moment, the Weaver took me by the arm and dragged me into the kitchen.
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.