3. Chapter 3
As the weeks passed, the Weaver and I grew more and more accustomed to having the soldiers under our roof. I led a circumscribed existence now, spending most of my days in the weaving room and most of my nights in the kitchen. The Weaver would not permit me to sit in the common room and socialize with the men; as soon as the dishes were washed and the table cleaned, I had to retreat to my little garret.
However, the Weaver couldn't prevent me from hearing the men's talk as I served at table. I soon came to know them all: thin Arlos, with his dreams of being a scholar; Ward, older than the other men and wiser, who kept them all in line when the Captain was not around to do it; merry Gardel, round-faced and laughing, who loved a bawdy story. Even though I was not allowed to speak with or even
smile at them, I felt as if I knew them all.
However, I have to confess, of all the men who lodged in our house, I had one especial favorite. His name—I smile just to speak it—was Caran. He was tall, with a mop of red-gold hair, a face speckled by the sun, and strong teeth, which he always showed me in a courteous smile.
Even now, I am not certain why I was attracted to him. Perhaps it was his ready laugh, or the way he ate neatly, taking care not to slosh soup or drip grease on his tunic. But do you know, I think it was the way he spoke to me that made me like him most. No morning passed where he did not greet me with a kind "Good morrow," and he never left the supper table without saying, "Thank you, lady." The Powers know I was no lady, and never will be, but I was flattered nonetheless. Yes, it must have been his silver tongue that made me like him most.
One morning—it must have been about a week before Yuletide, for I remember my teeth chattering with the cold—Caran met me at the door as I went to fetch the water. I nodded at him before I turned to lift the heavy wooden yoke which held my water buckets. The very next second, I was startled nearly out of my wits to feel it beiing lifted off my shoulders! I spun around to find that Caran had removed it with his own strong hands. He grinned at me as mischieviously as a boy playing a prank, and before I could demand the buckets back, he was out the door and walking briskly down the cobbled street. What could I do? I followed him.
To my young, innocent mind, Caran seemed prodigiously strong. Why, he walked along whistling as if the heavy oaken buckets were hardly a burden at all! Just thinking about their leaden weight made my shoulders burn. I could have called his name, tried to make him give them back…but something in me wanted to see what he would do. I could not recall that he had ever been to the well we used, but he seemed to know the way quite well. It wasn’t until we reached it that he turned around to face me, the same crafty grin on his face.
“Lady, will you consent to let me fetch this water for you?” he asked, as gallantly as a knight asking a princess for her favor.
I stared dumbfounded at him for a few moments, then found my tongue. “What in the name of the One are you trying to do? This is my chore. You’ve no need to do this.”
“Ah, and are you so fond of carrying these two heavy buckets that you won’t let me do it, lady?” He raised his eyebrows at me, and something in his expression—I just had to smile back.
“If you are to fetch my water for me, you must give me my proper name.” I sat down on the tiled edge of the trough, and without asking, Caran sat beside me. It was impudent of him, but I had to admit, I liked it. I could feel the warmth of his body even through my thick woolen cloak. It was a most disconcerting sensation, and, I was startled to find, a most enjoyable one.
“And what fair name would that be?” The eyebrows again. How I did like his smile!
“Ahhhhh. Aelin.” He closed his eyes as if savoring the sound of my name. “Beautiful.” He jumped up and swept me a low bow. “And I, fair one, am Caran. And I will carry your water for you every day after this.” Dipping the buckets into the trough, he hooked them to the yoke, and we started for home, walking side by side.
In this way, Caran and I struck up a friendship. He was careful enough never to let the Weaver see him talking to me, but he often lingered by my side as I did some tedious chore, and we could make conversation like that. I told him what I remembered of my mother and father, and how I had been sold to the Weaver in a blighted season. In turn, he told me of his family, farmers from Lebennin-between-the-rivers. He told me also of his wandering feet, his thirst for adventure and how it had led him to enlist in the army. “Three years of drilling and marching, and it’s come to this finally,” he said, eyes dreamy with the promise of battle. “When spring comes, we will face the Enemy at last.”
I shuddered as I drew my needle through the sheet I was hemming. “Is that such a great thing, Caran? To know that you might die, and leave this world behind you so young?”
“I only wish that I may die a true man’s death.” He smiled at me, taking my hand and kissing it. “Though it would be painful to leave behind one so fair to mourn me.”
I blushed and snatched my hand away. “Is that all I am to you, one to be left behind?” I retorted. “You’d best get away, for I hear the Weaver’s footsteps.” With a disappointed look, he fled, leaving me to explain to the Weaver just why my stitches were all of different size.
I think the Captain suspected somewhat of our secret walks and talks, for he sometimes looked at me oddly, and once I spied him speaking to Caran in a low, serious voice. However, he said nothing to the Weaver of it, for which I was deeply glad. Perhaps it was just that the Captain did not wish to bother the Weaver, for she grew more and more ill as the winter grew colder. She spent more days in her bed than at the loom, and I had to nurse her as well as keep house for the soldiers. It was an exhausting few months, I can tell you that.
Yuletide that year was not the most cheerful of occasions. Usually, even for us common folk, it’s a time to give gifts, make merry, and enjoy what we have. However, the merriment in the City that year was subdued, almost frightened. No one spoke of it much, but I think that everyone knew that war was coming, a war with the Enemy, one so huge it would decide all our fates. None would be left unscathed.
Only the Weaver seemed oblivious to it all. She took to her bed two weeks before Yule, and I had a feeling even then that she wouldn’t leave it. She complained heartily of her aches and pains, my incompetence as a nurse, and the weaving she had yet to finish. I worked on the weaving as often as I could, but I still could not do the work of two. Several neighbor women came in from time to time and helped me cook and clean. I was profoundly grateful for this, as our coins were few and I could not have afforded to hire another servant. The responsibility of the house was passing into my hands, and I hardly felt ready for it.
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.