5. Chapter 5
“Hmph, yes, I don’t often get that opportunity. But I had to get up before I burst. You know what they say about ale: you don’t buy it, you rent it,” Gethron confessed as he took a slice and spread jam over it.
Tarkil chuckled, “That’ll teach you to stop drinking so much, old man!”
“Old man! I’m not an old man. Well, not that old…” Gethron ceased his protests as he saw Tarkil’s attention snap to another part of the room. The younger man suddenly stood. “Where are you off to? You haven’t finished your breakfast yet!”
“I told you, I have some shopping to do,” Tarkil said over his shoulder as he hurried away.
“Oh, so that’s your plan, is it, lad?” Gethron said when he saw Tarkil follow the barmaid out the door. “You were planning a major campaign last night. And from the looks of it, you're starting with a little reconnaissance mission. Well, this I’m not going to miss.” He grabbed several pieces of toast then hurried after the two.
Staying deep in the shadows, he leaned against a building as he pulled out his pipe, watching Poppi as she walked through the market stopping at certain stalls to haggle with the merchants. He tamped down the last of his pipeweed and lit it, patiently smoking as he continued his surveillance until she finished her business in the market then turned back towards him. He didn’t move but waited until she had passed by before casually following only to lose sight of her when she entered a general store.
After allowing a few minutes to pass, he extinguished his pipe then followed her. A small bell jingled as he pushed the door open. She stood at the counter talking with another girl; both women looked up briefly as they watched him enter.
“Can I help you, sir,” the shop girl called.
“I need some pipeweed, but I need to look for a few other things first. I’ll just look around -- you can continue helping this young lady. She was here before me, after all,” he answered evenly.
He meandered around the store, hearing the two women giggle and gossip, then hovered around the counter where the scents were sold as an idea slowly burgeoned. He looked over at the serving girl, inquiring, “If I'm not interrupting, could you perhaps help me? I need to purchase a present for my sister and thought she might like a bottle of scent.”
The girl hurried over to pull a few small vials from the shelf. “What does she like? Floral scents? Fruit? Or perhaps spice?”
That question took Tarkil aback momentarily. He had no idea there were such choices in women’s perfume. “I … I don’t know,” he stuttered, “I’ve never bought perfume before.”
“What type of scent does she normally wear?” asked the shopgirl.
He looked at Poppi as he saw the opportunity he sought. He asked, “Can you help me, miss? My sister is about your age, I imagine. What type of scent do you like?”
She hesitated then came over to where they stood. “Well, my lord, I can’t speak for your sister, but I prefer a lighter scent. I can’t abide those women who seem to soak in their scent.” Her voice was soft, with a gentle lilt common to the Breelanders.
Her hazel eyes entranced him once more. And her hair! He'd never seen her thick dark curls left unbound before, so different from the long, straight locks of the girls back home.
The bell over the door jingled again interrupting his reverie and he glanced over to see Gethron enter the shop. The older ranger returned his gaze levelly, not acknowledging that he knew Tarkil at all. Tarkil briefly puzzled over this.
“Can I help you, sir?” the girl asked of her new customer.
Gethron pointed to some of the ironware hanging on the opposite wall. “Yes, I need some new pots. Could you show me some of your heavier ones over here?”
“Certainly sir, I’ll be right with you when I’m done with this gentleman,” the girl told him.
“I’m in a bit of a hurry, so if you could show them to me now.” He added gruffly, “If you don’t mind, that is, sir?”
“Not at all, this isn’t a decision I wish to be rushed with. Go ahead and serve the gentleman. I don’t mind waiting,” Tarkil told the frowning girl.
She pushed some of the small bottles across the counter towards Tarkil saying, “Why don’t you just smell a few and see which you prefer” then she pulled Poppi aside to whisper something to her.
Tarkil silently thanked Gethron for giving him such an opportunity to be alone with Poppi. He picked up a bottle and pulled the stopper, sniffing the scent. He wrinkled his nose, “Phew! I don’t think she’d like that one. Reminds me of some medicine my mother used to give us!”
He tried a few more then held one out towards Poppi saying, “This is nice though. What do you think of this one? It smells like -- cherry blossoms, I think. Would you like this one if it were given to you?”
She murmured that she found it quite pleasant but said little more. He tried a few others as he heard Gethron make the shop girl take a variety of pots down for his inspection. He could tell the girl was getting quite exasperated with his companion’s inability to choose.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I ever introduced myself. I am Tarkil, son of Beleg, of the Angle.” He put a hand on his chest and bowed before her, trying not to wince as he felt his stitches tug. “And who may I thank for helping me today?”
“Poppi, my lord, of Southlinch.” She blushed as she spoke, he noticed.
Gethron finally announced that he couldn’t make up his mind and left the store so the harried clerk returned to serve Tarkil.
“Well, Poppi of Southlinch, thank you for all your help today.” He handed the small vial of scent to the clerk saying, “I have made up my mind. I shall gift my sister, Elaria, this cherry blossom scent.” He counted out the coins then took the package the girl handed him.
“I hope I shall run into you again,” he bade Popppi, bowing once more then left the shop and headed back for the Pony, satisfied with the day’s mission.
"I hope I shall run into you again." Tarkil, son of Beleg, of the Angle, bowed once more before he left the shop.
"Not a word!" Poppi turned to her friend as soon as the door closed behind the Ranger.
"He’s very handsome."
"That’s the one I’ve been telling you about," Poppi said.
Her friend only smiled and raised a brow. Poppi sighed, tucking a lock behind her ear.
"They aren’t like us," she said and lowered her voice. "I’ve heard they aren’t even men, really, that they have other blood."
"You don’t believe that." Her friend sounded uncertain.
Poppi stared at the door with a frown and tugged a curl. She shrugged. "I don’t have to believe. I see them come from nowhere to stay at the Pony for a week before they are gone again, back to their nowhere. Where are their wives, their children? How do they earn the coin they have?"
"I’ve heard they are kings. That they hold themselves apart and don’t mingle with other men; that they have no homes and only wander."
"Yes, kings and Elves, and that they live forever and can work magic," Poppi giggled. "A fine husband you would pick for me, I think I prefer a farmer!"
An hour later, Gethron stood in Tarkil’s room, his arms folded across his chest, demanding, “Why didn’t you ask her out when you had the chance? I fiddled around long enough with that silly clerk to give you a chance!”
“Because then she would have suspected something. No, I plan on proceeding slowly, cautiously. Once I’ve won her trust, then I’ll ask. And we can’t be seen together tonight in the common room, by the way. Or at least if we do we have to pretend like we don’t really know each other but have just met or something.”
Gethron’s jaw dropped. “What? Where do you get these ideas? Why don’t you just ask her out?”
“You’ve heard me speak of my brother Haldon? You know, the one who has girls fawning all over him? I’ve picked up a few pointers from him over the years." Tarkil grinned as he lay back on the bed exhausted. "And I can’t ask her out in the Pony. I’ve tried. I’m a customer then and she says no. You’ve sat in the common room and seen how the men slaver over her. I don’t want to be just one of that number of leeches. Butterbur wouldn’t allow her to say yes to a customer while she’s on duty, anyway. So I have to do it outside of her work --I have to get her to see me as something other than a customer of the Pony. ”
Gethron shook his head, “It’s an awful lot of trouble to go through, lad.” He opened the door then stopped, “So why can’t we sit together? Oh! I've got it. Because of what I did for you back in the store. If she knows we know each other ..."
“Exactly!” Tarkil agreed. “Then she’d suspect it was a setup and all would be lost. By the way, you didn’t come into that store by chance, how did you come to be there?”
“You’re not the only one capable of a bit of reconnaissance, lad. And I hate to ruin your carefully laid plans, but might I point out she served us both last night. So she knows we know each other already," Gethron reminded Tarkil who frowned.
"I'd forgotten about that," then he shrugged. "No matter. We'll just head down at different times so it doesn't look like we're obviously together."
Gethron shook his head. "You'd better watch yourself lad, you're playing with fire here. And it has a way of flaring up when you least expect it. All right, you have a rest and then I’ll ‘meet’ you later tonight?” Gethron winked, then left, chuckling.
Tarkil glowered as he saw the man grab Poppi from behind, catching her unaware, making her spill the tankards she carefully carried.
“Here now, wench, how ‘bout you come and sit with me for a while and we’ll have some fun, eh? Or better yet I know of a quiet spot out back we could go. You look like you’re a right tasty morsel, I know a dish you could serve!” He staggered back as she dropped the tankards and squirmed from his grasp then turned around, slapping him soundly. He reached back his hand to hit her in return but found his arm firmly grabbed and twisted behind him. “Hey, what the…?”
“I suggest you apologize to the lady and promise that you won’t touch her again.” Tarkil spoke quietly in the man’s ear, his voice low and threatening. Gethron stood nearby, a hand ready on his sword eyeing the others at the table who glowered at the Ranger’s interference in their friend’s sport.
The room grew silent, all eyes on the two, when Butterbur hurried from the back. “Here now, what’s going on? Mr. Tarkil, sir, is there some problem?”
“This gentleman was just about to apologize for assaulting your barmaid, Mr. Butterbur, and he’s going to pay for the two tankards he made her drop,” Tarkil informed the innkeeper. “Weren’t you?” He tightened his grip when he sensed resistance.
“Yeah, I – I was only funning, I didn’t mean no harm. I’m sorry I grabbed you, miss.” Tarkil reluctantly released his hold and the man snatched his arm back, rubbing it.
“Here now, you lot clear off,” Butterbur told them as he held out his hand for the promised payment. “You’ve had enough ale for tonight.”
Tarkil watched with sudden interest as the large group of men shuffled out, grumbling and swearing at the man who had caused them to be thrown from the inn. He looked back to see Butterbur talking with Poppi then hastened to follow them, Gethron hurrying behind.
“Tarkil? What is it? Why are we following them?” Gethron stood in the shadows beside Tarkil as they watched the group head towards a dark house, the last by the South Gate.
“Just a suspicion. Remember me telling you about that house fire – about the tracks I found? “
“Yes, you figured there were at least four men, maybe a lad too. Why?”
“See the big one? Watch how he walks, he’s knock-kneed. So was one of the murderers.” Tarkil whispered.
“So you think he might be one of them.” Gethron watched the last of the men slip behind the thick hedges. “Think Butterbur would know who they were or whose house this is?”
“I can’t think of anyone who would know more about the villagers, let’s go see what he knows. I made a promise to Lilly to find her family’s killers. I intend to keep that promise.”
“Sorry, Mr. Tarkil, I only know Bill Ferny amongst them and that’s his house they were going to from the sounds of it. The other fellows just arrived in town over the past few weeks. I’ve seen them out in the pub, but I don’t know their names. As for what they want?” Butterbur shrugged, “ We’ve had a number of folk coming up from the south, some are just looking for the safety of our land, they’re talking about all sorts of trouble down in their own. But those fellows? They have a lot more money than the rest of the southerners, but they pretty much keep to themselves for now.”
“Thank you, Mr. Butterbur, and if they give you any more trouble let me know.” Tarkil and Gethron returned to Tarkil’s room.
“Well, that tells us very little,” Tarkil unbuckled his sword and shoved it in the corner, then threw his cloak on the chair. “Orc’s blood, Gethron! How am I supposed to find them? They can’t be allowed to get away with such an act!”
“Well, Tarkil, right now there’s not much we can do. We’ll just have to keep our eyes and ears open. Maybe they’ll let something slip. These types usually do – you know how they like to brag about such things. They’ll probably be back to the inn tomorrow – I doubt you’ll have to wait long.”
“Sit and wait,” Tarkil grew frustrated. “They murdered and tortured those people, they set fire to a house while there were children trapped inside! And we sit and wait for them to tip their hand. Is that the best we can do?”
“And just how is you standing here raging at me helping the matter?” Gethron asked pointedly.
“Does nothing ever phase you? Do you always have to be so damned controlled?” Tarkil angrily threw his vest on top of his cloak.
Gethron pursed his lips, “It’s part of the job, you know that. When you’ve been around as long as I have and seen what I’ve seen, nothing surprises you anymore. And I’ve learned over the years that patience is sometimes your best weapon. Do you good to learn that quickly, lad. You’ll tear yourself apart otherwise. ”
Tarkil ripped open the laces on his shirt, pulled it roughly over his head then threw it on top of his vest. “Angrim always said that too. But sometimes I get so tired of that word, patience.”
Gethron sighed, “They’ll get what’s due them, Tarkil. Eventually. But you shouldn’t have made that promise to the little girl. It’s not one you may be able to keep.”
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.