58. The Home of the Carver
The Home of the Carver
The gates were open as they approached the estate of Mardil the Carver, and Moropin the foreman for the farm was there on watch for them, smiling hugely as he saw the coach and its outriders approach. "Small Master! Welcome to you!" he called, and his son Lairon, a now tall youth of sixteen summers, joined his welcomes to those of his father.
They led the way to the stable yard where a step was brought for those in the coach, and Lairon and Berenion, who kept the horses for the estate, quickly moved in to unharness the ponies and take the horses and ponies of the guests of the house.
"I'll care for my own, at least this day," Folco explained as he waved off Berenion's aid. "They are accustomed to me, and I'm really quite fond of them." Moropin, Lairon, and Berenion, at a confirming nod from Ruvemir, let this one have his way and led the way inside, pointed out a stall he might use, and with thanks Folco led his ponies in, unsaddled and unloaded them, removed bit and harness and hung them on the nearby hook, then took out his own brushes and calmed and groomed them, saw to it they had hay, grain, and water, hung the saddle over an empty low saddletree, and taking the bags that the pack pony had carried, prepared to carry them to the house.
Ifram, Shefti, and their guard also cared for their own horses, seeing them properly stabled and cared for, and Ririon demanded to be allowed to assist as they cared for his small mare. All received good marks from Berenion for the caring they took of their animals, although they received inquiring looks as well.
The household had heard that the Small Master was coming for a few days' stay, and that he brought his bride with him. A bride, for Master Ruvemir? It was more than any had expected, particularly as he'd been so long now with no obvious love. The news that Mistress Miriel was also wed had had a time to be realized, although no one could imagine how it had come to pass. And her husband was a Pherian? All wondered what he would look like, what type of person he might be, particularly to come to love such as she. Now, those who lived and worked on the estate had had time to come to know and love the Small Mistress, to treasure her kindly nature and gentle humor and skills. But she'd not left the estate in several years, and had not been one to visit with the Master's guests and clients. That she would go to her brother's side when he was ill was not so surprising; that she'd go abroad with him was. And that she'd find love and marry--no one had dreamed of it!
She stood at the door as their small guest approached, held out her arms, and embraced him, and they realized that this was indeed the Pherian spoken of. Mistress Margilien, who had cared for the house for the last ten years, came forward to make all welcome, led the new Small Master to the bathing room, showed him the bath already drawn.
Mardil, at the same time, was leading his other guests to the guesthouse, where water was already heated for baths for them and towels laid out and beds freshly made. "We will ring the bell when the evening meal is ready," he explained. "In the meanwhile, refresh yourselves and rest." They thanked him graciously and set down their saddlebags. They found servers of wine and juice and fresh water waiting ready for them, goblets set out for their use, soft cakes and a plate of sliced cheese covered with a fine cloth. Smiling, they made themselves comfortable.
For Ruvemir the pleasure of being home was overwhelming. Margilien was overjoyed to see him, delighted to meet the woman who'd caught his heart at last. She brought them to his old room where a new, wide bed had replaced the narrower one on which he'd slept most of his life, where fresh paint brightened the plaster, where flowers stood in vases and new, soft curtains graced the windows.
"Your father spoke of putting the children here, but there's no need for that, not with the loft. The babe can sleep with the Small Mistress and her lord husband until he's older; but the two of you can continue to think of this room as your own."
For Ririon and Lorieth rooms had been partitioned off in the loft area, while it had been decided Celebgil would sleep on a long couch in the day room during their stay. When at last the evening meal was ready the bell was rung, and soon all those who labored on the farm were gathered with the family in the long dining hall that formed the side of the house closest to the fields. Dinner was marked by travelers tales, largely, as Ruvemir and Miriel told the tale of their trip north into Eriador and their sojourn amongst the Hobbits of the Shire, of the graciousness of the Brandybucks, the magnificence of the Great Smial, the gentle humor of the inhabitants of Bag End, the acceptance they'd found there. Folco described his first sight of Miriel and his fascination with her, how her concentration on her work had attracted him, how her smile had convinced him to stay near her, how at Yule they'd kissed and he knew that, at last, he'd found the one he could love before all others. Miriel described the marriage ceremony, the amazement at the complexity of the marriage contract, the happiness when she saw Folco waiting for her, the satisfaction in the eyes of the Lord Samwise and Mistress Rosie as they saw their guests find such joy.
And so the stories went around the table that night. The beauty of the capital was described, the graciousness of the King, the incomparable loveliness of the Queen, the birth of the small Princess, the wedding in Minas Anor, the small doings of the farm, the birth of what might prove a prize bull. The farmworkers found themselves warming to the new Small Master as he asked intelligent questions about the running of the farm, what they planted and why, what additional crops might be useful, what kind of plow they kept. The close eye he obviously kept on the children also pleased them, as did the fact every time he looked at Mistress Miriel he smiled in sheer happiness. A new Small Master, and one who would work alongside themselves this time? They'd give him the chance to prove himself.
And the toasts went round the table as well, as all rejoiced in the return of their Master and his children and looked to the growing of the new children of the house.
At last all went to their beds, joyful and content. Children fought sleep, then gave into it anyway. Brides smiled at bridegrooms, love filled the long house that Mardil had designed for the comfort of his children, and at last peace fell over the farm--for a time at least.
Ben'harin felt uncomfortable for a reason he could not define, so he set himself to walk the perimeter of the property that night. Only after the sun had risen and the farmworkers came out to begin their day did he leave off and go to his own rest, warning Ifram of his surety a danger lurked somewhere outside the walls. Ifram nodded--the reason Ben'harin had been chosen to accompany them was precisely because his awareness of approaching danger was so keen. He checked the seat of his sword and its lie at his belt. "I will keep a watch this day," he assured the guard.
But the assault did not come that day.
Shefti accompanied Ririon and Celebgil to the workshop of Mardil the Carver as they began their formal introduction to the world of working wood. They looked at samples of many woods that day, examined densities, grain, the inclusion of knots, the uses of different kinds of woods, the tools used. Ririon was in his element, and his delight in the medium was infectious.
Soon Shefti and Celebgil were shaping small blocks of pine while Ririon was bringing out his practice piece from Minas Anor and discussing it with his new master.
On the farm itself Folco, after helping with the care of horses and ponies, was being shown the property and the herd of cattle. He examined them with interest, asked to be shown how best to approach them, which were the herd leaders, which likely to cause difficulties. Then they looked at the property under cultivation, went through the barns to look at plows and harrows, examined the other tools and their state, the herd dogs, the kitchen garden. Here finally Folco Boffin indicated he would work this day, for this was where his greatest experience lay. Now, did they have much in the way of root vegetables growing?
But Ifram could see Folco and Ruvemir also were watching, both restless. They, too, sensed some danger grew closer.
Folco was the one person to whom Ruvemir had disclosed the presence of the King's guard. He'd reported from time to time he'd spotted the telltale flicker in the margin of the trees that spoke to him now of the revealed presence of a watching
Elf. Once a grey hooded shape showed itself deliberately, and he'd distinctly seen a silver star on the left shoulder. But the third he'd not yet seen. They were relieved to have the guard, but still felt the oppression of approaching danger. Would the guard be enough? As Ruvemir saw the disquiet in Ben'harin and Ifram, he became more concerned. Finally he approached Ifram and asked if he sensed anything. Realizing that the Easterlings also were definitely watching, he spoke to Moropin. Where would intruders be most likely to enter the property? At the northeast corner? Could they put Rupter there in that field tonight? And Rip in the dooryard?
Moropin smiled. Of course.
When he awoke Ben'harin saw the herd bull had been moved into the field at the northeast corner of the farm, a huge animal who was disturbed to be removed from his cows. He smiled--an excellent surprise for any seeking to enter through that vulnerable area. The main herd had also been placed in a field on the perimeter of the property; and a large dog was on his chain in the dooryard, would be freed at night, he was told. And a smaller dog sat beside the larger one. Two dogs that were not herd dogs, one to bark the alarm and one to challenge intruders. Good planning. Joy approached them with curiosity, sniffed at them, was welcomed. She, too, might prove useful.
That he wasn't alone in his surety of danger was heartening. Now he set himself to see what would come next.
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