66. Master of the Household
Master of the Household
Master Ruvemir sat himself in a low chair. She was amazed to see how low the chair was, in fact. He noted her expression. "Much of the furniture was adapted for the use of the Pheriannath when they lived in this house, so when we were offered its use while I work on my commission, they shortened the legs again for my comfort." Liana had not the slightest idea of what he was speaking, but nodded as if she did. "My sister and I were both born this way, and our father did much in our home to make things comfortable for us. That the King took thought for the Pheriannath when they were here and has prepared for visits from others of the Halflings has done much to increase the respect she and I feel toward him. My sister has now returned to Lebennin with her husband to live again on our family's estate, while I must remain here in the capital until I am done with my commission."
"Please," Liana interrupted, "I do not understand all words in Westron as yet. What is a commission?"
"I am an artist, a sculptor. Artists may do pieces of work that please them and sell them to whoever is interested in buying them, or they may accept commissions, where someone wishes a particular work or type of work done, and the artist agrees to do it for a fee. I have accepted a commission from the King, and it is for a sculpture to be placed before the Citadel and the Court of the White Tree. Until I complete the work, I will live here in the city."
"Oh, I see."
"As I am a Master Sculptor, I have been asked to accept apprentices who worked under another of our guild who has left his position, until other masters can be found to accept them. Several will be living with us, and it is due to their coming we will need one to serve as housekeeper. I hope you will be able to deal with youths."
"I lived five years with my husband in his father's house. I was the first son's wife to come into the family, and I cared for all while I was with them. My husband's father had had four wives, two daughters, and eleven sons, with my husband being the eldest. I have dealt with younger sons."
"Your husband died, then?"
Gilfileg leaned forward. "Liana is from Rhun, Master Ruvemir. Her marriage was dissolved." Ruvemir looked surprised. "Their customs and marriage laws are different from those to which we are accustomed."
"Oh, I apologize if I have inadvertently offended you, my lady."
She could not keep the bitterness out of her voice as she said quietly, "It is the way of our people, Master."
His eyes, she noted, were wise. "I see it may be the way of your people, but it is not a welcome way for you." He looked to Angara. "This is your daughter?"
"Yes. She is called Angara."
"Angara. A lovely name for a lovely child." He looked at her carefully. "I was told she was crippled, but I see it is only her arms are abnormally short." He addressed himself to the girl. "Well, small mistress, we are two of a kind, as my arms are short also. Although you have normal legs and body and head, where I do not."
"She does not offend you, Master?"
He looked at her with unfeigned surprise. "And at what am I, being as I am, supposed to be offended? Am I supposed to feel she is somehow mimicking me? She cannot help being as she was born, any more than I can help being as I was born. No one will ridicule her in this house, not without running the risk of my anger falling on them."
"Thank you, Master."
"Lord Gilfileg here has only recently come to Gondor from his home in the North. He has accepted a room here with us for a time, although once his cousin returns he may leave for the South and Dol Amroth to be a time with his mother's kindred."
"I bid you welcome to Gondor," she said to the tall Man.
"It is not my first visit. I came here first twenty-one years ago to serve in Gondor's army."
"You came as a boy, then? Do boys serve in the army here?"
He laughed. "I am of the Dúnedain. We age very slowly. I am older than I appear. No, I was a Man grown when I came here before."
Ruvemir smiled. "His Lord Cousin is even older, and is constantly surprising everyone."
"What will be my duties?"
"To assist in the care for the home, to make certain the apprentices do the household tasks set them when I cannot do so, to see that clothing and linens are cleaned and assist in the purchase of food and supplies, perhaps to assist the cook on occasion. To remind Elise or myself of what we have forgotten from time to time."
"The apprentices will do household chores?"
"Yes. They will care for their own quarters and assist in cleaning after meals, and assist you in the care for the house during the time they are here. Mostly they will be responsible for cleaning up after themselves, though. Now and then for discipline's sake one will be required to do even more, and you might be required to see the one does what is expected of him. I will be often away in the early evening working on the Lord Frodo's stone, and there may be evenings when, as with tonight, the Lady Arwen is required to attend a banquet and Melian will require one to watch and care for her until her mother's return. Then you and Lord Gilfileg may need to see to it those apprentices within the house or the Sixth Circle behave themselves. I hope that will not be too frequent.
"I pray this list is not too onerous for you."
Liana laughed. "Overwhelming? It is little enough. And you will have these apprentices work also?"
"Of course! They will live here, too, after all."
She shook her head in wonder. Gilfileg laughed. "Menfolk among the Rhunim do not assist in the care for the house--that is seen as women's work."
"But we are not among the Rhunim, and we have few enough of those jobs available possibly seen as masculine for a decent male from Rhun to do. But as I have seen the King himself wield a broom at need, and I understand that all of you who have served as Rangers are as familiar with cooking and repairing your own clothing and cleaning up after yourselves as any woman, how am I to justify sending these out not knowing a few simple skills?"
Again the Lord Gilfileg laughed. "Logic of this sort is not usually thought of among the Rhunim, Ruvemir. Perhaps that is why food cooked by Rhunim Men during hunts and on campaign is so often bad."
Liana began to laugh helplessly. "Is it, truly?"
Gilfileg looked at her, chuckling. "Bad? Oh, yes, my lady, it is almost always awful."
Ruvemir smiled. "Obviously a male Hobbit would be a good thing to have along then, I suppose. The Lord Samwise is as accomplished a cook as is Mistress Rosie, I have found; and both Folco and Pando are excellent cooks and did much of our cooking along the road back from Eriador."
"Aragorn himself is a decent cook, and told me the Lord Elrond saw to it he learned how to care for himself in the wild, knowing he would serve in the Rangers. But I suspect the Periannath, as devoted to eating as they are, took over most of the cooking chores during the quest."
"Pardon," asked Liana, "but I do not understand the word 'Periannath'."
Gilfileg explained, "The Periannath, or Pheriannath as they are called here in Gondor, are the Halflings, the Hobbits. They are a small people who live in the northwest of Eriador in Arnor, the Northern Kingdom. They are little taller than Ruvemir here, but with arms and legs and head of proper proportion to their height. They seldom leave their own lands of the Shire and the Breelands. They are mostly farmers, and must eat more frequently during the day than do Men. I was amazed to learn one has married Ruvemir's sister Miriel, and has left his own place to come to live in Gondor with his wife's family. To marry among the children of Men is totally unheard of in the history of Hobbits."
"For a child of Men to marry a Hobbit is equally unheard of, but it has now been done. After all, there have now been several unions between Elves and Men."
"Including the marriage of the King and the Queen. Yes, I am full aware. It is because we are descended from Elros Tar-Minyatur that we of the Dúnedain live as long as we do."
"You have Elvish blood?" asked the woman.
"Yes, very long ago in our family."
"I see." She looked at him with open curiosity and a heightened respect. She had come to honor the Elves she had met during her stay in the White City, who had been unfailingly kind and respectful toward herself and her child.
"Maman," Angara said, tugging at her mother's skirts, "I am hungered."
They all looked down, for the child had almost been forgotten.
"We can remedy that," Ruvemir said, smiling down at her. "Come along, then." He slid from his chair and headed for the kitchen.
Soon she was eating a section of apple, her tiny hands barely reaching her mouth. Liana looked at the indulgent smile on the face of the small Man before her and was again amazed. Yes, she thought, this will be a good place.
The recommended cook was a woman of late middle age who had lost her husband and two of her sons in the war, and whose other three children lived in the city. She had once been the cook in an inn in the First Circle, one destroyed in the assault on the city but not rebuilt. She was happy to find a position where her talents would be appreciated, and after learning the preferences for dishes for the Master and Mistress, the housekeeper and her child, and the Lord Gilfileg who stayed with them, she began to devise menus and write out lists of provender to be purchased. She lived now in the Fifth Circle, and indicated she would prefer to sleep in her own home, but would come in during the day.
The morning after Liana accepted the position she and her child had moved into the room in which Mistress Loren and Lasgon had stayed when the Pheriannath had lived in this guesthouse, and they were beginning to find their place within the household.
Elise had been relieved to find these positions so quickly filled. She was finding her own employment interesting, watching the Queen, seeing how she would order her own household, how she did her best to escape the attentions of the maids assigned to her, how devoted she was to her tiny daughter. The maids might assist her in dressing and in dressing her hair as well, and might keep her chambers clean; but otherwise she preferred to do for herself whenever possible. She had a small brazier over which she would cook at least a meal a day; she herself assisted in the keeping of the herb garden and a garden of flowers below the windows of her quarters; and she oversaw the brewing of simples and herbal draughts used within the Citadel and often in the Houses of Healing as well. Now and then, Elise had learned through the gossip of the maids, she and her Lord Husband would descend on the main kitchens and personally prepare a meal for themselves and personal guests, which horrified the cooks, but which aberration they had learned to tolerate. She also went daily to the Houses of Healing to offer what aid she could, for her Elvish ancestry gave her the ability to calm and hearten and some command over the healing of the body as well. Her knowledge of healing herbs was even broader than that of the King, the herbalists had learned, and her knowledge of how to obtain the best of their virtues through mixing, drying, and brewing was also very complete.
But it was her love of embroidery that fascinated Elise, as she saw the Queen crafting a formal robe for the Lord Gilfileg. "Mistress Miriel will be impressed with this," she said, fingering the design of a stag with raised antlers the Queen was working onto cloth of a copper color.
Arwen laughed. "I've been warned she is like to induct me into the Guild of Tailors and Seamstresses as a Master Embroiderer. Not that such would be a bad thing, to have my children know I am seen as having a vital skill by the people of the lands. Certainly Estel's skill as a healer gives him a feeling of accomplishment."
Elise looked up surprised. "Is not his skill as a warrior sufficient for that?"
But the Queen shook her head. "He does not joy in bringing death, even when it is necessary. He prefers to relieve pain rather than to inflict it."
This idea heartened Elise somewhat, and further increased her respect for their ruler.
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