4. The Kitchen Wench’s Wager
"But the common room is busy," said Legolas as they came downstairs.
"That is because of the rains," said a fellow at the next table.
"Shall we get some bread and meat?" asked Legolas.
""Better not," said the fellow hastily. "Maybe some – uh, no; that is try the ... no. Not that either. Umm, have some apples."
"No, thank you," said Legolas. "There are apples in my pack. Perhaps I will watch the gaming instead."
No sooner had Legolas gone toward the dice table than a Rhûnish-looking Mortal Man took his place. "Greetings, Fair One," he said to Bessain. "I am Jauntxo. It is my pleasure to welcome beautiful Elvish ladies to town, especially those who are looking to buy wine. Might I know your name?"
"I am of the House of Thranduil, as you may have guessed. I am called Bessain."
"Well, Bess! Is there a Mister Sign?" inquired Jauntxo.
"It is all one word," she said stiffly, giving him a look that might have leveled the town. She could have discoursed for hours on the rights of Elvish ladies to bear that title but all she said was, "It means "bread-giver."
"Bread-giver! Then…you are a cook?"
"Yes, at present. I keep the kitchens for the Elven-king."
Suddenly Jauntxo stopped smiling and to Bessain's astonishment, his eyes glistened with tears. He put his face in his hands. "Lady, I think my life will be ruined for want of a cook. My true love – she has so many skills, and courage, beauty – but she is losing this Inn because the board and cellar are the worst in the land, and she cannot cook. The old folks signed a paper to the Lawspeaker. If the Inn fails, it will go to him, and Chafeveleyn will have to marry him, or go back to her Woodmen folk."
Bessain discerned most of what Jauntxo was trying to explain. "Chafeveleyn is the Mistress of this Inn? Then tell her you love her and marry her yourself."
"She would say no. I am just a poor wine merchant. All I have to my name are a single contract for some Dorwinion wine and a few big ideas."
"And a lovesick heart," said Bessain. She was about to speak next of boldness, when a sudden roar sounded from the far corner, and people were flinging themselves backward and dropping to the floor.
In the middle of the clearing crowd, two figures stood face to face: Bard and Legolas. Each held a strung bow with an arrow pointed at the other's eye.
"This is not good," Bessain observed.
"Chafeveleyn will handle them," Jauntxo assured her. "She and that troop of stern-looking lads. More of her admirers."
And indeed, a woman was striding toward the combatants with a look of fury that stopped all folk in their tracks save Bard and Legolas. The woman pulled off her kerchief cap and Bessain could now see she was a golden-haired beauty who reminded her of the Horse People.
"Hold!" shouted Chafeveleyn, for it was she. "Bard, you should know better, or drink less. As for you, Master Elf, lower that bow. At once, sirrah!"
Legolas, who had never been called "sirrah" in his life, blinked and said, "But he claimed a seven when he rolled an eight. Besides, he drew first and – "
"I give you a choice," said Chafevelyn, taking a deep breath and growing calmer. Her stern-looking lads gathered around her and she continued, "If you wish to fight it shall be in song, and you can entertain the customers for your penalty. Or else it is the Jail Boat."
A huge peal of thunder rattled the windows and then the rain pelted down harder than ever, bouncing off the paving stones in the courtyard and hammering the roof. Bard and Legolas looked at each other and spoke together: "Song fight."
"That is well," said Chafeveleyn. "Master Elf shall go first."
"I told you she was magnificent," said Jauntxo amidst the roars of the crowd, and then something happened inside his mind. He had an idea, the kind of flash that was to signify his greatest achievements throughout his life.
"What do you say, Lady, to a sporting wager? Bard will beat your companion easily. I have heard you wish to buy a winter's order of wine. If your friend wins I will give you my Dorwinion contract. Four barrels of the best. But if Bard wins you must stay here in Go-Fast as the Inn's new cook."
Bessain did not know whether to sputter or become speechless, and either would have been a first occurrence. "You are mad! You would wager your only asset that Bard will surpass Legolas Greenleaf in singing? Why he is a Sindarin Elf, and they are the fairest singers in Middle-earth."
"Ah, but the town folk say Bard has a voice like a song thrush. When he sings, they say the very birds come and speak to him. So yes I am willing to bet my as -"
"For how long do wish me to wager my services?"
Jauntxo thought fast. He had heard that Elves reckon time differently, so he made a guess. "A long-year?"
"Nonsense, that is twelve times twelve years of the sun."
"Well then, what about just twelve years? What is that to the immortal Elves?"
At the far end of the common room Legolas leapt to the bar, preparing to sing, and Bessain heard herself saying, "Done."
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.