4. A First Meeting
My bairn slept in her arms. The anodyne I'd got him to breathe only needed a few minutes to take all the senses away. I sat and watched them while we waited for the healer.
"Tell me when you first met the Dunadan," she said.
More to distract herself than anything, I suspect. The memory was ever vivid to me. I could still see him in the shadows, not so much his face, not at first; his green hood had kept him hidden. Only later did I look straight into those grey eyes. Where to start?
"There was a beautiful coat, made of soft, white wool with a fur-lined hood, one of those useless city things, and I wanted it desperately. That's how I first met him; he watched me steal it."
We were in some country inn in a dirt-poor village in the middle of nowhere, Bree I think it was. Of course I didn't realise he was watching me. I thought he slept on the bench while his companions rested by the fire. The tap-room had its usual quota of travellers too mean, or too poor, to pay for a proper bed. I certainly was too poor, and some silly bitch had left a beautiful coat hanging in the public hall; she deserved to lose it.
I'd noticed him earlier, though he and his companions made themselves as inconsequential as possible, sitting in the shadowy corner of the large room. The regulars choose to ignore them, they weren't looking for trouble. Some visitors, like me, were curious, but then I knew who, or rather what they were - a ranger, newly made by the stiffness of his boots and cloak – and two elves. Oh, they kept their hoods up to hide their faces and wrapped themselves in their cloaks, but… when you've met an elf once, you don't mistake them again."
She nodded, then shrugged it off, "We are like you, but unlike you. You have met many of my kind before?"
"My father traded with the Avari from the north, east of the mountains."
Her eyes widened in surprise, although she said nothing.
My father was a leather worker, not a common cobbler; he made harness and gear, scabbards belts, buff-coats and such. Once a year he travelled the Great East Road, then north, to trade for skins and furs with the Wood-Elves. We took spun wool and metal ingots. He'd found long before that elven goods were better than any he could bring them, but materials – they'd rather trade with him than the dwarves who held the mines. He took my elder brother, the journeyman and apprentices, and myself as cook. My mother wasn't pleased, it could be dangerous, but I begged and pleaded to go; after the first time, my father had been far happier with my cooking than that of my brothers!
"They must have been long and hazardous journeys for a young girl," she said.
"Sometimes it seemed so, but I was pleased to get away, to see new places. He was careful – if rangers were travelling he's invite them to camp with us, repair their gear; give them new belts or whatever they needed. So he established a bond and we'd often have a ranger or two travel part of the way. They taught me to use a bow and a quarter-staff – for their amusement maybe, but I insisted if they tutored my brothers in how to fight, and use a blade, they had to include me too. Sometimes they'd just pass the night with us in the wild; sometimes they'd stay with us for several days depending on where they were going; we never asked their business. And the Avari would find us; sometimes we'd get a message of orcs being abroad and we'd wait for the Elves to come to us, or they'd tell us to go back until the danger had passed. I learnt I could pull a man's small bow, I've never been a good shot, but if you fire at a mass you're bound to hit something, it was good enough. If I have to fight I'm better with a blade and a knife, close up."
She nodded approval of that; she has the look of someone who knows only to well what real fighting means.
"Where we could, we stopped at settlements or farms. He'd make gear and trade; the apprentices, my brother and I would do repairs, then I'd have a few hours free. Make a little trade myself."
She smiled encouragingly.
"I've an eye for skill. When someone has a knack of doing something well and a yen for something different, there's always a trade to be done – embroidery for carved horn hair-pins, glass buttons for good ribbon – there's always something. Father encouraged me – truth was I think he was quite proud I'd learnt to be a trader."
"You were with your father in Bree?"
"No – in Bree I was on my own, heading south. We had a falling out - and I left…"
I let that hang in the air. It wasn't altogether with pleasure I remembered some of this. Those trips – that first summer, there was an apprentice, a beautiful boy from Harlindon, of northern stock he'd been sent to my father to learn a trade, and of his roots and family in Arnor, scattered as we were. We were young – I was fifteen, too young for love, but out in the wilds one thing leads to another. We were careful, my father never knew, and if my nearest brother did, he kept quiet. I was heart-broken when, after we got back, he left me and proposed to another girl, small, pretty, demure. It taught me a lesson. There are skills a woman can learn that men want. So I used men – and being young and naïve, was used by them. It's not something I regret, but I wouldn't council a girl to do likewise. I suppose I was wilful and found a way to get things I thought I wanted – no matter, it's of no consequence. Over the years I've been called a whore and a thief – the whore I deny; what I've done, I've done to survive; as often as not, for a meal and a bed rather than sleep outside in the cold. The thief – well, that's a bit different – I did what I had to, to live - but I've never stolen off those that would miss it!
I made several trips to the east in summer, and in winter we made trips westward, to the sea. I learnt about setting up camps and fires, cooking and cleaning game, I learnt woodcraft and how to trade, not least that, if need be, I could sometimes trade with men something a woman has that I didn't value over much. I'm not pretty, never have been; jaw too wide, nose too long, eyes a non-descript green, when clear grey are prized; hair tawny brown, when dark lustre is considered beautiful. At my best I was 'interesting', as they say. I never had a quick tongue to charm, and I was too independent for many. I liked to talk to men of men's things, leatherwork, and drinking, and hunting, not gossip from the dairy. I walked my own road, or so I thought, but my parents had different ideas.
There was a baker in our settlement, a widower with three children. He saw I was strong and capable, and felt he could overlook a hint of 'reputation' for a good worker to raise his children and breed more. My parents weren't to be persuaded differently; they set the wedding plans. I stormed, I wept and pleaded – in the end there was nothing to do but leave. I wasn't going to marry a fat baker twice my age. So, as the one I came to know as the Dunadan journeyed north, I was on my path south, and we met at the inn at Bree.
"And you wanted a pretty coat?" she said. There was a hint of scorn there, or so I imagined, which made me nettle.
"I had my reasons!"
At that point the healer came, and I didn't need to explain myself. My sleeping bairn was still in her arms, but I couldn't stop myself stroking the damp hair from his face. The anodyne had taken his senses completely, which was a good thing. His wounds had been left untreated too long; now the edges would need to be cut before they could be stitched. It's something I have done, but it was better done by someone properly trained – so I thought. This healer was not as experienced as I, not at this sort of thing - and the ranger, well her skills were different.
The healer set his shoulder well enough, but he came with the usual sharp steel blades. They are good, but not for such fine work as this needed. I made him wait and I fetched my mornivren blades. They're something my father traded for, and prized so highly he kept what he could get for himself. These elven blades are made from what looks like black glass, but are so sharp, more than any edge I've ever seen. The Avari would trade with my father perhaps one a visit – I took three with me when I left home. I'm sure he will have got replacements by now. They could only be made in small pieces, they told us, too small to use as a weapon, except in dire need at close quarters, but they were sharper than any surgeon's knife. I found for healing, they worked best if you boiled them, to make them hot, before you used them, the wounds seemed to knit better; without corrupting; I'd learnt that in my time in Harad.
Even after all these years I can still peel a single layer of skin off with them. Of course, it's easier if the thing to be skinned isn't wriggling and screaming, but that's as maybe… I've had need to extract information from the unco-operative… it's not noble, but sometimes… As I said - I'm not proud of all I've done in the past.
She watched me like a hawk. If he had but twitched I know I would be dead at her hand now, but for the wounds to heal the edges must have the blood to knit together. A dried wound won't heal without a great knot of scarring; then the muscles won't work properly because it pulls. He would still have scars but they would be the least I could make them. I shaved the inside of the gashes as finely as I could; then helped the healer stitch them with my curved needles. Something else I'd learned that was useful to have – those I bought back from Harad. Their healers are very skilled; it was from one of them, one I was enslaved to, that I learnt the trick of using hot blades – I don't know why, but they do work better.
We wrapped fresh bandages round the wounds as he began to stir. I held the bottle of anodyne beneath his nose to give us that little extra time. He relaxed again; it makes the head ache very badly, but that's better than being awake when this sort of thing needs to be done. And there was still the chance I'd be doing a lot more of this in the next few days – or maybe I'd use one of the blades on my own throat if things – if things went poorly. There are times you have to consider such matters – I had seen what orcs leave behind them.
"You were going to tell me why you needed a useless coat"
"I wasn't," I said, "And it wasn't useless; I needed it to trade."
She just cocked an eyebrow and I felt - obliged - to continue.
"Half a day's walk from the inn was a farm – I'd traded my good cloak for food there. I knew the farmer's wife would be taken by a pretty, white coat she'd have no occasion to wear, and I wanted my own cloak back."
"Is that why you left the silver coins there?" she asked.
"How did you know?"
"I was the other Elf wrapped in a cloak."
I was speechless. All this and she knew all along!
"Did you not wonder why he didn't raise the others?"
I confess, I had wondered. I'd crept over to the pegs, reached down the coat – aye, and hung a little bag with the few silver coins the landlord had paid me for scrubbing his kitchens out – then as I turned, I looked straight into his eyes - and he into mine. I stood transfixed. He looked so very sad and alone; if those eyes can steal your soul… then at that moment I was utterly lost… but – enough of that.
"You told him not to speak?" I asked.
"You had made a transaction, it wasn't up to us to interfere – we had business elsewhere." she shrugged.
Faramir murmured and her attention went to him as he stirred. I went to make a drink for him; willow-bark to soothe the headache. I was half-tempted to take some myself – my past and what I chose to tell could become a game of cat and mouse – between what Estel might have told her, what she'd guessed, and even seen for herself so it seemed.
Anyway, the farmer's wife was pleased enough to trade my plain wool cloak for a fancy piece of cloth. I wish her luck of it; she won't have it now. My cloak on the other hand, it's faded but I have it still. It was made by the wood-elves of the north, the Avari; lichen-green, stone-grey, smoke-blue, they are all in the weaving of it. Warm and so light, you can wrap yourself in it and walk like a ghost before men's eyes; I'd never intended leaving it behind me – I just needed to earn enough to buy it back – because, I only steal when I have to.
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.