9. The Cobbler
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
With a threatening tap of the spear point on one of Elffled's maligned hips, the burly guard escorted the weeping girl through the open entrance of the tent.
"Cobbler! Here is another one for you to fit with your fine slippers! But mind you, make haste! The master slaver grows impatient at the endless delay! This one's sister has been detained by the blacksmith and his rogue. If either one of these wenches gives you any trouble, throw her over your knees, hoist up her skirt and lay the flail to her arse!"
"That will not be necessary." Intent upon tacking nails into the rims of the sole of a boot, the ruddy-faced, beardless young man paid scant attention to the guard and his charge. Absentmindedly, the cobbler flicked away a strand of light-colored hair that had strayed over one of his eyes.
"Volchok, I told you to hurry!"
"Patience, patience," the cobbler mumbled. "You just caused me to drop a nail." Carefully, he took another boot nail from his mouth. Without looking at the guard, he pounded the nail into the leather in one quick motion.
"Oh, hell!" the disgusted guard exclaimed. With a scowl at Elffled, he strode out of the tent.
Cupping his hand over his mouth, the cobbler spat the nails out and wiped his mouth off on the back of his hand. He glanced at Elffled for the first time. "These guards become tiresome after a while."
Head bowed, a tangled nest of hair falling over her face, Elffled stood, her shoulders softly trembling. Her lips felt swollen and fat from the kisses of the five guards, her breasts ached from the rough fondling which they had received from careless paws, and her bottom stung from the many pinches which had been delivered there. Even though her body reeked after almost a month without a bath, every part of her felt defiled and corrupted by a different type of taint. She was very, very frightened now, her thoughts swimming with dread at what would befall her next.
"Now, now, what do we have here? Crying?" the lanky young man murmured soothingly as he rose to his feet and walked over to her. "Will you not look at me? No, I see that you will not. Things must have gone badly for you! Come now, look up. I will not harm you."
Cautiously, Elffled raised her head, afraid of what would happen to her if she did not.
"Yes, I see that you did have an unpleasant time! Sit down at the stool over there by my work table."
With an uncertain look at him, Elffled shuffled over and sat down as a small sob escaped her lips. She closed her eyes and waited for the next indignity, cringing as a damp piece of cloth was pressed to her bruised lips.
With a defiant Elfhild walking in front of him, another guard swaggered through the tent opening. "Next customer, Volchok... Idling again, are you? As usual, I see you are not tending to business."
"I do not lose sleep fearing that I will be dismissed from my employment, my good fellow, for my services are indispensable! Now go away and leave me in peace, or you just might find that your next pair of boots pinch your feet!"
"Damned Rhûnian!" the guard swore under his breath and stalked out the tent.
"Sit down, lady, please, by your sister." He surveyed Elfhild's angry, tear-streaked face. "Yes, it is obvious that you are twins... I think you look even a worse sight than does she!"
"T - the guard," Elffled stammered, "are you not afraid of him?"
"No, why should I be?" Both eyebrows quirked upward in a questioning gaze. "We are both employed by the same trading establishment. I make his boots!" the young man laughed. Taking the wet cloth, he gently wiped her face. "Feel better?"
"Oh, yes, sir!" she replied, more glad for the kindness than she was for the cleansing moisture.
"Now your sister needs proper attention." Volchok dabbed gently at Elfhild's debased lips and then moved the cloth to her grime-covered cheeks. "Both your faces are very dirty," he murmured, "and I suspect that the two of you are infested with lice. Allow me to ascertain whether my assumptions are correct or not." As he bent over and peered at her filthy locks, he held up a few strands of her hair to the light and examined at them closely.
"Just as I thought. Your hair is crawling with vermin. Your scalps must itch unbearably!" The young man hastily wiped his finger off with the moistened cloth and tossed the rag aside. Both girls blushed in humiliation and embarrassment. "With so many captives, there are no provisions for washing here, but I assure you that the establishment will see that your bathing will be attended to in time... and your infestation will be eradicated with the administration of oil. Just try to be patient and bear with it a little longer. The Southrons and Easterlings are fastidious people for the main part. They insist upon cleanliness, and their custom is to take a number of baths a day whenever possible."
Of course, all the slaves had become plagued with lice over the duration of the journey. People forced to be kept together in close contact for days become prone to parasites and diseases. The orc guards constantly scratched themselves, sometimes furiously digging their clawed fingers under their helms and leather armor. No one was surprised when the fiendish little insects had eagerly sought the tender hides of their new hosts, for their skin was far more delicate than the orcs.
Though they did not put so much importance upon cleanliness as did the Easterlings and Southrons, the Rohirrim had always taken pride in their appearance, and slovenliness such as this was an alien thing to them. The peasant women mixed herbs with the bed straw to drive away parasites. The craftsmen of the Mark were skilled at carving fine combs of wood and bone, for most everyone tried to keep well-groomed hair and beards. A number among the Rohirrim had even retained the old ways of the North and constructed saunas for relaxing steam baths.
Like those of most of the captives, the scalps of Elfhild and Elffled were teeming with lice, and Elfhild longed to dig at her tormented pate. Why did the cobbler have to remind her of the unwelcome presence of the infernal blood-sucking host?
Volchok shook his head. "While many among the Southrons and Easterlings are civilized men of good taste, the guards, however, are a totally different proposition. They are mostly ruffians, as you two have found out yourselves. However, in a time of war, where can men of quality be found for such work? My employers are reputable men, but they are forced to accept unsavory sorts of the baser lot."
Elffled tested her lips by rubbing one against the other, and while they still ached and stung, the liquid had done much to refresh them. "Do you mean, sir, that these guards are not of the military?"
"Oh, no, certainly not!" The young man seemed most eager to right her misconception. "You have seen the last of the military... at least for a while. The orcs who brought you down from the North received their pay yesterday, and the whole lot of you was transferred to a civilian slave trading establishment based in Nurn."
"I guessed as much," Elfhild replied bitterly. "So these armed guards are in the employ of the slavers?"
"Correct." Volchok walked to the side of the tent where he took a wineskin which was hanging from a peg on one of the supporting beams. "Drink," he commanded as he placed the mouthpiece to Elffled's abused lips.
"Thank you," she whispered as she drank.
His friendly blue eyes looked into hers. "Drink again."
"No more, please."
"Now you, my lady." He moved the stem of the wineskin to Elfhild's mouth.
The cobbler had called them "my lady." How long had it been now since they were referred to by that polite address? "Perhaps there is some trick to this," Elfhild thought warily. She was at last learning that not everything was as it first appeared in this strange new world which had been forced upon them. The experience with the scribe had been quite an enlightening one, and now she began to question that which first seemed innocent.
When Volchok was certain that the sisters had drunk their fill, he returned the wineskin to its peg. On his way back to them, he stopped by his work table and brought back a cobbler's measuring device.
"Now for the fitting of your shoes." He knelt in front of Elffled, and after taking her worn shoes from her feet, he tossed them to a great pile of equally battered footwear. Wrinkling his nose in distaste, he looked up to her. "How long has it been since you last had a bath?"
"Maybe a month." She bowed her head in shame.
Volchok coughed politely. "I have grown used to the stench of sour feet, and it does not bother me at all, I assure you." Coughing frequently, he quickly finished the fitting and turned to her sister.
"Your feet smell even riper than your sister's, but you do have very trim ankles," he murmured as he ran his hand up and down her ankles and calves. "Forgive me, but I do have a fancy for well-shaped feet, and yours are quite lovely." He quickly removed her shoes, and after tossing them to join the rest of the mangled, odoriferous pile, he applied the measuring device to each foot.
"Just a moment, just a moment. I will find boots to fit you both." He rose to his feet and walked to a section of bins. After searching through several containers, he extracted two pairs of low-topped boots, and, reaching to a shelf above, he pulled down two pairs of stockings.
The guard stuck his head inside the tent once more. "Volchok, are you about finished?"
"Not quite," the cobbler raised his voice to reply. "Soon, soon."
"Ten minutes, no more!"
"Make that fifteen. Go out and find someone else to pester."
"Volchok, I warn you..." the guard mumbled as he left.
"Lady," the cobbler knelt down again at Elffled's feet, "I promise you that no matter how much I might adore women's feet, I will keep my hands where they belong when I try these boots upon you."
Elffled closed her eyes and trembled slightly as her skirts were slid up to rest atop her knees. The cobbler began humming as he tended to her feet. He used both hands to ease the stockings up on first one foot and then the other, and then fastened the hose securely with a garter. He picked up her foot and slipped the boot over it, securing the ties. Soon both sisters were admiring their new boots.
"I must offer you my condolences. This is not my best work. I must make the shoes ahead of time so that they will be ready. Alas, there is no time to assure the best fitting shoes for you or the color, and there is only one style." His brows knitted together, Volchok frowned as he looked at the boots.
Elfhild regarded the cobbler for a moment. He seemed to be a better sort than were the blacksmith, his assistant or the guards, even if he was a little too interested in their feet. "At least this one seems polite... but one never knows about these folk."
Finishing with the fitting of their stockings and boots, the cobbler stood up. "Do you like music?"
"Yes, sir," Elfhild replied courteously.
"Then I will sing a little tune which I made up myself. I call it 'My Faraway Home.'" And in a deep, baritone voice, he began to sing in Common Speech.
Wandering to places through fair and foul weather
Often my mind travels while I work with the leather
My thoughts take me often to lands where I roam
Walking through places so far from my home
Rhûn is my country, where there dwell my kin
Sheltered, protected, far from the common din
Will you come with me and journey afar
Charting our path by the great northern star?
What can I promise under far northern sky
Wonders beyond measure; delight to the eye
There dwells the stag, the ox of great fame
And wild folk and free that no one can tame!
And when winter grows dark and the nights are cold
We listen to tales of warriors stout and bold!
Our kindred about us, our hearth warm and near
We sing and we dance and raise tankards of cheer!
Some men long to journey to the Western Sea
But such unknown places hold no treasure for me
So dream of your sprites, your sea-maids so fair
All are illusions and baubles of air
I want only my people, my King and my home
If I have only this, I will nevermore roam!
What do I need but the great Inland Sea
A hut, some furs and a warm wench with me!
I am no bard who labors for money and ale
But just a poor cobbler with many a tale
I promise you nothing, a story, a song
And my company on nights that are wearisome long!
"Did you like my song?" he looked at them from questioning blue eyes.
"Oh, yes, sir," Elfhild smiled, grateful for this distraction from the humiliating incident in the blacksmith's shed "We have not heard a song - a good song - in ages, only the croaking of orcs."
Her mind muddled and distracted, Elffled had heard little of the man's singing, and it had passed by as nothing more than an indistinct mumble. How could she concentrate on frivolous matters, such as quaint songs and tales of other lands? She could think of nothing but the nightmarish visit to the blacksmith's shop. Her swollen, ravished lips ached and throbbed, and she could still feel the rough touches of the guards, as though the imprint of their foul, groping hands had been branded into her flesh. Though the cobbler's tune was a merry one, she did not raise her eyes to look at him and stared aimlessly at the ground.
"Sir, where is Rhûn?" Elfhild ventured hesitantly.
"Far to the northeast of where we are now, where lies the inland body of water known as the Sea of Rhûn. Though many of those in Rhûn have blonde hair and blue eyes, we are no kin to you. Indeed, my people are enemies of yours and have been since ancient times. Of course," he reflected, "mayhap some of my ancestors took wives of your women. I am glad that they did, or I would not have been here today." He flashed them a mischievous, almost boyish, grin. "But we are of a diverse stock, encompassing many tribes and peoples. No one knows from whence we came, but I would wager our origins are somewhere even farther to the East or South." He paused and looked at them kindly. "I trust that the song pleased you. Common Speech is not my own language, as you can readily see!"
"Your singing was wonderful, nevertheless," Elfhild smiled amiably. After the loathsome blacksmith and his assistant, she found it comforting to speak with someone who seemed friendly and well-mannered.
"Compliments and appreciation for my music must be acknowledged." Volchok bowed in a sweeping, courtly manner. "Ic thancie the." His face lit up in a broad grin, but somewhere deep within his blue eyes stirred a hint of mystery and intrigue which passed as quickly as it had come. "Aye, I know some of your language! I have learned dialects and tongues, and have traveled divers places in my labors. Many people call me by name. Perhaps I shall see you again. You never know when you might need a new pair of shoes."
Elfhild's heart skipped a beat after hearing her own language spoken by an outsider. Few understood the tongue of the Rohirrim, for many considered the language as archaic and uncouth. Not even the folk of Anórien cared to become fluent in Rohirric. Perhaps this man had learned a few words from other prisoners from her land.
"Maybe," Elfhild replied, "but in better circumstances, I hope."
"We can always wish for that," he smiled.
The guard looked inside the tent and glared. "Can you hurry it up a little? It is not that we have all day!" he grumbled.
"Patience, good man," the cobbler replied curtly.
The young man sat back down at the bench and spoke in a low voice, once again in their language. "You have passed the worst of it now and will soon be leaving the city. You might say that this was the most difficult part, for here is where you commence your learning."
Wondering at the sympathetic demeanor of the Rhûnian and his curious skills at speaking the language of Rohan, Elfhild nodded gravely. Elffled paid little heed to the man, for her gaze was still locked upon the boot-beaten ground.
"I am sorry for your plight. I hope you are sent to Rhûn; it will be far better for you there."
"If the folk of Rhûn who prove to be as kind as you, then it is my earnest hope as well," Elfhild whispered back.
"May fate be with you." He glanced at the entry to the tent.
"Farewell, most worthy Master Cobbler and bard of many songs," she bid graciously. "Thank you for your sympathy and your kindness."
He smiled at her. "You never know when friends, both new and old, will be about. Take comfort in what joys you can find along the way."
Brandishing his spear, the surly guard returned to the inside of the tent. "You have had enough time! Now come along and stop this idling!"
Both sisters quickly scrambled to their feet, and Elfhild curtsied before the mysterious cobbler. "Friends are always good to have," she whispered. "Farewell!"
"Beoth ge gesunde," the cobbler replied, bowing to them.
"Stop talking and start walking!" the guard muttered as he herded the girls forward, his metal-tipped spear ever at the ready.
"Ic thancie the" - "I thank you" (Old English)
"Beoth ge gesunde" - "Be you safe, healthy, prosperous" (Old English)
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.