4. Chapter 4
- Chapter 4 -
The village tavern turned out to be a small cottage, chosen for this role essentially for its strategic emplacement in the heart of the settlement. As the sun disappeared slowly behind the hill, the villagers returned from their labour in the fields and poured into the tavern, the sole distraction offered in this quiet valley.
Elrohir pushed the wooden door and was immediately overwhelmed by the stench characteristic to this kind of establishment: sweat, urine and unwashed bodies mixed up with stale food. He wrinkled his nose in disgust, fighting the urge to breathe through his mouth. Behind him, Glorfindel swore. The elf lord had been adamant about accompanying them, for reasons not entirely clear. He had insisted that he would never live it down should anything happen to his protégés, but Elrohir suspected that the great warrior was simply bored.
The small group made its way to a free table in the corner, each elf pulling a chair so that their backs were granted protection by the wall – an old habit from more disturbed times. Neither of them removed their hoods; they knew that men were starting to forget the Firstborn's existence, and didn't want to draw too much attention to themselves. The other clients of the tavern watched them enter with open curiosity and distrust. But they were a peaceful folk, and decided to leave the impolite strangers in peace.
Elladan gestured to a tired-looking serving wench – the only word that came to mind, given the generous amount of flesh revealed by her bodice – and ordered a pitcher of wine. There was none, and the elves settled for ale. Elrohir refrained from specifically asking for clean mugs: such luxury was probably not comprised in the establishment's services.
The woman brought them their drinks, her hungry eyes boring into each elf, in hope of a tip, or more... Elrohir noted that she must've been pretty, in her younger days, but her work had ripped all illusions from her, her dreams of love withering away in the stifling tavern. Years had drawn hard, bitter lines on her skin. She was desperate, Elrohir realized, shuddering. Aging and alone, she was on a hunt for a husband, and she'd settle for anyone with some coin and a house. And she couldn't be more than fourty...
He reminded himself that not everyone had the luxury of Long Years to find a partner in life.
Glorfindel peered into his cup, then upturned it with a grimace. A cockroach stretched its legs happily and trotted to the edge of the table. Noticing Elladan's mocking stare, he shrugged: 'I'm not hungry.'
Resigned, Elrohir wiped his cup with his cloak, as discreetly as he could, in order not to upset the tavern owner. To his surprise, the ale was decent, though it could not be compared to the Dorwinion once sent to his father by the King of Mirkwood. It had been the best year of the best vintage of Middle-earth: a royal present indeed. Beside him, Glorfindel's heavy sigh seemed to indicate that he was remembering it, too.
As the tavern filled up with customers and drunkards, the people around them appeared to accept that the group of strangers posed no threat, and seemed to forget their existence. What is more, their curiosity was given a new target. Elrohir tensed, his cup frozen halfway to his mouth, when the door opened and a familiar silhouette limped to the counter. He felt his brother's inquisitive glance, but all his attention was on the girl.
She glanced around nervously, tugging on her skirts, until the tavern owner – a big, red-faced man – noticed her presence. 'What can I do for you, lass?' he inquired, setting down the mug he was wiping. The girl shifted on her feet. 'I...' She glanced around, her gaze stopping for an instant on their table; Elrohir's heart skipped a beat.
'I'm looking for work,' she said finally, and gestured to the crowded room. 'I came to ask whether you needed another serving girl.'
Someone snorted in the back of the room, and Elrohir spun to see who. The hilarity was picked up, and the whole tavern was soon roaring with laughter. Elrohir growled, rage blurring his vision; almost unconsciously, he started to rise, a hand snaking to the sword beneath his cloak, but Elladan's iron grip kept him sitting. 'Easy, brother,' hissed his twin.
The girl blushed crimson and clenched her teeth, waiting patiently until the laughter died down. 'I'll do anything,' she murmured. 'Serving, cleaning, washing... Anything.' Her voice was quiet and full of dignity; her eyes desperate.
Through his anger, Elrohir felt cold. She would never make it... She would never be able, no matter how determined she was, to keep up the pace. Not with her crippled leg. Each evening she would suffer unimaginable agony, and endure the clients' stupid, cruel jokes. Elrohir could imagine too well what the people could find amusing to do to her: push her to see her stumble to regain her compromised balance, make her trip and fall, cheering as she picked up the broken crockery off the floor...
The tavern owner seemed to agree with him. 'Sorry, lass,' he said, gesturing to the breathless, sweaty girls running to and from the counter, their arms laden with heavy pitchers and mugs. 'Hard work, serving. And you...' He hesitated. 'No offense, but I don't believe you'll be able to keep up.' He shook his head. 'Sorry.'
'Please!' The girl lunged forward and caught the man's sleeve; the ungraceful effort would have been comical if it wasn't so desperate. 'Please, sir! I really need the money. I will work hard, just try me.' Her voice dropped in volume, turning into a painful whisper. 'Please. I beg you.'
The tavern owner hesitated, and Elrohir's lips moved, as if he could make him speak. 'No, no!' he murmured. 'Can't you see? It'll kill her...'
But his words remained unheard as the man sighed. 'Fine,' he conceded, cautiously freeing his sleeve from the girl's grip. 'I need someone to wash the dishes on the evening shift.' He eyed her critically. 'It won't be easy either.'
'I'll manage!' The girl beamed at him, so breathtaking in her naive joy. 'Thank you, sir! You won't regret it, I promise!' The tavern owner harrumphed. 'Be here same time tomorrow.' Obviously, he was regretting already, and cursing his soft side.
Elrohir watched as she limped out of the tavern, oblivious to the hooting and the cheering and the mockeries that fused with her every step. He wanted to strangle someone. It was entirely his fault that she was reduced to begging for work in this shabby tavern, for watching as the water of the Hoarwell carried her dreams away in its cold embrace. He felt Elladan lean towards him in concern. 'I will release you now,' he warned, and the pressure on his forearm lessened. 'I pray you, don't do anything stupid.'
Elrohir downed the contents of his goblet and set it down, his knuckles white as he gripped it. It was the goblet or someone's throat. Looking around, he took in every detail of their surroundings: the dirt, the crowd, the raucous laughter and the stench. It was no place for her, he decided. And if she had no other solution, then he would find something, and save her from this little hell. He would not have her give up.
He rose from his seat and marched to the counter, followed closely by Elladan and Glorfindel, who obviously didn't trust him to walk out without a fight. Laying the coins on the dirt-encrusted wooden surface, he nodded to the door. 'Who was that girl?' he asked.
The tavern owner cocked an eyebrow. 'The girl? That's our Wyn, good sir.'
'The fairy,' echoed an amused voice from the back of the room - someone who itched for a couple of broken teeth, in Elrohir's opinion. The tavern owner scoffed. 'The fairy Wyn, we call her.'
The cruel irony of the nickname made Elrohir shiver. 'The fairy? Why?' he said, playing surprise in his turn.
The man looked slightly uneasy. 'Well...' he began, glancing at the door. 'She's a good girl,' he defended, 'But... A bit touched in the head, you know? Believes in fairies and elves, and such things...'
'I see,' Elrohir drawled. 'It's very... unusual,' he added, forcing the last word out of his mouth. The man laughed. 'Right you are, good sir,' he said. 'You see, she believes that one day, her elven prince will come to whisk her away on his white horse, all dressed in flowers.'
'The prince?' asked Glorfindel in disbelief.
'No, the horse.' The tavern owner waved his hand dismissively. 'Simple, I told you.'
Thanking the man through clenched teeth, Elrohir exited the tavern; the night air cooled down his anger, leaving only the guilt and the disgust. Crippled and rejected. What a miserable life he had given her, in his stupidity and carelessness. He glanced towards her house, where a single window was alight. Wyn, who was probably celebrating her small victory with a feast as magnificent as her meager supplies could allow.
What was he to do now?
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.