4. 4. Inventory
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Chapter 4 Inventory
“…Ninety-two, ninety-three,” the woman mumbled softly. Erkenbrand looked down at Éalwyn. There she sat, counting broken arrows, covered in dust and dirt, still wearing her vest, the long sleeves of her shirt still firmly buttoned at the wrist. Her hair hung down and clung to her sweat-covered brow. He did not know how she could stand it. He had forgone his jerkin and tied his hair back in a ponytail. His shirt was untucked and already he began to loosen the laces down the front.
Inventory was not something to which the captain looked forward. It was tedious, the backroom of the armory was warm and dank, and the stacks of weapons endless. This time, however, he at least had company more to his liking. Gamling was a dear friend, but not as pleasing as Mouse. Even dressed in ill-fitting men clothing and offering minimal conversation, she captivated him. She was an enigma. Éalwyn was kind and friendly, spoken highly of by everyone with whom she dealt, in the prime of her life and yet the captain was hard pressed to name one actual friend. She never went to the pub after work or to the lake on summer days with peers. For the few things she did attend, she was always in the company of the considerably older councilor who rarely left her side. The captain would think them betrothed but for the lack of a betrothal brooch and any sign of passion between the two, at least on the woman’s part.
“I am sure she is quite lovely, but if you do not continue your tally she will be lonely this evening,” Mouse said. The tall man had stopped his sorting and sat with a happy yet distant look on his face.
Erkenbrand came back to the present, a bit embarrassed at his lack of focus. “Um, yes, she is,” he answered distractedly.
Éalwyn could not explain why his admission pained her. It was not like she would have a chance to gain his favor even if she were not stuck in her present situation. She had seen the women who vied for his attention. They were young and pretty and knew how to attract a man’s interest. She knew nothing of that. The Captain was rugged and handsome and very sweet. Why torture herself any more? He saw her as a loyal aide, one of the boys at best. Feeling the depression swell, she quickly abandoned the pile of broken arrows before her on the floor and climbed a near by ladder. Several arrows still lay on the top most shelf. Stretching on her toes she leaned way over to reach an arrow, in the process she lost her balance and felt the ladder shift. The fall was inevitable—or so she thought. She let out a small squeak as strong arms caught her. Her heart was pounding and her body shaking at the scare. Slowly she opened her eyes and looked up into hazel eyes that regarded her with concern.
“You *are* accident prone, are you not?” Erkenbrand said with a smile, still holding her in his arms. He liked how she felt there and was in no hurry to let go.
“Yes, she is,” came a cold and unexpected reply from the doorway.
Éalwyn quickly pulled out of the captain’s protective embrace. “My lord, it is not--that is I fell from the ladder and was fortunate the Captain caught me,” she stammered nervously.
“How fortunate, indeed. You are late for supper and I became worried. I fear not all men are honorable and this room quite remote.”
Erkenbrand did not miss the implication and did not appreciate the insult. Still, Mouse seemed unnerved enough so he would let it go. “It is easy to lose track of time given the magnitude of the task,” the tall man replied instead.
“It has never been an issue before, Captain,” came the icy reply. “Come Éalwyn,” the advisor commanded. Keeping her eyes on the floor, the young woman bid her captain good night, gathered her things and hastily left the arms room.
Advisor Ordwulf stepped close to the tall Rohirrim captain, his voice threatening, “You would be wise to keep your distance; she is not intended for the likes of you.” Before the full impact of his words hit, the smaller man strode from the room in a swish of robes. Erkenbrand could only stare after him wondering about the man’s intentions.
When Éalwyn and the Advisor emerged from the armory, the angry man pushed her into a secluded alcove. With her back to the stone wall, he grabbed her about the throat and squeezed. “You will stay away from him do you understand? You are not to be alone with him like that again! He will bring you nothing but pain—believe me!” The frightened woman found it difficult to breathe and began to struggle, pulling at Ordwulf’s arm. He tightened his grip. “Do I make my self clear?” he asked though clenched teeth.
She could not respond as her lungs burned from lack of air so she shook her head as best she could. That did not please the man as he brought his face within inches of hers and breathed, “Answer me!”
“Yes!” she choked out, tears running down her cheeks, her head throbbing.
“Good.” He replied, letting her go. She dropped to her knees, gasping for air. “Get up before someone sees you crawling on the ground like a dog!” Obediently she got up and, rubbing her sore neck, silently followed the advisor to their suite. She was certain there would be marks and she was already thinking of ways to cover them and explain them away should they be noticed.
***The next morning***
“What is with…” the captain pointed to the scarf wrapped about Éalwyn’s neck.
“I fear the dust and damp air in the storeroom has irritated my throat. I applied a salve to soothe it and wish to keep it warm,” she said, her voice rough. “It is the price of inventory,” she quickly added, hoping he would think it happened every time.
Erkenbrand nodded, accepting her answer although something in the back of his mind nagged at him.