For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.
Rating: Teens, for this part.
Rating: Teens, for this part.
Day Two – The Maidservant
The curfew had been over for at least two hours when Telta finished folding the freshly washed bedlinens and blankets in the attic. Her hands were reddened from the icy cold, and her fingers felt like icicles. Winter had come early and was unusually harsh this year, and even with the warmth seeping through from the servants’ quarters below, the attic was barely warmer than the outside. It had taken the blankets more than two days to dry out completely.
Fortunately, there were only a few guests in the inn so close to Yuletide; at least such guests who would spend the night. The harsh weather kept the people living on the farmsteads from coming to town, and trade was low during the winter anyway. In these times, the Riverside Inn usually lived from the townsfolk: from the fishermen and boat-makers and ropers and barrel-makers of the Old Port, or even from the craftsmen from the streets higher up within the walls, who came in for a mug of ale (or three) after work. As the Drunken Boat had never been the same since Mistress Pharin’s passing, many of her former customers came over to the inn, thus giving Sydnius a secure income even in these days.
The maids were thankful for the quieter season. Even though the cold made their work harder, it gave them the chance to catch up with tasks for which they would have no time when the rooms were full, unless they gave up on sleep entirely. And they got the chance to go to bed before midnight, for a change.
‘Twas not so that the innkeeper would press them beyond endurance. Truth be told, Sydnius worked just as hard as everyone else, and all that worked for him were practically family: either his own, or that of his wife. Telta was no exception.
She had worked in the inn from the tender age of twelve. Her parents, a local farmer and his wife, had thirteen children, whom they could barely feed, so the older ones had to find work in the town early on. Vicana had been the first, with their brother Archil, who came to work for the inn, and when she married the innkeeper, Vacia and Telta followed suit. They found good, albeit hard work here, and Vicana even found happiness, for Sydnius was a good man, who loved and valued her, and she was respected as the mistress of the house among the people old the Old Port.
But not all of them were so fortunate. Not that Vacia would have had much choice but marrying Merryn, after the carter had forced himself upon her on a drunken evening and got her with child. Sydnius made it very clear to his brother that had he not taken Vacia as his wife, he would have been brought before Lord Orchald to be judged. Still, Vacia’s life with the carter was not a happy one. She worked more and harder than anyone in the family, keeping the books for the inn and for the carter business, bearing and raising four children and running Merryn’s household at the same time. Yet she earned no gratitude from that uncouth man for it.
Mayhap it would have been better, had we allowed Archil to kill Merryn when he violated Vacia, Telta thought tiredly. Archil was a capable man; he could have found work anywhere. Or he could have become a soldier. And Vacia might have had a better life alone than enduring the insults and the beatings of a man who did not deserve her.
And then I might have had a life more worth living, she added in thought. For after Vacia had a miscarriage last time she had been with child, she could not bear any more children, and so she had become useless for Merryn who considered her little more than a breeding mare. The beatings had become more frequent and more cruel, for Merryn wanted a big family, with more children who could work in his business, so that he would not need to pay helping hands.
And since Vacia could not give him more children, he had done the same thing to Telta as he had done to his wife earlier – cornering her in a drunken night and forcing himself upon her. It had been the night in which her son, Tyrnan, had been conceived, almost six years ago.
If Sydnius had been angry the first time, this time he was truly furious. He was willing to publicly disown his brother – according to the customs of the Old Folk, that would have meant for Merryn the loss of everything he owned and the exile from his hometown – as it was his right as the head of the family. But it would also have meant for Vacia’s children to grow up fatherless and without family bonds, as the carter had no unwed brother who could have married her and raise the little ones as his own. Thus Vacia had begged Sydnius not to disown her unworthy husband. She had offered to raise Telta’s child together with her own children, to silence people’s tongues.
Sydnius had been abject at first, but after a while he gave in, albeit reluctantly. And thus they arranged themselves. Vacia remained the mistress of Merryn’s house, running the household, raising the children and keeping the books. And Telta shared Merryn’s bed whenever he had demanded, and bore more children that would never be hers, to fulfil an obligation her sister could not fulfil anymore.
Of course, this arrangement could not be kept secret forever. People figured out when little Tethra was born two years ago, at the very least, and asked in bewilderment why on earth would a young, lovely, hard-working lass do such thing. She could have a family of her own, marrying Cathail, one of the cart drivers: a good, honest lad, who very obviously fancied her very much, despite her unfortunate affair with Merryn.
Telta often asked herself the same thing. She hated and despised Merryn more than she could voice it. And she feared that one day Archil would lose control and murder Merryn in bitter rage. Which would be the end of him, for as much as Sydnius despised Merryn’s deeds, he would not leave the murderer of his brother unpunished.
And Telta knew that Vacia was not happy with the arrangement either, although such things had been acceptable among the Old Folk before the Dúnedain had come. Vacia felt guilty about the fate of her sister, guilty and ashamed, as if it had been her fault that she had miscarried after a particularly savage beating and become barren. As if aught of the whole unfortunate affair would have been her fault.
At least the beatings had stopped. Merryn had never raised his heavy hand against his wife again, now that he had a new, younger breeding mare. Well… perchance Sydnius’ threats played some role in that, too. The innkeeper had made it adamantly clear that his brother was not to mishandle his wife – or his bedmate – under any circumstances, or he would be disowned, no matter what. And Merryn had backed off. The head of such a large, wealthy and influential family still held great power among the Old Folk, and family matters were usually dealt with within the family, according to old customs. Lord Orchald might not always liked their practices, but he never intervened, unless asked to do so by the family elders.
Telta sighed, put the last blanket into the bedlinen wardrobe and left the attic, rubbing her arms to warm herself. She felt ill; mayhap she was with child again, ‘twas still too early to tell. She hoped she was not. She did not want to give that cruel, heartless man another child. She did not want to give birth ever again. She did not want to see Merryn ever again, less so to endure his roughness, to be used by him. She did not want to sit in her small chamber alone, while the others celebrated Yule in the taproom of the inn. But she wanted even less to sit at the table with them. To pretend that they were one big, happy family.
‘Twas not Sydnius’ fault that things had taken such a bad turn. He would have punished Merryn properly, had Vacia not begged him to do otherwise. Yet it was not Vacia’s fault, either. She could never have fed the four children alone, and neither of them could have gone back to their parents’ farmstead. They were even poorer. And need was a hard taskmaster.
Still, mayhap they should have let Sydnius disown his brother. Mayhap with Archil’s help, they would have managed to raise the children somehow. And, generous man as he was, even Sydnius might have helped them as well as he could. Now it was too late. They had agreed to arrange things according the old customs, and such an agreement was binding, even without a written contact. She could not get out of it anymore, unless Merryn released her before the family elders. And for that, there was little hope.
In a few days, Cathail would seek her out again. He would bring her small Yule gifts, like every year, and he would ask her to leave town with him. To Lossarnach, mayhap, or to Linhir, or to Pelargir – Minas Tirith would be too close. He would beg her to leave this unworthy life behind, to flee with him somewhere who they could live like other good, honest people. To have a life they both deserved.
So far, Telta had always refused to listen. She feared what Merryn would do to Vacia if she left. But now… should she be with child again, she would be lose this child, too. She felt, for the first time, that she could not do so again. Even if sired by Merryn, it would be her flesh and blood. How could the elders consider such a cruel arrangement acceptable?
Mayhap Cathail was right. Mayhap they should run away, ere it was too late. Ere she had grown so used to this life that she would have no strength left to turn her back on it.
Telta stepped into her chamber and went directly to her bed. She felt too drained to think of washing first. She crawled under her down-filled blanket fully clothed, toeing off only her shoes. She would stand up again and undress as soon as she had managed to warm up a bit.
And if Cathail asked her again, mayhap she would run away with him. In springtime. Or in early summer. When it would be warm again.
~The End – for now~
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Note: Telta died in Halabor a few months later. Cathail escaped to Lossarnach and fell in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, fighting with Lord Forlong’s troops.