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8

Above her brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white; but her soft grey raiment had no ornament save a girdle of leaves wrought in silver.

FOTR: Many Meetings


~~~

The parlor is a fright. I have left it to the very last of the list of the many things which must be done within the house. Between its walls lies a rat's nest of those possessions I have brought from my father's house and my lord's mother's things which she brought from the house of Master Elrond. My lord has few possessions of his own, and those are already either in use or stored in the tall case by his table. In my haste, I have left baskets uncovered and piles of cloth and wool roving and pillows and blankets scattered all about as I searched for what was most urgent in the moment, and then shut the door upon it all, for I have precious little time.

Where once I was of a small household kept by two sets of hands, now I must tend my lord's hall, his parlor, his pantry, his buttery, and the solar upstairs alone, and feed not just the occasional three, but my lord, Halbarad, myself, and many of the men who attend upon them. They sleep about the hearth at night and, true it is, I welcome their company. But a Ranger at home, they say, is deaf and dumb to all but the demands of his belly, and I am hard pressed to keep his men's stomachs full.

And not just the food, but I am buried in laundry. Sheets and blankets and towels and rags pile with my own second-best shift and dresses. Now even my best shift has begun to stink and I must wonder at the state of my lord's garments and if he have a second set to wear should I wish to wash the first. And this does not even begin to account for the work that awaits out of doors! Ai! And I must go to market soon, for we have no greens, little flour, and I am down to the very last of the onions that once hung from a long braid in the pantry.

My lord may not wish me to be his servant, but I cannot see how it is possible for me to be much else.

And so, here I stand upon what little of the parlor floor is unoccupied, and turn about, looking at it all and wishing mightily that the magic of the Elves were mine and it had aught to do with forcing order upon this chaos. I wonder what my lord would say if I pressed a few of his men's strong backs into service. Now my lord heals, is he often away from home for part of the day. Mayhap if I bribed his men with my aunt's sausage-stuffed rolls while he is away, they might be convinced not to reveal it to him.

I sigh and brush dust off my apron by dint of shaking it. Best to start now, for more delay will bring my tasks no more closer to completion. Ah, where to begin?

It is an hour or more that I dig through the bags and baskets, and I have sorted through much of what came from my father's house and now pore over things left behind by my lord's mother. Linens and blankets in one pile, the tools of their making in another, roving pushed aside, soap and candles and needles and thread in baskets along the wall. I have found a small silver bell with a broad handle in my search through my lord's mother's things and, holding it up to my ear and giving it a shake, I marvel at it. I had not seen such a thing and its sound is of the high, hard leaves of the plum tree made merry by the sunshine. It brings a smile to my face when I find that cupping my hand about it gives the sound of bubbles beneath deep waters. With a sigh, I set it down amidst other things of which I have no great understanding and little immediate use, and now face a deep chest filled with lush colors and textures of which I have only dreamed.

The fibers catch on my poorly trimmed nails and I marvel how my lord's mother managed her house and yet was able to remain fit to wear such fine things. I drape the clothes across baskets and chests the better to see them and the colors glow in the soft light. They are truly beautiful, more fair than any work I have e'er seen afore.

What need had I that my lord's lady mother could fulfill? A place among her people already established? A better understanding of her son's thoughts? No? I lift a long dress and I laugh. Her height of figure, perhaps, then. I hate the thought of taking shears to such delicate work, but I can hardly see myself in them. I shall need fine linens for my lord's table, clothes for a child's naming and gifts for those who visit the Angle and those who serve. But perhaps I shall keep at least one dress, no, two, no-- ah, very well, three, then-- for such occasions as my lord may require. We shall see if I can avoid mangling them in their altering.

"My lady," I hear from the door and find Halbarad stooping below the lintel, leaning into the room with one hand upon the frame. He looks for all as if he feared were he to enter too far he would be pulled into the abyss. I cannot find it in my heart to blame him.

"Our lord bids you attend him," he says and waits until I set aside the dresses to disappear into the hall.

I can only wonder what my lord may wish. We have spoken little since he now orders his own coming and going. Our meals are quiet, with little speech but for that between my lord and his kin or his men, and we sleep together in a wide bed without the exchange of words or touch. But, still, I follow and find my lord at his table, where he has tossed a leather pack and now unbuckles his belt. It seems he is just returned home.

"You called, my lord? I am come," I say from the door to the parlor and he glances my way.

"Ah, lady." He draws his belt and sword from around his waist, tosses the lot to Halbarad before striding about the end of the table.

His kin wraps the belt about my lord's scabbard and raises it to its place upon the wall while my lord swiftly unbinds the clasp upon the pack on the table.

"Come!" my lord says, urging me forward when I stand watching them, bemused by the ease with which it seems the other knows his thoughts.

My lord sits upon his chair, drawing the pack toward him as he opens it. He looks up and frowns to find me across the table from him, where I stand with my hands clasped before me, gazing at him expectantly.

"Nay, lady, come sit with me," he says and, to my puzzlement, nods to the bench beside him.

I settle to the edge of the seat as my lord pulls letters, tablets, and a sheaf of loosely bound parchment from his pack. Halbarad hangs his pack upon a peg by the door as I sit and now joins us and sets to collecting the letters and organizing them into piles. No doubt they are missives collected from the far flung corners of my lord's lands. He and his kinsman will spend the rest of the day and much of the evening to come poring over them and debating their course.

My lord draws the bound journal to him. By its worn edges and darkening of the leather I can see it is old and much used.

"Lady," he says, "here you find the records of this house and its lands. Elder Maurus' daughter had them in her care after my mother's passing, but I entrust them now to you."

Here he unties the leather thong holding the journal closed and opens it. I peer over his shoulder at the tight, neat hand of rows and columns of figures upon the loose sheaves. He turns the pages swiftly until reaching the end.

I am frowning at the page when my lord slides it before me. It seems I look at tithes gathered and the goods produced upon my lord's lands, the last of these pitifully few in these last years. The gathering of tithes seems to have been put in abeyance after my lord's mother's death and only recently renewed. My lord watches my face as slowly I turn the page. I peer more closely at the figures, at a loss. The last entry is dated a month prior. Why is that?

"You are lettered, lady, are you not?"

I look up from the figures to find my lord's gaze remains upon me. I had thought his attention elsewhere. The question was gently asked, but still I blush, the heat rising quickly to my face.

"Yes, my lord," I say, for that is not the source of my misgivings and it rankles he might think so poorly of me. Indeed I can read the ledger well, and by this know the amount of work that went into it. Wherever shall I find the time?

"Of course," he says stiffly and then falls silent as I turn the pages over, puzzling over the contents and their meaning.

"When is Melethron due?" my lord asks and spins a letter to better see the hand upon it as he waits, and Halbarad answers without looking up.

"Midafternoon."

"My lord?"

He turns to me. His eyes may be on me, but, for the distant look in my lord's eyes, I think his mind is elsewhere.

"Are these the most recent?" I lift the last of the pages.

"Yes," he says and then, seeming to recall himself, shakes his head, "No, Mistress Pelara keeps the records of this house for you and will give you the pages as they are complete."

"My lord," I say, my words coming haltingly for my confusion, "with what, then, do I trade for goods at the market?"

"You do not need do the trading. It will be done for you, lady. If you have need, send word to Elder Maurus' house and it will be met."

He turns and, with that, I am dismissed and near forgotten, for Halbarad has opened the letters and, gaining my lord's eye, points out a line upon one of them. My lord scowls and, reading it, lets loose a sigh and rubs at his beard.

"Aye, aye," he repeats softly. "Are there more such?"

I shuffle the pages into shape and tie the leather binder as they speak. I do not know where to keep it safe, but I think I shall leave that question for another time. In the meantime, I wish to have quiet to examine the ledgers more closely. My aunt kept what little accounting there was in my father's house, but taught me the way of it, so, when it was time, I should know how. I fear my skills will fall greatly short of the task set for me and I shall need much time before I have mastered it.

My lord and Halbarad's voices are soft behind me and my heart is uneasy as I leave. True, their speech is of settlements threatened and the movements of the dark creatures of the Shadow, but the thoughts that weigh heavily upon me tend more to what burden is mine to carry. It is not until I reach the hearth that I have convinced myself of the rightness of what I know.

"My lord," I say and turn about before I lose my nerve. Ah! I shall regret this. Already the hours of the day fall short of all the work I must complete.

Their voices fall silent and my lord looks upon me, his brow raised.

"What is it, lady?"

"My lord, is it Mistress Pelara who records the tithes and distributes what we need to us?"

"Yes," he says and glances at the page Halbarad places before him.

I have the journal clutched closely to my chest, as if it might shield me from my lord's displeasure should he not like what next I have to ask.

"Is this not rather the proper duty of this house?"

My lord frowns. "Thus my mother had it arranged before you, lady."

"Aye, my lord," I say and, taking a quick breath, go on in a rush, "I doubt not your lady mother was wise in her choice and had need, but, if it please you, my lord, I wish it to be otherwise."

Now I have Halbarad's notice as well. He is silent, as is usual, but his eyes speak for him. He is very still and looks from me to my lord with a quick glance.

My lord considers me as if from a distance, his eyes grown cool. But then he nods and says, "If you wish it, lady, but I leave it to you to arrange. Her father is not likely to take it kindly and you will need to speak to him, as well."

"Yes, my lord." Bowing my head, I turn away and release a long breath. I had not realized I had held it so closely.

"Lady," my lord calls after me. His voice is stern and I halt. "I would advise you to be careful in what you say. Master Maurus has been a strong ally in the Angle's council. Do not give his house reason for offense."

"Aye, my lord," I say and dip into a curtsey, but he and Halbarad roll out one of my lord's maps and secure it under candles and anything else easy to hand. I am already far from his mind.

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