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23

Gimli shivered. They had brought only one blanket apiece. 'Let us light a fire,' he said. 'I care no longer for the danger. Let the Orcs come as thick as summer-moths round a candle!'

TTT: The Riders of Rohan


~~~

The warp hangs in bundles from where I have sewn them to the tough linen. Soft and thick they are, and of a wool so dark it is of the black of charcoal and ash. I hope to weave into it a weft of cream so that when I dye the whole in walnut hulls, it shall be a cloth of heathered browns and grays, and yet light enough for my lord to lie upon the forest floor under its protection come the fall and winter and not be so swiftly seen.

I shall need let the warp peek through between strands of weft and so have chosen a simple, open weave. I shall need but two heddles and one color. I think it will be a pleasure to let my fingers remember the work, leaving my thoughts to drift elsewhere. I sewed the cloth about the beam, careful in my stitches to fix it tight and even across the wood, and it sits now upon the heddle supports, where the bundles of warp threads dangle. I set them to rights, untwisting them and pulling them out from under the beam so that, when I use the forked poles to lift the beam to the very top of the uprights, they shall not catch upon the heddle supports.

So caught up in the soft tangle of yarn am I the shadow that falls upon the warp startles me badly, and I cringe and step away. I had not known my thoughts so deep, for, to my surprise, Halbarad stands at my side, his hand flying quickly to hover over my lips. But once he catches my gaze, his eyes slide away.

There, at the end of the path his eyes take, my lord sits at his table. His finger runs upon the short hairs about his lip and his eyes look far off. I wonder at what Halbarad intends until I see the look upon my lord's face is bleak, his features dark with a frustrated rage. He has been at his maps, again, and there they lie, covered in black stones. We have had news, and Mathil, our lord's Ranger, is much delayed in his return.

I turn away and nod my understanding to Halbarad and he bows with the bare tilt of his head.

Should it be permitted, I pity my lord. He shall have many more weeks of this enforced dependence, no matter what moves upon the Wild. It is no wonder he suffers.

Halbarad strides to the door and my lord's hand drops from his face.

"You go to see Master Maurus?" he calls after his kinsman.

"Aye," says Halbarad, his hand upon the latch.

"I shall go with you, then," my lord says, rising.

"Nay!" Halbarad says, waving his kin to his seat. "Do not trouble yourself. Stay and rest. I shall be back soon enough."

And with that, he is gone, the door banging swiftly shut behind him. My lord frowns but soon shakes his head, puzzling over his kinsman, and seats himself again. His chair creaks with his weight and my lord sighs. With a sudden movement, he sweeps up the stones from where they litter the map and begins stuffing them into their sack. He will be at it for some time. The stones are many, the mouth of the sack is soft, and he has but one hand to use.

So, Halbarad has left it up to me. Had I my choice, it would be easiest to distract my lord with the sweetness of kisses and a soft, tender touch. I marvel if this was, indeed, what Halbarad intended. Were I my lord's love, I think he would find comfort in it. But I am not, and do not think he would welcome my advances upon him.

I have seated the forked poles securely against the beam and now raise it, sliding the wood and cloth upon the uprights. The beam is heavy so that when the weights dangle from the warp the bolt of new cloth shall not unravel. The butts of the poles press into my belly and I grimace at the weight. It is none so pleasant, but it works, at least most attempts, for I let one end of the beam falter. I hiss with perhaps more displeasure than strictly necessary, and then struggle in truth, for my trickery has put me in real danger of tipping the upright upon the floor, and then dropping the heavy warp beam and cracking it beyond use.

A hand steadies the upright, my lord having come upon me swiftly from behind. I blush of a sudden, for I have not made such poor work of placing the warp beam since I was a young girl, and I am loathe for my lord to consider me so inept. Together we lift the beam, I with my poles and my lord with his good arm, raising it high until it settles heavily into place atop the uprights.

"My thanks to you, my lord," I say as I lay aside the poles. "Forgive me for having disturbed you." But he shakes his head.

"'Twas naught," he says and gives me his gentle smile. I think he is done here and about to go.

I stare up at the beam, making a show of squinting at it and considering what next to do. In truth, in our struggle, strands of the warp have become tangled in the notch between beam and upright.

"My lord," I say and his steps still, "Should I raise the beam, could you pull those free?" I nod to where the warp lies trapped beneath the beam. I could easily put them to rights myself, but mayhap he would not know this.

My lord raises his face to frown up at the warp where it is pinned.

"Aye," he says slowly and then casts about.

His face clears when I drag the bench I had pulled from beside the hearth closer to the loom. Unbalanced as he is with his arm lashed to his breast, my lord lays a light hand upon my shoulder to find his feet upon the bench. With the pole I lift the beam and my lord pulls the warp free. But, when done, he does not leap to the floor. Instead, he looks down upon the swinging yarns, puzzling out their tangles as I untie the bundles of warp threads and shake them loose.

"I do not recall you using such a thick stuff afore," he says and draws the wool between fingers and thumb. "Do you not use finer spinning?"

"Aye, my lord, but the spinning depends upon the use," I say, combing the yarns apart with my fingers. "This I shall weave with another soft yarn."

"But shall not the cloth then be thin and weak?" he asks, frowning.

"No, my lord, for the weaving is but one of many steps. When it is done, I shall take the cloth to the Weaver's shed and ask Master Theril to have it fulled."

"Fulled?"

"Aye, my lord, when a new cloth is washed and beaten," I say and then go on, for my lord yet frowns. Seeing that the threads I seek to untangle cling one tother above my head, he steps across the bench so he can card the warp for me with his fingers and ease my task.

"The wool shrinks and thickens and the yarns bind one to the other," I say twisting my fingers together in a knot in explanation, "just as it does on the sheep in places."

"Ah!" he says, his face brightening. "I wondered."

"When this is done, my lord, it shall be a nice, thick blanket." We changes places so I may go on pulling the bundles apart unhindered. "Very soft and warm it shall be, but with the weaving I have planned, strong and keep away the rain as best can be done."

"A blanket? As the ones you weave for the Wandering folk?"

I look up to find his gaze upon me. I know not what to say. I dare not give a lie to my lord.

"Aye, a blanket."

I wonder at the look he gives me. Keen is the light of his gaze and it is all I can do to not flinch beneath it.

"My lord," I say, leaping into boldness the better to hide my unease, "now you are home, would you lend me your aid in its making, when you have the time to spare? It would go the quicker, then."

"I?" he says and laughs, but does not say me nay. For though a woman may ply spindle and loom at home, 'tis the men who make of it their life's work. "I wonder you would wish to suffer the trial of my fumbling."

I smile. "Come the end, my lord, it most like be the greater hardship for you."

"Think you so?"

The smile my lord turns upon me is knowing, but he seems to delight in the challenge, natheless.

"What must I do, lady?" he asks with a lift of his chin.

"Well, my lord," I say and return to tugging the warp threads from their bundles. "We must first establish the sheds."

"The sheds?"

"Aye, there will be three sheds, so if my lord would count every third yarn and drop it over that rod," and here I point to the shed rod that connects the uprights at the level of my knee, "we could begin. Later we will string the rest upon the heddle rods." I then point to the long rods lying on the floor upon which are strung many tough threads of linen.

My lord gives me a puzzled look but, with a wry shake of his head, seems willing to leave what he does not comprehend for later instruction. Stepping along the bench, he bends his head to peer at the warp upon the far end of the beam, frowning at the twists of thread. And then he pulls a yarn from its mates and releasing it, sets it to twisting behind the rod. He proceeds for a short time while I shake out the remaining threads and then a thought strikes me. Ai!

"My lord, you see how one strand of the warp falls to the back and the other to the front?" I raise myself upon my toes and must move about to see clearly, peering closely at my lord's hands and pointing at where I mean. "Do you see, my lord? The one to the back is counted first each time." It would not be good for the turn of the thread to twist, for it will leave an uneven edge upon the cloth.

"Aye, never fear, lady, I see," my lord says, turning an amused and patient look down upon me.

I settle back upon my heels. "Aye, my lord," I say, chastened.

My lord is meticulous in all things. I am unsure why I thought he would not see this. Mayhap my lord was in the right. The task threatens to be a greater trial for me should I not leave off my worrying at him.

My lord is of a quick and eager mind, and soon, between the two of us, the weights pull the warp taut, the heddles are threaded, and a handspan of cloth grows down from the beam. My lord pulls at the heddles, murmuring to himself to keep his place, and beats the weft up against the cloth with the weaver's sword.

In his stead, for the lack of his good arm, my lord set me to cataloguing the movements of his men, gleaning numbers, places and times from the reports that litter his table. I listen as I work to the chiming of the weights and the scuff of my lord's feet upon the floor as he walks the width of the loom.

It is odd, I think, to hear again the music of the warp weights from afar. Many were the years since my aunt taught me the weaving of cloth. So short was her height, I could reach the beam when still young where she could not. Still, until her knuckles grew large and stiffened with pain, she walked back and forth upon a bench as she threaded the weft through the hanging warp. I would listen to the loom's music and peer through my mother's journals as she talked of the different weaves and of which hands of my foremothers' created them. Perhaps it is none so different, now.

So the morning passed. With Elesinda and my lord's reeve at their day of rest and Halbarad dining with Master Maurus and his family, my lord commanded I be spare with my preparations for the noon meal. And, indeed, he insisted upon plundering the pantry himself, bringing out bread and cheese and toasting it over the hearth to eat with our ale and a soup I had prepared of greens, beans, and mutton-bone. We ate swiftly and in silence, if companionably, and returned to our tasks.

And so we spent what was left of the day, I sitting upon a bench beside my lord's chair, bent over his journals and he, striding before the loom and, upon occasion, cursing so softly I hear not the words. It is all I can do to keep the smile from showing on my face where my lord might easily read my thoughts. No matter my mirth, I would not have my lord think I belittle his efforts. As it is, I need bend all force of mind to my task. I have thought to draw the movements of his men upon the page, much as my lord places his stones upon his maps. I clutch the quill between tight fingers, slow to make my mark upon the parchment and careful of what I would place there, for I would not give cause for my lord's plans to falter nor he to find fault with the aid I offer.

"Lady," I hear and lift my head to find my lord frowning at his work.

"Yes, my lord," I say and set aside the quill. Rising, I go to him. He taps the end of the shuttle against his breast, his dissatisfaction spread broad across his face.

"What is this?" he asks, drawing the tip of the shuttle across the cloth when I come close.

My lord has done well. The weave is tight and the edges even, for the most part, a passable effort. But I see what disturbs him. A long line lies upon the cloth, only truly seen if one's eyes are practiced to the weave.

"I fear, my lord, you lost track of the heddles at this point."

"Truly?" he asks, surprised and, I think, more than a little dismayed. He moves close in and then further away, but not too far, tethered as he is to the loom by the shuttle and its thread. "Is there aught can be done to correct it?"

"No, my lord. I fear not. You must unwind your weaving unto that point, my lord, and begin again."

He scowls at the cloth and then scratches at his jaw, his fingers sounding harsh against his beard.

"There is naught else for it, my lord," I say. "Either suffer the fault or undo the work."

"Very well." He winds the length of yarn upon its shuttle. "I take it I need only reverse my steps?"

"Aye, my lord. But, when you start again, you must be careful of the edges, my lord, for they creep inward so slowly you will not know it and shall soon have a much narrower piece than first you intended," I say, running my finger down the edge of the cloth.

He scowls at the threads, watching my hands.

"Here," I say, taking pity on him. "It is good to strike the warp ever few fingers of cloth or so. It will help keep the edges true." I cross my arms before me and draw them across the warp as if I were strumming a great harp.

"Aye," he says. "I have it now."

I leave him to it and he sighs deeply, but sets immediately to putting the cloth to rights as if the fault offended him and he wished it removed from his sight as soon as can be.

"How long should it be until I need not count each pass of the shuttle to keep my place?" he asks.

I gather my skirts about me and ease myself between the table and bench.

"I know not, my lord. I suppose not long, as it is a simple pattern." I stumble at my lord's look. Mayhap I should not have called it thus.

"Simple? And what qualifies as a master's work?"

"Verily, my lord, 'tis a simple pattern. I doubt not you will get the right of it soon enough." I take up the quill again. The end has split and I reach behind me for the knife my lord keeps in his tall chest against the wall.

"How old were you when you mastered this weaving?" He waves the shuttle at the warp behind him.

I swallow and consider the quill point I am attempting to shape and my answer. He will not like it. "I believe I was ten years of age, my lord."

All I am to receive in reply is a blank, disbelieving look, and then he turns back to the loom. I think the very wood and wool would quail should it have thought enough to perceive the grim look it gets.

"A child of ten," he mutters and pulls roughly on the heddle. The weights bang sharply against each other in a great discord. He pauses, and then deliberately eases the heddle upon its supports. His movements after are the more gentle.

It is not long after he has corrected his error the door opens and Halbarad returns.

He stares, I think, surprised not only to see his lord and I still in the hall, but to see our roles so completely at opposites.

"Halbarad," my lord greets him mildly and then returns to beating the warp with a light hand.

"What is this you do, my lord?" his kinsman asks, drifting from the door to the loom.

"No more than what it looks, nor no less."

"Why?"

"Well," my lord says, lifting a shoulder, "if naught else, I am allowed the use of this." His eyes dance with suppressed mirth as he turns the weaver's sword about so Halbarad might examine each surface.

"Formidable, indeed, though perhaps a trifle dull, if you will allow." Halbarad backs away from the loom, taking it in from top to bottom. "And so this is what you have been at?"

"Aye, it goes slowly," my lord says. "But see how long is the cloth and I have only been at it since just before the noon meal."

"Did it take so long to set the loom? We come swiftly upon dusk, now."

"Truly? Ah, well, perhaps longer then."

"Perhaps it is bit cumbersome to attempt with one hand."

"Aye, indeed. Look you, I have found no way to push the shuttle through in one pass."

My lord speaks over the chiming of the warp weights. Awkward though it is, he pushes the shuttle into the warp and lets it lie upon the heddle strings and then must stride to the far end to pull it out. He lets the heddle rod fall back into place and a long line of weft now lies trapped in the warp, trailing from cloth down to heddle rod where it should lie high and snug up against its mates.

"See this? Had I two good arms, I would not have this problem," my lord says and tugs at the weft to bring it up against the growing cloth.

"Does it not pull the far edge in too tight when you do that?"

"Aye!" my lord agrees. "And, for all my vigilance, the cloth narrows little by little and I must undo it to correct the fault."

"Ah, a puzzle, indeed."

"And not only that, but you must strike the warp, to keep the cloth straight and full across the threads."

"Strike the harp?" Halbarad frowns and leans into his kin as if disbelieving his ears.

"Warp, Halbarad! Warp. This!" My lord plucks at the threads.

"You strike them?"

"Aye, watch you," my lord says and demonstrates.

"Ah." Halbarad nods, his face the more sober for the wisdom he has gained. "Well," he says, considering. "I suppose you are doing the best you may, given the circumstances. All in all, it looks to be a fine bit of cloth."

He looks it over, and then squints and peers closely. "What happened there?" he asks and then backs away, tilting his head as if attempting to gain a view of the whole.

"Where?" My lord follows his kin's gaze, scowling.

"There." Halbarad points at a line that falls as a thin shadow from edge to edge. "Does not the pattern falter?"

"It does no such—" my lord protests but then he falls silent of a sudden and the quiet is near as tense as a curse.

Aught more and I think I shall need bite through my tongue to quell my laughter.

"Well, my lord," Halbarad says and clears his throat. "Mayhap I should leave you to it, then."

I need not see the man's face to know his eyes twinkle with mirth. Nor does my lord, for he clouts his kin upon his shoulder.

"Enough out of you, or I will set you to it and you can find for yourself just how easily you take to this weaving."

Halbarad makes his way to my lord's table, his stride easy. "My lady," says he and nods his greeting.

“Had Master Maurus aught to say?” asks my lord, raising his voice over the sound of his work.

“Aye, much, but much he has ever said before. ‘Tis a marvel the stars still stand and the sun rises upon the break of day,” Halbarad says as he eases himself to the bench across from where I sit. The breath he releases is long in suffering.

My lord chuckles from his place by the loom. “And how fares Master Maurus? Will he attend the Council upon the morrow?”

“No, I think not.” Halbarad scrubs at the back of his head and yawns mightily. “'Twould not surprise me should he take to bed in preparation for the end of all things.”

“Halbarad,” says my lord, his voice mild. “Much of the Angle stands as it does because of him.”

Halbarad shakes his head and grimaces. “Aye, I do not contest it, but I wonder at his hold upon the Council at his age,” he says, his voice rising and look vexed. “The Council needs but one firm hand, not the six it has.”

My lord turns a kind if brief look upon his kin before returning to his work.

“Aye, aye! 'Patience! Have faith!'” Halbarad says and sighs, stretching his legs out beneath the table. “’Tis hard when the days grow short.”

Their words had not disturbed me, though I listen. But now their silence seems as a shout. I raise my head to find Halbarad looking upon me and I wonder at his thoughts. His brows are knit with concern.

“My lady, what is it you do?” He leans across the table.

I turn the journal about so he may better see the page. Numbers, dots and arrows mar the surface of my makeshift map. "I have all but the last of my lord's men to account for of what we know of this last week."

“Eh!” he grunts, his brow rising. “Good idea, that, my lady. I could never make heads nor tails of our lord's lists.”

“Aye,” comes my lord’s voice from across the hall. He spoke softly, as if musing to himself.

At this, it is with a quieter voice and gentler demeanor Halbarad now speaks. “Will you show me the way of it, and then, when our lord is gone, I shall follow your example or set others to doing it.”

I cannot think why, but Halbarad appears chastened by my lord's one word. But I am my lord's to command, and the look he now gives us does seem to bid me comply.

"If you so wish, Ranger Halbarad."

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