For RS, for her birthday, and a precursor of sorts to another story I wrote for her a few years back, "Adolescence." And thanks so very much to RiverOtter for the beta!
The shrill cries could be heard all along the lane; and out on the high road through Minas Tirith at least one of the great ones headed toward the lower portions of the city paused, all too clearly discerning the words of a distraught mother.
“You have ruined your tunic and your sister’s dress! How am I to see you decently clothed now, with your father dead in the defense of the city and no one to earn coin enough for new cloth? How could you possibly be so careless!”
“What is it, vanimelda?” murmured the King into the ear of his obviously distracted Queen.
She glanced aside at the small lane from which the voice had issued, and answered, also in low tones, “A mother berates her son for ruining the clothing of himself and his sister.” She turned her gaze to meet his. “It is another case in which the death of a Man in the defense against Mordor has left privation.”
One of the guards behind them called out a single word, and those who’d gone ahead stopped, two of the advance turning to come closer to the realm’s new Lord and Lady.
“Would you see more clearly the actual destruction wrought?” asked the King.
It took no thought at all. “Yes.”
He gave the slightest of nods to her, then a more definite gesture to the chief of their guards to indicate Lord and Lady wished to turn aside momentarily. As he allowed his wife to lead the way into the narrow lane, the guards shook their heads and hurried to adjust their positions to accommodate the change in destination. Never would our Lord Denethor have done such a thing! was their mutual, if unspoken, thought.
“How did you come by the paint?” Arwen smiled automatically, remembering all too well a long-ago day when it was her own mother asking the same question of her brothers. When her husband gave her a glance of inquiry she merely shook her head. “And how is it that it’s even in your hair?” She had to struggle not to laugh aloud. The woman was clearly deeply upset, and it would not do to belittle her concerns.
A wooden gate stood open, its boards partly painted a lurid green. A pail of paint lay overturned upon the pavement, its former contents splattered liberally, indicating that it had probably stood there, upon that crate, and been dislodged from it. From within the yard she heard a boy’s voice offering his defense. “Master Orion down the lane—he had the paint left over from the painting of his garden shed. He said we might have the rest for the gate. You said yourself that the gate needed painting, Nana, if it were not to rot away!”
The green footprints of two individuals, one much larger than the other, could be seen leading into the yard. “An easy trail for you to follow,” she whispered almost soundlessly, and the Lord Elessar smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he nodded. He, too, could now hear the voices raised within the yard surrounding the small house that stood behind the now-piebald gate.
“And you had to use it today, when you were dressed to go down to the market to see what new foodstuffs were brought into the city from the southern fiefdoms?”
“But he said if it were not used immediately that it would be like to dry betimes, Naneth. And I had no idea that Rhysellë had found a second brush and would seek to help me!”
A higher voice spoke over him. “I was only trying to help, Nani! It’s such a pretty color!”
The Lady Arwen and her husband again shared amused and somewhat appalled glances—the color was hideous! Another unspoken communication, and he held out his hand to help her make the long step to avoid the worst of the splatters, and he followed, another gesture indicating their guardsmen should remain outside the yard. Only Hardorn shook his head stubbornly, carefully stepping over the spill to keep them well within sight, while the rest remained in the lane, murmuring in amusement to one another.
The two children, one a boy of about twelve and the other a girl of perhaps seven, stood to their left, and their mother stood to the right upon the walkway to the door, a small child barely out of infancy being shifted to keep it firmly on her left hip. “No—you shall stay here—we don’t need another smeared with paint!” the woman was saying. She returned her attention to the children before her, shaking her head in distress. “And what are we to do now? You cannot go to the market with me in such a state, and I must imagine that there is now quite the mess upon the stones of the lane outside the gate! And we could be ordered to pay a fine for having stained the streets of the city! Where am I to come up with even more coin should such a fine be levied?”
The two children opposite her exchanged looks. Obviously neither had thought on the possibility of a spill, or a fine to pay. The boy dropped his gaze to the ground. “I’m sorry, Nana. I’ll ask them to allow me to work to pay it off.”
Arwen gave her husband a significant look, which he answered with a brief nod of understanding. “I doubt,” he said aloud as he returned his attention to the small family, “that you need fear such a fine, Mistress.”
The mother and her children all gave identical jumps of startlement at the unexpected voice, all turning their attention to see who had entered their yard. “And who are you to say what the bailiff might--” the woman began, then stopped as her eyes widened in recognition and fright. “My Lord! My Lady!” she said in a voice suddenly thick with awe, and she tried awkwardly to curtsey with her youngest on her hip. “And what has brought you here? I am sorry….” Her throat was obviously dry, and her tongue too thick within her mouth as she stared up at her royal visitors, then suddenly dropped her eyes to the ground as if terrified her gaze might be deemed too familiar. “I am sorry,” she whispered again.
“And for what?” asked the King as he and his wife came closer. “That your children so love you they would seek to paint the gate for you that their father is no longer here to paint? A woman that draws to herself such love from her children is to be honored before all!”
The woman colored with surprise and confusion, not certain how to respond to such a compliment. The girl Rhysellë was looking up at him with wide eyes, not certain why his presence seemed to cause such confusion; the boy straightened as he recognized the respect shown his mother.
But it was the Queen’s eyes that now caught those of the young mother. “Fear not, Mistress,” said the Lady Arwen. “We, too, were once children, and know all too well how, in our attempts to aid those we have loved we were like to mar more than we helped. And I remember well the day I appeared in much the same state as does this one before my beloved naneth, save the paint I’d managed to spill upon myself was blue rather than green.” She laid a gentle hand on the shoulder of young Rhysellë, smiling down into the clear green eyes of the little girl.
“And for me, it was whitewash I’d poured upon myself, and Ada was most distressed when I left footprints across the floor in the Hall of Fire,” her lord husband explained. He smiled into the woman’s eyes. “Yea, even in the north children are yet children, are they not?”
She looked from King to Queen and back, not certain what she should do or say. Again husband and wife exchanged unspoken communication, and the Queen smiled encouragingly. “I do not know if you are aware of this, but I am a weaver and embroiderer of much experience. If you wish employment, I have need of those who will serve in my weaving rooms, and I will gladly offer training to the children of those who are willing to serve me so. And I have already begun to gather clothing and fabrics to help clothe those who have lost the support of fathers, husbands, sons, or brothers, that none within the White City or in its townlands might need to go naked or in rags. Much of the fabric that I and my maidens will produce shall go into these stores, or to the needs of those employed by the Citadel and the City itself. For I swear I shall not be idle as my husband and the lords of the realm seek to rebuild all that has been lost in the long defense against Mordor.”
What could the young woman say? She looked into the eyes of the new Queen, and found herself caught, seeing there the light of stars, compassion, and a new day dawning on the land.
“And the bailiff?” asked the boy.
The King laughed outright. “What of the bailiff?” he asked. “Nay, and what complaint can he make if we now clean up what has been spilt out upon the streets?”
And who could have foreseen the spectacle offered as the King himself knelt down in the dust of that narrow lane, helping a youth to clean up spilled green paint? And when the young mother found, a few days later, that the gate was now fully painted in a more suitable shade of green, she found her appreciation for the new state of the realm broadened, and her burgeoning love for their rulers enhanced. Indeed Gondor was renewed under the King Elessar and his Elven Queen!