Title: Serving Gondor: 3. On Business, Hobbits, and Business with Hobbits
Author's Notes: This contains the ode written for the April challenge. For those with April birthdays, and for LindaHoyland.
Summary: Employment at last, and the Hobbits arrive to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the fall of Mordor.
Norien came down to the dawn meal somewhat after Andred began eating. “I was able to get one of the last breakfast tarts for you,” Andred said, smiling her welcome and indicating the plate beside her own.
“Thank you!” Norien answered. “That was most kind of you.” In moments she had her own meal before her and a mug of what appeared to be pomegranate juice. “Did you stay out long last night?” she asked.
“Just until those who labored in the guild hall were finished.” Andred paused before adding, “I spoke again with the King. Did you know that he and his Lady Wife are to have a second child?”
“No! Will it be soon, do you think?”
“I did not ask when it shall be born, but I would guess perhaps in two to three months’ time. There is no question that they are deeply, deeply in love.”
“So it is said. Of what did you talk?”
“Of how it is that the King’s Meals are funded. And briefly of how it was my sons died.”
Norien looked at her with surprise. “I did not realize that you had lost a child, much less more than one.”
Andred looked down at her plate. “It is still painful to speak of it, as my husband’s death came so soon after. He was so grieved at their loss he could not speak of it.”
They ate in silence for a time. Suddenly the Master of the house entered the room and approached them, his attention on Andred. “I beg your pardon, Mistress, but there is one sent by the King to speak with you as soon as you are finished with your meal. When you are ready, but come out into the entry and I shall take you to a private parlor where you may meet with him for as long as is needed.”
She nodded, and continued her meal, although she ate more slowly now, wondering on what questions this Man might ask of her.
Norien eyed her thoughtfully. “You are to meet with someone sent by the King?”
“Yes—one sent to question me more thoroughly about the situation with my brother.”
“I see. We have been told that our King is a most thorough Man.”
“So I am learning.”
In the end she spoke with Master Anorgil, the legal clerk personally trusted by the King to further question those likely to appear before him, for more than a mark. For a time he questioned closely how it was that her brother had taken over her home and position, often asking the same question in slightly different manners. By the time the questioning was over, Andred was feeling upset, angry even. “It was as if you were trying to trip me up in my words,” she accused him.
He shrugged, admitting, “Even so, Mistress Andred. Had you been lying it is likely you would have changed your answers, or allowed portions of the true story to emerge. I apologize for such tactics, but it is but one of the ways that we seek to ascertain that our Lord Elessar is not being lied to. But even when your patience was tested strongly, you continued as you’d begun, which usually indicates the one questioned spoke truly throughout.”
“Usually,” she repeated, thinking on what he said. “Do many seek to lie to King Elessar?”
He shook his head. “Not many, for as with our beloved Prince Faramir he reads the hearts of most Men easily. But there are some who are so distant from truth that they cannot breathe without lying, and as much to themselves as to others. So it is that our Lord King has others test their stories as well as himself.”
He smiled. “I wish you to understand that I have my own interest in your concerns, as they are similar to ones held by my wife, back when I met her. She had been married before, and after her husband died betimes she lost both her home, which was claimed by the younger brother of her late husband, and then her little daughter, who climbed upon a windowsill and fell out to her death. She was so bitter when I first knew her; that she could again find happiness and fulfillment she did not dream at the time. Nor did I imagine that I would find love in Anórien, which I’d forsaken as a young clerk hoping to put the provincial nature of the place behind me when I turned my face to the White City. Perhaps Lyrien did not find her way back to being mistress of the home she’d come to as a young bride, but she says she is even happier as my wife and as the mother to my children. I hope that we are able to bring you to the estate where you, too, might find greatest happiness.”
With that he left her, and she watched after him for some time before finally closing the door to the small parlor behind her, setting out to see what else the day might bring.
Again she sat upon the benches on the eastern side of the marketplace, hoping that this day she might be offered employment. A young couple approached the benches and examined the four women sitting on the front one. At last they approached an older woman who sat at the other end from Andred, and after a few moments’ conversation they left together.
The younger woman who sat to Andred’s left gave a sigh. “Obviously they sought experience rather than more youthful vigor,” she said.
“Or they wished someone capable of knitting,” Andred suggested, indicating the portion of a garment that hung out of the bag the older woman was carrying.
Her companion nodded, and they returned to their silent, patient waiting.
In time Andred brought out the book of poetry she’d carried with her from the Rest House, and read a poem she’d found there. Considering the subject of this ode, she realized that the whole book of poems had been put together since the coronation of their Lord King.
Orcs marched upon the Pelennor
trailing death and terror in their wake.
They slew both man and beast, for
their mission was the realm to take.
Upon the city rained heads and fire;
torn apart were fields and land.
The town lands no more were verdant,
for after axe and sword and fire,
the need for the true King’s healing hand
came ever to be more urgent.
The golden Riders broke the siege;
their Lady the Nazgûl Captain slew.
Upon the Corsairs came our new Liege.
with our own men the ships to crew!
She wondered who’d written these poems, for no name was given as to who might have been either author or scribe. Whoever copied them had a fair hand, though—the writing was clear and lovely for the most part, if sometimes perhaps a bit tense. That poem about something called Mewlips was disturbing, and in copying it the scribe wrote far more stiffly than in most others of the verses. But the ones focused on someone called Tom Bombadil were smoothly copied, and she suspected that they had given the scribe a good deal of amusement. As for the one regarding the Stone Troll, she laughed aloud as she read it again.
“You the one who sews children’s garments?” The unexpected question broke her concentration from the book, and she looked up, rather bemused, to find herself gazing into the intent face of a rather plain woman perhaps her own age.
“Yes,” she answered, closing the small tome and stuffing it again in the bag she’d purchased that morning within the marketplace. Although it had been quite a bargain, still she’d spent more than she could afford for it. But it had just held the small book, and protected it from the elements….
“I’m needing a seamstress who is skilled at making ready-made clothing,” the woman said. “Are you willing to let me give you a try?”
“Give me a try? How do you intend to do that?” Andred asked.
The other woman gestured toward the gate to the lower city with a bandaged right hand. “My shop is down in the Second Circle. I have a number of garments all cut out, but I managed to cut myself two days since on a broken bottle and I cannot sew them together. I need someone to help me, as they must be ready in six days. If you are willing to put one together to show me how good you are, if it pleases me I’ll take you on full time for at least two weeks, for that’s how long they have said I mustn’t do any work myself. And, if the shirts go over as well as I think they will, I’d be willing to make it longer, for I suspect it will mean more business than I could handle alone, don’t you see?”
Andred slung the bag’s handle over her shoulder as she rose. They went into the House of Employment to let it be known that Andred would be accompanying the other woman down to the Second Circle for perhaps an hour or two to test her abilities, and then they were off.
“The garments are for the celebrations intended to honor the arrival of the Pheriannath who arrive next week to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the fall of Mordor alongside the King,” the woman confided as they walked down past the marketplace toward the gate to the Second Circle. “A number of children are to play at being Pheriannath, and so they must be garbed in the manner of Hobbits. There’s a story that the Ringbearer, when he was younger, was chased by a farmer’s dogs when he was stealing mushrooms from the farmer’s fields, and the children intend to act it out. The older brother of one of the girls to take part in the play says that the Ringbearer himself told him the tale during their stay within the city, and I suppose that may indeed be true, for it is said he often amused the children of the upper city with his stories.”
Andred tried to imagine the one pictured in the memorial stealing mushrooms, and smiled at the idea. “So these are to look like the clothing worn by the Ringbearer and his companions?”
The woman nodded as they passed through the gate into the next lower level. “Yes. I made a few garments for the Hobbits during their stay here, for they had little that was fit to wear by the time they reached Gondor. And it was said that when they were found near the ruins of the Mountain by Mithrandir and the Great Eagles that the Ringbearer had almost nothing left at all, while what his esquire wore was little more than rags. All four needed new garments in keeping with their new stations.
“Many mothers seek to clothe their smallest children as they imagine the Pheriannath dress when they are in their own land. So, if those who have engaged me to provide the clothing for those who take part in the play are pleased with what we provide, it is likely many others will come to see their little ones similarly clothed. It could provide both of us with a comfortable living for some time.”
It was late when Andred returned to the rest house to find Norien lingering near the door. “I was worried when you were not there by the House of Employment and did not come for the noon meal at the guild hall,” the younger woman said. “Did you find employment, then?”
“Yes!” answered Andred, holding up a new leather purse that jingled as she shook it. “Perhaps it is not for long, but for the next two weeks at least I have work to do that is interesting, and for such an employer! Let me tell you of it! And your hearing before the magistrate was today, was it not? Tell me what happened!”
The days flew until the arrival of the Pheriannath and their families, and Andred was relieved to see that the clothing she had sewn together indeed resembled what was worn by the Hobbits themselves. On the third day after their arrival Andred, her employer Gilriel, and Norien together went up early to the Seventh Circle to see the play performed by the children for the King and Queen and their guests. All laughed and gasped in the right places, and the children involved were all very pleased with themselves. The costumes were much admired, and many who saw the children dressed as Hobbits of the Shire were pleased to meet the two women who’d made the garments, promising as foreseen to come down and have their own youngest children similarly garbed.
The young Guardsman they’d met at the King’s Meals approached Andred and her companions before they left. “The King asks whether you still remain at the Rest House?” he asked.
“I have taken rooms in a house in the Second Circle, near to where I now work,” she explained, and gave him the directions.
“Thank you. You will be advised when your brother and the Lord of Peshastin arrive within Minas Anor, which may well be next week,” he told her.
“So soon?” Andred was surprised.
“There is a ship that travels regularly between Peshastin and the Harlond, and it will carry those the King has summoned on its next trip up the Anduin. You will not have long now to wait for the King’s judgment.”
On the way back down through the city, Andred explained briefly to Gilriel how it was she had come from Lebennin near Peshastin to Minas Anor after her brother threw her from the home in which she’d lived all her life up until her husband died. Gilriel was aghast that such a thing had happened, and promised her that she would come to the hearing to offer Andred such support as she might need.
“Thank you so!” Andred told her. “Never did I think to find such friends as I’ve made since leaving my home.” She reached out on each side to hug both Norien and Gilriel to her as they walked together back down to the Third Circle where Norien would leave them.
There was much excitement within Minas Anor with Captain Peregrin and Sir Meriadoc and their families within the city. They appeared to be exceedingly curious individuals, and it seemed that each day one or another of the Hobbits would be exploring somewhere about the Second and Third Circles.
Sir Peregrin brought his wife and infant son into Gilriel’s shop to introduce them one day, and on the next another pair of Hobbits came in to see about having a jacket replaced. “He would catch it on a stout branch as we came south,” the Hobbitess sighed as she displayed the ruined garment to Andred. “Pippin indicated that you were accustomed to making clothing in accordance with our fashions, and we saw how well you did for the children at the play after we arrived. We found some fabric that would be suitable in the market in the Fourth Circle, and if you could see it made into a proper jacket for him we would be so grateful!”
“Pippin?” Andred asked. “That is Captain Peregrin, is it not?”
“Yes—Pippin’s my younger brother—I can hardly refer to him as my little brother, can I, considering he and Merry somehow grew taller than any Hobbit in living history? Oh, and I am Pearl Took, and this is my husband Isumbard, whom I rarely allow to speak for himself.”
Her husband rolled his eyes with a long-suffering air, and Pearl Took’s eyes danced with mischief. The fabric was indeed suitable, and between them Andred and Gilriel soon had the measurements they needed done, with the torn garment left to be taken apart to use as a pattern.
“Look at the beautiful, delicate embroidery used on the collar and the sleeves!” Gilriel murmured, running her finger gently along the decorative stitches. “It’s all so finely and evenly done! I’ve never seen such small, regular, and absolutely elegant work in my life!”
“As the Hobbits are small as a people, perhaps that’s not to be wondered at,” Andred said, admiring the fineness of the thread that made up the fabric itself. How her husband would have loved handling bolts of such stuff! “I wish I could meet whoever spun the wool for it.”
The bell over the door tinkled as someone new entered the shop, and Andred went out to see to what might be a new customer. She paused. “Norien? But what is it? I’ve never seen you so angry!”
“Angry?” The younger woman almost spat out the word. “And why should I not be angry? You will remember that the magistrate ruled that I should indeed receive a fair share of the value of the farm, and that he gave order that Tiressë and her husband Gunter were to bring him the record books for the farm so that he might determine what that worth might be. But they did not bring the proper record, but a new one done not in my hand, much less in Tiressë’s, but in his, one that recorded far less business than we actually have done for the last few years. I did the majority of the entries, and Tiressë did the rest in the proper record book. It would appear that he does not wish for me to receive my due from our family’s farm and work!”
“So he has forged a new record book in place of what you and your sister actually kept while you were still there?”
“And did you tell this to the magistrate?”
“Yes. After all, until the marriage was made it was not his place to keep any records for the farm. And as I have always run the farm alongside my sister and was the elder, I have always made the majority of the entries, with her making entries mostly since the death of our father.”
“So,” Andred asked thoughtfully, “this means what?”
Norien shook her head sadly. “There is to be another hearing, and many of our neighbors and our Cousin Balrieth most likely will be called as witnesses as well. And here I had hoped that this hearing might lead to reconciliation with Tiressë! What a thing to do, to seek to cheat me of my birthright as well as to try to label me a wanton and see me thrown out of my own home!”
It was indeed a distressing development, and Andred felt truly concerned for her friend’s future with such a one as her sister’s husband working so against her.
But it was when Andred returned to her lodgings that she found her greatest surprise, for her mother was awaiting her there.
“Nana? But when did you arrive?”
Lanriel looked over her shoulder from where she’d been watching the world pass by outside the windows of Andred’s sitting room, within which sat her valerian plant. “Oh, but you are home at last! I arrived here but two hours past. They had me wait for a time to make certain that your brother was off the boat and far up into the city before they brought me here. He did not know that both of us were on our way here at the same time. I do not think he will be well pleased to see me.”
“They did not tell him? But why?”
“Because they know that I intend to speak against him, and they did not wish for him to seek to force me to say what he wished to have said.”
“You would speak out against Indrahil?”
Her mother gave her a fierce glare. “There was good reason your father left the house and business to you and to Dírhael, Andred. First, your brother never had the love of cloth and clothing that you two did, and he is no kind of businessman. He believes that all profits from the sale of the cloth are his directly to spend as he pleases. He does not appreciate that taxes must be paid, or that most of the profits need to go back into purchasing new merchandise. Nor has he ever learned how to barter properly, trading cloth that is readily available in Lebennin for cloth rare in Gondor but common in Harad or Rhûn. He has much to learn, but no more willingness now to do so than when he was yet a stripling. We are now in danger of losing the house and the warehouses your father acquired with such care because he cannot pay the taxes.”
Andred sat back heavily upon the small settle that sat near the door. “He is that far behind? But I have been gone for only—what? Three months?”
“It is proving quite long enough for Indrahil to destroy what your father and Dírhael and you worked so hard to establish. I have tried to advise him, but he dismisses all I say with, What do you know—you are but a woman!”
Andred merely nodded at that, sighing as she thought of how her father had begun his cloth trade, how he’d taught her to appreciate fine warp and weft in fabric, and how he’d shown her how to gauge the strength of threads and the proper stitching needed to make clothing durable and yet drape most flatteringly. She had done some loom work, but had learned that she had no patience for it. Still, at least she could recognize weaving that was well done, and could see in her mind’s eye what kind of fabric would be best for various garments. Indrahil had no eye for the worth of any particular fabric, preferring pretty colors to making certain that the cloth was even sound.
There had been the time when their father had allowed Indrahil to choose a bolt of fabric he felt would sell well, and he’d chosen one woven with multiple colors shot with flashes of gold and silver. Few women chose it when it was taken to the market, and when in frustration he had asked one woman why, she had told him that the cloth was too thin, made with cheap threads, and that it would soon tear along the metallic threads. Not even the women who danced in the taverns down near the docks would take it, telling him they had already learned such fabrics wore out too soon. One girl who’d taken it anyway came back to him two weeks later, complaining that the costume she’d made from it barely lasted a week, considering the movements she made when she danced. Indrahil had felt humiliated, certain that their father ought to have warned him of the cloth’s unsuitability and forgetting that he’d been warned multiple times of just that possibility when gauging the suitability of various materials.
“Pretty but weak fabrics and pretty but foolish girls were always his weaknesses,” she commented, to which her mother replied,
“And there you have it, daughter.”
They sat up for a time and talked, and Andred’s landlady brought them a light but filling supper. Lanriel accompanied her daughter to Gilriel’s shop the next morning to see what work Andred now did, and admired the jacket being constructed for Isumbard Took of the Shire. Picking up the Shire-styled shirts intended for small children, she shook her head in delight. “How interesting!” she said. “And this is how the Pheriannath dress in their own land?”
“As several of them are currently within the city, you will find that they do indeed wear such clothing,” Andred assured her. “And since the Ringbearer himself is a Pherian, the Hobbits of the Shire are well regarded here in the White City.”
“Such small, delicate and beautiful stitches,” she commented as she lifted the remains of the torn jacket and examined the embroidered details on the sleeves. “Whoever made this was an excellent needlewoman.”
Gilriel nodded her agreement. “I would love to have such a one employed here. What an asset she would be to my business.”
The bell in the outer shop tinkled, and Gilriel set aside the sleeve on which she was working to go out to see to the potential customer. A comfortable woman had come in holding the hand of a very small boy. “I should like to have a shirt made for my daughter’s son,” she said. “One such as the children in the play before the King and the visiting Pheriannath wore. With that odd surcoat over it. Perhaps the color of lavender flowers?”
“Lavender?” asked the little boy.
Gilriel pulled away the heavy cloth that curtained off her fabric store. She brought out a bolt of cloth of the desired color to show the child. “Like this, young master,” she explained.
He made a face. “No!” he decided. “Girls’ color!”
Andred had to restrain a laugh. “I can see he already has his own ideas of proper colors for young boys,” she said quietly, smiling at the child’s grandmother. She leaned toward the boy. “What color do you like, then?” she asked.
Pleased to be asked his opinion, he looked searchingly over the fabrics he could see. Finally he pointed at a soft green. “That one,” he said, his voice certain. “And that one,” he added, indicating a figured cloth in green and wine.
“That could do for the waistcoat,” Gilriel said. “And it would suit the pale green nicely.”
“Waistcoat?” asked the older woman.
“It is what the Hobbits call their short, sleeveless surcoats that they wear over their shirts and under their jackets. And they call the straps that hold up their trousers braces.”
So it was that Gilriel demonstrated the combination of garments that the Shirelings wore as their native costume, to the edification of Andred and her mother as well as for their new customer. Delighted, the woman ordered the entire ensemble, and Andred was busy taking measurements and accepting orders for appropriate fabrics for the added trousers and jacket as well as the braces. It was with pleasure that they finally saw the lady carry her now dozing little grandson out of the shop, and they considered how best to lay out the materials for cutting.
At last Andred and her mother left, a bit late, to find their nuncheon. “I don’t know if you will want to come home now,” Lanriel sighed, “with these new friends and the excitement of meeting other races such as the Pheriannath you know here in the capital.”
“It is exciting here,” Andred admitted, “but it is not home, you know. I admit it will be quite the decision I would need to make should it become possible for me to return to Lebennin.”
They paused to watch a pair of Dwarves walk by them, headed for the great gates, and looked up at the clear singing from above of an Elf working near the wall to the next level up within the city. “How wonderful!” Lanriel breathed. “And such beings have not been seen here in Gondor for so long we thought that they were all dead long ago, the stuff of legends!”
They turned to see two garbed in the livery of the Guards of the Citadel approaching, one quite young and tall, and the other just over half the height of his companion. “They allow boys to serve as Guardsmen?” asked Lanriel.
But Andred was already shaking her head. “No, he’s no boy. That’s Captain Peregrin!” She led the way toward the two in uniform and gave a curtsey. “Captain Peregrin! Guardsman Bergil! It is an honor to meet with you today!”
The two bowed in return. “We were sent to bring you word that you shall have your hearing tomorrow in the general audience before our Lord King,” the Hobbit told them. “You didn’t tell me when I met you at Mistress Gilriel’s shop that you were in a dispute with your brother.”
Andred felt herself blushing. “I do not like speaking of it,” she admitted. “May I present my mother, Lanriel daughter of Alyss and Amdir of Lebennin.”
“Mistress, be welcome,” said Bergil, bowing.
“Peregrin son of Paladin, the Thain of the Shire, at your service,” the Pherian said. “Although,” he added, looking down at his uniform, “I am here with Bergil on the King’s business, seeing as I am on duty at this time. I understand he hopes to hear your case tomorrow at about the third hour after dawn. I do hope that is convenient.”
“We shall be there,” Andred said, feeling a tightening in her chest at the thought of having to confront Indrahil in such a public setting and so soon.
She did not feel quite so hungry when they went into the common room of the King’s Head for luncheon, and knew she was not fit for conversation. It was a relief to return to Gilriel’s shop and to resume work on Master Isumbard’s jacket once more. Lanriel was helping Gilriel to lay out the patterns Gilriel had made from the child’s measurements onto the chosen fabric, and listening to how it was that Gilriel had come to hire her daughter to aid her while the injury to her hand healed. “And she is so capable I could not willingly let her go when the bandaging came off and I could again do my own work. It is such a blessing to have someone who truly knows how to craft garments and sew to help me,” she continued. “So many of the girls I’d hired before had not the least idea how to actually gauge the bias or baste properly. Most barely knew the basics of embroidery, and usually did that poorly, too.”
Andred smiled to hear her mother and Gilriel converse, as Lanriel told the story of the unfortunate hiring of a woman from Dor-en-Ernil who had claimed to have been a seamstress in her homeland, only to find that she’d never sewn a stitch in her life and had no idea as to how to thread her needle.
That night the thought of having to speak out against her brother disturbed her sleep, and when she finally slept she dreamt he pursued her through Peshastin with a donkey whip in hand, telling her at every stroke that she was only a woman and could do nothing on her own. She woke from this nightmare to find her face wet with tears, her mother stroking her shoulder to soothe her.
“It will be well, my daughter,” Lanriel crooned. “No one shall strike you.”
Oh, if only that were guaranteed, Andred thought, giving her mother a weak smile.