Snapshot Challenge

Upstairs, Downstairs, in my Lady's chamber.

1. Upstairs, Downstairs, in my lady's chamber.

   
My Lady Mórëfindessë had said when she woke this would be a busy day. The air was getting chill with the Winter Solstice only a month away. She had asked Lady Mermardë and Lady Lelyafelmë over for luncheon and wished the leaves swept from the balcony and the sheers hung about it. Luncheon with the ladies usually meant a long afternoon of talk and many emptied bottles of wine. The laundry would just have to wait until tomorrow.

Her bath took up most of the morning. She luxuriated in the warm swirling waters while I went to have a quick break fast and fetch her some fresh biscuits from the south kitchen. Yávëhire had just opened the first of this year’s apple-pear jams and declared them fit to eat. I thought they were even better than last year’s and said so to Tosseryn, Lady Nindëyahtë’s girl. I brought a pot back to serve with the warm biscuits piled under the cloth.

The kettle water I had set up was about to boil as I returned. I swung the arm out from the fireplace and set up my Lady’s favourite tea in her pot. Everything fit neatly on the latticewood tray but for two biscuits, which I put aside for later. The tray lifted easily, perfectly balanced through years of experience. I softly cleared my throat outside the bathroom and entered as she called “Come!”

Wisps of chill fog drifted in through the windows, bedewing the intricate floor tiles and making a soft curtain about my Lady’s warm basin. I glided through and set the tray down beside the lip. She lay floating in the swirling water, stretched full length, her long dark hair making a roiling thunderstorm around her placid face. How I longed to wear her straight black silk instead of my own brown curls.

She slowly opened her eyes and glanced at her breakfast tray, then looked up and smiled at me. “Thank you, Baranfinnath. This looks,” she breathed in deeply, “and smells, delightful. Will you join me? There looks to be enough for us both.”

She always asks, and as always, I answered “Thank you, my Lady, but I have already eaten in the kitchen.”

She rolled over and swept her hair back with both hands. After so many years, I still do not tire of her warm invitation and smile. Perhaps one day I will be brave enough to join her.

She turned her storm-grey eyes up to me as she poured the kettle water into her pot. “Would you tend to my hair while I break fast, then?”

“Of course, my Lady.” I replied, already fetching her brush and combs from the shelf by the hand basin.

“Mmmmmm.…” she murmured. “Is this the new jam?” she asked around her forefinger, gleaming wet and golden.

“Yes, my Lady. Yávëhire has just broken it open.”

“This puts last year’s in the deep, deep shade, don’t you think?” she held her finger to me with a fresh burden of gold.

I nodded vigorously and told her “I said that very thing to Tosseryn in the kitchen this morning, my Lady, but I would burst asunder if I had any more.”

She licked her finger clean, then ladled more upon a warm biscuit before turning to present me with her wet black tresses.

“Lady Mermardë” she said, “has had a clasp made as a golden butterfly, very much like Master Elrond’s.”

“Would you like the silver cords in your braids, then, my Lady?”

She chewed and thought while I brushed out the water. “Yes, but make it one thick, loose herringbone. I like the way the silver weaves through it, like comets through the night sky.”

I nodded and whispered, “Yes, my Lady, it does.” Like the sky before the sun and moon rose. When her grandmother, or perhaps even mother, stood before the glory of The Trees, faces made pale and hair burned deep black by them. She bore the marks that they had been in the presence of the Valar. They had been in the West and returned.

I brushed as she ate… stroke, stroke, stroke. She finally poured her tea - much too strong for my taste. She said she came to like it that way during her visits with the Éothéod. “Strong tea for strong men...” she would occasionally toast.

Stroke, stroke, touch of hazelnut oil, stroke, stroke, stroke. My fingers flew with minds of their own. Stroke, comb, comb, pull, over, under, pull, stroke. The silver cords wove themselves through the darkness at my touch. Silver stars now twinkled from her brow and temples.

She finished the last of the biscuits as I knotted the last cord. I placed her dressing gown across her shoulders as she rose from the waters, keeping her night sky dry. She turned and looked over her shoulder at her reflection in the silver mirror. “Baranfinnath, You have outdone yourself. Lady Arwen could not wish for better.”

“Oh, my Lady, hush. I did only highlight your beautiful tapestry.”

While she browsed her wardrobe, I hung the sheers around the balcony, swept most of the yellow-gold leaves between the balusters, over the edge and watched them float down into the Bruinen below. I left several scattered about. My lady likes to watch them twirl and swirl into the waters as much as I.

“Baranfinnath!” she called.

“Yes, my Lady?”

“Are we using the green cloth or the amber on the table today?”

“I was going to use the green, my Lady, if that is what you wish.”

“Very good. The green is what I had in mind. What do you think of the maroon velvet, then?” She stepped out of her bed chambers holding the robe before her.

I nodded and said “It would be lovely, my Lady.”

I slid the table out onto the balcony and lay the green cloth upon it. Plates, knives, goblets, gifts, an assortment of wines and an arrangement of leaves and berries finished the table. I drew three soft chairs near for the ladies to place as they desired at the moment.

Then to my Lady’s chambers to help her prepare for the luncheon. The maroon robe she chose accented her pale skin and brought out the color of her lips. As a finish, I set a single silver star upon her breast, like Eärendil sailing home in the sunset. She smiled.

There were footfalls in the hallway. I hurried and opened the door, as Taerorn from the kitchens was about to knock. He bore a tray of meats, cheeses, more wines, dried fruits and fresh breads. I pointed to the sideboard, but he was already on his way there. I remained by the door to admire the view from behind. He filled out his kitchen whites very nicely, and his legs had great stamina from the many stairs in Imladris. I smiled to myself, remembering festival nights spent with my own legs locked around his as he displayed their stamina....

“Good morning, Taerorn.” My Lady Mórëfindessë purred, looking a vision, stars twinkling in her night sky hair. “Have you heard aught of your father?” Her eyes twinkled too, seeing how disconcerted he was at her tone and intimacy.

“H...h...he is recovering slowly,” he managed to stammer out, then more surely, “The foul beast’s bolt missed his heart, but its poison is slow to leave, even with... forest remedies.”

I stepped from the door and overstepped my place. “He can be brought to Imladris if he is not improving, just as that Halfling.... I mean to say, Master Elrond is very generous with his healing arts.”

Lady Mórëfindessë smiled at me, but I knew she was not pleased at that moment by my interruption.

“Yes, Baranfinnath, Master Elrond is most generous.” …and you could be dismissed, sent back to Greenwood in disgrace, if word got to him that you were not thankful for his generous nature. She did not have to speak it. I did not have to read it in her eyes. It was etched in my heart. I should never have presumed to speak with such… jealousy.

Taerorn brushed past me on the way out, I had not noticed my Lady had dismissed him, so caught up in my own concerns was I. My fingertips did not trail over his hip as he passed, as they usually did. I would hear of that too, later, from him. Would he think I had lost my affection for him? Could he not see how distressed I was? How could he think I did not care for him any longer?

“Baranfinnath!” I started at her sharp voice. “Stop daydreaming. Our guests should be arriving soon at the summons of those fresh breads, if I know them at all.”

“Surely, Lady Mórëfindessë, it is not our noses that drew us here, but your delightful companionship.” Lady Lelyafelmë’s voice startled me from behind.

There was a quick rapping on the doorframe and Lady Mermardë’s voice asked, “Though we do not have the splendor of our hostess, may we join you anyway?”

I regained my composure and held the door open as the Lady Mermardë glided and Lady Lelyafelmë strode into the apartment. Each handed to me a small cloth wrapped box and nodded unnecessarily toward the table.

Two pairs of slippered feet hurried away in the hall outside. Naneduin and Tuilinde were probably hurrying down to the kitchen, knowing I would now attend to their Ladies needs. Sometimes, I wished my Lady Mórëfindessë attended more parties than she held.

The Ladies greeted each other with careful hugs, lest they disturb each other’s exquisitely arranged raiments before they were properly appreciated.

I placed the two boxes upon the table near my Lady’s gifts to her friends, then moved to the sideboard to offer if they desired some assistance. From there, I could admire the Ladies without intruding. Lady Lelyafelmë’s loose flowing, rich blue blouse and black velvet leggings showed her ready to ride off in an instant. Her intricately braided knotwork hair stayed in its place, and hid twinkling stars much like my Lady’s in its black recesses. Lady Mermardë had a long robe, the russet of autumn leaves, gathered by a black, star-spangled girdle. Her ebon tresses hung loose, almost to the floor, gathered slightly at the nape of her swanlike neck by a golden butterfly.

Lady Mermardë and Lady Lelyafelmë were both lovely to see, but neither of their girls had been able to dress them to outshine my Lady.

She noticed me appraising her friends and smiled just for me. I felt a quick smile flit across my lips in return, then the heat of a blush. I turned to arrange the unlit lamps on the sideboard so they were absolutely perfect.

The quiet swish of slipper soles and Lady Lelyafelmë’s booted tread warned me. I slipped to the far end, ever ready to assist, but they did not need my help. Despite their grace and beauty and exquisite dress, they wielded the knives as the warriors they were. Slices of meats and slabs of still steaming breads flew to their platters with flicks of their wrists. In moments, there was little left but battlefield refuse and several dried apricots.

They carried their treasures to the balcony and gently lay them down. Ladies Mermardë & Lelyafelmë placed the gifts they brought before Lady Mórëfindessë, and she placed hers before them. They murmured thank-yous and slid them unopened out of harm’s way. Later, after her guests had returned to their own apartments, my Lady would open the gifts and dictate to me thank you messages to deliver. Then she would scowl at some flaw in the workmanship, laugh aloud, or simply close the box and hand it to me to add to the collection in the rear of her wardrobe. Occasionally, she would look upon the gift in surprise and add it to her jewelry or treasured trinkets. I found it all a bit difficult to understand. When gifts were exchanged in Greenwood, at least in my family, they stayed in their wrappings only long enough for ones fingers to get a better grip to tear them off.

I caught my Lady’s finger motions and brought her the wax knife from the sideboard. One long-practiced flick and the seal of the wine bottle flew off. Goblets were filled and toasts made.

“To Master Elrond.”

“To Gil-galad.”

“To friends in the West.”

At the last, they drank somberly and gazed each off into their own distance.

Moments later, they were telling each other their news of the past few months, Ladies again.

Lelyafelmë intoned ominously. “There is trouble abroad. I can feel it. I can taste it.”

Mermardë nudged her with her bare elbow. “You have been spending too much time in Lorien.” Lelyafelmë snorted in amusement.

“Is he really that good? Your pony will not last the winter at this rate.”

Lelyafelmë’s grey eyes gleamed. Mermardë’s delicate eyebrows arched and a laugh escaped from my Lady’s pursed lips.

“Perhaps he would like to come here for a while. Or, you could find companions closer.”

Lelyafelmë leaned forward, taking their hands in hers. “I have companions. What I need is a … mmmmm….” She smiled. They all burst out laughing and slid back into their soft chairs.

Mermardë held up a half a sausage upon her knifepoint. “The kitchens deliver wondrous loaves and meats. Perhaps they will also deliver….” She shook her blade and the sausage quivered. Lelyafelmë & Mermardë roared with laughter. Mórëfindessë smiled, but caught my eye as I again burned with embarrassment. I was very glad Taerorn was not here.

“What of Master Elrond’s visitors? Many have lingered under his hospitality this past month. If they were strong enough to travel so far, perhaps they have enough strength to keep us content, or at least amused?”

“Yes, Lady Mórëfindessë, I saw the look you were giving Gloin at dinner in the Chamber Of Fire.” Mermardë said salaciously.

My Lady’s eyebrows leapt up now. “I…”

Her friends laughed again at her indignant glare. “Mayhaps,” Mermardë gasped out, “you think he looks much like your friend Durin the Deathless!”

“Was that you appraising the Prince of Mirkwood’s backside, Lady Mermardë, or was someone else wearing your gown… again.” Lelyafelmë whooped in delight as her friend fumed like the pits of Sauron.

Perhaps, I thought, my Lady had struck too close to the mark on that one.

I busied myself tidying up the remnants of the kitchen platter, and sampling the dried apricots, so it would be ready for Taerorn when he came for it later. I would have to apologize to him for Lady Mórëfindessë’s intrusive questions and my lack of attention on the way out. Sometimes, apologizing can be very, very nice.

“Have you seen Estel lately?

“Estel?” Lady Lelyafelmë sounded puzzled.

“The manling.”

“Remember? His mother left him in Elrond’s care, then went west.”

“She was Eldar? But he grows a…”

“No, Felmë. Your brains had been pounded out by your days with the horsemen. His mother went back to her people in the wastes that were Arnor.”

“Oh, yes. Now I recall. They did leave most of their chieftains’ heirs in Elrond’s care.”

“Mmmm… does he not look like he stepped off the last boat from Numenor?” Mermardë sighed wistfully. “He would complement this year’s jam most delightfully.”

Lelyafelmë chuckled at her friend’s unfocused gaze.

“Do not say that in such a way outside of these curtains lest Lady Arwen hear you.” Mórëfindessë warned in hushed tones, “She would make sure you were standing watch in the Trollshaws in a moment.”

Lelyafelmë changed the subject slightly. “That Lord from the south kingdom looks very like him. Have you not seen the resemblance?”

“I heard young Estel served in his grandsire’s guard for several years.” my Lady replied, her eyes narrowing as she counted.

“In truth? Hmmmm. How could Lady Arwen not have noticed they looked so much alike? Do you think she suspects something… occurred while Estel was about in the world?”

“She and Boromir were dancing together often after dinner. Quite closely, as I saw it. Maybe she wishes Estel was broader in the shoulder and mightier in the thews.”

“He was a joy to dance with. Especially close. Have you had the pleasure? He danced with most everyone, and I still felt it was only me he cared about. When home, he must have flocks of women nipping at his… heels… all day.”

“Indeed – he has a great power…. He had leaned over to quietly ask directions of me, and I was captivated by his whisper. Then his breath warmed my cheek and his beard brushed my ear….”

My Lady fanned herself as though overcome by heat.

“You are very quiet while we delight over the southern Lord, Lelyafelmë.” Lady Mórëfindessë finally said.

“I was just thinking… what a waste, for such a fine specimen of Manhood to return to the south, never to be seen again.”

“Lelyafelmë…?”

“Felmë! Did you…?”



“Lelyafelmë! You have the stealth of a Ranger! We never heard a thing of it!”

“He was every inch a gentleman,” Lelyafelmë said quietly, leaning forward. “I felt it just and right to return the consideration. From the morning he arrived, he would never have had to leave his chambers if he so wished. I have not heard a murmur of any liaisons. Have you? Yet I suspect I could not have been the only…. ”

Mórëfindessë & Mermardë blushed furiously.

Lelyafelmë leaned back and smiled.

Mermardë murmured, “Yes, it would be a waste….”

All three laughed until they could scarcely breathe. One of Lady Lelyafelmë’s knotworks had come undone so its strands hung loosely down her back. I felt the momentary urge to dash to her side and repair it, but that would be Tuilinde’s job, if she were here with her Lady.

They finally gave a collective sigh and drained their goblets. I approached and refilled for them. My Lady Mórëfindessë’s fingertips brushed my arm. I turned, and she held my gaze and asked. ‘Baranfinnath, what do you think of Boromir, Lord of Gondor?” I blushed again but strove to regain my composure. Why should I be blushing at this, or any other implication I heard today? At home in Greenwood, almost every word can be made to imply the rude, and my brothers often did. Here were three warriors who have seen and, from their tales, done everything. Why should I be embarrassed by anything I might say to them?

How many times have I had this argument with myself, and still I blush. There is something about being in their presence that makes me feel as nothing. Do they feel the same when near one of the First Born?

“My Lady… I must agree with Lady Lelyafelmë. He is very much a gentleman.” Perhaps the effects of their strong wine were infectious. “When I went to his chambers to fetch your gown,” her eyes grew wide and I heard her friends chuckle, “and return his linen underthings,” Lady Lelyafelmë let out a whoop of laughter, “he did not presume I was there for his favor.” I felt I was as red as a cherry. “He opened the door fully dressed for the time of the night and was courteous in receiving his intimates and returning yours. I am sorry to hear that he is leaving soon.”

I felt dizzy speaking in such a manner to my Lady, but she did ask.

She narrowed her beautiful grey eyes. “And how soon would he be leaving?” My lips pressed together in a thin line as I bit them to hold them closed. I had betrayed a confidence I should never have had.

“Baranfinnath. When is he leaving?” Her patience with me was growing thin.

“Just after the Solstice Festival.” Lady Mermardë said casually. “Hadn’t you heard?” I sagged inside in relief, limp as a washcloth. My Lady looked to her friend and I stepped away, into the shadows, trembling.

“The stablehands are having trouble finding tack for that amusing little pony the Periainnath brought with them, but they were certain they would have him ready by then.”

Lady Lelyafelmë sounded puzzled. “Why are they bringing the pony with them? How will he keep up with real horses?”

“No horses. They are walking to the Sammath Naur to destroy Isildur’s Bane in the Fire of Doom.”

There were a snort and a sputter at that. Thank the Valar I had never been to Mordor, but from the tales I have heard the march would be a very long and difficult one, especially for the barefoot Periainnath.

“Half of our companions went West from Dagorlad while we slew fetid Uruk by the cartload, just so a Halfling can now walk the lost power of Morgoth’s butt boy back to him in his pocket?”

“I hear Master Elrond feels the stealth of a small party will protect them.” My Lady tried to assuage her friend’s ire.

“Perhaps his studies have taught him something in the time since he let Isildur walk from those chambers with his accursed trophy.” Lady Lelyafelmë’s voice was as bitter as I have ever heard.

Sshhik went the wax knife as another bottle of strong wine was opened. Before I could turn, someone was refilling the empty goblets.

“Estel is going”

“Lord Boromir…”

“Prince Legolas.”

“Trust you to think of him.”

“The Grey Wizard, the ringbearer, the three other Periainnath and the Nogoth, Gimli.”

“Aragorn.”

“Hmmmm?”

“Estel goes by the name Aragorn, now.”

“I would almost want to travel with them to hear the squabbles between the forest elf and the dwarf.”

“There were many heated words between them at Master Elrond’s council, I had heard.”

“Heard from your friend from Dale?”

Lelyafelmë snorted. “Hardly a friend, but he has a free wagging tongue at times.”

Mermardë’s voice smiled. “So does Elrohir, but he would not say a word of the Council.” Lelyafelmë snorted again.

“Perhaps Prince Legolas’s elves will guide them through Greenwood… Mirkwood. Or…. Lelyafelmë, you know well the Vales of Anduin from your days riding to Éothéod, or do you only recall what the sky there looked like?”

Lelyafelmë laughed at my Lady’s sharp wit. “The sky there was sometimes clear blue and sometimes starry black, but it was most often russet bearded and smiling.”

Their goblets clinked together as they toasted the men of Éothéod, who now dwell in the lands of the Rohan.

“Why would they choose a Periain to bear it?”

“I hear none else may hold it.”

“It makes me uneasy to think it chose him.”

“The Lord of the Winds consented to bear the Grey Wizard here. Could he not ask him to carry the Periain to the Sammath Naur?”

“If we find it difficult to get a straight answer from Master Elrond, imagine the troubles in persuading the Lord of the Winds to do your bidding. His folk speak only to Manwë and his kin.”

“And if he did consent to bear the Periain there, who could be sure the Periain would destroy it? Perhaps all we would gain is the shortest Úlairi.” Lelyafelmë snorted.

“Mayhaps Lord Glorfindel and Asfaloth would carry him there. Then toss him in if he did not relinquish the trophy.”

"And it would be over at last."

“Lord Glorfindel and Asfaloth are mighty, indeed, but they would show themselves like a full Moon on a clear night. Every Uruk in Mordor would gather to bar their way.”

“That would be a more grievous loss than Lord Boromir.”

There was a quiet knock on the door. I went to let Taerorn in while my mind’s eye was seeing the glory of Glorfindel the golden, his splendor enfolding my Lady as his mighty hands slipped her robe from her shoulders.

“Hello again, Baranfinnath. May I retrieve the luncheon platters?” Taerorn stood framed in the doorway, slight in comparison to my vision, but worthy in his own ways.

“Hello, Taerorn.” I glanced back over my shoulder. I felt his fingertips near my ear but his hand was gone when I turned back. “The Ladies are still lunching,” I told him, holding his gaze, “but you can take back the platter if you wish.”

“Baranfinnath… I must apologize for earlier.” He whispered. “It was ungracious to push past you like that, especially after you leapt to my aid.”

I turned and strode to the sideboard, blinking the wetness from my eyes. I could hear he was but a few steps behind me. I turned quickly before reaching the sideboard and stood in the alcove of my chamber door. He stopped behind and I felt his gentle touch upon my shoulder.

“Finneth, please do not be angry with me.” He kept his voice low. “Lady Mórëfindessë can be very… intimidating, especially after you have dressed her so. I feel I can never know her intentions.” His fingers tightened. “Thank you for throwing yourself in her way, but I am afraid of what she will do to you. She will not send you away, will she? My mother’s cousin has a house in the north of Mirkwood he is not using. We can move in there for a while….”

I held his trembling hand to my shoulder and turned into his arms, breathing the warm smells of the kitchen and his skin.

“It will be alright with my Lady, Almbeorn. You are the type she plays with, not the type she desires.” I slid my arms around his chest and pressed him to me. He laid his smooth cheek against my ear. For a moment, I remembered a beard pressed there.

“Baranfinnath!” I heard my Lady call. I slipped from his arms, checked myself quickly for kitchen residue and rushed quietly to the balcony.

“Yes, my Lady?” I asked.

“Have the stables prepare Alagoson for me and be quick about it. I shall be needing him this evening and will be riding trail for a fortnight. If you see Naneduin and Tuilinde, tell them to have their Ladies steeds readied too.”

She looked past me to see Taerorn waiting by the platter.

“If you use my chambers, be sure to do the laundry before I return.” She stood abruptly and walked her friends to the door, all speaking in hushed tones.

Whatever is redder than a cherry, I believe I outshone it.

*******

Questions in my Forum, Authors Notes are chaper 2.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

   

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: shunt

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 08/04/03

Original Post: 08/03/03

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