9. The Animal Merchant
One of the spaniel puppies whimpers from his basket, jealous of the attention I am lavishing on the squirrel. I cross over to him and begin to pet him. He gives a happy yip and looks up at me adoringly. I pat his littermates, and then whistle to my small songbirds. They sing in reply; the blue and yellow canary’s song is particularly sweet. My mood lifts at the sound, and I admire afresh how healthy my beasts are despite everything that has happened. My wife cared for them well while she was gone, and I am grateful all my animals are in good enough health for me to ply my trade today at the fair.
It was a difficult decision to send her, our daughter, and the animals to my brother’s cottage outside Minas Tirith. We argued about selling them all instead, for the demand for food was great in the days before the siege. But I rebelled at that notion after some thought. “For what will we do afterwards, if we have no animals left to sell?” I argued.
“But you are thinking there will be peace! We do not know what will happen—it seems likely everyone will be dead soon!” Vendea’s jaw tightened into a stubborn line.
“Then the money we earn from selling our animals will be useless. And we only have small beasts, not large ones, so the money would not be much regardless.”
Vendea sighed. “But how shall we take them away, and where shall we go with them?”
“To my brother’s in Lossarnach. His farm is not large, but he has enough food for both animals and people, and will have stayed thanks to his limp. I will try to take more supplies with us as well.”
I finally found a driver of an oxen-drawn wain who was prepared to take my animals, but only because I greased his palm with enough coin. Further disaster struck when I was told I could not go with Vendea and Irima, but must remain in the city to aid the siege’s defense. I waved goodbye to them sadly as they left, trying not to weep as my little daughter cried, two of her favorite dogs clutched in her arms. I wondered then if I would see any of them again in this world.
Surviving the siege was a challenge, with too little food and too much loneliness; but to my joy, we of Gondor defeated the forces of evil with the help of our allies. My happiness was complete when my wife and daughter returned in my brother’s old wagon, wreathed in smiles that they had managed to keep most of our animals alive and well despite everything. We were surprised to learn that the city’s spring fair would go forward, but very grateful for the chance to earn some money.
But there have been few interested in buying a pet today. I suppose many feel a dog or cat would be but another mouth to feed, though there seems to be much food for sale here. It certainly appears a good number hid away the prime part of their pantries during the siege. I sigh, remembering how hungry I was then, and hope that I never endure such a state again.
As I move some of the songbirds’ cages, I see three people walking up the street towards me. I tidy my clothes, glad that Vendea’s skill with a needle makes their patches less obvious than they could be, and smile at them. I need to lure in some custom, and the presence of a child with a man and woman bodes well for me, particularly since they are all well dressed and clearly prosperous. I wish I had some hunting hawks or hounds, for then the couple would surely buy something from me. But such large beasts are beyond my ken, so I must put on a good show and hope for the best.
The boy rushes over, his eyes lighting up as he sees the animals. “Look here, Eowyn, there are little animals for sale!” he calls out to the woman. “I should get one for company, since I miss my dogs at home.” His face is round, rosy, and smooth as a baby’s, and his grin is wide and engaging. But his eyes sit oddly with the rest of his features, for they seem to be those of a much older man, full of knowledge. I wonder if he might not be one of the mythical Periannath from the far north that I have heard so much talk of lately. I cannot believe that, though; the idea of a race of small people who saved us all seems like a mere grandmother’s tale to me.
The woman wrinkles her nose in dismay. “Even if you do miss your pets, Merry, there is absolutely no hope that you can keep one in the Houses. Can you just imagine what Ioreth would say if you come back with a puppy, or better yet, a squirrel? And how would you travel home with such an animal?” I am surprised by her words; how a woman and boy would be in the Houses of Healing is something of a riddle to me, but I suppose many people were hurt in the siege.
“But they’re awfully sweet, Eowyn, just look,” the boy says coaxingly. He scoops up one of the spaniels and holds it up to the woman’s face. The little dog gives a happy yip and licks her cheek. Her expression softens as she takes the puppy and cuddles it. Seeing her weaken, I speak in hopes of finishing the sale. “A beautiful little bitch, my lady, and a splendid example of the breed. Once grown, she will make a fine hunter and companion, especially for your boy here.”
She laughs in obvious amusement as the boy Merry giggles. Before I can ask them what the joke might be, the man I saw them with before finally joins them. He is a tall and imposing Ranger, with a noble face and proud posture. I eye him cautiously, trying to size him up, wondering if he is inclined to spend his coin. He looks at the dog as it wags its tail and barks, shaking his head.
“A dog? Surely the two of you jest. We cannot bring back beasts to our temporary lodgings. They will toss them, and us, out onto the street. Be reasonable.”
I venture a comment. “My lord, if I may, I would more than happy to deliver the animal to you at a later date, once the three of you return to your usual home. Might this not answer the difficulty?”
He awards me a grudging half-smile. “Perhaps, but the evening approaches and we should continue to the Houses. Do not the two of you agree? Eowyn? Merry?”
The woman Eowyn sighs and hands the puppy back to the boy. “Yes, I do. Come, Merry, let us go back for the moment, for we can discuss the matter later.”
“All right,” he says without enthusiasm. As the two adults move down the street, he lingers and gives me with a conspiratorial look. “You live here in the city, don’t you?” he asks softly.
“Yes.” I murmur my location to him as he listens carefully. He fumbles with his belt purse and gives me some money. “Please, can you keep this puppy for me? I will come fetch her later, when I can smuggle her into my room.”
“My pleasure, young master.” I give him a little wink. “Willing to get into trouble, I see.”
He grins widely. “I always am, believe me.” He waves at the red squirrel. “Keep that too—it’ll be worth buying just to see the look on Ioreth’s face when it runs around my room.”
“Very well.” We see the man heading back in our direction with a purposeful expression.
“I must be going, I see—thank you, and I will be by very soon!” My furtive little customer sprints off with a wave and a smile. I shake my head, and turn to both the puppy and the squirrel.
“Well, my fair lasses, I hope your new owner treats you well. He seems to have a warm heart, and certainly wants you both badly enough!” I scratch the spaniel’s belly as she rolls over. “Now it is time for us to all go home and make you ready, my dears. Maybe Irima will be a good girl and help me give you baths.” They reply with barks and chirps as I begin to pack up. Not likely, after all, that I will sell more, and now I have much work tonight to prepare both of them. I feel a flicker of guilt that Master Merry might be punished for his purchase; but since he called the woman by her first name, she must be a friend, not his mother, and so not able to wield a sharp hand. I think about the money I will make and begin to whistle as I go about my tasks, for work is certainly better than idleness for the stomach.
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.