4. 3002 Third Age, April
I wish I may, I wish in vain, I wish I were a maid again,
There's Pimpernell Greenlea, regretting her marriage again. She had her heart so set on having the richest man in the district to wed. Pity is she forgot how Charlie Greenlea made his wealth - by being the biggest skin-flint in the district. I still can't believe she thought she'd be able to wheedle coin for finery from him. She may have been the prettiest maid in the district, but she's going to grow into the sourest wife unless she learns to make the best of what she's got. She's in here most nights, drinking until she's sad enough to sing. Always the same song, too.
I do hope she learns a different tune someday.
I hope she learns a little self-respect, too. 'Nell, you're not going to get out of the marriage you don't want any more by flirting with lads in here. All's going to happen is Charlie will hear of it, and you'll learn the hard way what he does to those as harm his property. You're being a fool, girl. I'd best have a word with Barliman – she's had enough to drink for the one night.
But a maid again I can never be, until apples grow on an ivy tree.
Or in my case at least, until the younger maids and wives of Bree realise I'm not after their silly sweethearts or husbands. Honestly, do they think I'm fool enough to want some farmer with barely more conversation than his oxen, or a man who'll talk hunting until I take to and shoot him myself? If that was what I wanted, I could get it to spare and more from Harald and Jarge.
I'm finding more and more these days I'm wondering why I chose to do what I'm doing. I chose a life where I'm regarded as a lightskirt by the women, as a tease by the men, and as a stranger by most of the folk in town, and all for what? Some obscure belief I've got a duty to these folk. I must have been crazed. I think I need to speak with Aunt Tang again, get a bit of a reminder of what I'm really doing it for.
There is an alehouse in the town, and there my love, he sits him down
Along with every other man in town, and a good half of the women as well, let's be truthful. It's not like I wouldn't have witnesses should I make a play for one of the husbands or the lads. Just the same as 'Nell Greenlea. There's going to be harm done to someone one day soon, should she keep playing up the way she is. Harvest is nearly done, and Charlie's going to start coming back for a drink now and then. He'll see his wife acting the flirt with half the town, and like as not I'll be blamed for it.
Thank heavens for Barliman Butterbur and his wife. Jenny is such a sweet woman, and she's done more to influence me into staying in Bree and not lighting out for the south than anyone else here. After all, if I weren't here, who'd she talk to? She lost so much when Mistress Breelindir died, I'm starting to see now. I keep wondering about who else Mistress Breelindir's life touched on.
Well, there was mine, and Jarge, Harald and Da. Mine in particular – I'm told if Mistress Breelindir hadn't been attending the birthing, I'd have been born dead. As it was, I was born alive, but the birthing hurt Ma so much she didn't dare have another child. Then Da took up with his lightskirt from who-knows-where, and things got ticklish again.
He takes a stranger upon his knee, and tells her things that he once told me.
The funny thing about Da's lightskirt is nobody knows who the woman was, or where she came from, or where she went to. She's said to have had dark hair and brown eyes, and to have been slim, rather like Ma was when she was a girl. Strikes me as odd that she lit out of town, her and all her kin, and haven't been seen hide nor hair of since. Maybe I should start asking questions about her. After all, she's responsible for a lot of things, in her own way. Possibly I should thank her for my time at the Angle?
Now, I wonder who'd be best to speak to about the matter? I've a feeling the women are the ones who'd hold this information, the ones who were women grown at around the time that Ma died. I'll start with Mistress Jenny, I think. It'll be a good way of building bridges to the woman.
Which reminds me, I must get to and send a bird off to the Angle again. Bill Ferny's thieving ways are starting to cause more gossip than they're due, which means 'tis time to get someone to stop off for a day or two in Bree. Then there's the wolves the hunters are reporting. I swear, we're getting more of them each year. I wonder what's happening up Fornost way – if we're seeing the wolves this far south, I'd hate to think what things look like up there. Maybe it's time to make a suggestion at the town meeting about getting the hunters out to chase down the wolves.
I might include a little note for Aunt Tang in with the rest of the message. I know they frown on it, but I want to find Da's lightskirt. She needs to know he's died, at least. I must admit, thinking on the matter, it seems a bit odd. Ma and Da had been fighting a while when she showed up, according to Jarge. Something about me getting near old enough for something. Jarge didn't give me details, but given what happened, I think I can guess what they were. Then this lightskirt shows up, and Ma goes to Da's bed, to give him another child. 'Course, Ma died trying to birth the poor little thing, and Da went straight to the arms of his lightskirt for consolation.
I can almost remember something about her name. Something about her saying I was old enough for something. Da was muttering it when he came to my room one night, drunk as an orc.
I do want to find her. I've a feeling there's a score to be settled.
Oh love and porter make a young girl older, and love and whisky make her old and grey
Barliman's ale seems to be a good old crop this year. He's got most of the town overjoyed by the whole business. Well, all except for the Fernys, who appear to have decided the reason that Barliman retired from the ale competition all those years ago was so he never had to compete with their rotgut. The stuff Bill Ferny carries in his flask may have a kick on it like a bad-tempered pony, but I've yet to see anyone save the most confirmed drunkards coming back for more.
Oh, and poor 'Nell. Ach, it near pains my liver seeing someone so upset they'll drink Joe Ferny's rotgut without being bribed to first.
But what cannot be cured, love, must be endured love, and now I am bound for an early grave
She doesn't know the truth she's speaking. Keep drinking the Ferny's brew, and an early grave is probably the least of the problems you'll have, 'Nell. That stuff's like to send you blind and rot out your mind. It can't be so terrible being married to Charlie Greenlea you'd prefer either of those to waking alongside him each morning.
Oh love is pleasing and love is teasing, and love is a pleasure when first it's new
But as love grows older, then love grows colder, and fades away like the morning dew.
Oh dear. I'd best pick 'Nell up from the floor. She can sleep on my bed tonight. That should keep the gossips busy. I wonder, should I take a virgin goat in there next week?
“Come on 'Nell, lovey, upsy daisy.”
Whoops... might not have been the wisest move I've made today. Here's hoping Nob is quick with the cloth and the sawdust. I'll take her up to the room, and she can sleep it off there.
“Stop glaring at me, Barliman, I'll pay for the room for her, if you'd like. You can stop glaring at me too, Joe Ferny. 'Nell didn't need your rotgut, nor your clammy hands all over her. Now step back a touch, or I'll just let 'Nell give you the rest of what you so richly deserve.”
“No, Nob, I'm right.”
She's not too heavy for me, and I'll be best suited to making certain she's comfortable anyway. Come on, 'Nell. Up the stairs we go. We'll pop you down in a bed all to yourself, and you can get a bit of well-deserved rest. Now, let's just loosen your stays, so that you can breathe a bit easier...
“'Nell, are these bruises from you falling down drunk, or from Charlie helping you to fall down?”
Looks as though there's going to be a bit more work to be done around here. Starting with a word with Charlie Greenlea in the morning.
1) The lyrics are from a traditional folk song, called either “Waly Waly” or, as in this version, “Love is Pleasing”. This version can be heard sung by Marianne Faithful on the Chieftains album “The Long Black Veil”.
2) Standard drill - Tolkien owns what's Tolkien's, I own what's mine, and Magda owns her tips. No money is therefore being made from this story.]
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