17. Home Sweet Home
Eli relaxed back on her heels and gazed with satisfaction the stone floor she had been scrubbing. She wrung out the cloth she had used to buff out the haze left from the grouting repairs completed the day before and rose, carrying the pail of dirty water and dumping it outback. She took a moment to study the cottage that would soon be their new home.
After spending the winter months of temporary living with several generous families it was wonderful to finally have some privacy and not have to be constantly on guard. The cottage had been lying derelict for over twenty years just beyond the outskirts of the village after its previous elderly occupants had died with no heirs wanting to take possession. Owen had discovered it in one of his many explorations around the area and the village elders had been only to happy to let them have it providing they cleaned up the tangle of wild growth and made the necessary repairs on their own. With the aid of a few of their new friends and hard work on their part the needed repairs soon made the grey stonewalls and fireplace strong and tight. The roof sported a new covering, and the privy had been relocated over a freshly dug pit. New shutters hung straight and true at the window openings and they hoped to add real glass sometime in the near future to allow for light but keep out the cold during the coming winters.
Inside, the lower level consisted of one large keeping room, a little room for Ted and an even smaller leanto shed that would function as both a storage area for food and Eli’s dried plants and herbs. A trap door led to a root cellar that had yet to be cleaned and prepared for reuse but that would not be needed until they started receiving a harvest from the garden and other things remained more urgent.
There were small lofts located at either end of the gabled roof reached by ladders that now served as sleeping quarters for Owen and Eli and both were looking forward to reclaiming some private space of their own.
They had found a few pieces of old furniture left in the cottage but nearly all of it had to be repaired or thrown out. Ted undertook the fixing of a large table and built several small stools and hopefully they would be able to add an old fashion settle for the fireplace by fall. The frames of their beds had to be re-strung with new rope and mattress sacks filled with fresh sweet grass before they were usable. Early on Owen and Ted’s hunting skills provided food and skins which they were able to trade for other needed household items like cooking pots and knives, and blankets and cloth for clothing.
When the spring warmth finally settled in Ted and Owen were able to start clearing out the area next to the house in preparation for a vegetable garden. They found to their surprise a great many cultivated bushes and other medicinal plants had survived throughout the many years of neglect. It was clear that the previous tenants had at on time a large garden full of many different and exotic plants. After viewing them, Eli was not surprised to discover many that were valuable as medicinal or other healing additives. At her request they did not remove them but trimmed or separated them and cleaned out all of the dead wood to encourage new growth wherever possible. It was when they had finished with that and moved on to the other side of the house that they found the remains of a large kitchen garden which was in much worse shape and would require a lot of work to reinvigorate before they could expect any results. A few fruit trees looked promising but would need a vigorous pruning before they could come forth with new fruit. Again their new friends came to their aid and provided animal and chicken dung to be dug into the soil and cuttings and seeds for the new crops. One of their previous hosts undertook the pruning and predicted that this year’s crop would be thin but next years should be a bumper one. It was understood that a portion of the harvest would go back into the community stores to help others in time of need.
They had been extremely lucky to find a spring located next to the cottage to provide them with the necessary water for both their personal needs and to irrigate the garden. Eli was much relieved since none of them were looking forward to the need to lug it from the river closer to the village. The spring had become choked with plants and dirt over the years resulted in a small marsh. It had taken some serious cleaning and the stacking of stones around it before it had finally begun to run clear and cold again. When one of the village elders looked at the result with puzzlement Ted explained that his ancestors had built such small spring houses on their farms to protect their water source and to keep butter and other foodstuffs cool and fresh during the warmer months. Several of the other villagers expressed interest and Ted took the opportunity to repay some of the “good will debt” they had accumulated over the previous months by helping build spring houses over other available springs as well. Owen came back one evening with several hens in a large basket and trailing a goat behind. At Eli’s quizzical expression he shrugged.
“We need eggs and milk and Kenner offered them in exchange for the deer I killed earlier today. I do not know about you but I could use a little more variety in our food.”
Ted shook his head. “Well we will need some kind of a coop for them and a shed for the goat. I guess we will have to do that tomorrow, I am too tired to even think about it tonight.”
Eli nodded. “They can go in the lean too for the time being. I guess some of the dried corn will serve as dinner. What about milking the poor thing?”
“Already taken care of, “ Owen commented. “I told Kenner we would have to learn to do that so he milked her before I brought her home. His oldest daughter will be over sometime in the morning to show us how.”
Eli yawned. “Fine, but don’t forget we need to build some kind of a shelter for them, otherwise they will disappear with the next traveling fox.”
Before she turned to climb the ladder to her loft she looked over at her uncle Ted. “By the way you had two prospective students show up to ask to join your class in the fall. That will make nine now won’t it?”
Ted groaned. “I have not even thought about any kind of lesson plan. There is still too much to do here before I can consider that.”
“Well at least you have some eager ones to start. I have not even done anything about asking the healer if he will teach me about the local plants and herbs. I would like to go with him when he tends his patients. He still acts suspicious every time I get near and I suspect he thinks I am out to supplant him. Even Gandalf’s good word did not ease his concern.”
The next morning Eli awoke to the sound of ax and saw. Grinning to herself at the sound of her uncle’s industry she stretched luxuriously under the light bedclothes then rose and dressed in a practical tunic and leggings before descended to the keeping room below. She was pleased to see that Ted had fixed his own breakfast and cleaned up after himself as well before beginning the day’s chores
Eli never ceased to be amazed at how well her uncle and cousin had adapted to their new life in Middle Earth. They had easily fitted into the pattern of village life making new friends quickly and assuming roles that fit them as if indeed they had been born and raised in them. Their skills at hunting had allowed them to add provisions for their host families during the winter months and Ted had proven to be a skillful teller of tales that ensured them a welcome everywhere most evenings during the long winter evenings.
She was having difficulty adjusting to the distinct roles assigned to the female and male members of the society here. She was also finding that the chores associated with every day living was much more difficult then she had expected. She poured some hot water from the kettle resting on the embers in the fireplace into a small tankard and prepared herself some tea. Cutting a slice of cheese and bread from the block and loaf in the small storage cabinet hanging on the wall near the fireplace she sat down at the table and contemplated her future. It seems her hopes of meeting her father were further away then ever. Well she would just have to get on with building a life here. She had already had a few occasions to use her healing skills and there was a garden outside that she would use to create a source of medical and other healing supplies. She sighed. In light of the village healer’s suspicions, she would have to pursue a study of local flora on her own. Perhaps he would come to see her as an ally not a threat.
The last home that Eli and her family had stayed at after their arrival in the village had been that of an older couple whose children had married and spread out to the north among the other Dunedine. The newcomers proved to be a great help both in adding to the larder, collecting wood, and making repairs to the cottage and out buildings after a heavy snow and ice storm. When the wife had been taken with a wicked cold Eli had been able to ease her breathing discomfort with a healing tea and other simple treatments she had learned on Earth.
Both cautious and curious about the strangers who had moved in with his parents, their oldest son Aravir took leave from his duties as second in command to the Dunedine Chieftain Argonul and made the long trek down from his own home. He provided Owen with his first direct experience with a Ranger of the North and the young man did not hesitate to take the opportunity to ask many questions about them much to Aravir’s amusement. At first he could not take seriously Owen’s desire to join the Rangers. It was not until he had talked with one of the village elders who confirmed Gandalf’s interest in the trio and his hope that Owen would be offer the opportunity that he looked at the young man and considered the possibility more fully.
While it was not unusual for the Rangers to accept outlanders from time to time, they usually came through marriage into a Dunedine family and family ties were well known. Owen was a different situation. He was not of the old blood and nothing was known of his family except what existed now. The fact that they had arrived with Gandalf had not hurt and only added to their mystery. Both the villagers and his family had come to like and respect the trio in spite of their somewhat mysterious past and they had proven to be both good and helpful members of their new community during the previous months.
As the weather turned warmer Aravir prepared to return north but had to wait until the mountain passes had cleared. He took the opportunity to spar with Owen and evaluate his sword work in the process. Accompanying him hunting he was pleased with the woodcraft Owen displayed and quizzed him occasionally on his decisions. He found himself impressed with the answers. The young man seemed to have an innate understanding of wild life that only the elves themselves and some of the Dunedine could claim.
Owen was quick to point out he needed to study with a knowledgeable swordsman and was much better with his archery skills. He hoped to find someone who would work with him over the summer so that he could provide better defence should it become necessary. Aravir would make no promises beyond discussing Owen’s desire with Argonul and if he agreed, Owen would have to travel north and undergo a period of training and evaluation. Only then would a final decision be made as to whether he would be allowed to join permanently. Aravir found him self enveloped in a bear hug from Owen at that pronouncement. It was impossible to maintain a serious demeanor in light of the young man’s happiness. Chuckling he disengaged himself and reminded him he was not assured of anything yet.
Owen grinned. All he wanted was a chance and he knew he would get it.
“I thank you for that at least, sir. And if it is decided I will not be allowed to join, then any training and experience gained will serve my family and I in good stead here. It will not be a waste of anyone’s efforts.”
While he waited both Ted and he continued the work at the cottage as they prepared for the coming winter and possible word summoning Owen north. The stone fence surrounding the immediate area of the garden and cottage was rebuilt or repaired; the garden was planted and swiftly showed signs of an exceptional harvest. A small shed and pen was completed for their new family of livestock and they found to their amusement that the goat was pregnant adding twin kids to their growing family just after she settled in her new home. She proved a sweet tempered animal and Eli found herself constantly entertained by the antics of the growing babies who seemed to get more into mischief faster then she could get them out of.
It was now mid summer and still no word had come for Owen. He refused to be discouraged and continued to help in the garden or fished from the nearby river. Today he had gone hunting with one of his friends and Ted had disappeared on some mysterious errand of his own. Eli decided she would take a portion of berries she had gathered into the village to share with Aravir’s parents and see if they had heard anything from their son.
She prepared a basket and added two trout from the mess that Owen had brought home earlier that morning. Washing up and combing her hair she pulled back the sides and stared in the mirror at her ears before dropping it back in it’s usual style. Her usual ponytail style was long forgotten since their arrival from Earth. She was not anxious to broadcast her heritage just yet. Picking up the basket she closed the cottage door behind herself and turned towards the path that lead to the village. Along the way she collected a bouquet of lilies and lilacs that she knew would please the old women.
As Eli neared the village she could see that there was something unexpected going on and that there were a number of unusual visitors. Pausing in the shadow of a large tree screened by some bushes she quickly noted that the visitors were elves and she easily recognized her two half brothers standing beside their horses. She turned her attention to the still mounted blond elf that obscured her view of the one beyond him. She froze as the horse moved back a pace and she knew at once whom she now was able to see. The tall dark haired elf turned towards his two sons and smiled at a comment before dismounting from his own animal.
“Lord Elrond.” Eli gasped in shock and collapsed back against the tree trunk and hungrily studied the face of her sire. This wonderful being was her father? She was too far away to see the color of his eyes but she recognized the shape of her own jaw line and her own brow in his face. Immediately she slammed her mental barriers down and reluctantly withdrew back further from view before retreating back towards the cottage.
Elrond paused as he completed dismounting and sensed he was the object of someone’s intense gaze. He turned and stared in the direction of a large oak as he sought to identify it’s source. He frowned as he was unable to penetrate a tightly constructed mental barrier feeling only the shock of it’s creator.
“What is it Elrond?” Glorfindel turned to follow his lord’s gaze.
“I am not sure, someone was watching me and did not wish to be seen. Whoever they are they have raised strong mental barriers and I cannot identify either their identity or gender.” He turned to the village leader. “What lays in that direction Earnur? Has someone taken up residence in the stone cottage out that way?”
“Yes, my lord, the travelers that Gandalf escorted here last fall. We gave them leave to repair it and live there. They have been a wonderful addition to our community. Master Theodore and young Owen have added their hunting skills to those of our hunters and Master Theodore has been a wonderful storyteller enlivening our evening during this past winter. He will be starting to teach some of our children this next fall after the harvest is in. Young Owen awaits word from Argonul as to whether he will be allowed to join the Rangers and young Mistress Eleiann seeks to be a healer. She had already assisted a number of the villagers with some minor ills.”
“With all the excitement of seeking out the truth of Iorlas’s past, I had forgotten about them ada.” Elladan interrupted. “Once we knew Gandalf had found them and taken them in hand, I stopped worrying about them.”
Elrond nodded. “I remember you telling me about them. They are the ones from the high meadows campground that included the woman looking for her father.”
Elladan nodded. “It would seem they have fitted in well here ada. The old one wanted access to your library. If they are indeed proving to be worthy members of the village perhaps you can grant his request.”
Elrond smiled at his son, “Perhaps ion nin, we can stop by the cottage on our way back to Imladris. If I am satisfied we can make arrangements for his visit then.”