4. Friendships found, friendships gained
He watched as the children departed from the courtyard, too stunned to move. It had been a long while since any person, adult or child, had touched him, and now for one so young to embrace him, unafraid and with such trust it moved him all but to tears. Indeed, if he had not at that time realised that another's eyes watched his back he may well have done so; but now, his pride, little as he did still hold, did reassert its hold upon him and he turned quickly to encounter the strong aged gaze of the storyteller who after little time was forced to avert his eyes before he could speak.
"The children like you."
"Do they?" Káno replied almost tiredly, unwilling to strike up a conversation.
"Aye. So I have to ask, where will you stay tonight?"
Sucking in a quick breath, his eyes darting up to hold the gaze of the mans own; he stared in a shock borne out of suspicion and surprise. Yet, the other, noticing this simply chuckled.
"I have a room in one of the inns in the second level of the city. It's not a particularly savoury place but it has a roof and is relatively warm. Besides, I've slept in worse." He shrugged and nodded at Káno's own raiment. "And, I think, so have you."
Stiffening, still suspicious of the man's motives and, vaguely affronted he pulls his cloak tighter about his shoulders even though the heat atop the city leaves him stifling. Yet for all his suspicions he found himself strangely intrigued by the idea of sleeping with over his head and the implied suggestion of friendship. But still..."Why? Why would you offer me this? What do you wish in return?"
"Why?" The Storyteller's asks his face puzzled, before he laughs and shakes his head. "You are too suspicious my friend, far too suspicious. Alright, I'll tell you. Pity for another free-singer who has found himself in dire straits. Do not look so surprised. Only the most unobservant of people could fail to notice the fine, if not old instrument you carry. Besides the fact that your eyes, shadowed though they are, never once left my mouth as I spoke and sung today; and the way in which you quite oft joined with what I sung. So you see my friend, as I have also found myself in such straits I offer you shelter with me."
"I need no mans pity." Káno relies softly, turning from the Storyteller he stands, gently lifting the harp; although he still makes no move to leave the courtyard.
"No." The Storyteller agrees. "You don't need pity, so forgive me for speaking such a word. However I do offer you aid for the night; and I will not ask anything of you except for you to return upon the morrow for the child's sake. So come, it will not take us long to reach it."
Turning back to face the Storyteller who stands cradling his lyre, a twinkle in his eye, he sighs. "I thank you but-"
"But you will accept." Chuckling, disallowing for any further refusal. "Besides, where else will you stay? The City's soldiers will not allow any to sleep upon the streets so come." Grasping Káno's elbow he steers the slighter man out of the courtyard and down into the lower circles of the city.
Standing in the second circle of the city the tavern was old, little more than a small hovel, built long ago before the Dark One's second rising in the land beyond the dread mountains. The beams supporting the ceilings seemed to almost sag beneath the weight of its own history. But though the brickwork seemed nearer black than grey, still in places did it show itself proud in white. Proving that at least at one time the walls had been whitewashed and shown care.
Its patrons yelled loudly at each other, arm wrestling being the sport for the night as the inhabitants of the taproom drank themselves insensible. Not allowed to stop and look around in curiosity at the place where he had been brought, Káno was bustled up the creaking stairs by his newfound companion, while the said new patron flips a coin towards one of the barmaids informing her that it is payment for another body to share his room; and could she please ask her master to organise two hearty meals befitting two tired minstrels.
Laughing as she turns away, pushing customers out of the way so that she can reach the bar and escape into the kitchens to do as she was bidden by the Storyteller.
Arriving at last at their destination after travelling up two flights of rickety wooden stairs probably dating from the taverns construction. The door in front of which he is halted looks like all the others that he had passed further down the hall, although it was perhaps not as rotten as some. Watching in fascination as the Storyteller rummaged through his pockets, turning them, literally, inside out in his hunt for a certain item of seemingly vast importance. However just as he is about to turn his knapsack out and spill the contents out across the halls floor something seems to spark in his eyes for he shortly gives up upon his bag to thrust a hand down his tunic looking triumphant as he pulls out an old brass key upon a chain.
"I always forget I leave it there. Must be my age catching up on me." He mutters by way of explanation as he swings the door noiselessly upon its hinges. Clearly the room was in frequent use to have all of its brass work to be so well oiled and polished, for not once did it stick as it swung inwards to reveal the room within.
Not lavishly furnished with but a single pallet next to the window, a woebegone looking wooden chair, an old set of drawers missing more than one handle and, a built in wardrobe upon the opposing side to the drawers upon which rested a solitary mirror and numerous brick-a-brag including cloths, paper, oil, string and who knew what else. But, it was not this assorted collection of oddments that caught Káno's attention but rather the large rug that covered the otherwise bare wooden floor.
Made out of dyed sheep's wool, the crafter or perhaps mad man, who had created the object had seen fit not just to dye the rug a simple blue but had drawn patterns upon the wool in different dyes. Red and yellow swirls crossed across the blue backdrop like sunbeams cutting across a fresh sky.
"My mother made it when I was but a small child." The Storyteller tells him softly with a smile. "She was very deft with her hands but, this now is but one of the few things that I have left that were created by those hands. Much that was beautiful and cherished was destroyed by the war."
"War destroys anything, and all that is beautiful." Káno replies stiffly wrenching his eyes away from the rug to look out the window where the sun is setting to a myriad of colours: pink, orange, red, blue, as assorted as a painters pallet.
"True. That is true." The Storyteller acknowledges. "But is not beauty also born out of war, or at least the end of it." He raises his hands in a pacifying gesture as Káno spins around to face him abruptly.
"Explain." Comes the sharp response, a command not a question. The storyteller smiles noting his new companions almost distrustful tone, he sits himself crossed legged at the end of the pallet before proceeding to pat it and gesture Káno to sit. After a moments hesitation he yields and lets go of some of his stubbornness to perch upon the very edge of the pallet; forcing the Storytellers smile to grow.
"Before I explain though I think it is about time that we had true introductions. I know that your name is Káno for you did say it so at the fountain. As for myself I am called Falborn. Now you asked me what did I mean that beauty not just ruin can come from war and so I say this; look around you at the peace within this city. This city was born and tempered in war. Look at our King and Queen themselves. If not for the war the Lord Elessar would never have come south and been accepted as King. For the Stewards prior had ordained that none of the line of Arnor could take the throne." The man paused to chuckle at the irony of that particular situation; stretching his arms above his head. "Furthermore the Lady Arwen would never have been born if not for war. Since it was war that allowed her parents to meet for the first time. As such I would argue that war does indeed create beauty."
Káno had closed his eyes during Falborn's speech, finding it easier to concentrate if deprived of sight. For as of late, indeed mostly over the past few days, nay since he had first been found by that other, he had found his concentration to not be what it had been during his youth. Where once he could spend hours listening to others speak, now he found that often he could barely spend more than a handful of minutes listening to others without his mind wandering onto other, often less welcoming subjects. He shifts his position sighing as he realises that the other expects a counterargument then stands to once again stare out of the window, to look out upon the city and plains far below. "Mayhap some beauty does come from war. But how can that beauty ever atone for or counter that which was destroyed, and the lives that were taken in its course? How can you explain to those who have lost loved ones in the war that it does not matter that their kinsmen are dead for new beauty will come of their sacrifice. Those words are no comfort. There is no comfort."
"Indeed there is not. That is why I am glad that I am no Captain as my father was to have to explain such things. For all such things can be said in hindsight, as you did say; 'such words are no comfort'. But now, all this debating has left me hungry, and you yourself look like you could do with a good meal inside of you." This last was an understatement of the most severe, for although the large cloak that Káno wore covered him from top to toe, and so bulked him out somewhat. It was clear to any who looked long enough that he had not partaken of a good meal for many a day. Standing Falborn gestured to his guest to leave what meagre belongings he possessed and follow him back downstairs.
Sighing Káno pushes himself away from the window, he had not wished for any place to remain or wanted another's charity; but seeing that he had little choice in the matter and unwilling to slight the mans generosity he does as he is bidden. Depositing his satchel and harp upon the pallet Káno, after a last lingering look at the sunset turns his back and, pulling his cloak tighter around him in response to some unknown chill he heads back out into the hallway.
Raising his eyebrows briefly at the antics of his newfound guest, Falborn shrugs. Although intrigued by him he knows better than to pry. His story would be revealed in time and he could wait.
Rowdy music drifts up the stairs as the pair once more descend into the taproom; Falborn having locked the room once again had had to coax Káno to return downstairs the music and smell having at once an adverse effect upon the other.
Smiling once again Falborn shoots Káno a look, quipping; "I did tell you that it was not a particularly savoury place." Káno however, his face hidden in shadows, stays silent.
With no reply forthcoming Falborn shrugs accepting the latter's silence and continues downstairs.
If they had thought the taproom full before, now it was bursting. With the sunset had come the shopkeepers and workers, those whose trades only existed during daylight hours. Now it was the duty of those trades existed to serve the nights responsibility. Although the City guards were under orders to remove any and all persons attempting to shelter in the cities streets to more suitable accommodation; there was no curfew in the city, and so no need for any to rush home to their darlings and sweethearts if indeed they had any.
Pushed, jostled and shoved, this way and hat Káno, even with his keen sight would have long since lost his companion amid the rowdy patrons. As was, Falborn had the sense of knowledge to grasp the edge of Káno's cloak and so pull the other in his wake. Talking, bantering with those of whom he was acquainted asking them for passage, promising them a song or two near the end of the night, it is a while before the pair can make their way to the bar to signal to the maid with whom Falborn had earlier had words, that they were both now ready.
With a smile she gestures for the pair to find a seat. A quest that takes them little more than five minutes allowing the maid to bring their meals to them with nary a concern.
"My thanks Lirael." Falborn says to her as she sets two bowls of hot stew complete with slabs of bread and butter, and a mug of ale each. With a grin he slips her a few coppers out of his pocket.
"Oh Falborn..." She says quietly, exasperated.
"Just don't tell old Elegos and you'll be fine." He whispers in reply.
Shaking her head Lirael does not attempt to further scold Falborn, instead she pockets the coppers, dropping a light kiss of thanks upon the latter's crown, then leaves.
Still smiling as he turns his attention back to Káno Falborn explains. "Lirael has worked here for almost ten years and though Elegos does attempt to pay the maid well; with a small babe it is not always enough." He shrugs. "Not that you are overly bothered about such things. Still, this stew looks a mite better than last evenings."
They ate in silence, Falborn surreptitiously studying his companion when he was not greeted by another patron. It was clear that the Storyteller was well known amongst the people of this particular establishment. Káno too studied the man sitting before him out of the corner of his eye, as his attention seemed to be riveted upon the meal before him; eating one handed he found to his chagrin was not as easy as he would have liked but still he managed. The stew was still steaming by the time he was nearly finished, having found that the bread, if dunked within the stew created a rather pleasant taste. He had attempted to eat the bread on its own but unfortunately had discovered that it was dry even with butter spread upon it, clearly the ends of yesterday's loaf. The meal was not the best he had ever eaten, in no way was it so but he did admit to himself privately, he had eaten worse cooked by his own hand that was barely palatable. Moreover days of eating nothing, or close to nothing, did somewhat negate your taste buds; your stomach taking full reign.
Amongst his ponderings he had missed when Falborn had finished his meal, he remains of which lay where their prior owner had left them; simple crumbs being the only morsels left upon the crockery. The mug of ale however had not been left with its crockery companions, Falborn seeming to have moved it with him. Mildly bemused by the bard's disappearance Káno's eyes scan the patrons looking for the wayward lyricist; he did not however cease to chew as he did so. Finally he located his erstwhile companion sitting upon a stool near the tap, clearly not still drinking the original contents of his mug.
Talking with the patrons Falborn seemed little out of place, blending amongst them as though he were a regular; which Káno thought to himself was a possibility.
Leaning against the bar Falborn was gesticulating wildly as he talked, generating smiles and laughs, sniggers and chuckles, one man laughing so hard he falls off his stool; causing an explosion of laughter to erupt from all those standing near. Even the centre of the laughter continued in his mirth. Grinning, clearly happy with the reaction his words have caused Falborn stands, offering a hand to the downed an who after accepting it pulls his friend into an embrace, slapping him on the back. Pulling away Falborn throws his head back laughing uproariously, leaning forward again he speaks close to the other mans ear, the words lost over the din of the taproom but the response could not have been missed by even the most unobservant observer as the man pulled Falborn back to him throwing his arm over his shoulders before releasing him with a laugh and shoving him back towards where Káno sat. Calling good-natured insults over his shoulder Falborn walks back to the table and sits with a sigh.
"Maer, a good friend, but one hell of a drunkard. His wife's kicked him out again because of it. But..."he trails off throwing his hands up in the air with a small smile.
Káno doesn't speak but simply nods his head, his mind travelling back to a time when another wife kicked her husband out for a number of nights because of his decision to get stupidly drunk; he too had simply ended up drinking more.
"Are you wed?" The question startles him out of his musings. He pauses before replying.
"I was...yes. I am wed. Although my wife and I have not met in many a long year."
"An argument?" His curiosity now piqued and with the added alcohol in his system Falborn's tongue chooses to wag forgetting his earlier decision to be patient.
"Of sorts. We disagreed over a certain matter and so, I haven't seen her since." A careful, guarded reply; unwilling to divulge more of his past than was strictly necessary.
"Ah..." Sense almost getting the better of him Falborn trails off, but sense soon leaves him as he continues. "I would presume from that that you have no children."
"No." A curt answer followed by a sigh. "We never did have children-"
"A pity." A short reply but a leading one, asking if more could be said; while he took another swig of ale from his tankard. In response Káno stretches, ducking his head briefly to stare at the table.
"My younger brother had a son. But he died, a very long time ago."
Falborn winces even drunk as he is. "I apologise. I never meant to stir old memories."
A small, tight, smile. "The memories you stirred my friend could never be forgotten; so you need not have feared. I have far worse memories than those of my wife and brother-son.""I see... Still I apologise." Silence reigns for a moment, the only noise that of raucous laughter from the other tables -someone had just won at cards- in the silence Káno takes the time to examine the crockery as Falborn takes another drink from his tankard. The man then grins lopsidedly leaning against the wooden surface, one hand resting protectively around his ale the other, knuckles worn, props his head up. "I have a daughter." He smiles softly. "A wee little thing only about," he moves his hand briefly from his tankard to indicate a height level with his head off the floor. "This high. But she's a little firecracker. Dark haired, blue eyed. She's thirteen now Valar bless her. She's beautiful." He pauses briefly to take another drink. "But I decided I wanted to travel, spread the stories and the road's no place for a little one. So she's at home with her mother down in the South." He smiles a fond smile before chuckling, his wits not completely dulled by alcohol. "But here I am going on about Mirima and Beriadwen and you look about ready to fall asleep. So," standing abruptly Falborn stumbles and would have fallen if not for Káno's sudden silent appearance beside him; grasping his elbow and guiding him safely out of the taproom and back up stairs, his last mumbled words being; "I think they'll have to wait 'till tomorrow for a song or two..." before he is ushered inside their now shared room where two pallets await and falls asleep as soon as his head hits the soft pillow.
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.