14. The Randirrim Caravan
Chapter Written by Angmar
Taking a long drink of wine, Tarlanc felt the robust tingling sensation tease his mouth and then warm its way down to his stomach. "I will never forget my father's words that day as he burnt my bare hindquarters with his belt. 'Son,' he bellowed, 'if I ever catch you stealing away to that camp of foreigners again, I will give you such a whipping that this one will seem as gentle as the loving tap of a mother's hand upon a baby's backside!"
"'But, Father,' I cried as I attempted to evade his punishment by moving out of his reach, 'what is so wrong about having a little entertainment? You are always telling me that my education is dreadfully lacking. Mayhap my encounter with these strange people will teach me about the world!'
"'I will educate you, you impertinent and foolish youth! I will give you such an education that you will not forget it anytime soon!' About that time, he caught the neck of my tunic and held me as I fought to escape his grasp. Forcing me to stand despite my struggles, he twisted the fabric so tightly that I thought he would strangle me! To my embarrassment, he tugged my breeches down to my knees. Then he drew back his belt and struck my backside with such a resounding jolt that it drove me forward. I thought the next whack would lift me off the ground and send me soaring to the top of the mill!
"That belt was like pure fire as it scorched my rear! He had given me whippings in the past, but nothing to compare with this one. I thought he would surely strip the flesh off my throbbing posterior! Squeezing my eyes tightly shut and gritting my teeth, I tried every way I knew to keep from crying, but my bottom was in such agony that I could not prevent an occasional tear from escaping past my eyelids.
"'Though I respect and honor Lord Caun and give him my total fealty, it is beyond my comprehension why he ever allowed those filthy vagabonds to camp on his land at the outskirts of the village,' my father raged as he struck my abused bottom again and again. 'They must have tetched his mind and bewitched him! His sire would never have allowed it, you can be sure of that!'
"Whipping me every step of the way, he marched me out in a lively step before him. From one end of the first floor of the mill to the other, his belt bit across my flaming backside, its rhythm never breaking. I could not refrain from yelping each time that the belt mauled my burning backside. 'No, Father, no!' I begged. 'That hurts! Please stop! You are going to kill me! Oh! Oh!' By that time, the tears were running freely down my cheeks. My face flamed hot from the weeping and the embarrassment of this indignity. I felt that my father had shamed me and deeply wounded my pride. How very cruel it was of him to beat me in such a vicious fashion! Even if the whipping had been administered in a reasonable way, I was far too old to be whipped like a child. At fourteen, I considered myself grown and worthy to be treated as a man. I had never liked my father, and at that moment I hated him!"
Elfhild sighed and shook her head. "Poor old Tarlanc," she thought. "He suffered so much as a boy!" Her own father had been strict at times, but never had he been cruel. Oh, how she wished that Tarlanc's past had been different! She regretted that she had ever been so distrustful of the miller.
"Ah, lasses, although this happened long ago, I can still hear my father's words as his face convulsed in rage," the old miller mused, sipping his drink slowly. "'Tarlanc,' my father told me, 'someday you will be so grateful to me for this call to reason that you will get down on your hands and knees and beg my forgiveness. Although you are too stubborn and impetuous to realize it, I am saving you from coming under the influence of those evil heathens! If I do not keep you out of their clutches, they will put one of their spells on you and bind you to them forever!' At that moment, he lashed across the flaming cheeks of my bottom with his belt. The dreadful scourge stung me so badly that it felt as though I had fallen into the glowing embers of a fire.
"'They are not evil people, Father!' I tried to tell him. Although I both feared and hated my father, I at last summoned the courage to stop running from him. I would submit to the worst he could give me. And, lasses," Tarlanc shook his head as his lips hardened and his eyes grew dark, "he gave me the most dreadful punishment that any man could give the son he vowed he loved! His cruelty belied the words he told me and turned them into nothing but lies.
"'Not evil?' he laughed caustically. 'Son, they already have a hold over your mind,' he lectured as he delivered the fiercest, most painful stripe of the entire whipping. 'Has all of your good sense left you? The Randirrim are thieves and troublemakers! Their spell-makers and witches will put curses upon us, and inflict us with dire plagues! They will steal our children from their beds, our horses and cows from our barns, our sheep from the fold, and our chickens from their coops! Not content with that trumpery, they will steal every crockery jar of pickled vegetables, jams and preserves from our cellars and pantries and every bag of grain from our storehouses! They are an unconscionable and evil people, and never to be trusted! You keep away from them, son, you hear me, or next time I will blister the skin off your backside!'
Tarlanc looked over to the girls and was pleased that they seemed engrossed in his tale as he continued. "I was thankful that his last blow was at least less harsh than the others. Perhaps he was worried that he would do me far more serious damage if he did not lessen the severity of his flagellation. As it was, the welts that he raised across my backside and thighs were so severe that I could not sit down for the next week!
"'There, now!' He spun me around to face him, holding my face so close to his that I could smell the wine on his breath. I could scarcely bear to look into his contemptuous eye. His face flushed with such anger that it had taken on the ruddy color of blood, and his nostrils flared so widely that I could see every hair and blood vessel as the air passed through his nose. 'If I find out that you have gone back to the camp of those thieving Randirrim ever again, I am going to give you the whipping of your life! It will make this one seem like pleasure!'
"He held me by both shoulders, glaring deeply into my eyes. 'Listen to me, boy. Do not go running to your mother with your whimpering and complaining the way you always do. It will not matter what she says anyway.' He began shaking me hard, my head rocking back and forth on my shoulders. 'She has always been too soft on you, favoring you over the others, and keeping you out of my way when you had disobeyed me! You will listen to me, boy, and if you speak back to me with that impertinent tone, I will slap your despicable face!' He shook me harder.
"'For the next month, there will be no more fine food for you! You are going to dine on bread and water and thank me for it! Except for regulating the flow of water through the sluice gate and the actual milling, you will be responsible for the rest of the work around the mill. If your brothers offer to lend you aid, you will refuse them!' He released me with a push, sending me sprawling over backwards upon my seared buttocks. 'Now stop your crying and try to control yourself! Act like a man instead of the bawling infant that you are! Go to the well now and wash your dirty face. Make yourself presentable before you appear before me again!'
"With another fierce glare, he turned his back on me and stalked out of the mill. So upset that I temporarily forgot my pain, I sat down on a sack of meal and quickly jumped to my feet with a cry of pain. When I touched my maligned bottom, I brought my fingers back wet with my own blood. Aye, lasses, he beat me so ferociously that the welts had ruptured and were bleeding."
Tarlanc paused and stared at the candle, the muscles in his face relaxing, his jaw going slack. His eyes grew vacant as he gazed into the candle and dredged up old memories that were best left buried in the past.
Elffled sighed deeply, very moved by this tragic story. "Tarlanc," she touched his shoulder, "please have a sip of wine. I know you must be thirsty."
"Thank you, lass. I must pause for a while to gather my thoughts," he remarked absentmindedly as he took the wineskin from her outstretched hand. He pursed his lips briefly, as though thinking whether he really wanted a draught or not. Then with a smile at Elffled, he put the mouth of the wineskin to his lips and drank deeply.
Leaning forward slightly, Elfhild gave the miller a questioning look. "Why did your father have such a violent hatred for these wanderers, the Randirrim? Did he have reason?"
"Aye, lass," Tarlanc exclaimed as he wiped off his lips with the back of his hand. "My father was a man of intense emotions, often given to a hot temper and fits of violence. A few years before this occurrence, someone stole his best and favorite horse right from the stable. The Randirrim were camped along the stream. For no other reason than their reputation and that they were nearby, he blamed them for the theft. Then in a rage, he and some of his friends went to the camp, armed with swords and axes. They searched the camp, but they found nothing. The horse was never seen again, and nothing was heard about it, but still my father was convinced that the Randirrim had stolen the horse. I always felt that some man from the village or the countryside had taken the horse and sold it in a village far away. My father would never hear to that, though."
Tarlanc handed the wineskin back to Elffled. "I don't know how it is in your country, but many of the people around here, especially those who are ignorant and unlearned, have never trusted the Randirrim. However, simple folk always fear any strangers, but they especially were frightened of them, for their origin is Harad.
"The present lord's grand sire had traveled widely, some saying that he had even ventured into the land of the Haradrim on business for the Steward. Apparently, he saw no harm to these vagabonds, welcoming them each year and giving them permission to camp on his land. He trusted them enough to allow them the use of his property in exchange for the labor of some of their men at harvest season."
The old miller bent down and patted Haun on the head, muttering soft words of praise and comfort. The great mastiff had just awakened from an especially turbulent dream. Haun groaned and muttered, his great chest heaving so hard it sounded like the bellows of a blacksmith's forge. With a devoted glance up to his master, he rose up to his feet and, wagging his short tail, trotted off into the woods.
"Haun has business of his own to attend to, I suppose." His brow furrowed with concern, the miller dismissed the dog's restlessness. "Being so far from home and familiar territory has gotten him unsettled."
"Oh, Tarlanc," Elfhild laughed gently, "Haun has not been the only one plagued with bad dreams since leaving home. I have had some that were horrendous!"
"Tell us, lass," Tarlanc smiled encouragingly.
Her eyes widening with fear, Elfhild shook her head frantically. "No, no, I would rather not! Relating them will merely bring back their terror!" Besides, she thought, the terrifying and sensual nightmare which she had experienced the night before was not proper to discuss in mixed company!
"True, lass," Tarlanc nodded. "If the retelling of them brings you nothing but distress, you should not upset yourself, lest you bring on others even worse."
"Please go on with your tale, Tarlanc," Elffled urged as she looked up to him with earnest eyes.
"Then by your leave, I will resume my account. I took my supper that night standing up, for I could not bear to sit upon my maligned bottom. My father's displeasure at me was still so great that he forbade me to approach the table, so I stood like a dunce in the corner and ate my bread and drank my water. While I watched him eat, I was, as always, appalled by his crude manners. As though they were slaves, he made my mother and sisters wait upon him and my brothers, seldom giving them a kind word. His huge, hairy paws tore the bread and meat to pieces and stuffed them in his red-lipped maw as the juices streamed down the corners of his mouth and into his beard.
"I vowed then that I should run away from home and join the Randirrim, if they would have me. I had only to plan my escape." The old miller smiled when he felt the gentle touch of Elffled's hand once again on his arm. Elfhild was so grieved by his story that she could barely look at him, and sat on the blanket, gazing at the candle, her hands resting atop each other upon her lap.
"Feigning sleep upon my pallet that night when all had gone to bed, I lay awake devising my plans. I resolved not to go back to the camp of the Randirrim anytime soon. I would attempt to turn myself into a perfect son, obeying my father in all things, and working harder than I ever had before in the mill. After adopting this manner for a few weeks, my father's treatment of me became less harsh. He must have concluded that I had learned my lesson from his fierce castigation of me and that I was truly penitent. He allowed me to go to the village again on small errands, and I was careful to perform my tasks and return quickly. By the end of summer, I was confident that he was no longer watching me.
"My reformation lasted until near the end of summer. Then one morning as I was going to the village upon an errand for my father, I passed near the Randirrim camp. My father had to allow that, for it was impossible to travel to the village without crossing the bridge and seeing them. They were in the process of packing their few possessions and loading them into wains. I knew that they would soon be traveling southward for winter. My heart raced in my chest, and I was so excited that my palms began sweating. This would be the night that I would leave!" Pausing, Tarlanc turned to watch Haun, who had returned from his venture into the woods and then lay down quietly at his master's feet.
"Oh, how very exciting!" Elfhild exclaimed, clutching her knees in enthusiasm as her eager ears listened for more.
"I cannot tell you how excited I was," chuckled Tarlanc. He leaned forward, staring into the fire, as he placed his gnarled hands on his thighs. "That night when the cottage was dark and quiet, I gathered up a few belongings and eased out the door. As I breathed deeply of the warm night air, it seemed that the stars shown brighter, the crickets chirped more cheerfully, and my feet hardly touched the ground as I walked to the thoroughfare.
"Since the road was a good one over gently rolling ground, the Randirrim would have made good time that day, very likely traveling over more than three leagues before nightfall. Striking a brisk stride and maintaining it through the night, I was able to catch up with them about an hour after midnight. There in a field alongside the road I saw the glowing embers of their campfires. I did not go directly to their camp that night, however. I knew that when my father realized that I had run away, he and my brothers would come tearing down the road after me, heading for the Randirrim camp. Instead, I walked quickly past their wagons and continued on the road south for another hour.
"Then, spying a thick copse of trees spreading away to the north, I moved off the road and into their protection. I chose a resting place near a brace of hawthorns, and felt safe enough among their gray-green shapeless thorny masses. The spot was close enough for me to hear the sound of a rider upon the road, and yet far enough away that it was unlikely that I should be detected. Satisfying my hunger with nearly half the loaf of bread which I had brought with me, and quenching my thirst from the tepid water in my water skin, I lay down and slept for over two hours. When I awoke, I was again on my way." He glanced at Elffled. "Thinking of that drink so long ago makes me thirsty. Another draught, lass, if you please. I have a terrible thirst!" Smiling, Elffled gave him the wineskin, which had gone down in quantity greatly throughout the night, for the old miller had been imbibing liberally.
"Dawn found me whistling as I walked along the southern road. Behind me, I heard the sounds of a cart rattling down the road. The driver drove his team past me and then halted, hailing me with a pleasant, 'Ho, lad! Where are you off to so early?' I was in luck, for, being a stranger, he would know nothing of my identity or from whence I had come. Still, I had to think quickly and make up a story which he would believe.
"Taking off my cap and holding it respectfully in my hands, I replied, 'Sir, it grieves me to tell you my tale.' The farmer, a portly, amiable-looking man with twinkling blue eyes, a broad face, and ruddy skin, urged me to continue. 'Ah, sir, if you insist,' I replied. 'My family is a large one and there is little to feed us all. A few months back, with the wailing of the latest wee brother sounding in our ears, my father put his hands upon my shoulders and looked gravely into my eyes. Choking back the tears, he sadly told me, 'My son, it is time that you must make your own way in this world. We have no more to feed another one.'
"Lasses, I confess that at this time, I deliberately irritated my eyes by rubbing them hard with my dirty fingers, enough so that the false tears began to flow down my cheeks. You should take note that at this time in my life, I could be quite the actor if I wished. Along with each stirring part of my account, I would add what I thought were the proper mannerisms to capture the emotion I was trying to convey - sadness, pathos, humor, all those most wholesome emotions. The kind farmer waited for me to calm myself and then I went on. 'Sir, though he had little to spare, my father put a small sum of money in my hands, which I wrapped in my handkerchief and stuck into the pouch at my belt.
"'My father and mother and all my brothers and sisters followed me out of our dilapidated hut and onto the stoop in front of the house. There they stood, crying and wringing their hands, sorrowing at what might be our final parting. There, my mother took me into her arms and, hugging and kissing me, the tears on our cheeks mingling together, she placed a cloth bundle filled with food into my hands. It was the last time I ever saw my dear mother. I have been a wanderer and a vagabond since, traveling from one place to another, finding work where I could, and when I could not, going hungry and sleeping in the woods, or unbeknownst to some farmer, in his loft.' Lasses," Tarlanc looked at the girls gravely, "it was shameful the way I deceived that kind man.
"By this time, the farmer was weeping unabashedly, wiping the copious flow of tears away with a clean white linen handkerchief. I watched as his shoulders shook and he sobbed piteously. Finally he drew a deep, jagged breath, blew his nose loudly, coughed a few times and cleared his throat. 'You poor lad! What a sad story! I do not believe I have ever heard such a pathetic tale.' Knowing I had his sympathy, I screwed my eyes up, adding a tremble to my lips, as I gave him what I thought must surely resemble what would be considered a brave smile. In truth, I was having difficulty stifling my laughter.
"'Oh, sir, it is not as bad as all that, I assure you,' I replied in what I hoped was a pathetic voice. 'I get along quite well, in spite of it all. Never having had much in the way of possessions, I have nothing to miss. What grieves my heart and sorely troubles my soul are the last words I ever heard from my mother's dear lips.' At this point I drew myself up to my full height, pleased that the agitated tears clung to my eyelashes and dripped down my cheeks. I wished at the time that I had a looking glass so that I might see myself. I knew I was as good as any actor upon the stage.
"'What did she say, boy?' the farmer asked as his lower lip trembled and a fresh onslaught of tears poured down his face.
"'Why, sir,' I smiled through my tears, my own lips trembling admirably, 'my beautiful mother said, 'Son, always be honest and truthful, kind to all, returning good for evil, respectful and polite, honorable, brave and true, and always remember the mother who loves you.'
"The portly man could barely speak for his choking sobs, but he managed to mumble hoarsely, 'Lad, where might you be going? Perhaps I can offer you a ride in my cart.'
"'Why, sir,' I said, shrugging my shoulders, 'nowhere in particular, for I have no home and wander here and there.'
"'Lad, it is market day in the next village. There I hope to sell my crocks of fresh milk, butter and cream to the villagers. I also have a crate of chickens in the back of my cart, as you can see. Climb onto the driver's seat with me and I will take you at least that far.' Then reaching a hand down to me, he helped me into his cart. Setting off with him, he proved to be a good companion. We had a pleasant journey together to the next village, where he shared his dinner with me. After he shook my hand in farewell, I drew my hand back and discovered that there was a copper coin in my palm. Then that kind gentleman and I parted, never to meet again.
"I estimated that by that time the Randirrim must surely be close to the village, and I spent little time in the marketplace. Giving the goods in the merchants' stalls only a superficial perusal, I quietly left town on the road heading west. After walking a mile or so, I came to a thick, tall hedge planted along the side of the road. When I found a break in it wide enough to let me through, I entered, walking only a short distance before I chose my hiding place behind the thick green grove. There I would await the arrival of the Randirrim caravan and what I knew would soon be following them - my father and brothers in hot pursuit of the black sheep of the family."
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.