7. Chapter 7
The fist thing Loch noticed was that it was warm but it did not smell. No, he amended, it did not stink but there was a distinctive scent to the air. Like…plants, or something. He peeled open his eyes and found himself staring at a ceiling. There were rough wooden shelves that ran all the way up the wall, filled with bottles of things. He could hear muttering nearby. The witch! Loch sat up with such a start that he cracked his head on the lowest shelf. He rebounded with a groan.
"Fool boy," the old woman muttered with a shake of her head, "Not finished yet, are we girl? Not yet, no."
When Loch woke again it was daylight. It remained warm and the air smelled of plants. This time he heard the crackle of the fire but no muttering. Instead, there was a strange buzzing noise. With greater care this time, a bump on his head his badge of wisdom, Loch lifted his head from the pillow to peer about the cottage. Sure enough, the buzzing came from the witch. She was slumped in a chair that she had pushed against the only door, snoring hard, mouth gaping. Maybe a window, he thought, as soon as he found Rin.
He looked around the cottage. It was small, only one room sectioned by a curtain down the other end. Big enough for the bed he occupied, a table, a hearth and whatever was behind the section that had been curtained off with what appeared to be a faded, patched blanket mended many times over. He could not see Rin anywhere and he fearfully looked at the large pot that hung over the hearth's glowing coals from a rail. No, he would look everywhere before he gave her up as dead…and eaten by the witch. With an eye on the crone, he slipped his feet to the floor and padded towards the curtain on the far side of the room. Every spare nook and cranny was occupied with books or paper or bottles of goodness knew what. He shuddered and peered around the curtain. There, on a bed, was Rin. Her eyes were closed, and the blankets pulled around her moved steadily with her breathing. The chain was gone too. Alive. Alive! Loch was nearly delirious with relief. Not eaten yet but alive. All the mud was gone. She was clean…and in the daylight he could see just how severely she had been beaten. A guttural moan was pulled from him.
"Let her be boy. She needs rest," the witch said and Loch whirled in alarm, caught his feet in the curtain and came crashing down with it in a messy tangle. Bits of paper drifted about, disturbed from their stacks by this sudden excitement. The witch shook her head at him, but seemed to smile all the same. The crash did not wake Rin.
"What have you done to her?"
"She sleeps boy. No more. She'll wake when she's good a ready, not a whit before no matter the racket you make."
Without the shadows and night, her face seemed…softer than he remembered. He peered up at her. She looked like a person. Was this how witches were supposed to look?
"What's your name?" she asked him.
"Why?" he asked suspiciously and she expelled a sharp sigh of frustration. Belligerent boys, this one was maybe nine summers, were all the same in her experience. It came down to tone of voice.
"Do you answer every question with a question, boy? Have you no respect for your elders?"
"Loch," he mumbled.
"What sort of name is that, then?"
"Mine," he answered stubbornly and then, "It's Lochared, proper."
"On your feet then, Lochared Proper, and let's get some food into you before you demolish my only home."
Loch opened his mouth to correct the witch but, at the mention of food, his stomach answered for him with a loud gurgle. The witch untangled him from her curtain and bid him to put it up again while she prepared them both something to eat. Hungry, he stared at the stew she set before him in a large steaming bowl as if it were poison.
"Eat, boy! Eat!"
"What's in it?"
"Not people, if that's what you're wondering," the witch said with a cackle and so, Loch, unable to resist the watering of his mouth, lifted the wooden spoon she had set out with the bowl and sampled the stew. Soon enough, he was swooping it into his mouth, answering questions without dissembling to ensure he was not delayed in obtaining his next mouthful of stew.
The old woman learnt much. The younger girl's name was Rosmarin, or Rin for short. Rin didn't speak. Not a sound, but she could, her brother said, if she wanted to because she had before. And, despite the fact that they did not at all appear to be related, Loch was adamant, fiercely so, on that score. As for their parents, well nothing seemed to make the lad seal up faster than a question about his parents. When he reached the bottom of the bowl and scraped all the vegetable and broth out and ate all of the bread on the table, he fixed large brown eyes on her.
"Will she get better?"
"With time, proper care… she will. Who did this, Loch? How did it happen?"
When Sara and Jeb's name tumbled out of his mouth with the rest of his story, the old woman was not surprised. Bone deep angry. Horrified. Not surprised.
"Time something was done about those two," she darkly muttered and Loch's eyes grew wide.
"You going to…witch them for what they did?"
The old woman shook her head wearily, "I'm no more a witch than you can fly. Can you fly, boy?"
The boy shook his head, considering his next question.
"You really going to help my sister, then? Honest?"
"Honest, Lochared. Now I've work to do so you run along, keep out of my way and come when I call. Be good for Rin to hear your voice, I think."
"Even while she's sleeping?"
"Especially then. Now scat, boy!"
Loch darted out the door and into the snow. Inside, the old woman was moving about, clearing the table. He watched her push the curtain aside. The old woman was going to help. It would be alright now. He knew it would.
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.