She heard the soft morning call of the early songbirds outside the window
and rolled over, into the warmth of the body next to hers. The smile formed
gradually on her lips as her face instinctively buried itself in the curve
of his neck. Still asleep, he turned toward her, his raven hair caressed
her cheek, sending a shiver up her spine. Her fingers rose of their own
accord to trace his stomach up toward his chest where they rested, tangled
in the down that she had nuzzled so lovingly the night before. His scent
intoxicated her, a heady blend of male musk and the remnants of their
love. Taking a deep breath, smile still on her mouth she opened her eyes
to glimpse his face for the first time this day and met his, an answering
smile sparkling in the grey.
Mmm... morning... His fingers brushed their hair from her
cheek and remained there, cradling the face he had come to cherish. Dawn
had yet to make its presence apparent in the room but the crowing of the
cock was unmistakably a call to begin the new day. He gave her a rueful
chuckle and a kiss that was too quick for either of their liking. They
drew apart and rose. She reached for her robe and shrugged into it as
she turned to see him stretch the kinks out of his back and shoulders.
Her breath caught at the sight of him, wondering for the ten thousandth
time how she had ever been so lucky to have found him.
He turned and saw her looking at him. Laughing he said Ah, love,
those thoughts will not get the orchard picked or the fields mown...
With a joy of her own, she responded, Nor will they get your breakfast
on the table... As she strode past him, he took hold of her arm
and swung her to him. He kissed her deeply, lifting her to her toes. His
hold tightened briefly before letting her slide down his body and releasing
her. If it were only my breakfast, I would happily do without...
but the inn is full. He laughed again at her bemused expression,
turned her around and swatted her backside lovingly, Go on wench,
you know as well as I, you would have my hide if I truly detained you
from your business.
They both washed quickly and dressed. She was done first and left him
the chore of arranging the bed as she went into the kitchen, closing the
door behind her. She pulled the heavy iron oven away from the dying embers,
stoked the fire back to life, swung the kettle of water over the new blaze
and placed a spider nearby. Moving on, she unlatched the shutters and
pulled them open. The sky was just beginning to lighten, still violet,
with the last of the stars fading. She looked for the hunter, but knew
he had disappeared hours ago. The Sickle of the Valar rested on the horizon,
The sound of heavy footsteps from above urged her from
She went out to the springhouse for eggs that had been gathered the day
before and a jug of cider, noting there was not much left from last years
store. The cool air was bracing, reminding her that summer was truly over,
despite the warm days they were still enjoying.
He sat on the side of the bed to put his boots on; then stood to push
back the bedding and straighten the linens before spreading the down filled
comforter. He moved on to the window and opened the shutters, letting
in the early morning light and fresh air. After emptying the washbasin
into the flowerbed outside the sill, he too went through the door into
the kitchen. He saw the back door open and the oven pulled to the side
of the hearth; grabbing a towel he took the heavy pot into the main room
and placed it on the table near the bowls and mugs that had been laid
out the night before.
He arrived back in the kitchen the same time she did. Seeing her smile,
he wondered at the fact that this had become routine so fast, as if they
had run the inn side by side forever, instead of the too short time they
were together. This past year he had discovered contentment for the first
time in his life. He reveled in the peace it provided him. As if joining
in a dance, he went to the cupboard, found the crock of honey and took
it and the cider into the other room as she placed tea in the pots on
the table. She had just turned the spider by the fire as he came in and
took the now boiling water from the hook to fill the teapots. Then, each
carrying a laden tray, they placed the steeping tea on the tables that
would soon be surrounded, judging by the noise coming from the stairs.
She took his now emptied tray, pressed a hurried kiss on him and said
Thank you, now sit with your friends and eat. She removed
the cover from the oven and stirred the porridge that had cooked slowly
through the night, sending the scent of oats wafting around the dining
The room filled quickly with the people who were staying to help with
the harvest and sounds of mumbled greetings and the clatter of crockery
gave way to laughter and raised voices as the meal progressed. She returned
with a platter of cooked eggs and was drawn into various conversations
as she dished the steaming food onto waiting plates.
After the meal everyone rose as one and headed toward the door. He came
to her, grabbed her and dipping her back over his arm kissed her soundly
to the whistles and jests of his friends. Again standing, she blushed
but laughed along with them as they left for the orchard. She turned to
clean up and begin the rest of her morning chores.
It was a cool morning, but the sun was rising and the sky clear. It would
warm up quickly, drying the grain by early afternoon for harvesting. The
track leading to the orchard was filling with villagers; the group from
the inn joined them. There was a wagon waiting, laden with baskets and
ladders. Work began at one side of the stand of trees and during the next
several hours moved toward the center of the grove. Baskets were filled
and hauled off to waiting carts, some destined for root cellars and others
to the presses for the making of cider. As each cart was filled, it was
led back to the village for unloading. The chirrup of the birdsong was
replaced by the chatter of the harvesters, gossip and news was exchanged,
tunes sung, plans whispered for trysts at days end... life lived.
Just before mid day the women, carrying baskets of food, walked down the
track to meet the children and men. Work stopped and small groups assembled
to share the provender. He had watched for her, not realizing his face
broke into a grin when he recognized her purposeful stride. She met him
with a basket for just the two of them to share; the rest of his comrades
were fed by other villagers in exchange for their help. She sat with her
back resting against a tree at the edge of the grove, happy to be in the
shade; now that the sun was high, it was warm - well on its way to being
hot. He rested his head in her lap
happy to simply feel her fingers
comb his hair. With the warming of the day, the scent of the apples became
stronger. Sweet and sour from the half rotten fruit missed by the children
whose job it was to gather the windfalls during the morning. A stillness
descended and for a brief moment there was nothing but the rustling of
leaves in the breeze, a distant call of a crow and the buzzing of bees
nearby. It was a music neither of them wished to disturb with words.
Too soon it was time to move on to the afternoon chores. The men took
up their scythes and standing in a line before the waves of golden grass
began to swing. The grain fell with their coming. She stood behind, watching
him. He had removed his shirt, leaving only his tunic on against the fierce
sun and the ripple of muscle as his arms swept the scythe from side to
side became hypnotic... a dance in counterpoint to the sway of the grass
in the breeze. The spell was broken as the children and women began to
enter the field to gather the cut grass into bundles.
She collected her basket and went off to the hives to begin gathering
the honey before the cold set in. The smudge pots were waiting for her
and she lit them, watching the smoke spiral up into the cornflower blue
sky. Wearing a net over her face, she worked quickly, taking a large piece
of comb or two out of each skep and placing them in waiting basins, covering
them with cloth and placing them in the rack on the sled she used for
the trip back home.
It was late afternoon by the time she had finished storing the gathered
honey into crocks and sealing them with wax. Perhaps she would have enough
to sell some this year. Dinner tonight would be a thick stew with a crusty
bread she had baked that morning. Entering the kitchen, she was met with
the savory smell of herbs and vegetables cooking over the coal bed she
had prepared on her way out. The two assistants she had hired for the
afternoon cleaning and evening serving had waited for her return before
taking a break out in the sunny enclosed courtyard between the inn and
Still in the field, he helped clean and sharpen the tools that would be
needed again tomorrow before storing them away. The sweat had dried on
his skin and he wanted nothing so much as a bath. The thought of jumping
in the stream was tempting, but the sun had already started to set and
the air was cooling rapidly. He had just decided it would be worth it
when he entered the courtyard and saw tubs of steaming water waiting for
them. Oh, how he loved this woman! He laughed as the others began cheering.
She too laughed when she heard the racket out back and then the storming
up stairs as everyone raced for clean clothes to get a bath before the
water cooled. He came in the back door and started to stalk her. Backing
up, she shook the wooden spoon she had been stirring the stew with at
him. Oh, no, bath first. I dont... He scooped her up
and swung her around trying to nibble on her neck as she wriggled trying,
not as hard as she might, to get away. Setting her down, he looked at
her outraged face and felt bad, but not as bad as he might, realizing
that she was now covered in chaff and dust. Trying his best to look contrite,
he offered an apology, I am so sorry... He then tried to brush
her clothes clean again.
I might have believed you meant it, except I know you neednt
be brushing me there. Now off with you and let me get back to work...
Laughing, she turned her back on him and his roving hands.
Dinner was done and dark was settling in. The shutters had been closed
in the bedrooms and kitchen against the cold night air. It had been a
good day; people were starting to come in for a drink and company to pass
the evening. Ale and hard cider were flowing and as the evening wore on,
a couple of pipes came out and music filled the room. Soon the place was
shaking with the stomping of feet and dancing. The music was diverse and
songs were sung in varied languages. It was a good harvest; there was
much to be grateful for... and for tonight, plenty of reason to laugh.
As the proprietress, she was unable to dance at all the first half of
the evening, but as the crowd thinned, she took a few turns on the floor.
She loved dancing and as with everything else in her life if he was her
partner, it was bliss. Held in his arms, lost in his touch and the joy
of the tunes... nothing else mattered.
The last of the town folk were gone and the guests on their way upstairs.
He helped her straighten the benches, the floor was swept and the tables
wiped clean. Dishes were laid out for the morning meal and the last of
the tankards washed and stowed away at the bar. He went out to check the
stable for the last time and to lock everything as she readied the oats
for porridge over the remains of the fire for the morrow. As she straightened
up and took one last look around, he took her hand and brought it to his
lips for a gentle kiss. Their eyes met and she twined her fingers with
his as they went into the bedroom. They undressed each other and snuggled
down under the covers of the warm bed and in toward each other. They touched
and sighed, tasted and moaned, hungered and... sated.
Still held in his arms, she lay awake, listening to the call of an owl
in the distance. Guilt once again took hold. He would never have come
into her life but for the attack winter before last
If the Orc raids
had not been coming this far into Rohan, the borders shrinking so very
quickly, she would not have met this Ranger from Gondor. How could she
have found such peace in his arms, when they were around her because of
war? How could she find such joy, when it was destruction... death, that
had brought it to her? Her hand rested on his arm, the arm that was strong
not because of scything grain, but from wielding a sword. How would she
keep smiling, knowing that each good bye might be their last? How would
she go on living when he again went off, as he had so many times before?
In his sleep he gathered her closer and brushed his lips against her ear.
And as sleep began to finally claim her, she settled. How could she not?
How could she send her love off without a smile, without hope... when
the strength of it was all they possessed, all that they required?