Menrial of Mirkwood: Chapter 6 - Arrival at Laketown
As they neared the western shore of the lake, things became clearer to the eye. A motley collection of half-assembled shacks dotted the area. A few dirty children played about open fire pits, while their mothers sat watching, poking occasionally at the weak flames. Most people, however, seemed to be huddled inside whatever shelter they could find.
It was a child who first saw the elven fleet approaching, a small boy who had escaped his mother's watch and was skipping stones across the water.
"Mother! Mother! There are boats on the lake!"
Any hope the elves had of arriving quietly was quickly lost with the child's shrill cries, which carried all the way to the back of the convoy. Soon the entire camp was in an uproar, as new hope lent strength to weary limbs and voices. "The elves are here! The woodelves have come!", they heard the townspeople crying, as they flocked down to the shore.
The elves were forced to stop in the shallows, unable to land their craft because such a crowd had gathered on the lakeside - pale women clutching babes, men standing protectively behind their families, skinny children squeezing to the front trying to see.
Menrial had not expected to find her first sight of the second-born overwhelming, but she did. Their features and their voices were coarse compared to those of the elves, but what bothered her most was the hard look in many eyes - the look of those who had become resigned to suffering.
Elves never looked like that.
Then a clear voice rang out over the crowd's clamor, and she put away her thoughts to listen. "We come with food and supplies from the Elf King, to aid the people of Laketown!" It was Feanil the raftsman, who as it had turned out was the leader of the elvish convoy. "But where is Bard, who first requested our help?"
The people muttered amongst themselves, but none stepped forward with an answer. "You see,", Menrial heard an old man tell his neighbor wisely. "They're asking for Bard, not the Master."
But just then, the masses parted, and a tall dark man strode hurriedly through.
"I am Bard the Bowman.", he called to Feanil. "You and your fellows are most welcome here, swift-sailing friend. Laketown is in your debt." He turned to the crowd. "Come. Make way for our guests!"
Captain Feanil looked on approvingly as the people eagerly obeyed Bard's orders and cleared the way for the landing of the boats. Within moments, the bowman and several others were out in the water, helping to bring the elven fleet in.
Following her companions' lead, Menrial rowed further in and then leapt lightly out of her boat. The water was bitterly cold, and she dragged the Otter up to shore as quickly as possible.
Unloading the supplies took little under an hour for the swift-footed elves. The rest of the day was spent distributing them - handing out rations, making sure everyone had a blanket, and tending for the sick. Menrial was sent out with a sack of bread loaves and a list of names. As there was no indication on the list of where to find the name-bearers, she had to ask around.
"Forgive me, but do you know where I can find....", she would query the nearest townsperson in rusty Westron. There had been little opportunity to practice the tongue in Mirkwood, so her conversational skills were awkward at best.
"Pardon?", would be the reply, more often than not.
Then Menrial would repeat the question, until she recieved the information she needed. It did not help that many of the Laketowners were still in awe of any elf, even one who was smaller than the norm, and female at that. Their stammered answers were sometimes quite difficult to interpret.
However, her pronunciation and her ear improved as the day went on, and Menrial neared the end of her list by mid-afternoon. Relieved, she was just heading back for more orders when a rough hand landed on her shoulder.
Menrial nearly dropped her empty sack. Whirling about, she found herself facing two tall, burly Men.
"What do you want?", she demanded, slipping back into her native tongue in the shock of the moment.
The men exchanged looks, and one of them stepped forward ever so slightly, so that he loomed over her even more. He made the movement seem natural, but Menrial felt that he was trying to intimidate her.
"I said, what do you want?", she repeated, this time in her best Westron.
"A small favor.", the man said, with a false smile. He gestured casually at the Menrial's burden. "Merely, we need a few of those."
"If you have not received your rations, you should speak to my companions on the shore.", said Menrial , trying to sound firm. "I have none left to give you."
"But you don't understand.", the other man said, taking a step forward. "We want to help."
"Yes," agreed the first. "Surely a tender maid like you is tired of walking about all day? Just bring us back a full sack, and we'll be happy to...distribute the contents for you."
"She said no.", came a clear voice, and Captain Feanil was there, eyeing the men with cold disgust. "Now be off with you. Surely there is something you ought to be doing."
The men glared, but Feanil was just as tall as they were, and a good deal more dangerous, and they hurried sullenly away. Menrial watched them go with relief.
"Thank you." she said sincerely.
"No trouble.", Feanil answered briskly. He looked down at her with a frown. "You do reallize, don't you, that any supplies you trusted those ruffians with would have met no hands but their own?"
"I...well, not quite.", admitted Menrial quietly, shocked at what he implied, despite the bad feeling she'd had about the men from the first. No elf would ever steal food from the mouths of women and children. Such selfishness was almost unbelievable.
"That bothers you, doesn't it?" Feanil said. "This outside world is very harsh." He looked her over appraisingly. "How old are you, Menrial?"
"One hundred ninety-five."
"That's awfully young to be coming out here, all on your own. What errand were you on before you joined us yesterday?"
Menrial stared at the ground, fumbling for an answer. Why was he asking so many questions? "Nothing. I just wanted to see something new." The moment the words left her mouth she knew she'd said the wrong thing.
"And it's not what you expected.", Feanil finished. There was a note of understanding in his voice, but more finality. "Look at me, elfling. You're tired and cold. I'll have one of the company escort you and your boat back home. This is a military expedition, and no place for a maid."
Menrial could only stare at him in dismay. "But - "
Feanil cut her off, not unkindly. "Havo, elleth. Trust me, it's for your own good."
Then he turned and called to a passing elf: "Belen! Come here! I have a job for you..."
There was nothing Menrial could do, short of dragging her heels all the way to the shore. It had been a direct order. Cold and dissillusioned, she walked down to the Otter, and seated herself wearily, tears blurring her eyes as her hand ran nervously over the figurehead, as though seeking some comfort there. Belen, her chosen escort, was none too pleased at having to drop everything to escort her all the way back to the forest, and he was taking a long time to prepare his boat.
At Naneth will be happy to see me again so soon. But though she missed Aris, the thought did not cheer her. True, nothing on this journey had turned out the way she would have liked...but the disobedient part of her, the part that had awakened as she looked over that old map two evenings ago, still wanted to go on, not be sent home just because Feanil thought she was a weak female who couldn't even cope with handing out supplies.
She had longed to see the fabled Mountain and its longlost dragon gold, to walk among the ruins of Dale, and pay some homage to the place where her Adar fell...and now, if she didn't do something, all those dreams would be little better than dead leaves on the wind.
It's worth it., Menrial thought, as a brilliant, mad idea blossomed in her mind. After all, I've already disgraced myself enough by disobeying the King's decree and leaving Mirkwood in the first place. What's the order of the commander of the King'ssupply train to that?
She shot a furtive glance about. The elves onshore were all busy working, and Belen had his back to her as he irritably tossed supplies into a plain rowboat. All of them were too far away to stop her, if she dared...
Menrial took a deep breath, counted to three, and shoved the Otter off into the water.
Translations: (Sindarin -> English)
Havo, elleth. = Stop, girl.