Two Sides of a Coin - Chapter 12: The Trouble With Women
author's note: This is a story in which an Ithilien ranger, a Southron (called "Swerting", due to Shastan's preference), and a Lady must learn how to get along.
"A man's got to do what a man's got to do. A woman
must do what he can't." - Rhonda Hansome
The plan was this: Ladril, Shastan, and Elen would travel along the river's edge until they reached the South Bend, where Ladril knew the Anduin's water dropped every year before spring. If their luck held, the river would be shallow enough to wade across and, if their luck still held, they would run into the wains as they made their journey South under the cruel whip of the orcs.
Once they reached the wains...well, that thought was saved for later. It was still a day's journey to the South Bend and the task of simply crossing the river looked uncertain. Once that feat was accomplished, they could then worry about a plan to overthrow the orcs and rescue Elen's people.
The men and lady spent the rest of the day traveling. As evening drew near they chose to set up an early camp. Ladril left Shastan and Elen for a moment to find kindling for a fire. He came across a dead tree and began cutting its branches, but he hadn't been at the job ten minutes when Shastan came stomping towards him.
"Shastan? What's the matter?"
"Women!" Shastan cried, his teeth clenched in frustration.
"Can't I leave the two of you alone for one moment?" Ladril sighed.
"She was telling me how to make camp!"
"What's so bad about that?"
"Nothing...until she starts making up stories about how she used to camp with elves!" Shastan gave a disgusted huff and sat firmly on a log.
"Well you cannot stay with me," Ladril insisted. "It's not right to leave the lady by herself. You are quite capable of putting up with Elen a few minutes longer."
"What makes you so sure?"
"Because you've been able to put up with me."
Shastan smiled and gave a definite nod as Ladril continued cutting dead branches. After a moment of thought Shastan spoke again.
"Laaderil, can you help me with a word?"
"I'm afraid my Gondor-speech is not what it used to be. What does the word "intriguing" mean?"
"It means mysterious...in a likeable way, or rather interesting and fascinating."
Suddenly the Swerting's face went very pale. "...Oh no."
"What's the matter?"
"...I don't think you're intriguing..."
"She called me that!"
"She just called me intriguing five minutes ago!"
Suddenly Ladril put two and two together. "...Oh no."
Shastan clutched his head in his hands and groaned. "I did warn you didn't I? I told you she would be nothing but trouble and now look what's happened! She rattles off wild stories, takes over the camp, and now she finds me intriguing!"
"Now let's not panic, Shastan," Ladril admonished. "I am sure I can think of something..."
The Swerting's head suddenly snapped up. "Tell her. Now."
"Tell her what, exactly?"
"That I don't like her."
"You can't up and tell a woman something like that! You have to be debonair and extremely subtle about it."
Shastan stared at him blankly. "Why go through all that trouble? Why not simply tell her?"
Ladril shook his head. "You have a lot to learn about women, my friend."
Shastan eyed him incredulously. "...You don't know anything about women."
"How would you know?"
"Because if you did, you'd be courting Iorwen already."
Ladril became slightly offended. "Do you want me to help you or not?"
"Please," Shastan dropped his head in his hands again. "I will not be able to set foot in that camp otherwise."
"Leave it to me." With that Ladril strode with deliberation towards the campsite.
Elen was sitting patiently on a log when she saw the ranger approaching. "My lord? Where is Master Shastan?"
"He's...chopping wood. I got tired so he volunteered to finish the job."
"I see," Elen's gaze turned far away. "...That is so considerate of him."
Ladril bit his lip. This was very bad indeed. He would need to approach the subject as indirectly as possible.
"Lady Elen...I've been meaning to apologize to you."
"For our present company. It is not right to make a lady travel with a Southron."
"Swerting, Master Ladril."
""Southron," "Swerting," it makes no difference. They'd still cut your throat before looking at you. Foul, thieving desert rats the lot of them!"
Elen was somewhat taken back. "But surely Shastan is not like that."
"Oh he's much worse," Ladril declared, turning up the drama. "I would have been done for long ago if I hadn't kept a sword at my side every night. His only desire in life is to rob people blind!"
He could almost feel Elen's hopes being dashed, but her face remained firm. "I refuse to believe that. Shastan does not seem like that kind of person at all."
"I understand your reasoning, lady," Ladril shrugged. "He does look somewhat innocent in appearance, and you have lived a very sheltered life."
Elen raised a brow. "I would hardly call nursing wounded soldiers a sheltered life."
Ladril had to agree with her there: nurses see the same amount of horror any soldier would see on the battlefront. For all the time he knew Iorwen while she labored continuously in the Houses of Healing, he could not deem her ignorant to the cruel realities of the world...
Suddenly it hit him. It hit him with all the force of a charging mumak. That's how Elen already knew his name! It had to be!
"Er...my lady..." Ladril said, trying to contain himself. "While you worked at the Houses of Healing...did you happen to know...Lady Iorwen?"
There was a visible smirk on Elen's face. "Why yes, Master Ladril. She and I were quite good friends."
What did she say about me?! Ladril wanted to cry out, but his expression remained poised. "...Did Lady Iorwen possibly...by chance...ever mention me?"
Elen gazed up at the sky thoughtfully. "...Why yes, now that you mention it, she did."
"What did she say?" Ladril blurted, unable to hold it any longer.
"I am afraid I am not allowed to tell you, Master Ladril."
"Why not?" Ladril demanded.
"One cannot betray what is disclosed between two women. It simply isn't done."
"But lady," Ladril got on one knee beside Elen and spoke as sweetly as possible. "We are out in the middle of the wild. No one will ever know but the two of us, and I won't breathe a word of what you say. Just tell me what Iorwen thinks of me and I'll keep it to myself. I swear."
"It isn't as easy as that; it is a matter of honor," She insisted. "Secrets between women are not to be taken lightly. They cannot be repeated for any other ears no matter what the circumstance."
"But women gossip all the time," Ladril stated plainly.
"Well!" Elen cried. "If you hold women in such poor regard then I will not tell you anything!"
"No wait!" Now Ladril was on both knees. "I'm sorry, that was very rude and inconsiderate and it will not happen again! Just please tell me what Iorwen said!"
"It's too late for that," Her voice was dripping with thorough disgust. "Your disrespect for women has left me deeply insulted."
"I have respect for women! I have great respect for women!"
"If that is true then you will leave a very distraught lady in peace."
This left Ladril completely speechless. He wanted, no needed an answer from Elen but he didn't want to make the situation worse. In the end he stiffly rose and backed out of the camp, giving a grudging bow before leaving.
As soon as he was gone, Elen squeezed a hand around her mouth to suppress a torrent of giggles.
Shastan looked up as Ladril approached in scorching rage.
"...How did it go?" Shastan tried.
"Women!" Ladril heatedly spat.
"It's wise never to get involved with them."
"But why are women like that?" Ladril demanded. "Why do they have to complicate every single word a man says?"
Shastan pondered a moment. "...Either they're stupid or they're very very clever. That's the trouble with women, I'm afraid: you can never predict what they'll do." With some thought he added "-Sort of like the chicken when you cut its head off."
...Ladril stared at the Swerting blankly. "You can't compare women to chickens, Shastan."
"Well I don't know how else to describe it! I don't know anymore about women than you do!"
"...And that's a shame," the ranger speculated. "Because we're going to be stuck with one for quite some time."
There was a slight pause as the words sank in.
"So what should we do?" Shastan wondered.
"We start learning." With that Ladril turned back for the camp.