House of Cats: Part One

Story by Doviel

(Editor – I am cutting this story by Doviel into parts due to length though it’s original was presented as one tale. I hope that such an action does not diminish the telling.)

It all started with a letter:

Dearest Aqualondo,

I have heard of the most marvelous place in Bree-town!  Last eve, while you were away, I was playing some music on my clarinet, and while I played, I heard a most curious conversation.

A small group of people were gathered together near the front of the tavern speaking of an ill-reputed Elven maiden who had been found in a ‘House of Cats’ kept by some Men of Bree. Do the Men of Bree keep houses of cats?  Do you think they are warm and fluffy?  Could we visit them?  I would very much like to see the kitties! 

I did not hear where the house was, but you know so many Bree folk, perhaps you know? 

The only thing that troubled me is that the Elven maiden was ill-reputed?  How does that happen?  I know some Men distrust us and some mock us and insult us on sight, but if she was taking care of the cats, surely she must be a kind maiden who loves animals, gifts of Yavanna. 

I once met a maiden in Bree-town, a child of Men, who had been called ill-reputed, but I saw no ill in what she did. Indeed, she seemed to be a very diligent and hard worker.  The maiden’s name was Samdyn, and she inquired all about the Prancing Pony for single lads who required the services of a woman.  And she would follow them to their houses to work for 45 silver.   I thought that to be a most considerate rate! 

Bachelors, of the human variety, as I have observed, are often ill-kept and unwashed.  They tend to smell badly, too.  It is a pity that males of the Edain do not know how to take care of themselves as I have never met an ellon who did not keep his own clothes and person tidy.  I am sure their houses are very messy and need much cleaning and labour. 

I thought it so kind that this maiden was hiring herself to these Men and going home with them to tend their houses as they had no wives to assist with the keeping of their households.  I am sure the Men were very happy to have clean homes and washed clothes.  Don’t you think?  In fact, several were eager for her time, and the only Men who sent her away were those who already had wives.  Obviously, they already had mended clothing and clean homes so they did not need a maiden to clean for them. 

And yet this maiden was spoken of poorly.  Alas, I do not understand the judgments of Men.  But! I would very much like the see the Houses of Cats that they keep!  I do love felines! 

Your own,

Doviel

****

And Doviel’s dear husband started to try to explain to her what a ‘cat house’ was, but then, with a smile, he promptly stopped. He suggested that she travel into the south-western parts of Bree-town and see if she could perhaps find some help from one of these Houses of Cats for maintaining their homes in the Falathlorn homesteads.

Her husband is wise, so of course she traveled into Bree the next day seeking women to help her meet the demands of her own houses. She hopes she finds some nice kitties, too!

****

Doviel was not sure who else to speak to, so she went to the home of a farmer’s wife, whom she had met in earlier travels. She knocked politely on the door and waited for the woman to answer.

Nora Strawley came outside, welcoming Doviel warmly and they sat together on the bench outside her humble home. Doviel wondered if the lady would ever get that broken window fixed, or if it was recent neighborhood mischief, as most seemed to let their children just run around outside paying no heed to them. But, she did not wish to embarrass Nora, so she did not mention it.

‘Suilad Nora, I hope you are well this day?’ Doviel inquired.

‘Oh aye! Well as can be expected. We still have a roof over our heads!’ Nora smiled and offered some refreshments to the elf. Doviel politely refused.

‘And your husband, is he well?’ She continued with the small talk.

‘Aye, quite well, he is in the fields now. It is safer here, farming in Bree, and it’s such a busy town. We have no trouble selling what we cannot use ourselves.’

Doviel smiled, ‘I am pleased to hear it. I was wondering if I could ask you something about some of the ladies in Bree.’

Nora clucked her tongue and shook her head as she looked about her neighborhood, called ‘Beggar’s Alley’ by most of those of Bree-town.

There were some ladies ranging in age from fresh faced maidens to women approaching middle-age, seemingly ‘lounging’ about clad only in their linen shifts. Their lips were rouged, their faces powdered, and their hair sloppily coifed. Some had tears in their skirts that exposed their legs or a bodice over their slip, which was perhaps laced too tightly, with only knitted shawls concealing exaggerated charms which from time to time fell away from their bosoms as townsmen traveled through the area.

Nora stared hard at the women. A few caught her steely gaze and covered up more discreetly, but some glared back and turned up their noses proudly at the honest farmer’s wife with her rough hands and hard life.

Turning back to Doviel, Nora sighed and said, ‘Aye? What of them?’ There was disapproval in her tone that the elleth did not understand.

Doviel smiled, hoping to soften the woman’s mood, ‘I have heard of, and seen one or two ladies, about Bree-town offering the service of a woman to bachelors about town. From time to time they visit the Prancing Pony.’

Nora’s eyebrows raised, ‘It is not often the ‘girls’ travel up to northern Bree-town, the Watch patrols the tavern up there regularly as many honest townsfolk do not want to see the riff-raff of Beggar’s Alley plying their trade.’

She thought this was very sad. It was difficult for an elf to understand how people in their communities were allowed to be poor and go hungry. She did not understand the economic impacts of populations that bred more than there were resources for or what it meant to be ‘unskilled’ labor or to not be able to read or write. No elf was uneducated or unskilled and no elf was a peasant. It was puzzling and Doviel’s brows drew together for a moment before she continued, ‘I keep four houses, you see, out in the region of Falathlorn. My husband says it is a bit much for me now, and he likes to,’ Doviel smiled to herself and a blush rose to her cheeks, ‘ah, occupy my time. I thought I would inquire about finding some ladies to help me keep up with the demand of my houses.’

Nora’s mouth fell open, ‘You keep four houses?’

‘Yes.’

‘Four?!’

‘Indeed, though one is my husband’s. And they are fair, if I may say so, and the neighborhood is good. Torn-en-Aduial, it means Mound of the Twilight Evening.’

Nora blinked her eyes and mumbled half to herself, ‘Oh, aye, it would mean that wouldn’t it, mound, indeed . . .’

Doviel could barely hear her, ‘pardon?’

Nora continued, ‘Well, Lady Elf, I never would have thought it of you! But if you need more help to keep up with the ‘demand’ of your houses, I suppose you will find ladies-a-plenty here willing to offer men their services.’

Doviel was a little puzzled again as she thought she had made it clear that she was seeking women who would be willing to work for her, to help with her housekeeping, and she asked gently, ‘Do you think any would be willing to work for a female? Perhaps ones who would not mind having an Elf as their mistress?’ Doviel looked down at her hands, ‘I know some of the people, those who do not remember or know us, distrust my kind.’

Nora knew Doviel was a good person, despite learning that she was keeping brothels, and patted the elleth’s hands gently, ‘I meant no offense, Doviel. We all do what we must in this world to get by.’ Nora appraised Doviel’s quiet grace and beauty, ‘it is little wonder, lady, that a she-elf like you would have acquired the patronage to be able to afford four houses. I am sure a man would well nigh pay a fortune for an eve’s company.’ She laughed a little.

Doviel was not sure what the last comment meant, but she corrected gently, ‘One is my husband’s house,’ as a reminder. And she smiled up at Nora, grateful for her kindness. Although she was not sure what patronage she had acquired, she assumed that Nora meant her work as a minstrel. And it was true that it was a lucrative career and there was always a need for a minstrel in one place or another. In truth, it is how she was able to afford her homes, between her adventures as a minstrel and her work as a scholar, money came easy.

Nora nodded her head, ‘Did you wed recently, lady?’

‘Oh yes, some few months back.’

‘Hmm, yes, I see, and now your husband, he ahh . . . occupies you, as you say?’

Doviel laughed and it was a merry, bright sound, ‘Yes! He surely does, and I have been a little neglectful of my other duties as I end up spending most evenings with him almost exclusively now.’

Nora shook her head, still disappointed to find out the honest maiden was little more than a popular harlot, and seeking to become a Madame at that, but she knew some of the girls of Beggar’s Alley might welcome some protection from the Watch. It was well known that not all of the Watch had honest men and women in their ranks, and some traded favors to let certain girls out of prison early, or exacted regular services to look the other way. And girls who didn’t give it up for free, were regularly hounded, not to mention the influx of strangers to Bree had brought a new fear to the girls who had to ply their trade in the Alley. Some girls were ending up missing and presumed dead. Others were rumored to be locked up in ‘service houses’ far away. Things were getting grim in Bree-land. Falathlorn might be a nice change of pace for the girls.

Nora knew nothing of Elven culture and thought a man is a man is a man be he Man or Elf, Halfling or Dwarf.   She had no idea that Elves would never have need of a brothel and would know nothing of such matters.

Nora pointed across the way to a popular house, where several girls were presented out front, even though it was the middle of the day. ‘You might find some girls there. They work for Ol’ Josh, but he has more girls than he knows what to do with half the time. You might need to pay him a bit, just to keep it fair.’

Doviel eyed the house critically; it looked rundown and dirty, like most of Beggar’s Alley excepting the scrubbed, though worn lodgings of a few hard-working, yet destitute citizens, like the Strawleys. And the girls were just standing around or lounging on porch chairs and benches. The flowers needed watering. The yard was untidy. The girls’ clothing were in need of repair, and they certainly wore a lot of cosmetics! She wondered at how good these maids could possibly be if their current residence was so . . . rough.

Doviel thanked Nora for her help and guidance and walked to the house of Ol’ Josh. The girls covered up primly when the elf maiden approached their house. Doviel’s smile was kind and she did not judge them for their disheveled hair or smeared lip stain. A couple of the older women, however, looked at the elleth with narrowed cat-eyes and one said, ‘Whut d’ya want?’

The other cackled a harsh laugh, ‘Maybe she be wantin’ a job!’ She rudely grasped some of the lace of Doviel’s skirt and rubbed it between her fingers, ‘Aren’t ye a fancy girlie?’ She laughed again, a blasting sound, ‘Ol’ Josh don’t like ‘em too fancy.’ She dropped the fabric and it fell neatly back into place, ‘she won’t be lastin’ a week!’

Doviel smoothed her hands over her skirt, misinterpreting the rudeness not as women feeling out their competition, but of children of Men, once again, distrusting the Elven people, and she spoke softly, ‘I am not looking for a job. I am seeking to hire women for my houses.’

The rude woman stood up a little straighter and appraised the elf maiden again, ‘Houses?’ She noticed now that the Lady Doviel was well-groomed, soft skinned, and that her gown was very fine indeed. She was a woman of means and perhaps not to be toyed with. But, perhaps, someone to take advantage of . . .

‘Yes lady, I keep four and I need some help. It is far more demanding than I can keep up with by myself any more. Especially, since I have wed.’ Doviel inclined her head towards the two women who had spoken to her, ‘Now, if you please, where might I find this, umm, Ol’ Josh? I wish to discuss employment opportunities for any of the ladies he can spare.’

The previously rude woman opened the door and called inside the darkened parlor, ‘Joshie, someone’s here ta see ya!’ She looked Doviel’s gown over again and added, ‘a fine Elf lady, she is!’

 

 

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