House of Cats: Part Three

Just then, Aqualondo came home, ‘Ah! Here you are, my songbird!’ He spun her around in his arms, kissed her soundly and said, ‘good afternoon, my love!’

The three women Leah, Daisy, and Sherry stood there gawking at the strikingly handsome Elf-sire. Three pretty, painted dolls on display and frozen in place as they had their first view of Aqualondo.

With a gasp, they lined up before him. ‘Greetings, my lord,’ The women presented themselves and each echoed the greeting then curtsied low. The low curtsey accented their exaggerated charms.

Doviel looked at the women, and then at her husband, and at the women again, who were displayed before him. Aqualondo fairly swaggered into the room and with one of his mischievous grins greeted the women with a bold, ‘Well, hello there!’

Doviel stepped quickly after him and elbowed him in the ribs half a second after the words left his lips. She knew what ‘hello’ could mean from the mouth of an Elf, and she was not amused by his word choice when she knew he usually greeted people with ‘salutations.’

Aqualondo looked at his wife with an affection gaze and a light shrug that said, ‘what?’ But a playful smirk broke the brief impression of innocence, and Doviel at once turned and called the women to her and walked with them into a side room.

Once they were alone, she began, ‘Girls, I . . . I would have you know that I consulted with a Man about . . . well, I spoke to one of your people.’ Doviel wrung her hands lightly as she spoke and paced the room, ‘my friend, Ghuda Bule, he made it clear to me that I should make it clear to you what your duties are in my household.’

The women looked at each other confused, they had no idea who Ghuda Bule was or why he was suddenly their representative. They began to get nervous that they would be serving more than one master, and suddenly the Elf’s house did not seem such a haven from the Mud Gate of Beggar’s Alley, where at least one knew what to expect. A mistress, her husband, and now this Ghuda Bule? There were only three of them. Would they be divided?

Sherry suddenly felt faint. With a hand pressed to her ribs, constricted by the tight bodice, she could hardly take air and when she got frightened, could scarcely breathe. She sat down unsteadily on the edge of the bed in the room and valiantly withheld her tears. It would be even worse than before . . . she thought in a wave of sorrow. She was quick to yield to despair after her first year of serving the lusts of any man who had a handful of silver.

Doviel looked at Sherry and was concerned, but Daisy had already gone to Sherry’s side and knelt down beside her, speaking quietly and holding her hand. Leah’s face was set and grim.

Doviel was utterly confused, but she continued, ‘As I said, I must inform you of my expectations, and so I shall. First, Leah, as you seemingly had some experience in the kitchen at your previous employment establishment, I would like you assist with the cooking here. My cousin used to be in charge of such things, and she will help you however she may, but she has wed and is often away now. The kitchens and the great hall will be your primary duties.’

Doviel then turned to face the girls, Sherry and Daisy, ‘Ladies, I will need you both as general house maids to assist with the cleaning and light gardening tasks. There are four houses and four of us, so we all must do what we can. I will assist you whenever possible. You will find my husband, Aqualondo, is very neat and organized, but his clothing does need mending from time to time, and you are all aware of the time consuming nature of laundry, in general.’

The three ladies nodded in agreement, as every Woman knew the trials of laundry. Then they all looked at each other and then back at Doviel. ‘Yes m’lady.’ They answered in turn.

Daisy asked then, just wanting to make absolutely sure, ‘We are to be your maids then, m’lady?’

Doviel responded simply, ‘Yes.’

‘To do the cooking and cleaning and such, m’lady?’ Daisy furthered her inquiry.

‘Yes.’

Daisy licked her lips nervously and said, ‘and that is all?’

To which Doviel was somewhat confused and her brow knitted for a moment before she said, ‘yes, of course, and in compensation you shall have fair wages, such as those befitting a Lady’s Maid, and room and board as I previously discussed with you. I shall also provide some,’ She looked over the girl’s low necked and tight bodiced dresses as wholly impractical for house work, ‘clothing appropriate clothing for the work.’

She looked at the made up faces and sighed lightly, ‘I am surprised you did not notice them as I laid the work dresses out for you in your rooms, and pardon me for saying so, but please know, it is not necessary to, ah, you do not need the . . .’ She made a general gesture towards her face, a sort of ‘all over’ circle of her fingers, which the women understood to mean their heavy cosmetics. But, Doviel was trying to be careful and not hurt anyone’s feelings, ‘I understand that perhaps in the towns of Men it may be your tradition, but out here in Falathlorn, such things are not necessary, and I would not want you to feel the uncomfortable stares of curious neighbors.’ She laughed lightly at this and Daisy giggled. Leah’s set features softened a bit, and Sherry took a shallow breath to steady her nerves.

The women realized then that their new mistress had no idea who or what they were. They were merely women available for honest employment and nothing else, nothing less.

Doviel did not understand the hierarchy of servants or pay scales for that matter. She knew she was a lady, so when she made inquires amongst people she knew for appropriate wages, while the girls were in transit from Bree-town to Falathlorn, she asked for the wages of a Lady’s Maid. And even though they were being hired as common household maids, they were being given a much more respectful title and comfortable pay. The lad was going to be given his own wages as well, paid to Leah for the boy’s needs, as a groom, for helping tend the horses.

Doviel looked to Daisy then and asked, ‘Daisy? You asked earlier about your maiden sale? Are you a craftsman of some sort? Did you wish to hold a sale of featured wares at the guesthouse?’

Daisy turned about three shades of pink, each progressively darker, until even her ears were tinged and she whispered quietly, ‘No m’lady, I . . .’ she took in a gulp of air, ‘it was a misunderstanding. I . . . I do not have anything to sell.’ Daisy looked up at Doviel and tears were shining in her blue eyes.   Doviel had just saved the girl’s honor and did not even know it. Daisy buried her head in Sherry’s lap and began to weep as shame and relief washed over her at the same time.

Sherry pet her hair gently and comforted her, ‘there now, girl, all is well. All is well, now.’ And Sherry, herself, was quite calmed by this realization.

Doviel was upset that Daisy started crying but Leah called her quietly and lead her to the other side of the room, ‘Now Mistress, don’t you fret. You didn’t do a thing wrong, not a thing.’ Leah patted her arm gently and smiled warmly at the elf maiden, ‘you’ve saved us all, you surely have.’

Doviel recalled Ghuda’s words: you have done a kindness and a great deed, and I do beg that you remember all I have told you regarding your new hires, you may wish to stick clear of the place you hired these fine folks. She did not understand what kindness she had rendered or great deed she had done, but Ghuda had assured her that merely the offer of employment opportunities could be a life saving experience for a child of Man, especially when they were impoverished, as they all were within Beggar’s Alley. She would keep her promise to Ghuda to stay away from Ol’ Josh’s residence and only go into the Alley to visit friends, like Nora Strawley, who Ghuda had promised to speak to and ‘smooth things over with’–whatever that meant. Doviel also remembered that he was willing to speak to Leah on her behalf.

‘Leah?’

‘Yes m’lady?’ Leah smiled at her mistress kindly.

‘I would like you to speak to my friend Ghuda Bule, he is a Southron, but a kind man. He said to me that he could explain things to you, to help with your transition, and that you could then help the other girls adjust to life here.’ Doviel looked at the woman carefully, ‘would you speak to him? He will visit within the next fortnight.’ Doviel felt a little awkward about some things and thought it was just better if the Edain spoke amongst themselves about their own manners and the traditions of their people. She certainly did not expect these women to learn the Elven traditions. She just wanted help keeping house.

Leah bobbed a curtsey, ‘Yes, m’lady, I would be happy to speak to your friend.’ Leah excused herself and went to Sherry and Daisy who also could not believe their good fortune. She took a kerchief out of her sleeve and began wiping off the make-up from Daisy’s tear stained face, then cleaned her own face as well. Sherry followed suit, and Doviel left them to themselves to ease the lacing of their bodices and adjust their chemises appropriately until they were able to change into their work dresses.

****

When Ghuda visited, he spoke to Leah privately while she tidied up the guesthouse, and he explained the misunderstandings of Doviel and of Elven people in general, and he made it clear that such things would simply not need to be spoken of. Leah understood and passed on that knowledge to the other women. They were very happy to help their mistress in any way they could, including protecting her innocence about the darker nature and desires of Men.

Meanwhile, Doviel gave her dear husband, Aqualondo, a sound scolding for sending her into such mischief and trouble just to find maid servants. And although he accepted his much-deserved tongue lashing with appropriate contrition, it was not long until he was teasing his songbird into distraction and she forgot, as usual, why she was ever angry at him in the first place.

****

The women slowly adapted to their new lifestyle and much more comfortable clothing. While they were shy of most Elven kind and were confounded by their language which rang like bells and flowed like water, they learned to adapt to the life of respectable women. They became truly happy and knew what it was to be safe. From time to time, they would journey passed the Rushock Gate into the Shire, where no one knew who they had been, and where no one looked at them askance. They were dutiful women who worked on an Elven estate, and although that was a little queer in the Hobbits’ view of the world, that was all that need be known of them. They obviously appreciated the fine produce of the Hobbit markets, so that stood in their favor in the little folks’ eyes.

Daisy would send money back to her ailing mother via trusted couriers and with leave, even go to visit her on occasion using one of Doviel’s horses and escorted by a local guard. Her mother moved to a flat in Combe, and her health eventually recovered, as Doviel also sent her restorative potions and paid for local healers to tend her. She eventually took employment as a governess in a nearby estate. With war on the horizon in many lands, wise ladies were preparing their households for the long absences of husbands and there was much to do in household preparations and the caring of their young.

Daisy stayed with Doviel as her maid, worked diligently, and for the first time since her father’s passing, she had hope for her future. Her honor intact, she even thought someday to marry. Her mistress assured her that her future husband, whoever he may be, would be welcome in their estate.

Leah and Sherry adapted well to their new lifestyle as well. They finally felt like real women and not just objects of use. They did not mind the work of tending the many homes of Doviel and Aqualondo. Aqualondo was often away with travels for his music and stories, but Doviel thought nothing of working beside her maids. She loved keeping the homes beautiful. Leah, who had some skill in the craft, became the cook, and under the instruction of Meluil, Doviel’s cousin, who occasionally visited and sent refined recipes, her skill became an art. Sherry eventually became the head housekeeper managing the comings and goings of the Elves’ guests and the day to day maintenance of the homes.

And the young boy, Joseph, had grown up on tales of the old kingdoms and exploring the ruins around Bree-town. He had often had to leave the house or hide in the kitchens, while his mother worked. Although dear to her, he was forever underfoot in the kitchen and cellar, so weather permitting, Leah always sent her boy out of doors to play. He loved exploring the ruins in and near to Bree-town and imagining the greatness of the days that were. He was a quiet, thoughtful, and shy boy. Other youngsters of town often teased him and called him names due to his parentage, so he had learned to play on his own and learned to love Nature more than he did people, excepting his mother.

He wanted to be a ranger when he grew up. Their solitary lifestyle and strong, self-reliance appealed to him. He even saw a ranger once, a real one, right in Bree-town. So when the opportunity to be tutored by a real Elf arrived, he was very pleased to learn all she knew of the Dunedain, even if that meant he also had to learn his letters, numbers, and a great deal of star mapping—a loved skill of Elven kind but also invaluable for navigation and night travel. To ‘live like a ranger’ the boy bedded down in a tent outside the great Elven house, took care of the yard ‘dog’ Uanui (Ugly), and tended the cheerful bonfire used for evening company and some outdoor cooking.   During the day, when he was not at his lessons, he would help the neighborhood grooms at the stables, learn about the green and growing things from the gardeners, or fish in the local ponds and streams.

The End

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