It is not necessary to have read any of my stories to follow this one, but it certainly would help to get the joke.
"Verdoori nomal!" Her face below the tattered headscarf turning red with rage, the plump, elderly farmer lifted her head with a frown. From the meadow behind the barn came the protesting screams and cackles of her hens and then she saw them running like mad for the hedges. Those bloody mongrels again, no doubt!
Jumping up from where she had been crouching in her vegetable beds, weeding the spinach patch lest they would have to feed on chickweed instead, she hefted her sturdy four-pronged hoe and rushed towards the gate. This time she would not accept her new neighbour's lame excuses as to why he didn't have his dogs under control! She was still fumbling with the jamming gate – she had told that husband of hers a thousand times to repair it – when a new sound made her stop dead. Someone was giggling on the other side of the barn. She stood, straining her ears. No doubt: There was the giggle again, and then she heard a voice, speaking too softly for her to understand what was said. Someone, some women were on her premises! Probably idiotic tourists, attracted by the lambs, frolicking in the old orchard. But how could they have got into the meadow? There was a reason she had fixed the bolts of the gate with a sturdy lock!
Having finally managed the gate, she stomped along the back of the barn. The soft bulge of the old terp, built more than a thousand years ago by the first settlers in the marshes, lay in the pale spring sun, empty but for a pair of wagtails, curtsying and circling each other. No sign of the sheep. So probably they really were in the orchard. Those stupid tourist tarts have better closed the gate behind them if they meant to get out of here with all their limbs still attached!
She was just about to turn the far corner of the barn when she heard new sounds: the distinct snorting of a horse and the shuffling of hooves. Her mood improved at once, and expecting her friend's daughter, she turned the corner only to stop again in her tracks, blinking like a drunken owl.
Holy cow, what had been in that home-made mirabelle schnaps she had had at her friend's an hour ago? Planting her hoe on the ground in an attempt to steady herself, she took a gulping breath. Instead of the one horse she had expected there were three, two greys and a shiny dark chestnut that no way could be taken for her friend's good old Wally. And neither did the riders resemble her friend's chubby daughter.
Her brow in a deep frown, the farmer took stock: three women dressed in what seemed to be medieval riding garb, two of them in their mid-twenties, tall, slim, one of them that blonde that her hair almost seemed to be white while the other sported a thick jet-black braid, both of them grey-eyed, with the kind of natural beauty that would make any Hollywood actress hide in shame. But it was the third one that really arrested her gaze. Twice the younger women's age, shorter and nowhere as lean, she radiated natural self-assurance and easy elegance as well as the kind of all-encompassing sensuality that made men drool and women feel an envy no shade of green in the whole world could suffice to depict.
Her auburn hair, the richness of which was only highlighted by the one grey strand at her temples, was held back in a voluminous bun, covered by a finely worked hair net. With a pang of realisation the farmer could not help the urge to pull the old headscarf tighter around the greying stubble her own head sported. Their eyes met, mistrustful blue-grey and deep, warm brown, and then the auburn-haired woman smiled, and pulling off an embroidered blue suede glove which the farmer could not help but notice was probably worth more than her garden would yield in an entire year, the stranger reached out a well-manicured hand.
"Well-met, mistress Thanwen."
Not again! The farmer suppressed a groan of annoyance. Why could they not just leave her alone? It had been more than enough that she had let herself be pressed into writing what turned out to be a monster of forty-five chapters by that nuisance of a king some years ago... Two, or three already? For a split second she was at a loss. How time flew! But anyhow, such a thing would not happen to her again! She ignored the proffered hand and clutched her hoe, glaring at her counterpart.
"Well, as you seem to know my name, may I learn who you are and what you want?"
The auburn haired woman raised a carefully plucked eyebrow: "As for who we are: I was convinced you would recognize us. I'm Gelíris, Princess of Dol Amroth, and my companions are the Lady Éowyn, Princess of Ithilien, and my daughter Lothíriel, Queen of Rohan."
With an angry huff, the farmer grimaced. "I don't care about titles. What business do you have on my premises? And don't for one second expect me to my lady or princess you."
The blonde laughed. "Béma's horn! Éomer did not exaggerate when he called you the most impolite woman he had ever met."
The farmer shot her an angry glare. "What goes around comes around. And anyway: Frisian farmers have never bowed to any lord save the ones they elected themselves. We do not call ourselves frea Fresena for nothing!"
The blonde nodded, still grinning. "That I can see. And I can perfectly understand your wrath, as you had to deal with my imposing brother. He can be quite full of himself at times."
The farmer rolled her eyes, but before she could come up with a stinging remark, the black-haired woman interposed. "He certainly can, and I'm far from excusing his behaviour. But you have to admit that you made him pay dearly for his insolence. That nightmare was simply cruel."
"Cruel?" The farmer put her free hand on her hip. "It was exactly what he deserved. He blackmailed me, after having devoured the foodstuffs I had prepared for Yule."
The Queen of Rohan vigorously shook her head. "I assure you, he certainly didn't know about the food being put aside for Yule or he would not have touched it."
That gained her nothing but a haughty snort. "Really? But blackmail is all right? And what about the booze? No, Lothíriel, he may be your lord and husband and you may love him and therefore want to excuse his behaviour, but he knew only too well he was making an inroad on my supplies as well as absolutely getting on my tits, err... nerves, I mean."
Éowyn snorted with laughter, but the farmer continued her ranting. "I am sure it was his strategy to behave like an entire sunder of boars to make me want to get rid of him as soon as possible."
"And if he did, do you hold us responsible for Éomer King's behaviour?" Princess' Gelíris voice was as smooth and cool as freshly fallen powdersnow. "What are we? His appendages? You should know better than that."
The farmer had the sinking feeling of being beaten with her own weapons. Glaring angrily at the princess, she hooked her thumb under her apron string.
"Well, I suppose you are not. But what do you want here? You cannot really expect me not to be suspicious after what happened last time some of your lot visited."
Princess Gelíris removed her second glove. "I'm afraid I cannot claim to know exactly what happened when my son-in-law visited, mistress Thanwen, but I assure you that none of us intends to give you any trouble."
"Sure, as long as I play along and do your bidding." The farmer's voice was bitter. "He came with the plan to get a sequel of his story by all means, not even shrinking from threats and blackmail. And now you expect me to believe that you just drop by because you are bored and thought to pay a visit for auld lang syne ?"
"Not really," Éowyn admitted. "We.."
All of a sudden a shrill noise sounded from the farmer's apron pocket, causing the horses to prick up their ears and side-step. With a frown the farmer reached into her pocket, shaking her head at the nervous mounts.
"It's just the alarm clock I set, not to forget about the bread I put in the oven. I have to get it out." For a moment she hesitated, scanning the women in front of her with a frown, and then she shrugged.
"Well, I'm in a hurry. So I suppose you had better come in. And get the saddles inside too; it looks like it might rain. Put the horses in the barn or leave them to pasture. There's grass enough if they get along with sheep. And don't forget to close the gate properly." Turning on her heel, she made for the house, but it did not escape her that the three women exchanged a quick glance before starting to take the saddles off their steeds.
Grumbling under her breath, she opened the back door. A waft of warm air, smelling mouth-wateringly of fresh bread, filled her nostrils. With a sigh she removed the gardening clogs and apron and went to scrub her hands. She had probably just made the mistake of her life, inviting those three, but what was she to do? They certainly would not have left just like that. Toweling her hands with more energy than necessary, she grimaced. It was no use to try to deceive herself: She thought she knew what the three had come for and was thrilled at the possibility of a challenge. And she was more than curious as to how they would try to convince her.
She was busy replacing the loaves with the pies she had had ready for baking on the kitchen shelf, when the three women came in from the barn, boots in hand. She could not help a grin. Someone obviously had informed them about the rules of the house. Taking the boots from them to put them out in the drying shed, she jerked her head towards the bathroom. "You can wash your hands over there. Towels are on the shelf." But when she came back inside, she found all three of them examining the bathroom rather than cleaning their hands.
"He said there is a button or a kind of lever somewhere. You probably have to press here, Éowyn." Reaching over the blonde's shoulder, Lothíriel pressed the button to flush the loo, causing the water to rush into the bowl and the two young women to giggle excitedly.
"That's really fun, and so practical." With a broad smile, Gelíris, who had been examining the sink and the tap, turned towards her. "Pray, can you really make hot water flow any time you want?"
The farmer shook her head. "No, only when the boiler is on. It heats enough water to fill a tub, but then it needs some time to heat the next fill. But I prefer to take a shower anyway." Opening the glass door of the shower cabinet, she explained the taps. "Here you adjust the amount of water and here the temperature. And here you can vary the water jet."
Admiring, Geliris passed her hand over the white and blue tiles. "How very comfortable to have such a facility." A lazy smile started to play around her full lips. "And one can use it without the help of any servant. And its so spacious, certainly two people would fit in here cosily."
The farmer grinned. "Certainly. That was the basic idea when my husband built it, replacing the old bathroom."
Lothíriel appeared at the glass door, peeking into the cabinet. "I thought it was new. Éomer found the shower of hot water wonderful, but he had some problems with the size of the cabinet."
The farmer's face darkened. Yeah, that bloody git certainly had enjoyed the hot water, using it up and not leaving any for her when she had come home, cold and exhausted. She would certainly not appreciate the Queen of the Mark to come back with her dratted horselord to try out the capacity of the new shower cabinet. Grumbling, she turned to Lothíriel: "He told you about it?"
The young woman shook her head. "No. He actually told me very little about the entire visit, only that he tried to convince you to continue the story. I got a bit more out of Éothain until Éomer obviously told him to shut up. It was Winfrid we got the more detailed bits of information from."
With a smirk, Éowyn joined the conversation. "And as you sent him to train at Emin Arnen there is no highly embarrassed King of the Mark to command silence. And the lad certainly has a vivid reason to be on good terms with me, as he keeps an astonishingly regular correspondence with my brother's daughter and all their letters go through my hands due to my brother's orders..."
The farmer grimaced. "Blackmail seems to run in the family."
"Oh, let's better call it diplomacy." With a nonchalant movement of her hand, Geliris shrugged. "There was never any kind of threat uttered . And I am convinced my nephew would highly condemn such an attempt. " Stepping out of the cabinet, she smiled at the farmer. "But are we not eager to repay kindness with kindness? The lad knows that Éowyn and Faramir care deeply for him and act in his favour whenever they can. So would he not be more than willing to tell any detail he remembers, once the lady showed true interest in her brother's visit?"
Grunting something unintelligible, the farmer hung a clean towel on the peg beside the sink. She had better be wary with that Dol Amroth minx of a princess. That woman was no doubt able to piss down people's backs and make them believe it was raining.
"One good turn deserves another." Opening the tap, Éowyn started to wash her hands. "I trust him and never cast as much as a single glance at what he writes to Aldburg and he satisfied my curiosity, though there still are many things he did not really understand himself and therefore could not explain properly."
The farmer snorted. "Curiosity! And now you want me to believe that that's the reason why the three of you turn up here? That you just came along for curiosity's sake?"
Reaching for the soap, Lothíriel shrugged. "I know it killed the cat, but so what? Our husbands are on an inspection trip in South Ithilien. Do you expect us to sit at home, dutifully waiting for their return?"
"Where is your husband, by the way? I would really like to come to know him." Gelíris' voice was low and smooth, causing the farmer to clench her teeth. Why had she written that dratted princess as such a tempting and intelligent woman? For a split second she thought about adding a huge furuncle to Gelíris' nose or, even worse, to saddle her with a stupid giggle.
Walking back to the kitchen, she said as detached as possible: "He went to visit some relatives and won't be back until tomorrow," adding in her mind: "When you hopefully will be gone again."
Shaking her head about her thoughts, the farmer put the bottle with the home-made raspberry liqueur and some shot glasses on the table and went to fetch the biscuit tin that held her shortbread. She had bid them enter her house, so a "welcome cup" and some treats were certainly due.
And they certainly were a success. Cursing her own vanity, after the fulsome praise the beverage had received, the farmer could not but top up the glasses and pass the tin around for a second time.
Lothíriel sighed. "That much at least my husband told me, that he had found your food and drinks some of the best he had tasted in his life."
Knocking back her second liqueur, Éowyn nodded. "Winfrid told me Éomer had truly been delighted." Motioning to the table, where three loaves of crusty bread were cooling now, she continued. "The scenes really match. Your husband had been taking the fresh loaves out of the oven then, and he made his guests sit down once he learned that they had come for you and offered them bread and beer."
The farmer put down the bottle with a thud. "He did. And your brother had nothing better to do than to abuse my husband's hospitality. The poor man didn't know who they were, could not understand them, save for the fact that they had come to see me, but he made them comfortable, gave them food and drink, hot water, dry clothes and a bed, only to be tricked by that bloody git of a King of the Mark into signing a written contract he could not even read. That was simply indecent."
Lothíriel had the grace to blush. "I know it was. But please consider that Éomer got the idea for that contract when he was already rather drunk." She grimaced, raising her hands apologetically. "I don't know what they drank, for neither he nor Éothain remembered having drunk anything like that before, but it must have been uncommonly potent."
The farmer grunted. "It was rum. My best, a special treat for Yule. And quite luckily I had only bought three bottles or they would have drunk themselves into a stupor. But be that as it may. I think you can understand that such behaviour doesn't endear any visitors."
"We certainly can, mistress Thanwen. And I assure you that we do not intend to pilfer your stores."
Gelíris' attempt to soothe the farmer's ruffled feathers by showing polite understanding immediately came to naught by Éowyn, who, stuffing her mouth with a second shortbread-finger, already reached for a third one. "Delicious. Winfrid had been going on about these butter-cakes, and they truly deserve his praise." She gave the farmer a wide grin. "He told me that he nearly drowned in the slobber of that huge black dog of yours as soon as he had been given the cake box by your husband." For a split second, a frown appeared on Éowyn's face. "Where is that dog, by the way?"
The farmer shrugged. "Died last spring, being almost fourteen years. A really blessed age for a dog that size."
"Still it's a pity. Winfrid was simply smitten by her. Ebba it was, wasn't it? Blimey, these cakes are addictive." Totally unabashed, Éowyn reached for another helping.
The farmer fought to keep her mien casual. This was getting dangerous: If this really was the challenge she thought it to be, and what was more, if she wanted to accept it, she needed her mind to be alert, not bleared and distracted by talk about that good old dog she still missed so much, and the praise of the foodstuffs she had made. She had better find out what exactly the three women had turned up for and then get rid of them before they could influence her. Setting the alarm-clock for the pies, she went directly for it. "Now girls, let's put the pleasantries aside and start talking business: What exactly do you want?"
verdoori: (Plattdeutsch/Low German) damned
no(ch)mal: (Plattdeutsch/Low German) again
It actually means something like "twice cursed".
terp: artificial mound or hillock, built to keep people, buildings and livestock from drowning at storm tides before the first dykes were built along the coast of the North Sea
Frea Fresena: (East-Frisian) free Frisians
A big THANK YOU! goes to the ladies of the "Garden" for their support and especially to Lady Bluejay who helped me as a beta- reader and killed the worst of my Germanisms. Any that are still there are my own. ;)