Barad Lominby halavana
Chapter 1: An Unwanted Arrangement
As a child, Keren Woodman remembered going with her mother to the
forest across the river and listening to the music of twilight, or so
her mother called it. As if the setting sun and rising moon could
play and the stars could sing. Her mother told her it was only
the merry making of elves, which traversed the countryside from one
elven home to another at the turn of the seasons. Once they even
met the singers as they paused on their road. Keren’s mother
spoke to them in their language and they invited mother and daughter to
eat with them. Keren was in such awe of these beautiful beings,
she spoke not at all, but listened with the rapt attention of a 5 year
old from behind her mother’s skirt, even when they tried to coax her
out. The melodies ranged from sweetly sorrowful to merry dance
tunes. The most beautiful sounds she had ever heard. When
they returned home, for days Keren wanted to be an elf, dancing and
singing in the woods.
Now she no longer had time for such indulgence, and
elves, if they remained on Middle Earth, cared not for singing to
daughters of men. Since the death of her mother ten years before,
she had known no respite from care of her family. Her elder
sisters were married and moved away to Tharbad, Duinbar and Fornost,
all wed to knights of King Malvegil or the Prince of Cardolan.
Her younger brothers, two years her junior, were somewhat famous in the
area, being the only triplets born, and all three living. Twins
were common enough to the families of Barad Lomin, but triplets were
rare indeed. Even though her younger brothers brought in wives,
the bulk of the labor was hers. She awoke before dawn urging the
sisters-in-law to rouse themselves and help her attend to the daily
chores: milking the cows, cooking, washing, weaving, gardening,
visiting ailing relatives, and any other duties the men of the house
bestowed upon them. Granted, the sisters-in-law worked well, for
they feared their father-in-law more than Keren feared her
father. But they did not yet know how to please him, so that task
was left to his remaining daughter.
Five times she was betrothed, and each time the man
broke off the engagement. She thought herself ugly, or stupid, or
clumsy, or something. There must be something wrong with her to
be rejected by five men in one lifetime. Perhaps her father was
one cause of the broken betrothals, being so comfortable with her
bearing the responsibility for the housework, that he might not wish
her to marry. In all truth, when listening to her friends speak
with affectionate disillusionment of their husbands and children, she
was not certain she wanted to be a wife. But some days, any
change seemed better than this servitude.
Although her father used no violence to rule his
house, he was a severe man, giving praise so sparingly and admonishing
so abruptly, she felt her every effort a failure. He was an old
knight who never learned to play the part of a farmer. Little
wonder her elder brothers left home to join the king's service as soon
as they were old enough. Embittered from his long years of
knighthood, he refused to allow his youngest sons to join either king
or prince, finding them wives at the unheard of young age of
eighteen. If permitted, Keren would have gone with her elder
brothers, but it was said neither king nor prince had place for women
in his army. All they taught her remained unused.
One day after the harvest, Keren's father called her
to him. She went without question and stood quietly before him,
hands clasped at her waist, wondering how she, or a sister-in-law, had
earned his displeasure this time, waiting till he should look up from
his harness mending.
"Miller's son lacks a wife," he began without
raising his eyes and immediately Keren's hands dropped to her
sides. "He’s nearby and I think it best that, as you are my
youngest daughter, I should like you near me. The property
adjoins mine and will, in due time, be joined to it. Miller has
only one son. I think you know him."
She did indeed, and a sorrier husband she could not have
imagined for her worst enemy. Even in time of want he was fat,
while his parents grew thin and weak. A onetime companion of her
brothers, he never missed his chance to scorn her. He found it
unbearable when she bested him in archery, and her brothers laughed at
him. It amused her father as well, who was a good humored man
before the death of his wife and bitterness claimed him. Her
mother thought it useful for a daughter to learn the same skills as the
boys. Keren could outrun, out-hike, outdo Miller’s son in
everything when they were children. Though all that changed by
the time he became a man, he never forgave her for it. And now he
wanted her for his wife?!
Miller's son was thought of well by many men, for he
could tell a story to entertain the most discerning listener at The
Ringing Well, the local tavern. But in her eyes he was a
hypocrite, for though he spoke movingly about King Malvegil and the
Prince of Cardolan and the necessity to support those who sacrificed so
much in their service protecting the realms from evil doers, little did
he practice it in private. He bestowed great gifts upon the poor
in public, then stole them back in many conniving ways. Now her
father had fallen under the man's influence and it stunned her.
She thought of the five men who had been her suitors and began to
suspect that this neighbor's son may have had a hand in the
troth-breaking. Her first love, who had requested her hand before
the death of her mother, was slain a fortnight after the breach,
bearing tokens and gifts with which to renew his betrothal. Rumor
said he had spoken with Millerson before his death, but she could not
"So, daughter. Why look you so grim and care worn? You're to be married finally. Be glad."
"I would be glad, father, if it were to a man of my liking. What is the reason for the choice?"
"I’ve told you. He is near and I wish to join
lands," her father said, looking up sharply, his hands halted in their
work. She had never questioned him thus before.
"No doubt those are the arguments he used to sway you, but I trust him not at all."
"Trust or no, you’re to wed in a month."
She stepped backward, clenching her fists to keep her hands from trembling. "So soon, father?"
"It’s as I wish. He’s provided the bride
price. Now go about your business. Go." With this dismissal, he
lowered his head to take up his repairs once more.
She bowed her head and went from the room, troubled
in her heart what this bride price could be, for Miller was rich and
could afford any woman in the land for his son. He had only to
speak to any father and the woman would be delivered, though all of her
friends would rather throw themselves into the deep river Baranduin
which flowed near Barad Lomin. Perhaps Millerson had waited until
she was older than most men would wish and thinking her desperate,
expected her to accept anyone. But five men had requested her
hand, good men who would have made her a happy wife and mother.
Yet something had turned them away. This neighbor's son could be
responsible. It was a cruel jest fitting for him. Keren
determined to be far from her father's house when this scoundrel came
to fetch her.
Her determination to escape this marriage was
strengthened when she took vegetables to the green grocer to
sell. She bargained with the grocer's wife for each of the
different types of produce she brought until both felt they were
neither cheating nor being cheated. As was the usual way on
market day, the good woman, Mrs. Green, invited Keren for a cup of
tea. Keren often brought the best of the fruit for the grocer's
wife to make pies and tarts and jellies and jams and all such other
things as she loved to make and sell, and together they made a nice
little profit. On this day after they divided their income, the
woman urged her a bit more strongly than usual and Keren, feeling the
urgency yet choosing to not understand it, said most surely she would
love to visit with her on any topic she wished.
"That's a good lass. You were ever a congenial
sort. You become more and more like your mother each year.
I shall miss you."
Keren wondered at this, for she had secretly stored
up rations of waybread, draughts and other travel necessities, telling
no one of her plan. "Miss me? Why, where are you going?"
she asked, trying to discover how much Mrs. Green knew or suspected.
"I? Not I. You, to the dog," said Mrs.
Green, with a scowl. "None of us think that scoundrel will let
you roam about as you do now. What's come over your father that
he should give you over to such a louse?"
"I think I should be cautious what I say of my
intended, for though I love him not at all, I would not stir his wrath
"He'll be the death of your father for sure.
The best you could do would be to fly away, to your mother's people who
still live near Old Annuminas. None of us would breath a word to
him if you did."
"We’ll see what the days unfold," Keren answered and would say no more of the matter.
Upon leaving the grocer's home, she went to several
shops where she purchased such things as her family needed. The
last was the wine merchant. She had made her selection, paid with
the proper coins and would have left but a familiar voice held her
attention. It was low and resonant, coming from a room behind the
clerk's table. The wine merchant's daughter-in-law, a good friend
named Reina, put a finger to her lips and they listened.
"...Yes, well, that's all well and good, but you'll
never get the whole property. There are the brothers to contend
with. They'll not give up their inheritance lightly,” said the
voice of the merchant.
"Leave that to me. The older sons haven't been
seen for years, on errantry for the King of Arthedain. They've
other matters to contend with, if they're still alive. Besides, they’ve
rejected their inheritance in Barad Lomin. Had a quarrel with Old
Woodman and they aren’t speaking. My plan will go forward and the
father will die, sooner than he may expect," said the low, smooth
voice. "The only way to prevent it is for the marriage to be
forestalled, and the woman is as meek as a lamb before her
father. She'll be likewise for me and won't raise her voice,
neither her little finger, to stop me. The wedding will take
place as scheduled. Those three young brothers are so spoiled,
I’ll deal with them easily enough. Once I've acquired access to
the property, I'll set about my designs with no one to gainsay me."
"Well, I've my own grudges against Old Woodman but
..." The voice of the wine merchant stopped abruptly as the bells of
the tower chimed. “There’s that confounded tolling again,” he
grumbled. “What I would give to catch the brat aiming rocks at
“Hmph. It’s not even the hour yet. Most
likely someone’s little darling fell into the cistern, from the sound
of it,” said Millerson.
Vines laughed and, lowering their voices, the two men talked on, unaware of the women listening.
The eyes of the two women met. Reina nodded
grimly and inclined her head toward the door. Keren bowed and
quietly went out. Quickly she returned to her cart, which was still
hitched near the grocer's and raced back to her father's house.
Once home, she shut herself in her room and sat and
thought, looking at the box which held her few personal belongings and
now also concealed the travel things she had yet to move to the
barn. The wedding must not only be forestalled, she
reasoned. It must never take place. She wondered why mere
forestallment would disrupt Millerson's scheme, then chose to put her
own plan to work earlier than she originally intended. There was
more to this than she could fathom.
The evening chill in the air made it all the easier
to remove the last of her baggage to its place in the milking
room. Men seldom went there and her stash was safe. Only
her eldest sister-in-law, Morwen, knew of her plans and supported them,
for she also liked not even the thought of Millerson's welcome into her
home. The girl was now able to take up Keren's responsibilities
and willing to do so. That night as they milked the cows, Keren
revealed what she had heard and what she intended. Morwen's face
"You’re gone none too soon," she said.
"Perhaps I am gone too soon, though," said Keren,
"for it might be better to escape in the nick of time when all think
I’m resigned to my fate and look not for the unexpected than to give
them such advance to search for me."
"Where will you go?"
"Best not to tell even you," answered Keren. "The less you know, the less they can force from you."
Morwen nodded. When the milking was done they
removed the milk to the cool spring house where a pit had been dug to
receive the milk containers. They bid their hasty farewells
before going to the house, for they dared not make an open show of
emotion before Keren’s father. After all had been served and were
satisfied with the meal, Keren slipped out again and returned to the
milking room, as she often did when she left something undone.
Quickly she changed into her travel clothes, then took out a
knife. Cutting her waist length auburn hair brought tears to her
eyes but once it was done, her hair now shoulder length as many young
men wore it, she sighed, brushed the tears away, tied the hair in a
knot and tossed it into a corner. The stars were bright when she
stepped outside. Keren looked up at them a long moment, took a
deep breath and silently set out across the meadow, passed into the
trees and was gone.