Country Comforts by Marta

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Author's Chapter Notes:

For the interested, I listened to Entre Olas by Juan Serrano to get in the mood for writing Ioreth. You might find it good to listen to while reading. I don't know if it makes sense musicologically/historically, but I imagine songs like this as being the "bluegrass" or "country-western" of Gondor's music scene.

Ioreth sat down in a huff among the clover, her skirts billowing around her. She ought to know better, after two years' service in these Houses, for healers did not do their own laundry – not even apprentices. Her dark outer robe would stand the grass well enough, but her under-skirts would be ringed with green, and she was sure to catch an earful.

At the moment, though, she hardly cared. It was all she could do to keep from throwing her head down and crying into her skirts. For two years she'd endured the city-born apprentices, borne it all with a gentle smile. But she noticed, aye, she noticed every giggle, every knowing glance, and each jeer seemed to pierce her heart once more. That had been bad enough, but now there was now a new class of apprentices coming in, just come to the Houses' dormitories two days ago. All were from the city and all seemed more polished than she was. She groaned to herself even at the thought of it

She was just different, somehow, and not in a good way. Her masters might say what they would about the many herbs coming together to make better poultices, but Ioreth knew the truth. Her vowels were all flattened out, she was marked as a Lossarnach girl every time she opened her mouth, and even what Sindarin she'd learned since coming to the city was tainted by her accent. And her hands, her hands, she never knew how to hold them and her gloves were forever disappearing, and –

A twig snapped behind her, and Ioreth looked up. Rubbing the back of her sleeve across her eyes, she greeted him. “Ah, Sador.” She knew she should say more, but at the moment her mind refused to produce more words. At least with Sador that wouldn't earn her more ribbing. He was Lossarnach-born, had left their hometown for these Houses just a few years before her, and he understood a bit of her burdens.

He squatted down beside her and squeezed her forearm reassuringly. “Yeh're better than the lot of them,” he said after a moment. “At what counts, at herb-lore and the like. Theh're just biding time 'til they catch some captain's eye.” He grinned conspiratorially at her. “They won't catch a husband no other way. But yeh could make it, as a healer mistress I mean, if a man don't nab you first.”

Ioreth snorted; most unrefined, to be sure, but it was good to laugh. “Catch me at that, yeh fix me up a tea or something, a'right? I'll not have no flutt'ry-eyes-itis in my own self.”

“That reminds me!” Sador cried, clapping her arm excitedly. “Ah've just been told, the old herb-master's stepping down come spring, and his replacement will need a new personal 'prentice. And Meril put me forward, ah've just been told.”

Ioreth felt her face light with a smile. Its strength surprised even her a little, but not so much; in Lossarnach, when your neighbor gave birth safely, 'twas cause to tap your own beer-cask. “Are yeh done with your chores? If so” – she jangled the coin-pouch hanging from her girdle – “the first drink's on me. Such news deserves a nip or two.”

And that it did; for if Sador could make it, so could she, Lossarnach tongue or no. Ioreth pulled herself to her feet and led the way out of the garden.

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