Clean Linen

Clean Linen

Rating PG13

The familiar characters are borrowed from Tolkien for this non profit story.

Thorongil and his men have a problem. 

Thorongil groaned inwardly as he studied the shirt he pulled from his closet. It was the last clean shirt that he owned. Since the washerwoman had left to be wed, the soldiers had been responsible for their own laundry and mending. He muttered a curse when a button flew off his tunic as he dressed. He had leave on the morrow and it seemed he would have to spend it scrubbing shirts and sewing on buttons if he were to be presentable to dine with the Steward that evening.

This will not do,” he muttered to himself. “I am the Captain and I resolve to do something about this.” He groaned again for he had no idea where he might find a washerwoman who could also sew. Few respectable women wanted to work at a barracks and those that might wish to, usually had families who objected to their womenfolk living and working amongst men unchaperoned. There was nothing he could do tonight though, so he decided to enjoy a pint of ale at his favourite tavern in the fourth circle. He strode out into the street and walked swiftly through the city.

He quickened his step as he passed “The Happy Guardsman” on the other side of the street; a tavern where it was reputed that the pretty serving wenches were willing to provide far more than drinks, if sufficient coin were offered. It would ill befit a captain to be seen near such a place.

To his annoyance, three of his men appeared from around the corner. He concealed himself in a shop doorway and watched as they looked around furtively then prepared to enter the inn. He emerged from the doorway and called out, “Castamir, Hador, Halmir, are you certain you want to go in there?”

Have pity on us, Captain,” called Hador. “We deserve a drink after all the drilling you made us do today!”

Thorongil crossed the street to avoid shouting across to them. “Indeed you all deserve a mug of ale, but do not forget the rules that apply to us soldiers. Steward Ecthelion forbids drunkenness, whoring and gambling. Within “The Happy Guardsman, you would need to resist temptation against all those vices.”

I can resist temptation, Captain,” said Castamir, grinning.

I should hope so, since you were wed but three months past,” said Thorongil. “Does Mistress Idril know where you are?”

Maybe I ought to go home,” said Castamir , looking rather flustered.”I’ve just recalled that Idril mentioned we had some ale in the cellar.” Good evening, Captain.” He slunk away.

Thorongil locked eyes with the other two. “The quality of the ale is much better in other taverns, or so I’ve been told on good authority,” he said.

Indeed, Captain,” the other two muttered.

Or you could resolve to do your laundry rather than hang around dubious taverns,” said Thorongil. “Your shirts were filthy on parade today. A soldier of Gondor should be well turned out. If I catch you again thus attired, you will face a week on latrine cleaning duty.”

Yes, Captain, I resolve to do better,” said Halmir. He turned around in the direction of the barracks. Hador saluted and did likewise.

Thorongil continued on his way towards “The Silver Crown,” his favourite tavern. It was a small cosy inn that served good food and ale. He settled himself down at a small table near the fireplace and smiled when a homely looking woman came to take his order. “A mug of ale, if you please,” he said. “And do you have anything good to eat?”

We’ve beef stew or fish caught fresh today from the Anduin,” the woman replied.

I’ll have the fish, please,” said Thorongil, “and some of your fruit crumble if you have any.”

We do indeed.” the woman smiled.”It is blackberry and apple today.”

My favourite.” Thorongil returned her smile. The food here could hardly compare to that at Rivendell or Ecthelion's table, or even at Thengel’s court, but it was tasty and wholesome.

Thorongil’s meal soon arrived and he savoured each bite of succulent fish. The crumble that followed was equally delicious. The food served at the barracks was hearty enough fare, but this tasted far superior. The captain leaned back in his inglenook seat and sipped his drink, watching the world go by. The inn was starting to fill up. Thorongil recognised a few fellow soldiers. Other customers looked like labourers, while the fine clothes of a few suggested they were merchants.

Thorongil heard the door opening and turned his head towards it. To his surprise, a young woman carrying a bundle entered. Lone women did not usually frequent taverns. Her cloak was travel stained and there was a hole in one thin shoe. His eyes followed her as she approached the innkeeper. His keen ears strained to hear their conversation.

Do you need anyone to work for you, sir?” asked the girl in a heavy country accent.

Sorry, mistress, I have all the serving wenches I need.”

How about cleaning, mending or laundry? I will do anything!” The pitch of her voice suggested desperation.

Sorry, I’ve nothing to offer you. You’ll have to try elsewhere.”

I’ve tried everywhere in the City. You are my last hope!”

Just then, the bundle let out a wailing cry and Thorongil realised it was a baby.

Have you tried “The Happy Guardsman?” asked the innkeeper. “They always have work for a pretty wench like you.”

I’m not that sort of girl.” The young woman’s tone was fierce.

If you want employment, it doesn’t appear you’ve much choice, not for someone in your situation. Now excuse me, I’ve work to do.” He had to shout to be heard above the infant’s wailing.

A man was standing behind the girl, apparently waiting to speak to the innkeeper. He gripped her arm, “Maybe I could help you, dear, how about a kiss for a start?”

No!” she cried out then turned pale and stumbled.

Thorongil leapt from his seat and elbowed the man aside. “This lady is with me. Do you have a room to rent?” he asked the innkeeper,

Yes, but I don’t run that kind of establishment,” the man replied.

And I am not that kind of man,” said Thorongil. “I am Captain Thorongil in service to Steward Ecthelion and this lady is under my protection. She needs somewhere to stay.”

The innkeeper called to the woman who had served Thorongil earlier, “Show the Captain and his companion to a room.”

I swear I will not harm you or you child,” Thorongil told the young woman. “I am taking you where you can rest. You have walked far today.” He took her arm and supported her, following the serving woman.

Here you are, Captain,” the woman threw open a door to reveal a rather shabby room. It was clean, though, and adequately furnished with a bed, chair and table. Thorongil assisted the woman to sit down on the bed.

Poor lamb,” said the serving woman. “I’ll fetch her something to eat.”

Bring some of your beef stew, and something to drink,” said Thorongil. He pulled the chair over to the far site of the room and sat down. The woman stared at him with huge frightened eyes. “Have no fear, mistress,” he said.”Your honour is safe with me. I am resolved to keep myself body and soul for one woman alone. As a Captain, it is my duty to help those in need. The woman said nothing but the baby continued to wail. “You child is hungry, mistress,” he said and turned to face the doorway, giving his companion privacy to suckle her infant.

When the food and drink arrived, the young woman consumed it ravenously. She reminded Thorongil of a starving animal. “Eat slowly,” he cautioned her.

I have not eaten in two days,” she replied, but slowed down the rate at which she devoured the stew.

Thorongil let her clear the plate before speaking again. “You are in distress, mistress?” he queried.

My family have disowned me.”

Thorongil glanced towards the baby, who now slept in its mother’s arms.”Tell me, it is not for me to judge you.”

The girl took a deep breath and swallowed hard. Then the words came pouring out. “I’m not a woman of loose morals, I swear it, sir! I was pledged to be wed to a soldier.” She held out her hand to show a silver pledge band on her index finger. “We were resolved to be wed last spring , but then he was posted to Ithilien. The night before he left we -,” She broke off and blushed.

I understand,” said Thorongil. “What happened next?”

He went away. I often heard from him, though. Then his letters stopped and soon afterwards his mother received a letter to say he had been slain during a raid by Southrons.” She paused to wipe her eyes then continued in a somewhat unsteady tone. “I knew I was with child and had been counting the days to his return. My family were furious and made me leave the house once they found out. I went to my betrothed's family, but they refused to believe I was carrying their son's child. Eventually, a kindly old woman in the village took me in in exchange for my help in her house and she called the midwife when my daughter was born. But last week, she succumbed to old age and died. I thought I could find honest work in the City, but it seems there is none. My babe and I will starve or I must endure a worse fate than death!” She burst into tears.

Thorongil stood up and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Be comforted, mistress, I believe I have a plan that will benefit us both.”

She gazed at him warily.

You offered to do laundry and mending for the innkeeper. You are skilled in such tasks?”

I did all the washing and mending for the old lady who took me in and she was satisfied and for my parents before they disowned me.”

My barracks has great need of a laundry woman who can also mend the soldiers’ uniforms. Board and lodging are provided and the men will carry the heavy coppers for you. It is quite a hard living but an honest one and yours if you would like it. You have my word the men will treat you with the respect due to a young widow. Will you take the position, mistress?”

I will, sir, I would like it very much! Thank you.” For the first time, the woman smiled.

Thorongil smiled back. “I made a resolution earlier to find a solution to the problem of my men’s laundry, but did not think I would so soon find an answer to my problem.” He reached within his tunic and took out some coins. Placing them on the table, he said, “You should rest here tonight and eat again later, then visit the shoemaker in the morning to buy some new shoes. I will come to escort you to your new lodgings at noon, Mistress - ?”

My name is Andreth, daughter of Tuor.”

Thorongil clasped her shoulders and kissed her lightly on the brow. “Then farewell for a little while, Mistress Andreth. I will see you on the morrow.”

You have my word, Captain Thorongil. I will serve you and your men well. Your shirts will be spotless.”

Thorongil returned to his lodgings with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. He had helped a needy soul and more - he would not have to spend his leave tomorrow doing laundry!

A/n Written for the Teitho “Resolutions” challenge.

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