Format: Short story
Genre: Romance, angst
Warnings: Racist and disabled abuse. Mention of childbirth.
Characters: OFM, OFC, Ioreth
Creator’s Notes (optional):A sequel to my story “Whose Service is Perfect Freedom.” http://lindahoyland.yolasite.com/whose-service-is-perfect-freedom.php. Hulagu is an Easterling who was taken to the Houses of Healing after the Battle of Pelennor Fields. For elenbarathi and virtuella who wanted more of Hulagu’s adventures.
Summary: A troubled young apprentice loves his master’s daughter.
“Cripple!” cried one youth.
“Foreigner!” cried his companion.
“Crawl back where you came from, beggar!” cried the first.
Hulagu stumbled as he tried unsuccessfully to dodge the clod of earth thrown at him. He hobbled back to the safety of the potter’s workshop. It was always the youths who gave him the most trouble. The women simply looked the other way. whereas most of the older men had fought too and knew it was only good fortune that had spared them from his fate. They mostly met his eyes when they passed in the street, brothers in shared suffering, even though they had fought in opposite sides of the conflict.
“Hulagu! What has happened to you?” Adanel, the potter’s daughter enquired.
“Um, I fell,” Hulagu muttered.
“It was those youths again wasn’t it? I’d give them a piece of my mind if I caught them that they wouldn’t forget! Now go and change your clothes. It’s washing day tomorrow.”
Hulagu nodded mutely then did as he was bidden, then went outside to the potter’s small walled garden. He sat down on the bench outside the door and stared up at the heavens. The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.
He loved watching the evening sky then trying to recapture its changing hues in the pots he made. Tonight, though, it was hard to concentrate on thoughts of creating beautiful things. The jeering youths had darkened his spirits until they were blacker than the night sky. Was he doomed to be forever an outsider? When he looked in the glass he was painfully aware of his slanted dark brown eyes, high cheekbones, olive sallow complexion and dark brown hair. He looked so different to the men around him.
Yet, Gondor was his home now. He loved his work at the pottery. Master Hador was a kindly master and his daughter was surely the fairest and kindest maiden that had ever drawn breath.
His mood lightened as he thought of how concerned she had been for his well- being when he had come home with mud all over his garments. Did that mean she cared about him, or was it just because she had a kind heart? How could she ever care for a man from a far- away land with only one leg?
He heard a rustling beside him and looked up. Adanel was standing beside him.
“May I join you?” she asked.
“Of course, Mistress Adanel.” He moved to let her sit beside him. She smelt of spring blossoms and clay.
“How many times have I told you simply to call me by my name? We are friends are we not?”
“Yes, Mis – um, Adanel. Indeed I hope so.”
“Sometimes I wonder if we are still friends. Nowadays, I sometimes feel you are avoiding me.”
“I would not wish to get in your way, Adanel. Surely you have many friends?”
“I have none quite like you. You look so serious. What are you thinking?”
“That I wish I could capture the shades of the night sky on the pottery I make.”
“I have often wished that too.”
Adanel moved closer, her face tilted towards Hulagu’s. Overhead the stars pierced the inky blue blackness. He kissed her.
“I’m so sorry, Mistress Adanel.” Hulagu reached for his crutch to walk away.
“I am not sorry.” Adanel cupped his face in her hands and kissed him. He kissed her back. Again and again.
When they finally broke apart, Hulagu slumped and buried his face in his hands. “What was I thinking, Adanel? I cannot hope to win your love and seek your hand in marriage!”
“Why ever not?”
“Because I am a penniless Easterling and have only one leg!”
“And what of that? Nought else ails you. I see a fine man before me, a man who works hard and has my father’s favour. He has told me that nothing would make him happier than to see us wed
“He has?” Hulagu could hardly believe his ears.
“He loves you as a son as does my mother. Let us ask for his blessing now,” said Adanel.
Master Hador was sitting at his potter’s wheel creating a vase. when Hulagu and Adanel entered. He smiled encouragingly at Hulagu. “Have you something to tell me, my children? Your faces speak of joyous tidings.”
“Sir, I know I am unworthy, but your daughter and I would like to wed and we seek your blessing.”
Hador beamed. “I thought you’d never ask, lad,” he said. “Five years you’ve been with me and all that time making sheep’s eyes at each other. You’re a good lad, Hulagu and I know you’ll be kind to my lass.”
“I fear I can offer no dowry.”
“You can throw a fine pot while you and my lass will make a good job of running this pottery together when I get too old to turn the wheel. The King will be right pleased too. He’s taken an interest in you ever since he sent you to be my apprentice. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t offer to hand fast you himself. Go now and make plans for your wedding with my blessing.”
Leaning on his crutch, Hulagu limped along the street with Dame Ioreth at his side. Since the wonderful day two years ago, when the King had publicly hand-fasted him to Adanel, the taunts and jeers had ceased. He was no longer a penniless foreigner but the potter’s son in law, favoured by the King. And now he was going to be a father.
“How far apart are your wife’s pains, Master Hulagu?” Ioreth demanded.
“Every few minutes,” said Hulagu. “Adanel’s mother sent me to fetch you.”
“I don’t know what Master Hador is thinking of letting you hobble all the way to the Houses,” said Ioreth. “Just as well it’s a first baby or it would have arrived ere you reached me and what would the poor young mother do then?”
“Master Hador is away visiting fellow craftsmen in Dale,” said Hulagu with a touch of pride. “He likes to travel now that Adanel and I have the everyday running of the pottery.”
“A fine time to choose!” Ioreth snorted. “Still, it’s good to see you so well recovered and talking like sensible folk do other than that outlandish speech no one could understand a word of save the Lord Elfstone.”
“You were kind to me during those days and I thank you,” said Hulagu.
“A little kindness costs nothing,” said Ioreth. “My mother used to tell me that when I was but a young lass and-“
Hulagu could only hope the baby would not arrive before Dame Ioreth finished her story.
He need not have worried though as the hours wore on and still his wife laboured in their chamber attended by her mother and Dame Ioreth. He had been banished to the pottery where he sat mixing dyes the colour of the midnight sky. He thought he would make a special plate and engrave their child’s name upon it. Unable to concentrate, he went to the window. It had grown dark and the sky was a clear midnight blue like on the night he and Adanel had declared their love. The stars twinkled in the night sky.
Just then a baby’s cry pierced the night air.
Hulagu still stared at the sky as if transfixed.
Then Dame Ioreth burst into the room crying, “You have a fine son, Master Hulagu and your wife is weary but well.”
Hulagu turned away from the window. He was certain that the stars were dancing.