Title: Comfort by the Fire
Beta: None - any and all errors are solely my own fault.
Word Count: 1477
Summary: Linda Hoyland and others asked for a prequel story of the earlier history of Aragorn (Thorongil) and Mistress Egverda - cook in the kitchens of Minas Tirith. This relationship was first brought out in the LOTR Community Story Kitchen Diplomacy. So, here's a late birthday fic for Linda and the rest of you to enjoy.
Author’s Notes: Disclaimer: Tolkien built the sand box; I only play with the bucket and shovel that he left for me. No money, profit or non, is made from the publication of this story.
Comfort By the Fire
Aragorn sighed silently, his shoulders sinking slightly from their normal proud bearing. It had been a long day capped off by having to tell Ecthelion that three of his elite troops had been cut down during the pirate's raid. The raiders had been routed, but the edges of some of their weapons had been pulled through poisons and two of the dead had died writhing in agony from wounds that should have been treatable. After hours in the House of Healing he had finally left to make his report. The bandage covering the stitches in his own arm was ignored, buried under a blanket of exhaustion.
“Watch out there, mercenary. This coat is worth a year of your salary,” growled a familiar voice as he tripped slightly over a broken flagstone in the floor. The voice was oily and all too familiar. He looked up to see Denethor brush the sleeve of his embroidered surcoat with his white kid-glove, as if he was removing refuse that had been inadvertently dropped on him.
“My apologies, Lord. I missed my footing for a moment.”
“Well if you're that clumsy, it's no wonder you lost three men today. See that you do better in the future.” Denethor's haughty visage strode by, continuing on his unknown errand. Aragorn's vision faded to red, but then he reigned in his temper once again. He was incensed by the arrogance of the Steward's son, but he knew he was just a sell sword and it was within Denethor's rights to treat him as a common soldier.
He sighed and continued across the entry hall toward the back hallways and his narrow cot.
“Pssssst” sounded from a nearby archway. “Thorongil! O'er 'ere.”
Raising his eyes from the flooring that was starting to waver under his bone-deep exhaustion, he saw a young kitchen maid motioning to him.
“Mistress Egverda,” he mumbled as he got closer to her. “I was just on my way to my bed and some welcome sleep.”
“When 'uz the las' time ya ate? Ha' ya even had anathin' since ya broke yer fast afore dawn? No? Well, a saved ya sommat; meat o' this night's service in a bowl o' thick stew, some new-made bread with cheese, an a tankard o' chilled cider. Ya must eat, ser, else ya canna protect us. Come, it'll juz be a bit afore ya'r in bed.”
In spite of his weariness, he smiled. The young girl was always looking out after him and he knew from experience that she wouldn't let up until after he had sat down and eaten something.
Over the months he had been working for Ecthelion he had been called out to defend the city or to lead forays against the enemy in a variety of weather and times of day. Often, when he had returned, after he had finished his report to the Steward, he wandered down to the kitchen where he begged a quick meal by the hearth.
Egverda was the youngest member of the kitchen staff, so she was often assigned to bring him a bowl of soup, some bread, and sometimes some meat or vegetables. She tended the spits, scrubbed the pots and pans, and in the after-hours, she occasionally tried new recipes before falling into bed for a scant few hours of sleep.
When he had first met her she was barely able to read a few words. She wanted to learn cooking and instead of just learning the tried and true recipes of the Head Cook, she kept trying to puzzle out the instructions for new foods that were written in scrolls and papers tucked into back shelves and bottom drawers. She had asked his help with words here and there so he casually started coaching her. Now he had been training her to recognize her letters and words for several months and he was heartened by her swift response and sharp mind. He reaped the benefit of his teachings through her experiments with new preparations of food. Admittedly, there were some recipe scrolls that were very carefully replaced in the dusty shadows, but other meals were a treat for his tongue and some would have even pleased his lady love and his foster family. A few dishes even got approved by Cook and made their way to the tables of Ecthelion.
However, tonight he didn't really care what he ate, anything warm and filling would be welcome. He sat down heavily on the bench at the kitchen table near the smaller hearth. The kitchen was quiet and he sighed. Every muscle in his body ached and the stitched slash on his arm was throbbing and seeping blood once more. He lowered his head onto his bent arm and allowed his eyes to relax while Egverda busied herself with a trencher and platter.
“Here ya are, ser. A spiced meat stew with root vegetables, some sliced hard, sharp cheese and a poppy seed loaf with sweet butter. Would ya be awantin' an ale or cider to drink w' ya food?”
“Water, just water will be fine, Mistress, and I thank you for your kindness,” he murmured.
She dipped a tankard of water from the corner barrel and put it before him. Glancing over at the fire she saw steam coming from a small kettle she had moved over the bright coals. She moved to the hearth and put several ladles of liquid into a pottery bowl, adding a cloth and a liquid that smelled astringent to his nose. Settling down on the bench next to his injured arm, she ordered “Take off ya shirt.”
Startled he looked up from shoveling the food into his mouth. “What?”
“Take off ya shirt, ser. If'n you donna' I canna' clean your wound and rebind it for ya. It's a'seepin' do ya see? If'n it don't be cared for it'll go bad and ya'll be of no use to the Steward, yer men, or the city.”
The truth of her words wormed its way into his sleep-deprived brain and settled there as common sense. He untied the laces of his surcoat and shrugged it off his shoulder with her help, then began to attack his shirt laces with small success.
“Here. Let me, ser.” She reached over and untied the knot he had managed to put into the cording, then drawing it through the eyelets, unlaced the shirt enough to slip it off from his injured arm.
Aragorn turned his attention back to his meal, dipping the savory bread into the trencher and soaking up the rich broth. He was already feeling better, just for having eaten. Again he thought about how much he owed this young kitchen maid who had, it seemed, taken his welfare into her own small hands.
“Would ya be wantin' another bowl afore I clean your arm, ser?” she asked. He nodded and watched her dish out another serving. After placing another portion of bread on his platter, she settled back down next to his arm. After dipping her hands into the astringent hot water, she started unwrapping the blood-stained linen strips.
“Sssssst!” she hissed when the wound was finally uncovered. “This un's a mean one, ser. But ma gram's recipe fer wounds has allas worked well for the men in the fields and it'll do fer ya also.” She placed hot, damp cloths across the wound, the heat seeping in and easing his pain. A deep sigh of relief came from him.
“That feels good, eh? Now I'll jus' let tha' sit a bit longer 'n wrap it ag'in in clean cloths.”
He nodded and picked up the last slice of cheese. While eating, he turned to look sharply at the girl.
“Thank you, Mistress Egverda, for the food and your ministrations. Wrap it quickly for me now. I must get to bed, morning will be here all too soon.”
She pulled new cloths from the small stack she had placed on the table next to her and started rewrapping his arm. “There ya be, ser. Now off ta bed w'ya. I don' wanna be causin' ya any more missed sleep.”
He stood and leaned over her. Kissing her lightly on the top of her head, he thanked her once again, and left the kitchen, walking down the short back corridor to the quarters assigned him. As he pulled off his boots and hung up his surcoat his thoughts returned to the kitchen maid for one more moment. Egverda, if I am ever fortunate enough to have a daughter, I hope she has a good part of your kind heart and shares your zest for learning. As his head hit the pillow, he made a mental note to pick up some spices for her the next time he was in foreign parts and then he allowed himself to sink deep into a dreamless sleep.