Sitting in the boat, Rojer could not stop thinking about her. Everywhere he looked, he thought he saw Ceolwyn’s blue eyes peering at him. Perhaps it was hope, he didn’t know. He’d had a couple of girlfriends—who hadn’t in Bree?—but none of them affected him like this. The only time he wasn’t completely distracted by her was when he was carving. Channeling all his energy into his craft, Rojer began to make more and more intricate pieces when resting at night.
He eventually made it to Gondor. It was everything he expected, and at the same time, somewhat less. Minas Tirith, which he saw from a distance on his boat, was more grand than he could have possibly imagined. The rest of the landscape was rather…bland. Rojer expected a little more in the way of beautiful cities, less in terms of countryside. Although there was more danger than he would have cared for, with Corsairs attacking the boat. The crew was clearly prepared for such an event, locking the passengers in the hull and taking care of the problem with efficiency. Many days later, they finally reached Pelargir. The large port city was much more than he imagined, with all manner of people walking around. While quickly making his way to his contact, an old man who knew his grandfather, Rojer wondered at the sights.
He finally made it to the old man’s place, heartily greeting him and sitting down to discuss the dreadfully boring details of a stall from which to sell. Some time later, they clasped hands in agreement and Rojer gave him the proper amount of coin. Retreating to his room to rest after a long week’s journey, he sat by the window and thought once more of the blue-eyed woman. A small smile came to his face as he imagined sitting on one of those docks with her, silently enjoying the breeze.
Ceolwyn sighed, going through her exercises as normal. Once again, she wasn’t invited to go out on an exploratory run. She knew she wouldn’t be invited for a long time. It made her quite angry…she worked harder than most of the people who went. Just because she wasn’t as much of a natural didn’t mean she wasn’t aware of her duties! She knew what she was doing, her movements precise and exactly what she was taught. The pride and zeal were there; what was she missing? Angrily waving her sword through the motions, Ceolwyn finished for the day. Breathing heavily, she walked over to her pack and pulled out a cloth, wiping her face. The amulet that odd man gave her a few weeks ago fell out, bouncing off her boot and into the grass.
She reached down to pluck it from the ground, giving it a discerning look as she rose. It really was beautifully made. The rose looked so soft, and the branches around it were boldly carved. There was even a perfectly burrowed channel through which a string or leather tie could be pushed, making it a necklace instead of just a token. Why would someone buy something like that for someone like her? Ceolwyn turned it in her hands, blinking quickly as she noticed a small etching on the back.
Her eyes narrowed as she read the tiny name. Snowberry? Who is Snowberry? That sounds like a horse’s name… She shrugged and packed it back in her pouch, going to reach for her shield. However, she stopped mid-reach, a look of realization dawning over her features. Plopping down on the ground and pulling the amulet back out, she gave it another turn-over. Not seeing anything further, she stood up and stalked into the inn where the strange man had stayed.
Boring. Boring, boring, boring. That was the only way to describe it! Rojer hated sitting at his stand, waiting for sailors and other port-folk come to buy his wares. He even took up making a few small boats. Those were selling very well, so he continued to carve the simple models. Necklaces and rings were selling well enough, but everyone wanted those ships, for some reason. Odd, given most of them see ships every day: all they had to do was look outside their window! He wouldn’t carve a tree for his mother back home – that’d be ridiculous. But who was he to complain, really? He’d been selling them for a good price, and the trip back was already more than paid for at this point. The whole venture was quite a success. A young woman and her beau walked up to his stand, her piercing blue eyes sweeping over the trinkets with unfeigned interest. The man, not much older than Rojer, struck up a polite conversation with him.
“So, where are you from? You’re definitely not from around here.”
Rojer set his trusty carving knife back on his belt and looked up, carefully blowing the sawdust off the model he just finished. “Certainly not from around here! Bree-land, in fact. I’m a little-known carver looking to expand my business. Rojer, Rojer Snowberry.” He set down the newly-finished boat, this one a duplicate of the large militia-boat across the harbor, and held out his hand for a friendly handshake.
The man pushed back long, black hair and gladly shook the proffered hand. “Duilin, son of Lanthir. So, Bree-land? I haven’t been up that way, but I hear it’s very country-like. I’m surprised to hear you’re this far from home! Say, where did you learn this?” Duilin’s dark grey eyes shifted down to the boat that Rojer had just set down.
“Where did I learn it? Hah, with my eyes!” Rojer laughed lightly and pointed to his eyes, feigning good humor. In actuality, he was sick of repeating the same lines, but it worked well. Today was the last day, so he could manage it. “Learned what the ship looked like by watching it, then just took what I saw and put it to the wood.”
The young woman finally murmured, sounding even younger than she looked. Her voice was deep and melodic, but he could tell even now that she was going to be a nagger. It sounded like his mother’s, before she turned into a nagger herself. “Duilin, these are wonderfully made. Do you think your father would like that ship?” She pointed to a small wooden ship that Rojer carved early last week. No one had wanted it yet, because it was a simple merchant’s boat he saw one day. It was so smooth-lined and graceful, he just had to carve it. It reminded him of his shieldmaiden.
Duilin followed his lady’s pointing and his eyes widened a little in both surprise and delight. “Ah! Meril, what a perfect thought. That’s his very ship!” Looking up to Rojer, he shrewdly opened the negotiations low – but not as low as Rojer thought he would. He clearly wanted the perfect replica of his father’s ship.
Rojer inwardly sighed and began with a reasonable but high counteroffer. Soon, he told himself. Soon you’ll head home, and that will take you through Edoras. You’ll see her again.
Ceolwyn pushed her supper around on the bowl in front of her, trying to be polite but failing utterly. Grace and small talk were never her strong suits, and being thrust into such an awkward situation killed most of her tact. She loudly cleared her throat, setting her spoon down. “So, good weather, hm?”
The young man – very young for her! – across the table from her almost dropped his spoon and blinked. “Y-yes! Yes, it’s been lovely out, Lady Ceolw–” The poor boy didn’t even get her full name out, stopping short as Ceolwyn gave him a rather serious glower. “I mean.. yes, Ceolwyn. It’s good weather. H-h-h-how does your… your training. How does that go?”
Eadgifa gave her impetuous daughter an equally scathing glower, making Ceolwyn droop her shoulders a little and lower her piercing gaze.
“It’s going fine, I guess.” Her temper shrunk a little, rebuked by her mother’s angry stare. “Going to add a new regimen to my routine tomorrow, it should help with balancing when I switch arms.”
Instead of giving poor Osbeorn another impatient stare, Ceolwyn kept her eyes on the bowl and explained while looking at her stew. “When someone switches their shield and their sword to the opposite arm. In battle, you must always be prepared to use either hand to defend yourself or to attack as necessary. Favoring one is fine, but you must be completely competent with both.” She picked up her spoon and forced herself to politely eat one potato, chewing with her mouth closed.
The rest of supper continued along the same vein, with Eadgifa prodding Osbeorn for information about his studies with a storyteller and Ceolwyn failing to feign real interest.
After the whole debacle was over and Osbeorn had left, Ceolwyn rounded on her mother as they cleared the table. “What was the meaning of that? I did not come home after a week’s worth of training with a newly formed squad so that you could put me through another awkward meal!” Angrily stacking the wooden bowls, she carried them to the wash tub and dropped them into it with a rather loud clunk. “I am a grown woman and I will choose whomever I wish to court me – if there ever is one that actually understands me.” Jutting a hip out and placing a hand on it, Ceolwyn waited for her mother’s response.
It was not what she expected.
“Heart of my heart, my only daughter. Do you not understand that I just want you to be happy?” Eadgifa’s eyes filled up with tears. “You’re getting so old, and I don’t want you to never find a man willing to marry you. You’re already not of courting age anymore, and most consider you an angry old maid.”
Taken aback by the softer and more pleading response, Ceolwyn blinked for a moment before responding. She did not back down, however. “I am only 23. I am young, strong, well-trained, and healthy. I’m not concerned what anyone else thinks, mother.”
“Not even your own mother?”
“No. I love you, and I honor you, but I will not settle and marry someone I do not love to make you happy. I am sorry.”
Closing her eyes, she sighed deeply. Her daughter was the most stubborn person she had ever known. “Can you at least bring me some water to rinse?”
Happy to have a menial task, Ceolwyn nodded shortly and headed out to the road’s well. As she walked, her steps slowed as her anger began to dissipate. She unconsciously lifted her hand to her chest, feeling the amulet hidden below her clothes, hanging on a leather cord against her skin. He’s the only one who didn’t try to charm her with talk and dashing smiles. Well, that’s not true – he did smile at her. But it was genuine. She’d seen enough fake smiles meant to sweep her off her feet to know that the strange man with hair the color of a fiery red sunset was not faking it. He’s the only one who didn’t try to get her to talk to him. It was weird at first, but by the third day she had grown to like having him watch her quietly.
Stopping at the well and slowly lowering the bucket with one hand, Ceolwyn tugged the amulet from underneath her clothes and felt it in the dark. The strong branches pressed against her fingertips solidly. Tilting her head with a thought, she lifted it to her nose and sniffed it. Her mother’s clothing chest sprung to mind: cedar. Yes, this was definitely a cedar piece. He must have brought it from wherever he was from, cedar wasn’t as common around here. Feeling the bucket hit the water then begin to fill, she quickly shoved the wood piece back under her tunic and began to heave the water up to the surface.
Carrying the bucket back to her mother’s house, Ceolwyn began to imagine a funny sight – well, funny to her at least! Walking with a huge smile on her face, she imagined the quiet and intriguing man coming over for dinner: neither him nor her speaking the entire time, happily being quiet as her mother sat, baffled. It was a rather sweet, albeit slightly vengeful, thought.